Updated: Jan 11, 2022
By: Dr. Malladi Srinivasa Sastry
There are challenges in applying scientific methodology to validate answers to one’s own spiritual questions and to replicate such findings of self- experience in another person, individually or collectively. One’s mind is not obliged to infer spiritual observations the same way as another’s. From a scientific perspective, while the mind is incomparably the most important tool that humans possess, it has one serious limitation: its processes and results are subjective (as no two minds think alike). It is perhaps this complexity that led to two distinctly different approaches of using the mind as a tool of spirituality.In one method, the infinite potential of the mind is unleashed in the form of self- spiritual exploration while the other consists of the curtailment of the free spirit of the mind to standardize the experience, in the method of collective spiritual exploration. In Eastern traditions such as the Indic or Dharmic traditions, where self- exploration is encouraged or even celebrated, an individual seeker has the freedom to find his or her own answers. Several masters such as rishis, who, over a period of time, have realized the answers following their spiritual quest, have spoken or written about their findings, such as Yoga. A spiritual seeker following this tradition finds these as useful guides and practical tools to aid his or her personal spiritual exploration. In Western traditions, where collective spiritual quest is recognized, the spiritual experience of a single master, such as a messenger of god, have been codified as the commandment of god and there is an expectation for the adherents to collectively explore within the limits of the strict word of the book. Non-adherence has been known to have serious implications The difference is that in dharmic tradition the tools or guides are used to explore infinity whereas the codified traditions limit exploration to finite space. If we draw parallels to the idea of democracy and autocracy, dharmic traditions are truly democratic in their spirit and no wonder India has been able to embrace democracy so easily much to the dismay of the western world who believe they have championed the idea of democracy. Now let’s explore the relevance of Free Will in spiritual quest. To answer this we first need to go back to the concept of scientific methodology by asking questions such as- Is there a divine energy? If so, does it take a form? Am I born divine? Am I born a sinner? What happens to us after this life? and so on. An atheist would find it easy as he or she will answer the first question as NO. Hence, that’s where the debate ends for them. They would argue that they would only be interested if there is evidence. As mentioned previously, the problem we have in relation to mind and science is that the experiences of one individual’s mind cannot be replicated in another’s mind space. For that matter, using science, we have still not been able to identify the location of the mind! Interestingly, however, we have well-established mind-sciences practiced across the world. So, the atheist has no choice but to engage in the debate until such a time when we find the answers. It can be argued that in the meantime, we will have to recognize spiritual experiences of various masters whose experiences have, on several occasions, resulted in similar findings although experienced in different geographical and time settings perhaps mostly intuitively rather than copying from one another. As well as relative replicability of experiences of spiritual masters has been established, so has the practice of adherents of a particular religion or spiritual path leaving it, in quest of spiritual truth, since they believe that the answer from their religion or spiritual path was not absolute. This is universally applicable to all religions, albeit to different degrees, as Dharmic traditions allow freedom to leave the faith without penalties whereas other faiths impose penalties of varying severity. Blasphemy as a concept not found in Dharmic tradition, where debate is accepted as part of seeking truth. However, the crucial point to observe is the fact that adherents do leave their faith to find answers elsewhere, suggesting that till date no religion has yet found the absolute truth that is scientifically replicable to another individual’s mind or collective minds. All that we have are approximate descriptions, of what may be absolute truth, following self-experiences of various masters. This is not a vindication for atheists, as it is work-in-progress, like the cliched phrase in conclusions of research articles, “more research needs to be done in this field before arriving at conclusions” or “the jury is still out”. Therefore, till such a time when a religion proclaims that it has found the truth and is verified by scientific methodology all spiritual seekers should have the free will to explore spirituality in this vast infinity using methods that don’t curtail their freedom to think, explore, express, reject and declare their findings without any penalties imposed upon them, overtly or covertly. Spiritual quest is an individual's journey. No two minds are the same. Thanks to the Indic or Dharmic traditions, time-tested tools are already available for use. All we now need is the true translation of the concept of free will to truly empower the individual spiritual seeker in every nook and corner of this world, and develop mutual respect towards all schools of thought. Spiritual Freedom means the Spirit of Infinity. Happy Spiritual Quest!