Friday, 28 March 2008

God, Religion and Belief


There have been times when I have written something because I felt the need to do so, and there have been times when I have written because I felt that if I didn't do so, something great would go terribly amiss from my life. The latter thing happens considerably less frequently with me, and it's occurring now.

The existence of God, and the merits of religion have long been debated and discussed. I am not trying to merely repeat all that. This time, I'll question my inner self for the answers that I need. There are a lot of questions in my mind regarding faith, and the sooner they are solved the better. I would consider myself lucky if some of my readers cared to help me in my search, for it's a long and arduous one, and has been going on and on for years no one can possibly count. If not in me, in the minds and hearts of those who pause to think why birth and death exist. For I believe that ultimately every odyssey on the path of religion and spiritualism ultimately leads to the two elementary and yet unquestionably important questions: birth and death.


Let me try to elaborate to the best of my abilities. Birth, I believe, is not wholly synonymous with the appearance of the first "living" being on the universe. When I use the word "birth" I take it in a wider sense-- the genesis of the universe. Yes the very same vast vessel which is home to everything that is known and unknown to us. The funny thing is that we aren't even unaware of life beyond our universe, if you do understand what I mean! But let's not stray from the topic at the core of this essay. Scientists have long accepted the Big Bang Theory as the most plausible explanation for the birth of the universe, which states that the whole of matter was condensed in a extremely small and highly heated volume and for some reason that matter suddenly expanded giving rise to galaxies, and constellations-- planets, stars, nebulae and every single celestial body we know.


Now, here's my question: what made that earliest "atom" expand all of a sudden? I am not much aware of any explanation about this particular question. Most research about the cosmological birth of the universe is about how it all happened. But my question is, why did it happen? Or rather, what made the big bang happen? Could not the theoretically assumed condensed mass of matter remain in the same way for eternity? And it's precisely at this point where I think that the existence of some otherworldly force becomes relevant. (As a parallel idea, think about this: the book of Genesis says, "God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light".) Some supposedly scientific-minded people have always steadfastly maintained that one cannot be scientific and religious at the same time-- that believing in God is ultimately rejecting the cold logic of science. How then could the authors of the Bible predict the same theory that 20th century scientists have formulated and proved long after the Bible was written? Does this small example not somehow convince one that religion and science ultimately do point to the same direction: and that it is ultimately a choice between what you like to believe you are following. The religiously inclined rational man knows that he is almost as much scientific in his thinking! No wonder that one of the foremost proponents of the Big Bang was a Roman Catholic priest named Georges LemaĆ®tre.


Now comes the most important question: what is God, and if at all he exists where can one find him? Frankly, I don't have definite answers to any of the two above questions, but I do know what I want to believe. Confusing, ain't it? Let me elaborate. I believe God is omnipresent and omniscient, like so many scholars before me have said. It's not in any specific place that God resides. He is everywhere. Basically, that would be calling every single atomic and sub-atomic particle in the whole universe a manifestation of God (though, I am not asking one to "reduce" the whole grand concept of God to such a dry scientific fact at all: given a choice, even I would refrain from doing so). God is hence present in all physical and chemical processes, and every single thing in our lives is therefore a direct wish of what God wants us to do. Again, let's go back to the Holy Book. It says that humans are made in the image of God. The simplicity in what I believe is therefore vastly useful-- it proves (one can exclaim, "very scientifically!") that we are indeed made of God, since we are after all a cluster of cells! If the remarkable conclusions of this simple belief is not enough, let's delve even deeper.


How does God affect our decisions? Or is He at all instrumental in deciding our actions? The answer is 'yes' again. I shall explain quite simply. If one is indeed so devoid of humour and charm to reduce the human thought and decision process to chemical reactions inside the brain, so be he. The very fact that every single process in the universe (including chemical reactions inside our brain!) is ultimately a series of changes between particles, their configurations and energy states simply shows that God (the aforementioned elementary particles) ultimately affects our decisions. Having said all this, let me say that I believe in a greater God! Oh no, I am not going into another foolish debate regarding whose God is better, and whose religion is more foolhardy (two recommendations in this regard: Tolstoy's short story The Coffee House of Surat and Narayan Gangopadhyay's comic masterpiece Tin Bidhata). When I say "greater God", I refer to a more complete representation of the Almighty: a representation not only limited to the basic physical state of Him, but also to the inner self of God himself. And this representation, I know, is conscience. If we were all created in the image of God, I believe we all have God trapped in our souls. And this God is our own inner voice: the guide that is omnipresent (got the connection now?!), always waiting for us to seek it's help. Even in the darkest of nights, there is but one who can guide us to light. For light is God, and God is light! And light is the ultimate realisation of life-- the enlightened one assimilates into the greater universal self leaving his worldly remains behind! Which brings me to the second part of the two all-important incidents: death.


And so here's a poser again: can anyone tell me what will finally happen to the universe, which is scientifically generally believed to be expanding ever since it's inception? Or as an afterthought, where do we go after we die? Now of course, religion has an answer ready for that: according to the righteousness of one's deeds, his soul enters one of the two gates of Heaven and Hell. I don't believe that physically either of the two exist. They are, as explained by countless philosophers before, merely two states of the mind. The guilty goes through living hell, and the righteous man knows mental peace a.k.a. Heaven. But beyond that, I am quite clueless. And I believe that so is everyone! For if we discover the secret behind our genesis and ending, the purpose in our lives will be lost. Here are my questions regarding the matter: where does that soul go after all, say after it's tenure is over in heaven or hell? Or does it come back as proposed by the karmic circle? And if it does, what exactly decides which body the soul will enter in it's next life? Yes yes, my questions almost border on childishness, but believe me when I say that I am not being facetious.


