Science, religion, and culture are three forces that greatly affect our world.
It is no exaggeration to say that the course of human history will depend on the relationship between these disciplines, and the impact and influence each area has on society. Intellectuals, for example, will be attracted to religions that are mainly dynamic, progressive, and at peace with science.
Science has succeeded remarkably in learning about the workings of the human brain and the earth and universe around us. It is unlocking the code of life by mapping human DNA, tracing the history of the known universe, and disclosing virtually all physical and biological phenomena in impressive detail.
And until recently, science and religion co-mingled well in Sikh society. However, Sikh clergy simply ignored science, as their educational handicaps did not permit the implications.
There were exceptions, such as Dr. Raghbir Singh Bir, Professor Puran Singh, and Professor Hardev Singh Virk.
Bir fathered a movement still remembered as Atam Science, the science of the soul. It publishes a monthly newsletter from Chandigarh. Dr. Hardev Singh Virk gathered the views of a number of Sikh intellectuals for a book on the subject of Science and Religion.
Yet this is still the bare minimum compared to the debates seen in many other cultures – and most Sikh scientists remain humble before the Guru Granth and refrain from speaking out. It is only recently that limited conflict has begun to disrupt our peaceful society.
Some academics are beginning to feel that religion is an outdated institution in the face of science. They do not observe the dynamism in religion that they see in other areas of life. To many, religion belongs in a history museum.
In fact, Science and Religion are usually discussed under titles such as Science vs. God, Science vs. Religion, Can Religion Stand Up to the Progress of Science, and so on. They are drawn mostly from the long-standing debate between Christianity, particularly the Book of Genesis, and scientists like Darwin and a century’s old line of physicists, astronomers, and biologists. Several books on the subject frequently reach the bestsellers list and their many polemicists who attest for interest in the subject (see Raman, 2009).
Ideally, the objectives of Science and Religion should be complementary. And they are, as far as present Sikh society is concerned. The methodology and levels of sophistication may be different, however, they share the same goal of understanding reality.
When we consider Sikhee or Gurmat (the wisdom of the Guru Granth), the phrase, Science versus Religion may be worrisome (For discussion, see Singh 2009). Such phrases are derived from long-standing debates in Christianity about Science and Religion. It always seems that there is a conflict between the two disciplines and their derivatives. According to their tradition, science and religion say different and contradictory things about the same domain. For example, in the view of certain conservative Christians, the biblical view of creation differs from scientific theories of cosmology. They think that evolution is both bad religion and bad science, while religion is thought to be a good science. Their anthropomorphic God has the powers of a super human being. When we consider Sikhism however, there is little conflict on these or similar issues. In fact, science might be the one important asset of the Sikhism. Let me explain.
Soon after partition of Indian subcontinent, I joined Punjab University for the degree program in Pharmaceutical Sciences (1949-52). The school was located in the Glancy Medical College in Amritsar. We started to hold informal and formal study circles where Sikh students and teaching staff of the medical college would gather to talk about issues in Sikhism. I recall one gathering where the late Dr. Harbhajan Singh of Pathology Department suddenly asked me a question.
“Which section of the civil society would be more amenable to appreciate Gurmat”, he asked. I recalled responding; the scientists of course. Scientists are rational in seeking the truth, so is the Guru’s Wisdom, Gurmat, as it is manifested in the Sikh scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib. They will be at home with each other.
I remember this discussion because the next day I saw it reported in the Punjab press. It was unusual for the Punjab press to report a study circle but it must be due to the attractiveness of the topic. Of course, the attendees of the Study Circle asked me for an explanation, which took the rest of the evening that became worth reporting by the Sikh press. Indeed this was the subject of interest then, and is an important subject today.
NATURE AND ITS STUDY
Science is popularly defined as a systematic study of nature and its laws. The term science comes from the Latin “scientia” meaning knowledge. According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, the definition of science is “knowledge attained through study or practice,” or “knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, especially as obtained and tested through scientific method…” What does that really mean?
Science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge of nature and its creations. This system uses observations and experimentations to describe and explain natural phenomena. What is the purpose of science? Perhaps the most general purpose of science is to produce constructive and pragmatic models of reality in nature.
In the Sikh vocabulary, nature and creation are based on God’s ‘Hukam’ (meaning command, order, decree, etc.), which created and sustains the universe. To see God in Creation is the root of the mental picture we make about nature. We Sikhs practice this as a meditation on daily basis.
