Science and the Gita
to this website By Alok K. Bohara, Ph.D.
Vivekananda’s Journey to the
Until the turn of the 19th Century, the Western view of the
Hindu religion was mostly identified with a dazzling array of cultural mosaic
and mysticism of
filled with both imaginable and unimaginable. It began to change after Swami
Vivekananda gave his famous speech on the teachings of the Vedanta in
in 1900 during the gathering of the World Parliament of Religions. The true
teaching of the Vedanta contained in the Gita, Vivekananda told his mesmerized
Western audience, has very little to do with the flying sadhus, the endless
Hindul rituals, and the caste-system.
Citing the Gita, he voiced his opposition to organized
religion, priestly control of spirituality, and then he also informed us of the
existence of the female Rishis (Vedic teachers) in the Vedanta. Over
night, Vivekananda introduced to the West the true liberated teaching of the
Gita: pursue the beauty of inner Self through the art of detachment and
meditation, and harvest the bounty of spiritual fountain. Half a century
later, it was a nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer who finally brought the
Gita into the popular vocabulary of the scientists in the West by citing this
quote from the Bhagavad Gita.
"If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst
at once into the sky, that
would be like the splendor of the mighty one. " and
"Now I am become
Death, the destroyer of worlds." [July 16, 1945,
inscription at first nuclear test site Trinity,
With this began a western love affair with the wonderful
tradition of the Vedic philosophy and the Gita. Since then, many scientists have
quoted the Gita. For example, famous astro-physicist Carl Sagan was awed by the
revelation in the Gita that the creation and destruction, an essential part of
the cosmic evolution, was actually postulated in a more realistic vast time
“The Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s
great faith dedicated to the idea that the cosmos itself undergoes an immense,
indeed an infinite number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in
which the time scales correspond to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its
cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64
billion years long, longer than the age of the Earth or the sun and about half
the time since the Big Bang.” Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980).
Meditation, yoga, and the idea of spiritual living have now
become an accepted part of the mainstream society. These popular phenomena have
also begun to come under objective scrutiny. As the science discovers the power
of spirituality through various scientific tests, the essence of the Gita
becomes ever more relevant to our modern society. The simple idea of meditation
discovered five to six thousand years ago in the Rigveda (oldest of the four
Vedas), and a preferred choice of the true knowledge seekers, has been
scientifically shown to have power to alter brain waves. Experiments have also
shown that meditation reduces criminal intent, stress, and anger, and helps with
recovery from illness.
Some scientists have been doing experiment by placing
electronic devices around the world to detect the existence of concentrated
brain wave. They were baffled by an unusual level of concentrated signal picked
up by their detectors during the time of the 9/11 incident,
bombing and the similar global catastrophes. A global attention on a single
event like the 9/11 seems to have some sort of abnormal effect.
Likewise, the idea of consciousness has triggered a debate
among the quantum physicists who study sub-atomic particles. It was first raised
by a brilliant physicist John Bell of the CERN laboratory in 1964. In his
article, John Bell tried to solve an EPR paradox, named after Einstein, Podolsky,
and Rosen. Without going into details about the paradox, the issue in question
is this: how does one sub-atomic particle know of the altered behavior of the
other particle and respond accordingly, even though they are separated by light
years of space? Do they contain some common information engrained in them
at the time these particles were created? How do they become aware of each other
to react so instantaneously at such a vast distance? Barring some conditions and
technical details, this is known as the principle of entanglement, or
Einstein’s famous doubtful quip on the quantum physics: “spooky action at a
demonstrated the possibility of measuring the existence of such a “spooky
action” and laid out some conditions to resolve the paradox between the
classical and the quantum physics.
At any rate, not being able to explain the source of such
an entanglement, however, John Bell in his paper ended up confessing in the
concluding paragraphs the possibility of consciousness as being at the driver
seat in this cosmic dance of creation and destruction. This is exactly what the
) tells his beloved disciple (Arjuna) in the Bhagavad Gita that the omnipresent
Self, manifesting itself through trinity, is behind the creation and the
destruction of this universe. We physical beings and the nature are just the
actors in this cosmic dance.
To that end, quantum physics has attempted to show through
experiment that the sub-atomic particles behave unpredictably (in a
probabilistic sense) and can exist in multiplicity except when it is observed.
This raises the possibility that the physical surrounding around us is just one
of many possible “worlds” that comes in existence in its fixed form only in
reference to our viewing or the frame of mind. In Gita,
alludes to the possibility of this other “parallel world” by telling Arjuna
of having already witnessed the Mahabharata battle and its outcomes. Is this the
maya (illusion) that the Gita warns us about? That is, is reality the
projection of our mind as postulated in the Gita?
If the mind can play a trick on the physical reality, as
says in the Gita, then are the objects and the viewers of the objects both
somehow entangled and become aware of each other’s existence? If true, then
what connects the two –mind and matter-- will be a vitally important question
to those who study particle physics. For the first time, John Bell’s famous
paper has allowed scientists to test the existence of the entanglement between
the sub-atomic particles. Similarly, others have attempted to test the similar
effect through studying the meditative state and its effect on the physical
Mind and matter after all are the products of nature, and
the entanglement between the two may be caused by something else. This something
else is what has become the source of a heated debate among the quantum
physicists. Like John Bell, a well-known theoretical physicist, Dr. David J.
