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NITAAI-Veda.nyf > Soul Science God Philosophy > Science and Spiritual Quest > Section 1 Scientific and Spiritual Paths for Ultimate Reality > SCIENCE, RELIGION AND SPIRITUALITY > Manmohan Singh

Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister of India


We are living in a world of unprecedented change. Human knowledge, particularly scientific and technological knowledge, is increasing at a pace which was unthinkable only a few decades ago.  In its material sense, science has indeed revolutionized the very basis of human existence. The civilization in which we live today has been profoundly influenced by science and technology,  particularly by their ability to harness nature to serve humankind. The great saga of modern scientific discoveries and their practical manifestation in new technologies bring out how the human  mind in a disciplined pursuit of science has developed an extraordinary capacity to wrest from nature truths whose applications have greatly enhanced our capacity to satisfy human wants. The  advance of science and technology is forcing social, economic, political and cultural institutions everywhere to adjust and adapt to the fast-changing environmental conditions. Advances in the  spheres of transport, communication and information technologies are fast creating an interdependent global economy. At the same time, unequal access to science and technology is leading to  a widening of disparities in income and wealth between rich and poor people in a country and between rich and poor nations.Properly harnessed, advances in science and technology (particularly  biotechnology, information and health care technology) make it possible, as never before in human history, to eradicate mass poverty, ignorance and disease from the surface of mother earth.  Technical progress greatly helps to reduce the drudgery of human life and it can provide human beings more time for leisure and pursuit of art and culture. Technology has contributed to leisure.  Thanks to the advent of mass media such as television, access to classical music and other refined arts is no longer a monopoly of the rich and the super-rich.


However, there is a darker side to modern technology, intensive economy, and society. The power that science and technology have given us over nature has been won at a price. Concern for  the environment has followed hard on the heels of the concern about the destructive potential of the weapons of mass destruction that twentieth-century technology has gifted to the people of the  world.Moreover, the sheer rapidity of technological change has given rise to a number of social and psychological problems,. whicn make the modern world, for all its technological marvels, an  uncomfortable and an unfulfilling place to live in. As Robert Wright has pointed out in a recent article entitled "The evolution of Despair"1 the rates of depression have been doubling in some  industrial couitries every 10 years. Suicide is the third most common cause of death amcng young adults in North America after car accidents and homicides. Wright goes on to assert that  pathological alienation is a hallmark of advanced and rich countries. The new technologies and their products such as cars, refrigerators, television and suburbia are creating a growing feeling of  social isolation and erosion of bonds of neighborly interdependence. The advertisement-driven irresistible pressure for more and more consumer goods is contributing to the breakup of the family  system, neglect of children and older people and increased mertal stress among women who have to combine their maternal responsibilities with those of earning a living. There is a growing  feeling that the modern acquisitive society often prevents human being from cultivating the warm, affinitive side of human nature. And this feeling is no longer confined to people in tie developed  countries. It is fast spreading to poor countries as they experience uncoordinated and unbalanced urbanization and development.


As mentioned earlier, the ever-increasing demand for more and more material goods now poses a serious threat to the environment and ecological stability of our planet. Apart from the  disastrous consequences that may follow from global warning and the depletion of the ozone layer, many countries, including our own, already face a severe degradation of their land and water  resources and growing noise and air pollution in their cities.Moreover, since the capacity for the production of new scientific and technological knowledge is unevenly distributed among the  nations of the world, the inequalities of income, wealth and power among the rich and the poor nations are likely to increase. It is therefore not surprising that there is a growing concern among  scholars about the possibility of a serious clash among the civilisations of the world - particularly between the Western liberal civilizations of Eu-ope and North America on the one hand and the  civilizations of West Asia and East Asia on the other.The list few years have seen major changes in international relations. What was unthirkable only a decade ago has now become a reality.  The Cold War has ended The forces of State Absolutism represented by communism have suffered a major defeat in Eastern Europe and the erstwhile USSR. The apartheid regime in Soith  Africa has given place to a multiracial democracy. A number of regional conflicts are being resolved. Yet neither peace nor progress nor democracy is as secure as is sometimes assumed. We  are not about to witness the enl of history. With the end of the Cold War, traditional economic rivalries among the major developed countries threaten to unleash ugly trade wars. Communism  may have been defeated but the poor are still with us and the quest for social justice cannot be neglected. Ethnic and religious differences and sub-regional nationalism pose new challenges to  peace, national unity and cohesion in several countries. The expected peace dividend from the melt-down of the Cold War and disarmament has not materialized. The sheer rapidity of change is  breeding new feelings of uncertainty and insecurity among the people in various parts of the world. There is an increasing distrust of governments as they fail to meet the rising aspirations of their  people.


