The crisis of our times is that spirituality and science are considered to be opposites. There are historical reasons for that. Especially from the 18th century when the age of pure reason began the idea that science has nothing to do with spirituality gained momentum in universities. Since then millions of students came out of universities inspired by this idea. But let's first understand the difference in viewpoints.
Mechanical view versus holistic view
Science is a collective activity where people work together to build up a body of common knowledge over time. It is a system of knowledge that is concerned with the physical and its phenomena and that entails unbiased observation and systematic experiments.
Science takes a very mechanical view of things. It sees the universe as a gigantic machine. Thus science studies humans and the cosmos as a machine. Even Descartes said that everything is a machine—all animals, the body, etc.
On the other hand, spirituality sees things as a part of the whole. The word spirit is derived from the Latin word meaning breath or wind. We may thus think of spirit as an invisible force—A life-giving essence or as a source that moves everything from within. Spirit is, therefore, not manifest. It can’t be defined. That's why our sages called it ‘Neti Neti’. It’s not this, not that.
Humans are naturally spiritual. Our early ancestors saw spirits in everything and as the ultimate source of everything. Everything was alive and each individual was a part of the whole.
However, as science began to dominate this harmony has broken. This has led to some kind of division of labour and separation between science and spirituality. The proof is the basis of science. Science will say that if my eyes can see this thing only then I will believe that this thing exists. Whereas the student of spirituality will say that first of all am I sure that what I see with the instrument of the eyes is revealing the truth. That is why spirituality can transcend even the boundaries of science. Spirituality believes that there is oneness in the whole universe.
Whereas science breaks down the matter and its elements, then integrates them after studying each piece. Science has discovered the atom and particles, it tells how they are made, but can’t explain their life-giving energy or life force. After all, the same carbon molecule is found in coal and also in the human body. Then how does the nature of the two become different? Scientists have yet to explain this.
Synthesis is the way out
The fundamental difference in our worldview must be narrowed down. But we must accept that science as we know it cannot by itself give meaning to our life. If we take a mechanical view of the universe, we implicitly concede that every individual must fend for themselves. In this scheme of things, each individual is a separate entity and has to take care of themselves first. This is dangerous as it means we all are destined to push against each other. If we regard the world as made up of a lot of little bits, we will try to exploit each bit. That’s how we are destroying the planet. Today, we have forgotten that we are one whole with the planet and that our existence is not separate from the whole. But if we see the universe as one whole entity, it means that everything is internally connected to everything else and therefore, it has no meaning for people to ignore the needs of others.
Spirituality is the science of inner development. It can develop, harness, and unleash the hidden potential of a man. On the other hand, the goal of science is to use the powers hidden in nature and matter in such a way that humanity can get rid of material sufferings. Both have to work together.
Now, the explorers of science and spirituality are coming to an understanding that science without spirituality is blind and religion without science is lame. Both will have to work in tandem to explore and unravel the mysteries of the universe.
A good beginning
Fortunately, science has gradually begun to see that everything is internally related to everything else. It’s a good beginning. Both need to be free from any dogma. Our sages say, “Satyam nasti paro dharma”— meaning there is no religion greater than truth. A Buddhist monk while sending off his disciple told him that if you
find Buddha on the road, kill him. This means if you are seeking truth, then first throw out your prejudices and assumptions. When you become empty truth will automatically reveal itself. Seekers of scientific and spiritual truth must unite in the quest.
Nobel laureate scientist CV Raman said, "The twentieth century may be the century of science, but the twenty-first century will be the century of scientific spiritualism." We are fortunate to see this happening.
The author is the founder of Science Divine Foundation