Please visit Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation by Athreya and Mouza at Springer.com

Friday, March 22, 2019

Vedic Gods as Symbols (Concluded)


The cow and the horse often stand for the Vedic dualism of Light and its Power, Knowledge and the Will, and Consciousness and its Energy. 

Several Rk mantras are dedicated to Soma who symbolizes Ananda, Immortality. Soma is the Lord of the wine of heavenly delight, the Ananda of Immortality. The soma juice used in the sacrifice is the symbol of this heavenly delight. This is the human counterpart of the amrita of the Devas and asuras.

Brahman is expression of the heart (or soul).  Later the word Brahman came to denote Supreme Soul or Universal Brahman. Vritra is the personification of the opposite of the Conscient Brahman and is darkness, ignorance. Indra slays Vritra to release the conscient, knowledge.

Brahman also signifies the Vedic Word or mantra in its profoundest aspect. This corresponds to the logos in the west.  It arises out of the depth of the being and can be experienced as an intuitive feeling. This Universe is an expression or manifestation of the word, Brahman. The world is a creation by the Word.

Based on the area of activity, Brahman is called dhatru (supporter), Prajapati (the first offspring), Vishwakarma (maker of things), thrathru (protector, savior), nethru (guide), thvashtru (giver of forms) and savitru (animator).

“Brahma is the Creator, one of the three who form the great Puranic Trinity; Brihaspati is a figure of no great importance, spiritual teacher of the gods, and incidentally guardian of the planet Jupiter; Brihaspati is the self-expressive soul, the Purusha, the Bull of the herds. Brahmanaspati, the middle term which once linked the two, has disappeared.” (Aurobindo page 317).

Twashtri is the Framer of things, who gives the physical consciousness of the body in which to experience the delight of existence. The Ribhus are the powers of luminous knowledge who build up the vital, mental and causal/ideal from the material, physical consciousness.

The word Tat to refer to the supreme, beyond Vishnu comes as the first word in sloka 4.

All mythical images refer to planes of consciousness and to fields of experiences say Joseph Campbell and Sri Aurobindo.  According to the Vedic rishis, Prithvi, Bhu is physical consciousness; Bhuvah is Antariksha, intermediate nervous energy, mental consciousness. Swar is the summit of this pure mental consciousness; Dyaus or Heaven of the devas is pure mental consciousness. 

According to the Vedas and Vedic symbols, there are seven principles of existence. They are Pure Existence, Pure Consciousness, Pure Bliss, Knowledge, Mind, Life and Matter (earth). There are corresponding physical or metaphysical worlds (sapta loka) in the Puranic and the Mythical worlds.

According to Sri Aurobindo, the seven Principles of Existence (spiritual, supramental) and corresponding mythical worlds are as follows: 

1. Pure Existence—Sat World of the highest truth of being (Satyaloka)

2. Pure Consciousness— Chit World of infinite Will or conscious force (Tapoloka)

3. Pure Bliss—Ananda World of creative delight of existence (Janaloka)

4. Knowledge or Truth— Vijnana World of the Vastness (Maharloka)

5. Mind – Swar World of light (Swar) Dyaus

6. Life (nervous being)- (Bhuvar) Worlds of various becoming antariksha

7. Matter – Bhur  The material world (Bhur) Prithvi

In the Vedas, the Trinity (Three Divine Principle) consists of Sat – Chit – and Ananda. The link world of Vignana consists of Truth, Light and Vastness corresponding to Sat -Chit and Ananda and connects to the lower world of the human.

In the lower world, Swar is the Heaven (Dyaus) with its Truth, Light and vastness or the Pure Mind; Bhuvar or Antariksha is the life-force and Bhur is Matter or earth.

Rg Veda, Book 1 Chapter 154 on Vishnu mentions his three steps (the three worlds of Bhu, Bhuvah and Swah – Matter, Life and Mind) and of the word Nara. According to Rishi Dirgathamas, the trinity includes earth, heaven and a place called tridatu which is the ultimate step of Vishnu, a place of eternal bliss and light. Tridatu is also the concept behind sat-chit-ananda. Corresponding words in Rg Veda are vasu, ūrj and priyam or mayas.

