for Science and Technology: a Hindu Perspective
from the previous issue)
for Existence Is Not the Way to Higher Evolution
dualistic world of Newton slowly separated mind from matter
and gradually brought the vision of a world where there is
separation of man from man, man from God, and in the long
run, nation from nation. Darwin's ideas of struggle for existence
and survival of the fittest combined with the Newtonian vision
of a dualistic universe; and civilization emerged 'red in
tooth and claw'.
his stay in Europe in 1895, Swami Vivekananda foresaw the
dark future of the Western civilization based on the new theories
of struggle for existence and scientific materialism. He prophesied
a bloody future for the West, and the prophecy came true through
the two World Wars, where the discoveries of science were
used for mutual destruction. Ethics encourages mutual love
and service. Humanity saw in the actions of applied science
a flouting of ethics.
the World Trade Centre fell to a devastating aircraft attack
on 11 September 2001, with the instant death of several thousand
innocent people, the world realized like the citizens of Denmark
in Shakespeare's Hamlet: 'Something is rotten in the
state of Denmark.' 'All they that take the sword, shall perish
with the sword,' said Jesus Christ. Such acts of historic
destruction invite, as Swami Vivekananda called it, 'the vengeance
his extensive research on the evolution of flowers with ornate
orchids, Darwin reached the concept of co-evolution, and verified
that flowers and insects affect one another. Karl Zimmer in
his latest book Evolution writes, 'Not long after Darwin
finished his Origin of Species he discovered just how
drastically flowers and insects could affect one another.'
(1) This was the new concept known as co-evolution.
plant evolution depends on such sophisticated cooperation
between plant life and animal life, will not higher human
evolution need more sophisticated, well-thought-out cooperation
between humans and other life forms in the environment?
Darwin's idea of struggle for existence for higher evolution,
Swami Vivekananda explained the Hindu idea of higher evolution
through conscious choice and thought power, in his interpretation
of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras:
for life or sex-gratification are only momentary, unnecessary,
extraneous efforts, caused by ignorance. Even when all competition
has ceased, this perfect nature behind will make us go forward
until everyone has become perfect. Therefore there is no
reason to believe that competition is necessary to progress.
In the animal the man was suppressed, but as soon as the
door was opened, out rushed man. So in man there is the
potential god, kept in by the locks and bars of ignorance.
When knowledge breaks these bars, the God becomes manifest.
physicist Erwin Schrodinger says that for ensuring the selection
of a species for survival 'the behaviour' and the 'habits
of life' are of 'outstanding importance and decisive influence'.
Without these, Schrodinger argues, the origin of species could
not be understood. And what are behaviour and habits? They
are products of our thoughts and volitions, both products
of human consciousness. So a conscious struggle against the
old state of existence plays the most important role in human
evolution. Schrodinger writes:
this is granted, it follows that consciousness and discord
with one's own self are inseparably linked up, even that
they must, as it were, be proportional to each other. This
sounds a paradox, but the wisest of all times and peoples
have testified to confirm it. Men and women for whom this
world was lit in an unusually bright light of awareness,
and who by life and word have, more than others, formed
and transformed that work of art which we call humanity,
testify by speech and writing or even by their very lives
that more than others have they been torn by the pangs of
inner discord. Let this be a consolation to him who also
suffers from it. Without it nothing enduring has ever been
strong organizing principles, life moves with the power of
thought to progressively higher organizational levels. Abraham
Maslow said that if one has to learn running, one better follow
Olympic runners. If one has to find what is the highest human
evolution, one should look to a Christ, Buddha or Ramakrishna.
Yoga Sutras have prescribed two conditions for evolution.
First, the change or evolution of one species into another
occurs by the infilling of nature (Jatyantara parinamah
prakrityapurat, 4.2), which means, evolution happens when
the incompleteness felt by the organism is completed by new
additions to it, which are the expressions of its own inherent
potential. Small fish chased by bigger hungry ones may have
developed wings, and by becoming birds evaded the jaws of
death. Second, Patanjali says, a new environment brings out
the organism's hidden desires which can be fulfilled in that
environment (Tatas tad vipaka anugunanam eva abhivyaktir
vasananam, 4.8). No knowledge of life or genes will be
complete unless it takes note of both the external environment
and the internal hidden possibilities of the living organism
Science Needs a New Orientation
is a gene? In a 2003 publication, physicist Fritjof Capra
we can say about genes is that they are continuous or discontinuous
DNA segments whose precise structures and specific functions
are determined by the dynamics of the epigenetic network
and may change with changing circumstances.
