Bioethics for Science and Technology:
A Hindu Perspective
an international conference on bioethics? Animals of African
forests do not need any such conferences. They live, happily
or unhappily, preying on one another, surviving on each other's
flesh and blood, living for the sake of eating and procreating,
for sense gratification and perpetuation of species. We human
beings need today a global conference on bioethics to create
a sustainable global civilization, in this age when the information
revolution brought on by computers, the Internet, science
and technology has made the world a global village.
do scientists need a system of bioethics? Because ethics aims
at creating higher human beings and a higher level of civilization.
That society is the most ethical which produces the largest
number of Christs and Buddhas; or an Einstein who turned into
a cosmic man; or great scientists, artists, painters, writers
and philosophers who have inspired human beings to reach superhuman
and supersensual levels of existence. 'Civilization is the
manifestation of that Divinity in man,' said the greatest
interpreter of Hinduism in modern times, Swami Vivekananda,
in his Harvard University talk of 1896. Civilization does
not consist in making newer machines or projecting man as
a 'tool-making animal', as Benjamin Franklin said. Nor does
it lie in the creation of an 'economic animal', as Alvin Toffler
said, or just a Freudian sense-bound animal who jumps at every
sensate pleasure provided by today's consumerist society,
commits blunders, suffers from a sense of guilt and depression,
and then commits suicide.
means knowledge. Knowledge for what? Knowledge for evolving
higher human beings who can bring out the infinite potentiality
of the Christs and Buddhas hidden inside them ('sa vidya
ya vimuktaye'). Hinduism continuously asserts, 'Atmanao
viddhi, Know thy Self.' This is the goal of human evolution:
not the creation of global killers, but global saviours -
the Christ-man and the Buddha-man, as Pierre Tielhard de Chardin
showed in his brilliant book The Phenomenon of Man.
The amoeba evolves into Christ, because the end of human evolution
soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest (realize)
this Divinity within,' taught Swami Vivekananda. According
to Hinduism, there are two great aims of knowledge: external
perfection in life through science and technology and internal
perfection through higher Knowledge ('Dve vidye veditavye
… para caiva-apara ca', Mundaka Upanishad, 1.1.4). Of
these two, primary importance has been given to the superior
Knowledge (para vidya) for the manifestation of the
Christs and Buddhas within us.
second goal of science is to bring welfare to the whole world.
I remember talking to agro-scientist Dr Norman Borlaug, who
used to spend sleepless nights in the deserts of Mexico to
develop drought - and disease-resistant strains of wheat.
He did succeed, and thus saved one third of humanity from
a sure famine predicted by world economists, for which he
got the Nobel Peace Prize. This is the glory and beauty of
continuously asserts that happiness lies not in individualistic
living, however excellent that may be, but in living a holistic
life for the welfare of entire humanity, because each one
of us is inextricably connected with the universe. 'I connect
the whole universe like a thread connecting pearls,' says
Sri Krishna in the Bhagavadgita. Happiness, fulfilment
and peace come to an individual or a nation when they know
how to live for the welfare of all humanity. 'Bhemaiva
sukham, Infinitude is bliss,' says the Chandogya Upanishad
the perspective of Hinduism the entire issue of bioethics
revolves round two primary questions:
Is science helping to create highly evolved human beings or
is it only creating highly powerful Frankensteins?
Is science catering to the welfare of entire humanity, or
is it only trying to enrich one nation, one race or one group
at the cost of others?
our answers are in the affirmative and we orient all of our
scientific research, investigations, findings and discoveries
towards this end, we would have followed the universal laws
the successful explosion of the first atom bomb in Alamogordo,
Robert Oppenheimer, its maker, spontaneously began to recite
the hymn from the Gita where God's effulgence is compared
to the effulgence of a thousand suns. A few days later a special
party was hosted in honour of the scientists led by Mr Oppenheimer.
He found that the party was a 'dismal flop'. A cool-headed
scientist came out suddenly and began to vomit. 'The reaction
has begun,' wrote a stupefied Oppenheimer. (1) His memorable
speech after the first atomic explosion is a cry for morality
and ethics for scientists working in a thermonuclear age:
'But there is another thing - we are men too; we cannot forget
our dependence on our fellow-men. I mean also our deep moral
dependence… the value of science must lie in the world of
men… all roots lie there. There are the strongest bonds in
the world, stronger than those even that bind us (atomic scientists)
to one another, deepest bonds that bind us to our fellow-men.'
Hindu Concept of Ethics: Dharma
a beautiful story from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
we find that even after creating brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas
and shudras, the Creator did not feel happy. He finally created
the 'excellent form' of law and justice called dharma, or
righteousness. Says the Upanishad, 'There is nothing greater
than dharma, righteousness or justice. So even a weak man
hopes (to defeat) a stronger man through righteousness, as
with the king's help. That righteousness is verily truth.'
to the Manu Smriti, the king must protect the country
through an efficient administration. The king who has successfully
rooted out violence from his kingdom, commands the highest
respect. (8.386-7) By the king's order, punishment alone governs
all created beings. … The whole world is kept in order by
punishment meted out to evil-doers. (7.18, 22) The king must
punish thieves and the wicked by lashes, fines or severe corporal
punishment. (8.324) Any assassin should be immediately killed.
