SPIRITUAL HERITAGE EDUCATION NETWORK

SHEN

The title of the project lends itself to different interpretations and so there is a clear need for reaching a common understanding as to exactly what we mean by it. We can broadly discuss the subject matter under two headings: a) education network; and b) spiritual heritage.

The education network we plan to establish is on the internet or the world wide web. Most of us assembled here are already familiar with the immense potentialities of the information super highway although it is of relatively recent origin. Since its inception in 1993-94, the world-wide network of computers has grown exponentially in size. The latest statistic is that the internet traffic is doubling every hundred days. It is mind-boggling to think of the sheer enormity of the network that has rendered instantaneous transmission of information possible. The very first use for the internet in the current era of the economic man was, of course, in the promotion of consumerism in all its myriad ways. If the use of the internet was merely confined to this dull usage, we would have been rightly criticized for using improved technological means to cater to an unimproved end. Fortunately, the internet has opened the flood gates for exchanging all types of information and, consequently, the number of usages is also growing rapidly. In particular, it has helped in implementing the idea of continuous education where the underlying thought is that education should not terminate with the procurement of a degree or a diploma, but should extend beyond that throughout one’s life span. The so-called knowledge explosion has brought about fundamental changes in ways in which we think of formal education.

In this connection, I recall the visionary project of the media lab at M.I.T. which was actively supported by the then president, Dr.Jerome Weisner, who had served as the scientific advisor to John F.Kennedy. In many ways it was a precursor to what we now envisage as the full potentialities of the internet. This lab was conceived much earlier than the days of the internet, but it is of historical value of some relevance. Weisner was convinced that the ongoing digital revolution had the certain potential to forge links between the various disciplines. In particular, as an eminent educator, he had conceived that the time was ripe to offer a technological solution to close the gap between the two cultures, one based on science and technology, and another based on humanities and social sciences, a thorny problem that has challenged educators for a very long time.

The crux of the digital revolution can be conveyed in popular language by noting that the fundamental unit of information is bits (binary digits, namely, zeros and ones) which is analogous to the atom in relation to matter. Information can pertain to various types of signals: audio, video, graphics, text and data, and all of these, in the ultimate analysis, can be reduced to their respective bits. And we have the technological ability to combine bits from various sources in any fashion we want which is what gives digital processing its tremendous versatility. This is the central idea of multi-media, which is already an accomplished fact now.

Philosophically speaking, information is a concept that is much subtler than energy. According to an old saying from India, it is subtlety that is the true measure of universality. The subtler a concept is, the more universal it becomes. In fact, information is a pillar of reality of the external world just as energy is, although we do not have as yet a quantitative law giving expression to this universality.

We believe that the message of spirituality is universal in nature, and the use of the internet that has the basic characteristic of universality in technological terms is ideally suited for its propagation. Until recently, we had access only to broadcast media for such purposes. But the significant difference between broadcast media and the internet is that the latter can be used both as a source and a sink instead of merely as a source as in the former. In other words, an individual can, not only receive information, but also transmit information. Consequently, this highly personalized characteristic of the new medium lends itself to spiritual education in an ideal way, since it is per se highly personal in nature.

Next, I will say a few words about the three areas of human endeavour, namely, Philosophy, Religion and Science, all of which deal with universal truths in their own specialized ways. It is important to recognize their overlapping interests as well as the significant differences that distinguish one from the other before we focus our attention on the concept of spirituality.

We first note some of the important characterisics of religion: a) we first formulate an ideal, the highest that a human being is capable of; b) the realization of this ideal is in one’s own personal experience, and so religion is concerned with both the formulation and realization of the ideal; c) the formulation of the ideal will usually have a frame of reference that includes after-life considerations, and hence there is a belief in the supernatural; d) there is a recourse to direct revelation of the ideal by a being who is vested with infinite characteristics of existence, consciousness, and supreme bliss. The characteristics I have mentioned are from the Hindu scriptures, but there are analogous concepts in the other great religions also; and finally, e) there are dogmas associated with every religion which follow as a corollary to what is stated in c).

