Science & Spirituality|Aug 27, 2004 10:59 AM| by:

Parallel Truths

There are two movements, seemingly parallel, that have influenced the scientific mind of the last century. The first entered into the abyss of matter tearing one veil after another from the face of all that appeared to be substance and form. It explored the dumb depths to discover dark secrets. Incredible powers were found and harnessed for the purpose of improving man’s outer life. Amid the heart of the earth lay asleep the secret to dive and fly. Its energy could be used to drive huge machines, give light or destroy the world entirely. Amazing drugs were discovered that sped straight through specific parts of the body to heal or harm. The far became near, the dumb began to speak. Even death’s army appeared to be receding as the siege of science put everything under the control of material laws and processes. The mystery and charm of life appeared to be lost except for a thin substratum of quantum quarks spinning in an empty void. It was hoped that having understood this, nothing more would remain. The ocean was fathomed, the bowels of earth plundered, the sky scanned. What more could be left, except for stretches of endless silent star studded space, and this too would speak some day at the command of man? All life seemed soon to be reduced to mechanical formulae. But not quite.

Somewhere in the middle of the last century, the heart of man revolted. It was unconvinced by the imposing logic and might of material science and its extremely mechanical universe, man had become a machine amongst other machines. That was the verdict of material science. However, humanity did not agree. Something more, something else was there that had escaped. Science tried to cover it up with its theory of ‘chance’. The anomalous and unexplained simply did not exist because material methods could not study it. The Yogi’s stopping of breath was an anomaly of his autonomous nervous system. The supernatural was a figment of the imagination of credulous and gullible minds. The power of thought and suggestion was a myth. The cases of spiritual cure were simply those of spontaneous recovery for unknown material reasons. Enlightenment was an anomaly arising in pathological minds, and the paranormal a sign of an abnormal hallucinating creature with disordered brain cells.

However, the ‘chances’ began to multiply. The anomalous became more frequent. The curious mind of science first watched sceptically, then analytically, only to find that a rigid determinism did not apply anywhere. Even at the purely material and physical level, there was a scope for randomness and an indeterminate movement that defied codification and showed an element of covert or secret choice that creates order out of chaos.

The life of man continued to remain unpredictable for one reason or another. The eye of science finally turned towards discovering the enigma called man. This gave birth to another movement, the study of self and consciousness. The world saw a growing diversion of the mind of man into psychology, yoga, spirituality, even to a revival of religion. It witnessed a return of faith, methods of self-development and alternative systems based on tapping hidden powers of life and mind. The scientist has started measuring these other domains with his scales. And though a few pockets of resistance still remain, by and large there is a thinning of the wall between the two and both are beginning to admit the influence of the other.

The Dichotomy

So far, we have been led by an unseen hand that has guided the progress of the last century. It is working as the Time-Spirit in man, raising new issues, inducing fresh discoveries, inviting greater challenges, goading him to deeper enquiries and inspiring him with novel ideas. The major leaps of mankind in the domain of science have nearly always been unexplained and surreptitious. The next step has not often been logically linked to the previous one. It has even sometimes stood out in opposition, as if overtopping or even effacing the previous view with a new discovery. These leaps, called ‘accidents’, are really signs of a greater intervention hidden in the heart of time that uses nature and man to push its own purpose. Both science and spirituality serve the same purpose. What appear to us as opposites conspire towards a common goal. The truth however is sealed from the eye of man. Standing at the crossroads, he wonders where these parallel lines will meet. The problem for man is not merely theoretical. He seeks, even more importantly, a law of action, his role and scope in the journey. He now follows one line of advance, then another, then both, trying to form the bridge. But the bridge is not a meeting point of two lines. Something more is needed. So we cast our gaze into the future across the stretch of infinity to see where the parallel lines will meet.

There has always been some adjustment and accommodation between the material sciences and spirituality, as we have seen. Material science has begun to admit phenomena like hypnosis, autosuggestion etc., as far as they are useful in making life more comfortable for man. However, the theoretical paradigm still does not include it, except perhaps passingly and ambiguously. The reason is simple. A theoretical paradigm is a closed construction like a frame. To accommodate another construct, it has to shift and change, possibly at the cost of demolishing the entire past construction. It is difficult for the human mind to do this unless it serves an immediate benefit. New vistas of possibilities opening through this shift have not yet fully been embraced by the mind of man. A similar situation seems to exist in the other field. Though they are trying to adapt scientific methods and standards for classifying phenomena and their utilities, the theoretical frames remain unchanged. In other words, matter is matter, apart and distinct from the spirit which is quite another reality. But what we need is a leap to the point where the two fuse and mingle; the secret origin of both, the common parentage, the paradigm that includes both as two facets of a single Reality.