Earth, heaven and the tridatu world of bliss are the three strides. Between earth and heaven is the Antariksha, the vital worlds of breath and nervous activity. Between heaven and the world of bliss is another vast Antariksha of Maharloka, the world of the superconscient Brahman.

Human draws his life-force and mental abilities from this world, but he is in constant touch with the Truth, Light and Vastness of the Swar world and through that with the Divine world, as seen in the classifications above. In the words of Sri Aurobindo (page 374): “We have subjective faculties hidden in us which correspond to all the tiers and strata of the objective cosmic system and these form for us so many planes of our possible existence.”

The earth is man’s (man and woman, the human) material or physical existence. The life in the mind is man’s heaven. His life with passions and desires is his mid-world of antariksha. Heaven is the mental consciousness. Dyaus or Heaven is the pure mental principle not affected by the reactions in the body and the mind. He can reach the world of Truth and Sat when he is no longer the thinker but the Seer. It is possible to go from the world of the mortal to that of Sat Chit Ananda, since they are inherent in him.

When we move from the inspirations of the Vedic poets to the era of rituals and worship of the images of God we notice that the idea of vastness leads to spirituality. The idea of multiplicity leads to gods and religions. Although names of many gods such as Indra, Varuna, Agni are mentioned in the Vedas, they are many godheads invoking only one Godhead. It is one with many aspects, has many names, and reveals Itself to man with many personalities.  It is the one Existent to whom the seers give different names, Indra, Matarishwan, Agni, (Rg I.164.46). It can be realized through any one of the aspects of the One with any one of the names and forms.

Rudra, Vishnu and Brahmanaspati of the Vedic mantras are the forerunners of the Puranic Trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. They are the forces behind the other gods such as agni, vayu, surya etc who are active in the everyday world, physical and mental.

At the mental level, Brahmanaspati, as Brahma creates the universe by his Word. He brings Light out of darkness and speeds the formation of conscious beings. Rudra is the force behind the upward evolution of the conscious being. In this process he is benevolent and healer when asked to help. He is also the destroyer of all evils and obstructions. Vishnu provides the static elements such as the earth and the space for the Word of Brahma and the Forceful actions of Rudra.

Finally, our rishis did not think that wickedness is natural to man, since he has the Divine in him. Sin is not a part of Vedic philosophy. Ignorance is.

In one parable, Rishi Shunahshepa is the victim tied to a sacrificial post by Ignorance with its triple cord of “limited mind, inefficient life and physical animality (passions)”. It is because of lack of perception of Truth and Light, or lack of acceptance or just insufficient effort to follow the Truth. It is also because of man’s natural instincts which tend to follow its desires and immediate pleasures. Sri Aurobindo quotes from Vasishta’s prayer to Varuna as follows: “It is from the poverty of the will we went contrary to truth, O Pure and Puissant one…………. wheresoever by the Ignorance we have put away thy laws, smite us not O God.”    (concluded)






Thursday, March 14, 2019

Vedic Gods as Symbols - Part 2


(Now back to Vedic Gods as Symbols from 2/23/2019)

The following comments on the Vedic gods and how they relate to the physical, mental and “supramental” realms are based on my understanding of Sri Aurobindo’s writing.

Word is the expression of thought in mind. Mantra is the power of the word in its expression.

In the tenth chapter of Rg veda (10-72), it is mentioned that  Aditi, the Divine Mother had eight sons. They are called the Adityas. The first seven are Indra, Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman, Bhaga, Dhatru and Amsha. Martanda was the eighth and it is said Aditi shunned him and set him aside for death.  He is mentioned as a form of Surya. Later  Martanda was equated with Vivaswat. Later still, Adityas included 12 members including Vishnu and Rudra.

One system lists 10 Adityas. They are: Dhatru, Mitra, Aryama, Rudra, Varuna, Surya, Bhaga, Vivaswan, Pusha and Savita. Later additions of Thvastru and Vishnu made the total of Adityas to twelve.

