The role of scientists in tackling new challenges for development of modern India: An Indian perspective

Swami Sarvalokananda (Adhyaksha), talks at the Tata Institute  of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, on 29th April 2016

Dear Friends,

It gives me immense pleasure to be with you all in this prestigious institution. I am very delighted to see the galaxy of scientists and research scholars.

My talk will be in Indian perspective the role of scientists in tackling new challenges for development of modern India.

India is in need for scientific research for its development
Swami Vivekananda travelled the length and breadth of India, to know about India’s culture, tradition, its religion and spirituality. At that time, Swamiji was very pained to see the degradation or downfall of India.

Those who have read the history of India find that in the past India was great in all fields – in the field of science and technology, literature, music, dance, drama, architecture, etc. However, when Swamiji was traveling in India, he observed a tremendous degradation.

There are many reasons for this degradation. Swamiji realized that one of the main reasons for this is that science and technology were not cultivated and applied properly in India for many many decades. In those days, there was poverty, illiteracy, hunger, and no material prosperity. Swamiji wanted to bring science and technology to our country – so that India can rise again – economically, technically, and spiritually also. For this, he wanted a synthesis of science and spirituality.


Combining Indian asceticism and Western science: The meeting of Swami Vivekananda & JRD Tata
In this context, I would like to quote a very historic incident: The meeting of two great personalities of India – one, Swami Vivekananda – an all renouncing monk of 30 years old, and the other, Mr. Jamshedji Tata the great visionary and industrialist of 50 years. Both of them were traveling by ship from Oklahoma to Vancouver. Swamiji was going to Chicago to attend the Parliament of Religions and Mr. Tata was going there to attend the Columbian exposition on the occasion of the completion of 300 years of the discovery of America.

Both started talking to each other, and during the conversation Swamiji came to now that Jamshedji Tata is going to Japan. Jamshedji said he was in search of technical expertise and equipment for setting up a steel plant in India. Swamiji appreciated this idea and also said – yes, what you can bring to our country is technical expertise. Not only that, you can also bring material science. Swamiji also appreciated the idea of setting up a steel plant. He said,it will be wonderful if we could combine the achievement of science & technology of the West with the asceticism and spirituality of India.

Here you find two very important ideas: combining asceticism and spirituality or humanism with the achievement of science and technology. If any scientific research has to survive for a long time, and for the benefit of scientific research, spirituality or humanism is very important. The main objective of any scientific research in any field has been ‘bahujanahitaya, bahujanasukhaya’ – for the welfare of all and the happiness of many. This has been proclaimed by the great Lord Buddha.

So scientific research must be human welfare oriented. It should not be merely oriented towards the satisfaction or curiosity of knowledge. Neither should it be oriented towards money making or career making. Yes these are needed – career and money – but a humanistic approach towards scientific discovery is very important. That is why Swamiji wanted this combination.

When Jamshedji Tata heard these humanistic words of Swamiji, he was very moved, and inspired. They never met each other after this conversation, but after 5 years, Jamshedji Tata wrote a wonderful letter to Swami Vivekananda. This letter is very inspiring to all of us. He wrote:

Dear Swami Vivekananda,

I trust, you remember me as a fellow- traveller on your voyage from Japan to Chicago. I very much recall at this moment your views on the growth of the ascetic spirit in India, and the duty, not of destroying, but of diverting it into useful channels.

I recall these ideas in connection with my scheme of Research Institute of Science for India, of which you have doubtless heard or read. It seems to me that no better use can be made of the ascetic spirit than the establishment of monasteries or residential halls for men dominated by this spirit, where they should live with ordinary decency and devote their lives to the cultivation of sciences –natural and humanistic. I am of opinion that, if such a crusade in favour of an asceticism of this kind were undertaken by a competent leader, it would greatly help asceticism, science, and the good name of our common country; and I know not who would make a more fitting general of such a campaign than Vivekananda. Do you think you would care to apply yourself to the mission of galvanizing into life our ancient traditions in this respect? Perhaps, you had better begin with a fiery pamphlet rousing our people in this matter. I would cheerfully defray all the expenses of publication.

With kind regards, I am, dear Swami
Yours faithfully,
Jamshedji Tata

This is how Jamshedji Tata was inspired by Swami Vivekananda. He resolved to start a scientific research institute in India. Swamiji also wanted that. As a monk he could not accept this offer, but he gave all support and help to Jamshedji Tata. Though he was not directly involved in this project, he sent his disciple Sister Nivedita to him as an advisor. She was a very influential lady in those days. Mr. Tata, Sister Nivedita, his advisors and others formulated the plan for setting up the research institute in India.

Not only that, Swamiji directly appealed to the Maharaja of Mysore – Shyamraj Wadiyar for donating a piece of land for setting up the Indian Institute of Science. Shyamraj Wadiyar donated 100 acres of land for this purpose.

