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EXCLUSIVE: Book Discussion on Arun Shourie’s ‘Two Saints’

Arun Shourie, seen as an Indian Economist, Journalist, Author and Politician, but never have we seen this facet of him where he delves into spirituality consequently scrutinising mystical experiences.

Arun Shourie
Author Arun Shourie along with Swami Atmapriyananda and Swami Shantatmananda
– by Saksham Narula
June 13, 2017: Arun Shourie has authored a number of books. His latest book is titled “Two Saints: Speculations Around and About Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Ramana Maharishi”, which was released by the Holiness Dalai Lama. 

On 11th June, the discussion on the book was held in Ramakrishna Ashram, Delhi. Mr. Arun Shourie along with Swami Atmapriyananda and Swami Shantatmananda joined the audience in the Sarada Auditorium to discuss the contents and events mentioned in the book.

Mr. Ashok Jain, a regular visitor to the Ashram, was an audience member. He told NewsGram that he had not read the book, however, he was interested in seeing the spiritual side of Mr. Shourie. “I know Arun but I have never seen this side of him”, said Mr. Jain. 

The introduction to the event was by Swami Shantatmananda followed by Mr. Shouries’ talk. Mr. Shourie opened with branding himself as an “unemployed Punjabi” who is now questioning the mystical experiences, its components and impacts in view of modern neurology and psychology. The audience laughed at the modesty.

Before the author began describing the contents of his book, he mentioned the insensitivity of the book reviewers in general. In the past, he has been a victim of criticism from reviewers who have not read the book, shared Arun Shourie.

Arun Shourie "Two Saints"
‘Two Saints’ on display inside the Ramakrishna Ashram, Delhi

He began with William James’ story. William James was an American Philosopher who began writing in the late 19th-early 20th century. This was also the period when scientific inquiry was stressed upon.

In 1902, William James wrote his masterwork “The Varieties of Religious Experiences”. In the book, James studies the collective accounts of western mystics and their experiences and concludes that these mystic experiences are real. He urged for science to try and comprehend these experiences and give them evidentiary credibility.

This was the background that inspired the author. The last book that Mr. Shourie authored is called “Does He Know a Mother’s Heart: How Suffering Refutes Religion”. This book is about the lessons that he learned while raising his son Aditya who is handicapped and seeing his wife as a victim of Parkinson’s since twenty-five years.

These circumstances led him to question the explanations of suffering. He talks about the old historic problem- Either God is not powerful to prevent evil, or he is powerful but does not want to. The question is old but there is no absolute answer for it.

Then Mr. Shourie “turned” to Upanishads, Vedas, and the Gita for answers. He further read the Quran and the Old Testament but the answers were still not satisfactory.

The author continued, “I had no option but to turn to the three people I have revered most- Swami Ramakrishna, Swami Ramana Maharishi and Mahatma Gandhi”. He wanted to investigate what they had to say about the questions that troubled him.

He does not state whether the answers satisfy him, but he definitely feels satisfied with the way they approach the questions. A devotee of Gandhiji, Mr. Shourie agreed that the answers given by the Mahatma may not be right in the absolute sense but they are so pure that the listener has no alternative but to arrive at those answers.

“Their words have a ring of truth… They have attained the highest states”, said Mr. Shourie.

He continued that Bengal in the 19th century was crawling towards the western civilization. The western culture was so strongly influencing the Bengal region that they almost became strangers to their own culture. They viewed their culture as primordial baggage that should be left off and not carried further. However, it was the goodness of men like Gandhi and Swami Ramakrishna that prevented things from turning on their heads.

Arun Shourie
Audience carefully listening to Arun Shourie

The book title has the word ‘speculations’, clarified Mr. Shourie, for which he thanked his editor for rightly keeping it that way. The book or author himself have no conclusions to make.

