India Can Contribute to the Emergence of a Science of Human Possibilities: Srikant, Integral Books

“The book [Power in Temples] has given me many insights into Indian culture and the relationship between science  and religion,” Thomas R. Pickering, former U.S. Ambassador to India says about the book authored by K B Nair (pen name Srikant), founder of Integral Books, whose publications have found resonance with people curious about India and Sanatana Dharma.                              

Dr Ved Chaudhary says reading the book Sri Ganesha from the viewpoint of Hindu parents in the US who face the challenge of teaching their children about Hinduism is refreshing. “School and college textbooks and reference material routinely feed misinformation about Hinduism. For these parents, Integral Books has undertaken a very much needed and timely endeavor indeed. It is  an admirable treatise full of vast amounts of pertinent information presented in the larger concept of theory and universal tenets of Hinduism, so that it all makes complete sense together  - or as the young people would say, it all hangs together.”

In this interview, Srikant ji shares his thoughts on how Indic wisdom can become more mainstream.

How can Indian wisdom be made more mainstream as universal education?

Unlike some 50 years ago the global intellectual situation is more receptive today to the rationale of India’s spiritual heritage. In an extreme existential crisis, which is unprecedented in history, humanity is in quest of a worldview that satisfies the  intellect with  an in-depth meaning in life and fulfills harmoniously social needs. The root cause of the present crisis is traceable to the continuing mechanistic influence of  19th century science that denies higher spiritual possibilities and the mental shrinking due to religious fundamentalism.

The very basis of Indian inquiry for ages past fits in well with the modern scientific temper and  emphasizes  the Vedic concept Vasudhaiva-kutumbakam - the whole humanity is one family. Swami Vivekananda initiated attuning  modern scientific perspective with the Vedantic wisdom,  bridging the gap between science and spirituality. Today this is easier as the new existential questions emerging from  advancing  physics and biology tend to look for answers in Vedanta and Yoga.

A concerted effort for the  reassessment and elucidation of the  principles ingrained in the Puranic lore, traditional sciences and  ritualistic practices in the light of modern scientific perspective will help  better comprehension of their perennial value.  Through research to  reveal their rationale in realizing  the potentials and evolutionary possibilities of human life, they   can be  well  amalgamated in the mainstream of universal education. The world should be made aware of the fact that this is the heritage of the whole of humanity  for  evolving a superior world civilization.

Science comprehends and corroborates Sanatana Dharma, most of the time. One may see a gap but rarely a contradiction. Can you share your thoughts?

Science cannot contradict Sanatana Dharma. As science advances, it finds that the knowledge of  India’s ancient explorers is advancing beyond its  reach. This fact is thought-provokingly  corroborated by an unanticipated source -  Prof. Alexander Spirkin, a scholar of dialectical materialism and head of the department of cybernetics in the erstwhile USSR Academy of Sciences, in his book, Dialectical Materialism (Progress Publishers, Moscow Eng. Edn. 1983). In his attempt to update his  subject, while  examining  some other systems of thought he  observes: “The sages of ancient India knew much that even today is beyond the ken of European scientific thought or that it ignores, often trying to conceal its helplessness by asserting that oriental wisdom is mere mysticism, and thus showing its inability to distinguish the rational but not yet fully understandable essence from various figments of imagination.” He concludes the two-page commentary thus: “Does this not go to show an astonishingly high level of culture that should arouse our admiration, gratitude and desire to study!”

His observation highlights the prevailing inability, even of the academic system in India where this life-evolving wisdom originated, to distinguish the essence from the mythological elements in which the profound facts are couched by the ancient explorers to preserve the knowledge through the great passage of time. This observation assumes special significance because it shows the perennial relevance of India’s heritage that can inspire even a scholar of materialism to think aloud in such terms when one  gets rationally introduced to the  knowledge field.

It is not mere informative knowledge the world has to seek from such a fund of existential wisdom, but  from it has to evolve new  practical techniques  to take   humanity to a superior  status that invalidates war and viruses.   Carl Sagan in his book The Dragons of Eden quotes the Greek philosopher Plotinus: “Mankind is poised  between the gods and the beasts.” The goal of India’s spirituality is this evolution to greater existence, which is blocked by materialistic shortsightedness and the  fundamentalist religiosity.  It is high time India’s academic system should shed its lethargy in investigating  into the profound treasures of the heritage.

