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By Amit Goswami
I once participated in a panel discussion in Berkeley, California, on the question “Can scientiﬁc and spiritual traditions carry on a dialog?” The ﬁrst speaker, an American Buddhist, expressed uneasiness. The two traditions have diverged so much, he said, that both may need to return to basics and start over; maybe then they can have a dialog. I spoke next. I think I surprised him and probably many in the audience by saying that not only can there be dialog, there can and will be complete reconciliation between the two traditions. In fact, I asserted, the reconciliation has already begun. How is this so? When my Buddhist friend was talking about science, he meant science based on classical physics, the physics that Isaac Newton founded in the seventeenth century and Albert Einstein completed in the ﬁrst decades of the twentieth century. And his uneasiness was justiﬁable. Most biology and psychology and virtually all of our social sciences are carried out day-to-day on a Newtonian basis. Newtonian science has given us some strong prejudices--such as determinism, strong objectivity, and materialism--that are appropriate when we investigate the order of the outer world. But the purpose of spirituality and religion is to investigate our inner reality, to establish order in our inner life, where ordinarily disorder, conﬂict, and unease reign. The spiritual quest is to ﬁnd happiness beyond the discord; it is an investigation of consciousness. Since spirituality requires that consciousness plays a causal role, it is difﬁcult, if not impossible, to make room within objective, materialist science for spirituality. I too was right because science is no longer exclusively Newtonian. Classical physics was replaced in the 1920s by a new physics called quantum mechanics. And now, after seven decades, this new physics is causing a major revision in how we think of living systems and how we do biology and psychology and thus all social sciences. In the new paradigm there is a window of opportunity, a visionary window, through which to recognize that consciousness plays a major role in shaping reality. Then spirituality can be reconciled with science.
The word quantum comes from a Latin word meaning “quantity” and signiﬁes a discontinuously discrete amount. In classical physics all things vary in a continuous manner, but in quantum physics, things change in both continuous and discontinuous ways. Continuous change is materially caused, even in quantum mechanics. But what brings about discontinuous change? If we posit that consciousness causes the change, we have the proposition that prompts the shift from a divisive paradigm to one that integrates science and spirituality. But there is more to consider here. We have made enormous progress in science. Why have we not made similar progress in religion in spite of the efforts for millennia by spiritual traditions? In science, once a few scientists discover the laws of universal order, the job is done; the rest can read those scientists’ work, and that is enough for them to be able to appreciate the harmony of the outer world. In the realm of spirituality, however, great strides have been made by ﬁgures such as Buddha, Plato, Lao Tsu, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. But their discoveries have not brought harmony and happiness to everyone. We remain by and large, even today, a violent and unhappy bunch. Why is this so? The objective of spirituality takes much longer to accomplish because one person’s spiritual realization and happiness does not proliferate to others. Finding happiness and establishing inner harmony are fundamentally individual processes. The Sanskrit word yoga means “union, integration.” I have coined the phrase quantum yoga to signify the integration of the quantum message into a comprehensive new worldview that unites science and spirituality in a personally meaningful way. My book The Visionary Window is not only an introduction to the window that quantum physics opens for us, but also a guide to the practice of quantum yoga leading toward personal enlightenment. The word dialog originated from two Greek words: dia, meaning “through,” and logos, meaning “word”; thus, dialog generally means “communication through words.” The physicist David Bohm deﬁned dialog more signiﬁcantly as “a free ﬂow of meaning between people in communication.” Can there be dialog between science and religion in this Bohmian sense? Initially, a dialog between science and religion seems rather unlikely. Both science and religion are endeavors in the search for truth. Both are based on the intuition that truth is unique, not pluralistic. The problem is that, even when we
haven’t gone far enough in our search, we try to impose our limited truth upon others. This is what many exoteric religions have done traditionally; now science is doing the same thing. And so science and religion have become polarized. The Integration of Cosmologies In the Middle Ages, inﬂuenced by Aristotelian thinking, Christian belief maintained that the universe was anthropocentric. The earth was regarded as the center of the universe. Humans were regarded as superior to animals. These cosmological components of Western religion were demolished by science. Copernicus demonstrated that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system. Later work took the demolition of Christian cosmology even further: the sun is only an average-sized star on the edge of one galaxy among a hundred billion other galaxies. We are insigniﬁcant on the cosmic scale. Scientists now make a good case for a big-bang creation of the universe some ﬁfteen billion years ago. From that initial creation, the evolution of galaxies, star systems, planets, and life are all seen as the play of chance statistical ﬂuctuation. Darwin’s argument that humans have evolved from animals and his further contention that all evolution is a mere play of blind chance and the necessity of survival further diminish the importance of being human and suggest that human pursuits such as religion are meaningless. What is the exoteric Christian answer to the big bang? Since the big bang is a singularity in some theories of cosmology, and since a singularity is a breakdown of physics, the Christian scientist may see in the big bang the signature of the divine. But there are also ways in physics to avoid the singularity. The most vocal Christian answer to Darwinism is still creationism, which, in view of the fossil data, does not make sense to the modern mind. Within esotericism (whether it is called Vedanta, mysticism, perennial philosophy, or monistic idealism) is the resolution of the ontological debate between science and religion. Does the esoteric ontology--consciousness as the ground of all being--offer a resolution of cosmologies as well? A number of coincidences in cosmology suggest that the universe evolves toward the manifestation of life and sentience--an idea that is called the anthropic principle. When we do science-within-consciousness, we see that the anthropic principle makes perfect sense: the universe is a play of consciousness. It evolves towards sentience because its meaning is us.
