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HVK Archives: Hinduism akin to modern Science

Hinduism akin to modern Science - Asia Tech, Volume 3 - Issue 1 - 1995

D. V. Gopinath ()
Wed, 29 Jul 1998 10:23:03 +0530

Title: Hinduism akin to modern Science
Author: D. V. Gopinath
Publication: Asia Tech, Volume 3 - Issue 1 - 1995

As a student of science and a person who has had opportunities to
get exposed to Hindu philosophical thought, it has often occurred
to me that there are remarkable similarities between the Hindu
approach to problems concerning the nature of reality, ultimate
truth, etc.,. and modem scientific methods of building up an
understanding of nature.

Clearly, my observations and conclusions could very well have
been influenced by my own upbringing, aptitude or - to use an apt
word - my own 'Samskara'; and, to that extent, they can not but
be subjective.

This said, I would first like to dwell upon the general approach
followed by Hindu philosophers about concepts such as 'God' and
'religion'. Then I will briefly discuss two specific areas (out
of the many contained therein) where similarities between them
and the scientific approach are truly astounding.

In a broad sense, scientific methodology has three main

- the premises or the axioms;
- the logic or the deduction apparatus;
- the theory or the 'model'.

There are certain criteria which should be satisfied by each one
of the above components.

The axioms should be firmly based on universal experience.
Moreover, since they are to be accepted without proof, the number
of such axioms should be kept to a minimum.

The logic should be self-consistent. There should not be any
internal inconsistencies. Further, it should not lead to any
conclusion which is contra-experience.

Finally, the theory that is arrived at should be as pervasive as
possible. It should be able to explain or account for as many
observations as possible. It should even be able to predict
observations which can be verified.

Now, let us look at the way the concept of God is developed in

While most other religions start with the axiom that God is the
Creator and Governor, Hinduism has a totally different beginning.

It starts with the universal observation that all living beings
seek 'Happiness'.

It starts with the premise that the primary motivation for all
our actions is to have 'happiness', 'bliss', 'peace' or whatever
name you give it.

If you closely analyse, you would agree that all our activities
and interactions are aimed at being happy.

Even when one says that he has sacrificed something, he has done
it only because sacrifice has given him more happiness.

Having seen this, the obvious question would be: "What is

Is it.....fulfilling our hunger; satiating our sexual desires; or
satisfying our aesthetic needs?

While each one of them can make us happy momentarily, one can not
associate happiness exclusively with any one of them. They can at
best be only the means for transitory satisfaction; and, hence,
happiness has to be different from all of them.

The Hindu philosophers identify happiness as a state of mind, and
then go on to enquire "what state of mind is that?"

Their answer is that it is the 'Quiet State of Mind'- a state
where the mind is free from all thought processes.

That is the reason whey we associate happiness with peace; or,
more appropriately, with 'Nischintata' - that is, the absence of
all thoughts.

In fact, the Hindu seers declare that absolute quietness of mind,
where there is a total cessation of thought processes, would lead
to an absolutely blissful state or 'Sachidananda Sthithi'.

It would at once liberate us from all miseries and limitations.

There is a very great elaboration on this point in Hinduism.

It is also said that, when the activity of the mind becomes zero,
its extent becomes infinite; and it would be congruent with the
universal soul or 'Paramathma'.

This reminds me of a basic tenet in quantum mechanics, the queen
of modem sciences.

In there, the uncertainty principle states that, when the
momentum - analogous to the 'activity' in the case of the mind -
of an observable goes to zero, its spatial spread becomes

This remarkable similarity may not, after all, be totally

Of course, very few of us ever achieve this state.

Though it appears logical and plausible to me. I have not
experienced it; and, hence. I do not have the authority to speak
about it.

But, at a slightly lower level, it is generally, the experience
of all of us that the intense and conflicting thought processes
arising out of selfishness, possessiveness, the desire and the
difference between what we want and what we have, are the ones
which do indeed cause 'misery' and 'unhappiness'.

Hinduism, like all other religions, states that if we can
transcend our desires, our egoistic nature and the dominance of
'I', 'me' and 'mine', we can remove the frictions in the thought
process and thereby be free from unhappiness.

The question is "how to go about it?"

The greatness of Hinduism lies in deliberating, this question,
and providing a very satisfactory answer.