Swami Vivekananda died in July 1902, and Jamshedji Tata in 1904. Jamshedji Tata could not see his vision coming to reality. But after 4-5 years, this institute came to reality – in 1909. Now, Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore is the pride of India.

Internal & External challenges before the scientists
Scientists face many challenges in the development of modern India. Some include global warming, natural disasters and calamities, diseases like malnutrition, etc.

There are two kinds of challenges – external and internal challenges. We all understand external challenges, but we do not know the internal challenges. What are internal challenges for scientists, or any professional or human being? They are the negative forces/ emotion – of greed, jealousy, hatred, envy, selfishness, self-centeredness, and the like.

If we want to overcome any external challenge, we have to first face these internal challenges.

Time and again, Swamiji emphasized on unselfishness. He said unselfishness is the test of spirituality and religion. So, if we want to get rid of these negative forces and emotions, we must inculcate the great virtue of unselfishness.

In this context I would like to tell you what is the importance of unselfishness. Swamiji wrote a letter to the Maharaja of Mysore. He said: “My dear noble prince, life is short the vanities of life are transitory. They alone live who lives for others. The rest are more dead than alive.”

So whether you are a scientist or any other professional, you have to live for others. Those who live for themselves, though they are alive, they are dead! That is what Swami Vivekananda used to say. This unselfishness is therefore very important – whether you are a scientist, technocrat, bureaucrat, or any other profession.

There is a need to prioritize research areas around human needs
You must identify the priority of your scientific research. Yes, it is very amazing and wonderful that scientists could reach Mars. But today, Maharashtra – the state in which we live – is under drought. So the question is, is the scientific research for going to Mars more important than the priority of tackling the severe drought in Maharashtra?

When man was sent to moon, there was severe criticism in India and all over the world why so much of money had been spent on this? This money could have been spent on some other development.

Yes, we must have curiosity for knowledge – there is no doubt about it. We have to go a long way. But we need to understand and identify the priorities of our research. And based on that, research has to be done.

There are many imminent challenges and urgent needs – not just the drought of Maharashtra. For solving these, you have to carry out scientific research.

Yes there are many hindrances when carrying out scientific research – unnecessary interferences of political leaders, policy makers, lack of funds, etc. But you have to identify your priorities.

Dedication and devotion needed for research
When I had gone to the US, many devotees asked – Swamiji, you are not technically qualified, few monks are engineers/ doctors/ CAs, etc. How do you run this huge global, spiritual institution – Ramakrishna Mission so efficiently? I replied that we may not have academic qualifications, but we have two other qualifications: Dedication and Devotion.

Dear friends, you are scientists. When you do any scientific research, do it with dedication and devotion. If you do, you will get tremendous success and benefit out of this research. In other words, this is a sense of sacrifice.

There is no doubt that you have to sacrifice – sacrifice for others. If you have this attitude in you, you will be able to carry out scientific research successfully.

The outcome of scientific research must be long-term. We usually seek short-term benefits in life. But in research we must seek long-term benefits. This question: How can we achieve long term benefits – must be asked.

The research must have some foundation. Only then it can sustain and thrive. There are many instances in the corporate and business world where business houses collapse. Why is this so? Because such foundations are not there. What is this foundation? They are the spiritual values. These are the foundation on which you can create a great edifice – there is no doubt about it.

There are two aspects of science – humanitarian and technical aspects. We are taking care of the technical aspect. Unfortunately we are not taking care of the humanitarian aspect – which is very important. Both need to go side by side. Since the objective of any scientific research is bahujanahitaya, bahujanasukhaya – the welfare and happiness of many.

What is this spirituality which has to be combined with science?
We talk about spirituality. We want to become spiritual. Everywhere we find people who want to practice spirituality. You must understand what spirituality is, and how it can be combined with science.

Spirituality is nothing imaginary. In the language of Swami Vivekananda, it is the transformation of the inner being. The internal challenge – the change of the inner being – is called spirituality.

Swamiji also said – spirituality is to be good and do good. First you become good, and then try to do good for others.

So dear friends, if you become spiritual, you will become more scientific, more liberal, you will go beyond pettiness and narrowness, beyond self-centeredness, and you will become a complete human being – an integrated personality.

Today, the integrity of any professional – whether it be a scientist or engineer or doctor – is being challenged. For integrity – three things need to be practiced – transparency, accountability and credibility. These are important in any field

That is why Swami Vivekananda wanted to combine the achievement of scientific research of the West with asceticism and humanism of the East.

So there has to be a humanistic approach in scientific research. Only then will there be successful and fruitful scientific research.

Sarvebhavantusukhina, sarvesantuniramaya
Let all be happy, Let all be healthy.

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