(8.350) A truly spiritual man should never be hurt. (8.380-1)
Creator assured humanity that he had created dharma, a system
of law or moral order by which the weak would be able to get
justice against the strong. The moral order, or rta
as described in Vedic Hinduism, is inviolable. Its violation
means self-destruction. Macbeth brought destruction on himself
because he violated the moral order by killing the innocent
guest Duncan. According to Vedic Hinduism, a guest has to
be respected like a god just as one's father, mother and teacher
should be respected as gods. Swami Vivekananda extended this
Upanishadic limit, and declared that the new Vedantic Hinduism
must respect the God in the sinner, the ignorant, the sick
and in the have-nots of all countries and climes, everywhere,
irrespective of caste, creed or nationality. It is on this
basis of universal respect for the Infinite in the finite,
for God in human beings everywhere, that the new ethics of
human civilization must be based.
asserts that there is the same Consciousness pervading all
creatures, plants and even non-living entities. Manu recommended
fines for injuring small animals, cattle, wild quadrupeds
and birds. (Manu Smriti, 8.296-8).
1901, the Indian biologist J C Bose demonstrated his epoch-making
experiments of human - like response in metals before the
physics section of the British Association at Bradford. Scientists
saw with wonder the similar curves obtained from human muscles,
metals and plants when they were responding to the effect
of fatigue, depression and poisonous drugs. Bose's discovery
conclusively proved that the same consciousness pulsates in
men, plants and even metals in various ways. He summed up
the essence of his findings thus: 'In many investigations
on the action of forces on matter, I was amazed to find boundary
lines vanishing and to discover points of contact emerging
between the living and the non-living.' (3)
We Use This Holistic Ethics in Practical life?
Ramakrishna, the modern saint of Hinduism, tells us that although
God is present in every living being like man, tiger or snake,
we cannot embrace a tiger; we have to avoid it and create
barriers to prevent the tiger from taking innocent lives.
Again, Ramakrishna teaches us that our duty is not to kill
the wrongdoer, but take sufficient steps so that he refrains
from wrongdoing. A snake was taught by its guru not to bite
others. When it left biting, people began to hit it mercilessly
and left it half-dead. The guru came back and taught the snake,
'Do not bite. But who told you not to hiss?' The snake got
the mantra for survival in an antagonistic world. This is
the Hindu view of ethics in practical life.
the Basis of Ethics
is from the realization of the one single Consciousness everywhere
that sages have felt their inextricable interconnectedness
with the rest of the universe. It is only after such realization
that true love, love for others, dawns. Then the higher man
goes on to live a holistic life. Only then are ethics and
morality born. All ethics is based on the perception of the
basic unity of life. Vivekananda explained, 'Why should you
do good to others? Because that is the only condition of life;
thereby you expand beyond your little self; you live and grow.
All narrowness, all contraction, all selfishness is simply
slow suicide.' (4)
rational world of science is earnestly bent upon seeking out
the rationality, the raison d'etre, of all its philosophy
and ethics. Ethics cannot be derived from the mere sanction
of any personage, however great and divine he may have been.
Such an explanation of the authority of ethics appeals no
more to rational thinkers. They want something more than human
sanction for ethical and moral codes to be binding; they want,
in the words of Vivekananda, 'some eternal principle of truth
as the sanction of ethics'. (3.189) Vivekananda asserts that
in order to reach the real basis of morality or ethics one
'must have the highest philosophical and scientific conceptions'.
eternal principles governing the universe stand out in the
Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism:
The Infinite is the background behind the finite (Atman =
An essential holistic unity and interconnectedness is always
there behind all apparently disparate realities of the universe
and the life therein (ekam-eva-advitiyam).
is the foundation of any society or civilization. Without
ethics life would be governed by the law of the jungle. The
ends of morality are fulfilled by the recognition of one's
own Self in others. The Gita declares, 'He that sees
one God existing everywhere cannot injure another who is his
own Self, and so attains the highest goal.' (13.28)
philosophy, which is the crowning glory of Hinduism, encourages
an individual to realize the infinite God in the finite body,
then see His presence everywhere, and thus turn his life into
a ceaseless service to his own Self in others. Dualistic philosophies,
which make a distinction between God and man, cannot justify
this holistic vision. A ruling Personal God promising reward
in heaven or punishment in hell for His devotees can punish
the violators of ethics and encourage fellow feeling for the
believers of the same faith, but cannot inspire universal
love for mankind at large. Unfortunately, in some religions,
a clannish attitude made the killing of non-believers respectable.
Ten Commandments of Moses with categorical imperatives like
'Thou shalt not kill', 'Thou shalt not bear false witness'
and so on form the fundamental basis of ethics in Semitic
religions. The teachings of Christ returned to pure ethics
and reduced the Ten Commandments to two central teachings:
Love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and soul.