In Sikhee, nature and its creations are termed kudrat, the Creative Power of the Universe. Guru Nanak described the relationship between kudrat and the Creator as:
ਕੁਦਰਤਿ ਕਰਿ ਕੈ ਵਸਿਆ ਸੋਇ – – Guru Arjan Dev, SGGS, p. 1096.
God created kudrat, the Creative Power of the Universe, and then chose to dwell within it.
Kabir, another contributor of the Guru Granth, corroborated it this way.
ਲੋਗਾ ਭਰਮਿ ਨ ਭੂਲਹੁ ਭਾਈ ॥ ਖਾਲਿਕੁ ਖਲਕ ਖਲਕ ਮਹਿ ਖਾਲਿਕੁ ਪੂਰਿ ਰਹਿਓ ਸ੍ਰਬ ਠਾਂਈ ॥ – Kabir, SGGS, p. 1096.
O people, O Siblings of Destiny, do not wander deluded by doubt. The Creation is in the Creator, and the Creator is in the Creation, totally pervading and permeating all places.
To Guru Nanak, the Creator and all Creations were the same, as the Creator is manifested in Creation. He symbolized this relationship in the commencing symbol inscribed in Sikh scripture, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, as ੴ Ek-Onkaar meaning the One Reality manifested, as well as expressed, in creation (For detail, read Lal, 2009).
Guru Nanak goes on to say that, the Creator continuously watches over the kudrat, the Creative Power of the Universe, and casts all dices.
ਵੇਖਹਿ ਕੀਤਾ ਆਪਣਾ ਕਰਿ ਕੁਦਰਤਿ ਪਾਸਾ ਢਾਲਿ ਜੀਉ – Guru Nanak, SGGS, p. 71.
The Creator watches over His own Creation, and through His All-powerful Creative Potency casts the dice.
With respect to the realization of God, Guru Nanak said that God’s presence and identity may be made out best through the reality of kudrat, the Creative Power of the Universe.
ਨਾਨਕ ਸਚ ਦਾਤਾਰੁ ਸਿਨਾਖਤੁ ਕੁਦਰਤੀ Guru Nanak, SGGS, p. 141.
Says Nanak, the Reality and the Giver of the Reality, are revealed through the kudrat, His All-powerful Creative Nature.
The scientists, intellectuals and spiritual people alike pursue the study of nature or in religious terms, kudrat, the Creative Power of the Universe. This results in their becoming ecstatic; they fall in love with it. Guru Arjun expresses this phenomenon in his hymn as follows.
ਕਰਤੇ ਕੁਦਰਤੀ ਮੁਸਤਾਕੁ ॥ Guru Arjun, SGGS, p. 724.
O Creator, through Your kudrat, the Creative Power of the Universe, I fall in love with you.
Guru Nanak continues further and claims that the Creator, after manifesting creation then contemplates the same.
ਆਪੇ ਕੁਦਰਤਿ ਸਾਜਿ ਕੈ ਆਪੇ ਕਰੇ ਬੀਚਾਰੁ ॥ Guru Nanak, SGGS, p. 143.
He Himself created and adorned the Laws of Nature, and He Himself envisages it.
That is, in a nutshell, the Sri Guru Granth view of nature and the study of its reality as a religious goal. There is no distinction made between a scientist and a theologian. With required educational training, a scientist may also become a theologian and vice a versa. They both seek reality in their own ways and there is an affirmative relationship between them. This may be the strongest Sikh statement on the relationship between science and religion.
RELIGION AND RELIGIOUS PRACTICE
Religion is an organized approach to human spirituality. It usually encompasses a set of narratives, symbols, beliefs and practices, often with a supernatural or transcendent quality. They give meaning to the practitioner’s experiences of life through reference to a higher power: God, Gods, or ultimate truth.
For many, religion is spiritual or in some cases supernatural; and science is about the physical aspects of natural. This comparison, though attractive, is problematic because it proposes a duality towards reality. It is more productive to say that religion and science are about the same domain, namely, how humans experience Truth (natural or super natural).
To search for truth by every means is the gist of the religion according to Guru Nanak,
ਏਕੋ ਧਰਮੁ ਦ੍ਰਿੜੈ ਸਚੁ ਕੋਈ ॥ Guru Nanak, SGGS, p. 1188.
