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SCIENCE, SOCIETY AND SPIRITUALITY:

THE SATHYA SAI SYNERGY

By Prof. Vishwanath Pandit


Professor Vishwanath Pandit is the Head of the Department of Economics and also Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Sri Sathya Sai University. In a distinguished career at the national level, he served as the Director for the Centre for Development Economics at The Delhi School of Economics, and was elected President of the Indian Econometric Society. In his renowned international career, he has worked at the doctorate level with Prof. Lawrence Klein, Nobel Laureate; taught at reputed universities in UK and USA; served as Economic Advisor to the Government of Sri Lanka; and been Chairman of the Expert Group on Policy Modelling for LDCs (Least Developed Countries), United Nations, New York. More importantly, he has been an ardent devotee for decades and served as a sevadal in the Sai Organisation of Delhi for many years.

Deprivation amidst affluence, knowledge devoid of wisdom, scientific achievements unmatched by moral moorings, and power without compassion, characterize human existence today: because God is no longer at the center of our thoughts, words, or deeds. Thanks to the great leaps that science and technology have made, distances have shrunk enormously as we live in a globalised world. But as we have come closer to one another, our hearts have drifted apart enormously.

Strife has overtaken all parts of the world in one form or the other. The limitless greed and penchant for illusory comforts have led to such an irreparable damage to natural resources, leading to ecological imbalances that Mother Nature herself has to teach us hard lessons in the form of disasters like the recent tsunami and Katrina.

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Tsunami damage in Chennai
The devastation of Hurricane Katrina

More than all this, it is the human mind which has been corrupted by the shallow understanding of science, mindless pursuit of wealth, and misinterpretation of religion itself. While science has been used to cause human suffering, perverted religiosity has led to destructive fanaticism. No wonder God had to incarnate once again at this juncture to lead humanity back to the correct path. The uniqueness of this Avatar is the simple solutions He provides for complex problems. Not merely the declaration of these solutions but actual demonstration of their perfect efficacy by His own Actions. My Life is My Message” is the exposition of the highest order, which we may ignore only to our misery.

The uniqueness of this Avatar is the simple solutions He provides for complex problems. Not merely the declaration of these solutions but actual demonstration of their perfect efficacy by His own Actions. My Life is My Message” is the exposition of the highest order, which we may ignore only to our misery.

 

Religion, which was meant to be the civilizing, and thereby, the uniting force for humanity, has steadily become a cause for divisiveness. Having pushed God back-stage, we have failed to rise from religion to spirituality. Religious labels have instead been used as means for social segmentation and egocentric identity. Bhagavan’s dictum; “There is only one religion, the religion of Love. There is only one God and He is Omnipresent” is the most effective antidote to the multidimensional problems of humanity today. If we hark back to India ’s ancient wisdom we hear: Ekam Sath Viprah Bahudha Vadanthi (Truth is one but sages express it in different ways).

If that Truth is not understood as God, then, unity, and its cherished fruit, Love, remain elusive. The beautiful mosque Baba built for Muslims of Puttaparthi, so that they do not have to walk several kilometers to Bukkapatnam to offer their daily prayers, enshrines a great message for all of us. Swami’s declaration that He had come to confirm every one in his / her own faith rather than to start a new one, was so remarkably brought home to me in Sri Lanka where I had the privilege of interacting with many Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian devotees.

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He comes to confirm everyone's faith
The Mosque in Puttaparthi gifted by Swami

The Unity of Science and Spirituality

At another end, we have the so-called rationalists, who have convinced themselves that science and religion are contradictory. Nothing would be more misleading than this; and nothing would be a greater misinterpretation of the breath-taking scientific achievements of today. The genesis of this mistaken view goes back to the historical hangover of the conflict between science and religion during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe.

It has also arisen from a false view of religion as consisting of rituals, fads and superstitions carefully caricatured so as to fit into the false hypothesis of contradiction. There has never been such a conflict in India. While Science is concerned with the manifest world, spirituality is concerned with the inner self - both essential for humanity. In his address during the fourth convocation of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning in 1985, Dr. E. C. G. Sudarshan described Science and Spirituality as two components of the grand “binocular vision.” Going well beyond this, the Vedantic declarations have been loftier as they proclaim them to be indivisible. No wonder India ’s great achievements in mathematics, medicine, metallurgy and other branches of Science are widely acclaimed today. Where does the question of conflict between Science and Spirituality arise!

