(This article was submitted for the Souvenir Volume at the occasion of the 12th International Gita Conference, to be held at Stanford University, 7-9 August, 1998. A talk based on this article was delivered in the conference on 8 August 1998)
This article gives a glimpse into the nature of the work done by me during the last 33 years in the general field of developing a rational approach to spirituality. The ideas of this mathematically based foundation for spirituality are introduced in a lucid manner through the story of how I happened to come to this field. Although born in a religious family, I developed an atheistic outlook at age 16. Many secularists and others regard atheism as the rational outlook, decrying belief in God, because they say that it is irrational to believe in myths and in things whose existence is not proven.This view ignores the fact that believing that there is no God is also a belief, which is on the same level of myth as its opposite. Thus, I was victimized for a while, until I realised that I could not prove that there is no God.
At this point, I changed into an agnostic, and held Science and Service to humanity as the Highest Ideal, believing that God may or may not exist, but God and spirituality are irrelevant to us. As such, I pressed forward in the scientific field. I happened to study some physics and logic, and in particular Goedel's theorem. In layman's terms, Goedel's work indicates that if there is any mathematical system which involves the natural numbers 0, 1, 2,....and so on, then in that system there are questions that cannot be answered yes or no by using the axioms of the system, although there does exist a definite answer to these questions. In order to answer such a question, some more axioms may be introduced. However, now we will arrive at a new system to which Godel's theorem will again be applicable, and now there will be newer questions that cannot be answered.
As I deliberated over the meaning and the implication of Goedel's great work, it became more and more clear that at any stage of its development in future, Science will always remain a mathematical system to which Goedel's theorem will be applicable. All the so-called scientific laws that will be discovered are really the newly added axioms mentioned above. Thus, I concluded that the scientific approach is not sufficient to fathom the depths of Reality.
At this point, the realization came that the sages have been implying that knowledge comes through direct perception. This then suggested that there is a deeper way to know about things as they are, which is different from the scientific method. Slowly, in my own scientific research, I realized that most of the relatively bigger ideas came by direct perception. I then checked with my elders, many of whom happened to be the greatest scientists in their field. By and large, they confirmed my opinion.
I thus arrived at the significant conclusion that the scientific approach is intrinsically flawed in the sense of being incomplete, and that there exist other greater ways to understand Reality.
Now, agnosticism holds that God and spirituality are irrelevant. On the other hand, the above conclusions showed that the greatest ideas seem to be coming to us in some spiritual manner. This was a basic contradiction, which made a permanent dent in the agnostic view point, and led me to enquire further and become a jigyasu, i.e., a rational but sincere enquirer.
At this point, naturally, I began to study the classics such as the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads. Slowly, I also studied major documents of the other great religions, and later on even the philosophers of the east and the west.
Of course, I noticed the enormous difference between the rituals of the different religions, even between the denominations of the same religion. I also saw many similarities. There is no doubt that the great religious leaders of the world are honest and intelligent, and that they all have said what they really believed, and none of them has tried to cheat in any way. But, there are very serious differences among them, and also between them and many great non-religious leaders. Thus, although spirituality seemed to be factual and fundamentally very important, there were severe implicit and explicit difficulties associated with it.
An unending series of fundamental questions arose. Does God exist? Is there one God, or many? Is God a spirit who is unable to appear in human form, or is it otherwise? Is God both with form and without form simultaneously, or is it that only one of these is true? Is God the same as God's creation? Is God in need of service from us, and if so why? Does God like rituals, and if so, whose? Can God be circumscribed? If not, could any one book tell us all about God? Does God give special importance to man, or is it that we are just one of his infinite number of creatures. What is the difference between the words 'God', 'Whole', 'Cause' (of all causes), 'Universe', 'Truth', 'Reality', 'All that exists', etc? Can God be found through reason? Is rationality a correct outlook? Where does Faith stand? Is the theory of reincarnation true? If there is no 'self', then what does reincarnate?
Is God a blue boy dwelling eternally in a spiritual forest with the spiritual cows and the cowherd families? Or, is God an old man sitting on a majestic throne, with other great sages sitting on smaller thrones to his right and left? Does God have sons, a single Son, or is it impossible that God can have children? Is God a person, or a Spirit, or just formless and impersonal? Can God reincarnate, or is it that although he is all-powerful he is still incapable of incarnating?
Some say that God is all knowing, all wise, all powerful, and beneficent and merciful, and yet like a magistrate, he reckons good and bad deeds, and passes judgement on individuals after the doomsday, sending them eternally to heaven or hell as the case may be. But, this is a straight contradiction. If God is really all knowing, he should (at the time of creating a person) know whether this one would eventually be sent to hell forever. Being all-wise, and all- powerful, he should avoid creating such people. Since, apparently, he does create such people, he is indeed a tyrant rather than beneficent and merciful. Thus, the magistrate concept of God is not appealing.