Just a final thing to say: is it necessary to believe in God? Even if God does not physically exist, which is a very safe assumption, after all? And I firmly answer, yes. Because one does need something to cheer him up during the darkest of times; because without belief, one may lose his identity when he has no one to help him. Only those who have known death and suffering closely will probably completely understand what I mean, and possibly better than me since I have myself never been through too much trauma. Take the Israelites during the Exodus for example, had they not believed in a greater power, they could not have won their land against all odds. (Thanks to Leon Uris and Exodus for this nugget!) God is the ultimate realisation, I believe. A realisation that permeates all worldliness. God is there in nature, in music, in poetry. Just open your eyes and feel Him. But do NOT for God's sake turn your belief into fanaticism. No God ever preached that he is greater than somebody's else's God. All humans are equal, as are their consciences. And so is their own God! I would prefer sane and hardworking atheists over religious fanatics anyday, said Suvro Sir. I second him.


And let me end this with a thoughtful line, that should hit one with a bang:"There is no believing in God, we either know him or we don't". (source: Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts)

P.S.-- A relevant post on religion and spirituality by Sir.

22 comments:

Sayantani said...

God?? I think I’ve talked to Him. Yes, I talk to Him everyday – every now and then. Despite all the contentment I enjoy with life, there is this presence of a little lacuna sometimes that I can share only with Him. He’s an important space to me. And, if I need to see Him, I close my eyes and see amidst an impenetrable black, a single point source radiating brightness – a constant source of power, faith, trust, goodness, truth and piety (it has been just like this for the past few years – don’t ask me why I see this!)

I’ve shared odd emotions with Him. Whenever strong debates between right or wrong, should-be or shouldn’t-be, is-it or is-it-not have flared up within me, He has been there. I’ve wept to Him till no ends as He has often contradicted with my heart and sense-organs. I’ve wept to Him like a baby when He has made me see things – see through my darkest of thoughts and realise my flaws – innumerable times He has saved me from becoming the ugliest devil and has deterred me from doing the wrongest of wrongs probably. (Ha! Even yesterday I was weeping helplessly when I was alone and everyone else was sleeping at night as I shared with Him the feelings which had surfaced in me momentarily for some time back and had been buried deep inside me without achieving expression – which I’d been unable to pronounce even to my closest friend…)

I’ve gone off-track when I haven’t listened to Him. He has washed away some of the caustic pollutants in me with my tears (some of the poison still lasts largely and it’s my fault that I don’t listen to Him). And in the moments of happiness?? If ‘happiness’ is not confused with a transient pleasure of animal-existence, then He has mingled with my heart and being in all those beautiful moments, I believe. God is indeed my conscience and I do treasure Him with all my self.

Kiran said...

I don't believe that god has anything to do with religion. Religion refers to a set of rules which are based on justice and human feelings. Every religion has qualities and drawbacks. I can talk about hinduism, and I feel Lord Krishna's concept of putting 'justice to truth' before 'justice to love' is completely wrong. So I'd prefer to stay away from the religion part.


But God remains as one. God, well, it's not proper to call this divine power (energy, force, etc.)Him. God cannot have a sex because God is one and a complete mixture of all possible good things. I'm really pleased with Sudipto's question asking what the need for a big bang was. The question can be even more fundamental, and again asked on a larger scale. Why at all were charges created, everything could've been neutral. Why do the stars radiate energy (Don't tell me about fusion, I'll be asking why even that takes place)?? It somehow seems that someone wants to create something in complete balance. Lets take our body for example. There are so many enzymes, so many hormones, blood, everything, these are such chemicals which work under body temperature and can be prepared from food available nearby. Currently I may sound meaningless, but actually its not possible for me to express how queer it is to see that everything is so balanced. Its beyond a human mind's scope to prepare another living being with such balance (cloning is copying god's architecture, nothing new). Again another stunning thing is the presence of friction. It has a major utility, but if we were preparing a universe, we wouldn't have thought of it. So there's obviously a mind behind all this.

And of late I've found clues that suggest that this omnipotent, creative genius wanted some other minds to explore Its creation. That's why - it was the birth of life and slowly on the course of evolution, Earth had humans, the mind which could explore god's creation in a very good way. And so did the ancient people. They discovered scientific facts, they discovered nature's marvels and they discovered astrology. But of late it's sad to see that the mutiliated human mind is on the course of self destruction. I think it's our duty to try and gain enough knowledge so that we can reach God, our purpose on earth. And why we were to die, that may be because God wanted us to work under time-locks so that we are more efficient.

Syantani, please enlighten me on your point of light's opinion about death and how to live a life

Sayantani said...

