Monday, July 15, 2013

Science and Mysticism: Are they compatible?

(One of the four topics for essay from UPSC paper 2012)

Sharaabiyon ko akeedat hai tumse, jo tu pilade to paani sharaab ho jaaye
Jisko tu muhabbat se dekhe saaki wo sharaabi ho jaaye...

Sams, had a question which no scholar of his time could answer. Finally he was asked to meet Rumi as only he could answer such a question. It is said that when Sams asked his question Rumi fell down of the ground, some say the book Rumi was holding is his hand caught fire when Sams asked: “How great is my glory, we do not know You as we should?”
Rumi, one of the greatest Sufi poets the world has read, spent a long time in conversation with his friend Sams. When he lost Sams, Rumi went from place to place to search for his friend. Then one day he said:
Why should I seek? I am the same as he.
His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself.

The union became complete. Rumi merged with Sams – fana – is the apt word.

Such is the world of mystic saint, where reality fuses into imagination and imagination becomes reality.

Coming to our times, "Philosophy is dead” claimed Stephen Hawkins in his book The Grand Design. The same author left me deeply confused when I came across another book by the same author whose title was Leopold Kronecker’s famous quote: God Created The Integers. He certainly would have not named a book with such a title if he does not believes in God (or some form of his own God, as we all have our own Gods), then he believes in religion and thus philosophy too. For to me there can be no religion without philosophy.

Though such contemplation, rather confusion over what Stephen Hawkins truly believes to be true, might not appear directly related to the topic of the present article but I found it important to enter the realm of Science through the eyes of one of the greatest scientists of our time, and enter the world mysticism through the eyes of Rumi.

Philosophy is a word derived from a Greek work, philos, which means love of wisdom. Wikipedia defines it as:

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language”.

Religion on the other hand is defined as:

Religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to the supernatural, and to spirituality.


“Mysticism is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight. Mysticism usually centres on practices intended to nurture those experiences. Mysticism may be dualistic, maintaining a distinction between the self and the divine, or may be non-dualistic”.


“Science (from Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. In an older and closely related meaning, "science" also refers to a body of knowledge itself, of the type that can be rationally explained and reliably applied. A practitioner of science is known as a scientist.”

At the very start I would like mention, that maintain that scientists are not atheists by rule. Ramanujam, who was a Mathematician, claimed to derive divine insights from the Goddess Namagiri.

Abraham Lincoln  once said, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” In History we get several such examples. The French Revolution which gave the went on to give ideas of the upcoming democracies. The politics of tomorrow was defined in the precepts of philosophical schools of yesterday. Gandhi ji said, ‘Those who say religion has to do nothing with politics, do not understand religion’. Connecting the two thoughts, I find, philosophy closely related to politics and religion closely concerned with politics. The inter-marriage of the three is but inevitable. Politics cannot live in vacuum and religion cannot be untouched of philosophy. Religion and philosophy try to answer the eternal questions of mankind about life and its meaning. While politics affects his life as a social animal in all possible ways. A man once born cannot escape the three, such is the trap in which a thinking mind finds itself.

Science, as we know it today, is not as old as religion or philosophy. Surely there were scientists, chemists, biologists in antiquity, but talking about modern Sciences we can say that the power centres were more in the clutches of religious power centres rather than influenced by scientific ideas. Church had a strong hold in the western countries even in the eighteenth century. It was the twentieth century which saw rapid advances in sciences and the two world wars brought tremendous new innovations. Engines were made, flights became common, communication became easier, space explorations began in post second world war period and continue to this day. Our curiosities have taken us to distant lands of Mars as well. We live in a fast world, where ideas fly from one corner of the world to another in no time. A Ghangam style of dance in East Asia becomes common in west overnight. A rock song of west becomes the anthem for the east the moment it gets uploaded on youtube or other such portals. In such an age, it is not very popular to see people sitting in contemplation over philosophic questions of the past.

Religion is strong force even today. Religion has kept itself abreast with the changing world and defined or redefined its precepts in the light of the present situations. People follow many religions. In fact not many religions have died since ancient times. States are run by religions sentiments in many part of the world. Communal strifes are common.