It is said that the Cause of all causes must be God. But, Buddha, who tried to find the Cause, is said to have experienced the Void. Is the world really a place of sorrow, or is life really meant for being celebrated? Finally, is all this talk and discussion about God (or Spirituality) a sheer wastage of time, or is it worthwhile, the most worthwhile, or the only worthwhile, thing to do?
It should be noted that the above questions and statements are based on widely prevalent views in or about the religious world. These questions are fundamental and enormous and also the most intriguing and inviting. They concern the Whole, the Reality, out of which the subtle energies (such as direct perception) emanate.
Slowly, a working definition of the Divine emerged in my mind. It is that the Divine is undefinable, but that concepts such as the Truth or the Whole (from the logical viewpoint), Reality or the Universe (from the physical viewpoint), and God (from the theological viewpoint), etc. were all different aspects of it. However, this led to new questions such as whether God is indeed compassionate, beneficent, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, etc., as the scripture say.
Using elementary mathematical ideas from set theory and mathematical logic, I began to realize that the pursuit of the question concerning the Cause of all causes, would lead us to the Void. Buddha came upon this experientially, through meditation. I must rush to add that the mathematical realization of a fact, and the realization of the same through experience, are qualitatively two very different things. The latter is usually very rich, while the former may be easier to grasp. For example, we know that the different colors correspond to different wavelengths of light, and the 'play of colors' is in a sense equivalent to certain geometrical properties of combinations of the numbers expressing these wavelengths. However, there is a magnificence in the experience of colors that cannot be seen through the above numbers. Thus, the experience is far richer. However, by considering the wavelength, the physicist can arrive at facts, which are outside our realm of experience. Thus, the two kinds of realizations mentioned above are qualitatively different, each one having its own advantages and limitations. Still, however, for humans, the experience is certainly the much richer aspect of realization.
I noticed that asking a question (whatever that question might be), and pursuing the answer to that question, constitutes a 'path', and that this path is a single path which corresponds to the question and its answer. But the number of possible questions is innumerably infinite. Thus, asking any one question, we tread a single path, and miss the rest. The Sakyamuni saw this tremendous diversity, he became one with it, he became the Tathagata, the nature of things. On Buddha's part, this was an attainment, but I like to understand it from the viewpoint of our scientific approach.
I noticed that, inspite of its inherent basic contradictions, the magistrate concept of God is held by many people. That led me to realize that there are too many logic present, which can be invoked. Different logic are meaningful to different extents and in different ways. Perhaps there is one single Logic, the Divine one, which is 'pure'. All others have limitations.
A story from the Ramayana is relevant here. Once Lakshman asked his brother Rama (who is considered as an incarnation of God) as to whether a particular situation was possible. Lord Rama immediately answered: O Lakshman, All situations that you can imagine, and even those that you cannot imagine, all of them are possible. The same kind of ideas occurs in the work of the great Buddhist philosopher Ashavaghosh, who maintained that all propositions are true. That, of course, contradicts the ordinary mathematical logic, seemingly. However, I then realized that the Whole contains all logic and all universes in which such logics are defined.
The Isha Upanishad says that God is Complete 'there', God is Complete 'here', and whatever comes out from the Complete is also Complete. Furthermore, if the Complete is taken out of the Complete, then, still, the complete remains left out. These statements are very profound. Combined with mathematical ideas, they lead to what may be called a Mathematical Framwork for Spirituality (MFS).
There is also the so-called 'supernatural', which I prefer to call 'supernormal'. The yoga-sutra of Patanjali describes how supernormal powers may develop in a person as the progress in yoga occurs. (Such powers are to be handled carefully, since by increasing the ego, they may actually hurt the yogi's progress.) He even described many details of the same. Such powers have been exhibited from time immemorial by saints and sages every where.In the West, we have the example of Jesus, and in modern times, that of Edgar Casey. In India, there have been saints all the time, even today, about whom thousands of people in the world maintain that they have various kinds of supernormal powers. Many people in the scientific communities have tended to ignore it, some calling it false or fraudulent. However, I myself have happened to experience it, not only from the sages, but also from the Divine directly.
This happening, it became clear to me that we scientists have, perhaps, been ourselves living in myths. Perhaps we have not been good scientists in the sense that a good scientist, in the face of nonconforming data, should not simply stick to his theory calling the data fraudulent. He should rather try to see the bigger picture. It seems to me that we scientists have ignored the most important spiritual raw data, namely the supernormal phenomena. I therefore decided to see what would happen if this data is taken into account. In other words, we assume that, except for legends that develop and the favorable spicing of the stories that may be done by enthusiastic devotees, most of the basic claims of supernormal abilities in sages are correct.
