The Rational Approach to Spirituality
Science and direct perception
Science is the logical analysis of the universe. It relies primarily on one authority (valid means of knowledge) namely direct perception (pratyaksa pramanam). Direct perception includes perception with any of the five senses. Scientists assume that spirituality is averse to a rational analysis and that the spiritual goal and means are not available to direct perception. This is a misconception. Our ancient knowledge of the scriptures recognizes different valid means of knowledge or pramanas (authorities). However they are all based on perception alone. For example, inference is a pramana. You see smoke on the mountain and you infer that there must be fire. Although at that moment you are not able to see fire, you can infer its presence based on past observations that smoke is always accompanied by fire.
Thus prior to making an inference you need direct perception of both fire and smoke and the recognition of an invariable relation between them. Inference is called the anumana pramana. Another pramana or valid means of knowledge is the sabda pramana or the word 'pramana'. Suppose you do not know that smoke is always accompanied by fire. However a very knowledgeable and reliable person says that so, then you can take the relation between fire and smoke for granted. Again this pramana is also based on direct perception since that person has seen smoke to be always accompanied by fire. Not only is the sabda pramana or the word 'pramana' based on direct perception but it is subject to verification by direct perception. If you observe a contradiction between the sabda pramana and your own perception, you are sure to take your perception to be true. However since it is not necessary and practical to verify each and every told word, we take some reliable information obtained from another to be true. There is always the possibility of verifying it at appropriate junctures. Therefore taking the relation between smoke and fire for granted, you can use another pramana such as inference to infer the presence of fire from a visual perception of smoke. Thus in daily life, we use several combinations of pramanas but perception is always an essential basis of it. Direct perception is the basis of all knowledge.
The scriptures of different religions contain the knowledge of spirituality. They are in the form of words and are the trusted and reliable authority in spirituality. They are the sabda pramama. They are reliable as they do not contradict experience or perception.
The Vedas (scriptures) classify the pramanas for spiritual knowledge, into four categories.
Sruti: the original scriptures.
Smrti: the commentaries of scholars on the original scriptures. These may be regarded as secondary scriptures.
Yukti: the rational or logical analysis based on inference, comparison, deduction, comparison, and negation.
Anubhava: the experience based on the perception of the items in this world, which may be direct or indirect.
Out of these four ways, the fourth way is the final and most powerful. If anything contradicts experience, it is either invalid or it may the result of a misinterpretation of the Sruti, Smati or a flawed yukti (reasoning). Thus the ways of science and spirituality are not separate. The scientific method is the very foundation and framework of the spiritual knowledge of all the scriptures.
A true scientist should always rely on perception as the final means of knowledge. He should not deny experience derived by perception. If he denies, he is not a scientist. The topmost scientists in the world were philosophers and spiritual people. Those scientists traveled along the river of science and reached its end, which is the ocean of spiritual knowledge. This spiritual knowledge is called philosophy and it pervades all branches of science. Every branch of science gives a PhD as the final degree. A doctor of philosophy would not be given if science and philosophy were basically different.
Philosophy is spiritual knowledge
Philosophy is the essence of every branch of knowledge. It is the culmination of each branch of knowledge. It is what is experienced when one reaches the end of any field of knowledge. Every branch of knowledge (science) is a river while philosophy is the ocean. Similarly, all religions culminate in spiritual knowledge. It is the ocean while each religion is a river. In spiritual knowledge all religions merge and become one. Spiritual knowledge is the culmination of all knowledge. It is identical with philosophy. Thus science and religion both lose their identity and become one in philosophy or spiritual knowledge.
A scientist who has not reached the end of science but is still traveling in the river of his field of science, denies the existence of the ocean. All he perceives is the limiting boundaries of the river of his field of knowledge. Such a river-farer is called an atheist. He neither sees the ocean nor does he see other rivers. Similar is the plight of a follower of a religion. He does not see the ocean of spiritual knowledge. All he sees is the limited river of his own religion. He cannot accept other religions or the ocean of spiritual knowledge in which all religions merge and become one. He is no better than the atheist. He believes that God is of a particular form alone. He tries to impose a limitation on the Limitless One, who created the whole universe. He limits Him to a single form in His Own creation. A follower of some other religion believes that God is formless. He thinks that He is the all-pervading cosmic energy. That is a step in the right direction but is still not the truth. They forget that the cosmic energy is also a part of Creation. God is the source of the cosmic energy. The atheistic scientist believes that this creation itself is God; there is no 'other' entity that created this universe. Each one, in his own way, is far from the truth. None of them really understand who God is. Thus strictly speaking, they are all atheists. All these atheists, be they scientific atheists or religious atheists, will realize the true nature of God only when they reach the end of science or religion.
