Monday, April 25, 2011

Superstition- A Superstition?

This post would not have been blogged down, had it not been for a post-dinner discussion, a few days back, somehow converging to philosophy. Group A thought that 'Samadhi', a state where a person can live without air, food, water was impossible and shunned it as a mere superstition, whereas, the other group thought that it might be possible. Much contrary to what Science teaches, our ancient scriptures, and the proponents of Yoga* claim that when a person reaches Samadhi, the last stage of Yoga, as mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the body gets into hibernation and the person can live without food, air, water for infinite time.

* Please note that by the word Yoga, is meant the systematic procedure developed in India for the communion of the soul with the divine. It is, by no means, restricted to Asanas and Pranayama, which form a very small part of Yoga.

If there is one point I would like to make in this post, it is this: it is foolishness, in my opinion, for any person to declare that a certain belief is a superstition just because that person doesn't conceive it. I have never been to the USA. My mere knowledge of the existence of such a country is by virtue of the geography classes I had in High school and the books I read subsequently. It may even be so that the teachers who taught us, have never been to this country themselves. Now, just because I am oblivious of the existence of such a place, what right do I possess to claim that it doesn't exist? If I am to claim so, am I not making a fool out of myself? If I were really contemplative to find out the truth, I would have taken the pain to travel to this land and then deduce for myself. Then alone would I have the right to argue in this matter. Similar is the case with Yoga. I have no right to raise my voice against it unless I follow the conditions laid in it, practice it sincerely and even then, do not obtain the promised results in part or full.

A few people claim that these things are absurd because they cannot be proved by modern science. When a person is hungry, he helps himself to the available food. Does he even bother if Science has proved that food satisfies hunger or not? Does he care to find out what reactions undergo in his body when he eats. He knows from his own experience that food satisfies hunger and that is all that really matters to him at that point of time. Similarly, Yogic practices are based on the experiences of people who strived their entire lifetime and found that it was true. We, common people, do not know if their experiences were true or whether all of them were illusioned to believe so. But still, we have no right, whatsoever, to say that it is mere fallacy. Can we declare that a certain thing does not exist because its presence has still not been proved. Wasn't there a time when Science believed that the planets and the Sun revolved around the Earth? When Galileo tried to prove it otherwise, not only was his idea widely condemned but he was detained for the rest of his life. But now, even a school-going child will laugh at that old idea. It is not right to say that the people of those times were foolish in believing that Earth was the planetary centre. But, in arguing that there could be nothing beyond their ideas, they were indeed foolish to the core. Thus, we conclude from history that even science goes wrong at times. Even those hundreds of theories which were widely accepted yesterday, as the ultimatum, are being dismissed as utterly wrong, today. I would like to bring to your notice that, of late, many yogic theories are being proved and accepted by modern science. [I shall make an attempt to pen down some of them in my future posts.] After all, is science the ultimatum? Can there be nothing beyond science? Aren't there numerous happenings in the world that defy science? There are times when a scientist dismisses a certain idea as false just because his set of laws, which he calls modern science, cannot prove it. Doesn't this also suggest that his set of laws are very limited and needs to be consolidated. Verification is also an acceptable proof for any theory. As in many accepted facts of Science, Yoga's sole proof is in its verification (as claimed by the exponents of yoga). But, as the yogis themselves opine, it is a herculean task to achieve the goals of Yoga. Our world has seen many saints, in India and beyond, who claim to have reached the goals of Yoga. There could be some truth in it, or, it may be another heap of nonsense. I don't mean to say that we need to accept it just because certain people said so. Let us follow it and find out for ourselves. But if we do not will to verify, and yet criticize it, then in what way are we different from the 'foolish frog of the well'? The same applies to all other practices which are mocked in the name of superstition. Perhaps, many of them really are. But it is not wise to reject everything as superstition.


