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Harmony in science and sikh religion

Discussion in 'Sikh Sikhi Sikhism' started by H.S.VIRK, Apr 8, 2013.

  1. H.S.VIRK

    H.S.VIRK India
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    Nov 3, 2004
    Likes Received:
    Collection of Contributed Essays by 12 World-Class Scientists
    Edited by Dr Hardev Singh Virk
    Published by the Editor
    Paperback Pages 180
    Price in India Rs 200/- Foreign $8.00
    Distributed by Singh Brothers SCO 223-24, City Centre, Amritsar-143001
    Email: singhbro@vsnl.com


    The book under review is a welcome volume of contributed essays penned by 12 world-class scientists including the Editor, Dr Hardev Singh Virk, who has done a splendid job. It covers a fairly wide canvas to paint a holistic picture of unremitting fastidiousness of Science vis-à-vis the joyous wonder that Religion professes to offer above the torpor of dailiness. Sikh Religion, as promised by the title of the book, forms an important part of its theme, and the scholars, especially belonging to this faith, have drawn generously from Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS).

    All the essays, which deal with diverse sub-themes, are studiously researched and have been written with a power of conviction that displays exceptional erudition and insight. Religion is a delicate subject more possessed by its followers with exclusive obsession than practised with understanding and empathy. Even an innocuous comment, can be misconstrued by mischief-mongers to hurt the religious sentiments of the concerned community. To have achieved a clean portrayal of wide-ranging aspects of the religious experience and its jealously-guarded rituals is a Himalayan task worthy of appreciation. In this respect, Dr Virk’s initiative and endeavour are Herculean, and mark a milestone in responsible scholarship to establish a “Dialogue between Science and Religion”, which “will have some ‘ripple effect’ in Sikh circles”; above all, (hopefully) open up new vistas of refreshing interactive inter-faith understanding leading to a cosmic view of life as Religion professes and Science promises.

    Foreword by Dr Narinder Singh Kapany is a succinct piece of science literature steeped in the spiritual ambience of religion. He says: “The Sikh Gurus, through the Guru Granth Sahib, have laid the foundation to bring the concepts of all technical and non-technical fields, including science, into the same domain as morality and spirituality. The need to disseminate this concept further is urgent, and this magnificent book, written by a number of learned authors, is a vigorous step in that direction.”

    All this is very competently done and should stimulate fresh thinking on the subject. However, I would expect much more from the ‘Father of Fibre Optics’ by way of what I call ‘Faith Optics’ that would reach light to the remotest and inaccessible corners of the human mind to dislodge doubts of a wayward Reason and remove cobwebs of superstitious Emotion—two of human beings chief faculties for apprehending both the Phenomena and the Noumena—so that this distinct endowment could achieve the Socratic exhortation “Know Thyself” in a fitful flash of realisation.

    In terms of strict scientific parameters that one expects from the title of the book it provides disparate reading that may tax the readers’ attention a little too much when they struggle to connect the contents of the diverse essays one with the other in order to orient their own thinking to the solemn intent of the book-theme. I am thus persuaded to group the essays into three categories, namely, (i) subject-responsive, (ii) subject-supportive, and (iii) preparatory reading. This is not to belittle the magnificence of the book but to submit to the rigours of rationality of the scientific method. Therefore, as I go along, I will point out which essay belongs to which category?

    Introduction by Professor Virk is written with scientific precision without losing the heat of creative afflatus that comes only from a religious mind. He has eminently succeeded in “an attempt (that) has been made to comprehend the vision of Sikh Gurus in scientific and spiritual perspective”. In his own essay “Glimpses of a Scientific Vision in Sri Guru Granth Sahib” he says that “the spiritual/mystical vision in SGGS is compatible with modern science in its approach to cosmology, nature of reality, origin and evolution of life, relation of microcosm to macrocosm and consciousness. SGGS advocates dual nature of reality, both transcendental and immanent at the same time...” By his clear-headed inferences bordering on the poetic he has very ably extended the scope of his discipline ‘physics’ to ‘metaphysics’. But his essay is out of place in the book. It is an excellent ‘Subject-Responsive’ essay.

