science echoes Indian sages' insights
By Karan Singh
is the full text of the inaugural address by Dr Karan Singh on a symposium
‘Science and Beyond: Cosmology, Consciousness and Technology in the Indic
this symposium begins with cosmology, I would like to start my address by
quoting the famous creation-hymn from the world's most ancient living scripture,
the Rig Veda (X.IZ9/1-7- Griffith translation):
was not non-existent nor existent:
was no realm of air, no shy beyond it:
covered it, and where? And what gave shelter?
water there, unfathomed depth of water?
was not then, nor was there aught immortal:
sign was there, the day's and night's divider.
one thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature:
from it was nothing whatsoever.
there was: at first concealed in darkness
this was indiscriminate chaos.
that existed then was void and formless:
the great power of warmth was born that unit.
rose desire in the beginning.
the primal seed and germ of spirit.
who searched with their hearts' thought discovered
existent's kinship with the non-existent.
was their severing line extended:
was above it then, and what below it?
were begetters, there were mighty forces,
action here and energy up yonder
verily knows and who can here declare it,
it was born and whence comes this creation?
gods are later than the world’s production,
knows then whence it first came into being?
the first origin of this creation,
he formed it all or did not form it,
eye control this world in highest heaven,
verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.
is indeed astounding that modem developments in science, particularly cosmology,
seem to echo some of the insights of our great seers and sages which have come
down to us for thousands of years through the long and tortuous corridors of
lime. It is almost as if, like the background.
from the Big Bang, the faint echoes of our ancient spiritual luminaries can
still be heard in the background of all our post-modern discourses on the human
years ago, when I was ambassador to the United States, I called upon the great
scientist Prof S. Chandrasekhar in Chicago, and asked him as to how if was that
the seers of the Vedas and Upanishads had two astounding insights which have
emerged in modem science only very recently. The first is the concept of Anantakoti
Brahmanda - billions of galaxies or universe. The second is the concept of
vast aeons of times through which creation passes, the single day of Brahma
being of 4.32 million years with a night of equal duration, so that a year of
Brahma closely approximates the age of planet Earth. He really had no
explanation and when I suggested that perhaps this knowledge came to our seers
in enhanced states of consciousness, he said that was quite possible.
cosmology, let us then move on to consciousness. In the Indic traditions,
consciousness is not merely an epi-phenomenon of evolving matter, rather it is
the prime principle which calls forth these millions of worlds. The great icon
of Shiva Nataraja, lord of the cosmic dance, beautifully portrays this kinetic
universe in which all things, from the majestic movement of the great galaxies
down to the persistent agitation of sub-atomic particles, are in a state of
flux. The drum in Shiva's left hand represents creation - the original Big Bang
if you like, or perhaps a continual series of Big Bangs, while the fire in his
right hand represents their ultimate destruction in the great cycles of time.
However, if there were only the Big Bangs and the Big Crunches, there would be
little space for you and me. Shiva's other two hands, therefore, point to the
possibility of individual realisation amidst the cosmic chaos in which we find
ourselves. One hand is raised in a gesture of benediction, telling humanity not
to fear, while the fourth points to his upraised foot as the path of liberation.
whole question of consciousness and its evolution is one that has attracted some
of the best minds in the world, including the great evolutionary philosopher Sri
Aurobindo. In India we have developed over the millennia systems of yoga which
are surely the most profound and integral exploration of consciousness ever
essayed by the human race. While we also developed path-breaking outer
technology in such fields as metallurgy, medicine and mathematics; Indian
civilisation took a turn probably unique in the history of thought. Our most
creative minds turned the searchlight inwards towards the source of
consciousness itself, and built up an entire science based upon this creative
introspection. In his classic work on the yoga-sutras, the sage Patanjali has
given us a seminal textbook for exploring the deeper recesses of our being.
movements in psychology in the West have also gradually developed these deeper
insights, notably with C.G. Jung and the post-Jungians, and moving on to
Transpersonal Psychology. The study of consciousness has now become a fully
respectable and challenging area for intellectual and experiential exploration.
I have personally had the privilege of discussing the nature of consciousness
with some of the most creative minds of the 20th century — Stanislav Grof with
his extended cartography of the mind, Rupert Sheldrape with his theory of
morphogenic resonance, llya Prigogine with his chaos theory, Jonas Salk the
great bio-chemist whose book Survival of the Wisest is a classic, Carl
Sagan, who brought the mysteries of the cosmos into the minds and hearts of
millions, Arthur Clarke, the astonishingly creative space author and many
others. Indeed the study of consciousness is now one of the most fertile fields
for research and experimentation.
ago, when I was minister for health and family planning, I had started here in
Bangalore in the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS)
a programme entitled ‘Project Consciousness’ in which I had assembled some
of the most creative scientific minds in India as well as, involving Pandit Gopi
Krishna whose books on Kundalini awakening are known throughout the world.
Unfortunately, as so often happens, the project was wound up almost immediately
after I left the ministry, evidently considered a mild eccentricity not worth
pursuing. It has always struck me as tragic that we in India, with our unique
spiritual and intellectual background in this field, should still be lagging
behind. Had the project continued over the last quarter of a century we could
well have produced the first Nobel laureates in the field of consciousness
Einstein's famous remark that "science without religion is lame, religion
without science is blind", makes a very important point. Before him, the
Cartesian-Newtonian-Marxist paradigm of thought postulated an unbreachable
dicotomy between matter and spirit. This concept dominated Western civilisation
for several centuries and did produce spectacular results. However, with the
Einsteinian revolution and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, Quantum mechanics
and extra-galactic cosmology, the situation has now changed considerably.
Science itself is in one of its great creative periods where old barriers are
breaking down and some of us - perhaps a trifle optimistically - are beginning
to discern the outlines of a convergence between science and spirituality.
use the term 'spirituality' advisedly, because 'religion' carries a lot of
baggage, much of it positive but some of it negative also, despite the work
being done by interfaith organisations around the world, including the temple of
understanding of which I happen to be chairman, whereas spirituality transcends
theological divisions, and cuts across barriers of race and creed, religion and
nationality. The seers of all the great faiths of the world have, in their
utterances, sought to describe what is essentially an indescribable experience,
whether it is the Beatific Vision of the Christians, the Bodhichitta of the
Buddhists, the Noor-e-llahi of the Muslims, the Ek Onkar of the Sikh gurus or
the Self-realisation of the Hindus. Clearly there are states of higher
consciousness which transcend all barriers and which are the heritage of the
entire human race. This flows from the persistent tradition of the light that
illuminates the universe - the light of consciousness itself, and it
is ultimately an awareness of this light in all human beings that alone can
become the cornerstone of a sane and harmonious global society.
is needed today, as the watchword of the emerging global society, is a new
global renaissance, an integration between apparently conflicting concepts. We
need to develop a benign symbiosis between the various elements of our
personality - the inner and the outer, the quietist and the activist, the
feminine and the masculine - and in the broader dimension between science and
spirituality. It is my sincere hope that this international symposium on science
and beyond will help to trigger the process of creative symbiosis whereby alone
can the human race survive its own technological ingenuity. It is in this hope
that I have the greatest pleasure in inaugurating this symposium.