Dharma and Science
Inquisitiveness is one of the fundamental characteristics of
human beings. Right from birth, a child would like to know and understand the
surrounding world. As the child grows up, he or she begins to understand the cause-effect
relationship between various events: putting a switch down lights a bulb, putting
an ice cube in a glass of soft drink cools it, placing a hand in fire heats it-and
we say, the child is learning, gaining knowledge. Science is essentially a systematization
of all the knowledge that humanity has gained about the external world, with the
help of our senses.
As the child grows into maturity and experiences the various
vicissitudes of life, sooner or later, he or she begins to question: "What
is the purpose of all this-being born, studying, earning, having children, rearing
a family, getting old and finally dying? Why so much suffering-caused by illness,
old age, separation from loved ones, association with the 'wicked'?" He begins
to contemplate and understand his own true nature, the real cause of his suffering,
and the way out of it, and thus becomes wiser. Dharma is essentially a systematization
of all the wisdom gained by humanity.
Viewed in this way, Dharma and science
emerge as two complementary aspects of human endeavor. As the Isa-Upanishad puts
it, "He who has both spiritual wisdom (Dharma) and secular knowledge (science)
together keeps death at bay through the latter and experiences immortality through
the former." 
Science (especially its applied version, technology)
gives us the necessary know-how to keep our body in good shape; Dharma provides
us with an understanding of the very purpose of our existence, the "know-where".
Clearly, for the harmonious development of any society-for the harmonious development
of any individual-a proper integration of science and Dharma is essential. This
is especially crucial in modern times, when the advances in science and technology
have empowered us enormously. However, from a lack of "wisdom," of Dharma,
this advancement in science is leading only to an increase in our sorrows: poisoning
of land, air, water and of minds.
Misunderstandings about Dharma
"Dharma" literally means "natural law." Dharma is thus an
exposition of the laws pertaining to our inner world, just as science deals with
the laws pertaining to the outer world. The difference between science and Dharma
is thus only a difference in the realm of enquiry-as there are differences between
the various "departments" of science, such as physics, chemistry and
botany. Yet there is a perception of irreconcilability between science and Dharma.
factors are responsible for this perception, the first and foremost being the
erroneous understanding of both Dharma and science. Today, for most people, Dharma
is synonymous with sectarian religions, with priest craft; they see it as a mumbo-jumbo
of words and elaborate rites and rituals, which can become the cause of internecine
conflicts between neighbors, even though they may have lived like brothers for
generations. Above all, Dharma has become synonymous with a stubborn resistance
to any logical scrutiny of religious beliefs. No wonder the youth of today do
not want to touch it with a barge pole! A modern, rational person who is not willing
to accept anything on authority-be it the authority of a religious teacher or
a sacred book-is therefore tempted to reject it all often, even the eternal truths
which are so badly needed to give direction to life will be rejected, thus throwing
the baby out with the bath-water! This process is catalyzed by a scientific temperament,
which is equated with crass materialism-for hasn't science got an explanation
for every phenomenon on the basis of matter in motion under the influence of various
forces? Therefore, anyone talking about the existence of reality beyond sensory
perception is usually dubbed as unscientific-an ignorant fool living in a world
of his own fancies. In such a scenario, the integration of science and Dharma
is obviously impossible.
To change this situation there is clearly a need to
present Dharma as a science, following a scientific method, shorn of all extraneous
socio-political adjuncts and metaphysical speculations. The scientific attitude
demands "induction from facts and not deduction from dogmas. We must face
the facts and derive our conclusion from them and not start with the conclusion
and then play with the facts." Secondly, we also need to understand whether
materialism, a legacy of nineteenth-century science, is still endorsed by modern
science. Fortunately, recent developments in science are questioning this traditional
worldview, and thus a proper understanding of these developments can give a fillip
to the process of integrating science and Dharma.
Dharma as an Applied Science
essence of the scientific approach was characterized by Thomson: "The aim
of science is to describe impersonal facts of experience in verifiable terms as
exactly as possible, as simply as possible, and as completely as possible."