    Going strictly by the unflinching criteria noted above, the ‘Subject-Responsive’ essay “The Harmony of Science with Sikh Religion” by Bhai Harbans Lal dilates upon the well-thought theme of the book directly. I fully agree with Dr Lal when he says that “Sikhi seeks truth itself; truth grounded in a reality that would stand beyond all interpretation. It is outside all contexts…To a Sikh scientist, the expanse and the wonders of the creation bring humility, as well as a challenge for creativity, all in the partnership with the Creator as it is often quoted in the Guru Granth hymns.”

    Bhai Harbans Lal’s views, coming as they do from a deep transformative experience of the Sikh Religion, are neither speculative nor opinionated. His inner conviction that springs from the intrinsic veracity of this faith politely persuades the reader to not only see his point of view but also to agree with him.
    He appropriately calls the Sikh Religion ‘Sikhi’. Calling it ‘Sikhism’ is to diminish its intrinsic vitality steeped in what I call Guru Nanak’s ‘Pragmatic Spirituality’ or ‘Spiritual Pragmatism’ that works for everyone all the time all over the globe perfectly well during workaday existence. The suffix ‘ism’ can be attached to any word to give it the status of a system or a principle or a philosophy—regardless of the fact whether it deserves such distinction or not.

    “Guru Nanak leads the Modern Science” is a discerning essay by Dr Dalvinder Singh Grewal. He has shown the findings of his painstaking research in tabulated form, putting the views of accomplished scientists like Gregg Easterbrook’s, Georges Lemaitre’s, but, more importantly, Stephen Hawking’s, side by side the revelatory exhortations of Guru Nanak, to show how the latter antedates the former’s somewhat speculative assertions by a few centuries. Dr Grewal concludes his ‘Subject-Supportive’ essay thus: “…Guru Nanak’s answers to the various questions, theories, concepts and doctrines are certainly going to be the guiding light for the future inquiries, hence need the due attention of the scientific world at large.”
    Although Grewal has overstrained his arguments to prove his point of view yet I am inclined to side with him. In my second doctorate on “CREATIVE MYSTICISM: A Study of Guru Nanak Bani with special reference to Japuji” (Panjab University, 2000) I have inferred that the founder of the Sikh Faith is 10 millennia ahead of his times because his Revelation has both Mysticism [direct experience of spiritual reality in Revelation] and Creativity [authentic expression of altruistic progression that the Pragmatism of Science makes possible].

    In “Concept of Spirituality in Science and Religion”, Dr Sukhraj Singh Dhillon argues that “Time denotes birth and death. Bound in the framework of time and space, religions exist in the ever changing world. Since the world is constantly changing, so are the religions. This change is inevitable because people are changing, their environment and conditions are changing; also their appreciation of things is changing.” The logical final conclusion that flows from his ‘Subject-Supportive’ essay is: “Combine science with it to seek the truth; the truth that leads towards our true-self, our spirituality. Those religions that become very rigid, stubborn, fundamentalist, and oppose to change will disappear with time.”

    This is a laudable ideal but he does not say who should undertake such an onerous task and how it should be accomplished. In my view, unless this problem is resolved the salient points of Dr Grewal’s essay will remain confined to the woolly profundities of metaphysics or unintelligible abstractions of science.

    Dr Devinder Singh Chahal explores the connotations of one of the key-words in Guru Nanak used in Gurbani “Hukm” in his ‘Subject-Supportive’ essay “HUKM: The Laws of Nature”. In two of the major conclusions he has come up which he defines: Hukm means the ‘Laws of Nature’ and emphasis in Nanakian Philosophy is to understand the Laws of Nature and use them for the welfare of the humanity, and Hukm also means the ‘Teachings of Guru Nanak’ to understand and to be followed.”

