More than 12 years’ ago I wrote my first article for ‘Speaking Tree’. The subject was how technology and spirituality are related. I believe that was probably the first article on this subject anywhere and seemed like a novel perspective since science, spirituality, and technology were not supposed to mix.
Since then, as the proverbial saying goes, “Lot of water has flown through the Ganges”. I have written scores of articles for ‘Speaking Tree’ and the issue of spirituality and technology is in vogue now. Hence I thought of revisiting the topic and presenting the point of view that both technology and spirituality are important to achieve happiness.
This idea is not new since our ancient rishis understood the importance of technology in a Yogi’s life. One of the oldest books on Yoga is Patanjali Yoga Darshan. The third section (almost one fourth of the book) is devoted to how a Yogi can achieve superhuman powers so as to free himself from the vagaries of nature. These powers do not come to a Yogi naturally but he/she has to obtain them by the practice of Sanyam (combination of concentration, contemplation and Samadhi) on different parts of the body.
A question can be asked as to why Patanjali devoted one fourth of the book on how to achieve these powers. And a simple answer is that by overcoming the challenges of the natural world, something we do regularly with technology, a Yogi’s life was made easy so that he/she could devote his/her energies to pursuit of truth, happiness and attainment of salvation from the cycle of birth and death. Besides this section, on attaining supernatural powers, is placed in the book after Patanjali has detailed how a Yogi can master the discipline of Yoga. Thus by mastering the art of Sanyam, a Yogi also gained wisdom to use these powers judiciously and not be swayed by them.
Similarly Shri. Ramakrishna, the great saint of India exhorted his followers to use the technology to make life simple so that Yogic Sadhna could be focused on reaching godhead. An anecdote about him illustrates this quite well.
A disciple came to him and told him that after 20 years’ of tapasya he had mastered the art of walking on water. To this Ramakrishna replied “Fool, you have wasted your life. I can do the same thing by giving a paisa to the boatman”! Shri. Ramakrishna-a great spiritual person, who himself possessed immense yogic powers, understood the value of technology for easing the drudgery of life and hence his rebuke.
Though technology helps humans by making their life easy it has also been used for killing other humans and in other non-productive ways. Technology is a double-edged sword. It can be used to help mankind or could also be used to destroy it. We should realize that it is not the technology but human beings using the technology are the ones who kill humans. Thus atomic power can produce unlimited power with very little carbon footprint. Yet atom bombs, that the super-powers possess, have the power to destroy all life on this planet earth.
Similarly the supernatural powers obtained by some Yogis in ancient times have also been used to kill. Obviously they did not attain enough vivek or wisdom during their spiritual practices! There are a large number of such examples in Mahabharata and the amusing story of Bhasmasur also shows the same thing. Yet the power of technology today helps us to be connected via the World Wide Web, to fly at will round the world and generally to get most of the things required to achieve creature comforts.
Technology also gives us the ever increasing power of choices and fuels our greed impulse since the fear of missing out is very high. Thus all the development models based on technology will become untenable if we do not put a cap on our greed for materials, resources and energy. Present economic models are based on increased consumption and encourage greed. Spirituality can help in giving us wisdom so as to keep our greed for materials and resources in check and allows us to use technology judiciously and in a sustainable way for us to live a happy and meaningful life.
What is spirituality?
Spirituality is concerned with the matters of spirit. When we think deeply and for a long time about anything whether it is an idea or an object then the brain has a tendency of focusing on it like a laser and in that process the object vanishes from the vision field and only its germ or the spirit remains. Then complete knowledge of that idea or object results and is called Sanyam by Patanjali. This is the mechanism by which all great discoveries are made. It is this deep thinking on anything which makes us spiritual and gives us a sense of peace and happiness.
Thus spirituality is the state of mind that makes it understand that the Truth is beyond the barriers of worldliness, religion, caste, creed, race or geographical boundaries. It is universal in nature and a great spiritual thought is a cause of celebration for the whole mankind. It connects us to marvels of nature in a deep way and subsequently to Universal Consciousness.
Spirituality gives a certain perspective in life. As a person progresses on the path of spirituality his or her priorities in life change. The focus of life shifts more towards getting personal happiness through mental peace and less on material needs and desires. Recent examples of Mahatma Gandhi and Einstein have shown that with very few needs and by living very simple lives they were able to produce the highest quality of thought.
Spirituality also helps us to have a compassionate view of nature and as we evolve spiritually we become more tuned to it which helps us in preserving it. Besides it helps us live in harmony with each other and enables everybody to work together for the common good. This is also the genesis of non-violence. Also in all religions the respect for nature is preached and the maxim of simple living and high thinking is ingrained.
