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Thursday, October 7, 2021

Some Reflections on ‘Science and Religion’ by Swami Ranganathananda (Part 3 of 3)

By Ezenwa Onwugbenu

Science and religion are two phases of one search for truth. Science investigates external nature; religion investigates internal nature; and both are complementary. Let me illustrate this with two examples.

First: Sri Ramakrishna says, “Brahman and Sakti are one… just as fire and its burning power are one… just as milk and its whiteness are one… just as a gem and its brightness are one.”

Two scientific principles can be inferred from this statement: (1) the inner configuration of a substance reveals the cause of its outer qualities; and (2) the inner configuration is microcosmic, and the outer quality is macrocosmic.

The inner configuration of fire is a rapid flux of oxidation reactions. The outer quality is heat and light. If we examine the outer qualities: How hot? How luminous? We cannot find the cause of heat. The cause can only be found through investigation of the microcosm, namely, the chemical process of combustion.

The inner configuration of milk is tiny protein micelles. The outer quality is whiteness. If we examine the outer qualities: How thick? How whitish? We cannot find the cause of whiteness. The cause can only be found through investigation of the microcosm, namely, the light refraction and scattering by casein micelles.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Dr. Lewis Janes, a Son of Providence: "Philosopher, Patriot, Lover of Man," Part 3 of 3

By Fred Richardson

Dr. Janes continued his work right up until his untimely death in September of 1901. His passing occurred at Greenacres after teaching a class on Comparative Religion. It was reported that his last words were: “It’s a beautiful world.”  The meaning of this was debated by his colleagues, but one can be assured that the Swamis would have known exactly what he meant. He was laid to rest in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence Rhode Island under a simple, humble gravestone.


Upon his death there were several services held in his honor at the societies he was involved with. At each service there were numerous eulogies and tributes given and letters read which were put into a book entitled: “Lewis G. Janes – Philosopher – Patriot – Lover of Man.”  These were delivered by people of many different spiritual persuasions and backgrounds and are a clear testimony to how highly he was held in esteem by all. This book is available online and is well worth reading. It allows one not only to learn more about Dr. Janes but to also appreciate his colleagues who were pioneers with him in the early days of "Interfaith Dialogue." 

The link is: http://www.vivekananda.net/PDFBooks/Lewis_G__Janes.pdf

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Dr. Lewis Janes, a Son of Providence: "Philosopher, Patriot, Lover of Man," Part 2 of 3

By Fred Richardson

It is most likely that Dr. Janes first met Swamiji in Brooklyn in the spring of 1894. However, it is known that he did spend time with Swamiji in the summer of 1894 at the Greenacres Religious Conference, whose motto was: “Love Truth more than Victory.”  Greenacres was the “embodiment of the ideals of the World Parliament of Religions.” Here they were both Presenters who listened to each other’s talks and most likely spent a fair amount of time discussing their shared interests.  This is born out by Swamiji’s comments in a letter to Mrs. Hale: “There is my friend Dr. Lewis G. Janes of NY, President of the Ethical Culture Society of Brooklyn who has begun his lecture. I must go to hear him. He and I agree so much.”

It was during this time that Dr. Janes offered Swamiji a place at his Society in Brooklyn where he could hold regular classes and public lectures rather than just traveling from place to place. These classes began in December of 1894 and continued for the next several months.  In Marie Louise Burke’s words: “These classes were considered to be the real beginning of Swamiji’s work in America.” 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Dr. Lewis Janes, a Son of Providence: "Philosopher, Patriot, Lover of Man," Part 1 of 3

By Fred Richardson

In the early years of Swami Vivekananda’s time in America there were a number of individuals who stood out in their support of his Mission. Some of them are well known to us, while others appear more in the background and are perhaps less appreciated. One of these individuals was Dr. Lewis G. Janes. His name comes up occasionally in books and letters in relation to Swamiji, but who was he and what role did he play in the establishment of the message: “Truth is One, Sages call it by various names”?