Dear Sudipto,

My earlier comment is a whole lot of rambling about my ‘friendship’ with God and what God is to me. :D Well, to be more focused on your write-up, friend, (as I’ve said that already) it’s a brilliant topic. Fact is: life, death, existence and non-existence of universe are such questions which possibly can only be asked by us and perhaps be pondered upon a bit. I suppose the truth is above the reach of earthly beings. And, it’s definitely a subject that amazes me mostly! What an ingenious creation this whole universe is, it’s system and working are so amusingly rhythmical! But, why are the chemical reactions, fissions and fusions occurring so spontaneously? Why are so many things in the universe exist in the ‘unstable’ state and are trying to achieve a ‘stability’?? Why did the Big Bang occur and why is the universe still expanding?? Well, I’ll simply end up echoing your questions, instead of answering them (I hope some wiser person than me can do that well)! Well, a great scientist and a philosopher had voiced once, “The universe is expanding like a balloon and the stars and galaxies are spreading out from each other like the dots on a balloon scatter apart. There’s someone blowing the balloon and my belief in God lies there…”

P.S.:- A wonderful article and it was great to have the author Sudipto back on the blog after a long time.:) Hoping some good participation on this blog-post...

Sudipto Basu said...

@Kiran (a.k.a. I-know-who! :D)
If I read your comment a few days, I suppose I'd then agree wholeheartedly with you on your first point: that God and religion are not related.

But I can't fully do so now, thanks to re-reading the aforementioned book named Exodus (by Leon Uris) which indirectly made me realise that, at some level at least, religion and God do connect. Firstly, I never actually believed (even before I having read that book) that religion is just a set of rules and rituals. That is what most people have reduced religion to. Religion is, now I know, a pursuit of the truth, much like science itself. Some religious texts may well have been very important in laying the cornerstones of theories developed and proposed by the earliest of philosophers and scientists. Think about this: all men like Plato and Aristotle were as much religious scholars as they were scientists!

And as for calling God by the pronoun "He", I do so merely because it's a conventional thing (besides, wouldn't writing "God" every second line in the post look dull?). In my heart, of course, I know that God has no such specifications. An atom, I believe, does not belong to any sex! :D

@Sayantani
Don't worry, friend. Your post was just as valuable to the central discussion-- nothing irrelevant at all. Thanks a lot for sharing all that!

Sayantani said...

Brilliant comment, “Kiran”! But, before answering your question, I’d say that I agree with your point of view that God doesn’t have any sex and that God and religion are two different conceptions. But, the English language is so offensive in terms of gender demarcation that if a living being doesn’t have a sex, we refer to that with the pronoun “it” and “it” sounds so downrightly derogatory. So, I’ll still refer to God using the pronouns “Him” or “He”.

Read my first comment again and you’ll realise that I consider God as my conscience – as something which answers me when I suffer from strong dilemma in choosing between any two extremes (which happens often actually). He somehow helps me to find a middle path. Perhaps, my sight of light amidst the black is linked with that enlightenment (I said before that I’ve no idea why I visualize this).

Now, you could say that it’s my individual point of view. But, I believe that all “destruction” and “instability” in the universe is giving a cue to a second source of power – well, doesn’t it seem as if there’s always something which is contradicting the neutrality and stability?? And, why only a second force? There could even be a third force or a fourth force or some umpteen forces opposing the stability. Which brings me to this theory is that there should be a driving cause of the instability and the disturbance, as had there been only one force existing; everything would be quite neutral, wouldn’t it?? And, it is due to this that the two opposing processes are in action: life and death.

But, amidst all these forces, it seems the strongest one is that which is tending the whole system to achieve a state of neutrality/balance/stability. The more intriguing question is that – what does “neutrality” exactly signify?? Existence or non-existence?? Sometimes it seems had there been no “bad”, what would be neutral would be the “goodness” that we are terming here. But, on second thought, it seems neutrality means the ceasing of all processes and the universe becoming nothingness. To say more clearly, when all attractive and repulsive forces will stop acting, when all fission and fusion processes will come to an end, when all sense of “good” and “bad”, “right” and “wrong” will die away, when birth and death will cease – what’ll happen then??

Sayan said...

