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466 CH APTER THIRT Y-FOUR Hinduism and Science The word Hindu designates not just a particular religion in the narrow modern sense, but it stands for a cultural tradition that developed over thousands of years on the South Asian subcontinent, embracing also different religions, such as Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism, Śāktism, and others. The Hindu tradition comprises , besides religious rituals and festivities and detailed ethical regulations for individuals and communities, also the “arts and sciences.” Hinduism never knew the Western antagonism between philosophy and theology, nor does it have a “history of warfare between science and religion.” It was the highest aim of Hindus to find satya, truth/reality, which could be approached in many ways and appear in many forms. The well-organized, publicly as well as privately sponsored ancient Indian universities—the most famous were Taxila in the northwest and Nālandā and Mithilā in the east, considered venerable institutions already at the time of Gautama the Buddha, with thousands of teachers and tens of thousands of students, taught not only the Veda and the Vedāṅgas but also the “eighteen sciences,” later supplemented by the “sixty-four arts.” The basic curriculum included śabda-vidyā (linguistics), śilpasthāna-vidyā (arts and crafts), cikitsa-vidyā (medicine), hetu-vidyā (logic and dialectics), and adhyātma-vidyā (spirituality).1 Religion, while suffusing all life and activity, was not isolated from other subjects or given exclusive attention. The Brahmins, the custodians of the sacred texts, were also the leading intellectuals who studied and taught secular subjects. The Hindus called their most ancient and most venerated scripture Veda (from the verbal root vid-, to know). Vidyā, from the same root, designated knowledge acquired in any subject (a medical doctor was called a vaidya), particularly that of the highest reality/truth taught by the Upaniṣads. The term śāstra (from the root śās-, to order) became the most general designation for “science ” (in the sense of French science or Italian scienza): authoritative, systematic teaching, ranging from Dharma-śāstra, the exposition of traditional law,2 and Artha-śāstra, the teaching of statecraft and administration,3 to Śilpa-śāstra, the instruction in art and architecture,4 and Kṛṣī-śāstra, the theory and practice HINDUISM A ND SCIENCE 467 of agriculture.5 A learned person carried the title of Śāstri, respected by the community regardless of the subject of his learning. Graduation was a “third birth”: members of the three higher castes became dvījati (twice-born) through upanayana (initiation); the śāstri degree made them trijati (thrice born). High ethical standards were expected both from students and teachers. Students not only had to pass stringent examinations to prove their aptitude for the subject of study, but also had to live an austere life according to traditional ideals of higher learning. Medical students, for instance, had to take an oath of initiation and a professional oath at the end of their training period, expressing their resolve to follow the code of ethics of their calling.6 Traditional Indian thought is characterized by a holistic vision. Instead of breaking experience and reality up into isolated and unrelated fragments, the Indian thinkers looked at the whole and reconciled tensions and seeming contradictions within overarching categories.7 Thus the poets of the Ṛgveda speak of viśva-jyoti, cosmic light, as the principle and source of everything and of Ṛta, the universal cosmic order connecting and directing all particular phenomena and events. As Betty Heimann emphasizes: “Ṛta is the functional balance of already existent single phenomena of which each in its proper place functions in its own law of activity and all of them collectively balance each other in mutually retarding or accelerating, limiting or expanding rhythm.”8 The Upaniṣads organize the world by relating everything to the pañcabh ūtas (five elements: earth, water, light, wind, ether) and strive to gain knowledge of brahman, the all-embracing reality principle. As the Taittirīya Upaniṣad has it: Fire, air, sun, moon. and stars. Water, plants, trees, ether, and the body. Thus with regard to material existence. Now with regard to the self. Prāṇa, vyāṇa, apāṇa, udāṇa, and samāṇa Sight, hearing, mind, speech, touch Skin, flesh, muscle, bone, marrow. “Having ordained in this manner, the sage said: Fivefold, verily, is this all. With the fivefold, indeed, does one win the fivefold.”9 The name of the major deity of later Hinduism is Viṣṇu, the “all-pervading,” whose body is the universe.10 Nature (prak...


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