Furthermore, he tried to extract the most authentic mystical experiences that Swami Ramakrishna and Swami Ramana Maharishi had experienced more than 200 years ago and scrutinize them under neuroscience. He wanted to see what neuroscience would say if it chanced upon such experiences.

“What would neuroscientists say if they chanced upon Swami Ramakrishna? In his 12 years of continuous sadhana, he would experience a man coming out of his body and sitting in front of him, guiding him, and then disappearing when it was all over. How can neuroscience explain this?” asked Mr. Shourie.

Consequently, he also wanted to investigate if these peripheral experiences are circumstantial or could be invoked through brain surgery or laboratory. From the neuroscientific viewpoint, Shourie concludes it is too premature to say anything or even accept or reject anything.

However, the devotee does say that Swami Ramakrishna and Swami Ramana Maharishi were plain and simple. Their miracle was goodness and simplicity. “The standards they have set are extremely high to match up to”.

Shourie also takes a dig at the present day God-men of the country. “Can we hold today’s gurus who travel in Rolls Royce and have multiple ‘Shri’ in the prefix to their name to the same standards as set by Swami Ramakrishna or Swami Ramana?”

After Mr. Shourie, Swami Atmapriyananda opinionated on the book or rather the underlying philosophy of the book- science and spirituality. Swami Atmapriyananda is the Vice-Chancellor of Ramakrishna Mission, Vivekananda University. He is a “graduate in particle physics who turned to metaphysics”. The audience laughed at that smart wordplay used by Swami.

Arun Shourie
Swami Atmapriyananda humoring the audience

As a lover of science as well as spirituality, Swami Atmapriyananda explained that the answers we seek are not new. Humans since time memorial have asked these questions but none could come up with an answer. “We do not know anything about anything!” said Swami.

However, Swami Atmapriyananda agreed that it is right for science to ask questions about spirituality and religion. He gave the instance when Swami Vivekananda pondered if religion should be scrutinized using the same yardstick as regular science. The answer by Swami Vivekananda was yes. In fact, if there are elements that fail under the scrutiny they should be dropped.

Swami Atmapriyananda advised that one should not take anything seriously, but at the same time take everything seriously. He also encouraged Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of “Think globally, act locally”.

Swami, a physics enthusiast, did point out to Mr. Shourie that his book was a little biased towards neuroscience and should have involved a bit of physics and mathematics, particularly the Godel’s theorem of incompleteness and the God particle. (which Swami jokingly put as the god-damn particle out of which the word was later omitted because it shook the foundations of academics).

Swami Priyananda stated that it is innate in our nature to come up with theories to justify our existence. If the theory is harmless but satisfactory to the individual, it holds. `

Arun Shourie
Swami Shantatmananda thanking Mr. Shourie for his presence at the Ashram

In an exclusive conversation with NewsGram, we asked the author how important does he think it is for the young generation to read his book considering the fact that they all are growing up leaning more towards science than spirituality. To which Mr. Shourie smiled and answered that an individual should first have an interest in it. If so, he suggested one should then start with the original works of Swami Ramakrishna which proved his true devotion. He also enlightened us on his Holiness Dalai Lama’s program of integrating neuroscience with Buddhist spirituality. An interest in the spiritual world comes from within.

by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2394

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Science writing: A neglected form of literature that needs focus

Science has more to teach us about ourselves, our past and future, than any preacher, politician or philosopher ever could

The scientists across various disciplines are dealing with the mysteries of life, the universe and everything else. Wikimedia Commons
The scientists across various disciplines are dealing with the mysteries of life, the universe and everything else. Wikimedia Commons

Along with philosophers, tax lawyers and computer programmers, scientists are perceived as speaking in a language which is supposedly the same as that of common people, but scarcely intelligible to them. And then they use strange symbols, complicated equations, and considerable jargon to talk of “things” unlikely to affect an average person’s life or to be even seen without specialised equipment.