Very interesting post Sudipto! Interesting comments too!
Though being fully aware that I am not yet conversant to be able to write anything worthwhile on so vast a subject as this as well as the fact that spiritual tendencies and inclination keep changing (or getting modified) with time and no amount of words suffice to answer the greatest questions of all, also that one cannot even begin to know God before knowing himself (strangely it is said that the moment you know yourself you know God), I shall say a few words. Of course none of it is original. It is mostly the philosophy of the Vedanta, some ideas are taken from Bertrand Russell. Curiously it is a subject on which one likes to keep on talking knowing only too well that the end is obscure.
You have raised a fundamental question, a question that is too vast to be answered in one lifetime, a question that everyone ponders upon, whether believer or non believer, philosopher or businessman, rich or poor, writer or artist, scientist or singer, teacher or roadside tea seller, sage or the vilest of the vile. It is not just a long and arduous search but one that never ends- it goes on through life (even after death?); the question keeps bugging us until, as they say, we truly find the enlightened one- the one to describe whom no words are enough, lexicon falls short and even the aptest of writers finds himself at wits end, for it (whatever it is) cannot be described, it can only be experienced- “Him the sun cannot express, nor the moon, nor the stars, the lightening cannot express him, nor what they speak of as fire, through him they shine”. I think the last bit rhymes with your essay. Our scriptures say that whatever we do, whether we are doctors or teachers, beggars or obscenely rich, sane or ragingly insane, whether we make love or read a book even things as insignificant as eat or drink, the underlying cause or motive behind our actions, whether we are conscious of it or not, whether we are pious or crudely blasphemous is the finding of the ultimate goal- the perfect unity, the indivisible reality – the one of which we are a part – like the sun having a million reflections in a million tiny bubbles. They say that when one reaches this unity (whatever you choose to call it), he knows neither grief nor joy, he neither slanders nor praises, neither is he excited nor does he wallow in self pity; he is always calm and serene, especially when tremendous odds stare at him in the face. He neither flinches, nor is he perplexed or frightened. He knows that in this embodied existence, he will be tossed again and again on the waves of happiness and misery, prosperity and adversity – but knows them all to be of momentary duration, and doesn’t care for them. Neither is he too overjoyed with success nor is he saddened to death by failure. His mind is one, which nothing weighs on, which nothing worries, which is free from all ties and all self-seeking. He is the unique possessor of a quiet mind. This philosophy might seem to lead to resignation and an orientally supine passivity, but it is also the indispensable basis of all wisdom and strength A question that can come up here is that the inability to feel joy or grief implies insensitivity and how can an insensitive man be close to God? The important thing to realize here is that he has risen beyond all mortal feelings, he has transcended the barrier of maya and has reached a perfect state of mind, which is always still- like a clock in a thunderstorm. He is not insensitive at all; in fact no one can possibly be as sensitive as he is. It is said of Sri Ramakrishna that once, when he saw one fisherman hit another violently, he felt a searing pain down his back, as if it was he who had been hit. Swami Vivekananda was roused from his sleep one night, shivering uncontrollably; and when one of his disciples asked him as to what had happened that had upset the Swami so; he replied that many people must have died somewhere, for he had felt a great, terrible and irrepressible pain. As it turned out later – hundreds of people had indeed lost their lives to a natural disaster that very night, but in quite another part of the world. Such ability to feel the pain and suffering of people immensely far off, whose concerns are not directly related to ours in any way, and whose sorrow ordinary men are very likely to forget the next day, or at best accept with an air of resignation, is indeed rare. It is perhaps the one quality that distinguishes the saint. To be able to perceive generalized emotions is difficult, as is the capacity to feel distant evils acutely.
One cannot even begin to know the answer to the eternal riddle before having reached this perfect state of mind. There have been examples, though few and far between of people who have achieved perfect harmony- says the Gita- “Out of a thousand only one searches me, out of a thousand who search me only one here and one there knows me as I am”.
Now, going a little further than the big bang theory and the expanding universe, scientists say that either the universe will expand forever or it will begin to contract after a certain limit; it will continue to do so till it reaches another limit after which it will begin to expand again- which path it will take will depend on the amount of dark matter in the universe. It may sound ludicrous, but our sages did have a very definitive answer to this riddle- they said that the universe is a never-ending cycle that continues eternally and through eternity; it is evolved out of chaos, made to run for a time, and again destroyed.
This is what the Brahmana boy repeats every day: “The sun and the moon, the lord created, like suns and moons of previous cycles”. However as to the question why it does so ( a question that you have raised), they say politely and humbly that they do not know- a testimony to the fact that even the most perfected of men do not have answers to all questions. They say that I do not know why it is such, but I know it is such. Some people say that the universe is so because that is it’s nature, but it doesn’t seem to be anything more than a confession of ignorance. However even though perfection seems to have its blemishes, it must be acknowledged that it is indeed the highest possible feat achievable.
But how can it be achieved? Sages say that one way to achieve it is by practicing penance, non-attachment and selfless service. Another is through work. The self-satisfying and gratifying pleasure of a hard honest days work and a job well taken care of. As Carlyle says – “ Consider how, even the meanest sort of labor, the whole soul of man is composed into real harmony. He bends himself with free valor against his task; and doubt, desire, remorse, indignation, sorrow, despair itself shrink murmuring into their caves. The glow of labor in him is a purifying fire, wherein all poison is burnt up, and of smoke itself there is made a bright and blessed flame.” Even for scientists it is more about experiencing than reaching a foolproof logical conclusion. They speak of experiencing epiphany. Honest scientists will say that they have experienced it only a few times in their lives, and though they want to see more of it, it is something too hard to get a glimpse of and sadly they have often felt themselves reduced to drawing satisfaction from a hard days labour- a satisfaction that arises from the thought that I have worked (or am working) hard enough with total dedication and honesty- not unlike the kind of satisfaction an honest rickshawpuller might draw after a tough days work, when he enters deep sleep with limbs and muscles all aching and a half filled belly.
There is a point after which logic just doesn’t work. An honest scientist will never claim logic by itself to be the panacea for all eternal riddles. Why does he practice hard cold logic then? One reason is that he finds it beautiful and fun much like a painter finds painting or a writer finds writing. Another is that because feeling for others (or humanity as a whole) acutely is very difficult- possible only to a select few- those who appear once in several hundred years, logical reasoning to discern out the truth is the best possible substitute we have. Einstein said that logic seems childish when juxtaposed against reality as a whole, yet it is the best thing we have.
Though I wish to continue in this vein a little longer (it’s a never ending question and no amount of words shall suffice), I will conclude with just one last line of thought. To begin by trying to answer the eternal question is in my opinion a wrong approach. It will be enough for one lifetime to do what we love to do and hope that it ultimately brings us closer to the greatest realization of all. If we can push ourselves closer, even infinitesimally to infinity, our lives will not have gone in vain.

