People may or may not be spiritual, but spirituality is important, because it influences many of the vital trends of the human civilization. Science, obviously, is important because it helps us in real life by advancing our capabilities to survive and enjoy life. People most commonly link with spirituality through their religions. Thus, it would be extremely beneficial for the human race if science and spirituality could work together to go forward in planning a progressively better future for the humans, and perhaps for all life on this planet.
While most religions may have many great features, some accept or support science better than others. One particular criterion may be a good determining factor. It is the acceptance of the theory of evolution, the very important scientific history of life on this planet, discovered in by Charles Darwin in the mid 19th century. The Advaita Vedanta, originated in the 8th century CE by Adi Shankaracharya, with its roots going back to the oldest Upanishads accepts the theory of evolution most naturally and effortlessly. In fact, the theory of evolution seems like its natural extension.
The entire Advaita Vedanta can be summarized in one important verse, which says:
Brahma satyam jagat mithya, jivo brahmaiva naparah
In a nutshell, it means, the Brahma(Brahman) is the only truth, the world is an illusion, and there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and the individual self of a person(Atman).This wisdom can be divided into three parts :
The Brahma(Brahman) is the only truth,
the world is an illusion, and
there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and the Atman.
The first part of the verse talks about our origin, and our oneness. A supreme cosmic energy, mostly created by Sun is the creator of all life on this planet. We ourselves are made of fragments of this energy enclosed inside our unique material bodies. Thus, we are products of the same source, and are susceptible to its influence.
The second part of the verse is truly intriguing. It says that all the activities of life are actually ‘maya’s or illusions! The Vedanta is implying here that there is an absolute reality or purpose behind the worldly affairs. To find out what this purpose is, we need to analyze the activities of life using Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which was conceived much later in the 19th century CE. Human activities are too complex to start with, so to have a clear understanding of the mechanism of the ‘maya’s, let’s begin with the activities of the lower animals.
Most of the activities of the fox, for example, can be divided into three basic categories, eating, mating and protecting its territory. The first two are the primary acts, and the third one makes the first two possible. The animal is driven to these activities by the lure of a reward, which is the pleasure of the activity. The animal gets hooked on to this reward, and keeps on coming back to repeat these acts. The cycle is repeated for generations until an important event takes place. A minute physical mutation happens to the animal, which enhances its survival capabilities. With the enhanced capabilities the new fox gains survival advantages over others by natural selection as explained by Darwin’s theory, and evolves to a higher level of evolution. The animal then creates new generations of foxes with similar enhanced capabilities through reproduction, who keep on repeating the same or perhaps slightly more expanded list of activities, and wait for the next positive physical change to happen that will help them evolve to the next higher level of evolution. This perpetual cycle of life keeps on running on all forms of life including the humans, promoting higher evolution of life on this planet. Thus, just as the Vedanta says, all the activities of life seem to be temporary realities or ‘maya’s to serve the bigger purpose of evolution of life on this planet.
The positive physical mutation is activated by appropriate activities. Lower animals accomplish this easily, because their changes are simple and obvious - the appropriate activities to utilize them are found almost automatically. But for the humans these changes are happening in the areas of intelligence, which are often challenging to detect. Thus, it is possible that the plumber who came to fix our faucet was a potential Math prodigy, who didn’t follow the appropriate line of activities to take advantage of his latent genius.
Evolution is built of numerous minute positive changes happening to the life forms. Thus, the element of positive change is the building block of evolution. This way life forms have evolved from the simple single cell organisms to today’s human. And it may not be the endpoint of evolution on this planet. Perhaps, the humans can keep on evolving higher by developing newer capabilities, and survive beyond this planet to become a living entity of this universe! Thus, survival is the most important criterion of life, and evolution is the most important event happening to life forms on this planet. Therefore, the purpose behind the ‘maya’s is the most important one for all life on this planet. In the 8th century CE, the facts about evolution were not known, and so the Vedanta closed the chapter after pointing at the presence of the bigger purpose - without identifying what this purpose actually is. The chapter was reopened a thousand years later in the mid 19th century after the discovery of the science of evolution of life by Charles Darwin. Thus, the concept that was originated by the Advaita Vedanta was completed a thousand years later by the Theory of Evolution.
The third part of the verse says that we are same as the Brahman. That is, we are created by the Brahman, and have the same latent qualities. We should realize this, and implement these qualities in promoting the plan of the Brahman, which is to carry out higher evolution of life. As mentioned before, the element of positive change is the building block of evolution. Thus, creating positive changes through our mental and physical activities is the way to promote evolution. The Vedanta also says that once this realization comes, and we and act accordingly, we move forward towards enlightenment or the state of unlimited happiness. Thus, creation of positive changes links with happiness. The completed concept provide the following wisdom:
1) We all are brothers and sisters, created from the same supreme cosmic source, and are here to serve an important purpose together.
2) All the activities of life are actually temporary realities serving the central purpose promoting higher evolution of life on this planet through creation of positive changes.
3) Enlightenment or the state of unlimited happiness happens when we realize that we have Brahman-like qualities, and apply them to create positive changes in the world around promoting higher evolution. This implies that happiness is found through activities that have the potential of promoting higher evolution through the creation of positive changes.