Indra represents the power of Pure Intelligence. Indra is also denoted by the word, vrushaba or Bull, and Indra is the Lord of Thoughts, the bull of the herds leading the mind towards Bliss. He is the Lord of the Swar loka or the realm of luminous intelligence and the male power presiding over the energies of Nature. In later systems of philosophy, he metamorphosed to Purusha of the Samkhya Philosophy (the female power is known as gna, to know)

Varuna, the soul of vastness and purity (sat of sat chit Ananda). He is the Lord of all the Waters, of the Ocean, the rivers and the rain, vast and pure. “The rivers journey to the Truth of Varuna” according to Sri Aurobindo. As water, he is the purifier. He is the guardian of Truth.

Mitra is the soul of love and harmony; light and knowledge (Ananda). He is the builder, sustainer and harmonizer of Truth. He is the Divine friend of the humans, the most beloved of the gods. Often interchanged with Surya.

Sri Aurobindo quotes a prayer to the twin-gods of Mitra and Varuna by Madhucchandas from Rg Veda as follows: “Mitra I call, the pure in judgment, and Varuna, devourer of the foe. By Truth, Mitra and Varuna, Truth-increasers who get to the touch of Truth………….”  (page 509)

Aryaman is the force behind the light of Divine Consciousness, the aspirer for Divine Knowledge. No hymn is specifically dedicated to him. He is always mentioned in conjunction with Mitra and Varuna. Aurobindo points out that in the Puranic tradition, there are two kinds of Fathers – one Divine and one human. The human ancestors are the manes. The first of the Divine Fathers who attained immortality is Aryaman. Like Mitra and Varuna, Aryaman makes men follow the path of Truth and Light.

Sri Aurobindo quotes the following Rk in support of this interpretation: “Aryaman of the unbroken path, of the many chariots, who dwells as the seven-fold offerer of sacrifice in births of diverse forms.”

Bhaga is Ananda as creative enjoyment.  Bhaga is Surya, as the Lord of Enjoyment. He is the divine enjoyer in man. Sri Aurobindo quotes the following Rk in support of this interpretation: “Let it be the divine Enjoyer who possesses the enjoyment and by him let us be its possessors; to thee every man calls, O Bhaga; do thou become, O Enjoyer, the leader of our journey.”

The four Kings, namely Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman and Bhaga together with their mother Aditi find themselves fulfilled in the minds of the human beings with the help of the vastness of Varuna, guided by Mitra, achieved by Aryaman and enjoyed by Bhaga.

In another interpretation, Varuna stands for Sat; Mitra stands for all-uniting light of Chit; Aryaman for the force of Tapas (or penance, ardor); Bhaga for Ananda. They emanate from the One and each possesses the essential quality of the other three. All of them exist in every one of us. We are both divine and human at once.

Agni is the mediator between the human and the gods. The Rg Veda starts with the word Agni. He carries our oblations to the gods and returns with light and knowledge. He is more a Force of the gods than a god. He is the “heat of life and the sap of things.”   He is the force behind both Light and Heat (denoted by the word bhama).

Other gods mentioned are: Maruts who represent the power or force of Thought. The power of thought is different from the thought itself. (They are also the Lords of wind, storm and rain)

Sarama is the name of a female hound and she represents the power of Intuition. Like a hound she sniffs out true knowledge hidden inside a rock or a cave in the form of light.

Cow is the symbol of Light from above. The Sanskrit word goh means “cow” and also dawn, cattle, and word. By connotation it stands for “rays of light” particularly when referred to as a group of cows, a  kine.

Vayu is Wind-god. He is the Master of life and Breath-Energy or Prana. Vayu is the Lord of Life. (the word vatapramiya is used) and Prana is the universal breath of life, responsible for all the vital and nervous activities of humans.

Savit (ta, ru),  Divine  Creator whose creation is the Truth, whose outpouring of His Ananda into the human soul during sacrifice helps the human elevate himself to the Divine Bliss.

Savitri: “Creator, especially in the sense of producing, emitting from the unmanifest and bringing out into the manifest.”  (Aurobindo page 302/314)

Surya is the illuminator, Master of Truth; also called Savitri, the creator; also called Pushan, the increaser.

