Spiritual Values from an Engineer’s Point of View
|Roof of Naini mata Temple in Nainital|
Engineering science and practice aims at meeting the needs of society and improving the quality of life of humans through a practical application of scientific knowledge. At its highest level (for example doctoral level studies and research work) there is a convergence between science and engineering. Both endeavors create new knowledge. The only difference is that the research work of an engineer is in a direction that has a foreseeable practical application whereas that of a pure scientist may be of an entirely fundamental nature having nothing to do with any immediate application. An Engineer engaged in research such as a Professor or Scholar of any well-endowed university (as opposed to one who may be primarily involved in teaching or teaching related administration) may be classified as both a scientist and an engineer.
Spiritual Sciences too aim to improve the quality of life of humans by proposing methodologies for increasing peace, happiness and by alleviating human want and suffering. A primary forum for spiritual study has been organized religion. Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism are some. However, Spiritual Sciences can be, and have been pursued independent of religion as well. The main difference between religious and pure spiritual science is that religion involves history, tradition, ritual etc. besides spiritual knowledge and these differ from religion to religion. That is only to be expected since different religions have evolved in different cultures at different times. If one isolates the spiritual content from religious sources then the differences reduce. There is considerable unanimity between fundamental beliefs as propagated by various religions that are prevalent on our planet. All uphold Love, Truth and Simplicity as some of the highest virtues and all believe in a Single Supreme Intelligence and Creator that is in complete control of all processes – microscopic as well as Macroscopic in His creation.
Some Spiritual Concepts
Just to consider few of the primary spiritual beliefs as upheld by most major religions –there is belief in the existence of a soul as something fundamental to living beings– something that was present before birth and continues after death. The physical body is said to be transient and temporary whereas the soul is not. It is explained that even in childhood and old age beings possess different bodies but the soul remains the same. Through modern science it is possible to transplant and change significant portions of a human body, however as long as the soul remains the same the person remains the same. There is some difference in the stated fate of souls after death amongst different schools. Religions such as Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and Hinduism that emerged in the Himalayan belt incorporate the principle of reincarnation. It is held that a soul can be reborn as a human being, animal or even on other planet through a process of reincarnation. Religions that developed in the Semitic regions appear to reject this principle at least in their current versions. However even Christianity and Islam profess that a soul will be reborn in heaven or hell according to its deeds and thus support the principle of reincarnation although its nature or terminology differs.
A second aspect most religions emphasize is the principle of retribution. A soul is judged for all its actions (even thoughts) and faces a consequence because of these, either good or bad or both. The principle of retribution is called the principle of Karma in Eastern religions. It has an analogy in physical laws of conservation – to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
When engineers or scientists confront spiritual principles they are faced with several doubts. First of all, scientists and engineers are used to dealing with physical proofs. Spiritual beliefs do not offer any such foolproof evidence and whenever some evidence is actually offered an alternative scientific explanation of the phenomenon remains equally plausible. A second concern that a scientifically minded person faces is that in most cases the methodology proposed for an individual’s spiritual progress is often the opposite of that which is required for material progress. For example spiritual practice involves sacrifice and working for serving others as opposed to personal gain. It proposes giving away rather than accumulating. Further, spiritual attainments involve besides sacrifice, long hard practices such as meditation, prayer, fasting, dietary restrictions, functioning in a manner contrary to basic instincts etc. (for example celibacy or Brahamcharya is recommended as opposed to sexual involvement).
Another question a scientist may ask is - if spiritual beliefs are valid then why is it that most humans do not follow that path. It is only a rare Saint or Sanyasi who appears to display spiritual attainment or a firm belief in spiritual practices. Religious texts too say that true spiritual understanding is rare. One of the most widely respected spiritual books in India – The Bhagvat Gita - states that of thousands of men only a few undertake to follow the spiritual road and of these only a few gain understanding. The Christian Bible too claims that reaching heaven is as difficult as a camel passing through a needle’s eye. If that is the case, it is entirely reasonable for an ordinary human to question the usefulness of an undertaking where progress is limited and rare as compared to a purely material and physical methodology that is easier more widely practiced and does not involve anything as nebulous as mere faith.
