That Planet 5718 CD4 is now named by its discoverer Dr R Rajmohan after environmentalist Dr Sainudeen Pattazhy has a perfection to it. Dr Pattazhy, a pioneering researcher on the environment, surely embodies the dharma of science, which is to apply knowledge for the good of our planet and the creatures on it? That a space scientist exploring the cosmos admires the work of an eco-scientist working in service of this earth and wants to write his name in the stars is beautifully symbolic and so deeply pleasing. The purpose of science seems poetically affirmed.
Religion and philosophy have attracted some of the best minds in the history of thought. Curiously, many of these doggedly daring thinkers were also scientists. When you realise there is something greater than our little selves called human duty, I guess it liberates you from fear. That duty is not to any holy book but to your innate sense of what is right.
This world is admittedly hard to understand. But something big and brilliant moves it and moves in it. It seems unchanging and eternal and every now and then the veil lifts and we catch a glimpse of its power and beauty. Many of us like to call that ‘God’. Others are still looking for the facts. Is it there, a super consciousness (Paramatma) that operates in our subconscious (Jivatma)? Who can tell? As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote: “There is a thing haphazardly formed, born before heaven and earth/Silent and void, it stands alone and alters not/It moves but does not tire/It could be the Mother of the Universe/I know not its name/So I call it The Way.”
It seems to link with the Presence in this lovely prayer that keeps coming back to me, from the Rig Veda (1:90:6-8), the one that Indira Nehru and Feroz Gandhi had recited at their wedding ceremony: ‘Madhuvaata rutaayate madhu ksharanti saindhavah’. This is a 2001 translation: “Sweet blow the winds, sweet flow the rivers/May the herbs be sweet to us/May the nights and days bring happiness/May the dust of the Earth yield us happiness/ May Heaven, our Father, send us happiness/May the trees gladden us with fruit/May the Sun bestow joy on us/May every direction bring us happiness.”
Our mutual commitment as an inter-dependant race is best sustained by knowledge, not by the placid comfort zone of mental apathy. Look who says so, as recorded in the Hadith, the ‘Traditions of the Prophet Mohammed’. (I particularly cherish this saying, for Saraswati, wherever and however you find Her, has always been the one true refuge of our race): “God, help me acquire knowledge, to teach me right from wrong, to light the path to heaven, to be my friend in the desert, my society in solitude, my friend when friendless, my guide to happiness, to sustain me in misery: for knowledge is an ornament amongst friends and an armour against enemies.”
But Truth, for ‘God is Truth’, whether we call him ‘al-Haq’ or ‘Satyam’ only goes into open minds. As the Hasidic Jews say: “Know you where the Lord is? He is in the place where He is invited to enter.” (They’re the ones with long sidelocks and if you want to check out a really interesting book on them, please read The Chosen by Chaim Potok).
The Atharva Veda seems to sum up the human goal and do note the presences this verse invokes with its opening line, “Om bhadram karnobih…”: “O Gods, may our ears hear what is blessed/ May our eyes behold what is auspicious/May we, Thy singers, sound of limb/Enjoy the long life You grant us/May far-famed Indra (ruling the elements), All-knowing Pusha (the health-giving Sun), Evil destroying Tarkshya (the rishi of keen insight) andBrihaspati (the wise teacher)/Bless us with well-being. Shantih Shantih Shantih. Om.”
The goal does not appear to have changed since then, for consider this modern prayer (its draft came to me years ago on e-mail, author unknown) written especially in English for multifaith gatherings: “God, where shall I find You, whose glory fills the universe?
Behold I find You wherever the mind is free to fearlessly ask/Where words arise from the depths of truth/Where people struggle to live with freedom and dignity/Where science is used to help mankind/Where poets and writers help people think/Where Your glory is upheld with good deeds.”