Technological progress unravels a lot of hidden areas of nature and shows us how it performs its miracles. In doing this, technology helps us understand the power and greatness of nature. For example humans felt that they had invented and developed fibre optics. However, scientists have found that the root systems of plants are excellent optical fibres – something that has existed in nature for millions of years. This knowledge could only come once we had enough technology for creating fibre optics, lasers etc.
Similarly a new science of biomimicry or “copy the nature”, is developing where we are finding that nature, which has billions of years of headstart, has far better answers than we have produced and hence dawning of realization that our technological progress will take a quantum leap by copying nature’s designs. In fact daily we discover that there is nothing new under the sun and all our inventions have been preceded by nature’s designs millions of years ago.
Thus as we progress ahead in the technological area, we will discover the great laws of nature and ultimately God. For God is nothing else but this marvelous Universe which follows its own scientific laws. Spirituality is nothing else but understanding ourselves and the laws of universe through the tools of science and technology.
It is the law of evolution that as we become more spiritual we will also become a technologically advanced civilization. This is because when we apply our sharpened brains to any problem, then solutions result. The nature of brain is such that as we make it powerful it wants to increase the experience and the mind-expanding process includes the understanding of world, cosmos and universe. This obviously includes the desire to travel in space and intergalactically. That can only be achieved by very advanced technological progress.
Thus those societies that are technologically advanced will also become spiritually advanced. Therefore, a necessary condition for large-scale spiritual progress is to have technological progress.
Similarly quite often technology and wisdom have gone hand in hand. Though we have developed weapons of mass destruction, the collective wisdom of mankind has not allowed us to annihilate each other. The fact also remains that many more people used to be killed in wars when technology was very rudimentary. In today’s war many fewer human lives are lost.
Most of the wars are resource related. As we advance spiritually and technologically we will stop waging wars since the resources available will be converted more efficiently to provide creature comforts to all of mankind. I am sure that as the level of technological progress increases we will also use it judiciously to further raise our levels of consciousness and not use it to harm mankind. The power of technology for mass communication also teaches and spreads the message of moderation.
Our technological and spiritual progress can be explained by giving the example of the path that particles and molecules take in heated water in a container. Each individual particle or molecule darts randomly in the water container depending upon its energy, but on the whole a stream is formed so that the warm water rises in a heated utensil and the cold water comes down to be heated. Individual particles dart furiously in these streams and are restricted by its boundaries.
Similarly as individuals we create technologies for our own selfish needs and depending on our spiritual progress may or may not use them for the betterment of mankind. But collectively the spiritual and technological progress follows the natural evolution of humans towards an advanced civilization just like the stream of heated water in a utensil. And all our individual shortcomings are swept away by the stream of evolution for general good.
We feel and enjoy this world though the sense organs of our bodies. Getting a human body is the most important gift to the soul. Almost all technological interventions are to enhance this sense-world interaction. In coming years technology will provide us tools to create a much more hospitable planet in which majority of mankind will be able to live comfortably. It will help us repair our bodies and produce designer drugs which will make us live longer with less disease. In fact the whole basis of Yoga according to Patanjali is to make the human body fit for spiritual experience and happiness. Our future medicines will allow us to do this. This increased level of physical comfort will allow us a quantum jump in our quest of spirituality.
Nevertheless the next biggest technological and spiritual challenge for mankind is to enable two billion people, who live in conditions of utter poverty, to improve their quality of life. They cannot think about spiritual matters, since their basic needs are still unmet. Technology can help in improving their quality of life. It is not an easy task to achieve but I feel that mankind has enough ingenuity and resources to do this.
With better international cooperation in technological fields it will be possible to provide very efficient and economically viable technologies to the developing world. How many years it will take we do not know but I feel optimistic that it will eventually be done. Once the quality of life of bottom of pyramid population is improved then their progress to spirituality and happiness will be rapid. I therefore think that the mantra of India’s development should be spirituality with high technology.
Today far more people than ever before believe in life after death, in spiritual matters and in extrasensory perception. Popular poll after poll has shown this trend all over the world. I believe this has only come about because of the ability of human beings, through technological progress, to research these areas. For example, we can now map the brain with the latest tools of MRI and can even “see” what the brain is doing in a heightened state of spiritual experience. Similarly we can peer through extremely sophisticated telescopes to see the unfolding of the great drama of galaxy formation. It fills us with awe and amazement. Thus we are creating the building blocks of the laws of spirituality by poking deeper and deeper into nature with the help of technological tools.
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