Usha(s) is the Dawn, daughter of Heaven, the medium of awakening preceding Surya Savitri – the Illuminator of the Truth and Creator energy. When we wake up from the darkness of sleep and ignorance, the first step in seeing the world and the universe is being awakened. Without that state of awakening, there is no awareness and no new knowledge. Surya symbolizes this concept as the light of the Truth arising in the human consciousness at Dawn.

The finite, impermanent individual can reach the Infinite Universal. As individuals, we hold both Aditi, the Eternal Light and her sons, devas and also darkness in the form of Diti and her sons, danavas or asuras.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

What is meant by Letting go of the Mind




Soon after I wrote the piece last week, more ideas on this topic flooded my mind. Let me share them with you before I forget.

The word Kavi has come to mean a poet in common usage. But it has several other meanings including wise, intelligent, prophet, thinker, seer and enlightened. It is in the latter sense our ancient rishis who wrote the mantras of the Vedas are denoted by the word kavi. In addition, they expressed their visions in a poetic form with words full of imagery and hidden meanings.

It is with awe I was thinking about the words of our rishis such as “How can you know that by which you know?”, “Let go of that by which you are trying to let go” and “Cut off the mind with the mind.” What do they mean? How can I be a human without the mind? The essence of being a human will be gone? How can I reflect on such noble and mysterious things without the mind? What were they saying?

Here is what these statements mean to me at my current level of understanding.

 1. Desires are of the mind. Let go of unreasonable and unending desires. This will help get over frustration, anxiety and attachment.

2. Let go of unreasonable and imaginary fears. This will get rid of fear of death since it is an unreasonable one. Imaginary fears are what Buddha refers to as the “second arrow.”

3. Let go of dogmas and bias.

By letting go of these aspects of the mind, we are letting go of the hindrances of the mind. That is as good as letting go of the mind.

Finally, if possible, imagine a subject to which my mind itself becomes an object.  This was probably   what was meant when the rishi said in Kena Upanishad “He who does not think but by whose power mind thinks is Brahman.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

What is mind? How do we know it exists?


Dear Friends, I am breaking the sequence of my blog-posts because I have an important personal idea to share with you. Since the entire purpose of these blogs is “to share”, and this one appears to be important I am breaking the flow. It is not original by any means, but a sudden realization of connections of ideas from reading several classics , my own experience as a physician and meditations. 

More important.  I request you to please share your thoughts and criticisms of this idea. Based on your comments I wish to share this with a wider audience.  Thank you. Balu

The way human mind works has fascinated me from the day I entered clinical medicine. I tried to understand the paths my physician-teachers took to arrive at a diagnosis based on incomplete data. I have been thinking about the way I think, and others think about common issues and about difficult diagnostic and management problems. Human mind is special, unique, intriguing and an enigma.

My other interest in meditation and in the realms our mind can take us into during deep-looking and silence has taken me to another level of fascination with the human mind.

I keep my focus on the human mind. Animals and plants have a mind of their own too. But I do not know about them, certainly not at a “first person” level.

After many years of reading and thinking about the mind, I had an insight recently which I wish to share. This came out of reflecting on several books I have been reading recently about Rg Veda, Satapata Brahmana and the Upanishads.

Vedic texts say that before “creating”, Prajapati “desired”. In the west also, according to Genesis, the God said: “Let there be light”, an expression of desire. Desire is born in the mind. But what is mind? What does it do? It wants, feels, thinks, wills and acts. To do its functions, it has to be awake and aware. Awakening comes before anything else. But what was there before awakening, before the first thought?

That is the enigma. That is why Yagnavalkya asked: “How can you know That (capital T) by which you know?”  That is what Vasishta meant when he advised: “Let go of that (small t) by which you are trying to let go.”

Everything exists in this world whether we humans are here or not. But nothing exists if there is no mind to apprehend it. This last statement was driven home by my observation of people with dementia and Alzheimer.

So, what is the idea I wish to share? Nothing in nature points to the existence of the mind, except the mind itself.