To grasp the Truth is the only religion or a Dharma.
The universe was not created to be partitioned into distinct parts; instead, it must be regarded as an indivisible unit in which separate parts appear as valid approximations.
Sikhism describes a single reality as EkOUNKAAR,
, (EK) expressed in universal manifestation as Ounkaar ੴ (Onkaar), that is worshiped as Ek-Onkaar or infinite wisdom (vahaguru). The same reality vitalizes the universe as a whole. In reality, no separate or individual things exist on their own. The only such entity may be the self that is the one, which we have concordat or thought up; nothing in reality is so patterned.
The trouble between religion and science begins when religion is packaged in mythical stories and discourses. The language of religion is derived from those stories. They are symbolic discourses about the symbolic world. Then the construction of religious characters is derived from taking these stories literally, rather than symbolically or metaphorically.
To take the stories literally leads us into problematical assertions as they render the Creator into an anthropomorphic god. For example, all the biblical narratives, including the Gospels, or, of Quranic narratives, are anthropomorphic narratives of an invisible god.
In the ancient worlds, before the advent of Guru Nanak, mythic conscious prevailed and supernaturalism was an over powering, anthropomorphic tradition. As a result religion had become only a play to quiet down the child-like mind.
ਲੋਗਨ ਰਾਮੁ ਖਿਲਉਨਾ ਜਾਨਾਂ ॥ Kabir,SGGS, p. 1158
Some people know God as a toy to pacify the restless mind.
This is the foundation of some of the conflicts between religion and science. The Sikh scripture, the Sri Guru Granth, considers it contrary to the true spirit of religion to undermine any genuine human endeavor; especially science.
In contrast, science is not dogmatic and it is constantly revised and updated. It is public and universal. The community of scientists is not bound to a specific mythical idiosyncrasy. Instead, it seeks to escape the idiosyncrasies of local cultures. The Sikh vision supports this.
INTERDEPENDENT AND COMPLEMENTARY
Sikh teaching as recorded in the Sri Guru Granth, not only recognized a relationship between religion, science, logic and culture, it describes them as interdependent. It recognizes the fact that interactions among these domains are the strongest forces that influence human history. It further makes it obligatory to recognize that we must distinguish genuine science from pseudoscience, the politics of selfish designs from doing good to humanity, and informed religion or spirituality vs. empty rituals and superstitions. It further concludes that the pursuit of learning about the cosmos by science or religion is not confrontational but complementary. Both approaches are valid in their own right and discipline.
ਜਿਤੁ ਦੁਆਰੈ ਉਬਰੈ ਤਿਤੈ ਲੈਹੁ ਉਬਾਰਿ ॥ Guru Amar Das, SGGS, p. 853.
A seeker of Reality will be realized through whichever discipline one seeks.
It is heartening to observe that the Western world is coming around the Sikh viewpoint in his regard. There are many pointers towards this.
In 1992, Sir John Templeton introduced a new publication, entitled Who’s Who in Theology and Science. He said he hoped that his publication would provide a stimulus for communication between individuals and organizations, and between scientific and theological communities. Most (but not all) of those included see science and theology as related, complementary avenues of truth, and seek in some sense an integration of the ideas and concepts of these two spheres of research, often recognizing that the God of Creation is the source of both the natural and the spiritual.
Templeton seemed to be paraphrasing thoughts similar to those echoed by Guru Nanak nearly six centuries earlier. We are pleased that the contemporary consensus seems to be moving to this view. Guru Arjun wrote:
The learned people call the Creator, with attributes as well as Unseen, without attributes. Both of these features coalesce in the formation of the Cosmos.
For many scientists and theologians, the two disciplines are beginning to look similar; to others they are at the least complementary. They are talking about the same Truth, some with complementary views, others with different aspects of the same truth which in its full nature cannot be described adequately by either alone.
In October of 1999, a conference was held at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics by the new Templeton Commission on the Future of Planetary Cosmology. What was new in such a gathering of scientists was “the emphasis on extra-solar astronomy, with an eye to its ultimate significance as a spiritual quest (see Progress in Theology). It is of special interest that leaders of many prestigious science institutions were beginning to open up to the deeper significance of scientific discovery, inviting lectures of “God and Science” at formerly closed institutions and universities.
