Study of science as an aid in Yoga

A child studying in the Ashram school, perhaps bored with his studies, once asked the Mother(Mirra Alfassa) how studying mathematics, history or sciences could help him in Yoga.  She replied, “They can help in several ways:

  1. To be able to receive and bear the light of Truth, the mind must be strengthened, broadened and made supple. These studies are an excellent way to achieve this.
  2. Sciences, if you study them deeply enough, will teach you the unreality of appearances and will thus lead you to the spiritual reality.
  3. The study of all aspects and movements of physical Nature will bring you into contact with the universal Mother, and you will thus be nearer to me.  “

The Mother, Mother’s Agenda: December 17, 1966

This post elaborates on these three aspects.

In order to succeed in the sciences, one has to overcome failure, frustration and depression and develop a keen sense of observation, dispassion, persistence and concentration.  These same qualities are also required in the path of Yoga.  The Yogin has to possess the dispassionate detachment of a scientist in order to separate the hallucinations from spiritual experiences.  Otherwise, if the mental being or the vital being are unstable, powerful spiritual experiences can easily lead to delusions.

With regard to the first point above, the Mother (Mira Alfassa) stated:

A true mental education, which will prepare man for a higher life, has five principal phases. Normally these phases follow one after another, but in exceptional individuals they may alternate or even proceed simultaneously. These five phases, in brief, are:

(1) Development of the power of concentration, the capacity of attention.  To love to learn is the most precious gift that one can give to a child: to love to learn always and everywhere, so that all circumstances, all happenings in life may be constantly renewed opportunities for learning more and always more.  For that, to attention and concentration should be added observation, precise recording and faithfulness of memory.  The growth of the understanding should be stressed much more than that of memory. One knows well only what one has understood.  Things learnt by heart, mechanically, fade away little by little and finally disappear; what is understood is never forgotten.

(2) Development of the capacities of expansion, widening, complexity and richness.  In order to increase the suppleness and comprehensiveness of his mind, one should see not only that he studies many varied topics, but above all that a single subject is approached in various ways, so that the child understands in a practical manner that there are many ways of facing the same intellectual problem, of considering it and solving it.

(3) Organisation of one’s ideas around a central idea, a higher ideal or a supremely luminous idea that will serve as a guide in life.

(4) Thought-control, rejection of undesirable thoughts, to become able to think only what one wants and when one wants.  This means that every thought entering the mental consciousness should be set before the central idea; if it finds a logical place among the thoughts already grouped, it will be admitted into the synthesis; if not, it will be rejected so that it can have no influence on the action. This work of mental purification should be done very regularly in order to secure a complete control over one’s actions.

(5) Development of mental silence, perfect calm and a more andmore total receptivity to inspirations coming from the higher regions of the being .

The Mother, On Education: Mental Education

The rest of the post discusses the second and third points raised above.

Einstein’s equation states that Matter and Energy are interconvertible.   Conversion of mass into energy is well-known while the reverse process of  converting energy into matter (subatomic particles) occurs in particle accelerators.  Ancient Indian philosophy goes further to state that Matter and Mind are just different grades of the same energy, different organizations of the one conscious force of  existence.  It regards Matter as a condensation of Consciousness(i.e.Brahman).  The Universe with its physical and supraphysical worlds is a manifestation of Consciousness with different orders of Space-Time. The Yogin who attains Enlightenment experiences these seemingly startling assertions as living reality.  He/she is able to discern the unreality of appearances (i.e. the solidity of Matter) by shifting the center of his consciousness and awakening into occult worlds which are subtler than the physical world and in which Time moves slower than over here.

A deeper study of Nature also reveals the innate intelligence behind Creation.  Most natural phenomena can be approximated and modeled with second-order differential equations (ordinary differential and partial differential equations) – vibrations of strings, electrical circuits,  Newtons equation, Schrodinger’s equation.   Fractals are an illustration of scale-invariance in space while Power laws illustrate scale invariance in space-time.

