Spiritual information for integral transformation
KURUVILLA PANDIKATTU SJ
JOHN F KENNEDY, in his inaugural address to the Presidency, promised the Americans two things: to take human beings to the moon and to eliminate world poverty. The former was a technical feat, which is spectacularly accomplished. It needed scientific information and led to technical success and transformation. The latter is a moral feat, which remains to be achieved. It needs spiritual information to be translated into a moral transformation.
Information, like knowledge, is power. It changes both the individual and the larger society. That is why Paul Ricoeur maintains: ‘Every understanding is self-understanding.’1 Every information leads to a better understanding of the self and leads inevitably to a transformation—also at the level of consciousness. As G K Chesterton puts it, ‘the most practical thing is a good theory.’2 The most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy.
In this essay I deal specifically with the primary sources of information and transformation in our modern society: science and religion. I study briefly the crises – challenges and opportunities – created by them and opine that a healthy and enterprising collaboration between these two primary sources of information leads to a total, integrative transformation of the whole society – at the pragmatic, human and consciousness level! That, I believe, is crucial for the survival and progress of humanity.
The Sources of Information
The primary sources of our information could be generally classified as rational science and intuitive religion, both of which have personal and institutional dimensions. They have drastically affected human life and promise to do so further. At the same time we cannot ignore the threats posed by them.
The Challenge of the Sciences
The empirical knowledge and information provided by science has led to marvellous progress. Technologically, not only has science taken humans to the moon, potentially it has enabled the whole of humanity to be physically connected—through communication, transportation, information technologies, etc. Paradoxically, it has also taken the world to the brink of extinction. Nuclear explosions, chemical and biological warfare, ozone layer depletion are all destructive possibilities produced by the technological marvel. The survival of the human species and life itself is at stake! Such a crisis is vouched for by one of the greatest scientists that humanity has ever produced: Albert Einstein, who maintained: ‘all our lauded technological progress—our very civilization—is like the axe in the hands of the pathological criminal.’ A strong indictment indeed! He added: ‘It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.’3
Much more than ushering in technological comforts and dangers, science has irrevocably altered our world-view, life-style and, through the Human Genome Project the very understanding of life itself. Science has been appealed to for support for arguments in favour of utter nihilism and absolute relativism, philosophical theories that can lead to despair. Likewise, science has been seen as supporting reductionistic and mechanistic interpretations of life.
The Creativity of Religions
Confronted with these challenges, it is reassuring to be able to quote another assertion of J F Kennedy: ‘Every problem created by humans has a human solution.’ While totally agreeing with Kennedy, we need to remember Einstein’s caveat: ‘the significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.’4
Here we have recourse to religion. If there is anything that can create a new vision, provide a new world-view, it is the creative commitment and innovative motivation offered by spiritual traditions. They enable us to discover the harmony and beauty in life. Religions—may I say only religions?—can offer us an all-encompassing world-view that can stand up to the hubris fostered by technology and the nihilism of destructive abuses of science, while at the same time promoting and employing a constructive technology and a cooperative science for the progress of humanity. What we need is a world-view that can cope with the conflicts and possibilities offered by science (technology) without rejecting them totally or accepting them unconditionally, but affirming them cautiously, creatively and ingeniously.
To quote Einstein again: ‘The release of atomic power has changed everything except our way of thinking ... the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind.’ What truly touches the heart of the human person is religion! Religions, particularly the institutional varieties, have been responsible for promoting violence, hatred and inhuman behaviour toward the ‘out-groups.’ Without denying these tragic aspects of religions, we can assert that, like science, religion provides humanity with the most precious—though fallible—knowledge we possess. Religions have given humans a sense of meaning, dignity and a reason to live for. That is tremendously reassuring and enriching for humanity. In the realm of values and world-views, religions have the source of knowledge to respond positively to the challenges posed by modern science and the inadequate world-views fostered by it.
Need for Creative Collaboration Between Science and Religion
The crisis that confronts humankind may be described as a need to choose between a relentless human quest for self-annihilation on the one hand, or a challenge provided by life to transcend itself on the other. We prefer to see today’s moral, spiritual and technological crises—which are definitely grave and life-threatening—as a chance for the forces of life to recuperate, so that life may surge ahead to unexplored territories. Seen as the birth pangs of a new generation, of a new way of life, the crises of the world could be perceived as a challenge for sciences and religions to come together in close and imaginative collaboration.
From a Pragmatic Perspective: Preserve Precious Life
The close collaboration of science and religion is absolutely essential if we are to respond to the most obvious problem threatening us: the threat of extinction of life from the planet. Many critical observers are convinced that the way the world is progressing leads necessarily to its own self-destruction. Such a situation is tragic, but not hopeless. There is an essential human spirit, which is tenaciously open to inexhaustible creativity and innovation. Where there is a collective will there is a collective way to overcome the crucial problems confronting us.
Confronted by the threat of self-annihilation, scientists cannot handle the situation alone. Nor can religious people deal with it on their own. We need concerted efforts, the pooling together of all the resources at our disposal. What threatens us is not just the destruction of the soul, but the destruction of life itself. And for the most urgent purpose of saving life on this precious planet earth, there needs to be creative collaboration between those who promote religion and those who work in the sciences.