Upon close perusal, a view is emerging that there are two versions of the complementary opinion, as it relates to the relationship between science and religion. There is a weaker version, according to which non-conflicting cooperation between scientists and religionists may prevail. However, the level of cooperation may not be powerful. The more powerful and stronger version will promote complementary observations, the alteration or absence of one of the observations would necessitate a change in the other, as MacKay proposed (MacKay, 1974). Science and religion are allies that must cooperate at a fundamental level. MacKay used an interesting analogy. To him science and religion are like the front and side projections of the plan of a building. One would need both to reconstruct the building, though because the projections are orthogonal, they are “blind,” to each other.
Acceptance of a complementary relationship permits close observation of the relationship between science and religion and insures integrity and enhanced productivity. As Sir John Templeton described in one of his essays: “they are talking about the same things, with complementary accounts, presenting different aspects of the same event which in its full nature cannot be described by either alone”.
Sometimes, when it is said that science and religion do not conflict, it may mean that they are about different domains: the natural and supernatural. The Guru Granth, in contrast, will support the notion that there is one domain, which is human experience under the guidance of divine knowledge and spiritual intellect. Science and religion may operate with different methodology, or in separate languages, but this is only to facilitate the search and not to divide the scientists and the theologians.
Religion has been plagued by reification, whereby derivatives have been treated as fundamental. Beings are considered substances and their relations considered accidents, and reality belongs to substances. This may be based on the influence of Aristotle who based his philosophy on the subject-object structure of the Greek idiom. This remains the basis of the modern debate among philosophers about the nature of relations.
As Dr. Virk and his colleagues emphasize, Guru Nanak spoke for science and religion. To Nanak, science and religion converge on the infinite creation without any conflict (Virk, 2009). Similarly, Bhaumik (2006) discussed advances in quantum physics to describe the basic units of living creation. Our discussion should on how to promote a spirit of understanding beween scientists and theologians.
FISH IN THE OCEAN
The search by a spiritually oriented seeker for the secrets of reality can be described by a metaphor of a fish in the ocean. Guru Nanak puts it this way in one of his hymns.
ਤੂ ਦਰੀਆਉ ਦਾਨਾ ਬੀਨਾ ਮੈ ਮਛੁਲੀ ਕੈਸੇ ਅੰਤੁ ਲਹਾ ॥ Guru Nanak, SGGS, p. 25.
You are the River, All-knowing and All-seeing. I am just a fish-how can I find your extent?
Fish, living inside the ocean, are unable to comprehend even an iota of the ocean. Similarly, humanity stand facing a vast, uncertain ocean of reality about which it may seek the knowledge. How old is this ocean? How vast is this ocean? How far might its exploration take those who will live in the future, and for whom what we know now may seem quaint?
Clearly, a panorama remains undiscovered. Knowledge about billions of galaxies around us, and trillions of biological units with a living body seems only a beginning. Whatever little we know should certainly humble those who explore. It does humble many scientists and spiritualists alike. Sir Isaac Newton was one such great scientist. Near the end of a remarkably productive and inventive life (1642 – 1727) of extraordinary scientific accomplishments, he wrote that to himself he had seemed only “like a boy, playing on the sea-shore, and delivering myself, in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
In the words of Templeton, indeed Newton was correct scientifically. Compared to his time, his insights can now be mastered by high-school students. Physics at the cutting edge has come a long way from his day into our contemporary age of quantum physics, curved space-time, supernova explosions, high temperature superconductivity, and ten-dimensional superstrings. There are many reasons to take great pride in what humanity has learned since Newton. However, we have also learned that human knowledge constantly expands and accelerates. So what the future is likely to bring over time surely will make even the most knowledgeable among us seem like children collecting pebbles on the seashore.
Five centuries ago, Guru Arjun further expressed his epistemology as:
ਬਿਸਮੁ ਭਏ ਬਿਸਮਾਦ ਦੇਖਿ ਕੁਦਰਤਿ ਤੇਰੀਆ ॥ Guru Arjun, SGGS, p. 521.
I am wonderstruck beholding the marvel of Your Almighty Creative Power.
HUMAN INTELLIGENCE CREATED TO SEEK REALITY
Over millions of years of evolution, humans have acquired unique intellectual abilities and can comprehend many things on our planet. Out of all of God’s creation, we know that currently only human beings are able to do this. That is, to tease out and to comprehend life and sometime, even to create it.
