In the time we are living in, amid an apparent resurgence of interest in spirituality throughout the Western world, a new breed of scientists seem to be playing an ever more prominent role as the bringers of a revolutionary "new paradigm." The fact that many of these figures from the world of science are gradually assuming roles of leadership during this time of spiritual and philosophical upheaval caused us to wonder. . . What is going on here? Why are scientists—only moments ago the high priests of a materialist worldview which for all practical purposes denies the very existence of a spiritual dimension—suddenly emerging as evangelists of what appears to be a profoundly idealistic and deeply spiritual perspective?
Could it be true that modern science has given birth to the next generation of spiritual leaders? Has a Ph.D. in physics become the pedigree of a respected spiritual authority figure?
It is precisely because of the pervasive and influential role scientists have been assuming in the modern spiritual world that we felt compelled to devote this issue of What Is Enlightenment?
to exploring the question, What is
the relationship between science and spirituality? And in particular, What is the actual relationship to spiritual life of those scientists who have devoted their lives to uniting these two seemingly incompatible disciplines? Asking these questions launched us on a fascinating journey into what was for us completely unknown territory. On this unfamiliar ground, we struggled to understand how the issues raised by these scientists were related—if at all—to the challenge of becoming a fully human being.
In doing research for this issue we immersed ourselves completely, reading widely and spending long hours discussing in depth the dizzying variety of perspectives we encountered. To our surprise, during this period many well-known scientists of both the "new" and "old" paradigms converged synchronistically in our vicinity, causing us to muse that perhaps our intense questioning had somehow created a vortex which would provide us with firsthand experience of the scientific mind. In a single week, we met and spoke with physicist Fritjof Capra and biologists Richard Dawkins and Rupert Sheldrake. Simply trying to keep pace with the many contrasting views we encountered required us to constantly reevaluate our own perceptions of the role of science in the understanding and interpretation of human experience.
In the midst of this inquiry, we unexpectedly discovered that truly great scientists willingly subject themselves to a process which is in many ways similar to that experienced by any genuine seeker after enlightenment, in the sense that each must be prepared to fearlessly question any and all preconceived notions about the nature of reality. At the same time, it became clear to us that science as a discipline contains few safeguards against the obscurations of hubris to which a powerfully cultivated mind is often susceptible.
We also discovered another fundamental challenge confronting these "new paradigm" thinkers. This challenge is best illustrated by Ken Wilber's crucial distinction between those models of reality which include a transcendent dimension of human experience—and those which do not. Wilber points out that while many ecologically- minded new paradigm theorists stress the interconnectedness of all of life, they too often underestimate the significance of the transcendent dimension—sometimes to the degree that they overlook it altogether. And at the opposite end of the spectrum, we discovered, there are new paradigm scientists who so thoroughly champion the transcendent that they have devoted their lives to actually proving, through science, that God exists!
At the end of our journey we found ourselves back where our investigation into the relationship between science and spirituality had first begun—with a fascinating account of a revealing encounter between a renowned spiritual teacher and a promising young scientist at a crossroads in his career.
Fritjof Capra writes in his book Uncommon Wisdom
I remember that I was fascinated as well as deeply disturbed by Krishnamurti's lectures. After each evening talk [my wife] and I stayed up for several hours . . . sitting at our fireplace and discussing what Krishnamurti had said. This was my first direct encounter with a radical spiritual teacher, and I was immediately faced with a serious problem. I had just embarked on a promising scientific career, in which I had considerable emotional involvement, and now Krishnamurti told me with all his charisma and persuasion to stop thinking, to liberate myself from all knowledge, to leave reasoning behind. What did this mean for me? Should I give up my scientific career at this early stage, or should I remain a scientist and abandon all hope of attaining spiritual self-realization?
. . . I was rather intimidated when I finally sat face to face with the Master, but I did not lose any time. I knew what I had come for. "How can I be a scientist," I asked, "and still follow your advice of stopping thought and attaining freedom from the known?" Krishnamurti did not hesitate for a moment. He answered my question in ten seconds, in a way that completely solved my problem. "First
you are a human being," he said; "then
you are a scientist. First you have to become free, and this freedom cannot be achieved through thought. It is achieved through meditation—the understanding of the totality of life in which every form of fragmentation has ceased."