 Nature points to the existence of space, air, fire and light, water and elements of this planet and of the universe. But nothing in nature points to the existence of the mind, except the mind itself. The “mind-born” rishis recognized that the existence of the universe is “a secondary and derivative fact with respect to the existence of the mind” as pointed out by Roberto Calasso in his book with the title Ka.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Vedic Gods as Symbols (Sri Aurobindo) Part 1



In his book on the Vedas, Sri Aurobindo points out that the Vedas are books of esoteric symbols and spiritual formulae, which mask themselves as a collection of ritual poems. It appears that the Seers (Rishis) sought to conceal their knowledge from the unfit. What they concealed from the common and the ignorant is revealed to the initiates and the well-prepared in the form of symbols and divine figures.

 This is not peculiar to the Vedic tradition. In Christianity and Buddhism there are different levels of teachings to suit the needs of the seekers. The Sermon on the Mount starts with the words “AND seeing the multitudes, he went up into the mountain:  and when he had sat down, his disciples came unto him.” This is interpreted by a scholar to mean that whereas Jesus taught many “tribes”, he reserved his highest teachings for those who were spiritually ready. Buddha gave simple instructions to the lay followers and difficult ones to the initiates.

 The Vedic mantras carry an inner message which is, at once, physical, psychological and universal. Only when the concealed meanings of the symbols and figures are deciphered that hidden spiritual, psychological ideas are visible. 

Sri Aurobindo points out the example of a statement in the Rg Veda which says that “Sarama by the path of the Truth discovers the herds.” But who is Sarama? What is Truth with a capital T? And what does the word “herd” indicate?

 Sarama refers to a dog, a female dog. A hound to be specific. This sentence makes no sense unless we can figure out what Sarama and herd stand for. Sri Aurobindo helps us by explaining that Sarama stands for intuition. With this understanding, the original sentence means that “Intuition (sarama) by way of the Truth arrives at the hidden illuminations (herd).” It is clearer but  needs further explanation. Human mind searches for the hidden Sat-chit-Ananda using the Divine Light with the help of Truth (represented by Surya) and its intuition.

 The Vedic gods (deities or devas) are names, powers, personalities of the One Supreme Godhead. They represent some essential force of the Divine Being that manifests as functions of the One in the many of the Cosmos. “They manifest the cosmos and are manifest in it.” These gods are personification of abstract ideas and physical aspects of Nature, but they are also connections to realities. They represent goals one should aspire to realize during this life. This is where metaphors and mythologies come in.

 Mythologies represent the “wisdom of life as related to specific culture at a specific time.” Joseph Campbell calls myths as “clues to the spiritual potentialities of human life.” They give meaning to the experiences in our lives. Myths represent the collective consciousness of the tribe, society or civilization. They help lead the individual to spiritual consciousness.

 Joseph Campbell assigns four functions to myths. The first is its reference to the mystery of this universe and life. Mythological stories are based on the understanding of these mysteries in the collective consciousness of societies. The second function is the cosmological dimension, trying to explain physical phenomena such as cyclic nature of seasons and lives. This is the area of interest to science.

 The third function is sociologic which sets the rules for relating to others in the society and with the society and with Nature. This will differ from region to region depending on local geography, climate, flora and the fauna.  In this time of globalization this aspect is not represented in any of the myths. The old mythologies are outdated, and we are in urgent need of a new world-myth. And finally, myths have an educational function, teaching us how to live in this complex world. Maha Bharata is the best example. So are the Vedas, if only we understand what all those Gods and stories represent. 

 One other point. The gods of the Vedas were the earliest. They were replaced by the gods of the Puranas. The myths referred to briefly in the Vedas were elaborated and replaced by those in the Puranas. This is particularly true of myths of creations.

 Early mythologies relate man to nature since they originated when man was a nomad. These were overlaid by later mythologies of settled societies and temples of worship. All of them are full of metaphors. A metaphor is a symbol that stands for something else. For example, a bird and a snake stand for freedom from earthly existence – one because it flies into space and the other because it gets rid of its skin. Metaphors have one meaning by denotation and another by connotation. When deciphered this way, every myth in every religion is helpful to understand this universe and ourselves, one way or another. But when religions get stuck with their own metaphors, interpreting them as facts and the followers also get stuck, spiritual growth is stifled.