Carina Nebula via Hubble

Nature has endowed its work with a marvellous underlying symmetry (see symmetries in physics, symmetries  in biology and symmetries in chemistry).   Symmetries in physics correspond to conservation laws as Emmy Noether demonstrated with Noether’s theorem.  Shive and Weber expatiate on how energy is transported across a variety of media in the form of waves, and how these waves, although propagating in different media, exhibit similar phenomena such as resonance, interference, dispersion, scattering, shock waves, diffraction and refraction[1].  They also expound on the analogies which exist across thermal, electrical, acoustic and mechanical systems.  For example, thermal noise appears as brownian motion in fluids, johnson noise in electrical systems, blackbody radiation in optics and also as acoustic thermal noise.

Pikovsky et al lucubrate on how Nature synchronizes phenomena as diverse as clocks, singing crickets, cardiac pacemakers and firing neurons using the mechanism of coupled oscillators – forced or natural, chaotic or periodic – through the influence of phase, amplitude or frequency [2].

Limitations of the Intellect

The beginning of Science is the examination of the truths of the world-force that underlie its apparent workings such as our senses represent them to be; the beginning of philosophy is the examination of the principles of things which the senses mistranslate to us; the beginning of spiritual knowledge is the refusal to accept the limitations of the sense-life or to take the visible and sensible as anything more than phenomenon of the Reality.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – I: The Purified Understanding

All said and done, what has been discussed above is still cognitive knowledge and should be regarded only as a preparation of the consciousness.   There are always exceptional seers like Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Ramana Maharshi, who are able to transcend this process and directly attain Divine Illumination.  Sri Aurobindo clarified the limitations of the intellect in a letter to a disciple.

Do not confuse the higher knowledge and the mental knowledge. The intellectual man will be able to give a wider and more orderly expression to what higher knowledge he gets than the homo psychicus; but it does not follow he will have more of it. He will have that only if he rises to an equal width and plasticity and comprehensiveness of the higher knowledge planes. In that case he will replace his mental by his above-mental capacity. But for many intellectuals, so-called, their intellectuality may be a stumbling-block as they bind themselves with mental conceptions or stifle their psychic fire under the heavy weight of rational thought.  On the other hand, I have seen comparatively uneducated people expressing higher (spiritual) knowledge with an astonishing fullness and depth and accuracy which the stumbling movements of their brain could never have allowed one to suppose possible.

Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – III: Transformation of the Mind – I

True Yoga begins when the consciousness withdraws from surface personality(physical body) and discovers the inner being (subtle body) which sits passive within.  This initiation works as follows

There are two mutually complementary movements; in one the inner being comes to the front and impresses its own normal motions on the outer consciousness to which they are unusual and abnormal; the other is to draw back from the outer consciousness, to go inside into the inner planes, enter the world of your inner self and wake in the hidden parts of your being.  When that plunge has once been taken, you are marked for the yogic, the spiritual life and nothing can efface the seal that has been put upon you. This inward movement takes place in many different ways and there is sometimes a complex experience combining all the signs of the complete plunge. There is a sense of going in or deep down, a feeling of the movement towards inner depths; there is often a stillness, a pleasant numbness, a stiffness of the limbs.  This is the sign of the consciousness retiring from the body inwards under the pressure of a force from above, – that pressure stabilising the body into an immobile support of the inner life, in a kind of strong and still spontaneous asana. There is a feeling of waves surging up, mounting to the head, which brings an outer unconsciousness and an inner waking. It is the ascending of the lower consciousness in the Adhara to meet the greater consciousness above. It is a movement analogous to that on which so much stress is laid in the Tantric process, the awakening of the Kundalini, the Energy coiled up and latent in the body and its mounting through the spinal cord and the centres (cakras) and the Brahmarandhra to meet the Divine above.

Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – II: Experiences of the Inner and the Cosmic Consciousness – I

Orion Nebula in 3D via the Hubble

References

  1. Shive and Weber.  Similarities in Physics
  2. Pikovsky, Rosenblum and Kurths. Synchronization: A Universal Concept in Nonlinear Sciences.

28 thoughts on “Study of science as an aid in Yoga

  1. Pingback: Art as an aid in Yoga « Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  2. V. Arvind

    Interesting post, Sandeep. What Mother says is absolutely true. However, it seems to me that a different training is required for this kind of synthetic approach to learning science.