Though many people are aware of these concerns, they do not seem to undertake concerted, unified actions. It is encouraging that so many individuals and groups are addressing the problem in their own ways. We can very well hope that the larger problems of hunger, sickness, violence, terrorism and poverty will be handled, even if not totally eliminated. Life-threatening nuclear, biological and chemical warfare, and ecological disasters will be hopefully managed innovatively and ingeniously. Once humans have the will, they will find the way. Friedrich Nietzsche’s slogan ‘If you have a why, then you can cope with any how’ is apt here. Once the ‘why’ for protecting human life is provided for (primarily by religions) we can cope with the ‘how’ (primarily through sciences) and accomplish it.
Therefore, once the issue is that of saving the world, and of saving precious human life on this planet, no force on earth can really stop the creative collaboration among scientists and religious people. This is the least that can be expected by way of collaboration between sciences and religions.
From a Human Perspective: Retain Humanness and Humaneness
It is a fundamental ‘law of life’ that life goes on progressing unhindered. Human beings also, following this law, become more progressive technologically. But moral, psychological and spiritual progress is not automatic.
All religious traditions affirm life as worthy and meaningful. That worth and meaningfulness is found in being true to oneself or in realising oneself. In this process love for oneself and openness to others are imperative. It is a universal spiritual insight that in humility and gentleness human beings become authentic, genuine, transparent and joyful. By getting in touch with our own humanity, grasping the enigma of human existence, grappling with the questions of life and rejoicing in day-to-day life we become more human and humane.
Scientific progress as expressed in technological development and the world-view it encourages, has to permeate the spiritual domain too. The true realisation of our humanness and humaneness causes a gradual spiritual evolution where we get more and more in touch with our deepest self through listening, awareness, gentleness and compassion.
Therefore at the human level, sciences and religions ideally foster our humaneness; enable us to realise our true selves, enable us to be authentic. That is where we can fulfil ourselves more, find deeper meaning in our existence and become truly ourselves – by being humane and human!
From a Cosmic Perspective: Widen Consciousness to be Co-creators
At a deeper level when we look at the flow of evolution and the progress of life, we realise that we humans have reached the highest level of consciousness. Our consciousness—including the intellectual, moral, spiritual and metaphysical—has emerged, evolves and will develop further. This growth of consciousness is integral to life. It is here that our world within and the world without converge.
Today, we have passed beyond the stage of evolution become conscious of itself. We have become capable of guiding the evolutionary process forward in and through us. We are at the juncture when we can influence evolution—and with it the whole of life—dynamically, even at the consciousness level.
Are we not today at a level of consciousness when we are open to the whole cosmos – going beyond the limits of our tribal, linguistic, national, religious identities and transcending even our identities as living human beings? We become the spokespersons of everything that exits, fostering existence itself. We are possessed by life and we further it by expanding our own consciousness—towards a mystical, numinous or liminal level! This implies not just a widening of our horizons—of our consciousness—to include everything, but being identified with ‘everything’ and the whole.
Thus spiritual information—provided by true religious dynamism and genuine scientific enterprise—promotes our sense of wholeness with the whole. In such a noble, all-embracing and ever-widening endeavour religions and sciences cannot stand apart as two distinct disciplines, but creatively and innovatively contribute to a grander vision of the whole, of which we are an integral part. That would be a life fostering sat-cit-ananda (being-consciousness-bliss) of the Indian traditions.
Conclusion: Opportunity to Outgrow Ourselves
Two such persons who have contributed significantly to a collaboration between religions and sciences and striven to protect life, promote humanness and widen our consciousness, I believe, are Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi. Though different in backgrounds and fields of engagement, both were genuine and humble seekers of truth. They promoted humanness and liberated humanity from the clutches of narrow self interests. Both were spiritually informed persons and were key figures in the widening of human consciousness—one primarily in the scientific and the other in the religious sphere.
Information—especially spiritual information which is the result of a collective, collaborative quest at the deepest human level— integrates and transforms. Such spiritual information, resulting from a creative interaction among sciences and religions, leads to an integral and total transformation of humanity resulting in a nobler, deeper and wider consciousness that is both compassionate and all-encompassing. This is the chance and challenge facing today’s humanity.
We can aptly conclude by quoting what Einstein said of Gandhi, hoping that future generations will express similar sentiments about ourselves as a community: ‘Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this [Gandhi] ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.’5
1. Paul Ricoeur, ‘Existence and Hermeneutics’ in Klemm, D.E, (ed.) Hermeneutical Inquiry, Vol, 2, Scholars Press, Atlanta, 1986, p. 196. See also Kuruvilla Pandikattu Idols to Die, Symbols to Live, Intercultural Pub, New Delhi, 2000, 136.
2. http://www.classicbookshelf.com/library/g_k_chesterton/heretics/1/ chesterton, heretics, 2002.
4. Cited in Richard J. Delaney, PhD ‘Permutations of Permanency: Making Sensible Placement Decisions’ at http://www.woodnbarnes.com/titles/permutations.html, 2003.
5. Cited in http://www.techspan.com/news/arjun.htm, 2002.
Kuruvilla Pandikattu teaches at Pune, India, specialising in science-religion subjects. He is a very active author, editor, publisher, and conference organiser.