 Every plant, bird and animal spoke their hidden messages to the mystics of ancient India. Every river and every mountain became a connection to the flow of time and ascent to divine knowledge. For example, river Ganga and the Milky way; Mount Meru and the Himalayas. The spiritual journey to higher wisdom was a pilgrimage or a battle and needed a whole army of benevolent gods. They fed the gods through sacrifices so gods can give a reliable source of food and animals for future sacrifices.

All the puranas document the noble ideals and the passions of human beings. They document the injustices and sufferings of life in this planet. They also give us ways of overcoming them and attain bliss in this world.  Joseph Campbell pints out that we have to control the savage in us by overcoming the passions in us. That is what most of the heroes in mythological stories do. And further, “These bits of information from ancient times, which have to do with the themes that have supported human life, built civilizations, and informed religions over the millennia, have to do with deep inner problems, inner mysteries, inner thresholds of passage…..”  

The “inner thresholds of passage” are the rites of passage (called Samskaras in India) such as the Sacred Thread ceremony among the Hindus, Confirmation and Baptism in Christianity, Bar and Bat Mitzvah in the Jewish tradition. They initiate the child into adulthood. They are organized and formalized for the adult protector to tell the child: “you are ready to take adult life; here is how you find your inner bliss and your inner destiny.” In myths this was what the mother meant when she told her son either “I do not know your father” as Jabala told her son Satyakama in Chandogya Upanishad or “Go find your father” as when Athena told her son Telemachus in Odyssey.

The best examples for support of this understanding of symbols and myths are seen in Maha Bharata and the Vedic gods. The battle between the Devas and the Asuras or between the Kauravas and the Pandavas represent our internal flights, the conflict for the possession of the worlds of the heaven, earth and the mid-world (antariksha) and for the liberation of the body and life of the human from mortality to immortality.

Vedic myths refer to the flight or ascent of the human mind from dark and finite consciousness to the brilliant light of the infinite. According to Sri Aurobindo,  this is the message of the Vedas. 
(to be continued)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Vignana Darshana - Scientific Philosophy


The Sanskrit word darshana means “point of view”, somewhat similar to the word Philosophy in English. I chose this name because I remembered a book called Sarva Darshana Sangraha written sometime between the 14 or the 15th century. The title means a “Compendium of Points of view”. This book elaborates on 16 different philosophical points of view existent at that time in history of India. This book did not include Vedanta and many more. Scientific point of view was not there, of course. I gave the name Vignana Darshana to this aspect of philosophy, since science is also a point of view. It is a philosophical system with its own rules of inquiry.

The eastern traditions did not emphasize empiricism as much as the western tradition did. Science and its methodology are very much products of the western civilization. Its basic rules were established by Aristotle, Newton, Galileo, Bacon and others. The prime requirements are that the chosen topic be studied in an objective manner, that the methods are transparent and open, the knowledge is available to anyone and the studies reproducible. In its never-ending quest for obtaining reliable knowledge about the universe and the laws of Nature, the human mind uses science and scientific methods as its tools. 

 Scientific investigation requires critical thinking in addition to imagination, creativity and ability to see beyond what is apparent. Critical thinking associated with analytical thinking help study the universe by deconstructing complex events. Imaginative thinking helps develop hypothesis. It also helps develop experiments and tools to test the hypothesis. Systems thinking is needed to study complex phenomena and emergent properties such as in biology, climatology, and ecology.  

Initially, a problem is identified and, its components are clearly defined. The problem gets looked at from different angles. Published literature is reviewed carefully to understand the current state of knowledge and to make sure the problem has not been answered already.  Gaps in knowledge are identified and the currently identified problem is examined in this context. The problem is broken down into manageable and measurable, but meaningful questions. A primary question is identified and stated clearly.  Possible answers to the question are generated. A testable hypothesis is generated for each of the possible answers. It is indeed best to generate several competing hypotheses to be tested (Chamberlain 1965). Newer methods and tools may have to be developed to test each hypothesis. Or, methods already published in the literature may be used, if appropriate.  It may be necessary to collaborate with more than one expert in appropriate fields to plan and conduct the experiments. 