The gaps in the fossil record suggest to quite a few biologists that Darwinism is not the complete story of evolution. Creationism also does not make complete sense; though the Christian contention that God intervenes in the affairs of the world, even in biological evolution, to align the world with purposiveness, is credible in a science-within-consciousness. Note, however, that in this science purpose does not mean ﬁnal cause--an idea that conﬂicts with what we know about initial causes from materialist physics. But in science-withinconsciousness, we can look at the fossil gaps as the signature of creative conscious intervention--so purpose enters evolution creatively. The materialist cosmology is not wrong, but it’s not the complete story. In the completion of the story, the cosmological struggles of both science and religion are found to converge, and integration becomes possible. The Integration of Spiritual Traditions It is the absence of a good cosmology that has engendered divisiveness among religions. The world’s great religions, united at their esoteric cores, differ greatly in their exoteric expression because they present cosmology differently. Furthermore, in the absence of a science, they mythologize their cosmologies. My hope is that as a cosmological science-within-consciousness gains strength, these myths will give way to a reillumination of the underlying unity of all religions. Take the mythologized storyline of the Christian cosmology. Because Eve ate the apple of worldly knowledge and persuaded Adam to do the same, humanity knew separation and fell from the perfection of Eden. Then God sent his beloved and only son, Jesus, to return fallen humanity to Eden, to perfection. Thus Jesus is the only door back to Eden. But the story of the fall from Eden comes from the Jewish tradition, which has a different take on how the story ends. Yes, declare the Jewish spiritual authorities, there will be a messiah at the “end of time” who will redeem humanity (or at least the chosen ones) to perfection, but Jesus is not he. So battle lines are drawn. Jews feel that Christians are “less” because they have settled for a false messiah. Christians feel that Jews are “less” because they are “Christ killers.” Moslems are repulsed by the whole “son of God” idea: God sends messengers only to remind humanity that God is their Lord. Moses and Jesus
were both such messengers, but the last and the best messenger was Muhammad. The Hindus seem to agree with the Christians that God can and does appear in human forms as “sons of God.” Whenever the forces of evil seem to subdue the good, God incarnates as an avatara to elevate good over evil, however temporarily. Krishna was such an avatara; so was Buddha and so was Jesus. Buddhists maintain, in still another twist on the same theme, that ordinary human beings can regain perfection through their own efforts. These perfected beings, instead of returning to “Eden,” remain at its threshold as bodhisattvas until all humanity has so redeemed itself. Postmodernism, the most recent development in Western thinking, has given us deconstructionism (“God is dead” and all metaphysics is false) and an ecological worldview in which God is fully immanent in the world itself. Eden is here, and there is no need to posit transcendence, the fall, and the spiritual journey of return. So which is the correct storyline? We can never settle this question by debate, as past millennia have proven. However, I submit that as we gain an understanding of the cosmology of the human condition and the nature of the spiritual path, these disparate storylines will all be seen as expressions of one grand story. In other words, I believe that the integration of science and spirituality will enable the different spiritual traditions to acknowledge their underlying unity, a unity that the poet Rabindranath Tagore called “the religion of man.” In Hinduism it is sometimes referred to as sanatana dharma, the eternal religion. Diversity of religions will of course remain, but superimposed on an underlying unity.
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