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.

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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