    In my view, Reza and Hukm are grossly confused by scholars of all genres and they tend to use the two words interchangeably. ‘Hukm’ is Arabic whose nearest English equivalent is Edict-Fiat, and ‘Reza’ [Persian] means God’s inscrutable Will. Hukm is the operative principle of Reza and can be discerned with mystic insight into Qudrat [Nature] which, according to Guru Nanak, is God’s might manifest as immanence in the ineluctable laws of the universe.
    To use ‘hukm’ to mean ‘Teachings of Guru Nanak’ is to overlook the historic import of the interactive civilized discourse that he initiated and practised as a Prophet of Pragmatic Spirituality.

    “Is Creation An Illusion? – Scientific Vision of SGGS” Dr Avtar Singh contends that “Science has searched for the ultimate reality by fragmenting the observed reality into pieces or tiny particles of matter. Religion, on the other hand, has ignored scientific observations and relied on dogmatic belief to propagate the concept of a creator – God.” He goes on to stress the moot point thus: “Experiment is the religion of science and blind belief is the science of religion. Neither experiments nor beliefs are complete in providing the wholesome realization of the universal truth.” An essay well-begun, which offers good ‘Preparatory Reading’ ends up tangentially because the conclusion does not support the author’s thesis.

    Dr DP Singh has dwelt in great detail on “Ecological Concern in Sri Guru Granth Sahib”. He avers that “A new “ecological ethic” dedicated to conservation and wise use of the resources provided by a bountiful nature can only arise from an honest understanding and dedicated application of our old, tried and true spiritual heritage. Such an integrated approach to current ecological crisis can lead to permanent sustainability of life on mother earth.”

    I entirely agree with him on his perceptive comment on the crucial issue of Ecology and how misplaced ideas of politicians and economists on the so-called sustained growth are ruining it to the peril of life on planet Earth. However, seen in the light of the basic theme of the book, his essay is off the mark and I would place it in the category of ‘Preparatory Reading’.

    “Sikh Perspective on Modern Scientific Technology” by Dr Surjeet Kaur Chahal is an exhaustive, well-researched essay on “Genetic Engineering” with a matching felicity of expression. According to her, “Sikhism would at no stage accept that man could be co-creator. God is infinite… Ideally, man should adjust himself to the environment…We have the right to choose the science that we want and to define our vision of progress and at the same time to oppose science, which is not in the public interest.”
    All this is very well but what about “Harmony in Science and Sikh Religion”? Though the title does allude to the book’s theme it drifts into ‘Genetic Engineering’ which is an eminently well-written essay. However, it says little about the theme except on the ethics of this scientifically-empowered tool to shape in not-too-distant future ‘A Brave New World’—if only of mindless monsters! I would, therefore, place this write-up in the ‘Subject-Supportive’ category.

    Dr Tarlochan Singh Mahajan’s essay “Science and Gurbani” deals with Big Bang Theory, Pulsating Theory, Astronomy, etc. and moves on to Global Warming. He says: “Our future is a warmer world; more people will get sick or die from heat stress. There may be more heat-related illnesses in future, and increased breathing problems as higher temperatures increase air pollution in cities, reducing air quality.”

    Though the title does suggest its kinship with the theme of the book the contents of the essay speak of something else. It is thus hard to derive much benefit from it to deepen one’s understanding of the kind of Harmony that is believed to exist between Science and Sikh Religion. It belongs to the ‘Subject-Supportive’ category.

    “Sikh Hermeneutics and Interpretation of Gurbaani” by Dr Sarjit Singh Sandhu puts us in touch with the little-known fact that “The information available in SGGS [Sri Guru Granth Sahib], arguably confirms this point that IKOoh is the correct representation of first word and symbol of creedal statement of SGGS”, and concludes “…the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of core words due to erroneous separation of words of gurbaani demonstrate the usefulness of Sikh hermeneutics in settling issues, encountered in the study of Sikh scripture.”

    Dr Sarjit Singh’s concern that “in order to maintain independence and uniqueness of Sikh religion, the core words of terminology in the Sikh scripture should not lose Punjabi roots” is more sentimental than scientific. I wish to point out that the keywords that Guru Nanak used in describing his Revelation are either Arabic [hukm] or Persian [reza]. Interestingly, the word ‘Punjab’ itself is not Punjabi. It is Persian. In our anxiety to look for rationale in Guru Nanak’s Revelation we tend to overlook a great deal of its quintessential spirituality, i.e., its illimitable universality and its timeless applicability to problems of workaday existence vis-à-vis the altruistic progression of entire humankind. This essay does little to throw light on the subject of discourse, its exceptional brilliance as an essay notwithstanding. It thus falls in the ‘Preparatory Reading’ category.