If you closely analyse, you would notice that our mind perceives
in a 'Geometrical' fashion; and not in an 'arithmetical' one.

Our perceptions are relative and not absolute.

That is, the magnitude of anything we perceive is always in
relation to something else.

So, one way to get over our egoistic desires and frictionful
thoughts is to embed in our mind some other thought process which
is far more powerful.

As an example, consider a situation where a mother and child have
been starving for days.

At that instant, if the mother is able to acquire a morsel of
food, the thing the mother should do to meet her needs, to
satisfy her hunger, is to consume that food.

But, we know that she would not do that.

She would at once give the food to the child.


Because, that action makes her happier; as her love toward the
child overrides her own self-interest.

Of course, this is a simple example; but, if you ponder it, you
notice that it is true of all our interactions in life.

Our love, affection and devotion always override our baser needs
and thoughts.

It is so universal, so common, that we take it for granted and do
not think much about it.

But this is where the concept of 'God' comes in.

In Hinduism, you identify an entity or a concept as your 'Ista
Devatha' toward which or whom you can develop total devotion and
love; and, in order to facilitate this, one may invoke all the
attributes which are considered to be positive - such as
Omnipresence, Omnipotence, Infinite Kindness, etc.,. - in the
Ista Devatha.

In this context, it is very interesting to note that the 18th
Century German Philosopher Immanual Kant - in his book on
'Religion within the Limits of Pure Reason' - said that "Every
man has to create his own God; you even have to create your God
in order to worship Him. For, in whatever form the Deity should
be made known to you, even if He should reveal Himself to you, it
is you who must judge whether you are permitted - by your
conscience - to believe Him, to worship Him, etc.,."

In Hinduism, in the process of developing devotion or 'Bhakti' to
this entity, you notice that all other matters become
insignificant. You would be transcending your selfish thoughts
and subliming the ego. Moreover, you could be participating in
worldly activities without being affected by them in the least.

Hence, no disappointment or displeasure would touch you; and your
poise or peace of mind would not be affected.

Thus the concept of God and devotion to the same would serve as
an eminent means to get rid of unhappiness, and to obtain the
peace of mind which is, after all, the ultimate objective -
Hinduism states that, when the devotion is total, the ego is
completely sublimed, and one attains the state of total
liberation or 'Jeevanmukti'.

Look at the boldness and the grandeur of this approach, and its

Since God is essentially a means to obtain happiness and bliss,
it does not matter what form you give 'Him' or by what name you
call 'Him' - what matters in only how complete is your devotion!

This would at once provide utmost catholicity to Hinduism.

It can, and does, accept any form of worship; and any Name or
Form for God!

As a matter of fact, to be liberated from unhappiness, the
dedication or devotion need not necessarily be to 'God' at all.
It could even be to a cause or a profession.

Thus, for a Hindu, Einstein or Albert Schweitzer is as fully
'religious' as is a priest who is immersed in worshipping Siva or

At this point, a word about tolerance may be in order.

While religious tolerance is generally considered as a virtue, we
must recognise that it has a slightly egotistic connotation.

When I say I tolerate, it has the implication that my approach is
better but I can tolerate the other person's viewpoint.

Hinduism goes one step further, and advocates 'Acceptance' -
'While my belief, my views and my approach are good for me, I
have no reason to believe that they are better than yours; and I
accept that your way of looking at things could be as good as

In short, what Hinduism stands for can be summed up as: "Dare to
be free, and respect the freedom of others".

Thus if we accept that the goal of religion is peace and
happiness of mankind, Hinduism moves towards the goal in a
logical way - starting with the right premises.

In the process, it brings in harmony amongst diverse approaches,
and accords the right place for all that is considered to be good
and virtuous.

Next, I would like to touch upon two areas in Hindu philosophical
development namely, the Samkhya and Advaita systems.

It must be reiterated here that I have neither the intention nor
the ability to discuss them in any great detail. I will confine
myself only to some aspects of these systems which have close
contact with the scientific approach.

The Samkhya system - whose essential features took shape in the
pre-Buddhist times (about 2,500 years ago) - is mainly ascribed
to the sage Kapila; though its seeds can be found in Vedas and

It is a dualistic philosophy - based on the concepts of 'Purusha'
and 'Prakriti' - which would interpret as 'The Subject' and 'The

As a student of science, two aspects of Samkhya have impressed me

One is its assertion on the nature of reality.