I then tried to find out what are some of the most common elements and sayings that the very greatest spiritual leaders of the world have maintained. Assuming them to be largely true, how does the Universe or the Reality look. This is the big attempt I made in the last 30 years, using whatever scientific capabilities I held. Now, I am in the process of writing about it. Different questions that I have broached earlier in this synopsis will be taken up as separate articles themselves or chapters of books. These are too long to be discussed here.
However, I may add that I am not trying to be syncretic. My attempt is not to artificially unite different things. Rather, my attempt is to find the fundamental unity behind all things, including various statements made earlier in this article. This unity is the intrinsic unity that exists fundamentally, and is merely to be observed by others. I am not making anything here, I am only observing.
The mathematical-philosophical framework being developed concerns reality as whole. Thus, I see in it germs of the foundations of mathematics and physics. One may wonder what I have concluded. Most of the unity seen through the MFS is already seen by the sages experientially; but some of it is new, and further development of the MFS would lead to newer, yet uncharted, horizons. Again, because of lack of space I cannot go into that. Here, I will mention two things.
The first is the observation that there is determinism and randomness at the same time. Intrinsically, as Einstein maintained, Reality can be considered to be deterministic. However, given any situation, a particular dependent variable y may be (deterministically) affected by a large host of independent variables (say, x's). If we are cognizant only of a few of the x's, and study y only in the light of these, then all the variation in y will not be explainable, and y will appear to be random. Indeed, under the MFS, quantum mechanics and Einstein's determinism are not in conflict.
The second point is that according to the MFS, the nature of Reality is 'structural'. Einstein called it 'geometric', a term which also may partly characterize it in an abstruse mathematical sense. For the layman, the situation can be explained thus. Look at the computers. They consist of two things, the hardware and the software. The hardware is the machine itself. That consists of various metallic parts, chips, etc. It processes various computer programs, which are called software. One of the conclusions that I have drawn from the MFS is that Reality as a whole is indeed software alone. Although it is all software, part of it looks like hardware, because that is how we, who are also part of the software, experience it. Thus, although, hard 'matter' like rocks, and trees, etc., seems to be there, at the deeper levels they are like 'ideas'. Thus, in a sense, the Universe may be considered to be a 'thought' of God. The sages have already experienced this fact in meditation. However, now we arrive there through science.
What has all this to do with Krishna and the Bhagavad-Gita? A simile might help, though every simile will eventually fall short in trying to describe the Divine. If Reality is compared to our solar system, then the MSF is an understanding of the same through light, the main source of which is the effulgence (Gita) coming from the sun (Krishna). I have not come to Krishna because he might save me. It is not that someone told me he is God and I thought I better believe this for my own good.
I came to Krishna because (in the process of development of the MFS) I slowly discovered that his version of the nature of Reality has the maximum internal consistency, that he is not self-contradictory, that everything that he says is supported by the observations. He is utterly rational, yet points out the limitations of the path of reason. He does not coerce or threaten. He is not a mere teacher of some kind of morality, but wants us to rise above not only evil but also good. Unlike many other teachers, he wants us to aspire for the Divine rather than the comforts of paradise. The words in the Gita have a dignity like what may be expected of the Divine. He makes it clear that God does not sit in judgment reckoning our good and bad deeds. He won't be bribed. Rather, he advises us to become selfless and not to aspire for the fruits of our actions.
Krishna does not say that 'God exists' or 'God does not exist', thus making God a subconcept of the concept of existence. Rather, he tells us that God is beyond the concept of existence. He does not limit God like many others do. He teaches us to do selfless service to all (without consideration of their religion), because all are aspects of God, who alone is. He tells us that the truly learned person looks upon all equanimously, whether it be a saint, an evil-doer or even an animal. Furthermore, he wants us to be active, not passive and idle.
Rather than propounding a particular belief system and its attendant rituals, Krishna talks of general paths to the Divine such as those of knowledge, meditation, good works, renunciation, and love of God. To those who are unable to tread any of these, Krishna advises to forget about religious rituals and belief-systems and just surrender to him. Surrender has been taught elsewhere too, but within the limitation of that particular religion. But, this keeps the aspirant within the corresponding limited concept of God, when really the Divine is without limitation.
Krishna is not asking us to leave any particular path we are on. He says all paths are within him. He is non-jealous, as a God (who alone is) ought to be. Krishna is above religions. He is for all mankind. The Gita is for every one to follow and benefit from.
The MFS was developed by considering the common fundamental teachings of the greatest leaders from all religions, and looking at Reality from a rational scientific viewpoint. It was soon discovered that the statements in the Gita, much more than those in other books, help in developing the MFS and in corroborating the implications of the new ideas.
In the above presentation, I have only barely mentioned some the ideas concerning the MFS and the Gita. The reader interested in further details is invited to the future articles on this subject.