"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell












PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | February 2005  





            Bioethics for Science and Technology: A Hindu Perspective

        Swami Jitatmananda



     Why an international conference on bioethics? Animals of African forests do not need any such conferences. They live, happily or unhappily, preying on one another, surviving on each other's flesh and blood, living for the sake of eating and procreating, for sense gratification and perpetuation of species. We human beings need today a global conference on bioethics to create a sustainable global civilization, in this age when the information revolution brought on by computers, the Internet, science and technology has made the world a global village.

     Why do scientists need a system of bioethics? Because ethics aims at creating higher human beings and a higher level of civilization. That society is the most ethical which produces the largest number of Christs and Buddhas; or an Einstein who turned into a cosmic man; or great scientists, artists, painters, writers and philosophers who have inspired human beings to reach superhuman and supersensual levels of existence. 'Civilization is the manifestation of that Divinity in man,' said the greatest interpreter of Hinduism in modern times, Swami Vivekananda, in his Harvard University talk of 1896. Civilization does not consist in making newer machines or projecting man as a 'tool-making animal', as Benjamin Franklin said. Nor does it lie in the creation of an 'economic animal', as Alvin Toffler said, or just a Freudian sense-bound animal who jumps at every sensate pleasure provided by today's consumerist society, commits blunders, suffers from a sense of guilt and depression, and then commits suicide.

     Science means knowledge. Knowledge for what? Knowledge for evolving higher human beings who can bring out the infinite potentiality of the Christs and Buddhas hidden inside them ('sa vidya ya vimuktaye'). Hinduism continuously asserts, 'Atmanao viddhi, Know thy Self.' This is the goal of human evolution: not the creation of global killers, but global saviours - the Christ-man and the Buddha-man, as Pierre Tielhard de Chardin showed in his brilliant book The Phenomenon of Man. The amoeba evolves into Christ, because the end of human evolution is Christogenesis.

     'Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest (realize) this Divinity within,' taught Swami Vivekananda. According to Hinduism, there are two great aims of knowledge: external perfection in life through science and technology and internal perfection through higher Knowledge ('Dve vidye veditavye … para caiva-apara ca', Mundaka Upanishad, 1.1.4). Of these two, primary importance has been given to the superior Knowledge (para vidya) for the manifestation of the Christs and Buddhas within us.

     The second goal of science is to bring welfare to the whole world. I remember talking to agro-scientist Dr Norman Borlaug, who used to spend sleepless nights in the deserts of Mexico to develop drought - and disease-resistant strains of wheat. He did succeed, and thus saved one third of humanity from a sure famine predicted by world economists, for which he got the Nobel Peace Prize. This is the glory and beauty of science.

     Hinduism continuously asserts that happiness lies not in individualistic living, however excellent that may be, but in living a holistic life for the welfare of entire humanity, because each one of us is inextricably connected with the universe. 'I connect the whole universe like a thread connecting pearls,' says Sri Krishna in the Bhagavadgita. Happiness, fulfilment and peace come to an individual or a nation when they know how to live for the welfare of all humanity. 'Bhemaiva sukham, Infinitude is bliss,' says the Chandogya Upanishad (7.23.1).

     From the perspective of Hinduism the entire issue of bioethics revolves round two primary questions:

     (1) Is science helping to create highly evolved human beings or is it only creating highly powerful Frankensteins?

     (2) Is science catering to the welfare of entire humanity, or is it only trying to enrich one nation, one race or one group at the cost of others?

     If our answers are in the affirmative and we orient all of our scientific research, investigations, findings and discoveries towards this end, we would have followed the universal laws of bioethics.

     During the successful explosion of the first atom bomb in Alamogordo, Robert Oppenheimer, its maker, spontaneously began to recite the hymn from the Gita where God's effulgence is compared to the effulgence of a thousand suns. A few days later a special party was hosted in honour of the scientists led by Mr Oppenheimer. He found that the party was a 'dismal flop'. A cool-headed scientist came out suddenly and began to vomit. 'The reaction has begun,' wrote a stupefied Oppenheimer. (1) His memorable speech after the first atomic explosion is a cry for morality and ethics for scientists working in a thermonuclear age: 'But there is another thing - we are men too; we cannot forget our dependence on our fellow-men. I mean also our deep moral dependence… the value of science must lie in the world of men… all roots lie there. There are the strongest bonds in the world, stronger than those even that bind us (atomic scientists) to one another, deepest bonds that bind us to our fellow-men.' (2)

     The Hindu Concept of Ethics: Dharma

     In a beautiful story from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad we find that even after creating brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras, the Creator did not feel happy. He finally created the 'excellent form' of law and justice called dharma, or righteousness. Says the Upanishad, 'There is nothing greater than dharma, righteousness or justice. So even a weak man hopes (to defeat) a stronger man through righteousness, as with the king's help. That righteousness is verily truth.' (1.4.14)

