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Reason and Religion

Reason and Religion

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Published by satyapriyananda
Does religion have to justify itself based on reason?
Does religion have to justify itself based on reason?

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: satyapriyananda on Feb 18, 2010
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03/31/2011

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Reason and Religion
Swami Satyapriyananda*
* Assistant Secretary, Ramakrishna Mission Swami Vivekananda’sAncestral House and Cultural Centre, Kolkata“Reason and religion” has a conjunction connecting two dissimilarterms “reason” and “religion”. To my understanding, “reason” is themiddle term in the series: instinct, reason and intuition. Instinct is theonly domain in which animals function; human beings being rationalanimals combine in themselves both instinct and reason. Of course, arare few open the gates of intuition and have intuitive experience of whatis beyond sense experience. Religion may be viewed as the middle termin the series: science, religion and spirituality. Where science ends religionbegins, and where religion ends spirituality begins. Alternatively, andperhaps more correctly, we can think of the Science of sciences by which Imean the principles of scientific approach which forms the basis of all thesciences, and the Science of religion or Vedanta which forms the basis of all religions. While the science of sciences spread out into variousSciences without one science being in conflict with another, the science of religions or Vedanta gave birth to various religions which often come intoconflict on account of deviating from strict scientific principles. That is whywe have harmony in sciences and disharmony in religious beliefs, tenets,books, creeds, etc. It is also a dilemma between intensity and extensity:intensity paving the way for fanaticism (my religion
alone
is correct; mygod-head
alone
is the saviour) and extensity making for liberality of views.In Sri Ramakrishna, we have a combination: deep as the ocean and broadas the skies. There is no way to reconcile blue with red, for they aredifferent colours. And if we have to equate
 x 
with
 y,
then from the point of the relation of being equal, the two sides must tally. And if they do nottally, it should be understood that the common bases must be consideredin the equality and the divergent points discarded. The common examplegiven is “This Devadatta is that Devadatta”, “this” and “that” connotingdifferent times and places are contradictory, and the only common idea is“Devadatta”. So the equality simply states “Devadatta = Devadatta”,excluding the ideas “this” and “that”. That is what some religiousbelievers are not bold enough to do. Religionists must remember that it isa fight between religious belief and irreligion; the sooner the conflictbetween religions is removed, the better. This reluctance to reconcilepreserves the conflict and subjects religions to criticism of one notconforming to another unlike the sciences, all of which have a basicconcept, for example, that the rate of flow is potential difference dividedby resistance. There are other such common scientific principles whichapply to sciences in general. The other common example is that the rateof increase of a material in a fixed region is equal to the rate of inflow
minus
the rate of outflow
 plus
the rate of production
minus
the rate of depletion. Again, without being so rigid on the concept of conservation of mass and energy, science is willing to agree that energy can betransformed from one form into another and that matter and energy areinter-convertible. But religious followers are not usually liberal and the
 