Sayan Datta.

P.S:- Posts such as these strike a chord somewhere. I won't be surprised if it attracts a lot of comments.

Kiran said...

Well, whether you connect god with religion or not depends on your definition of religion. If you consider religion to be a search for the extremes of knowledge, then its got to be related to God. Knowledge is one thing, which makes an invidual fuse with God, I can't explain any further, I've always considered knowledge to be God's hand-made gift. I had mentioned the discovery of astrology. And the big black medieval age in the world took many of its scientist/religious people (basically thinkers) and created people hungry for war and power. Otherwise we could have been much higher on knowledge now. We really don't know how to find whether a 20-digit number is prime or not without trial methods.

And Sayantani, I think you are confusing the good in you with God. The evil and good part in one's self can't be compared to Devil and God, though I feel they are the same entity.God has endowed us with a complicated brain, and it won't be proper to expect Her( I'll call Her 'She') help in every situation. In a general sense, people pray to Her when they're going for an examination, or for an interview, or when they've got into trouble because of their own mistakes. But interviews and examinations are going to be the outcome of one's preparation, and in the third case, the person who prays is the culprit himself. These things are within our reach. One should pray to Her for protecting his and his loved ones' lives, because that is what humans can't do.

Sudipto, your comment was nice and short :D

Sudipto Basu said...

@"Kiran"
The surprising thing is that just some days back I was having a discussion on very similar lines with Suvro Sir. And the very point you made about 20-digit prime numbers was mentioned by him, though from a different perspective. I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly with him on this.

Just for once, think what use a theorem on telling huge prime numbers easily would be of? Say, we devise a method to tell if a huge number is prime or not, what does that change about our world? It's fine for academic interest, sure! I can't disagree on that. But there are far more pressing issues at the moment, issues that are far more vital and important to living that telling prime numbers from non-prime numbers-- the recent major hike in food prices, being one. Or even the uncontrolled population explosion. Then there is a very urgent need of proper education (not the kind we are generally used to!), medicinal facilities etc. All of these may be quite available in the affluent areas around India, but the vast majority of India (and basically every third-world country) is still languishing miles behind. To cut all this short, my point is that once we have taken care of the practical and pressing issues, we can indulge in academically interesting and yet impractical problems!

See, science was born out of necessity, not luxury. The world needed something to go forward and leave behind the darkness of ignorance, and science came to our aid. When science becomes merely theoretical, it really does not help us. We desperately need to address the practical issues with the help of science, the rest can wait.

Ah but now, I guess, we are veering off from the central point of discussion. If you really want to debate with me on this, mail me.
Let us keep our discussion bound to God, religion, and belief. :-)

Sayan said...

No replies to my comments uh, Sudipto! Was it so poorly written that it was unintelligible or was it too detached from the main topic? Either way the fault is mine, I accept.
Anyway, I have been reading all the comments with interest and may I be allowed to make a few observations.
1. “And of late I've found clues that suggest that this omnipotent, creative genius wanted some other minds to explore its creation. That's why - it was the birth of life and slowly on the course of evolution, Earth had humans, the mind which could explore god's creation in a very good way.”
I entirely agree with Kiran. You can find echoes of the very same line of thought in the words of many great thinkers, both from the past as well as present. When Paul Davies says that through conscious beings the universe is trying to generate self-awareness, when Stephen Hawking says that he is trying to understand the mind of God, when Hegel said “'World' spirit developing towards an ever increasing knowledge of itself, as the river gets broader and broader before mingling into the sea”, I think you will agree they all mean the same thing. Students of history say that humanity is moving towards an ever increasing ‘self-knowledge’ and self development. In spite of all its capers historical development is progressive. That is why they say that history is purposeful.

2. “Religion is, now I know, a pursuit of the truth, much like science itself”
I agree with you too Sudipto and we have men like Vivekananda and Spinoza on our side. A friend and teacher (and a lover of science) of mine gave me this example of a hypothetical dialogue between a scientist and a tantrik. No matter how hard each would try to explain to the other the laws governing his particular field of work, he would fail, all words would amount to no avail and the whole exercise would be futile for none would be able to get himself to put faith and trust in the belief of the other. Being a lover of science and logic myself, I do not rubbish all lines of thought that are seemingly illogical and detached or deviant from what can be called scientific. Who knows what they might yield in the future; they must be allowed to coexist at least for variety if not anything else.
Another line of thought holds that religion is logic and science itself. Spinoza says that the language of the bible is deliberately metaphorical or allegorical, not only because it partakes of the oriental tendency to high literary colour and ornament, and exaggerated descriptive expressions, but because too saints, to convey their doctrine by arousing the imagination, were compelled to adapt themselves to the capacities and predispositions of the popular mind. In his words- “All scriptures were written primarily for an entire people and secondarily for the whole human race; consequently it must be adapted to the understanding of the masses”. He went on to say that interpreted on this basis the scriptures contain nothing contrary to logic.