    Reply
    1. ipsa

      Word can not sometimes express the experience. its a pleasure to watch a mathematical expression of the beauty of god’s imagination woven in each thing and hidden in nature. the music was wonderful along with the flashing of god’s utopian land filled with his vivid imagination of a creation which teaches all the subject’s essence but holds the beauty and humility in expression. Thanks, the website has many videos to see.

      Reply
  3. kalpana

    A very recent BBC2 programme [Horizon series] was titled ‘What is reality?’. It was very interesting to hear the views of scientists working in this field, and how closer it gets to the intuitions, visions and experiences of spiritual scientists such as the Mother, Sri Aurobindo. Just to highlight a few interesting points, the mathematical aspects of ‘reality’, parallel universes and holographic universes are given serious consideration. [although many people might be familiar with these ideas, think the programme makes it more ‘user-friendly’in laymen’s terms, without dumbing down]. Here’s the link:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00xxgbn

    Reply
  4. kalpana

    I think it is a clip…showing one of the scientists. In the actual programme, you get to hear from the scientist who talks about the universe as hologram, and other views.
    Still, the clip gives a flavour….

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      The entire version in six parts is posted by http://www.youtube.com/user/TheChipsnbeer66#g/a

      Watch the first part
      http://www.youtube.com/user/TheChipsnbeer66#p/u/17/Xr5nWRE-LAE
      and click through for the rest
      http://www.youtube.com/user/TheChipsnbeer66#p/u/16/-_Y_Z4VvlDc
      http://www.youtube.com/user/TheChipsnbeer66#p/u/8/snKyYCDG6OQ
      http://www.youtube.com/user/TheChipsnbeer66#p/u/9/8E4DTXC0FGc
      http://www.youtube.com/user/TheChipsnbeer66#p/u/10/hEn0Asz5GTc
      http://www.youtube.com/user/TheChipsnbeer66#p/u/11/jjdlwE81NIA

      Reply
  5. ipsa

    Thanks for the youtube links .Its really interesting.
    There is one link also on this page.
    http://www.metaphysics-for-life.com/mind-over-matter.html

    Einstein said, “I want only to know the thoughts of God…the rest are details”. He understood that conscious thought gives meaning to the physical experience being perceived. But unconscious thought, thoughts of the subconscious mind (or the “thoughts of God” as Einstein put it) are responsible for the “projection” aspect of the human mind, and are therefore creative – creating the physical experience of mind over matter.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: The role of intellectual development in the spiritual path | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  7. Sandeep Post author

    In this passage from the book “The Master as I saw him” (pp 29-30) , Sister Nivedita (Margaret Noble)elucidates on Swami Vivekananda‘s philosophy wherein the scientific pursuit was also a form of meditation.

    Where I think that the Swami (Vivekananda) perhaps differed somewhat from other teachers was in his acceptance of every kind of mastery as a form of renunciation. Towards the end of his life I told him that ‘renunciation’ was the only word I had ever heard from his lips. And yet in truth I think that conquer was much more characteristic of him. For he pointed out that it was by renunciation, that is to say, by sustained and determined effort, by absorption in hard problems through lonely hours, by choosing toil and refusing ease, that Stephenson, for instance, invented the steam-engine. He pointed out that the science of medicine represented as strong a concentration of man’s mind upon healing as would be required for a cure by prayer or by thought. He made us feel that all study was an austerity directed to a given end of knowledge.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Pancha-mahabhutas: the five subtle constituents of matter | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  9. Sandeep Post author

    In the context of this post (how the pursuit of science can help in yoga), there are certain points that Binu Mukherjee made in a recent talk which deserve to be enumerated here. Binu Mukherjee grew up in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and is currently Emeritus Professor of Physics at Royal Military College of Canada.

    1) Science develops the power of reasoning. It makes the mind modest, aware of its limitations, and makes it refrain from entering into regions beyond its ken. The mind becomes a willing partner in quietening itself and opening to higher methods of getting to the truth

    2) Science is a co-operative exercise. Papers are written in first person plural. Your work builds on previous work. This reduces personal ego.

    3) One realizes the impossibility of making strictly correct measurements and knowing the truth. One comes face to face with the nature of uncertainties in the physical world. Furthermore, in Quantum mechanics, one learns that the process of measuring itself disturbs the quantity being measured. As a result, one discovers that Nature is not real but an illusion. The fundamental particles in empty space give the illusion of solidity, liquidity, etc There is an inherent unknowability which parallels the hidden truth that always exists behind the the phenomenal world.