In this process of human evolution there occurred an awesome mystery: human evolution worked for millions of years towards creating beings who possess the intellectual ability to think about their own creator, even to the extent that they conceived themselves as engineered in the image of God.
As far as we know, only humans among all life forms on earth have this ability to imagine God. This was engineered as human superiority over all life form known. The Guru Granth points to this awesome prospect through the following verses.
You are the person in charge on this earth; all other forms of life are in your obedience.
The Sikh theologian of the Gurus’ time, Bhai Gurdas, echoed the same belief.
ਲਖ ਚਉਰਾਸੀਹ ਜੋਨ ਵਿਚ ਮਾਨਸ ਜਨਮ ਦੁਲੰਭ ਉਪਾਯਾ॥ Bhai Gurdas, Vaar 8, Pauri 6.
Among the hundreds of thousands of life forms, the human life is the most prized one
ਲਖ ਚਉਰਾਸੀਹ ਜੂਨਿ ਵਿਚ ਉਤਮ ਜੂਨਿ ਸੁ ਮਾਣਸ ਦੇਹੀ॥ Bhai Gurdas, Vaar 15, Pauri 3.
Among the hundreds of thousands of birth forms, the supreme birth is that of a human.
When Homo Sapiens developed the power to seek the Creator, they began to devise approaches to investigate and learn both physical and metaphysical world around them. At the same time, spiritual awaken also began to take birth. The objective was to reach a significant level of awareness about the Creator and His creation.
Human consciousness, combined with intelligence and the extensive capacity of the brain for learning and memory provides us with the impetus of knowledge of the unknown. We therefore live in communities of seekers and participate in shared knowledge and activities. This urge is manifested in our prayers.
ਤੁਮਰੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਪਾ ਤੇ ਮਾਨੁਖ ਦੇਹ ਪਾਈ ਹੈ ਦੇਹੁ ਦਰਸੁ ਹਰਿ ਰਾਇਆ ॥ Guru Arjun, SGGS, p. 207
It is through your Grace that I am given the human life. Now, it is my prayer that You bestow Your presence in my consciousness, O’ God.
Sikhs consider it a matter of great privilege for humans to be so wonderfully created that they have minds that allow them to sense and participate in the rich reality that surrounds humanity.
To impress this pride, Guru Arjan witnessed this evolutionary talent of human minds and took this opportunity to alert the human family so they do not neglect this gift of a superior faculty of mind.
ਕਾਚੇ ਭਾਡੇ ਸਾਜਿ ਨਿਵਾਜੇ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਮਾਈ ॥ ਜੈਸਾ ਲਿਖਤੁ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਧੁਰਿ ਕਰਤੈ ਹਮ ਤੈਸੀ ਕਿਰਤਿ ਕਮਾਈ ॥੨॥ ਮਨੁ ਤਨੁ ਥਾਪਿ ਕੀਆ ਸਭੁ ਅਪਨਾ ਏਹੋ ਆਵਣ ਜਾਣਾ ॥ ਜਿਨਿ ਦੀਆ ਸੋ ਚਿਤਿ ਨ ਆਵੈ ਮੋਹਿ ਅੰਧੁ ਲਪਟਾਣਾ ॥੩॥ Guru Arjun, SGGS, p. 882.
God created and adorned the earthen vessels (human bodies) and infused His Light within them. As are the imprints made by the Creator, so are the deeds we do. The human began to believe that the mind and body were all his own; this became the cause of his births and rebirths. Certain humans may not think of the One who gave them these boons; they are blind, as they are being entangled in emotional blindness.
Thus as human beings, we are endowed with a highly developed mind, spirit, and purpose. We can think, imagine and dream. Through these gifts, we are urged to search for future concepts in a rich expanding diversity of human thought and the creations around it. We may realize that in some ways we are created by infinite wisdom for an accelerating adventure of creativity into the Infinity.
NARCISSISM IS A STUMBLING BLOCK
One of the lessons we learn from modern metaphysics is that, both in the East and the West, accomplishments in learning promote narcissism (self-worth or Ego). Therefore, we must be warned so that we don’t lose the proper perspective. Empty debates to inflate ego are counterproductive; they derail any productive understanding of Reality.
Guru Nanak addressed this question many times.