3. The apparent balance or imbalance as highlighted by Sayantani reminds me of Heraclitus’s belief that everything is in a state of flux. Everything flows and nothing is abiding. He pointed out that the world is characterized by opposites. If we were never ill we would never know the pleasure of being well. If we never knew hunger, we would take no pleasure in being full. Both good and bad have their inevitable place in the scheme of things. Without its constant interplay the world will cease to exist. To this even the Hindu agrees; however he adds that at the highest level there is neither good nor bad, but to reach that state one has to go through both good and bad, through both suffering and pleasure; one has to be a part of the scheme of things before transcending himself to a higher level. Good and evil are necessary if only because there has to be something higher to strive for. This philosophy might have dangerous implications if it falls into the hands of the unprepared mind. Imagine what a murderer might do if he comes to believe that there is neither good nor evil.
4. As to the question of birth and death- the question that precedes it is that of existence. This question has led many a philosopher to ponder whether life itself is a dream. It is the attempt to answer this question that led Rene Descartes to the conclusion “I think therefore I am”, and also the famous Schrodinger cat experiment. Indeed many theories exist on the question of birth and death, but I suspect the answer lies in the question of existence.
5. “When science becomes merely theoretical, it really does not help us. We desperately need to address the practical issues with the help of science, the rest can wait.”
I am sorry Sudipto, to this I vehemently disagree. Science is always at first theoretical, then practical. The discipline of engineering stands testimony to this. Engineering still stands on the bases provide by scientists centuries ago. Even for sending a rocket to the moon we had to depend more on Newton’s theories than quantum mechanics or general relativity. Now, of course, new disciplines in engineering are coming up, like quantum computing, as people are trying more and more to use the latest theories available. Anyway, science, like any other field, must be pursued for its own sake, without any thought about what good it will do to the rest. Scientists do science because they find it beautiful; the thought that it might or might not be of any use to society is always secondary. This thought, to the scientist is most practical, he must forget about all else to do anything meaningful with his work. As says Kepler: “ We do not ask for what useful purpose birds do sing, for song is their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly we ought not ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secret of the heavens…..”. To scientists as to sages there is nothing more beautiful than truth itself and they find immeasurable joy in researching it.

6. “The universe is expanding like a balloon and the stars and galaxies are spreading out from each other like the dots on a balloon scatter apart. There’s someone blowing the balloon and my belief in God lies there…”
I have no idea which scientist said this Sayantani, but interpreted literally, I must say he/she is grossly wrong. God is anything but a puppeteer; this I believe has to be acknowledged. If he/she is hinting at something subtler, I do not know what it is. Please do enlighten me if I am wrong.

Good luck with your discussions,
Sayan Datta.

Sudipto Basu said...

@Sayan da
Forgive me for not replying to your previous comment. The reason why I did not do so was because I thought then I would not have anything more to say other than what you have already said. It was all quite intelligible to me surely, and I am not at all cribbing about the length.

The way to know God lies on the path to self-realisation, as you have said. And that is exactly why one must look hard to find what he/she loves. For in love and hard-work and honesty lies God. Come to think of it, even Tagore wrote a poem on very similar lines-- urging us to get out of the temples and start working like the poor farmer or the day-labourer, for God cannot be found in the darkness of the temple. It is in the light of the heart that He stays.

The enlightened one is truly above all worldly emotions. He is a part of the greater universal self and hence he feels for the whole creation. Worldly emotions, pains, worries do not perturb him. It takes a lot of honesty, hard work, meditation, pain and love to be the enlightened one-- as Buddha had become-- and yet that does not guarantee one any immunity from reality, for though the enlightened one may not feel the immediate reality, the bigger picture continues to affect him (your examples of Ramkrishna and Vivekananda say the same!).

Sure, knowledge has it's limits. Nothing is quite absolute-- and that is precisely why we are still alive. The day we achieve absolute perfection, we do not need to live! I recall a story by Asimov that Sir told us-- where the best brains of the world devise a computer to answer every question known to mankind. And yet no matter for how many centuries man keeps on trying they fail to make the machine fool-proof-- it still does not know the answer of "What existed before we were here, and what will be after we are no more?".

I think we can guess why it had been suggested by the ancient sages that the universe expands till an extent, then shrinks till it becomes the "atom", and again starts expanding. Since all phenomenon in our knowledge has always been known to act in a cycle (including life-- think about the karmic circle), no matter how small or huge on the timeline, it is quite probable that the ancient thinkers drew the same analogy in case of the birth and end of the universe.

And last, I will still contradict you on a single point: that science should exist just for the sake of itself. That should indirectly justify the use of atom-bombs to annihilate creation! Afterall, no scientist should think twice about the practical consequences (good or bad) that his creation may bring about! It is known that Einstein later repented that his work on atomic physics was being used to make atom-bombs. I ask you, would he have published his work had he known this beforehand? I think not. Science and ethics and practicality should not be detached from one another. Though, as an ending thought, I'll add that at times the usefulness of a scientific theory is much later discovered after it's inception-- say, nobody knew how useful Boolean Algebra would be when George Boole actually devised it! It was derided by mathematicians of his day and thrown out into the waste-bin of intellectual creation, only to be revived and usefully implemented three centuries later. Maybe regarding that prime-number thing, it will be of some good use someday. My point there is that we have to focus on the more pressing problems. I concur with Gandhiji when he says that we can only be sure that we are on any use to mankind, when our actions directly help the poorest man in our society. And I believe, that the prime-number problem can wait for a few decades more; till then, the beggar out on the street requires more urgent attention!

