By Narendra Dabholkar
20 March 2019
I was once asked to speak on the topic “My
science: my spirituality”. The subject’s novelty helped it receive an equal
amount of appreciation from ANiS [Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti] activists and
the public. But it was a continuation of the thought process in an earlier
discourse of mine, “We are the real religious ones”, which was held at a few
places in Maharashtra. This session, especially the title, was a bit tricky.
How could a non-religious person declare that they are truly religious without
contradicting themselves? I went ahead anyway.
My choice of wording was based on the
knowledge that religious sentiments were being commercialised, merchandised,
perverted and politicised. Those involved in these practices have nothing to do
with religiousness or its ethical aspect. To them, religion means rituals,
clerical dominance and upholding mental slavery. In my case, I “religiously”
live by my rational ethics. In this sense alone, I am religious. I have
acquired the religion of my parents; I haven’t given it up or converted to any
other. Thus, I have remained a Hindu by birth. Automatically, I have also
inherited the teachings of the saints and social reformers from my birth
religion, and I accept the noble meaning of religiousness defined by these
Hinduism is so flexible that it even
embraces a person like me, who refutes the existence of god and the validity of
My ideological adversaries hastily call me
non-religious (rather than irreligious or anti-religion). They wish to possess
the sole right to explain what religion is and express their own opinions about
it. They also want to decide what action needs to be taken concerning matters
religious. Instead of leaving the powerful weapon of religion entirely in their
hands, I have devised a strategy to enter their territory of religious thinking
and proclaim as loudly as possible, “I am the real religious one, while you are
all pseudo religious.”
These days, the so-called spiritual
authorities, with titles such as “Bapu”, “Dada” and “Paramapoojya”, are doing a
roaring business. Their following runs into lakhs. There is a common
explanation for this phenomenon. That the propaganda of religious awakening and
spirituality offers support to harassed human beings and provides them with an
illusion of relief from their griefs. There is, of course, some truth to this.
But despite my personal choice of atheism, I believe that an understanding of
the sociology of religion is a precondition for criticising it using a
scientific outlook. Both sociology and religion should adopt a more mature,
mellowed and tolerant scientific stance.
Everyone knows the common stand on
scientific outlook, and there aren’t two opinions about it. Scientific outlook
means that truth can be discovered through the step-by-step process of
“observation to experiment”. Such an outlook is always humble. It never claims
to have uncovered any final truth but considers upholding the truth more
important. This truth is universal and objective. It develops maturity and
understanding, which help find feasible solutions to the problems in our
society. Scientific outlook, therefore, shouldn’t remain confined to a
laboratory but must be used in all matters of life.
Adhyatma (the science of the spirit) means
reflecting on the soul. Those who refute the existence of the soul find
Adhyatma to be an empty, senseless discussion. When spiritualists say, “Where
science ends, Adhyatma begins,” opposers reply, “Unlike science, Adhyatma has
never, in all its existence since ancient times, found any solution to man’s
problems of hunger, poverty and discrimination. Thus, Adhyatma has proved to be
a total failure while science has rushed to mankind’s rescue.” We will keep
this debate aside for now.
Opinions on the nature of the Adhyatma
principle vary. Religions and sects differ in their expositions on it. Yet
these explanations seem to have a broad similarity. Adhyatma has two
The first is Adhyatma as metaphysical
thinking, which is focused on the world beyond rather than this one. Life on
Earth is less important in this discussion. The search, instead, is for answers
to numerous questions. What is the original nature of the soul? Where does it
exist before and after one’s lifetime? Does it migrate through several yonis
(classes of created existence as numerous as 8.4 million)? Is the soul
immortal? Who created the universe? What is their purpose? Who operates it? How
is this entity related to the soul? What is the meaning of talking to oneself?
Who enables the eyes to see?
There is a difference between religion and
spirituality. Unlike its physical counterpart, the spiritual principle is
sentient and vital.
For various reasons, it is rooted in
ignorance, gets sullied and bound (by chains of relationships and emotions),
and is prone to unhappiness. When this vital principle realises who or what it
is, it is freed from all bonds and finds eternal bliss. The fundamental
principles of the universe are spirituality and “Ishwar”, the supreme god (or
“Paramatma”, the supreme soul). The essence of an individual is spiritual and
is called soul, or “atman”. When atman unites with Ishwar, the individual
reaches the state of eternal bliss: satchidananda. The vital principle, which
is usually engulfed in sorrow, is then enlightened by the knowledge of its own
self – of who it is – and relieved of all fetters to reach the state of
Religion shows human beings how to achieve
this union. It recommends sacred texts and divine vision to obtain redeeming
knowledge of the self. Logically speaking, the spiritual principle or soul,
being vital and sentient, can think and remember. It can acquire knowledge. As
it is sensitive, it can feel happy or sad. Only the vital spiritual principle
can have sentiments such as compassion, love, charity and morality.
As per the concept of Adhyatma, every
individual possesses a soul. God is not only another soul but also the supreme
one. He is the most virtuous of all. When the individual soul meets the supreme
soul, the former becomes virtuous as well. The individual’s inadequacies leave
them and the person becomes accomplished in all respects. Hence, this is the
path everyone is advised to follow in life.
