Here is a very interesting discussion on Hinduism and Science by Krista Tippett from On Being radio program that airs on some of the partner city channels of NPR. It is part of the American Public Media. She is talking to a Physicist and “Hindu Scholar” VV Raman. Varadaraja V. Raman is an Emeritus Professor of Physics and Humanities at the Rochester Institute of Technology. HIs interest lies in Hinduism and understanding its aspect from a scientific standpoint.
Raman is a Tamilian who grew up in Bengal. He has also been a member and lecturer at the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS).
In this discussion he touches upon many topics. In some areas, I found his discussion fairly interesting and in other places I found him not very well rounded, at least not having understood the basic concepts well enough.
Music-Songs vs God-Ishta: I think that was an interesting analogy. What he says is that just as there is Music, and Music plays out in songs of different genres; where everyone has a favorite song – but every song is nothing but music (consisting of the same fundamental sounds); similarly there is the concept of God and Ishta. Ishta is the manifestation of God, that one can relate to more and likes to “play” with. But it is all God, just as every song is Music. So, yes there is ONE Music, and there is ONE God; but it manifests in different songs and different Ishtas.
Dharma: Now this is a difficult concept to understand and articulate, because it is not so straight forward, however simple it may be in actual working. Dharma is Sanatan, or Eternal. Dharma was there when you and I weren’t there; it is there now and it will be when no one remains alive – including this Universe. Yes, many scriptures also quantify Dharma in some “rules” or principles. But that does not translate Dharma into an set of edicts or principles, for they are product of human mind. The articulation of the Eternal Law into “principles” is an attempt at interpretation of these concepts and not in understanding its root. Dharma comes from the Sanskrit root word, which means “to uphold”. That is why Dharma has been held to be the Eternal Law.
The concept of Duty was a temporal articulation and not an attempt at “experiencing” the Spiritual meaning of Dharma. Those who have realized the Truth, understand that underlying the world and creation is a substratum of laws that go beyond Creation and Non-Creation. They go to the very seed of the unmanifest.
Localization of Dharma – King’s Dharma, Household’s Dharma, etc have been attempts by various people, learned or otherwise, at crystallizing what they thought to be in alignment with attaining the realized state and the Eternal, in simple set of rules. But if you look at the life of Krishna, the “poster-boy” of Dharma, if you will – after all his entire life’s work was embodied in words “Dharma Sansthapana Arthaye” (for establishing Dharma) – then you know that his life can not be measured by ANY set of rules or laws.
Nor was the life of the fountain-head of Spirituality, Shiva himself. His being broke every law of any society – civilized or otherwise.
Reincarnation: There is a strong and concerted attempt by “rationalist” and deterministic scientists to deny many questions and evidences that challenge the core of science and open it up to be indeterministic. Even when the major thrusts in the frontiers of science have occurred by those who have gone past determinism, like Einstein to Bohr to Heisenberg to Stapp; determinism has become popular amongst some scientists. That is why even though many cases – and we are talking of millions here – of Near Death Experiences to Memory of past lives have been recorded in the past many years and people have been pushing forward to understand what life is beyond the physicality, there is a concerted and almost self-congratulatory attempt to brush these things away.
Between the science and the non-science-but-empirical-evidence of Near Death Experiences, Memories of Past lives, and more understanding of Consciousness (where Medical science borders and borrows from Quantum Physics) – there is enough to suggest transmigration of consciousness from one body to another.
So, it is somewhat amusing for me to listen to someone who has read, and hopefully understood some of, Hindu – Vedic and Vedantic – literature; and who has a scientific mind, to be so deterministic and apologetic to say he has no proof of reincarnation but believes because he feels that we may not know enough.
Who should interpret Hinduism
Hinduism is NOT a belief and so not an “ism”. That is the first thing that Hindus, and the world needs to understand. Sanatan Dharma (or what is referred to as Hinduism) is a COMPLETELY different paradigm of approaching the Ultimate Answers of Existence. This approach is Open Source, Seeking-oriented, non-parochial and devoid of belief. In all the major Spiritual traditions, Gurus never demanded belief or fan following, but pushed for experiential progress through Sadhana of Purushartha (Self Effort).
Therefore, I am convinced beyond a shadow of doubt, that the well meaning but inadequately equipped Religiously oriented minds should not be interpreting Hinduism for the world. It took someone like Ramakrishna Paramhans – one of greatest Masters in last 2-3 centuries – several years to produce someone like Swami Vivekananda, who couldn’t have been what he was if he hadn’t added his own Spiritual Sadhana to the work done by Ramakrishna.
It is disingenuous for anyone to think that he or she can interpret something as vast as Sanatan Dharma, on the basis of reading and contemplating on Hindu Scriptures. Reading and contemplating even by the brightest of minds will not help if the Grace of a genuine Guru hasn’t happened and adequate Sadhana hasn’t complemented it.