    4) Science develops the quality of detachment. One learns to have an open mind without preconceptions or predilections, and to think independently of the baggage of one’s personal history.

    5) A developed mind is able to discern between the revealed truth and the lower parts of the mind, and learns to appreciate the universality of truth.

    6) The inner discipline which is instilled through Yoga makes one impervious to external evaluation or peer pressure which arises in the field of science. Binu discovered that the “more he offered his work to the Mother, the more successful he became”.

    This is not an entirely accurate transcription but I think I have captured the gist of it.
    The talk is on youtube

    Reply
  10. Sandeep Post author

    Question: Mother, have the scientists, then, a very small consciousness?

    Mother: Why? All scientists are not like that. If you meet a true scientist who has worked hard, he will tell you: “We know nothing. What we know today is nothing beside what we shall know tomorrow. This year’s discoveries will be left behind next year.” A real scientist knows very well that there are many more things he doesn’t know than those he knows. And this is true of all branches of human activity. I have never met a scientist worthy of the name who was proud. I have never met a man of some worth who has told me: “I know everything.” Those I have seen have always confessed: “In short, I know nothing.” After having spoken of all that he has done, all that he has achieved, he tells you very quietly: “After all, I know nothing.”

    The Mother, Questions and Answers (1953): 29 April 1953

    Reply
  11. Pingback: Difference between genius and mysticism | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  12. Pingback: On Atheism and Agnosticism | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  13. Sandeep Post author

    Definition of Science

    If it squirms it’s Biology
    if it stinks it’s Chemistry
    if it doesn’t work it’s Physics
    if you can’t understand it, it’s Mathematics.
    If it works, but no one knows why, it’s Engineering

    from “Handy guide to modern science” (i guess its a book)

    Reply
    1. nizken

      Why is it that Schopenhauer and Nietzsche seem to be so close to the writings of SA & M, especially when they talk of the Wille and the ignorance it has to travail through and so on? I don’t know if anyone has seriously trudged through all those hundreds of pages of Schopenhauer (quite boring and German-like), but it always seemed to me like he and those other German philosophers had been saying the same thing intellectually that Sri Aurobindo had written about. The Mother’s writings do not seem that way. Did anyone else feel this way or is it just me reading SA into older writers, almost subconsciously?
      I hope this comment is posted under the right topic, or else please move it accordingly.

      Reply
      1. Sandeep Post author

        The similarity exists because Schopenhauer was enormously influenced by Hinduism. See “Schopenhauer’s Encounter with Indian Thought: Representation and Will and Their Indian Parallels” by Stephen Cross
        http://www.uhpress.hawaii.edu/p-9021-9780824837358.aspx

        About 2-3 centuries ago, German Indology was at its height. The Germans (esp. Herder, Schegel) were actively studying Sanskrit and Indic philosophy

        I dont know much about Nietzsche

  14. MW

    Hi Sandeep. Are you familiar with Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet (Thea)? I’m sure she has been mentioned somewhere in your blog’s comments, but I cannot remember where I read it. Also, I wonder if her written work would be beneficial to read. This book particularly is of interest:

    The New Way: A Study in the Rise and Establishment of a Gnostic Society (Two Volumes in One) Mass Market Paperback – June, 1981
    by Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet (Author)

    ***This comment (below) is where I recently heard of Thea:

    “There is no need to speculate on the nature of Sri Aurobindo’s Cosmology. It is Vedic through and through. He discusses all this in his “Secret of the Veda”. The New Model of the Cosmos as we might call it, is fully expressed in the Mother’s original plan of the Inner Chamber of Her temple. IT, the Mother tells us, is the “Symbol of the Future Realization”. The full cosmological content of the Mother’s Inner Chamber has been revealed by “Thea” Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet in her book, “The New Way”. In her epic work, Thea explains the mysteries of Supramental Time and illustrates how it is the basis of a New Sadhana that leads us to the realization of “SWAR”, the Vedic Truth Consciousness.”

    Thank You Sandeep,

    Mark

    Reply

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