traditions (was Re: saattvika tyaagam)

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Wed Oct 20 02:44:16 CDT 1999

On Tue, 19 Oct 1999, Sankaran Jayanarayanan wrote:

> You really need to read the book by one of the most famous philosophers
> (perhaps the most influential philopher) of science in the 20th century,
> Thomas Kuhn, "The Essential tension : selected studies in scientific
> tradition and change." The title says it all. Or you can try the book,
> "Steps in the scientific tradition; readings in the history of science." By
> Richard Westfall. Even the philosophers who are opponents of science like
> Paul Feyerabend comment that "the scientific tradition is hardly worth a
> yawn." I do agree that the term "scientific tradition" is used by me in the
> sense of "European scientific tradition," though few philosophers see any
> distinction. Hereafter, I shall use scientific tradition" in the sense of
> "European scientific tradition" e.g. "The beginnings of Western science :
> the European scientific tradition..." By David Lindberg.

Yes scientific knowledge is also passed from generation to generation, but
it is verified at every step by experiment.  Even if one has learned all
there is about physics from a teacher of the highest calibre, if one does
an experiment that falsifies that, it has to be cast aside.  Antiquity has
no bearing on the matter.  Of course this is an ideal and scientists have
not always lived up to this but they try.

By tradition I mean an approach which is different.  It accumulates
information over time and values it for its longevity.

> Is the scientific tradition classifiable as astika? You had given, sometime
> ago on the newsgroup soc.religion.hindu, a set of questions that need to be
> answered in the affirmative for a tradition to pass the test as astika:
> 1. Are the Vedas and their various ancilliary shastras a valid source of
> authority?
> 2. Is there a future life or lives?
> 3. Is there a supreme Being?
> The scientific tradition answers a loud resounding "NO" to all of the above
> questions. There is no way the scientific tradition can be considered
> astika. Try publishing in a Western scientific journal emphasizing the
> existence of God and you'll see the problem.

Let us pose the same questions to the National Basketball Association.
Oops it looks they also fail the test.  There is nothing in the rulebooks
about any of these subjects.  And generations of players, coaches, and
referees have failed to say anything either.  Does this mean you cannot be
a astika and a basketball player?  There is no way you can go up against
the Chicago Bulls armed with a copy of the Bhagavad Gita without facing a
very big problem! :-)

It is more correct to say science gives a resounding "Don't care" to those
questions.  For exactly the same reason science won't call itself astika,
it will refuse to call itself nastika too.  After all, you can't prove
something without evidence but you can't disprove it without evidence

> Now, I haven't read much of the
> Puranas, but I do believe that the Vishnu Purana says that that one is not
> supposed to associate with a naastika. A king who did so was re-born as a
> dog.
> By publishing research papers, by conferencing with learned scientists and
> making ACTIVE USE of them in one's profession, one takes immeasurable help
> from the scientific tradition. One cannot, IMO, be a braaMhaNa proper
> practising advaita/Vedic dharma and simultaneously accept a naastika
> tradition's viewpoints in one's career. As a friend of mine said, "religious
> people who claim that science has done precious little for them, while
> continuing to use the results of science to further their careers, are
> actually biting the hand that feeds them."

Dharma is matter of action not belief.  One becomes/stays a Brahmana by
being born, in a Brahmana family, getting yagnopavit, doing vedadhyayana,
sandhyavandana etc.  This is why in the Advaita tradition, sannyasis do
not have shikha, yagnopavit and other symbols of their purvashram.  These
are emblems of karma.

Now when you talk about atmavichara and moksha then you come into the
realm of belief.  But when you talk about the uses of science as opposed
to scientific facts, you are also moving beyond logic into the realm of
belief.  Take nuclear power.  It can be used for the good of generating
electric power or the evil of mass destruction. Which is more scientific?
Is it biting the hand of science to prefer one over the other?  We have to
go beyond science to determine this.

> The dharma suutras prohibit a braaMhaNa from even taking up agriculture,
> except under special conditions. The Vishnu Purana says that one of the
> *duities* of a braaMhaNa is to give and receive alms. That being the case,
> I'm not quite sure how many of us, who're indebted to the naastika
> scientific tradition, owing our professions to that tradition, can be called
> braaMhaNas.

(Is receiving alms incompatible with science?  Physicists could be said to
subsist almost entirely on them in the form of grants.)  Throughout
recorded history Brahmanas have had other occupations to materially
sustain themselves.  Yet side by side they also practiced their spiritual
duties.  Modern times haven't really changed anything in this regard.

> The point is that the laws of motion, the theory of gravitation, the
> existence of protons, etc. were NOT inferred by you or me, but we have
> borrowed such knowledge from the European scientific tradition.

Well, I don't know about anyone else, but in school I did experiments in
science class and this is what convinced me of the validity of science.
If someone just came up to me and said "this is scientific, so this is
right" I would demand some kind of proof or I would ignore it.

> The truths
> of advaita can also be verified by Jesus, or the zen masters, or the Sufi
> saints, or for that matter, by anyone. Do we consider them to be a part of
> the advaita tradition?

If they can indeed do this, yes.  But in practice I don't see very much in
any of the philosophies you mention that does map to "the truths of
Advaita Vedanta."

> Modern physics is more than mere experimention and observation. Virtually
> all physical theories have philosophical interpretations and consequences on
> "reality" arising from them. e.g., some physicists do not assign
> simultaneous realities to both the position and momentum of a particle, some
> say reality consists of pilot waves, and so on on. These are judgments on
> *reality*, though definition on what constitutes reality varies from
> physicist to physicist (as most theories on modern physics do), unlike
> advaita where everyone unanimously agrees that reality is one infinite
> conscious being.

Yes and this is why we cannot speak of the "scientific tradition" in any
unitary way.  It's own members do not agree on any but the most basic of
philosophical positions.  Whereas an Advaitin of 2000 AD and 2000 BC would
have a great deal more in common.  Yes there is a particular materialistic
worldview which is based on the implications of science but itself it is
no more scientific than any other.  For that matter there was the charvaka
view in ancient times.  Science seems for compelling as a philosophical
base now than it was in those days but the underlying issues are exactly
the same.  If people managed to combine both in those days, there is no
reason why we cannot do so today.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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