Haglin, also argues the existence of the concept of the universal awareness
–or propagation of information sharing throughout the universe coming
out of the primordial singularity. He calls it consciousness, and suggests that
the ultimate unified theory in physics, explaining everything from big galaxies
and black holes to the sub-atomic particles, must incorporate the concept of
consciousness at the very root of it.
Inspired by the Gita and encouraged by the scientific
evidence behind the power of meditation within the controlled environment, Dr.
Haglin has initiated a project in
involving mass meditation. He hopes to change group behavior to promote peace
through such concentrated meditative contemplation. The power of intention
through contemplation to alter personal disposition is amply articulated in the
Gita as well, and scientists have just begun to scratch its surface.
Interestingly, many Hindu scriptures speak of highly accomplished Rishis as
having power to calm the other beings around them. But, there is much to learn
about the relationship between the mind and matter. Nevertheless, efforts are
underway to make good use of such potentiality.
For example, physicist like Dr. Haglin focuses on the
physics of entanglement to harness the power of meditative minds for enhancing
peace. A genius Nobel Laureate like Richard Feynman, on the other hand, saw an
opportunity in entanglement --simultaneity of possible information propagation
in particles-- to produce quantum computers with infinite computing capacity. In
both cases, a proper understanding of consciousness is likely to serve the
Microbiologists have begun to study the process of human
evolution from a single cell organism into a complex functioning biological
body. How the trillions of cells in a body interact with each other as a
community has become the subject of scientific investigation. To some
scientists, this brand of investigation is also knows as “biology of
consciousness”. For example, Dr. Bruce Lipton, a cell biologist in the medical
field, cites his research to refute the idea that our personal disposition and
diseases are genetically preprogrammed. Instead, he argues that our cell membranes,
acting like a human receptor, can respond to the outer environment and send
proper signal to our body to “prepare it”. We change our personal
disposition, he argues, accordingly to the information our senses receive. Thus
the DNA mutation is not necessarily a random act; it can be triggered by our
senses in response to interaction with the outside physical world. Because of
the evidence of abrupt changes in various species, the Darwinian theory of
gradual evolution over a vast span of time scale has been recently challenged.
Our quick adaptability seems to be the underlying cause of our evolution. Our
ability to create an Oneness between the Soul and the physical world
seems to be in line with the teaching of the Gita.
Dr. Lipton argues that a person growing up in a violent
environment tends to build necessary defenses (e.g., larger bone and muscle
mass), and he cites an experiment done on the two identical mice. The cell
membrane of such a person, interacting with the outer environment, sends
information to the brain and to other cells to shift energy to build necessary
defenses. Consequently, the human body shifts its focus away from the frontal
cortex (intelligence) of the brain and toward the backside of the brain. This
idea of live consciousness, interconnectedness, and information sharing has
fascinated many scientists. This shows that the idea of the connection between
mind and matter as described in the Vedas five/six thousand years ago is more
than an abstract faith. The idea of the detachment of our soul from the bad
surrounding physical environment, described in the Gita, seems so logical.
Dr. Lipton further cites example of how organ recipients
(e.g., heart and liver transplant) mimic the behavior of the organ donors. The
idea of information transmission across these microbes and our cells (e.g.,
domestic and foreign cells) raises an interesting question regarding our
biological connectivity, both within and outside the body. The Gita and the
Vedanta literatures postulated such idea four to five thousand years ago through
the concept of the omnipresent Atma or the Soul and its existence
down to our minute molecule. The existence of the Soul in all living
creature opens up the possibility that we living creatures are all somehow
connected just like what the entanglement theory of quantum physics postulates.
The Gita had proposed this idea thousands of years ago.
Dr. Lipton pushes this idea further to argue that the well
being of our body and mind can be influenced by controlling our receptor
(“cell membrane”) and channeling it only to receive “good thoughts”.
This is exactly what the Gita teaches us to do: control our senses through
meditation to be a sattavic (goodness, caring) person, and to shed
characters such as tamasi (ignorant, devious) and rajasi (passion,
greed, and drive). The Gita specifically talks about the influence of the
tradition on our behavior, and so it urges us to reject bad belief system
[18.15]. Dr. Lipton’s analysis also puts much emphasis on the role of the
belief system in our ability to receive information and produce changes in our
biological functioning. The Windbridge Institute for Applied Research in Human
) has been conducting scientific research to test the existence of the soul
under various control experiments. Some findings have also been published in
peer reviewed journals.
There is much to discover in science to learn about the
role of consciousness in the fundamental physical law. Until then, one should
have an open mind, and enjoy the wisdom of the Gita, which encourages us to be
aware that the Soul is permanent, whereas the physical self goes through
the cycle of natural law of cosmic creation and destruction. According to
Vivekananda, this non-secular universal teaching is what’s behind the Vedanta
philosophy and Hindu religion.