Sayan said...

Point taken Sudipto, even though I don't agree with your view about science. Its only a difference of view point I believe, as was the case between the scientist and the tantrik even though both were after the same thing. Innumerable arguments notwithstanding, I won't be able to compromise this point of view about science of mine. Even though it might not be wholly logical, as problems exist and one cannot just close his/her eyes to them, it is very practical to me only because of the fact that I cannot allow myself to be led astray if not anything else; if I do that I will invariably concentrate less on my particular area of work, and as is very obvious, science is one discipline that is not inspired by poverty or human tragedy as art or literature often is. I hope you won't misunderstand me as being insensitive. I will stick to my point that true scientists work only for the sake of work itself; only for the intellectual treat such a pursuit brings, all else whether poverty or suffering are secondary (this is not to say they do not care). Another point I would like to make is what Vivekananda said about being global citizens- he said that until and unless you learn to love your own country- that in which you were born, you will never be able to love earth as a whole, much like a person who hasn't learnt to love his own mother cannot possibly love someone elses mother. Becoming global citizens must not mean a sacrifice of your own values and culture in favour of those of others- but an absorption and assimilation of others in ones own way. There are steps along the way and you can't jump them. Similarly if you don't learn to love your own work with fixed, unfaltering dedication as well as cold detachment you can't possibly make yourself of any use to the world as a whole- charity begins at home they say.
As far as Einstein's publication is concerned, I do not know what he would have done had he known his work would be misused, maybe he wouldn't have published it, maybe he would have(sometimes for scientists the chance to go down in history is too great an offer to reject), but I bet he wouldn't have given up discovering, experimenting, analysing, investigating even if he had known that his work had the potential of causing disaster. Why just Einstein even Mikhail Kalashnikov repented having discovered the AK-47. He says that he took it up as an intellectual problem without any thought about what severe damage it might do.
Sayan Datta.

Kiran said...

I wouldn't have posted this comment if the question of atom-bombs had not been raised.

But the difference between nuclear fission and an atom bomb is that one is science , the other is use of technology to demean a scientific process.Can you imagine what would have happened without fusion????

I believe that all scientific processes have been made by God to maintain some balances and so is fission. We couldn't find its actual need. Another example is that of a planet's magnetic field. I believe its not for compasses to work, but there's a much deeper reason behind its existence.

My concept of God is different from that of Sudipto's or Sayantani's but that's alright, I suppose, this is an endeavour to converge different thoughts.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I am intervening primarily to say that I am delighted to know some young people who engage in discussions of this level of depth and complexity with this degree of knowledge, intelligence, courtesy and open-mindedness. As my own recent blogposts will show, I have been feeling rather gloomy of late, but reading this blogpost and the following discussion has made my day.

A suggestion: readers may like to find out how the brilliant creative mind uses vaulting imagination to fuse the quest of the scientist, the mystic and the poet - never in all my 45 years have I read anything to beat Isaac Asimov's short story, The Last Question. Incidentally, it was Asimov's own all-time favourite!

Anonymous said...

I would like to add a very small point.It is said that for every 1 million anti particles produced after the big bang..there were 1 million and one particles..1 million would annihilate..the one that remained in every 2 million and one particles..created what we have today!!would you consider this as only a co-incidence!??May be..May not be..but the probability that these questions will be answered correctly ,EVER, is very less!!So,the drift between SCIENCE AND RELIGION is showing no signs of decreasing!Both has its loopholes!!

Sriranjani Datta said...

"And this God is
our own inner voice:" This is what you said. But do you think God is your inner voice? If it was so why do we do wrong? why don't God stop us then? I of course believe in god and by saying so I mean that i believe on a supreme power. A power which rebukes you after doing a wrong. A power which blesses you after you have done a right.

There is no harm in believing in God but what I object is that a number of people polute God with the name of religion. Religion should never be linked with God. Religion does nothing but creats a gap between human beings. A hindu can never marry a muslim. Why? God never stopped us from loving people so why should religion do so?

You need not waste time on following various rules of religion to get God near you. God id within you God is everywhere. Love others and you will be able to worship God. Suvro sir often says that one who believes in God need not go to a temple to prove himself. A non believer needs to do that. What not do we do in the name of GOd. Just think about the five days of the Durga puja. People wear new clothes, go to the pandals, eat like they haven't ate for centuries, gossip and do everything which is in no way related to Ma Durga. And the few who sit before the goddess with folded arms are regarded as 'backdated'. And the goddess watches everything silently. Smiles and ponders over the question' Why am I here?' Strange isn't it? We do everything but worship her!

It feels really great to see you back after a long gap. Welcom back.

Regards,
Sriranjani

Sudipto Basu said...

@Sriranjani
Thanks for the compliments.

Now, God and religion do connect at some level. Even I used to think they don't, until quite recently when I re-read a book. The problem is that most people have misused religion and profaned it's sanctity-- reducing it to a lifeless set of rules. But religion, in it's true sense, is not that at all. It is, like science, a search for the truth. Read the previous comments again to know what I mean.

And God is our inner voice. The sad thing is that people these days either ignore their inner voice or are too preoccupied with worldly pleasures to pay heed to it. But that does not rule out the presence of God.