One may say that though, a lot has changed but there is no point writing epitaphs of philosophy or of religion. Both are very much alive.

Compatibility of the two (Science and Mysticism) brings to fore the problem comparing the inputs and outputs of the two. Science starts with questioning physical or natural phenomenon and then skids into the realm of logical reasoning, laboratory experiments, observation, hypothesis, proving and disproving to finally emerge to light with better understanding of the initial problem. Sometimes the searches are accidental as Madam Curie discovered radioactivity. Sometimes it is anxious waiting in the dark as Albert Einstein said one discovering the relationship between energy and mass: The years of anxious searching in the dark, with their intense longing, their intense alternations of confidence and exhaustion and the final emergence into the light—only those who have experienced it can understand it. In Budhdhism such a state can be said to be in some be equivalent to attaining Budhdhahood or enlightenment. Looking for something hidden by nature from human perception and being more real than reality, is in some way the aspiration of any seeker of God. The process might be different but the final emergence to light which brings greater understand of life can be said to be common to both the endeavors.

The desire to know God:
"I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details." - Albert Einstein.
A naked man jumps in a river, hornets swarming above him. The water is the zikr, remembering. There is no reality but God. There is only God.
The hornets are his sexual remembering, this woman, that woman. Or if a woman, this man, that. The head comes up. They sting.
Breathe water. Become river head to foot. Hornets leave you alone then. Even if you’re far from the river, they pay no attention.
No one looks for stars when the sun’s out. A person blended into God does not disappear. He, or she, is just completely soaked in God’s qualities. Do you need a quote from the Qur’an?
All shall be brought into our Presence.
Join those travellers. The lamps we burn go out, some quickly. Some last till day break. Some are dim, some intense, all fed with fuel.
If a light goes out in one house, that doesn’t affect the next house. This is the story of the animal soul, not the divine soul. The sun shines on every house. When it goes down, all houses get dark.
Light is the image of your teacher. Your enemies love the dark. A spider weaves a web over a light, out of himself, or herself, makes a veil.
Don’t try to control a wild horse by grabbing its leg. Take hold the neck. Use a bridle. Be sensible. Then ride! There is a need for self-denial.
Don’t be contemptuous of old obediences. They help.” – Rumi   (Poem – Zikr)

A mystic a more undisciplined in his flights of imagination. Rumi once wondered:
Who makes these changes?
I shoot an arrow right.
It lands left.
I ride after a deer and find myself
Chased by a hog.
I plot to get what I want
And end up in prison.
I dig pits to trap others
And fall in.

I should be suspicious
Of what I want.

But the fanatic desire to annihilate with the one and be the one who is immanent and yet hidden is something which is same in both scientists and mystics.

As far as compatibility is concerned they don’t seem to complement each other neither do they come in conflict with each other. Science goes on evolving with time. Old theories become obsolete, new ones come up. New understanding takes place of old believes. And the process of knowing more and more through experiments and observations goes on. The maddening distance from the One, pains and eludes the wit of many thinkers. Some commit or attempt to suicide too.

A natural disaster leaves both, the scientist and a mystic perplexed and ask how can the creator take so many lives of innocents. Is there no creator. Voltaire said, if there is no creator, we need to create one. Dostoevsky maintained that is there is no God, then everything is permitted. The chaos, that shall unleash, in absence of the idea of a creator, horrifies one and all. The compatibility or non compatibility of the two rests of the one final question: Do the two seek the same? This is the point where I must admit to the readers that I find the question absurd, not worth answering.

Pale sunlight
Pale the wall
Love moves away
The light changes
I need more grace that I thought. - Rumi

चल दोबारा ज़िन्दगी से प्यार कर

तू किसी शोख़ का सिंगार कर रख भी दे ये ख़ामोशी उतार कर तीरगी ये पल में टूट जायेगी  चल दोबारा ज़िन्दगी से प्यार कर एक ही नहीं कई शिकायतें ...