To become a rigorous science, Dharma must be presented as "the Law"
which can be experienced by all, not merely a select few. The various propositions
have to be presented as hypotheses to be accepted only on verification by experience,
albeit personal and subjective, and not on authority. Also, such propositions
should be rational and logical.
The teachings of the Buddha, one of the greatest
spiritual scientists, meet these requirements. His constant refrain to his disciples
could easily be the advice of a modern humane scientist to young students:
nothing merely because you have been told it, or because it is tradition, or because
you yourself have imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely
out of respect for him. But whatever, after due examination and analysis, you
find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings, believe
and cling to that doctrine, and take it as your guide.
The essence of Dharma,
as put crisply by all the Enlightened Ones is "the eschewing of all evil,
the perfecting of good deeds, the purifying of one's mind." 
of this enunciation, devoid of any esoteric pronouncement, may sometimes conceal
its profundity. However, its practical utility and universal applicability are
quite obvious. Viewed in this light, purifying the mind of its baser instincts
is the quintessence of Dharma, since this would quite naturally lead to performance
of wholesome deeds. It also leads to the development of an insight into the basic
characteristics of life. This process of purification is not a mystic knowledge
beyond the ken of ordinary people. It is a strictly scientific technique open
to anybody who is willing to learn and verify it.
The process of purification of mind is analogous to cleaning the
turbid waters of a lake. Two approaches are possible. One could use an external
precipitating agent such as alum that chemically forces all the impurities to
settle down at the bottom of the lake. Alternatively, one could go inside the
lake, identify each and every impurity, and actually take it out. Clearly, the
latter process is bound to be more messy and will need more effort, but its advantages
are quite obvious. With the former method, we are only suppressing the impurities,
but they are still very much there at the bottom. A major storm or churning of
the lake can bring them to the surface again. However, with the latter method
we have actually eliminated them and the lake will remain clean, so long as we
do not add fresh impurities to it. The ancient masters recognized both these approaches,
that is to say either suppression or elimination of the mental defilements.
we divert our attention away from the defilements as and when they arise (for
example by listening to music, or having a drink, or chanting a "holy"
name, or some lofty auto-suggestion) the intensity of these negative emotions
abates quickly and we can get immediate relief. However these defilements are
not actually eradicated, but only suppressed. Modern psychology agrees that they
leave their impressions in the deeper recesses of the mind, in its subconscious
and unconscious layers.
To remove the impurities of the mind, it is obviously
necessary to identify them objectively, and it turns out that this detached "observation"
of the mental-physical structure is sufficient to eliminate them. An incident
from life of Swami Vivekananda illustrates this point. Once, as he was walking
on a street in Varanasi, some monkeys started chasing him. At first Swamiji tried
to run from them, but the monkeys kept pace and began to attack him. Just then
an old man called out, "Face the brutes." Swamiji turned and confronted
the monkeys, and when he did they all fell back and fled.
The impurities of
the mind are like these monkeys and the only way to eradicate them is to face
them squarely-to observe them without reacting. But how are we to observe these
defilements? How does one observe anger, for example, without actually getting
overwhelmed by it?
The ancient masters who un-raveled the complexities of body-mind
phenomena with penetrating insight discovered an important fact: "Whatever
arises in the mind is accompanied by sensation" (sabbe dhamma vedana samosarana).
 They also found that all our reactions to various situations are in reality
the reactions of the subconscious mind to bodily sensations. Now, while it is
very difficult to observe objectively abstract emotions such as anger or passion,
it is comparatively easy to train the mind to observe sensations (which carry
the signatures of these emotions) in a detached manner. The continuous practice
of observing these bodily sensations objectively is the crux of Vipassana meditation.
Slowly, but surely, it grinds out the deep mental grooves of lifelong habits-craving
for pleasant experiences, avoiding the unpleasant, and ignoring neutral experiences.