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Sir Isaac Newton
Albert Einstein

Back even in Europe , many renowned scientists from Newton to Einstein were deeply religious and believed in the existence of a higher Power called “God”. It is surprising how and why the liberal mindset in the 19th century came to regard faith in the existence of God as irrational and unscientific. The prophet of dialectical materialism, Karl Marx, who must indeed be given his due as a humanist, claimed that religion was an “Opiate” of the masses. If religion is the opiate of the masses, so be it. For it is a good opiate, which has gifted self-respect and self-confidence to the simple folk. “A man without faith in God is worse than an invalid because he is without the vital essence of life,” says the celebrated French mathematician Pascal.

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Karl Marx
Blaise Pascal

The same feeling is expressed by Einstein in Cosmic Religious Experience. “... Laws of nature reveal a mind so superior that all the intelligence poured by man into his thoughts is, when compared to this mind, naught but a reflection of absolute nothingness…” Yet stubbornly following its unfounded belief in the contradictions between science and religion, the nineteenth century liberals were pretty convinced that with the advancement of scientific knowledge, religion will dwindle and soon disappear as a human concern. Exactly the opposite has, indeed, happened.

Urging scientific knowledge to be harnessed for the service of humanity, the real meaning of religion in relation to science, comes from Baba as He says, “Knowledge without devotion is useless and devotion without knowledge is ineffective.” A similar sentiment has been expressed by Capra in The Tao of Physics: “Science can do without spirituality and spirituality does not need science. But man needs both.” Social scientists, Rodney Sark, Laurence Janna Scone and Roger Finke (American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, May 1996, pp.433-436) report on the basis of actual survey data that (i) a predominant proportion of people surveyed continue to take religion seriously; (ii) educational achievements and religious faith bear a positive rather than a negative relation to each other; and, (iii) more surprisingly, students and teachers of hard (Physical) sciences are on an average more religious than those of soft (social) sciences.

What Truly Makes Man Happy?

More than all this, their survey data show that religious beliefs and practices are perceived by people to improve self-esteem, life-satisfaction, and ability to withstand stress. It is also seen to actually improve mental and physical health. Why not? Does not Baba say that “You are the children of bliss, of deathlessness. You are God.” A devotee once asked Swami, “Bhagavan, You have given me so much. What should I do for You?” Prompt came the reply: “Be happy.” All of us are indeed and ultimately in search of happiness. Baba says, “Happiness is your birthright.” But how do we secure this ultimate objective of life? Gravely mistaken, we seek it from material prosperity. Even worse, we are many a time deluded into feeling that we have got it. That pleasure is at best only a short-lived illusion, does not take long to dawn on us. What one needs to seek is permanent happiness - Bliss.

Baba says, “Happiness is your birthright.” But how do we secure this ultimate objective of life? Gravely mistaken, we seek it from material prosperity. Even worse, we are many a time deluded into feeling that we have got it. That pleasure is at best only a short-lived illusion, does not take long to dawn on us. What one needs to seek is permanent happiness - Bliss.

 

It is gratifying that this subject of ‘Happiness’ is now receiving serious attention from reputed social scientists. Professor Easterlin, who I had the privilege of having as my teacher, had the wisdom to turn to this three decades ago, despite disapproval from many of his peers. However, the fact that many others have subsequently joined him in this line of research speaks for itself. The state of knowledge until recently as summarized by B. S. Frey and A. Stutzer (Journal of Economic Literature, June 2002, pp.402-435) gives us remarkable results based on rigorous empirical research.

It is instructive to recall some of these. When relatively richer persons were asked whether they were happier than the rest, they answered in the affirmative. However, when people were asked to recall their feelings over a longer life cycle and check if they were happier now when they enjoyed higher real incomes than before, the answer was in the negative.

In fact, this is corroborated by the data on Japan for over forty years during which the real per capita income has steeply increased; whereas the carefully constructed happiness index based on survey data for the same period has remained more or less flat. How puzzling! The longer view which goes beyond temporary pleasures, is indeed, a correct indicator of happiness.