This author too is a Scientist and Engineer but besides scientific study he has had deep interests in spiritual philosophy as well. His belief is that true progress of mankind lies in spiritual development and that scientific progress is not contradictory to material progress. In fact the most fundamental advancement in scientific disciplines have been due to persons who were highly evolved spiritually as well. Einstein for example was a firm believer in God. The doubts such as those expressed earlier in this article have occurred to this author as well, but a resolution of these have been found in spiritual studies. These are discussed next.
Scientists often do not actually measure or perceive a scientific quantity directly. It is perceived through the effects of that quantity. For example, substances possess something known as Internal energy. A quantification of this quantity is essential for design of such things as thermal power plants. However the internal energy of steam, for example, is not directly measured. It is deduced from the effects of internal energy on quantities such as temperature and pressure. Temperature too is not directly seen or measured. A thermometer deduces temperature by the effect; temperature has on the expansion of substances such as mercury or the current that is produced in devices such as thermocouples constructed through wires of two dissimilar metals. Spiritualists argue that the soul too can be deduced from its effects even if it cannot be perceived directly.
As opposed to machines and robots, human possess feelings and emotions. It is difficult for any engineer to conceive of a robot or computer that even in its most extreme extrapolation can possess emotions such as love and hate, or struggle to preserve its existence such as living beings do. I wish that my computer possessed such an instinct. It hardly cares if a virus infects it and if all of my files are destroyed. All living beings on the other hand (except some evolved spiritualists) struggle to hold on to life. Spiritualists declare that these emotional qualities are something that is totally alien to purely physical and material aspects of our universe. Life possesses these because it has something that extends beyond the physical universe and at the individual level this extra something is the soul.
A second effect of the soul is the existence of free will in living beings. All of us believe that we have the freedom to choose between a set of given decisions. Purely material constructs cannot have such a freedom. Its entire doings must necessarily be a result of internal programming or external effects. Indeed engineering designs would fail miserably if machines designed by engineers displayed any sort of free will. In the latter case Power plants may choose to take a holiday at Christmas or one’s car may decide to go to the beach when one intended to go to office. Engineering designs are based on the premise that machines cannot possess free will. Engineers as living beings however do possess a free will, albeit within the constraints of circumstances. The constraints that an individual is subject to are related to the degree of evolution of the individual. Individuals and beings that are more evolved possess wider choices and a greater ability to make their wishes come true as opposed to those who are less evolved. God as the most evolved Infinite power in the universe is believed to possess total control and enough power to create or destroy any or all of our universe merely by wishing. Other life forms possess a small or large fraction of this infinite power according to the degree of their evolution. Spiritual sources declare that even though a final attainment of eternal peace or nirvana is indeed rare, any effort in working towards it is not wasted. Such effort even though it may not lead to final liberation, leads to a being evolving more rapidly than his fellow beings, perhaps to become a leader in his chosen field if he or she so desires, and this evolution is carried by that being into future lives even after death.
As to the third concern raised in this article - if spiritual attainments are indeed beneficial why is it so rare? The answer is perhaps a simple one although a blow to human pride. Consider that life exists on other planets in our universe as well. Indeed, that is the likely scenario if one considers the vastness of our universe and the near infinite magnitude of stars that exist in it. It would be too egoistical to think that ours is the only Sun capable of breeding life. The extent of evolution of life must vary from planet to planet as it has varied on ours over time. On some live planets life would be at its most primitive bacterial level, on others at the animal level and on some at a more advanced and higher level than our own planet. If the level of evolution is at the animal or primate level (say that of a chimpanzee that is more than 99 per cent human genetically) then spiritual understanding is impossible. Animals are not capable of understanding spiritual concepts. Whatever evolution will take place on such a planet would be under the benevolent influences of nature and over a long period of time – even millions of years as has happened on our own. Until human or other intelligent beings emerge on such a planet life will function entirely under primary extinct such as those of breeding, eating, shelter, preservation of species etc.
