Science and Consciousness

  • By N Sai Prashanthi
  • May 18, 2023
  • Swami Vivekananda on science and Indian Sages on Evolution.

Science has played a major role in the development of the world, and in providing comforts and improving the life of human beings. The discoveries of Science are of two types—one is through experimentation and the other by intuition. For example, the discovery of relativity by Albert Einstein was through intuition. 


Swami Vivekananda was one such scientist. He was a monk, no doubt, who taught the world about divinity within man and revolutionised the world. However, he also had a scientific and inquiring mind. We know of his scientific temper through different incidents in his life, his lectures and discussions with disciples.


Finding Truth 

This incident happened during his childhood. The event demonstrates his desire to discover any truth by inquiry. If someone said something, he would not believe it until he tested it. This is the scientific bent of mind that every scientist must have.


When Narendra and his friends were playing under a tree, an old man asked them to leave, saying a ghost that lived in the tree would kill them. The other boys fled in fear but Narendra stayed there and found that the old man had lied to frighten them. His probing nature made him question the existence of God. He even tested Sri Ramakrishna before accepting him as his guru.


Jnana yoga is the main component of Swamiji’s lectures. He explains the secrets of nature in jnana yoga. And he had wonderful discussions with scientists like Nicola Tesla and Kelvin during his visit to the West. 


First published in Journal of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.


While explaining the real nature of man, Swamiji had spoken about the evolution of living organisms. He said, “Every evolution presupposes an involution.” 


If man evolved from a unicellular organism, the energy or power that will make man human, is already present in the involved form. When conditions are favourable, the energy kick-starts the process of evolution.


For example, if one organism is changing into another, the material or energy which is used to change into another organism, will be present in the involved state. According to external conditions it will change into different forms. Modern science also accepts that changes in the gennetic material cause evolution.


Swamiji explained Darwin’s theory of evolution once. He said, “Darwin wrote about the struggle for existence, survival of the fittest and natural selection. But Darwin’s theory is not applicable to humans as it is applicable to animals. Because in the animal kingdom, the animal which kills ten other animals, will be considered as strong; and it survives. But in humans, a person who kills ten people won’t be considered as a great person. Instead, one who serves, one who sacrifices and one who helps others to live, will be considered as the greatest person.” 


Structure of the Body at the Atomic Level 

According to cell biology, the bodies of all living organisms including plants, animals, and human beings are made up of cells. Those cells are made up of biomolecules and biomolecules are made up of chemicals. Swamiji talks of the force which combines these chemicals into biomolecules, biomolecules into cells, and cells into forming a body.


Let us take the example of a unicellular organism. Around 3.5 billion years ago, the first life was formed on the earth by the process of chemical evolution. This theory is proposed by Oparin and Haldane. Modern science made the molecules in the laboratory (Stanley-Miller experiment) but it could not discover the process by which the molecules were combined. Even today research is continuing on the origin of life. However, Swamiji discussed this 125 years before Oparin and Haldane.


How was the Universe Formed?

For many years, humans have been trying to answer this question. First, the steady state theory was proposed and afterwards the more popular Big Bang Theory. But still there are so many unanswered questions. How did the first atom come into existence? How did it explode? How can something be produced out of nothing? (This can be applicable to life too).


Swamiji explained in macrocosm about this. For instance, a plant comes from seed, it grows and after sometime it dies. Then the plant produces seeds again. The seed again forms into a plant and the cycle goes on. If this is applied to the universe — it can be said that it originated from the atom and returns to atomic form from whence it is formed into a vast universe once more. These cycles are known as ‘kalpas’. 

Cause —> effect—> new cause It can be applied to evolution.


Origin of the Universe is an evolved state and the atomic state is the involved state of the Universe. This can be applied to life also—a plant is born because of a seed, thus a plant is an example of an evolved state, and the seed is an example of an involved state. If it is applied to animals, the organism is an example of the evolved state. But what is necessary to make that organism is already present in the sperm and ovum in the involved state. That energy is called DNA or genetic material. The living organism is an example of an evolved state and the sperm and ovum are examples of an involved state.


Seed –> (soil)—>new plant — -> grown up plant —> plant dies –> new seed —->….


Concepts from Mythology and Upanishads

Vedas and Upanishads are the treasure of knowledge and wisdom of the sages. Many sages like Patanjali, Kanaada, Vyasa and others proposed theories about the external world.


Sages on Evolution 

Patanjali discovered yoga for the benefit of the world, and gave it in the form of Yoga Sutras in which he expounded about evolution of living organisms. “Jatyantara parinama prakrutya purath


This is the line in Patanjali Yoga Sutras, which means the cause of evolution from one organism to another organism is its internal nature. Even back then our sages knew about the process and classification of living organisms: krimi, pashu, pakshi, janthu.


2. Vishnu Puranam, one of the 18 Puranas mentioned about classification of living organisms in a shloka. Sristya purani vividhanya jayathma vrikshan Sarisripan pashun khagadamsha mathsyam Thasyayi athusta hridaya purusham vidaya Brahmavalokadhishanam mudam maamadeva


All living organisms are divided into different forms such as vriksha (plants), sarisripan (reptiles) pashu (animals) khaga (birds) matsya (fishes) and this external world is the reflection of God.


In Padma Purana, which was written by Sage Parashara, not only is it said that there are 8.4 million different species on Earth, but it also goes a step further and categorises or classifies them as follows:


Jalaja (water based life forms) 0.9 million.

Sthavara (immobile implying plants and trees) 2.0 million

Krimayo (reptiles) 1.1 million.

Pakshinam (birds) 1.0 million

Pashavah (terrestrial animals) 3.0 million

Manavah (human like animals) 0.4 million 8.4 million in all!


Sage Parashara explained about the anatomy and physiology (processes like photosynthesis) in Vrikshayurveda.


Sage Maitreya, a great sage, told Vidura about atoms. A hexatom is actually made up of 6 (specifically 3 groups of 2) atomic particles: Anur dvau paramanu syat Trasarenus trayah smrath Jalakara rasmy avagathah Kham evanupatann agat


Two atoms make one double atom, three double atoms make one hexatom; this hexatom is visible in the sunlight which enters through a window and one can see it clearly, when the hexatom goes up towards the sky.


Charaka and Sushrutha were the scientists who discovered treatments and surgical methods for different diseases. In Yoga Vasistha, there was a discussion of Vishuchika, which means viruses which affect us.


These are some examples of the scientific principles mentioned in different parts of the scriptures by great sages and by Swamiji in his lectures and discussions.


More examples are available in his lectures. In his talks, Swamiji often mentioned about the necessity of scientific thinking. However, he emphasised that scientific and spiritual knowledge should work together to answer the big questions about the origin of the Universe.


To use scientific knowledge we must have discrimination (Viveka) and that is only possible through spiritual knowledge.


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, 15 May, 2023 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share. Do subscribe to the Bhavan’s Journal – it is very good.

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