Let us now outline some of the main considerations in philosophy: a) as in religion, philosophy is also very much concerned with the formulation of an ideal; b) however, appeal to supernatural revelation is strictly eschewed since the discussion is entirely within the domain of rationality and as such the support for the ideal is sought based purely on Logic and the data of human experience; c) philosophy takes for granted certain postulates and tries to deduce conclusions from them in a deductive way—in this aspect, it does resemble religion; however, there is also an alternate way in which philosophical discussions proceed, and that is by constructing the view of the ideal by a detailed and meticulous analysis of human experience—this is the way existence theorems are proved in mathematics through an actual construction of solutions via an algorithmic procedure.

Finally, we will comment on some of the similarities and dissimilarities between science and philosophy: a) the strongest similarity between them is that both of them analyze the data of experience ; b) the strongest dissimilarity between them is that while philosophy, like religion, is interested in the whole of reality, science, on the other hand, deals with several branches of knowledge, which, in effect, constitute the realities concerning the fragmented parts of this universe. That a knowledge of the sum of all such scientific realities does not amount to the whole truth can be proved with the same rigour of an Eucledian theorem. In other words, knowledge of the whole reality does not lend itself to a reductionist procedure. Of late, physicists have advanced theories like Physics of immortality, Theory of Everything etc., but they do not negate our earlier assertion. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, c) science, while it is devoted to the pursuit of truth, it is, however, completely neutral about values, whereas consideration of values is of primary importance to both philosophy and religion.

Having presented a brief outline about the similarities and dissimilarities amongst religion, philosophy and science, we proceed to state that we can discern the existence of a universal philosophy which is inherent to all the major world religions . It is a message that can be called the Science of Being and The Art of Living which is addressed to each individual human being irrespective of his or her religion and race. What this universal philosophy is can best be grasped by the writings that appear in the literature of the major faiths. In fact, as the very first step in conveying the ideas of universal philosophy and spirituality, we propose to include such select passages drawn from the great religions in order to highlight the commonality of ideas.

The question that might naturally occur at this stage is the relevance of exposure to such material on the spiritual education network. The answer to this question is quite simple and straightforward. We believe that there is a strong connection between spiritual and secular values, and that the pursuit of the former will most certainly enhance and enrich the quality of secular values. While it is possible to lead a highly rational life, and a life rich with ethical and moral values without the conscious pursuit of spiritual values, we believe, however, that even the first step taken towards the realization of spiritual values will bring a totally different dimension to life altogether. The complete realization of the goal might be very difficult to accomplish in one’s lifetime, but the very participation in the practical aspects of working towards that goal will be a rewarding experience.

In the document we have circulated, there is a repeated mention of the phrase unity in diversity. I will say a few words in amplification of the meaning of this phrase to lend further clarity to it. Everyone instantly understands what we mean by diversity because it is a truth that is readily apprehended. The self-awareness of oneself as an entity separate from the rest of the universe is at the very basis of this diversity. The discussion of this subject could be expanded to include the realm of the individual self as well as that of the external world. Physicists like Freeman Dyson speak of the law of maximum diversity in relation to our expanding universe and consequently, of increasing diversity. At the level of the individual self, one can also talk about the diverse perceptions we have about the rest of the universe. In any case, diversity is not a difficult concept because all of us have a feeling that we can, not only understand what it means, but also actually experience it without any need for an elaborate intellectual discourse about it.

But the concept of unity is difficult to understand, and much more difficult to have a direct perception of it. The ultimate purpose of philosophy is that we must be able to see this truth also, and that is why in Sanskrit, philosophy is called darshana, which means to see. The word see in this context means direct perception, rather than being limited in its meaning to what the eyes can see. The word unity here refers to an undifferentiated consciousness which will afford a truly holistic view of the whole of reality. The mystics of all religions sing the glory of this exalted experience and, in their articulation of the ineffable, they lay stress on the fact that it is the birthright of every human being to realize this ideal of unity in diversity.

I hope that the spiritual education network will bring home the message of spirituality to all individuals who are interested in pausing and examining the truth of this statement in a contemplative way so that they are encouraged to proceed further to consider the practical aspects for its realization. We succeed in our efforts even if we are able to kindle the spark in only a small section of the population inhabiting this world. This is by no means a new message, but the profundity of the theme needs repetition, and we are encouraged that the availability of the internet has given us yet another means to reach a large number of people in the solitude of their homes where they can also interact with others for seeking clarification of ideas and sharing their experiences.

Thank you.