result is fanaticism and bloodshed with the lofty religious ideals losingtheir emphasis. But those who have reached the end of the road inreligious journey all agree: “All jackals howl alike”, as Sri Ramakrishnasaid.Religions consider that all branches of secular knowledge includingthe sciences are but secondary and do not remove sorrow, affliction,misery, delusion, etc born of ignorance. They maintain that ‘That by whichthe Imperishable One is known’, alone is primary knowledge and superiorto all secular knowledge including the sciences. Therefore, there has beenan eternal quarrel between science and religion: religion claiming to bethe supreme knowledge and science cutting to pieces religious beliefs anddogmas based on its shining power of reason thus proving that religiousbeliefs and tenets are not infallible. There is, therefore, an urgency to justify religion on the basis of reason even as science is justified on thebasis of reason. Is this possible at all, and, if not, why? At the beginning of the 19
th
century, it was almost feared that religion was at an end. “Underthe tremendous sledgehammer blows of scientific research, oldsuperstitions were crumbling away like masses of porcelain. Those towhom religion meant only a bundle of creeds and meaninglessceremonials were in despair; they were at their wit’s end. Everything wasslipping between their fingers. For a time it seemed inevitable that thesurging tide of agnosticism and materialism would sweep all before it. There were those who did not dare utter what they thought. Many thoughtthe case hopeless and the cause of religion lost once and for ever. But thetide has turned and to the rescue has come what? The study of comparative religions. By the study of different religions we find that inessence they are one.” (
Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda
, Vol. 1, p.317). We will see how, later on.At this stage we must recall what Swami Vivekananda said aboutreligions with a book and religions without a book: It is only religions witha book that have withstood the test of time. However, it is the bookswhich being in mutual conflict cannot by themselves reconcile thedifferences in belief systems that they present to the followers of thatreligion. These books cannot be arbiters in the dispute. The only way toreconcile these differences between religions, in the language of SwamiVivekananda, is to go to that point of time when religions began. The onlyharmonious religious point of view is what is presented by Vedanta, themother of all religions. What is religion? Religion consists of philosophy,mythology and rituals. For the common man who does not have thecapacity to reason and take the help of philosophy, rituals are like somany drills and he feels happy about it. Mythology consists of severalexamples of righteous living practised by men of eminence. In all these,even one religion differs in the beliefs of the different sects under it, not totalk of differences between religions. So much so, there are many sects inHinduism, Catholic and Protestant in Christianity, Shiahs and Sunnis inIslam, Mahayana and Hinayana in Buddhism, and Digambar andSwetambar in Jainism. These gross differences even in Hinduismprompted Swami Vivekananda to discuss the common bases of Hinduism.And in the context of the several world religions now extant and those
 
that are yet to come, it is Vedanta and its practical application in daily lifethat can reconcile differences, even as a mother reconciles the differencesamongst her children. While it appears reasonable to require religions to justify themselves based on reason as do the sciences, it is unreasonableto expect this for the simple reason that the domain of operation of thesciences is sense data, correlation, statistical analysis, and framing of thelaw of causation, for use in technological developments, which are all inthe domain of 
maya
defined as timespace-causation or name and form.Statistics is a tacit admission of ignorance. We cannot say that athing
will
happen; only we can say that there is a probability that a certainthing will happen. Religion and religious experience, on the other hand,are extra-sensory experience which is experienced in the inner recessesof the heart, and spoken and exchanged in silence. In support, let usrecall:
aváïmanasagocaram, vákyamanátæta,
and
 yato váco nivartanteaprápya manasá saha.
So, in my view, the methods of science cannotapply to religion, though religions can be expected not to be in conflictwith reason as far as reason goes. Kindly mark the expression “as far asreason goes”. As to the inability of reason and argumentation to reveal Truth, we have,
(Kaôhopaniøad,
1.ii. 8 and 9):
ananyaprokte gatiratranásti aîæyán hyatarkyamaîupramáîát; naiøá tarkeîa matirápaneyá.
SriRamakrishna tells ‘M’: “Don’t reason anymore.”On the futility of reason, we have in
the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna,
pp.88-89:(
Master to M.
) “Is there any book in English on reasoning?”
M:
“Yes, sir, there is. It is called Logic.”
MASTER:
“Tell me what it says.”M. was a little embarrassed. He said: “
One part of the book deals withdeduction from the general to the particular.
For example: All men aremortal. Scholars are men. Therefore scholars are mortal.
 Another part deals with the method of reasoning from the particular to the general.
Forexample: This crow is black. That crow is black. The crows we seeeverywhere are black. Therefore
all
crows are black.
But there may be afallacy in a conclusion arrived at in this way; for on inquiry one may find awhite crow in some country.
 There is another illustration: If there is rain,there is, or has been, a cloud. Therefore rain comes from a cloud. Stillanother example: This man has thirty-two teeth. That man has thirty-twoteeth. All the men we see have thirty-two teeth. Therefore men havethirty-two teeth. English logic deals with such inductions and deductions.”Sri Ramakrishna barely heard these words. While listening he becameabsent-minded. So the conversation did not proceed far.Or, “Can one know God through reasoning? Be His servant, surrenderyourself to Him, and then pray to Him.” (
ibid.,
p. 107).Or, “Bhakti is the one essential thing. Who can ever know God throughreasoning?” (
ibid.,
p. 157). 

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