So can scientific writing in any way be even comparable to literature? Yes, for scientists, across various disciplines, are also dealing with the mysteries of life, the universe and everything else, and can express themselves on their subject in ways the most lyrical poet, the most imaginative novelist or the most incisive historian could well envy.

Be it those trying to discern the cosmos’ origin, matter’s structure, the bewildering development and processes of life, including by evolution (despite what some Indian ministers may think), the abundant marvels of nature (including, but beyond humans too), and so on, scientists have written about their work and findings in absorbing ways.

Also Read: Scientists Use Pocket-size Device to Map Human Genetic Code

And in this, they have more to teach us about ourselves, our past and future, than any preacher, politician or philosopher ever could.

Let us take a selection from the last century, which was full of developments across all spheres of science.

And since our existence in terms of our position in the world and the universe is key, we can start with an English physicist, astronomer and mathematician placing things in perspective.

“… we attempt to discover the nature and purpose of the universe which surrounds our home in time and space. Our first impression is something akin to terror. We find the universe terrifying because of its vast meaningless distances, terrifying because of its inconceivably long vistas of time which dwarf human history to the twinkling of an eye, terrifying because of our extreme loneliness, and because of the material insignificance of our home in space — a millionth part of a grain of sand out of all the sea-sand in the world.

Coming to humans, we cannot ignore evolution -- and the contribution of Charles Darwin. Wikimedia Commons
Coming to humans, we cannot ignore evolution — and the contribution of Charles Darwin. Wikimedia Commons

But above all else, we find the universe terrifying because it appears to be indifferent to life like our own; emotion, ambition and achievement, art and religion seem equally foreign to its plan,” wrote Sir James Hopwood Jeans (1877-1946) in “The Mysterious Universe” (1930).

Also Read: Scientists Solve Mystery Of When Flowers Originated

Then, coming to humans, we cannot ignore evolution — and the contribution of Charles Darwin. Among the best to explain its significance is Helena Cronin (b. 1942), a philosopher of biology and co-director of the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science and the Darwin Centre at the London School of Economics.

“We are all walking archives of ancestral wisdom. Our bodies and minds are live monuments to our forebears’ rare successes. This Darwin has taught us. The human eye, our brain, our instincts, are legacies of natural selection’s victories, embodiments of the cumulative experience of the past,” she says in the beginning of her “The Ant and the Peacock: Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today” (1991), on one of science’s “foremost achievements” — the Darwinian theory.

Then there are those unravellers of life’s basic building block — DNA structure discoverers James Watson and Francis Crick.

About the moment of discovery, Crick, in his autobiography “What Mad Pursuit” (1988), says his research partner remembers he went into the pub across the road where they launched daily and told everyone they had discovered the secret of life. “Of that, I have no recollection, but I do recall going home and telling (wife) Odile that we seemed to have made a big discovery. Years later she told me that she hadn’t believed a word of it. ‘You were always coming home and saying things like that,’, she said, ‘so naturally, I thought nothing of it’…”

Also Read: Planets Beyond Milky Way Galaxy Discovered For First Time

Watson, after his “The Double Helix” (1968), followed up with “Avoid Boring People” (2007), which has each chapter ending with lessons such as “Never Be The Brightest Person In A Room”, “Avoid Gatherings Of More Two Nobel Prize Winners”, but also “Work On Sundays”, and “Put Lots Of Spin On Balls”.

Switching to the physical world, we cannot ignore possibly the 20th century’s most well-recognised scientist — Albert Einstein. Let’s take his insightful essay, “Religion and Science”, in which he eloquently pleads the case for new, better form of religious experience which will give rise to a new relationship between these two.

After discussing the need-based and the social impulse-based variants which have in common “the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God” and which is only surmounted by “individuals of exceptional endowment”, he comes to a third — “cosmic religious feeling”, which, according to Einstein, “is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research”.

For “only those who realise the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue…”.

Also Read: Is the moon’s surface evolving?

Can there any better exposition of science’s purpose? (IANS)

(Vikas Datta is an Associate Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at