Irrationality of atheism
When a scientific atheist denies the existence of God, he is denying his own premise of validation of a phenomenon by direct perception. The human incarnation of the Lord comes in this world and performs inexplicable miracles. These miracles are perceived by us. How can they deny the perception of such miracles? Agreed, that the same miracle may be conducted by an alternative means. This alternative means of performing the same effect may be explicable by science. However that still does not deny the first means which achieved the given effect in an inexplicable way. For example, a brilliant student may score cent percent points in an examination. Another student may score cent percent points on the examination by cheating. Such a false cent percent score cannot deny the genuine score. The result may be the same, but the processes are different. There is a clear-cut difference in the two students. One is brilliant student while the other is a cheater. A human incarnation of the Lord may perform a miracle such as producing vibhuti or sacred ash spontaneously in His hands. A trickster may also achieve the same result by sleight of hand. He may have previously hidden some ash in a secret pocket in his sleeve or within the grooves of his fingers. The trick of the magician is explicable when discovered but miracle of the Lord is not. Although the effect is the same in both cases since the miracle of the Lord can be duplicated by a skilled magician, the two processes are not the same. Just because the result is the same, processes need not be same.
The same result need not have the same process. If it were, it would deny the fundamentals of science. In nature, we observe that there are several alternative routes to achieving the same effect or result. A chemical compound can be produced in several ways (Hess's Law). Since the final compound obtained is same, does not mean that the chemical reactions and the intermediates in each path are also the same. The same Chennai city can be reached by several ways. The fact that the final destination is the same does not mean that different routes to reach the city do not exist. There are separate routes and one may be better than the other.
Conservative scientists and conservative religious followers are both immature analysts. Their immaturity is that they are still in the river and have not reached to ocean. Mature scientists like Newton, Einstein and Heisenberg, among others, are scientists of the topmost caliber. They traveled down the river till they reached the ocean of philosophy. For them, there is no difference between science and religion; between philosophy and spirituality.
The religious follower travels in one direction on the circumference of spirituality or philosophy. The scientist travels along the circumference of the same circle of philosophy or spirituality in the opposite direction. If both travel far enough, they are bound to meet. When they are halfway in their journey, they appear to be in opposite directions. Thus they often quarrel with each other and cannot seem to agree with each other's viewpoints.
The concept of God
The religious follower says that God is beyond this world and that He is inexplicable. The scientist says that this world itself is God and accepts that the world is largely inexplicable. The religious follower says that God pervades all over the world. The scientist accepts the inexplicable nature of the world but recognizes some aspects of the world which are explicable. When God is inexplicable, the very characteristic nature of the God is only inexplicability. The religious follower calls the explicability as Creation and the inexplicability as God. The existence of an explicable part is agreed upon by both the religious person and the scientist. The existence of an inexplicable part of the world is also accepted by both. This inexplicability is called as God by the religious person while the scientist merely calls is as inexplicable, without assigning any particular name.
The scientist says that there is wire and heat in a hot wire. The religious person says that fire and the wire are co-existing. It is only a difference of words. The scientist calls it heat and the religious person calls it as fire. Fire is nothing but intense heat. Fire possesses heat. The possessor of the property is called as the property by another. This is the inexplicable part in the example. It is inexplicable because it is not tangible. The wire is the explicable part in this example, which is agreed upon by both.
The scientist believes in the independent existence of the inexplicable power as a field of energy. The religious person says that there is a substratum of that field of energy, which is called as God and which, is not perceived so far. The scientist accepts that his knowledge is not final and that he has to go deeper. The religious person goes to this depth and infers the existence of the substratum. He argues that power (energy, field) cannot independently exist and that it needs a possessor. Suppose the sun is not seen due to a cloud that is covering it. It cannot be concluded that the dim light that is transmitted through the cloud has in independent existence. The light does have a source even though it is not seen at present. The scientist makes a tentative conclusion that the light exists independently since he is not able to see the sun. Yet his conclusion is tentative and on further delving into the problem he may see or infer the presence of the sun which is presently hidden from his view. The religious person has already inferred the presence of the sun.
So, there is no cause for a difference or quarrel between a matured religious person and a matured scientist. The inference of the religious person is based on observation (perception) of the explicable part of the world. The scientist does not want to make this inference but wants to have a direct perception of the substratum of energy, if any. Both have not seen the sun. Both accept the perception of light. Both accept that their search and research has not reached the end. At this stage the religious person infers the presence of the sun, whereas the scientist does not agree to make this inference. He leaves the question open and says that the final truth is still to be known and is currently hidden behind the cloud. This cloud is ignorance.
Lord to the rescue of the theist
At this point, the human incarnation of the Lord comes as the support for the view of the religious person. He preaches the existence of the substratum; the Source of everything. He demonstrates the existence of this Source of everything (including the explicable and inexplicable parts of the world), by performing miracles. The miracles done by the human incarnation of the Lord are the Source (God), using the inexplicable powers to make perceptible effects on the explicable part of the world. If the scientist accepts this genuine path of the miracles, the human incarnation definitely becomes the final authority and confirmation of the existence of the possessor of the inexplicable power. If the scientist has the patience to reach to the bottom of this question, he will become a spiritual philosopher. An impatient scientist who has not analyzed deep enough becomes an atheist.