@Anonymous
Firstly, why choose to remain unknown when you make sense, eh? Anyway, nicely said. That is basically why I believe there is a higher power controlling the actions of the universe.

Rotten Page said...

I don't know much about Big Bang Theory..Atoms and all stuff..since am not a science student.

I will second Kiran...God...And Religion has no connection. Religion is a set of dictates one follows to live a life. Religions are different paths to one God.

As for the questions you have posed... Its a maze. Every day these questions will be asked..and everyday they will be answered with some new theories.

Existence..i will describe it as:-
"Its not being alive...its not having this granted life. Its being a Being. Its the essence of Being...its the feeling..(an ineffable feeling)..which everyone possesses but few praises. Its the most beautiful feeling one have...Its One's existence that makes one's identity. Existence appears in many forms...sometimes hard..sometimes soft..sometimes sweet..sometimes pure" |Sorry for digressing from topic|

As for your write-up... Brilliant. The way you have analyzed and presented the whole stuff..Superb.

God..He..She..or It. We ourself are God...And We own God..and God own us.
God.. a speck of light...whirl of smoke... whom we see everyday...whom we inhale everyday.. and its so pure that we cannot describe it in words [:)]

Sayantani..Your first Comment.is superb.Loved it.


|As for myself..am still making..not making..but clearing my beliefs..and i feel that i will end up believing in no religion|

Sudipto Basu said...

@Rotten Page (a.k.a. Vishal)
Nice comment. Just a little thing on which I have new-found beliefs-- God and religion do connect at some level or the other. Religion is not just a set of dry dictates/rules-- it is more than that. Religion is also a source of history and mythology, some of which is quite relevant even in our times-- a lot of which, if imbibed carefully, acts as a source of tremendous inspiration.

You may read the book "Exodus" by Leon Uris to find out why I am saying so. It is a fantastic read, by the way-- wedding thrill, history, fiction, adventure, philosophy, romance together amazingly well! (Planning to write a book review on it soon.)

Tanmoy said...

Dear Sudipto,

I am very tempted to write a comment because the post is excellent. Having said that, I face similar confusions like you have described and when I read the comments you have made here, I see I shall that even I shall end up making similar comments.

Problem is then what do I write other than endorsing the fact that everything concerned with the post and discussions are good!

I do believe belief in the existence of God is not dependent on following any particular religion. Having said that, if one traces the genesis of all religion they all came to existence as a mean to unite people towards a common goal. Later on humans utilized religion as a reason for many ills and like everything in this world it was not spared from pollution. I feel like humans are solely responsible for destroying environment similarly religion was destroyed by human only.

Therefore, sane people of to-day consider religion with skepticism.

I do think there is nothing wrong in believing in God (even if there is no scientific reason to its existence and for that matter the greatest mysteries are never explained - listen to Tagore's Mahabishhe Mohakashe or Akash Bhora Surjo Tara...) and there is nothing wrong in having faith on a religion provided one is mature / educated enough to differentiate between the beliefs, dogmatism, fanatism etc.

Even if one trace the roots of some of the ritual one may find interesting causes of each one of those.

I can't remember the names but there are lot of literature written on these things. In fact even the Penguin English translations of some of the religious books are interesting read.

Exodus of course is awesome. One can watch the film too, though it is nothing in comparison to the book.

Regards

Tanmoy

Sudipto Basu said...

Thanks for writing in, Tanmoy da. And above that, thanks a lot for sparing time to go through the whole post and comments section-- from personal experience, I know it takes a lot of time!

I guess a lot of subjects have been already covered in the whole discussion-- so it's not really surprising that you observed you would not have anything very new to say.

Anyway, you're right when you say that human polluted religion. Come to think of it, humans also did pollute science-- first they used science to make weapons of mass destruction, and then they reduced science to cramming a few books and "studying" to just a get a job.

Perhaps, God meant all this to happen. Maybe, all this gloom is descending on us only to make us realise where light is! I, for one, have noticed that gloom and depression makes people see things a lot better-- happens a lot of times in my personal life. Maybe, just maybe, that'll happen in the larger context too!

Anonymous said...

hey sudipto and sayantani,
you've touched a raw nerve with this article.i dont know how to react to this one.dismiss it because i so strongly seem to disagree :) or appreciate it for the lucidity you bring to it.
theres a lot to discuss n even more to ponder over issues regarding morality,the supreme power or the possibility of an entity who pulls all strings. my reasons for having no faith might vary from plain logic to being extremely uncomfortable with the idea of not being in control.
whatever it maybe its an arguement which i dont think will ever come to a conclusion. you can argue with facts,logic chronlogical deductions...but i have yet to come across a valid response to blind faith.
peace.
-nikhil

Sudipto Basu said...

@Nikhil bhai
Do not worry, mate! We are equally open to accept the fact that atheism is a form of belief...

In fact, I do not actually think that atheism and theism are quite different from another. Maybe different names for the same thing!

You are an atheist because you want to think that you believe in yourself, and that no one but you controls your actions. Which is true, in a way. It's your own conscience; and we were talking about the conscience being your own version of God (okay, you may not use that name!). :)

Besides, I did mention one thing-- the honest, thinking and hard-working atheist is a lot better than a close-minded religious fanatic.

You know, all this reminds me of what Mother Teresa said on this issue of atheism and theism.

Regards.