gene industry began in the 1960s when property rights were
given to plant breeders for new varieties of flowers through
genetic engineering. In 1980, the US Supreme Court gave the
landmark decision that genetically modified micro-organisms
could be patented. This led a group of scientists from harmless
patenting of life to 'monopolization of life' through advanced
biotechnology researches resulting in market monopolies. New
threats were perceived. In the book Genetic Engineering
- Dream or Nightmare? geneticist Mao Wan Ho writes that
the emergence of 'new viruses and antibiotic resistance in
the past decade may well be connected with the large-scale
commercialization of genetic engineering during the period'.
Capra writes that it has been experimentally confirmed that
'gene expression depends on the genetic and cellular environment
and can change when genes are put into a new environment.
The situation is unlikely to change until geneticists begin
to go beyond genes and focus on the complex organization of
the cell as a whole'. Dr Candace Pert, a director of the National
Institute of Mental Health, USA, after her successful experiments,
prefers to say that the DNA belongs equally to mind and body.
She uses the term body-mind. (5) 'Transferring the genes into
a new environment and exciting them to do their jobs has,
so far, proved too difficult a task for molecular geneticists,'
writes David Weatherall, Director, Institute of Molecular
Medicine, Oxford University. The final picture of gene functioning
comes from 'the complex regulatory dynamics of the cell as
a whole,' writes science historian Fox Keller. According to
Keller, in the absence of the knowledge of the whole background
of life, the dream of gene development or gene repairing for
diseases 'recedes further into the future'. (6)
Ethics for Medical Science
intervention is sought for immediate alleviation of suffering
as well as for long-term gains. Those procedures which yield
more lasting results must be preferred. But facilities and
possibilities for medical intervention to prolong and improve
the quality of life are not equally available to all. According
to a recent World Bank report, in spite of an optimistic estimate
of economic growth, 600 million people in the developing countries
were trapped in absolute poverty in the year 2000. This is
defined as a condition of life so characterized by malnutrition,
illiteracy, disease, high infant mortality, and low life expectancy
as to be beneath any reasonable definition of human decency.
Under these appalling conditions, can a few privileged individuals
(or nations) be allowed to enjoy excessive use of medical
facilities for modifying their life process to make it more
pleasurable, when a fraction of the amount of money so spent
can prevent thousands of infants from death due to malnutrition
and dehydration? (7)
of pregnancy by medically induced abortion to prevent the
birth of a viable child poses a number of socio-ethical problems.
It is not generally encouraged in orthodox cultures and communities,
and is considered sinful. It can be resorted to on strictly
medical grounds, for example, if childbirth threatens the
mother's life. Only recently has abortion been legalized in
India (251), and that to stem the inordinate population explosion
threatening global economy. Killing of the foetus in the mother's
womb, bhrunahatya, is a great sin according to Hinduism.
culture teaches not only an ideal way of life but also the
ideal manner of death. In fact, a devout person in India prepares
throughout his life for an ideal, peaceful death as described
in the scriptures. (253)
modern scientific view has often emphasized the dignity of
the individual and his right to take decisions for himself.
Indian culture, however, lays greater stress on the role of
society in decision making in health care. Interference in
the process of birth in the form of prevention of conception,
abortion or genetic engineering is not encouraged in the Indian
tradition. Sex as a source of pleasure apart from conception,
too, is not appreciated. Sex is legitimately allowed only
for the birth of a child. Sex for pleasure alone is considered
a far too inferior and unworthy attitude. In this connection
it may be mentioned that the only foolproof method of prevention
of AIDS (which has been officially advocated by experts in
India) is abstinence from sex - something which the Hindu
and Indian culture normally accepts. (260-1)
even experimentally developed a science for the birth of good
children. A mother desiring a God-fearing child listens to
stories of saints and sages, and spends her days of pregnancy
in devotional activities. Another mother seeking a warrior
child engages in listening to and reading stories of wars
and warriors, and so on.
to the Jaina tradition, the foetus of Lord Mahavira was taken
out before his birth from the body of a miserly brahmin mother
and transplanted into the womb of a generous queen.
sage was chanting holy texts in the presence of his pregnant
wife. On hearing the chant, the foetus in the womb of the
lady spoke from inside that the intonations were not correct.