This notion cannot be accepted. The study
of evolution tells us that the present universe evolved out of an abstract
energy, which is the predecessor of all things existing in the entire universe.
This energy is, however, inanimate. In the course of evolution, physical
substances, life and vitality gradually evolved. The primordial energy cannot
be called vital because scientists have proved that vitality is nothing but the
living brain. It cannot exist in any other form. So, there is no basis for the
belief that the fundamental principle of the universe is omniscient, sensitive,
ethical, just and blissful. Also, the human being has attained an especially
elevated plane of vitality only through evolution. The saying “God made man in
his own image” isn’t true. Rather, it should be that man is the only animal to
have reached an extraordinary stage of evolution.
There is another danger in this approach.
In the everyday life of all human beings, conflicts are inevitable. Instead of
facing them head-on, this version of Adhyatma advises people to run away from
them by trying to bring about a union of their atman with the non-existent
Paramatma to create eternal bliss.
This can make it hard for a person to
reconcile with everyday realities. The hardships of life on one hand and the
pursuit of the illusive Adhyatma on the other may lead to a disharmony in the
The second way is treating Adhyatma as a
process of cleansing the mind. The usually prescribed disciplines of Kundalini,
Yoga, Sudarshan Kriya, Namjap (reciting a deity’s name), and the like are not
necessary to achieve this. Adhyatma requires training oneself to drive away
lust and desires from the mind and inculcate moral virtues. It believes that
there is something much more valuable to be accomplished in life than creature
comforts and physical pleasures.
Most human beings think that wealth,
leisure, enjoyment, honour and reputation are essentials for a good, worthy
life. But a truly spiritual individual goes beyond these worldly diversions.
They swear by a modest, ethical and simple life, asking and accepting nothing
from others. Their actions are compassionate and oriented towards their fellow
beings. Such behaviour itself is Adhyatma; the rest is empty talk. What keeps
you morally aware is Namasmaran (remembering god and reciting his name); if it
does not, then it is only din and noise. When a so-called spiritual man amasses
riches in billions, feasts on scrumptious meals, wears expensive silk clothes,
and resides in an ivory tower, seeking the company of glamorous women, the
contradiction in his life is obvious. That’s because Adhyatma or spirituality
is related to restrained behaviour, the knowledge of what is good and bad, and
the refusal to take anything that doesn’t belong to one.
Adhyatma has another element. To see truth
prevail and good triumph over evil is an emotional need. Adhyatma is perceived
as a way of striving towards meeting it. Every religion maintains that human
good is what ultimately wins. This conviction is an important factor of
religious faith. In this sense, the Adhyatma or spirituality of every religion
is the same.
Vinoba Bhave goes a step ahead and says,
“Politics and religion will fade away; science and spirituality will prevail.”
It is necessary to properly understand this statement.
Politics is an arena where vested interests
openly fight among each other at different levels – local, national and global
– to capture the available resources. Science has made available the means to
keep human beings reasonably happy. But the fight between politically inclined
parties has deprived the masses of these supplies.
Statistical data shows this too. All over
the world, including in India, nations earmark a large chunk of their budgets
for defence. The politics of defence consumes whatever finance is available,
leaving nothing for development. Today, expenditure on defence is unavoidable –
so is the politics of defence. But one can imagine a scenario in which man, who
is gradually growing wiser, will eventually realise the futility of such
politics. When this happens, the biggest hurdle in the utilisation of science
for human benefit will be removed. The money spent on defence will then be
utilised for human development and well-being.
The same scenario can be extended to
religion. Dr Ram Manohar Lohia succinctly said, “Politics is a short-term
religion and religion is long-standing politics.” Every religion, like
politics, has its own ethics, philosophies, rituals, clergies and also
This type of religion will wither away, as
predicted by Swami Vivekananda and Vinoba Bhave. Religious concepts or
conventions that are blatantly contradictory to the laws of science will drop
out automatically, just as the Roman church had to concede that Galileo was
The secondary aspects of religion –
philosophy, rituals, clergy – will also go away, and only spirituality will
remain to accompany science, as proposed by Vinobaji.
A belief in the triumph of morality and
supremacy of human beings forms the core of all religions. is isn’t rooted in
the principle of causality, but doesn’t contradict it either. While truth does
win at times, it is also defeated on many an occasion. In the case of the
latter, a religious individual says, “Truth shall ultimately emerge victorious
by the grace of god.” This statement reveals the person’s belief in god, as
well as their instinctive desire to see the good win. Non-believers, on the
other hand, strive to achieve the values they cherish, even if the goal is
beyond their capacity. Obviously, they don’t resort to god’s support or
religion. But they are confident that other human beings will come to their aid
and help them achieve their aim. This stand, too, isn’t entirely based on
causality. While human beings are known to support others, there are also those
who are best at placing hurdles in the path of others. In short, achieving
values is as much an expression of an atheist’s optimism as a religious
Excerpted with permission from The Case
For Reason: A Scientific Enquiry into Belief, Narendra Dabholkar, Context.