Dr. Janes was born in Providence RI in 1844 to a family with deep roots in New England who espoused the values of freedom and equality for all. They were adherents to Emerson’s Transcendentalism, the Abolitionist movement to end slavery, and the Universalist Church with its main principle of the “Inherent Worth and Dignity of every person.” He was educated in Providence and matriculated at Brown University. He was unable to complete his degree due to illness but was a self-taught scholar who in 1895 received an Honorary Master’s Degree from Brown for his intellectual achievements. Prior to this he had been the President of the Brooklyn Ethical Cultural Society and belonged to the Free Religious Association where he was “devoted to the spirit of free inquiry.” 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Some Reflections on ‘Science and Religion’ by Swami Ranganathananda (Part 2 of 3)

By Ezenwa Onwugbenu 

In recent centuries, dogma-based religions have been eclipsed by a more scientific worldview. However, the triumphant sciences have not strictly held fast to the spirit of free inquiry. Rather, in not-so-subtle ways, the sciences have put on the same inflexible modes of mind characteristic of the authoritarian creeds of old. I think we see this most clearly in the medical sciences. Let me illustrate this with two points.

First: Modern, science-based medicine operates on the peculiar idea that only synthetic compounds are to be used in drug therapy. This dictum ought to be considered a mere “article of faith” or “creed” because it has absolutely no scientific basis.

If you enter the word “turmeric” into the search engine on PubMed.gov, a biomedical research database, you will find thousands of research articles on this herb. A collative study of this literature reveals that certain compounds in turmeric, known as curcuminoids, have over 250 pharmacological actions and a therapeutic effect on over 900 diseases and absolutely zero side effects. Other common herbs like ginger, beetroot, and neem also yield a good amount of research evidence, in both animal and human studies.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Young Adult Retreat Reflections 2021

By Kanna Pichappan

The discussion of “Who Am I?”, our young adult retreat topic, began three days before the retreat when Swami Yogatmanandaji sent us the study material: Swami Vivekananda’s lecture, “The Real Nature of Man.” The packed schedule of the retreat, featuring lectures by Swami Yogatmanandaji, Hatha Yoga, Karma Yoga, and a stroll in the park, left minimal time for our minds to wander elsewhere and kept us focused on spiritual growth. My sincere thanks go to Swami Yogatmanandaji, the volunteers who worked tirelessly, and my fellow devotees for their wonderful company! I truly appreciate the love and care that everyone at the Vedanta Society of Providence showered on us! 

A few learnings from the retreat:

  • W. asked, “Am I my body”? Our body is nothing but processed food… So, is “I”=Body=processed food?

This idea was monumental for me because it prompted me to ask: Am I a combination of rice, dahl, and pancakes?

  • If we have no body, it means we were never born and will never die. The purpose of our body is to serve as an instrument for God’s work. We discussed that instruments, such as cars and machinery, don’t become attached to the work they are doing. In the same way, we can do work while (1) knowing that the work does not belong to us, and (2) not becoming attached to the results of the work.

The implications of this seem tremendous! The vast majority of my worry and misery stem from association with “me and mine” (ex: my college applications, my reputation). It seems that if I can do the work but not associate the results with myself, our fear and sorrow can vanish!

Friday, September 3, 2021

Some Reflections on 'Science and Religion' by Swami Ranganathananda (Part 1 of 3)

By Ezenwa Onwugbenu 

I have recently been reading a book titled Science and Religion. It is a transcript of two lectures given by Revered Swami Ranganathananda. It is a thought-provoking study to say the least. Here are a few initial reflections.

First: Positivistic science and dogmatic religion are two sides of the same coin, in that both are doctrinal systems that obstruct a free, broad-minded search for Truth. The doctrine of positivistic science broadly denies the existence of the metaphysical, and the doctrine of dogmatic religion broadly denies the direct experience of the metaphysical. The end result is that both systems firmly bind man to the sense plane of experience. The scientist merely gathers and classifies sense data. The religious man merely believes in stories beyond sense data. Both are comparably ignorant of the inner world of man. Both are comparably fixed to a set of inflexible, authoritative principles. The scientist limits all his search for truth to matter; and the religious man limits all his search for truth to one or more scriptures.