Data is collected, collated, documented, analyzed using appropriate statistical tools. A specific conclusion is reached which should be strictly based on available, analyzed data and supporting evidence. It should be clear that the conclusion is valid only under the conditions prevalent in the test conditions. They can be extrapolated to some extent, but not without danger. For example, a physiological observation made in a rat may not be applicable to humans. A treatment method which works well in a 45 year-old woman from USA may not be directly applicable to treat a 11 year old girl in Greece. 

It should also be clear that the conclusion reached is valid only until contrary evidence is obtained. The conclusion reached often opens other avenues or raise more questions and becomes a springboard for more inquiry. 

What are some of the mental disciplines needed during the process of scientific thinking? Non-attachment to one’s favored ideas, intellectual honesty, attention to details, ability to be precise in observation and documentation, and willingness to follow the facts wherever they lead are the primary requirements. One should focus and be prepared to pursue to any depth and be able to accept criticism.   Imagination is an essential criterion. But imagination has to be tempered with evidence, self-criticism and impartial judgment.

Generating a hypothesis is the most important initial intellectual activity. The hypothesis has to be amenable to testing and capable of answering the specific question or the problem which initiated the research project in the first place. It should be falsifiable. (“A theory is not a theory until can be disproved” Platt 1964) It is indeed preferable to generate several hypotheses from the outset (Chamberlin 1965). This will promote thoroughness by looking at all possible explanations for a phenomenon and the design of investigations along several lines. It is also a good antidote to “the dangers of parental affection for a favorite theory” (Platt 1964).

Interpreting evidence requires knowledge of the subject and of the methodology used to collect data, an eye for unexpected data and an ability to think about unexplained observations (Beveridge, 1957).  Platt (1964) redefines inductive inference of Francis Bacon as “strong inference” and opines that this is equivalent to the use of syllogism in deductive reasoning. He suggests that the following steps be applied formally, explicitly and regularly to every problem in science: 1.devising alternate hypothesis (noted earlier as multiple hypotheses); 2.devising a crucial experiment (or several of them) with alternative possible outcomes, each of which will, as nearly as possible, exclude one or more of the hypotheses; 3. Carry out the experiment so as to get a clean result and 4. Recycling the procedure, making sub-hypotheses or subsequent hypotheses to refine the possibilities that remain. Generation of multiple hypothesis and the use of strong inference make for the strongest thinking process in science.

Science gives us the tools to get as close to truth as possible. These are: objectivity, measurements, insistence of reproducibility of results, acceptance and invitation of criticism and ability to self-correct. When an exception is found to an existing hypothesis, a new level of understanding is reached and, a new hypothesis is generated to account for the recently identified fact that contradicts the original hypothesis. This confuses the general public who thinks that science is unreliable because it keeps changing. Science is humble to the extent it admits that given the current data, this is as close to truth as it can get. It does not accept authority, and is not afraid of criticism; indeed, it welcomes.               

Conclusions reached by scientific methods can be verified. In addition, knowledge generated in one area of science can be applied to other areas. Finally, science does not have all the answers, nor does it profess to have them. Science cannot solve all the human problems which require changes in human behavior. Science cannot give absolute answers with absolute guarantee.

I wish to conclude this essay with a summary of an editorial by Professor Ismail Serageldin of the historical Alexandria Library of Alexandria, Egypt on the values of science (Science Vol 322: page 1127, 2011). He points out that the values needed for an open, democratic society are the same values that science demands.

    First, Truth, only absolute truth. This can come from anyone who can back up the conclusions with evidence, and not imagination, wishful thinking or “manufactured-data”.

    “Science is open to all regardless of nationality, race, religion or sex”.

    Modern scientific work is team work. “Contributions are also cumulative”. No superstar can claim he or she did all the work. It is routine to see a listing of all the collaborators and contributors and supporters at the end of any scientific article or talk in the field of biology and medicine. It is that democratic and transparent.

