Spirituality: The Science And Beyond

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 14 Oct 2018 11:30:16


 

By DR ANJALI JOSHI,

Science and spirituality are the two sides of the same coin. Science is trying to find the truth in an objective or physical manner, whereas spirituality tries it subjectively or metaphysically. -Thomas Vazhakunnathu, philosopher and spiritual scientist.

What Is Spirituality?

The Sanskrit scriptures define the word spirituality (adhyatma) precisely as aatmaniadhiitiadhyatma, meaning all that which is performed in accordance with the wishes of the soul (aatma) is spirituality. It is pertaining to the soul and the quest to seek answers to questions like who am I, from where have I come, where I will go after death. Although spirituality is often understood as ‘mystical’ or ‘religious’ experience across various religions all over the world, it is a direct, nonintellectual experience of reality which is independent of cultural and historical contexts. Spirituality is not about competency or perfection; it is about connection. A spiritual experience can give us a sense of connectedness with the cosmos. This sense of belonging to the universe can make our lives profoundly meaningful. Spirituality is an integrated process expressed in the attitudes, beliefs, and practices that influence our lives. Swami Vivekananda says, “Spirituality is the science of the soul.” While the physical science is full of questions and waiting for the answers, spirituality, the divine science has all the answers and waiting for questions.

Significance Of Spirituality:

We all have spiritual needs that give some sense of meaning and hope in the midst of losses, tragedies, and failures. These vital beliefs are the resources of strength to help us heal the painful wounds of grief, guilt, selfrejection, and shame. Spiritual needs involve finding meaning in one’s life, introspection, love, compassion, total acceptance, inner peace and life goals. This can exert powerful influences on our lives. Psychologist Abraham Maslow calls spiritual experience as a ‘peak experience’, with moments of ‘heightened aliveness’ which involves the body and mind. The spiritual practices and meditation promote relaxation, build internal energy, realise inner self and develop compassion, patience and forgiveness. Gradually person’s ego is dissolved and eternal joy is experienced. This facilitates an indestructible sense of wellbeing while engaging in daily activities.

Scientific Perspective Of Spirituality:

Recent scientific discoveries provide evidences that support the multi-dimensional nature of reality that our ancestors have known for thousands of years. Through the modern scientific perspective of ancient spiritual knowledge,we can attempt to unfold the whole truth.

Spirituality, Psychology And Neuroscience:

According to a recent research by Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, people who believed that spirituality was important to them had significantly thicker cerebral cortices of the brain responsible for sensory perception, language and emotion processing-than those who did not. It was also observed that depression was significantly less in the spiritual group. Religious traditions, yogic philosophy and meditation have a core concept of a greater, or universal, consciousness. The concept of surrender to God is similar to giving up control to some higher power. Ben Michaelis, a clinical psychologist explains this concept as, “we are helpless when we are young and rely on other people to survive. We are wired to give up control and to trust others who are more knowledgeable than us. This is why surrender to a greater power is not only a necessity, but in fact delightful and stress-relieving which makes us feel secure.” This coping style relieves us from the burdensome responsibilities. It has been shown in scientific studies that, spiritual support reduces hopelessness and suicidal intent in patients of depression. Neuroscientist Judson Brewer acknowledges the idea of consciously giving in to something bigger and calls it ‘the universe prompt.’ This is helpful by letting go of the small self, so the grace of God can flow through us. The same phenomenon is described in Advaita Vedanta [from the Upanishads] and in Catholicism.

Spirituality And Quantum Physics:

American-Austrian physicist Fritjof Capra observed an interesting and remarkable similarity between the world view of quantum physics and Eastern spiritual traditions. This harmony with their views confirms the ancient Indian wisdom, that brahman, the ultimate reality without, is identical to atman, the reality within.