This is the line for the future. To try to prove the power of consciousness by the tools and methods of material science is not quite the right way. Material methods are built for and quite useful in the material domain. They cannot register or measure consciousness. Even if they occasionally capture some glimpse of the supraphysical, it will still only be a hint. A vast field will escape simply because the instruments do not register that. We may even end up in the same old cycle of material cause and effect while the real thing is lost. Thus, several enthusiasts of ‘yoga’ want to prove that ‘yoga’ helps. What they end up proving (strictly scientifically) is that a set of physical postures helps. The real significance of ‘yoga’ is lost if it is reduced to a mechanical technique, ‘a set of exercises’ rather than a means ‘to open oneself to the influx of a higher consciousness’. The same is true of ‘methods’ of breathing, ‘techniques’ of meditation and the practice of repeating a sound symbol. Scientific methods record the physical events. The rest remains a matter for personal belief. The scientist believes it is the baro-receptors that guide; the spiritualist believes it to be the higher consciousness. In fact, the scientist is more likely to prove his hypothesis and strike a blow against the idea of consciousness. Even worse, the ‘spiritualist’, after all these scientific methods, ends up rejecting matter and the material world as it collapses into a void of Nihil or Nirvana. If that is the end point of all self-discovery, then why care about science and its world of men and machines? The wish to ‘prove God in a laboratory’ is a subtle trap that could end up proving that God is a chemical since ‘only a chemical’ can be measured in a lab. The attempt, however well-intentioned, is puerile and not worthy of mature intellects.

The Science of Spirituality

Subtle methods belong to another field of enquiry and experience which may and often do have their own logic of action and forces as the material domain. But these forces and movements depend upon other laws and processes than the material ones. They belong to another Time-Space continuum, to another set of conditions and causality which can also be proved provided a person sincerely fulfills the required inner conditions. Even a mastery is possible over this vast domain, as is seen in the life of Masters and Yogis. But this cannot become a trifle available to all and sundry through mere technical know-how. As in the material field and perhaps even more, this requires sincerity, hard work, one-pointedness of pursuit, devotion to the search and a truthfulness of observation. To seek to dabble in this complex multi-layered domain with a wish to prove to science is to either stop at a half-way house or else to make a caricature of both. Thus the scientific community often mocks the so-called spiritualists, since they are unaware of the basic presumption of science: ‘I know nothing’ and ‘I shall only trust what I can see, verify and reproduce to all’. Also, one comes across a number of spiritual neophytes full of ambition, pride, vanity and ego. In trying to demonstrate the power of spirit to the world, they end up showing their all too human self, lacking even in the field where they are supposed to truly specialise, i.e., self-mastery. Sri Aurobindo points this out succinctly in one of his letters:

“…the experiences of yoga belong to an inner domain and go according to a law of their own, have their own method of perception, criteria and all the rest of it which are neither those of the domain of the physical senses nor of the domain of rational or scientific enquiry. Just as scientific enquiry passes beyond that of the physical senses and enters the domain of the infinite and infinitesimal about which the senses can say nothing and test nothing — for one cannot see and touch an electron or know by the evidence of the sense-mind whether it exists or not or decide by that evidence whether the earth really turns round the sun and not rather the sun round the earth as our senses and all our physical experience daily tell us — so the spiritual search passes beyond the domain of scientific or rational enquiry and it is impossible by the aid of the ordinary positive reason to test the data of spiritual experience and decide whether those things exist or not or what is their law and nature. As in Science, so here you have to accumulate experience on experience, following faithfully the methods laid down by the Guru or by the systems of the past, you have to develop an intuitive discrimination which compares the experiences, see what they mean, how far and in what field each is valid, what is the place of each in the whole, how it can be reconciled or related with others that at first might seem to contradict it, etc., etc., until you can move with a secure knowledge in the vast field of spiritual phenomena. That is the only way to test spiritual experience…. On the other hand, if you are not prepared to go through all that yourself, — as few can do except those of extraordinary spiritual stature — you have to accept the leading of a Master, as in Science you accept a teacher instead of going through the whole field of Science and its experimentation all by yourself — at least until you have accumulated sufficient experience and knowledge.”(1)

Thus the method of the scientific spirit is one of a sincere quest for truth in a detached, dispassionate manner. For this, it relies on observation from which it draws inference and hypothesis. These in turn are tested and tested again for validation. Finally they are applied for general use. In the spiritual domain too, one can extend this process. One can detachedly observe the awakening and movement of subtle states of awareness like ‘peace’, ‘faith’, ‘joy’, ‘trust’, ‘luminous intuition’, ‘strength/power’, ‘harmony’, ‘purity’ etc., and calmly study their effects on oneself and others. Premature judgments, hasty conclusions and rash generalisations must be avoided as here is a vast and complex field with an inherent plasticity. Therefore, the tendency to form it into a fixed and invariable rule has to be avoided. For example, one may observe that peace or prayer succeeds in curing. This observation is valid if either the doctor, patient or both become aware of ‘the force’ working subtly and inwardly without the use of any medicine. They may feel the healing action of prayer even without this awareness if, for instance, they wake up strong and energetic without medicine. In another case, medicines may be used but the doctor and patient may still feel the intervention of a force bringing about a rapid and incredible cure using the medicine as an instrument. The doctor can further study the cases where he invokes or becomes conscious of the ‘Force’ vis-à-vis cases where he does not. He may even see forces working against the cure and resisting the spiritual force with doubt, anxiety and fear (which are perverse forms of will that often attract what is feared). An outside rational observer cannot validate this. Equally illogical would be the demand of such an outside observer that the inner force and action succeed in all cases and if it does not, say that it proves their non-existence.