It thus gradually lifts the veil, which obscures from us the real characteristics
of all body-mind phenomena: impermanence, un-satisfactoriness and ego-less-ness.
be able to observe the sensations which keep on occurring continuously in various
parts of the body, a minimum level of concentration of the mind is obviously essential
so that one does not get easily distracted by the external and inner noises which
are the hallmarks of our modern life.
The training of increasing the concentration
of mind can be done in a variety of ways. In Vipassana, the object of concentration
is one's own breath. This practice is called Anapana, which literally means incoming
and outgoing breath. It involves bare observation of the normal, natural respiration
with a firm and steady attention, free from any strain. Again, there is no mystery
about the choice of breath as the object of concentration; there are many sound
reasons for it. Firstly, breath is universally acceptable, being non-sectarian.
Also, it is readily available at any time and it is a neutral object: no one has
any craving or aversion towards it. Focusing attention on such an object continuously
for a long period of time is, of course, quite difficult, given our present disposition,
which only seeks excitement through pleasant objects. But a systematic, persistent
effort does make a dent in this stubborn habit.
As a result we receive a foretaste
of the fruits of equableness-a natural feeling of peace and tranquility accompanying
the sharpening of the mind. One could have chosen an object of concentration for
which the meditator has some attraction or reverence. This would have made the
task of concentration much easier because of the natural attraction for the object,
but, as is obvious, this would only strengthen the mental habit of craving and
thus take us away from the goal of complete purification of mind.
prerequisite for such a training is the scrupulous observance of basic moral precepts-in
particular, abstention from killing, stealing, false speech, sexual misconduct,
and intoxicants-since their willful violation would cause violent mental agitation,
making it impossible to observe the mind-body complex objectively. Vipassana practitioners
can thus learn by experience the importance of moral conduct for their own well-being.
In this way morality and ethics thus become a scientific discipline, which one
accepts on the basis of one's own experience and not on account of social pressures
or respect for a teacher. This was the fond wish of Albert Einstein, one of the
greatest scientists of all times: "The foundation of morality should not
be made dependent on myth nor tied to any authority lest doubts about the myth
or about the legitimacy of the authority imperil the foundation of sound judgment
From the above description of the basic features of Vipassana,
it is apparent that it is an applied science, a technology for inner development.
In the true scientific spirit, all that it involves is mindful observation, free
from any admixture of prejudices or subjective judgments. Like any other modern
technology, it has a scientific basis which can be easily understood; and what
is more important, its results can easily be verified by personal experience,
here and now. Ehi passiko, ehi passiko (come and see, come and see) was the constant
refrain of the Buddha. There is no rite or ritual, dogma or a priori belief necessary
for the meditation. Like any other technological skill it can be learnt by systematic
practice irrespective of one's caste, creed, religious belief or nationality.
its most important objective is to purify the mind of dross, Vipassana is not
a mere detergent to wash the dirt off the mental linens, and then to be left behind
in the washroom after use. It is an attitude to life, a fragrance, which naturally
envelops practitioners as they develop more and more insight into the fundamental
traits of human existence. It is an art of living equanimously in spite of defeats
and victories, praise and criticism, falling health and rising prices. It is the
art of transcending, and not suppressing, the sensory attractions. As the practice
matures, one naturally develops a deep insight into the fundamental laws of life
and becomes harmonious with these. One becomes established in Dharma. 
It is historical fact that the rise of science in the post-Renaissance
period was instrumental in spreading a general belief in materialism-a belief
that matter is the sole reality. All the phenomena of nature, ranging from the
motion of the planets to the tides in the seas, could now be explained rationally
on the basis of well-understood laws of nature. There was no need whatsoever for
invoking divine intervention. Even the origin of sentient beings could be "explained"
on the basis of the Darwinian theory of evolution.
Some people tried to further
extend this theory to show that the simplest form of living protoplasm could arise
from non-living nitrogenous carbon compounds under suitable conditions-thus exploding
the age-old argument for the existence of God. Attempts were even made to explain
consciousness and thinking as arising from the functions of the ganglionic cells
of the cortex of the brain. The scientists of the last century firmly held that
it should be possible to explain the universe with a few score elements and half
a dozen elementary forces.  No wonder, for most people today, the scientific
approach is synonymous with a belief in materialism, a belief in the omnipotence
of intellect, and any suggestion about "transcending the intellect"
is seen as unscientific.
This picture has, however, undergone considerable
change in the last few decades. New developments in science such as the theory
of relativity and quantum mechanics are bringing about a profound change in our
common-sense view of nature. Many illuminating books have been written in the
last two decades, which bring out the various facets of this emerging change.
We shall mention here only a few of these points, which seem most pertinent for
Fundamental Nature of Matter
The quest for the basic building
blocks of matter led scientists to what are often called fundamental particles:
electrons, protons, neutrons etc. The intuitive model of the atom which emerges
from this research is similar to the planetary system-with a heavy nucleus (consisting
of neutrons and protons) at the center of an immense void, and tiny electrons
whirling round it at very high speeds. Naturally, at first these fundamental particles
were thought to be something similar to the classical particles, albeit ultra-small-something
like specks of dust often seen in the path of a ray of sunshine entering a room.
Belief in this concept has, however, been badly shaken by many discoveries. Experimental
studies showed that these particles they could be "created" out of energy
and could "vanish" in energy as predicted by Einstein's theory of the
inter-convertibility of matter and energy.
Now, since energy is a dynamic quantity
associated with activity or with processes, the obvious implication is that "a
particle has to be conceived as a dynamic pattern, a process involving the energy
which manifests itself as the particle's mass".  This is a picture which
is in great contrast to our common-sense notion of "mass" as belonging
to an object, but in consonance with the insight of ancient masters: "No
doer is there; naught save the deed is... The path exists, but not the traveler
found on it". 
It will probably take even the scientific community
many more years to fully come to terms with the philosophical implications of
Einstein's theory of relativity. Even today the import of Minkowski's oft-quoted
enunciation: "Space by itself and time by itself are mere shadows of a four-dimensional
space-time continuum which is an independent reality". We do not understand
because we have no direct sensory or even intuitive experience of this four-dimensional
space-time continuum. Evidently our perception of the world based on the common-sense
view of absolute space and time is in error. The situation is quite akin to the
erroneous view of the prisoners of Plato's Republic, who never having seen anything
other than the shadows on the walls of their underground cave mistook these for
An experience of this independent reality would clearly demand
transcendence of the senses, coming out of the "prison house of sight".
This is a term, which we find repeatedly in the ancient texts, but something which
would have been anathema to the nineteenth-century scientist. As Fritjof Capra,
quoting Swami Vivekananda, puts it, this space-time of relativistic physics is
the Absolute of Eastern sages: "Time, space and causation are like the glass
through which the absolute is seen. In the Absolute there is neither time, space
nor causation." This conception thus gives scientific authority (probably
needed for the skeptics) to the vision of the ancient sages. Having experienced
the transcendent reality directly, they declared: "There is, brethren, an
unborn, a not-become, a not-made, not-compounded." 
Another mind-boggling characteristic of these fundamental
particles, which has defied all conventional explanations, is their ability to
exhibit both "wave" and "particle" behavior under certain
The fundamental particles thus do not seem to possess
any intrinsic nature waiting to be revealed to an inquisitive observer. As summed
up by Capra:
My conscious decision about how to observe, say, an electron will
determine the electron's properties to some extent. If I ask it a particle question,
it will give me a particle answer. If I ask it a wave question, it will give me
a wave answer. The electron does not have objective properties independent of
my mind. 
We could thus say, with Sir James Jeans, that, in the light of
The universe begins to look more like a great thought than
like a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an intruder into the realm of
matter ... but ... as the creator and the governor of the realm of matter-not
of course our individual mind, but the Mind in which the atoms, out of which our
individual minds have grown, exist as thoughts. 
Any further understanding
of the nature of ultimate reality clearly demands an investigation into the subtle
mental plane-self-analysis rather than analysis of the world around, thus merging
Science with Dharma.
It is also evident from the above description that an
intuitive physical model of these fundamental particles is not possible since
our senses can only detect either particle motion, characterized by a localization
of the object moving in a definite trajectory in space, or a wave motion, characterized
by a motion of the medium. This realization forms the basis of one of the very
important principles of quantum mechanics: the Principle of Complementarity put
forth by Niels Bohr. That is, in any experiment with micro-particles, the observer
gets information not about the "properties of the particles themselves",
but about the properties of the particles associated with some particular situation.
This includes, among other things, the measuring instruments. The information
obtained under some definite conditions should be considered as complementary
to the information obtained under different experimental conditions. Evidence
obtained under experimental conditions cannot be comprehended within a single
picture, but must be regarded as various sides (complementing each other) of a
single reality-to wit, the object under investigation. 
The social and
philosophical implications of this principle are profound. It gives credence to
the insight of ancient masters that our attempts at understanding "reality"
through the study of matter with the senses are similar to the attempts of five
blind men trying to comprehend an elephant by feeling it with their hands. The
evidence thus obtained can never be synthesized into the true picture. Clearly,
it follows that to comprehend the "reality" of matter, it is necessary
to use some other mode of gathering knowledge-aparokanubhuti or direct experience,
as our ancient sages put it.
At the social level, this complementary principle
points out that apparently contradictory views may emerge from the same "reality".
Wisdom lies in treating them as complementary; this is a message of harmony needed
so much in modern times when "appearances" often lead to unending conflicts.
In fact Bohr fervently hoped that the complementary principle would, in the near
future, find a place in school education.
A New World View
There have been
many developments in other sciences such as biology, psychology, chemistry, neurosciences,
etc. All of these indicate the emergence of a new worldview, which repudiates
materialism, but is in consonance with the vision of the Eastern sages of yore.
In fact many of the insights of these sages remained unintelligible to the masses,
based as they were on the transcendent experience; but today they can be better
appreciated in the light of these scientific facts.
One such fundamental insight,
which is extremely difficult to comprehend on the basis of our common-sense view
of nature, is that of anattá-the fact of ego-less-ness. However, when modern
science tells us that the basic building block of matter is not a "being"
but a manifestation of energy, which is essentially a process of "becoming",
this assertion seems to make sense. It is this seemingly solid physical body,
"my body", which creates the stubborn illusion of individuality. Modern
biologists point out that 98 per cent of the 1028 atoms of a typical human body
are replaced annually from the atoms of the surroundings-the earth, the trees,
the animals, in fact all living and non-living entities. It thus becomes evident
that one cannot talk of individual entities localized in space and time; we are
all partners in a bio-dance.  Walt Whitman's poetic insight- "Every atom
belonging to me as good belongs to you" -is thus a scientific fact!
biology associates our individuality with the uniqueness of the genes. But here
too it is the pattern of the genes, which remains the same, and not the stuff
of the gene-the thousands of individual carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and other atoms
that comprise it, which are in constant exchange with the surroundings.  So,
even in the view of hard-core molecular biology, our individuality is a non-material
"entity", an abstract pattern of arrangement of various labile molecules.
When we couple this understanding with the impossibility of "exactly"
locating any fundamental particle, as revealed by Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle,
and also with the fundamental interconnectedness at quantum level, one is forced
to agree with Capra:
The quantum field is seen as the fundamental physical
entity; a continuous medium which is present everywhere in space. Particles are
merely local condensations of the field; concentrations, which come and go, thereby
losing their individual character and dissolving into the underlying field.
quantum field is obviously an impersonal entity-the nearest symbol which one can
possibly conceive of for the transcendent reality. As even a layman today would
testify, a subset of this field-the electromagnetic field-does have the "power"
to produce the splendid illusion of a "living being" in every home-on
television! One can thus appreciate that the fundamental quantum field could be
responsible for creating the illusion of the existence of the viewer of the television
too. That this viewer is illusory is the insight of anattá!
Both Dharma and Science enunciate the laws of nature; as applicable
to the inner world of human beings and the external world. There can be no disharmony
between them, for as Gary Zukav points out in his recent book,
The laws of
Science are the reflection in physical reality-in the world of physical objects
and phenomena-of a larger non-physical dynamic at work in non-physical domains.
When Science and its discoveries are understood with the higher order of logic
and understanding of the multi-sensory human, they reveal the same richness that
Life itself displays everywhere and endlessly... the paradigms... of Science also
reveal the way our species has seen itself in relation to the Universe: Newtonian
physics reflects a species that is confident in its ability to grasp the dynamics
of the physical world through the intellect; relativity reflects a species that
understands the limiting relationship between the absolute and the personalized
conception of it; and quantum physics reflects a species that is becoming aware
of the relationship of its consciousness to the physical world.
thus not be an exaggeration to say that for a deeper understanding of modern science,
there is a need to develop certain intuitive insights. These can enable us to
have experiences more rich than those possible with the basic five senses. Clearly,
the process of evolution of such a multi-sensory personality can be hastened by
living life in conformity with the Universal Laws, the Dharma-that is, by practicing
The complementarity of science and Dharma can be succinctly put
by paraphrasing the beautiful epigram of Albert Einstein: Science without Dharma
is blind and Dharma without Science is lame-for Dharma gives us the vision of
what ought to be done, and Science gives us the power to do it . The developments
in science have unleashed enormous power-but power can do as much harm as good.
Today, there is a crying need to channel this power to ensure the very survival
of humanity, for otherwise Man will destroy himself by misusing the same power.
What we must do is reorient our lives in the light of the quintessence of Dharma,
by practicing morality (síla), taming the senses by the practice of concentration
(samádhi) and progressively purifying the mind by the practice of Vipassana.
Dhar, P.L. and R.R. Gaur. Science and Humanism-Towards a Unified World View, Commonwealth
publishers, New Delhi, 1992, p. 128.
2. Radhakrishnan,S. An Idealist View of
Life, George Allen and Unwin (India), Bombay, 1976, p. 13.
3. Thomson, J.A.
Introduction to Science, Henry Holt & Company, New York, 1911.
S. The Dhammapada, Oxford University Press, London, 1950, verse 183.
William The Art of Living, Vipassana Research Institute, Igatpuri, 1993, p. 148.
Budhananda, Swami Can One be Scientific and yet Spiritual?, Advaita Ashram, Calcutta,1976,
7. Nirvedananda, Swami Religion and Modern Doubts, Ramakrishna Mission,
Calcutta, 1979, p. 27.
8. Dhar, P.L. and R.R. Gaur, op. cit., p. 77.
Warren, H. C. Buddhism in Translations, Motilal Banarasi Das Publishers, New Delhi,
1986, p. 146.
10. Minkowski, H., quoted in Rydnik, V., ABC of Quantum Mechanics,
Mir Publishers, Moscow, 1965, p. 175.
11. Capra, F. The Tao of Physics, Fontana,
Collins, 1976, p. 186.
12. Ranganathananda, Swami Eternal Values for a Changing
Society, Vol. 2, Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, 1987.
13. Capra, F., op. cit. p. 77.
Jeans, James quoted in Nirvedanada, Swami, op cit., p. 37
15. Neils Bohr quoted
in Tarasov, L.V., Basic Concepts of Quantum Mechanics, Mir Publishers, Moscow,
1980, p. 152.
16. Dossey, L. Space, Time and Medicine, Shambhala Publications,
1982, p. 72-73.
17. Capra, F., quoted in above, p. 80.
18. Zukav, G. The
Seat of the Soul, Rider, London, 1990, p. 67.
19. Einstein, A. quoted in Budhananda,
S., Can One be Scientific and yet Spiritual, Advaita Ashram, Calcutta, 1976, p.