ਵਾਦਿ ਅਹੰਕਾਰਿ ਨਾਹੀ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਮੇਲਾ ॥ਮਨੁ ਦੇ ਪਾਵਹਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਸੁਹੇਲਾ ॥ਦੂਜੈ ਭਾਇ ਅਗਿਆਨੁ ਦੁਹੇਲਾ ॥ Guru Nanak, SGGS, Page, 226
Union with the Creator or God is not obtained if one is engaged in debates that boost narcissism. Only by dedicating the mind to seek wisdom, one may gain knowledge of the divine identity. On the contrary, the pursuit of duality is ignorance that may lead you to suffering.
Scientists are trained in the mindset of inquiring about truth, and they are rewarded in the process of pursuing of truth. The condition is that they must be true scientists, and not just there to inflate their ego. This is not a trivial point. In reality, the ego of scientists is often seen as an obstacle, which leads to a closed-minded attitudes and the belief that scientists might know it all.
On the converse, our religious clergy are trained with a mindset of privileged communication with divine, and this may not allow them to be free of the same obstacle of ego. The narcissism of “they may know it all because they are holy and science is only a blind man’s crutch” is equally hindering. The Sikh scripture talks about this situation. For example,
ਮਨ ਮਹਿ ਕ੍ਰੋਧੁ ਮਹਾ ਅਹੰਕਾਰਾ ॥ ਪੂਜਾ ਕਰਹਿ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਬਿਸਥਾਰਾ ॥ Guru Arjan, SRI GURU GRANTH SAHIB, P, 1348.
Often when worship and exegeses are performed with various modes of myths and rituals, they actually exhibit anger and massive ego dwelling in the mind of the clergy.
ਪੰਡਿਤ ਪੜਹਿ ਪੜਿ ਵਾਦੁ ਵਖਾਣਹਿ ਤਿੰਨਾ ਬੂਝ ਨ ਪਾਈ ॥ -Guru Amar Das, SGGS, p 18.
If the religious scholars and theologians research and study to prepare for argumentation, they would seldom understand the essence.
Both Eastern and Western scholars are indeed recognizing the obstacle of narcissism. As, late Sir John Templeton used to say, narcissism to him was not so much a personal flaw but rather a habit of the mind which inhibited the learning process necessary for appreciating others’ views or disciplines. He desired that religious institutions be at par with the centers for scientific discoveries.
It is certain that we are endowed with innate urge to discover and we are given mind and spirit as well as natural resources to do so. We can think, imagine, dream and devise ways to discover as scientists as well as theologians.
However, many seem to be blinded to obstacles that we are constantly erecting. We talked about the narcissism of science in a prior section. Unfortunately, our religious leadership represented by clergy class is not immune to the same stumbling block either. Our clergy and spiritual leaders are often not inspired to hope that the spiritual future could, or should, be beyond what they have learnt from their equally egoistic leadership. They do not envision that progress in religion is possible by appreciating ways that sciences have learned to be creative.
For so many clergy, the practice of religion is nothing beyond the preservation of ancient traditions. Many of them do not want to consider the possibility of progressively unfolding spiritual discoveries.
Instead, Guru Nanak and his successors led us to the appreciation of a unique intellectual faculty he called Surat: being devoid of narcissism so that one can truly understand the reality of human life.
ਹਉਮੈ ਛੋਡਿ ਭਈ ਬੈਰਾਗਨਿ ਤਬ ਸਾਚੀ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਸਮਾਨੀ ॥ Guru Nanak, SGGS, p. 1197.
Abandoning narcissism, I have become detached. And only then, I engross the true intuitive understanding.
What will be profitable is to accept the notion that religion holds new possibilities in the future as it clearly does for the future of science. If we keep our mind open, the adventure of science can both inspire and lend a hand to religion towards exploring a rich future of “boundless possibilities” in marching closer to the Reality.
According to the scripture, the human race, even after thousands of years of historical development, is still at the dawn of new creation. This offers an opportunity that should humble our clergy as it does our scientists.
ਭਈ ਪਰਾਪਤਿ ਮਾਨੁਖ ਦੇਹੁਰੀਆ ॥ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਮਿਲਣ ਕੀ ਇਹ ਤੇਰੀ ਬਰੀਆ ॥ Guru Arjan, SGGS, p. 12.
You are gifted with human faculty and resources as a unique opportunity to meet up with the sustaining power of the creator.
