Desegregating Science & Spirituality
Rectifying One of Humanity’s Biggest Mistakes
One of humankind’s biggest mistakes has been the separation of science and spirituality. Through this we created two sets of people — the so-called “rationalists” and the so-called “religious.” Religion and spirituality were then said to be based on blind faith, whereas science, which is proven through experimentation, is fact. The question then became: “Which side are you on — faith or proven fact?”
This segregation has created an unnecessary and unhealthy rift in society, resulting in tremendous conflict, both in the individual as well as in the world as a whole. Even the depletion of our natural resources and the disappearing harmony between man and nature can ultimately be traced back to this mistake. If we want the world to continue in a sustainable and balanced manner, science and spirituality must unite. The present age and the world around us demand this transformation.
“If we want the world to continue in a sustainable and balanced manner, science and spirituality must unite. The present age and the world around us demand this transformation.” — Amma
This separation is founded on a misunderstanding. It is inaccurate to say that spirituality is based on blind faith. Just as modern scientists research the external world, the ancient sages conducted research in the inner laboratories of their minds. In this way, they were also scientists. In reality, the foundation of spirituality is not blind faith but inquiry — a deep inquiry into one’s own true nature. The spiritual scriptures recount the experiences of those who performed intense inner inquiry. Even a scientist first formulates a hypothesis. He then tries to prove it via experiments. In this manner, the scientist moves from theory to theory until he arrives at the truth. The spiritual path is similar.
Indian spirituality has never considered science and spirituality at odds, but more like two wings of a bird. Science deals with the objective world, whereas spirituality deals with the subjective — the ultimate essence of one’s existence. The former is about the seen; the latter about the seer — the pure consciousness that is the indwelling self. Thus, there are areas where science cannot penetrate. If we want answers in these spheres, we must be willing to investigate spiritual and religious texts. The opposite is also true.
“Science deals with the objective world, whereas spirituality deals with the subjective. The former is about the seen; the latter about the seer. Thus, there are areas where science cannot penetrate. If we want answers in these spheres, we must be willing to investigate spiritual and religious texts.” — Amma
Science has made tremendous contributions in the areas of technology and medicine and has helped to increase our physical comfort and understanding of the physical world. However, if we want to discover inner peace and contentment, universal compassion and love, then we need to turn to spirituality. Otherwise, our lives and our actions will be imbalanced and we will remain incomplete.
Once, there was a supercomputer that was said to be able answer any question — questions about science, mathematics, history, geography… People would ask it questions about everything under the sun, and in an instant the correct answer would flash on its screen. Then, one day, a clever little boy came forward. He said, “Hi, Supercomputer. How are you?” The screen blinked and blinked, flashed off and on, and then it just went blank. There was no answer. The computer that could answer every question about the external world couldn’t answer a single question about itself. This same problem is occurring whenever science alone is given importance. Just as we need both our right and left leg to walk, both spiritual and material knowledge are needed to move forward in life.
Even though science ultimately investigates the external world and spirituality the inner, it is incorrect to say spirituality has no bearing upon material life. Spirituality and life are not two; they are one. Thus, spiritual understanding should affect not only how we think, but also how we speak and act. This is why our ancient ancestors gave so much importance to sharing, caring, consideration and compassion. It was because they didn’t only take into account their physical existence but also believed in a foundational power upon which everything sentient and insentient is strung like beads on a string. Today, many have labeled their views as “primitive.” However, look at modern life — its tension, emotional immaturity and broken families, its heartless acts, selfishness, greed and exploitation of nature… This in itself should teach us that a more spiritual way of thinking is needed. And, in fact, many modern scientists today have theories that are similar.
Human existence has no meaning without spiritual values. It is these values that extend the scope of spirituality into all areas of life, all spheres of action, including science. In this regard also, the blending of science and spirituality — technology and compassion — is the need of the hour: Science and technology must be used to uplift of the poor and destitute. They must progress with respect for the planet and all of its creatures.
At Amrita University, all of our students — regardless of whether they are studying engineering or business or social work— are encouraged to go to impoverished rural villages or city slums for at least one or two months during their education. In this way, they are able to see for themselves the problems faced by the poor. We then have them develop and deploy solutions to those problems and write papers about it. This not only uplifts the downtrodden but also awakens compassion and service-mindedness in the students. My wish is that similar programs are incorporated into all universities throughout the world.
Today, universities are ranked primarily based on the amount of funding they receive, the number of papers their faculty publish and their intellectual caliber. Faculty are promoted according to the same criteria as well. However, we should also take into consideration how much they have been able to use their research to serve the lowest and most vulnerable strata of society.
“Today, universities are ranked primarily based on the amount of funding they receive, the number of papers their faculty publish and their intellectual caliber. Faculty are promoted according to the same criteria as well. However, we should also take into consideration how much they have been able to use their research to serve the lowest and most vulnerable strata of society.” — Amma
Whether or not God exists might be a source of debate, but no rational person can ever say that suffering humanity does not exist; we can see that suffering with our own eyes. In my view, service to such people is worship of God. May humankind develop the expansive-mindedness to embrace both scientific knowledge and spiritual understanding, and to use science and technology to help the poor and suffering. We can no longer afford to view these two streams of knowledge as flowing in opposite directions. In truth, they complement one another. If we merge these streams, we will find that we are able to create a mighty river — a river whose waters can remove suffering and spread life to all of humanity.
Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Amma) is a world-renowned spiritual leader and humanitarian. Amma is the head of Embracing the World, a multinational collective of not-for-profit organizations dedicated to providing food, clothing, shelter and healthcare for the poor and needy. She is also the Chancellor of Amrita University, India’s №1-ranked private university. In 2013, under Amma’s guidance, Amrita University started Live-in-Labs®, a program wherein students spend time living in rural Indian villages to experience the challenges faced therein and to work directly with the resident populations to develop sustainable solutions to those challenges.