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Einstein: A believer of cosmic spirituality seeking the Universal experience

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By Gaurav Sharma

An assemblage of more than 25 lots of memorabilia and documents of renowned Physicist Albert Einstein are all set to be auctioned in the US, projected to fetch anywhere between $ 15000 and $ 40,000.

Apart from the personally handwritten autograph letters addressed to his family, the memorabilia includes a set of rare and intimate letters, including two that voice his views on religion and God.

Einstein’s views on the Atomic Bomb and the Relativity Theory are quite well known, but how exactly does the German-born Nobel laureate visualize the concept of religion and God?

The Beginning 

Born to secular Jewish parents, Einstein was a free-thinking man who, after reading various scientific books, came to realize that the state was intentionally deceiving the youth.

With this realisation, Einstein’s disposition towards every kind of social conviction became deeply skeptical.

“It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which was thus lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the ‘merely personal,’ from an existence dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings”, says Einstein in his autobiographical notes.

At the same time, he found that an insight into the causal connections of the world presented an opportunity to, at least, partially access the great, eternal riddle of the universe.

A fierce ‘Personal God’ critic

Einstein, unequivocally, rubbished and derided the thought of a Supreme God. The concept of a personal God as propounded by the Church seemed “naive” and “childlike” to the father of the photoelectric effect.

“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere”, he is known to have stated.

Einstein bluntly demolished the concepts of a Supreme Being, proposed by philosophers and theosophists, as mere myths.

After reading Eric Gutkind’s book, Choose Life: The Biblical Call To Revolt, Einstein lettered a reply which said that the word God for him was nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends.

Such sentiments are also expressed in his book The World As I See It. Questioning that very morality of a personal God, Einstein says, “I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves.”

He lambasted the believers of such a God as “fearful and absurdly egoistic” feeble souls.

An Agnostic Spiritualist

Even though Einstein, outrightly denounced the concept of God as a personal being, he did not consider him as an atheist either.

You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being”, the genius freethinker is known to have said.

Einstein’s views on the Universe were more on the lines of Pantheism, a doctrine which identifies God with nature.

While contemplating the universe Einstein compared himself to a child who notes a ‘mystical order’ in the arrangement of books, which it does not comprehend but dimly suspects.

A believer in cosmic religion

While recognising the “miraculous order which manifests itself in all of nature as well as in the world of ideas”, Einstein dubbed himself as “devoutly religious”.

After segregating himself from the religious beliefs of fear and social morality, Einstein formulated a brand new category of religion called “cosmic religion”, and cast himself within its bounds. He classified this specific religious category as one of deep awe and mystery.

However, Einstein’s conjecture, “the sublimity and marvelous order which reveals itself in nature, makes the individual want to experience the universe as a single significant whole”, suggests a close similarity with the concept of Brahman as expounded by the Vedanta philosophy.

Also, Spinoza’s philosophy of the unity between the soul and the body, which has significant parallels with the Vedanta philosophy, deeply fascinated Einstein.

Both philosophies start with concept of the indeterminable being and admit the relative reality of particular things. And both schools of thought rule out existence of an external creator at the very outset.

Moreover, both philosophies posit the idea of a self-dependant and unconditioned being, albeit in different forms. In case of Spinoza, that being is the Universe, whereas for the Vedantist, it is an underlying principle.

Further, the hypothesis of modification by Spinoza is analagous to the Vedantic theory of Maya or illusion

Hence, it can be reasonably argued that Einstein’s view on nature, reality and Universe were close on the heels of Advaita Vedanta, although he never could fathom the concept of a transcendental reality.

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Modern Science and India’s Universal Wisdom

What if an Indian research scholar would have become adamant by saying that “Pi” was first computed by Madhava instead of Leibniz?

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Old Indian Wisdom and Modern sciences.

Salil Gewali, Shillong

  • India is a land of knowledge and culture
  • Many scientific principles of today were already discovered in ancient India
  • The modern sciences stem from the old Indian wisdom
Of course, for various reasons I was also brought up with less respect for the country. If one asks why, then it requires me to write pages after pages. The reasons are mostly absurd and unpleasantly paradoxical. This strange characteristic of India we hardly find in any other countries.

In brief, my mind had gathered a good amount of misinformation about the country which I realized not very late. Thank God, that all didn’t get tenaciously ossified which would have been very difficult later if I had to cleanse myself of or unlearn whole over again what I could have learned from various biased sources. Please kindly note, those biased sources are still held as credible. And, if ever any sane voice is raised against the biased academia then it is criticized as a vile attempt to distort the established history or as a show of insane chauvinism. You will be totally disgraced.  Therefore, many prefer to keep quiet.

Erwin Schrodinger was a great scientist.
Till a decade ago the computation of “Pi” was ascribed to a renowned German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz which was in fact wrong. What if an Indian research scholar would have become adamant by saying that “Pi” was first computed by Madhava instead of Leibniz? It would be like stirring up a hornet’s nest in India, if not in the West.  Then Dr. Srinvastava, Prof. Mehta and others would have lampooned the researcher, the next day the uproar of condemnation would have come from the media – so much so that he might have run the risk of losing all your academic carrier and position.