Love thy neighbour as thyself.
does a newborn baby get so much love from her mother? Because
a day earlier the two were one. All ethics, all altruistic
and humanistic values, as opposed to jingoistic, fundamentalist
and dogmatic values, are based on the perception of this basic
unity of existence.
holistic perception of life forms the basis of ethics in all
major religions. In the Jain religion paropakara (doing
good to others) and parahita-cinta (thinking of others'
good) are the first two values for joyful living. The same
path of holistic living was voiced by Buddha to his intimate
disciples: 'Bahujana hitaya, bahujana sukhaya, lokanukampaya,
hitaya, arthaya, sukhaya, devamanuoyaiam; for the good
of the many, for the happiness of the many, with compassion,
for bringing goodness and the good things of life to all,
both for the gods and the common masses.'
the Sufi mysticism of Islam, the same voice is heard in the
utterance 'ana'l-haq, I am God' instead of 'ana'l-ab'd,
I am the servant of God.' Jalaluddin Rumi says, ana'l-haq
means I am not, He is all; there is no being but God's. That
is extreme of humility and self-abasement. (5)
Brings Us a Single Universe of Unbroken Wholeness
physics shows us that material objects are not distinct entities,
but are inseparably linked to their environment or the so-called
empty space; properties of one material substance can only
be understood in terms of their interaction with the rest
of the world. The universe of classical physics has been swept
away by relativity, whose main hallmark is unification, joining
together space, time, energy and matter in an indissoluble
continuum. (6) In the state of singularity of blackholes,
as Roger Penrose calls it, energy-matter and space-time are
all fused into one single entity, a unity beyond
space and time. (7)
Einstein interconnected time, space, field and matter, Heisenberg's
uncertainty principle broke down for the first time the Cartesian
dualism of mind and matter by proving that the objective outside
in subatomic physics is inextricably related to the subjective
dimension of the scientists. The reality today is no more
objective but 'omnijective' (subjective and objective) according
to Michael Talbot in his book Mysticism and the New Physics.
Prigogine, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, writes
in the introduction to his book Order out of Chaos,
'Present-day research leads us further and further away from
the opposition between man and the natural world.' (8) According
to him, the main purpose of his discovery is to show 'instead
of rupture and opposition, the growing coherence of our knowledge
of man and nature'. 'We are living in a single universe,'
says Prigogine. (9)
S Kuhn, in one of the most influential books of modern times,
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, shows how
the scientific world has turned to a new paradigm of interconnectedness
of the entire universe, and an inseparable connection between
mind and matter. It is the new holistic paradigm of science.
successful experimental demonstration of Bell's theorem by
David Bohm in 1972 proved that twin, paired quantum particles
somehow communicate with each other instantaneously, even
at a space-like distance. David Bohm says: 'Parts … are seen
to be in immediate connection in which their dynamic relationship
depends in an irreducible way on the whole system, and indeed
that of a broader system in which they are contained, extended
ultimately into the entire universe. Thus, one is led to a
new notion of unbroken wholeness which denies the classical
idea of analysability of the world separately.' Bohm writes
with another physicist, Basil Hiley, that the experimental
verification of non-local causality in physics 'leads to a
radically new notion of unbroken wholeness of the universe'.
quantum revolution, as Ken Wilber wrote in 1993, has established
a holistic paradigm as the final basis of science, instead
of the old dualistic paradigm, which separated God from men,
man from man, matter from mind, and obviously nation from
nation and religion from religion. It has inspired and has
led to a monistic and not monotheistic vision of underlying
reality. 'It is perhaps the most outstanding cultural phenomenon
of our time,' writes Amaury de Riencourt in his book The
Eye of Shiva. 'It might well be that mankind is now on
the threshold of a psychological and physiological revolution
of a magnitude that will overshadow all the social and political
revolutions of our century, made possible by the seemingly
incongruous, yet perfectly logical, marriage between science
and eastern mystical insights.' (11)
the highest Hindu philosophical sentiments, Vivekananda declared
that in the ultimate analysis 'the whole universe, mental
and material, will be fused into one. It is the finding of
unity towards which we are going.' (12) Again, he said:
atom in this universe cannot move without dragging the whole
world along with it. There cannot be any progress without
the whole world following in the wake, and it is becoming
every day clearer that the solution of any problem can never
be attained on racial, or national, or narrow grounds. Every
idea has to become broad till it covers the whole of this
world, every aspiration must go on increasing till it has
engulfed the whole of humanity, nay the whole of life within
its scope. (13)
1. Robert Oppenheimer, Letters and Recollections
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), 292.
2. Ibid., 328.
3. Swami Jitatmananda, Holistic Science and Vedanta
(Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1991), 1-15.
4. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols.
(Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 7.476.
5. Claude Alan Stark, God of All (Massachusetts:
Claude Stark, 1974), 77.
6. Amaury de Riencourt, The Eye of Shiva (William
Morrow, 1981), 22.
7. Ibid., 72.
8. Ilya Prigogine and Isabella Stengers, Order Out of
Chaos (London: Flamingo, 1986), 16.
9. Ibid., 4, 9.
10. Fred Allen Wolf, Taking the Quantum Leap (New
York: Harper & Row, 1989), 177.
11. The Eye of Shiva, 196-7.
12. Holistic Science and Vedanta, 1-15, 149.
13. CW, 3.269.