Again let me make my point clear if my post has not, unfortunately, already done. I do not support accepting something merely because it was said so or certain people believe so. But at the same time I consider it foolishness to discard something as superstition just because it does not fit in our ideas. Let us try our best to dig out the truth from it and then accept it or reject it. But before we make a sincere attempt, we have no right to shun it. In my opinion, both are equally irrational- the ones that blindly accept something and their counterparts, the ones that blindly reject something as superstition without any justification. In that context, isn't Superstition itself a Superstition? To the people who mock our practices as superstition, our sages would say "Look, your world in itself is a superstition". This being said, I dedicate my upcoming posts to some practices considered superstition, which in reality are in very much agreement with modern science. Again, as already declared in my maiden post, if any thing fails to convince you, it is solely because of my poor convincing skills rather than due to the insignificance of the actual topic under consideration.




6 comments:

shaithan said...

According to science, an idea or a theory is assumed to be invalid until it is proved to be true, quite like a court of law where a person is assumed to be innocent until proved guilty. Assuming we accept ideas based on hearsay or based on the age old argument, "It may be proved right in the future" or "science is not advanced enough to explain it"; i guess Loch ness monster exists, black cat brings bad luck and world ends at year 2011

ajaypaip said...

The question here is not about accepting; its about 'not rejecting'. Let us not accept a theory as correct until it is proved right. Shouldn't the same logic apply when we are to reject something? Let us also not reject something as wrong until it is proved wrong.

Vigyaan said...

@Shaithan: Opposite of what you say is true. Read 'Kuhn'ian definition of Science. Most people accept this definition. The idea is that things are accepted until it is disproven!
In science one cant prove things, but set up an experiment to falsify it.
I think you are confusing it with mathematics! logic and mathematics try to 'prove' things (that is try to follow a chain of implications from some axioms to prove things)

@ajaypaip: I dislike the idea of using 'science' as a faction. It is a method and a mode of inquiry. Whether you like it or not, if someone says 'A method I know, of exercise lets you stay hungry for indefinite time. But not everyone can do it.'
Some skeptical fellow will ask the obvious question of 'produce such a person'. People are not discarding the theory. They are skeptical about accepting it.
Now most often ppl go back to 'scriptures said it so it must be true... maharishis lived' argument. rather than producing evidence.
The method of science has no dogma in it because this method works on evidence for all ;) It can be produced for anybody.
Now this does not say 'samadhi' concept is wrong. All it says is that if the method by definition cannot produce evidence, then the notion is unscientific, not wrong.

ajaypaip said...

@Vigyaan. I appreciate your sharing the 'Kuhn'ian definition of Science.

as regards, "if someone says 'A method I know, of exercise lets you stay hungry for indefinite time. But not everyone can do it.'"

This is where you are mistaken. All our authoritative texts on Yoga declare- "Every being, so long as he is Human, can ascend to the goals of Yoga, without any bounds". Moreover, doesn't it seem obvious that if a Mr. X can achieve it, I and you should also be able to reach there?

As regards, "Some skeptical fellow will ask the obvious question of 'produce such a person'. People are not discarding the theory. They are skeptical about accepting it."

It is perfectly right to be skeptical. But lets not end there. With a sincere effort, it is possible to find living examples of 'such persons'.

And,
"The method of science has no dogma in it because this method works on evidence for all ;) It can be produced for anybody.
Now this does not say 'samadhi' concept is wrong. All it says is that if the method by definition cannot produce evidence, then the notion is unscientific, not wrong."

As you rightly said, it is not very common to see persons claiming to have achieved the goals of Yoga. It is so owing to the fact that Yoga is a very subtle science and further so owing to Yoga being a very difficult practice (difficult in the sense that it requires extreme perserverance and sincerity). Naturally, very few people reach its goals. One of the main components of yoga is the process to free oneself of ego and all desires. So, the handfuls that have reached there do not possess any urge to display their prowess to the world and be worshipped as idols. That is why you will rarely, if not never, find a person who boasts of having reached the goals of Yoga (those who pretend so are, of course, exceptions!). But if one were to search sincerely he would definitely find many such yogis.

vidhya said...

hi, why u stop the writing, try agn

ajaypaip said...

@vidhya: Thanks for visiting the blog. Next post shall be up soon.

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