By David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri) January 2006 In India, science and spirituality have always gone together. Vedic science includes gathering inner knowledge through reason and experimentation leading to direct perception of truth. Real science consists of an objective pursuit of truth through observation and experimentation. It occurs apart from any beliefs or preconceptions about what it is going to find. It is based upon reason and direct perception, in which reality is allowed to reveal itself. However, the universe we live in is a multidimensional reality, ranging from the subatomic to the supragalactic in the realm of physics alone. Biology, medicine, psychology and the social sciences require different perspectives and approaches to deal with reality appropriately. On top of these are subtle forces and influences, extrasensory, occult and spiritual, that many people claim to experience and have developed special methods of working with. Besides knowledge of the external world, there is knowledge of the internal world – the perennial quest for Self-knowledge or knowledge of our true nature, as evidenced by the most primary and important of all life’s questions, ‘Who am I?’ This inner quest, or inner science, can be very different in approach than the outer sciences. Indian PerspectiveFrom an Indian perspective, we can call this inner science of Self-knowledge, ‘yogic science’. Traditional yoga and Vedanta also has its goal as the objective pursuit of truth. But it aims at the supreme truth, which is eternal, that truth which never changes. It regards relative truths – up to and including the very existence of the external world itself – as ultimately an illusion because these eventually, at one time or level or another, are found not to be valid. This yogic science aims not just at knowledge of the world but an understanding of the Knower. In India, science and spirituality have always gone together. Spirituality through yoga and Vedanta has always been conceived of as a science, a way of knowledge to be approached with reason and experimentation through yoga and meditation leading to the direct perception of truth. Other Indic systems of thought, like Buddhism and Jainism, have shared similar views. ‘Veda’ itself means knowledge, deriving from the Sanskrit root vid meaning to know, to see or to cognize. The Vedas are called Vidyas, which means ways of knowledge or perception (a term cognate with the Latin term ‘video’!). The Vedas we might say are the vidyas or videos of the sages shown on the inner screen of the meditative mind. They were said to have been cognized by the human mind in tune with the universal Being or Brahman. The Vedas address all aspects of existence through dharma, the natural laws that uphold the universe, which reflect not only matter and energy but life, mind and consciousness. As such, the Vedas constitute what could be called a science in the modern sense of the word, and much more. We can find among them a whole range of sciences, from astronomy and chemistry to psychology and surgery, extending to astrology and to the science of yoga itself. We can call this integral approach to both the spiritual and material sciences as ‘Vedic science’. Unlike medieval Europe, traditional India never saw a conflict between science and spirituality. It never suppressed science or art in favor of religion. Rather, its arts and sciences developed in harmony with spirituality. However, it did discriminate between the material and the spiritual sciences. Higher and Lower SciencesThe Mundaka Upanishad makes this clear, ‘Two sciences are to be known, the higher and the lower. The higher is through which the eternal is known.’ The lower knowledge consists of the outer forms of knowledge through which the transient factors are known, the aspects of name, form and action. The higher knowledge is Self-knowledge through which the nameless, formless being is known. This division of the higher and lower forms of knowledge reflects the Vedantic definition of reality as that which is eternal and the transient as an illusion. Because of this orientation, historically in India the inner or spiritual science gained the greatest attention, though the outer sciences were not neglected. The lower sciences can be divided into two groups. The first are the usual material sciences like astronomy and medicine as are formulated in modern science. The second are what could be called ‘occult ‘sciences, like astrology and Vastu, which modern science has generally neglected or rejected, which suggest subtle influences of intelligence pervading the forces of ature.While the Vedic mind never saw a real division between these two types of outer sciences (for example, Vedic Jyotish includes both astronomy and astrology), since the modern mind does, it is important to note this distinction. The distinction between the outer and inner sciences was never meant as a radical division. In the Vedic view, one can approach the outer sciences with an inner vision and turn them into inner sciences as well. That is why we find such diverse subjects from astronomy and mathematics, to music and even grammar defined as paths of yoga, or spiritual paths. We find the same groups of Vedic seers working with and developing the outer as well as the inner sciences from the most ancient times, not finding one to necessarily be contrary to the other. It remains possible to approach outer sciences like physics as paths of yoga. They can be part of an inner science of Self-realisation if one uses them to connect to the universal Being and Consciousness within the world and within ourselves. Much of modern physics is heading in this direction as it looks for an underlying consciousness to explain the unity of the laws of physics. Some scholars have said that this Indian emphasis on spirituality prevented the outer sciences from developing in India, since the outer sciences were not given the same priority. But we must remember that the dark ages in India came later than in the West, with repeated foreign invasions and conquests disrupting the country from 1000 to 1800 AD. Had this not occurred, India would have likely played a greater role in the development of modern science. Today we find many scientists coming out of India and many of them feel in harmony with yoga, Vedanta and Buddhism as well as with modern science. Ways of KnowingScience rests upon a definition of what constitutes the right means of knowledge through which something can be known. Science, like the classical philosophies of India, recognizes the validity of sensory perception and reason as the main means at our ordinary disposal for gaining authentic knowledge about the world and ourselves. Yet science is not content with what the senses present us as reality any more than the mystic or yogi is, though science builds upon rather than rejects what the senses show. Science has created a vast array of special instruments and equipment, from microscopes to telescopes that can greatly increase the range of our physical senses. It has added other instruments like radio telescopes which bring in information about the universe from means that are related to but outside the scope of our ordinary senses. It has created special computers to extend the range of computation as well. While Vedic science recognizes the importance of sensory perception and reason, it considers that there is another, more reliable and internal source of knowledge, particularly for understanding the inner or spiritual world. This is the direct perception of the silent or meditative mind. Vedic thought holds that the best instrument of knowledge is the silent mind. This allows the mind itself, like an unflawed mirror, to directly reflect reality inside oneself. The mind becomes a reliable instrument of direct knowledge beyond the limitations of the senses. This silent mind is clearly defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and other texts as the state of samadhi. When the mind is in a state of peace and balance it becomes capable of directly perceiving the nature of things, which is consciousness and bliss. This is samadhi-pramana, samadhi as a means of knowledge in yogic thought, which opens up the inner world of the mind as clearly as our eyes open up the outer world of the senses. In Vedic science, the meditative mind in samadhi is regarded as the appropriate instrument for knowing the inner reality. Pure consciousness, God or Brahman, after all, is beyond name, form, number, time, place and person, or it would just be another object or entity in the outer world. That which comprises the totality but is not limited by the totality cannot be examined by instruments that work to provide knowledge of limited things. This does not mean that examining the brain waves of meditators and other scientific experiments of this order are not of any value, but that these are secondary and indirect means of knowing the internal reality, like trying to examine a person through their body as reflected in a mirror, rather than examining the body directly. We must employ the right instrument of knowledge to gain adequate knowledge of something. One cannot see the sun with one’s ears, for example. Only the eyes will reveal the light of the sun. Similarly, the appropriate instrument for knowing the universal Being is not a limited instrument which looks externally, like a telescope, but the silent mind that is able to see within. Yet while samadhi may not be an ordinarily recognized means of knowledge in science, we must note that many great scientific discoveries have been made by scientists when they were in the reverie of the inspired, concentrated or peaceful mind, in a kind of samadhi. Those who do deep research or concentrated thinking also develop the mind in a yogic way that can
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