The culture of India has always nurtured and encouraged the spirit of enquiry in religion and philosophy. Hinduism has readily embraced and celebrated healthy debates in these fields, and both the proponents and opponents of any idea or belief have enjoyed the right to champion and pursue their convictions. This has encouraged many philosophers and saints, like the Buddha, to live in peace and spread their wisdom, even if their teachings and beliefs have not been in keeping with the traditions espoused by incumbent rulers and priests. As a result, many different beliefs and diverse traditions have blossomed and co-existed in India through the ages, like nowhere else in the world.
In the West, religious beliefs and practices have historically been dictated by centralized authorities, such as the Vatican, which wittingly or unwittingly constrained and even penalized any thinking that countered Church orthodoxy. As a result, both philosophical and scientific thought were stifled. However, as the power of the Church waned, people increasingly enjoyed the freedom to think or exercise individual choices, resulting in the highly evolved, open, and unconstrained societies of the West today. Even Swami Vivekananda, the great Vedantic philosopher, marveled at the social and personal freedom in America, in contrast to the restricted, stratified, and hierarchical social system of India.
When religion and philosophy are aligned, science is not perceived as a threat
There are three aspects to every dharma or culture: Karma, the rituals, bhakti or upiisana, the mythology, and jnana, the philosophical wisdom. Ritualism and mythology together constitute what is called religion or theology. In Indian culture, or, more specifically, Hindu Dharma, all three elements merge to constitute what is called spirituality. In the West, however, religion, consisting of ritualism and mythology, and philosophical thought remained independent of each other. The ideology of great western philosophers and thinkers like Aristotle has had little to do with religion. In fact, some of them, like Nietzche and Bertrand Russell, have clearly opposed organized religion. In western societies, we see that religion has continued its allegiance to rituals and mythology, but is often suspicious of or even hostile to the philosophic or spiritual wisdom.
In contrast to the culture of the West, Hindu dharma is a natural synthesis of philosophy and religion. Hindu religion has never been opposed to philosophy, and the philosophers have had little conflict with religion. Hindu spirituality and the Hindu religion have- always coexisted and supported each other; Vedanta or the philosophy validates karma and bhakti, the rituals and mythology that are utilized by seekers as stepping stones to spirituality, the higher wisdom. The three elements of ritualism, mythology, and philosophy are so beautifully integrated in the framework of Hindu dharma that it is difficult to tell one from the other. This perfect synthesis is evident in the works of Srl Sanhara, one of the greatest philosophers of all time. He was very accommodating of rituals meant for the purification of the mind and composed several encomiums depicting the rich mythology of Hinduism. In fact, in Hinduism, if the doctrine of philosophy is not integrated with rituals and theology, it is regarded as a serious disadvantage. The word yoga, meaning communion with God, is frequently used in the Hindu scriptures. When the practice of rituals and spirit of devotion are divorced from spirituality, there is no yoga or means to such communion; when theology or mythology is not validated and enriched by the doctrinal philosophy, it degenerates into mere blind faith and superstition. Similarly, when rituals are not integrated with philosophy, they become mechanical, and religion, instead of being a stepping stone to spirituality, becomes but an impediment to the spiritual pursuit. The beautiful integration of all the three elements in Hindu culture has prevented any such hostility between philosophy and religion.
The important point is that the separation of ritualism and mythology from doctrinal philosophy results in a gulf between religion and science. In the absence of integration with philosophy, religion or theology is fated to remain hostile to the rational or scientific temper. This invariably results in antagonism between science and the religious establishment. The West continues to lead in scientific advancements that benefit mankind, yet even a casual observer of the history and development of western societies can see that science and religion have been at loggerheads much of the time.
Galileo, the 17th century Italian scientist, constructed one of the world's first telescopes to peer into the skies and made important observations about the planetary system. He was the first in the West to discover that the Earth is spherical and not flat, and contradicted the existing geocentric notion by declaring that the Earth revolved around the Sun. While these are the most basic facts of astronomy today, Galileo's discoveries were considered profane and heretical in his time. He was thus thrown into conflict with the Catholic Church, even though he was a devout Catholic. The religious establishment threatened him with punitive measures. They humiliated him and forced him to recant his views in a public forum. His beloved daughter is said to have prevailed upon him not to be intransigent and to withdraw his findings. The Church banned his books and condemned him to a life of seclusion. Giordano Bruno, the 16th century Italian scientist and philosopher, is also regarded as an early martyr for his scientific beliefs. He placed the Sun, not the Earth, at the center of the solar system. The universe, he thought, was infinite in size and ever changing. He was burned at the stake by the Roman Inquisition. These are cases in point of the serious distrust between religious authority and science. Similarly, when Darwin published his theory of evolution, he met with the disapproval of the organized religion and was considered anti-God. However, by that time, is" century society had made much progress and the theocratic governments had been replaced by secular government. Therefore, Darwin did not face any serious personal consequences as a result of the schism between science and the religious establishment. Yet this schism is not entirely absent even now in the 21st century.
Indian society has had a long and rich cultural heritage. It is one of the most ancient cultures, and is a few thousand years old. In ancient India, there prevailed a wonderful culture of scientific thought that encouraged many great thinkers and intellectuals. Religion, spirituality, and science coexisted and, in fact, complemented each other. Modem historians have uncovered substantial evidence in recent times to prove that the ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Roman cultures borrowed heavily from the doctrines and philosophy of India. Many archaeologists and historians of the West including Arnold Toynbee and Will Durant, have written extensively about this. The early civilizations of India, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa had a great impact on the countries of the Middle East and ancient Europe. Yet, in this long history, spanning millennia, there is not a single instance of the scientific temper being persecuted by the religious establishment. The ordeals suffered by Bruno and Galileo, or the continuing controversy here in the U.S. regarding.
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