According to Samkhya, our knowledge can only be about the
interaction 'the knower' and 'what there is to be known'.

That is, The Subject and The Object.

Taking things to their logical conclusion, the only reality we
can talk about is the projection of the Object (or the objective
world) onto the Subject, and nothing beyond.

In present scientific thinking, this has a close analogy in -
'that which is not observable (in a broad sense, including things
which can be indirectly inferred by observation), does not

To quote Kant again, in his book on Metaphysical Foundations of
Natural Science, he says that "Newtonian Science, although
confirmed by observations, is the result not of these
observations but of our own ways of thinking; of our attempts to
order our sense data, to understand them and to digest them
intellectually. Nature, as we know it..... is thus largely a
product of the assimilating and ordering activities of our mind."

Thus Samkhya endeavours to give an intelligent account of all our
experience and physical reality.
Another aspect of Samkhya is its emphasis on causality; which has
also been the sheet anchor of all our scientific development.

Samkhya, in its quest for understanding, for the first time frees
itself from the need for an external agency; or, indeed, even
'miracle working'.

It insists on a cause for any effect, or any event.

In fact, it goes one step further; and states that the effect is
present in the cause itself, in a latent form.

According to Samkhya, a thing or an effect is never created; but
only developed (Udbhava).

This takes us to an important concept of immutability - things
are neither created not destroyed: they can only be transmuted.

This tenet of Samkhya is very much akin to a basic principle in
science - the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy; according,
to which, matter or energy is always conserved in any

Of course, today, we may not see anything new or spectacular in
these concepts and ideas. But we must remember that they were
developed some 2,500 years back.

In the worlds of Richard Garbe, who has made a special study of
Samkhya, "In Kapila's doctrine, for the first time in the history
of the world, the complete independence and freedom of the human
mind - its full confidence in its own powers - were exhibited."

Lastly, I would like to draw attention to the amazing
similarities between Sankara and Advaita, on the one hand, and
Einstein and his Theory of Relativity, on the other.

Each one of them can be considered as a pinnacle of mankind's
intellectual development - in different directions.

Both Sankara and Einstein challenged the then widely prevalent
and deep rooted notions of reality: and put forth theories which
had profound impact on subsequent thinking.

Sankara questioned the reality of the observed plurality of the
world, and argued that it is only an illusion resulting, out of
our imperfect perception.

He concluded that, in the ultimate analysis, there is absolute
oneness, and one can realise it through perfect knowledge.

When Sankara said that the observable world is the result of
'Maya', I do not think he was negating the existence of the
world. It is only that our observations are shrouded; and
consequently, our conclusions are imperfect.

Similarly, towards the end of the 19th Century, when the
scientific quest had faced a stone wall in explaining the results
of experiments on the velocity of light, Einstein discarded our
concepts of space and time.

He established that there is nothing absolute about them. It is
only our imperfect thinking which has made them to be so; and, in
reality, they are only relative - they are applicable only to a
given frame of reference.

This Theory of Relativity successfully resolved the apparent
anomalies observed in the study of the velocity of light; but,
much more importantly, it changed our entire way of thinking, and
our approach to understanding nature.

To be exact, both in the case of Advaita and the Theory of
Relativity, their roots did prevail even before the advent of
Sankara and Einstein respectively.

The Advaitic concepts do appear in Upanishads, Gita and more
specifically in the works of Badarayana.

As a matter of fact, Sankara builds the entire edifice of Advaita
philosophy as a commentary on Badarayana's Brahma Sutra.

Similarly, even before Einstein, philosophers like Immanual Kant
and Bishop Berkely and scientists like Earnst Mach had questioned
the concepts of absolute time, absolute space, absolute motion,

Einstein himself, in his obituary note for Mach, said "It is not
improbable that Mach would have found the Theory of Relativity
if, at a time when his mind was still young, the constancy of the
velocity of light had agitated the physicists".

But it is entirely to the credit of Sankara and Einstein that
they brought scientific rigour and clarity to these concepts, and
established them as well founded theories.

There is a saying from Upanishads which epitomises the thrust of
Hindu Philosophy in a way shared with that of Modem Science.

It reads:

May We Progress from
Ignorance to Knowledge
May We Progress from
Darkness to Light
May We Progress from
Death to Immortality
Let there be
Peace, Peace, Peace.

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