"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, August 15, 2011

Science, Religion and the Perennial Philosophy

"We need religion, yes assuredly, but we need it free from superstition."
-- Paul Brunton --
("The Notebooks of Paul Brunton," Vol. 1, p. 209.)
While the target of all science is the discernment of truth, observes integral philosopher, Ken Wilber, the goal of all religions is meaning. In a post-modern world, Wilber notes, what is needed is a synthesis of religion and science so that we can ascribe meaning to the vast truths that science has uncovered. Yet, he notes, now, perhaps more than ever, religion is seen to be the antithesis of science, and vice versa.
"The reconciliation of science and religion is not merely a passing academic curiosity," Wilber points out. "These two enormous forces - truth and meaning - are at war in today's world. Modern science and pre-modern religion aggressively inhabit the same globe, each vying, in its own way, for world domination. And something, sooner or later, has to give."
"Science," Wilber notes, "tells us what a thing is, not whether it is good or bad, or what is should be or could be or ought to be. Thus this enormous global scientific infrastructure is, in itself, a valueless skeleton, however functionally efficient it might be." "Within the scientific skeleton of truth," he observes, "religious meaning attempts to flourish often by denying the scientific framework itself - rather like sawing off the branch on which you cheerily perch." "The disgust is mutual," he points out, "because modern science gleefully denies virtually all the basic tenets of religion in general."
[Ken Wilber, "The Marriage of Sense and Soul," pp. 3-4)

In the early 1940's, Einstein famously made the observation that "(s)cience without religion is lame, (while) religion without science is blind." What then is necessary for a reconciliation of these two eternal strains of humanity's intellectual and spiritual quest? Wilber suggests that the key to the problem lies in the contradictory claims of the world's great religious traditions. "(I)f we cannot find a common core of the world's great religions, then we will never find an integration of science and religion."

Fortunately, however, there have been innumerable attempts - some more successful than others - to reconcile the core teachings of all the great wisdom teachings, the most successful of which may be the following four-part description of the "perennial philosophy" put forward by the philosopher, Aldous Huxley:
"First: the phenomenal world of matter and individualized consciousness - the world of things and animals and men and even gods - is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their beginning, and apart from which they would be non-existent.

Second: human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.

Third: man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.

Fourth: man's life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground." 
[Prabhavananda and Isherwood, "The Song of God," Intro., p. 13.]
Taking consciousness itself as being the key to religious experience, a position vigorously advocated by William James over a hundred years ago, and examining those contemplatives and mystics who have achieved  higher states of consciousness  through "direct intuition" could, many advocate, be the key to a reconciliation of science and religion. A failure to do so, it is well argued, will result in a continuing "retinal blindspot" in the Western scientific vision, and will thus preclude any true synthesis of science's truths with religion's meaning.

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