     According to the Manu Smriti, the king must protect the country through an efficient administration. The king who has successfully rooted out violence from his kingdom, commands the highest respect. (8.386-7) By the king's order, punishment alone governs all created beings. … The whole world is kept in order by punishment meted out to evil-doers. (7.18, 22) The king must punish thieves and the wicked by lashes, fines or severe corporal punishment. (8.324) Any assassin should be immediately killed. (8.350) A truly spiritual man should never be hurt. (8.380-1)

     The Creator assured humanity that he had created dharma, a system of law or moral order by which the weak would be able to get justice against the strong. The moral order, or rta as described in Vedic Hinduism, is inviolable. Its violation means self-destruction. Macbeth brought destruction on himself because he violated the moral order by killing the innocent guest Duncan. According to Vedic Hinduism, a guest has to be respected like a god just as one's father, mother and teacher should be respected as gods. Swami Vivekananda extended this Upanishadic limit, and declared that the new Vedantic Hinduism must respect the God in the sinner, the ignorant, the sick and in the have-nots of all countries and climes, everywhere, irrespective of caste, creed or nationality. It is on this basis of universal respect for the Infinite in the finite, for God in human beings everywhere, that the new ethics of human civilization must be based.

     Hinduism asserts that there is the same Consciousness pervading all creatures, plants and even non-living entities. Manu recommended fines for injuring small animals, cattle, wild quadrupeds and birds. (Manu Smriti, 8.296-8).

     In 1901, the Indian biologist J C Bose demonstrated his epoch-making experiments of human - like response in metals before the physics section of the British Association at Bradford. Scientists saw with wonder the similar curves obtained from human muscles, metals and plants when they were responding to the effect of fatigue, depression and poisonous drugs. Bose's discovery conclusively proved that the same consciousness pulsates in men, plants and even metals in various ways. He summed up the essence of his findings thus: 'In many investigations on the action of forces on matter, I was amazed to find boundary lines vanishing and to discover points of contact emerging between the living and the non-living.' (3)

     Can We Use This Holistic Ethics in Practical life?

     Sri Ramakrishna, the modern saint of Hinduism, tells us that although God is present in every living being like man, tiger or snake, we cannot embrace a tiger; we have to avoid it and create barriers to prevent the tiger from taking innocent lives. Again, Ramakrishna teaches us that our duty is not to kill the wrongdoer, but take sufficient steps so that he refrains from wrongdoing. A snake was taught by its guru not to bite others. When it left biting, people began to hit it mercilessly and left it half-dead. The guru came back and taught the snake, 'Do not bite. But who told you not to hiss?' The snake got the mantra for survival in an antagonistic world. This is the Hindu view of ethics in practical life.

     Unity, the Basis of Ethics

     It is from the realization of the one single Consciousness everywhere that sages have felt their inextricable interconnectedness with the rest of the universe. It is only after such realization that true love, love for others, dawns. Then the higher man goes on to live a holistic life. Only then are ethics and morality born. All ethics is based on the perception of the basic unity of life. Vivekananda explained, 'Why should you do good to others? Because that is the only condition of life; thereby you expand beyond your little self; you live and grow. All narrowness, all contraction, all selfishness is simply slow suicide.' (4)

     The rational world of science is earnestly bent upon seeking out the rationality, the raison d'etre, of all its philosophy and ethics. Ethics cannot be derived from the mere sanction of any personage, however great and divine he may have been. Such an explanation of the authority of ethics appeals no more to rational thinkers. They want something more than human sanction for ethical and moral codes to be binding; they want, in the words of Vivekananda, 'some eternal principle of truth as the sanction of ethics'. (3.189) Vivekananda asserts that in order to reach the real basis of morality or ethics one 'must have the highest philosophical and scientific conceptions'. (2.355)

     Two eternal principles governing the universe stand out in the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism:

     (1) The Infinite is the background behind the finite (Atman = Brahman).

     (2) An essential holistic unity and interconnectedness is always there behind all apparently disparate realities of the universe and the life therein (ekam-eva-advitiyam).

     Ethics is the foundation of any society or civilization. Without ethics life would be governed by the law of the jungle. The ends of morality are fulfilled by the recognition of one's own Self in others. The Gita declares, 'He that sees one God existing everywhere cannot injure another who is his own Self, and so attains the highest goal.' (13.28)

     Vedanta philosophy, which is the crowning glory of Hinduism, encourages an individual to realize the infinite God in the finite body, then see His presence everywhere, and thus turn his life into a ceaseless service to his own Self in others. Dualistic philosophies, which make a distinction between God and man, cannot justify this holistic vision. A ruling Personal God promising reward in heaven or punishment in hell for His devotees can punish the violators of ethics and encourage fellow feeling for the believers of the same faith, but cannot inspire universal love for mankind at large. Unfortunately, in some religions, a clannish attitude made the killing of non-believers respectable.

     The Ten Commandments of Moses with categorical imperatives like 'Thou shalt not kill', 'Thou shalt not bear false witness' and so on form the fundamental basis of ethics in Semitic religions. The teachings of Christ returned to pure ethics and reduced the Ten Commandments to two central teachings:

     (1) Love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and soul.

     (2) Love thy neighbour as thyself.

     Why does a newborn baby get so much love from her mother? Because a day earlier the two were one. All ethics, all altruistic and humanistic values, as opposed to jingoistic, fundamentalist and dogmatic values, are based on the perception of this basic unity of existence.

     This holistic perception of life forms the basis of ethics in all major religions. In the Jain religion paropakara (doing good to others) and parahita-cinta (thinking of others' good) are the first two values for joyful living. The same path of holistic living was voiced by Buddha to his intimate disciples: 'Bahujana hitaya, bahujana sukhaya, lokanukampaya, hitaya, arthaya, sukhaya, devamanuoyaiam; for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, with compassion, for bringing goodness and the good things of life to all, both for the gods and the common masses.'

     In the Sufi mysticism of Islam, the same voice is heard in the utterance 'ana'l-haq, I am God' instead of 'ana'l-ab'd, I am the servant of God.' Jalaluddin Rumi says, ana'l-haq means I am not, He is all; there is no being but God's. That is extreme of humility and self-abasement. (5)

     Science Brings Us a Single Universe of Unbroken Wholeness

     Relativity physics shows us that material objects are not distinct entities, but are inseparably linked to their environment or the so-called empty space; properties of one material substance can only be understood in terms of their interaction with the rest of the world. The universe of classical physics has been swept away by relativity, whose main hallmark is unification, joining together space, time, energy and matter in an indissoluble continuum. (6) In the state of singularity of blackholes, as Roger Penrose calls it, energy-matter and space-time are all fused into one single entity, a unity beyond space and time. (7)

     If Einstein interconnected time, space, field and matter, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle broke down for the first time the Cartesian dualism of mind and matter by proving that the objective outside in subatomic physics is inextricably related to the subjective dimension of the scientists. The reality today is no more objective but 'omnijective' (subjective and objective) according to Michael Talbot in his book Mysticism and the New Physics.

     Ilya Prigogine, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, writes in the introduction to his book Order out of Chaos, 'Present-day research leads us further and further away from the opposition between man and the natural world.' (8) According to him, the main purpose of his discovery is to show 'instead of rupture and opposition, the growing coherence of our knowledge of man and nature'. 'We are living in a single universe,' says Prigogine. (9)

     Thomas S Kuhn, in one of the most influential books of modern times, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, shows how the scientific world has turned to a new paradigm of interconnectedness of the entire universe, and an inseparable connection between mind and matter. It is the new holistic paradigm of science.

     The successful experimental demonstration of Bell's theorem by David Bohm in 1972 proved that twin, paired quantum particles somehow communicate with each other instantaneously, even at a space-like distance. David Bohm says: 'Parts … are seen to be in immediate connection in which their dynamic relationship depends in an irreducible way on the whole system, and indeed that of a broader system in which they are contained, extended ultimately into the entire universe. Thus, one is led to a new notion of unbroken wholeness which denies the classical idea of analysability of the world separately.' Bohm writes with another physicist, Basil Hiley, that the experimental verification of non-local causality in physics 'leads to a radically new notion of unbroken wholeness of the universe'. (10)

     The quantum revolution, as Ken Wilber wrote in 1993, has established a holistic paradigm as the final basis of science, instead of the old dualistic paradigm, which separated God from men, man from man, matter from mind, and obviously nation from nation and religion from religion. It has inspired and has led to a monistic and not monotheistic vision of underlying reality. 'It is perhaps the most outstanding cultural phenomenon of our time,' writes Amaury de Riencourt in his book The Eye of Shiva. 'It might well be that mankind is now on the threshold of a psychological and physiological revolution of a magnitude that will overshadow all the social and political revolutions of our century, made possible by the seemingly incongruous, yet perfectly logical, marriage between science and eastern mystical insights.' (11)

     Echoing the highest Hindu philosophical sentiments, Vivekananda declared that in the ultimate analysis 'the whole universe, mental and material, will be fused into one. It is the finding of unity towards which we are going.' (12) Again, he said:

     One atom in this universe cannot move without dragging the whole world along with it. There cannot be any progress without the whole world following in the wake, and it is becoming every day clearer that the solution of any problem can never be attained on racial, or national, or narrow grounds. Every idea has to become broad till it covers the whole of this world, every aspiration must go on increasing till it has engulfed the whole of humanity, nay the whole of life within its scope. (13)

     (To be concluded)


1. Robert Oppenheimer, Letters and Recollections (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), 292.
2. Ibid., 328.
3. Swami Jitatmananda, Holistic Science and Vedanta (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1991), 1-15.
4. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 7.476.
5. Claude Alan Stark, God of All (Massachusetts: Claude Stark, 1974), 77.
6. Amaury de Riencourt, The Eye of Shiva (William Morrow, 1981), 22.
7. Ibid., 72.
8. Ilya Prigogine and Isabella Stengers, Order Out of Chaos (London: Flamingo, 1986), 16.
9. Ibid., 4, 9.
10. Fred Allen Wolf, Taking the Quantum Leap (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), 177.
11. The Eye of Shiva, 196-7.
12. Holistic Science and Vedanta, 1-15, 149.
13. CW, 3.269.


International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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