This enraged the sage. He cursed his son in the womb that
since he had a crooked mind, his body too would become crooked.
The story goes that the child was born with eight deformities.
He became the great and intellectually brilliant sage Ashtavakra.
the great hero of the Mahabharata war, had a prodigious son,
Abhimanyu. While still in the womb, Abhimanyu had learnt a
special military secret that his father described to his mother.
But since the mother fell asleep and did not listen to the
whole secret, Abhimanyu too obtained only a partial knowledge.
With the help of this knowledge he was able to break and enter
the special army formation of the enemy called chakravyuha.
But due to incomplete knowledge, he could not come out of
it and was killed.
another hero from the Mahabharata, out of intense hatred for
the righteous Pandavas, fired the deadly and infallible weapon
brahmastra to destroy the embryo of Parikshit, the
lone successor to the Pandavas. The embryo was saved by Sri
Krishna, God incarnate. Ashwatthama was cursed with extreme
suffering for an infinite period of time with an open, painful
wound on the forehead.
Brahma stands for the intellect. Brahmastra, therefore,
means the weapon or instrument obtained as a gift of the intellect.
The legend of Ashwatthama is thus symbolic of the use of intelligence
for the destruction of the embryo or foetus, which is considered
an unpardonable sin. The legends show that although it is
possible to modify the foetus in the womb, it is not free
from danger. Respect for life in the mother's womb and offering
better intellectual and spiritual environment to the expectant
mother-these two are the basic ethics of Hinduism. (262, 271)
has opened two avenues for us: power and knowledge. Power
corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Human beings
are generally more drawn to the power aspect of science brought
about by the technological revolution. In the glare of technology
we have sometimes lost sight of the knowledge aspect of science,
which alone encourages holistic ethics and elevates us from
the snares and pulls of a purely individualistic, self-centred
existence, and unites us with the whole of mankind.
advanced societies, both in the East and in the West, are
in the grip of a deep socio-ethical turbulence. Americans,
forty-eight per cent of whom use guns, have found themselves
in a sort of 'gun civilization' (Time, 10 December
1992). Ethical problems are knocking even at the doors of
the biggest political power. Seven thousand crime records
and 15000 crime enquiries were made every day in 1997 in the
city of St Petersburg alone (Asiaweek, 10 October 1997).
Science and technology have enriched external life in a thousand
ways, but in many places have created more and more of vacuum
in internal life because of confused ethical values.
Maurice H Wilkins, who shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine
in 1962 with Francis Crick and James Watson, revealed in an
interview held in Bombay in January 1986 that most scientists
shy away from the political, psychological, spiritual, and
other dimensions of their work. Normally, the whole question
of these other dimensions is pushed out of the scene. Stephen
Hawking, for instance, feels the need for a supervising God
who must decide on what happens at the edge of universe. Yet
Hawking's God is only a causal and logical principle. 'There
would not be a connection with morality,' he pointed out.
the contrary, in 1979, Nobel physicist Steven Weinberg expressed
an idea that is in consonance with the language of mystics,
and tragedians like Sophocles or Shakespeare. He said, 'The
effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things
that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and
gives it some of the grace of tragedy.' (9) That is true knowledge
which makes one free from the fetters of animal impulses and
makes for divinity (sa vidya ya vimuktaye), teaches
Hinduism. This is echoed in Einstein's celebrated statement:
most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical.
It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom
this emotion is a stranger is as good as dead. To know that
what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself
as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which
our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive
forms-this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center [of]
true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only,
I belong to the ranks of devoutly religious men. (10)
Zimmer, Evolution (Arrow Books, 2003), 230.
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols.
(Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 1.293.
Erwin Schrodinger, What is Life (Cambridge University,
Fritjof Capra, The Hidden Connection (London: Flamingo,
2003), 154, 175, 141.
Deepak Chopra, Quantum Healing (New York: Bantam,
The Hidden Connection, 142, 141, 71, 150, 157.
Swami Brahmeshananda, Health, Medicine and Religion
(Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2004), 248-9.
Renee Weber, Dialogues with Scientists and Sages-The
Search for Unity (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul,
Heinz Pagels, The Cosmic Code (New York: Bantam,
Dialogues with Scientists and Sages, 203.