When we are humble in our attitude and we welcome new ideas about the spirit, just as we welcome new scientific and technological ideas, we may readily discover solutions to human agony.
The humility that our Gurus labored to inculcate will diminish parochialism in religion. Humility may make an impact on us that our concepts of god, the inner as well as the outer universes are very limiting. We are reminded all the time by our sears that we are all too self-centered. We overestimate the small amount of knowledge we possess. Guru Baani asks us to admit the infinity of creation and the boundless possibilities within it. These teachings apply to scientists as they relate to people focused on religion.
A productive way to cultivate a spirit of humility is to open up to the possibility of our existence within a divine reality that dwarfs our personal reality.
ਸਬਦਿ ਮਰੈ ਫਿਰਿ ਮਰਣੁ ਨ ਹੋਇ ॥ਬਿਨੁ ਮੂਏ ਕਿਉ ਪੂਰਾ ਹੋਇ ॥ Guru Nanak, SGGS, p. 152
One, who dies in humility before the divine wisdom, shall never again have to die. Without such a death, how can one obtain fulfillment?
The question naturally arises, can science or religion, or both, or neither, gives us truth. I must agree with Sir John Templeton who cautiously speaks of science and religion as “complementary avenues of truth.” This is a more contemporary assessment of science and religion. This is much better than the older view that either science or religion speaks truth, but not both. Perhaps we should approach this weighty question by first considering science and religion in series, then together.
Scientists labor in the service of truth as do the religious seekers, all in the interest of a better understanding of the physical and spiritual worlds.
As regards religion and truth, we must avoid the appearance of the superiority of one religion over another. Guru Nanak was a sacrifice to as many identities of God; he then respected all people.
Nanak places his head at the feet of all people and is a sacrifice to as many identities ascribed to You, O’ God.
The total relationship of things in the universe may constitute the Truth, because things are insofar as they are in relation to one another. However, this relation is not a private relation between a subject and an object. It is a universal relationship so that it is not for any private individual or group to exhaust any relationship. Truth is relational, thus relational to me. However, it is never private. The highest ideal is reached when scientific understanding and religious truth are found in the same person.
Nature and spirit are not two completely different kinds of reality. The distinction between them results from different ways of looking at the same reality. Anyone who deeply comprehends nature discerns a spiritual unity at its base. Moreover, complete, true spirit is united with nature; only one reality exists in the universe.
Towards, the creator and his creation, evolution need no longer travel taking only its previous slow path. Possibly, it was the creator’s plan that one day his children could serve as useful tools for his creative purposes by endlessly advancing forward.
ਆਗਾਹਾ ਕੂ ਤ੍ਰਾਘਿ ਪਿਛਾ ਫੇਰਿ ਨ ਮੁਹਡੜਾ ॥- Guru Arjun, SGGS, p. 1096.
Keep moving forward; do not turn your face backwards.
The case is made that science is in harmony with Sikhism. Sikh philosophy is able to articulate and elucidate the relational character of what we might understand as “reality”, in both religious and scientific contexts. Religion and science work together in understanding reality according to such a relational paradigm. Sikhee, the Guru’s path, accepts the implications of a thoroughly relational thinking even when such thinking implies that, in its pursuit, one may never fully interpret reality in human language.
ਜੇ ਹਉ ਜਾਣਾ ਆਖਾ ਨਾਹੀ ਕਹਣਾ ਕਥਨੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ ॥ – Guru Arjun, SGGS, p. 1096.
Should I know the Reality, I may not be able to describe it in human in language. The Creator may rarely be described in words.
Guru Nanak sought truth itself; truth grounded in a reality that would stand beyond all interpretation. It is outside all contexts.
Most scientists learn to avoid the stagnation that comes from accepting a fixed perspective. The Sikh scientists that I know are similarly epistemological open-minded, always seeking to discover new insights and new perspectives. To a Sikh scientist, the expanse and the wonders of the creation brings humility, as well as a challenge for creativity all in the partnership with the Creator as it is often quoted in the Guru Granth hymns.
ਪਿਤਾ ਹਮਾਰੇ ਪ੍ਰਗਟੇ ਮਾਝ ॥ ਪਿਤਾ ਪੂਤ ਰਲਿ ਕੀਨੀ ਸਾਂਝ ॥ – Guru Arjun, SGGS, p. 1096.