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“Happiness is your birthright.” - Baba

The clear signal is that, longer and lasting happiness even at the material level cannot be secured from income and wealth. This brings into focus Baba’s prescription of “Ceiling on Desires” as the only way to enjoy true happiness

There is also, in any case, the larger question of how long material wealth per individual can keep on growing and at what cost. The questions of happiness and contentment are closely linked with the ways in which incomes are earned and the style of life one is leading. That income earned by Satwic and Dharmic ways gives one greater contentment is well borne out by facts. So does a peaceful life style and the extent to which one may endeavour to help others with a feeling of love. Practice of the five Values - Sathya, Dharma, Santhi, Prema and Ahimsa, emphasized by Bhagavan are thus direct inputs for real happiness.

The Sai Way of Spirituality Within Society

Saints and sages from time immemorial have endeavoured to inspire and promote Divinity among their fortunate devotees. But the Mission chosen by an Avatar is much higher and all-embracing. The present Avatar has declared repeatedly that His Mission is the transformation of the entire humanity and to usher in the Golden Age of Love.

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The uniqueness of His modus operandi lies not only in how He translates hard problems into those amenable to simple algorithms, but also in how He has viewed the problems themselves. It is noteworthy that from the earliest days, Bhagavan has not only linked His devotees to God, but equally strongly to Society by emphasizing that everyone is a spark of Divinity. Two of His messages which particularly stand out as unique in this context are: “The Proper study of Mankind is Man” and “Love for God, Fear of Sin, and Morality in Society.”

 

It is noteworthy that from the earliest days, Bhagavan has not only linked His devotees to God, but equally strongly to Society by emphasizing that everyone is a spark of Divinity. Two of His messages which particularly stand out as unique in this context are: “The Proper study of Mankind is Man” and “Love for God, Fear of Sin, and Morality in Society.”

Both of these are essential in understanding how Sai saturates an activist societal viewpoint with spirituality. In fact, it will be no exaggeration even to say that social activism devoid of God-centric morality is empty and logically infirm. The first of these sets out an ideal social structure reminiscent of the French social philosopher Rousseau’s concept of “social contract.”

“The proper study of mankind is Man” may indeed be interpreted in three different ways. First, it may simply be asking us to understand each other as a starting point for a healthy harmonious society; this is akin to the vedic exhortation Sahanavavatu Sahanau Bhunakthu, Sahaveeryam Karavavahai; Tejaswinavadheetam Asthu ma Vidvishavahai (May He protect both of us. May He nourish both of us. May we both acquire the capacity [to study and understand the scriptures]. May our study be brilliant. May we not argue with each other).

A second meaning, that suggests itself, requires us to turn inside so as to understand ourselves. However, I believe the really intended meaning is that every member of the society should adopt the human body as a model of perfect harmony based on concern for each other. Each of us needs to act like a limb of the human body. If one limb is in trouble, another will automatically, in a perfectly programmed manner, as it were, help the needful. This is how members of the society should be sensitive to each other’s pain and pleasure. No Avatar has, as far as I am aware, actively fostered this societal attitude among His followers.

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Understanding 'The proper study of mankind is man' through the limb hierarchy

The second prescription, namely, ‘Love of God, Fear of Sin, and Morality in Society’ or Daiva Preethi, Papa Bheethi, Sangha Neethiis a follow-up on the first one providing a masterly solution to mundane materialistic as well as the higher (spiritual) problems of today’s world. Its real purpose lies in bringing God back to the center stage. Love of God is the prime mover in the process because only those who love God will fear sin. Fear and sin look somewhat misplaced at first sight. But deeper thought gives a real meaning to both of them. Sin is the result of ego and the associated six devils of desire: anger, greed, attachment, pride, envy and conceit.

What exactly is the reason for fear? The worst fear is that caused by loss of awareness of the proximity to God. Thus, the fear of sin arises only when the relationship with God is one of love. Fear of sin must therefore prevent one from all evil tendencies, and make one take morally correct stands on all issues relating to the society. This is particularly important today when one is surrounded by corruption, exploitation, oppression and so many other evils. If humanity has to save itself from self-destruction, there is no other way. To ensure this, God has willed to be with us again at this critical juncture. May we practice what He has come to teach us! Jai Sai Ram!

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Dear Reader, did you find this article inspiring? Do you have such experiences in our daily life that you would like to share? Please share your thoughts with us at [email protected] mentioning your name and country.  Thank you for your time.


 

 

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Vol 6 Issue 05 - MAY 2008
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