The march of science and technology should normally weaken the forces of obscurantism, superstition and dogmatism. However, in several countries, the growing feelings of insecurity,  uncertainty and persistent social deprivation are contributing to the rise of religious fundamentalism of a perverse kind which claims an exclusive monopoly of knowledge and wisdom and  emphasizes rigid uniformity rather than harmony in a culturally pluralistic setting. The world is highly dissatisfied with the existing order. Yet the new order is still to be born. There is a spiritual  vacuum.What are the implications of these developments for the future of India? As I see it, we cannot disown the use of modern science and technology to improve the human condition. Indeed,  without purposeful use of modern science and technology, we cannot get rid of the chronic poverty, ignorance and disease which still afflict millions of people in our country. We have to  modernize our agriculture and industry. We need a strong economy to enable us to play a meaningful role in the management of the evolving global interdependence of nations. We need the help  of science and technology to evolve environmentally sound and sustainable strategies for the livelihood of our vast population. Simultaneously, we must evolve patterns of economic and social  organization and human behavior which do not breed social isolation or alienation. There ought to be maximum possible decentralization of power and encouragement of community-oriented  social action. The challenge is to make use of modern science and technology to meet the basic human needs of our people rather than to promote lifestyles which are a carbon copy of the  lifestyles of the post-industrial rich societies of the West. Our task is to use new technologies as instruments for empowering the poor to realize their latent creative potential and Jr» participate in  the mainstream of national, social, cultural, economic and political life.


The question is: how is this balanced social transformation going to be achieved? Scientific and technological knowledge has immense potential both for good as well as for evil. For example,  both nuclear physics and biogenetic research give rise to profound moral dilemmas as to their possible uses. Yet science by itself does not provide us a moral compass to guide humanity to  make wise choices in the use of scientific knowledge. The answer to this problem is not to stop the growth of knowledge or to remain ignorant. The thought that a free flow of ideas is the best  means of discovering truth has great merit. Yet we cannot take the view that human beings, unable to foresee the consequences of new knowledge, should always prefer more to less  knowledge. The challenge ahead is to match humankind's capacity to assess the consequences of new knowledge to its capacity to produce and absorb new knowledge. This is possible only if  scientific progress is accompanied by mass moral awakening to raise relevant ethical questions about the use of knowledge. The enlightenment notion of man as a creation of reason, proportion  and decency is not adequate. We need to develop a morally informed consciousness which lays emphasis on self-control and asks basic ethical questions to guide humankind in a socially  constructive use of knowledge.


For the discovery of these moral values and ethical norms we must turn to religion and spirituality. By religion, I do not refer to any particular sect or creed but to the eternal and universal religion  which lays emphasis on the essential oneness and unity of all humankind. It is this religious tradition that finds an eloquent expression in Gurbani and to which Vivekananda was referring when he  said that in India the backbone, the foundation, the life centre is religion and religion alone. It is this very concept of religion which Gandhiji made the basis of his politics and on the basis of which  he wished to spiritualize politics. There are alternative spiritual paths supported by different philosophical system's to guide us in our quest for self-perfection and social good through the judicious  mix of self-study, self-control of body and mind and righteous conduct (a combination of bhaktiyoga, fianayoga and karmayoga). But basically they all explore the same fundamental truths  although they use different idioms. Thus spirituality is a quest for inner and outer perfection to face the challenges of life. As both Gurbani and the Geta teach us, it does not mean a withdrawal  from the world, particularly when there is so much suffering and injustice all around us, but action and striving based on the Law of Dharma, to transform the world. It is a quest to evolve a design  for living, informed and guided by the divinity within us, which gives our lives a meaning and a sense of purpose.Thus we have to combine the use of science and technology to a new spiritual  awakening so that increased material well-being and leisure are not wasted in costly excitements catering to the needs of the body but become the important means to rekindle the higher  impulses both for social reform, including reform of religious practices, based on the dignity of individual human being, compassion, tolerance, gentleness, truthfulness and nonviolence. If  successfully ccomplished, this mission can enable India to make a powerful contribution to "te evolution of a truly universal human civilization of the future based both on reason and morality and  a synthesis of science and spirituality. Einstein probably had this synthesis in mind when he stated that science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.