My Father, the Creator, has revealed Himself within me. This way Father and son have joined together in partnership of the creativity.
I once asked my friend, Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany, a scientist of worldwide recognition, to tell me which hymn from Guru Granth Sahib he remembered to hum in the past few days. He right away came up with a hymn of Guru Nanak recorded on page 14 in Sri Guru Granth Sahib,
ਪੰਖੀ ਹੋਇ ਕੈ ਜੇ ਭਵਾ ਸੈ ਅਸਮਾਨੀ ਜਾਉ ॥ ਨਦਰੀ ਕਿਸੈ ਨ ਆਵਊ ਨਾ ਕਿਛੁ ਪੀਆ ਨ ਖਾਉ ॥ ਭੀ ਤੇਰੀ ਕੀਮਤਿ ਨਾ ਪਵੈ ਹਉ ਕੇਵਡੁ ਆਖਾ ਨਾਉ ॥ – Guru Nanak, SGGS, p. 14
Were I a bird, soaring and flying through hundreds of heavens, or if I could become invisible, reaching a super human state where I could live without eating or drinking anything. Even so, I could not still even guess Your magnanimity. How can I then describe your indescribable identity?
All of us have favorite hymns that reveal our state of mind based upon our life attitudes. A scientist and theologian will both venture into the magnanimity of Creation but may describe different versions of the pathways.
Science can both inspire and assist religion to explore a rich future of boundless possibilities. Education in science at the same time when we are learning the Guru Granth can also make us realize that the Sikh religion is much beyond the preservation of ancient traditions that are often stressed by many clergy if they are not well versed in science.
To be an enviable Sikh society, what is true of the scientists had to be true of the religious scholars and Sikh clergy as well. The Guru Granth teaches them all to be humble in front of indescribable expanses of nature and the laws of creation.
In humility, clergy must accept challenges to older assumptions and let the religious rites and meditations not remain stuck on ritualistic traditions. Instead, they must unveil the Creator through the connectivity with the Creation that our religious practices may offer. To me that is what a meditation on Ek-Onkaar or Vahaguru (Infinite Wisdom) means and that is what Gurmat Symbol of < (One Reality expressed through the Vast Creations) means. Being a scientist by profession and a Sikh by faith, I can appreciate the relationship very well.
In conclusion, Sikhee supports a positive relationship between science and religion. It considers any weakening of this relationship to be damaging to the civil society. It further stresses that the key in accepting positive cooperation between science and religion is to cultivate a spirit of humility among scientists and theologians, faith practitioners, in front of the Infinite Wisdom. This may be accomplished simply by accepting openness to the opportunity of our worldly existence to be within the divine reality. The life of a scientist as well as of a theologian then may become a juncture that progressively climbs scientific and spiritual heights to the fulfillment of human life.
References and Notes
Note: The translations of the Guru Granth hymns are not literal but given as the central idea in the context of the discussion.
Bhaumik, Mani, Code Name God: The Spiritual Odyssey of a Man of Science, published by The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, 2005; The Cosmic Detective: Exploring The Mysteries Of Our Universe, published by Puffin Books of the Penguin Group, 2008.
SINGH, I.J. Science Versus Religion: Where’s the Beef?
Lal, (Bhai) Harbans. Mool Mantar: Guru Granth’s Opening Verse, Studies in Sikhism and Comparative Religion, 28 (1): 7-23, 2009.
MacKay, D. M. “‘Complementarity’ in Scientific and Religious Thinking,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 9, 229, 1974.
Progress in Theology: The Newsletter of the John Templeton Foundation, Vol 8 (March/April, 2000), p. 1.)
Raman,Varadaraja V. Truth and Tension in Science and Religion. New Hampshire: Beech River Books, 2009.
Virk H. S.: Scientific Vision in Sri Guru Granth Sahib & Interfaith Dialogue, Singh Brothers, Amritsar, 2008.
Adopted from: Harbans Lal, The Harmony of Science with Sikh Religion, Studies in Sikhism and Comparative Religion, 28 (2), p. 29-54, 2009.
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Harbans Lal, PhD; D.Litt (hons)
Emeritus Professor and Chairman, Dept of Pharmacology & Neuroscience, University of North Texas Health Science Center.
Emeritus, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India.
President, Academy of Guru Granth Studies.
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