Second: Positivistic science and dogmatic religion are motions of cowardice. Both share a singular lack of courage to expand the domain of their inquiry, and this self-imposed limitation leads both into varied ruts of illogic. Let me give two examples:

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Young-Adult Retreat at Vedanta Society of Providence

 By Aishanee Acharyya

This was my first year attending the Young Adult Retreat, and I had a really fulfilling experience. This year, the theme of the camp, or guiding question, was “Who Am I?” and I was very confused about what this meant when I first heard it. While I still can’t say I am 100% sure on the answer, since the answer is impossible to truly ‘know,’ I do feel that I have gotten a much clearer understanding of it. From books and previous lectures, I knew that there was an infinite force within us, but I didn’t understand it or know how to use that knowledge of inner divinity in my life. We learned about the balance of enthusiasm and wisdom, which I found to be very interesting, because that is so important for anything we want to pursue at this stage in our life. We may have enthusiasm, but without the wisdom we won’t be able to put our enthusiasm to proper, beneficial use. I had enthusiasm about furthering my spiritual journey, but I think the wisdom I gained from the retreat is what I will take away the most. For example, the understanding of all of us being one really makes me think about how feelings like jealousy, greed, and selfishness have no place in our lives.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Dr. Bose on Living and Non-Living

 By Juhi Wagle

Dr. J. C. Bose began research on radio waves, followed by electrographic responses of “living” and “non-living” matter. He developed many instruments to record these responses, the finest of which was the crescograph, which has a magnifying power of 10 million. Dr. Bose subjected animal skins, plant skins, and metals to various stimuli (light, temperature, plucking, pricking, drugging) and found little difference between the responses. In 1902, he published a paper “Responses in the Living and Non-Living,” where he made a controversial conclusion that the distinction between living and non-living beings is arbitrary and quoted from the Rig Veda, saying that this truth was known to his ancestors all along.

This, however, led many scientists to question his integrity as a scientist. During Bose’s time India was under British rule. Britishers believed that while Indians were adept in languages and metaphysics, they had no aptitude for science; that Indians did not possess the requisite temperament for exact sciences. And this notion spread. Many felt that Bose’s deep philosophical convictions "possibly motivated him to take mental leaps to arrive at some of his scientific conclusions." Bose’s quoting of the Vedas is seen as "perhaps the most pointed evidence" attesting to his philosophical bias. He was accused of "allowing his metaphysics to intrude upon his scientific writings." Some went so far as to declare his conclusions more poetic than scientific.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Free Will vs. Maya as the Reason for Suffering

By Charles Feldman (Prana)

Most monotheists believe in free will. They think that Adam and Eve knew that they were doing something bad, and that they were deceived into thinking that they could get away with it. Correspondingly, fundamentalists think that people who do not adhere to their particular brand of religion know that they are doing something bad. 

My contention is that in all religions and ideologies, people who sincerely believe in them believe that they are doing the right thing. So, if they are being deceived, they are being deceived into believing that they are doing the right thing. If that is the case, they do not have free will, because if someone is deceived into doing something that they sincerely believe is right, and they are actually doing something bad, they are not doing bad of their own free will, because as far as they know, they are doing the right thing. This defeats the argument that the reason for suffering is that God loves people so much that He gives them free will. Even if you were to say that the devil is deceiving people, the fact that they are being deceived means that they do not have free will, unless they are knowingly doing something bad, which, from my experience, is not the case for sincere believers in all faiths. I know intellectually that fundamentalists do not have the free will to see this, even though it feels like they should be able to. It seems so simple.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Life of a Virus

By Juhi Wagle

Blog editor's note:  This post is a reflection on and an elaboration of Swami Yogatmananda's talk, "Life of a Virus":  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyMTX7XFxGU&t=463s

The recent epidemic has brought viruses back into the public spotlight, along with the age-old question, “are viruses alive?” Even with all the advancements in biology and virology, biologists remain divided on this point. Some deny viruses are alive, because viruses do not have a metabolic system and are incapable of independent replication. Others refute this argument by showing that viruses, much like seeds, have life “latent” in them. In the right environment, they grow and replicate. Furthermore, they evolve – which is one of NASA’s main criteria to classify as “living.” Some others say that the answer depends on how one defines life.

So, the first issue is to agree upon a definition for “life.” What can be considered “living”? Observing life around us, biologists have identified 7 properties of life. While non-living objects may satisfy some of these, only living beings satisfy them all. While this is a good starting point, it is handicapping. Firstly, it has been proven that all life on earth can be traced back to a single ancestor. We are drawing our defining properties from a sample set of 1. This is potentially unrepresentative of life in the universe. Because we are limiting “life” to “life found on Earth,” there might be life on some other planet that we wouldn’t even recognize as such, as it is so different from our own.