We should not take seriously those who quote Rudyard Kipling's lines - East is East and West is West, and never the Twain shall meet - to support the notion that Eastern and Western cultures  are so alien to one another that any attempt to reconcile them is fruitless. It should be the common endeavor of all those engaged in the interfaith dialogue to evolve a universal value system  suited to the increasingly interdependent world we live in. Then only we can expect enduring peace and harmony in the world.As I see it, there is really no contradiction between science and  spirituality; indeed it can be argued that the two are complementary. Science gives us a new vision of the unknown. But it is not inconsistent with the existence of an ultimate spiritual reality and  an eternal purpose behind the cosmic process. One does not need to point to numerous scientists from Newton to Einstein who were deeply spiritual men to substantiate this point, for that may  be purely coincidental. I wish instead to suggest a deeper relationship between these as temperaments.By science, in fact what we mean is the scientific temperament and not simply the  particular technological products of a particular time and age. The scientific temperament, or scientific method, as it is more commonly known, is the replacement of almost every kind of  authority by individual reason. Nothing is too sacrosanct to be questioned by the inquiring mind; everything is open to question, discussion and public scrutiny. Every step requires justification and  transparency. Science is not infallible, seems to be the presupposition of this method of inquiry; indeed, it is the very fallibility of man that makes it imperative that we should be as open, as  non-dogmatic as possible in our attempt to understand both the nature of the world as well as our own selves. Science is thus opposed to dogma and to superstition which is the unreflective  transmission of dogmas.


Spirituality is a refined or higher state of the mind; it is really one of the resources of consciousness, and it is an ability we human beings have, whether we use it or not. Human beings can view  themselves and their own actions from the outside, as it were, by stepping aside. One way of characterizing such an ability is "self-consciousness." To be a spiritual person means to have the  ability to transcend oneself, to see oneself, as the philosopher Spinoza put it, "sub species aetenitas" (under the category of eternity). From such a perspective, the universe is just what that word  suggests about a universe - a single connected whole, of which the individual consciousness is its one subjective aspect.


Now, science or the scientific temperament does not, indeed it cannot, contest such a perspective because in many ways it shares it. The recognition of the interdependence of Nature's  explosive diversity has now become an ecological truism. At the level of pure matter, the expanding universe has at its beginning but a single source.Despite their impressive gains, the human  sciences are far from having exhausted their potential. Newton modestly and poetically likened himself to a child collecting shells before the great ocean of being. What is spirituality except the  awareness of ourselves in the face of the infinite?In bringing about a new synthesis of science and spirituality and building a new universal empire of the spirit, the role of education is of critical  importance. Our education needs to be inspired by a value system which prizes commitment to the simultaneous pursuit of excellence and social equity, celebration of pluralism and diversity,  and acceptance of limits on space and desire in a world with finite resources. We need entrepreneurs who regard themselves as trustees of society and who pursue the goal of creating more  wealth more as a social obligation to fulfill the national commitment for the removal of poverty and not merely for the sake of personal enjoyment. We need professional managers who are  intellectually alert, operate on the frontiers of knowledge and are socially involved. We need religious leaders who will use the vast transformative potential of religion to build new bridges of  understanding and goodwill among the practitioners of their respective faith. For our democracy to succeed in the gigantic task of removal of mass poverty and for social and moral regeneration  of our people, we need enlightened citizens and dedicated leaders of public opinion. We need political leaders who view politics not as merely a ticket for power for purposes of  self-aggrandizement but as a purposeful instrument of social change. We need enlightened citizens who refuse to be swayed by appeals to narrow sectional, communal or caste prejudices and  who recognize that the only way to govern India firmly and fairly is through tolerance and respect for diversity and democratic pluralism.


As I look around, the contemporary Indian scene is full of daunting challenges.Millions of people still continue to live a life of abject poverty. Mass poverty and extreme affluence walk side by side.  There is much ambivalence in the political,   social   and  economic   life   of our  country.   There   is  a  growing dissatisfaction with the status quo. People are eager for changes which will

enable them to lead a life of fulfilment. India has vast human resources and servoirs  of creativity,  adventure  and enterprise.   But  there  is  too  much selfishness, corruption and divisiveness in  our society which threaten social I sion  and  tne  effectiveness   of national  policies   for  reconstruction  and evelopment.We need a meaningful national consensus for social and economic

regeneration of our country. But the economy is not an end in itself. It is only a means to enable our people to lead a life of dignity and self-respect inspired by the humanistic values of civic  morality. To accomplish this task, we need a powerful movement for moral regeneration and spiritual awakening. Our awareness and understanding of the physical universe ought to go hand in  hand with the discovery and cultivation of the moral universe within each human being. We need human knowledge and education which will lead not merely to assertion of mind over life and  matter but, as Dr. S. Radhakrishnan once stated,to the triumph of the spirit over mind, body and life.


India has to lead the world to realize that a bond of spiritual unity links the entire humankind. There is such a thing as national pride and our thoughts and actions should lead us to take legitimate  pride in being Indians. But as Jawaharlal Nehru quoted approvingly Rabindranath Tagore, we should never forget that the best efforts of Indian sages over the ages were directed to the promotion  of unity of humankind. "He who has realized the unity of man by identifying himself with the universe is free from ignorance and sorrow."^ This will bring peace to every individual and thus we  could achieve world peace.