What do we know about the minds of our rishis from our knowledge systems?

It seems  the  academic system in India has yet  to realize that the fund of knowledge we inherit are the findings  through in-depth  investigations of the rishis, who discovered  the higher dimensions of the universe and the evolutionary possibilities of  the stream of life. The knowledge  facilitates the natural evolution of  humanity to greater dimensions of existence. This was an all-comprehensive investigation from various angles that  gave form to a well-coordinated system of   Vedantic wisdom. It  covers  a wide range of topics,  from the origin of the universe to the formation of the human cerebro-spinal system that can probe into the subtlest secrets of the universe.

It is of immense significance that   up to the 18th century modern science was not aware of the role of the brain as a receiver of  sensations and seat of the mind (The Human Brain by Isaac Assimov) and that  since many centuries the yogic perspective has been giving  the cerebro-spinal system prime importance as the very foundation of the future evolution of mankind.  It traces the subtlest energy states in the spinal cord and the brain. They gave these energy  states  symbolic divine representations as the basis of  different formations of the human body.

Sir John C. Eccles, Nobel laureate for Medicine and Physiology, reminded  the scientific community that if the value of research is to be measured against  its  intrinsic value to humanity, brain research is comparatively more important than space research. The scientist must have meant the crucial need of discovering the in-depth facts of human  consciousness  so that humanity can  survive a holocaust by nuclear and  bioweapons looming  like the sword of Damocles and to evolve a humane world-civilization.  Modern research can greatly draw ideas from the profound Yogic and Vedantic knowledge of the human consciousness.

Is there any new knowledge being created in India of everlasting value?

India can contribute considerably to the emergence of  a science of human possibilities that will help  evolve a superior humanity with the expression of  the latent cosmic  faculties and the freedom of  universal consciousness,  which is the natural  line of human  evolution, as conceived by India's  spirituality.

Materialistic logic is  based on  19th century science, the influence of which is prevalent even today, that   considered  atoms as ‘inert’ and indivisible units that formed  the foundation of the universe,  This belief  blocked   the higher  evolutionary vision of life by asserting that it is a mechanistic and purposeless process.  It  brought  a conservative stagnation to the  human mind.  When  the   evolutionary vision of  spirituality is lost, the  mind reverts to lower tendencies,  resulting in  wars, manufacture of lethal weapons, drug abuse, etc.   India has the scientific solution  to this dangerous situation. It is in this context  that  Sir Arnold Toynbee, eminent historian,  gives a warning advice  to humanity: “In this transitional chapter of world’s history, a chapter which had a Western beginning, it is  already becoming clear, will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the  self-destruction of the human race.”

As the historian makes  this statement,  he evidently had anticipated that India’s  scientific spirituality  can  in combination with modern science  create a new knowledge of everlasting value that will  save humanity from  possible self-destruction  and  contribute to  evolve   a higher civilization.

According to the law of natural selection,  which Darwin postulated as a chance process,  those life forms which do not overcome the challenges posed by nature will not survive and get destroyed. Here humanity is placed in a similar  situation. Through evolutionary process the human being is  bestowed with  such faculties as power of thought, discrimination and creativity. Contrary to the materialistic  perspective that evolution is  a goalless phenomenon, even Darwin in his later years had  an inkling of the role  of a certain latent value system  in  the evolutionary process.

For example, if the value of motherly love that enables the survival of the helpless infants had not emerged at a certain stage of evolution, life would not have reached  beyond the stage of worms. According to the rishis of India, the super-biologists,  there is a latent value system in the very fabric of the universe, which they termed  Dharma. It is this eternal value system, the Sanatana Dharma, which  gradually gets expressed as the cultural values in the phenomenal stream of life. They revealed that the line of evolution from the human stage lies  in the  value-based realization of the higher  human possibilities. Materialism overruling  the possibility of further human  evolution degrades it. The  faculties of thought, discrimination and the power of creativity are the  fuel  for further evolution,  but  these  cause downfall  unless they  get refined with spiritual discrimination.  As the Bhagavad-Gita reminds: One is one’s own friend and enemy, too. (6.5)

Can you shed light on your different books?