    “Science requires the freedom to think, to challenge, to imagine the unimagined. It cannot function within the arbitrary limits of convention, nor can it flourish if it is forced to shy away from challenging the accepted. Science advances by overthrowing an existing paradigm or substantially expanding or modifying it. Thus there is a certain constructive subversiveness built into the scientific enterprise……. This constant renewal and advancement of our scientific understanding is a central feature of the scientific enterprise. It requires a tolerant engagement with the contrarian view that is grounded in disputes arbitrated by the rules of evidence and rationality”.

    “Science demands rationality and promotes civility in discourse.”

Is scientific enterprise perfect? No. Are scientists beyond all human failings such as vanity, self-promotion, fabrication of data? Most of the time, “YES”. There have been violations, of course. But the scientific community does not tolerate them. “Truth and honor are of the utmost importance”.

Dr. Serageldin quotes Jacob Bronowski and points out that all the values and requirements of science as described in earlier paragraphs are what civilized, democratic societies need. The scientific enterprise adopts all these values with exceptional vigor.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Common Themes and Common Names

Swami Tyagisananda summarizes common names and common definitions of terms from the Bhakthi literature in Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. They are given as footnotes in his book on Narada Bhakthi Sutra (5th Edition, 1972. Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai).

According to the Swamiji, the word God cannot be defined. God cannot be described either because by doing so we bring Him to the level of an object of knowledge. All descriptions can only be relative to the spiritual development of the person talking about his or her God.  God is one’s personal view of a spiritual Truth and the God of another is a different view of the same truth from another viewpoint.

In the words of the mystics, who have merged with their chosen Supreme Source, “When a man becomes annihilated from his attributes, he attains perfect subsistence. He is neither far nor near, neither stranger nor intimate, neither sober nor intoxicated, neither separated nor united; he has no name, brand or mark”. A Sufi poet says: “I am the Truth, I am He Whom I love, and He Whom I love is I”. He quotes Prophet Mohammed’s words “inni-an-Allahu la illaha Ana” meaning “verily I, even I, am God, and there is none else”. These words are the same as those of Isiah (page 56).

Jesus is quoted as saying: “I and my Father are one”.  “Optismum esse unire deo” which means “The best is to be one with God” says St.Paul (page 57).  “In this state of mystical ignorance, we plunge into the Divine Darkness and lose ourselves in Its life” is a quote from Erigena.  Averroes says that “It (the individual soul) becomes one with the Universal Spirit or is absorbed in it”. Eckhart is quoted as follows: “The soul in her hot pursuit of god becomes absorbed in Him and she herself is reduced to naught just as the sun will swallow up the dawn” (page 57).  Goethe’s famous lines read “By nothing godlike could the heart be won, were not the heart itself Divine’.

Speaking of the bliss felt in bhakthi, Narayaneeya says: “devotion to God , which is sweet in the beginning, in the middle and in the end gives the highest bliss”. Jesus says: “Enter thou into the joy of the Lord”.  Plotinus calls this state as “divinely ineffable harbor of repose”. Emerson says: “Every sweet has its sour, but the bliss of realization is above it”.

Looking for the root cause, the one Cosmic Principle from which this universe emerged, is called  Hiranyagarbha or Prana by the Upanishad. Aristotle calls it Primum mobile and Anaximander calls it Nous. Bruno and Spinoza called it the Natura naturans. The other designations are:  the Unknowable (Spencer), The Thing-in-itself (Kant), Oversoul (Emerson). These are philosophical concepts (pages 114-115).

The theists call that Promordial Principle as God, the Bare Pure One (Plotinus), Perfect Beauty (St.Augustine),  the Divine Wilderness (Eckhart), the Love that gives all things(Jacopone da Todi),  the Matchless Chalice and Sovereign Wine (Sufi), The Jehova (Jewish), the Zeus (Greek), Jupiter (Romans), the father in Heaven (Christians), Dharmakaya of the Buddhists, the Allah (Islam), Ahura Mazda (Zoroastrian) and Brahman, Paramatman, Isvara, Bhagavan , Purushottaman and the Ekam Sat of the Hindus(page 116).

Finally, Plutarch is quoted as saying (page 116): “One sun and one sky over all nations; and one Deity under many names”.  This is the same as the passage in Rg Veda 1: 164, 46: Truth is one; the learned call by many names”.