Where exactly does our planet lie in terms of its degree of evolution in this universal scheme? Humans consider themselves far more advanced than animals. However if a close study is made of their motivations, these are identical to those of animals. Humans spend a great deal of effort and thought on sexual pursuits or accumulating wealth (a measure of their capacity for acquiring food and shelter etc.). Great leaders fallen from their chosen course when confronted with sexual temptation. Only a few humans indulge in true philanthropic activity and selfless service that are for the benefit of others rather than their own (or their families) and when they do, it is usually a small portion of their overall effort. Often it is for show or a tax benefit. Governments know of this tendency very well and therefore attach a tax incentive to charitable donations. In this respect the overall evolutionary levels of humans is not really that different from animals. Working for one’s family as opposed to just one’s own self is not an instinct very different from that of animals. It is then not surprising that at the present level of evolution on our planet, true spiritual knowledge and spiritual attainment is rare. It is simply because planet earth is still an animal planet even if it hurts our ego to admit it. The quality of life has undergone a significant change over the last hundred years as a result of scientific discoveries but the fundamental motivations of humans have not undergone a similar change. An intelligent being – human - that can compose books has definitely emerged on planet earth, but his emergence is recent and his evolution limited.
Some ancient spiritual texts contain a description of heavenly planets (Dev Lok in Hinduism) where the beings (devas) are more advanced then humans and where the primary motivation of beings is selfless service in the universe rather than animal instincts or working towards satisfying one’s own interests. At some stage, perhaps hundreds or thousands of years later, our planet too may evolve to the level of a Dev Lok. In the meantime its only a few individuals will perhaps hasten their own evolution to godly levels to be reborn on other planets or perhaps on earth to lead others to follow a similar path, but their call will continue to be the call of a prophet in the wilderness. It will fall on deaf ears too preoccupied with serving their own needs in the way they are accustomed to.
Highly evolved persons give greater importance to service rather than personal gain. Peace, happiness and prosperity are a necessary prerequisite to excellence in any endeavor. How is that possible if individuals spend their time in philanthropic activity rather than in meeting their own personal needs? If some individuals or advanced beings (Dev Purush in eastern terminology or Angels in western terms) base their actions primarily on the service motive, it does not imply that they are disregarding personal gain. They simply put it on the back burner but with the assurance that the meal will be cooked. They are moved in the direction of service because it pleases them to do so yet at the same time they believe that their own personal interests are more easily taken care of when they are involved in selfless service and that their own good lies in the greater good of the world that surrounds them. The principle of retribution assures that it will be so. If we carefully examine the life of humans we know personally, we may come to realize that whatever good or bad happens to them is more a result of external circumstances rather than their own doing. If they take credit for it that may just be a matter of human pride and ego. Humans are blessed with intelligence but a side effect of this intelligence is pride that is frequently present to cloud reason. The process starts with birth. Some individuals are born with superior genes and in rich families. They get an advantage from the start. Others may be born handicapped or disadvantaged. The process continues throughout life. We find some people get lucky opportunities while others have to face bad luck time and again. Luck is a concept invented by humans. Strongly spiritual persons do not believe in luck but rather believe in a universe where everything that happens is a result of precise control and calculation by Universal Intelligence. Nothing takes place by chance or at random or as Einstein said “God does not play dice”. Thus beings that spend their effort in selfless service believe that their own minor interests will get taken care of easily and automatically by the will of the Universe i.e. by circumstances that surround them as a result of their Karma. The latter if true is perhaps a much easier and effortless path to serving one’s own interest then having to struggle endless hours for it as most humans seem to. The creator who is capable of creating an infinite universe can do it for you far more easily if He deems fit.
Our planet may be regarded as one that is on the threshold of Dev-like evolution but not yet a Dev Lok or heavenly planet. The reason why it may be regarded to be on the threshold is because life on our planet has evolved to a level where the most intelligent beings i.e. humans can indulge in logical thinking and attain spiritual understanding albeit with extraordinary and rare effort. Humans have been encouraged to undertake to the spiritual path by religiously evolved personalities so as to hasten their own natural and slow evolution and thereby excel as compared to other fellow humans that disregard this path.