Applications Of Spirituality:

According to pancha-kosha concept of taittiriya upanishad, a part of ancient vedic scripture, human existence is believed to be comprised of five sheaths known as panchakosha. A holistic view of the human organism with the interdependence of gross body, energy body, mind, intellect and inner bliss, is indicated in this concept. Since life is a holistically complex phenomenon, its problems can be tackled only through holistic interventions. The new concept of health is not just limited to disease free biological functioning of the body, but regards something which is powerfully influenced by cultural, social, philosophical and spiritual factors. This includes the existence of meaning and purpose in life. Spirituality is emerging as a new research trend with identified benefits measured on global indices. This has facilitated its potential applications in the areas such as healthcare, psychology, behavior therapy,workplace wellness, subjective well-being and personality integration. The changes that occur through spiritual practices are reflected at material level. These changes can be examined, tested and validated by science and made available to the majority of people. The study of spirituality with scientifically accepted parameters provide useful insights into its dimensions to enrich our lives. Spirituality is an integral component of healing. Scientific research has proved that, spirituality influences physical, psychological and social health.

Physical Health:

Scientific research has identified that the spiritual practices such as mental prayers, chanting mantras, meditation bring about biochemical and physical changes in the body that change metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry. Yoga and meditation practices enhance the experience of spirituality and contribute to overall well-being. It is thought that, this effect is because of relaxation, altered states of awareness, a suspension of logical thought and the maintenance of a self-observing attitude as the behavioural components of meditation. Spirituality also enhances physical health status through religious based norms which govern diet, sexual behaviour, health care behaviour and drug or alcohol abuse.

Psychological Health:

As per our current ways of understanding through research in psychology and neuroscience, it can be said that spirituality is a kind of psychological tool. It is a psychosocial and cognitive phenomenon related to affect and emotions as well as relevant to personality and genetic determinants of personality. However, scientists suspect that some features of spiritual experiences may never be adequately captured by scientific methods. In the future, quantum physics or other disciplines may offer different explanations and revelations, but at present, it is still a mystery as we can’t explain it totally.

Social Behaviour:

Religious beliefs and spirituality has been correlated with social behavior with fewer tendencies towards deviance such as thefts and violence. It is believed that, the ‘moral net’ of spirituality and religion is required for the healthy societal structure.

Spirituality At The End Of Life:

Spirituality forms the basis for emerging novel therapeutic modalities to meet physical, emotional and psychological needs of dying patients.A spiritual vision is thought to help patients comply with disease and confront death. Spiritual practice gives courage, strength and wisdom in frightening confrontation with serious illness and death. The emotion-regulation through present moment awareness, acceptance and non-reactivity in mindfulness practices has the potential to enhance the quality of life and overcome fear of death. According to spiritual concepts, death is only a transition from one life to another by only leaving the physical form without affecting the essence of the soul. It teaches about ‘graceful departure’ through conscious training of the mind. Death can be viewed as a ‘spiritual event’ rather than a medical event. Spirituality helps to overcome fear of death and cultivate a sense of peace and fulfillment when this transition occurs. Concepts like controlling the fluctuations of the mind (yogashchittavrittinirodhah), discovering our essential self (tadadrashtuhsvarupeavasthanam), non-attachment (vairagya) and surrender to the ever-existing reality, or God (isvarapranidhan) mentioned in the yoga sutra of Patanjali have potential to address the needs of patients with terminal illness.

Conclusion:

Today, we can’t think of life without science. However, without spirituality, our meaning of life would be lost. It needs to be emphasised that science and spirituality complement each other and both enrich our lives. It is important to understand the place and value of both the outer and inner sciences, and strike the right balance so that we can learn to use both to improve our lives on all levels. It is said that, “Science is organised knowledge, wisdom is organised life.” The ultimate union or ‘yog’ of science and the ancient wisdom of spirituality will give us an effective paradigm for preventive, promotive as well as curative needs of our society. It will certainly take us a step ahead towards the global peace and harmony. (The writer is BDS, DYND, FAIMER Fellow, Fellowship in Yoga Therapy, Consultant Yoga Therapist, Honorary Adviser, World Yoga Foundation, Coordinator, National Women Yoga Board) ■