As  it  often  happens with innovative missions, this  was also set up on individual initiative, as a part of my inborn trend of  spiritual quest. Having  an academic background of biological sciences, journalistic training in Calcutta University, professional experience in Publications Division, Govt. of India, ITDC, etc., the turn of events led me to choose a life of experiential yogic  inquiry which continues in  comparative solitude near the well-known Anandashram in northern Kerala. This research and publishing mission becomes a congenial part of the pursuit.  As mentioned, it is essentially  an effort to verify  India’s spirituality as a practical biological science of human evolution and the quest is  gaining affirmative confirmation as the years advance.

Integral Books was first set up in Madras in 1979-80 with publication of the first book, Sri Mookambika: The Radiant Grace, a book on the powerful shrine of  Divine Mother,  the  Source, Who is the perennial inspiration. I was then assisting for a short span of time the publications unit of Vivekananda Kendra located in Triplicane.  Then, like a divine guidance,  inadvertently I came across an ancient palm-leaf Sanskrit astrological record in Mylapore. It revealed  that  this mission would be set up in that sea-shore city,  its further course and destiny to  contribute to Arya-dharmasya vriddhi.   (Of course, such revelations are essentially based on the karma situation and can give clues for further modern  investigations. Surya-Gita is a less-known text that deals with this field of knowledge.)

It was a very challenging start without resources.  The second publication was Power in Temples, a booklet of 48 pages. (Now it is a full-fledged  illustrated book of 240 pages.)  It was the first book to present temple worship from this perspective and its innovative character attracted  many spiritual luminaries and savants.  Swami Ranganathananda, Swami Chinmayananda, M.P. Pandit,  Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer and several others commended its revised and expanded version. The Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, ordered the book and supplied it to all their  educational  institutions with the note - “CCMT’s gift to your Library with Pujya Gurudev’s blessings.”

My exploration was to  promote universal awareness  of   India ’s spirituality essentially  as a value-based science of human evolution.  The  updated presentation  can bestow a heart to modern scientific inquiry and help fulfill it.  Just giving an example, Darwin in his theory of natural selection presents the role of Nature in organic evolution. It is presented as a process of mere  mechanical actions and reactions. On the other hand,  Sage Patanjali in his Yogasutra presents the nature of evolution  as: jaatyanthara parinamah ptakrithyapooraat  (4.2)   This is an advanced theory which  reveals  that  both the  inorganic  and organic evolution are the  expressions of the  facilities imbibed from  Nature, which  is a repository of infinite possibilities.  Presentation of such points  will inspire  researchers for further exploration.

Citing another example, Sir Julian Huxley, the evolutionary biologist, talks about the need of evolving a new science for “the fuller realization of more possibilities by the human species collectively and more of its component members individually.” Here the scientist inadvertently emphasizes the salient point in the Bhagavad-Gita of the need of socializing the individual without losing the value of individuality to evolve a superior humanity. This is the evolutionary method to realize the unconditioned freedom of the Supreme Self (Purushothama), the goal of the human  state, as conceived by India’s spiritual vision and highlighted by Sri Aurobindo.

In my experiential pursuit Patanjali’s  Yogasutra is a guiding text and I am working to write an elucidation of it  from a modern biological perspective .  Another  programme  being planned  is a similar study of Sri Lalitha-sahasranama-stotram.

India’s treasures, the Bhagavad-Gita, Yoga-vasishta, Devi-mahatmya, Yoga-sutra, Sri Lalitha-sahasranama-stotram,  to mention a few, offer enormous  possibilities for the new generation for research  and reveal the knowledge in updated terms. Such research  will inspire  a paradigm shift in thought that will  help  remove   the materialistic  blockage in the evolutionary vision of science, which is the cause of today’s  retrogressive trends of  war  and  self-destruction.