Science & Spirituality Series


The late and popular physicist Carl Sagan once suggested that amongst all the living spiritual traditions of the world, religious or otherwise, the only ones who come close to the scientific understanding of the origins of the universe, are the Hindu traditions. While this may seem a bit offensive to the non-Hindu, upon deeper reflection, it makes some sense. As Sagan continues, he elucidates upon his reasoning behind such a conclusion. Let us consider and trace his thought process.

  1. Dating the universe’s age – how old is it?
    1. Most religions suggest the universe was created by God in the last 10000 years. At least that seems the literal interpretation of it. There are some who have gone to great lengths to preserve such an understanding. Science, quite unsympathetically scoffs at such attempts.
    2. Ancient cosmology suggests the universe’s age is almost unknowably primordial – the Hindus point to a day of Brahma as 4,36200000 years. This is also alluded to in Sufi teaching and Islam – the anecdote of Ibn Arabi and the Meccan sage.
  2. Oscillatory (cyclical) vs linear universe
    1. If that is not enough, they also suggest that this beginning and ending continues, quite infinitely.
  3. Sagan suggests that this similarity is possibly just accidental. And perhaps it is, but so are many scientific discoveries. It is interesting to note that such accidents only happen to those who want to “know”, in other words knowledge comes to those who are curious. “Seek and it shall be given, knock and it shall be opened” says the Bible. A fundamental quality to spirituality seems to be that “only the curious deserve knowledge”. It is not important whether or not the ancient Hindus discovered what they did accidentally, it is far more important that they cultivated questioning and curiosity. And they followed up this curiosity by creating a civilization based on the pursuit of answers to fundamental questions such as can we know how the universe was created? who created it, and why? . Their answers to these questions are hopeful albeit mysterious…
  4. In a nutshell, the answer is a resounding YES. Yes, the universe and its origins can be known but unfortunately, NOT by you! In other words, a small cup can never contain the entire ocean. That is to say, so long is one is identified with finite phenomena – body, mind, social roles and identities etc., the infinite can never be known. But if the I is dissolved, it is possible. Hence, “you” cannot know It. What is being said here is that if the identity dissolves, an all knowing consciousness remains. This explains the mystical utterances of yore – “An ul Haqq” or “Aham Brahmasmi”. The Sufis call this process of dissolving the ego, Fana and what follows thereafter, as gnosis or Marifat.
  5. The next question is “how” and for assuredly, this is where the twain (science and spirituality) diverge. More on that in part two.
  6. In the meanwhile, kudos to our ancient ancestors who made the pursuit of knowledge the foremost occupation of their civilizational ethos. This suggests that they deliberately chose to ignore technological advancement in favor of spiritual enhancement. Is it any wonder that AS A RULE, mystics of all traditions emphasize a simple, and even austere life – simple living, high thinking. This is not to say that technology is not useful, of course it is. But is hardly an end in itself. The balanced way to look at this is – “use it, but don’t let it use you”. Just take the minimum that you need and move on. Let us find, hmm….no let us CREATE the time we need to find Reality.
  7. Oh and there is one more extra-ordinary promise that our ancient mystics assure us of – the pursuit of infinite knowledge pays the richest dividends. An intrinsic quality of such knowledge is that it is accompanied by the purest ecstasy. Undying, eternal ecstasy. Who wouldn’t want that? Look all around us – we humans go to the ends of the earth to get a small glimpse of this – whether through unending sexual escapades or drug induced trips.


Explain each method in short

Explain the spiritual method. Explain the diversity in these methods. And the commonality

Explain the process of fana-baqa. Or Sharia, tariqa and haqiqa and marifa. The stages of the traveler. The same can be understood at a personal level (devotional form) via Islam, Iman and Ihsaan.