    Dr IJ Singh draws his literary vehemence from the light of veracity inherent in Gurbani when he makes no bones about his lament in asking “Science versus Religion: What Conflict?” It is impossible not to agree with him when he convincingly avers that “Ultimately, our problem lies in mixing of religion and science. The two remain complementary but different from each other...The technology of science tells me how to build a house or a nuclear bomb, but it does not tell me why I should build either or what use I should put it to.”

    The moot point that he underscores is that Science is a method [how] while Religion is both a question and an answer [why and what]. The two are doing complementary things which can never come in conflict with each other. I will place his essay in the ‘Subjective-Responsive’ category.
    “Reason, Intuition, and Faith in Science & Religion” is a comprehensive essay by Job Kozhamthadam in which he has attempted to establish a “Dialogue between Science and Religion”. He says that “recognition of the commonality between science and religion can lend additional encouragement for engaging in a fruitful dialogue between science and religion…religion relies more heavily on intuition, whereas science places more stress on rationality. But these need not be differences that lead to division and dissension, but rather can be the diversity that enriches and enhances the resources of both.”
    Though the thrust of the author’s thesis is consistent throughout the essay and its contents have been logically steered towards a convincing conclusion it has no direct bearing on the import of Sikh Religion. I would, therefore, classify it as ‘Preparatory Reading’.

    In his concluding essay “Exegesis of Sri Guru Granth Sahib: An Overview”, Virk says: “It is a well known fact that Science and Mysticism are two different modes of experiencing the Reality...The readers of this volume will find that most of our contributors believe that Gurbani is scientific and logical in approach and needs to be interpreted in scientific way, where myths and rituals have no role to play.” I see little usefulness of this piece in the present volume and would, therefore, place it in the category of ‘Preparatory Reading’.

    Suggestions: I would like to make some suggestions which, if used conscientiously, should hopefully enhance the intrinsic worth and quality of a future reprint of the present book.

    a. The present title should be changed to: Compatibility between Science and Religion with particular reference to Sikh Faith. ‘Compatibility’ denotes the ability to co-exist and not merely ‘pleasing arrangements of parts’ suggested by ‘Harmony’.
    b. Brief bio-sketches of the contributors, giving details of their disciplines with chief activities and achievements, should be furnished. The generic word ‘scientist’ is not enough because a biologist thinks very differently from an astronomer just as a physicist does from a chemist.
    c. The titles of the essays given in the Contents must also carry the names of their authors.
    d. Mention must be made of the target readership to sharpen focus on the central message of the book. Saying that the book will have “some ‘ripple effect’ in Sikh circles”—and that too in the blurb—dissipates the intrinsic value of the book by the sheer vagueness of its sacrosanct intent.
    e. The Editor, based on his own inferences of the contents of the contributed essays, should spell out the steps that may be taken by the recipients of the ‘ripple effect’ to initiate and sustain dialogue between Scientists and Theologians with the active participation of the public.

    Let me conclude this review with my Urdu verse [with its English rendering] which I have specially penned for this purpose:
    Science ka mat muqaabla mazhab sei keejiye
    Science kei naap-tol tajirbaat hain madaar
    Ilhaam-i-noor-i-haq jisei mazhab ‘ata karei
    Dasht-i-hyaat mein bhi usei aaye nazar bahaar
    Don’t you compare Science with Religion
    Measures ‘n’ Experiments form Science’s basis
    When Religion reveals Truth’s Light to someone
    He sees perennial Spring in Life’s Wilderness

    Dr SS Bhatti
    Former Principal, Chandigarh College of Architecture, Chandigarh [1982-1996]
    # 3314, Sector 15-D, Chandigarh-160015
    Phone: +91-172-2773258 [H]; E-Mail:ssbhatti24@yahoo.com
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