“The force of fire is to burn, but there are things it does not burn; under certain circumstances it does not burn even the feet of the man who walks barefoot on red-hot coals. That does not prove that fire cannot burn or that there is no such thing as force of fire…”(2)

While one cannot prove the invisible subtle forces and their working by way of outer data observable and measurable by scientific equipment, there is another way to validate it. The scientist sincerely keen to know, understand and learn about it must allow the consciousness to go inside and become aware of inner things. By a progressive opening and growth of consciousness towards higher truths and subtle domains, he can become conscious of these forces and see, follow and use their workings, just as the scientist uses the unseen forces of Nature.

“Or one must have faith and watch and open oneself and then it will begin to see how things happen, it will notice that when the Force was called in, there began after a time to be a result, then repetitions, more repetitions, more clear and tangible results, increasing frequency, increasing consistency of results, a feeling and awareness of the Force at work — until the experience becomes daily, regular, normal, complete.”(3)

The Spirit of Science

The physical world and its processes mesmerise us. What we do not realise is that these so called ‘laws’ are simply habits of Nature, or to use another term, the laws are simply patterns of movement of consciousness. The repetition of movement gives the sense of fixity, but in actuality all is in flux and all can change and does in fact change. This becomes especially evident in the domain of life where the ‘laws’ appear to change as we discover new mechanisms. What we fail to realise here is that life and mind are open systems and keep growing and evolving new forces and capacities that constantly change and upset the old balance.

It is this changeability of physical phenomena which justifies the scientist’s stand of refusing to draw any philosophical conclusions from his data. Thus the tendency of some quarters to justify their philosophical position through scientific evidence is not quite the appropriate way to bridge the gap. The physical discoveries themselves change and enlarge their scope. As of now, the scientific understanding of physical and life processes is neutral and can be used to justify any philosophical or idealistic position. The physical universe is only a clumsy expression of a deeper Reality. Besides, it is evolving. Matter, under the influence of mind (in mentalised man), has entered a new evolutionary phase. What we observe of life and what the mind processes today might then completely change in tomorrow’s world. The discoveries about human physiology from our past millennium might pale into insignificance as the coming man may drop many and pick up new processes that more and more perfectly come closer to the Truth-Force that is manifesting itself through this world.

Meeting of the Parallel Lines

The parallel lines will therefore meet when, in the near or distant future, the finite physical world becomes conscious of the expression of the Infinite — Infinite in variation, Infinite in adaptability, Infinite in plasticity of response, Infinite in inherent knowledge, released from the circumscribed bounds of its cells and Infinite in the capacity and power of delight. Until that happens, the physical and spiritual scientists must both proceed on their own lines of enquiry, gathering more and more experience and evidence. They are both approaching the secret core and centre of things from two different directions. Both shall meet when, in the sincerity of their search, they touch the one and infinite source of all things. Then the physical scientist would learn the ways and means of making matter increasingly plastic to the ‘One Force’ which gives birth to the many. The spiritual scientist too would discover that matter is created by a condensation of the Spirit of One Reality that gives birth to various forms, phenomena and processes. Both will supplement each other and be aided by the secret Time-Spirit that is drawing our present evolutionary cycle to a grand finale, a wonderfully unprecedented spectacle of the unveiling of Spirit through Matter. This millennium, we hope, will move men and forces towards a great synthesis. It’s first sprouts are seen in the early attempts towards the reconciliation of ‘Spirit’ and ‘Matter’, ‘Yoga’ and ‘Science’. A greater being will discover ever greater laws of this physical universe. This growth is inevitable and waits for its hour. We hope that the next millennium witnesses such a leap in human consciousness, from a fragmented to a fully integrated being.

In today’s man, the two poles of the One Reality, spiritual and material, are divided. In the man of tomorrow, the two shall meet and become one.

This vision is beautifully captured in Savitri:

Even the dumb earth become a sentient force.
     The Spirit’s tops and Nature’s base shall draw
     Near to the secret of their separate truth
     And know each other as one deity.
     The Spirit shall look out through Matter’s gaze
     And Matter shall reveal the Spirit’s face.”(4)


1. Sri Aurobindo. Letters on Yoga, Part I. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, pp. 190-1.
2. Ibid, p. 218.
3. Ibid, p. 219.
4. Sri Aurobindo. Savitri. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, p. 709.