Incidentally, there in the west emerged a number of scholars like Marcus du Sautoy, the former President of the Mathematical Association, and others, who battled hard to establish that “Pi” was first mathematically calculated by Madhava of India in the 14th century, almost about three century earlier then by the German mathematician Leibniz. Very recently only the fact has been officially established and now known to be “Madhava–Leibniz series”. This bold step cannot be taken by any Indians within the country. Because other Indian scholars would be foaming at the mouth. Discrediting the West is quite like a blasphemy. Here people can proudly discredit their own country for which they usually find good support.  That is why they disrespect their languages, they often take delight in disrespecting their heritage, and they can snobbishly distrust their native values. I’m afraid, here in India, distrusting the nation’s glories requires no logic and trusting the foreign requires no validity!

Also Read: Science writing: A neglected form of literature that needs focus

Therefore, I must salute a few of the world-renowned westerners who awakened me. Those dispassionate scholars who flashed their spotlight towards India for “knowledge”. That flashlight was to dispel what I call it as my delusion. It was in fact destined to change my perspective to look at the country. One of the foremost among them to change my mind was an opinion/quote by Robert Julius Oppenheimer (father of atomic bomb) which I had come upon in a world-acclaimed book “The Tao of Physics” by a renowned American physicist Fritjof Capra.  This atomic scientist, who learnt Sanskrit around 1933 to go deeper into the ancient text of India, proclaims, — “What we find in Modern Physics is an exemplification, an encouragement and a refinement of old Indian wisdom”. Though it appeared quite ridiculous to me but I could not dismiss it. Rather, this bold opinion triggered my inner intellect. Of course, for a couple of months I remained skeptical of the views expressed by Oppenheimer, I persistently “reasoned” that a scientist does not utter a single word unless he/she evaluates the fact with the mathematical algorithms. In the meanwhile, I had overheard the roar of the father of Quantum Mechanic – Erwin Schrodinger, best known for his “Schrodinger Equation” — only one equation in the vast studies of Quantum Mechanic. That “roar” was in consonant with what my inner intuition vaguely held after reading the ancient text.  Of course, it did not take me very long to figure out what so marveled Schrodinger, and also other modern physicists like David Bohm and the Nobel laureate Brain David Josephson about India’s literature of wisdom.

The very fundamental essence of the Vedanta that — “apparent multiplicity is an illusion and everything in the universe is from ONE WHOLE” was thoughtfully paraphrased by Schrodinger. The grand notion of the East that‘MAKER AND THE MADE’ touched the heart of inquisitive Schrodinger.  Indeed, after the in-depth research, observation and experimentation of probably not less than a decade, Schrodinger remarked: “The UNITY and CONTINUITY of Vedanta are reflected in the unity and continuity of ‘wave mechanics’. The incredible doctrine that “All in ONE” of Upanishads perfectly dovetailed with the new experimentation of the matter or “particle” and its subtle “wave function”.

That’s why we have infinite species of flowers amazingly blooming in uncanny colors and fragrances at the same time in multiple Earth-like planets; we see endless verities of trees bearing fruits with amazing flavors and tastes; all celestial stars are rotating and revolving with perfect precision. Even one CELL/ATOM of an object is subtly as complex as a factory. Just imagine how many cells in the trillions and trillion of objects in the cosmic ocean? What is most intriguing is that everything is in perfect order, perfect harmony and at peace. Therefore, how could that be possible to “separate” the Divine from His boundless creations which are inherently divine themselves! So, the Vedantic proclamation that “Creator and Creation are ONE” makes much more sense to Schrodinger and his likes.

Sensing the grand meaning Schrodinger exclaimed in his masterpiece “What is life” : “The earliest records, to my knowledge, date back some 2500 years or more… the recognition ATMAN = BRAHMAN (the personal “self” equals the omnipresent, all-comprehending eternal SELF) was in Indian thought considered, far from being blasphemous, to represent the quintessence of deepest insight into the “HAPPENINGS” of the world. The striving of all the scholars of Vedanta was after having learnt to pronounce with their lips, really assimilate in their minds this grandest of all thoughts.”

Schopenhauer was a great influence on Einstein.

It’s worthwhile to mention here that “The Unity and unified theory of Upanishads” was introduced to this great modern scientist by the front-ranking thinker of Germany – Arthur Schopenhauer.  Albert Einstein always held Schopenhauer as one of his masters whose portrait he had decorated his study room with.

Finally, I salute a very brilliant American historian Will Durant who, after serious studies of the history and philosophy of the East and the West, concluded: “India was the motherland of our “race”, and Sanskrit the mother of European languages. She was the Mother of our philosophy, of our mathematics, of the ideals embodied in Christianity, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the Mother of us all.”  Will Durant authored a world-acclaimed series ‘Story of Civilization’ in 11 volumes. But what is so weird is that this Mother Indian has given birth to some of the children who consider themselves totally orphaned unless they follow and adopt the West and find fault with the East!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali.