Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi

Symposium in Shimla

by Stephen Parker (Stoma)

“Science and Spirituality, Bridges of Understanding,” a Symposium at the Indian Institute for Advanced Studies, held in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

From 21-23 November 2016 I participated in a symposium on science and spirituality at the Indian Institute for Advanced Studies in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. I was invited by Dr. Bettina Bäumer, currently a fellow at the Institute. The symposium was held in the imposing former Viceregal Hunting Lodge which was the seat of the Indian government under the British Raj from March to October. Some of the Viceroys lived there, although they tended to prefer having residences in town and used the lodge as their office. India’s independence was negotiated here as was the partition of India and Pakistan so the building has considerable historical importance. After independence, it became the summer residence of the President of India. The second President, the great scholar and philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, established the Institute in 1965 and gave his residence as the headquarters of the Institute.

Dr. Bäumer did a splendid job of organizing the conference and was at pains as we arrived to make sure that everyone was comfortable. We were welcomed by the Institute Director, Dr. Chetan Singh. The keynote speaker was physicist Dr. Partha Ghose, a fellow of the Indian National Academy of Sciences and a disciple of Rabindranath Tagore who made many insightful scientific observations but also had many stories about Tagore and his relationship to science and technology (“the machine”).

Other participants represented a range of disciplines. Dr. Sudhir Sopory, a botanist, is also, along with his sister, among the disciples who knew Swami Lakshman Joo the longest. Swami Atmapriyananda of the Ramakrishna Order, also a physicist and physics professor by profession, had many stories of Swami Vivekananda and his attitude towards science as well as a great sense of humor overall. Dr. Varghese Manimala of the Henry Martyn Institute in Hyderabad was a student of the great Catholic scholar of Indian Vedic tradition Dr. Raimondo Panikkar.

Geshe Jangchup Choeden and Stoma

Geshe Jangchup Choeden is the abbot of Goden Shartse Monastery in Mundgod, Karnataka. Gesheji was actually raised in Shimla. One morning during tea on the lawn we were admiring the view of the mountains and he said, with a twinkle in his eye, “let’s take selfies!” So we exchanged selfies. Dr. P. Krishna is a physics professor and the secretary of the Krishnamurti Foundation Education Center and he presented a perspective from the Krishnamurti philosophy. There were a number of other presenters and fellows of the Institute. All the participants seemed to have a significant life investment on both sides of the discussion.

Since I was asked to present a perspective from Swami Veda’s scholarship on the Yoga Sutras (WWSVBD—What Would Swami Veda Bharati Do?), the title of my paper was, “The Perilous Bridge of Vijnana: A Perspective from Patanjala Yoga and Psychology” and I was very gratified that it was received with some enthusiasm. The paper will be published in the proceedings of the conference.

As a part of the proceedings we even enjoyed a concert on the Rudra Vina by dhrupad master Ustad Bahauddin Dagar from Mumbai with commentary by Dr. Bäumer on the importance of music to the science of emotion in Indian thought via the great aesthetic philosopher and Kashmiri Yogi Abhinavagupta.

Over the three days of papers and discussion there emerged an analogic relationship between science, spirituality and ecology and economy, and technology, religion and economy. It was as follows—

Science:technology = spirituality:religion = ecology:economy
Science is to technology as spirituality is to religion as ecology is to economy.

It seemed to me that the organizing principle of this analogy is the exercise of power in terms of how science, spirituality and ecology are utilized either to oppress people or liberate and nurture them through technology, religion and economy. (For example, the skepticism and foreboding that Tagore felt about the impact of technology was very similar to the foreboding expressed by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings in the character of Saruman and his enterprises.) This is a pressing issue in these times of rampant populism, climate change and economic realities that threaten to make income equality much more disparate worldwide. In thinking about how we might extend the symposium into a second event, I ventured that a look at power in each of these domains might an important conversation.

It was a wonderful adventure, both intellectually and in terms of exploring a new part of India. It would be wonderful to be able to attend a follow-up event.



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