Mother Sathya Sai

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Physics and Spirituality

by Dr. Rupesh Srivastava

Dr. Rupesh Srivastava holds a PhD in Physics, and works in the IT sector in the UK. On a visit to the Sri Sathya Sai Easwaramma Women’s Welfare Trust, he became interested in trying his hand at writing an article for our online magazine. Here are his thoughts on how he finds that Physics and Spirituality relate to each other.

During our visit to the Sri Sathya Sai Easwaramma Women’s Welfare Trust at Prasanthi, we were introduced to the staff. We were humbled to hear about their work and entertained with stories of Swami and His mysterious ways!

“So, what do you think about Physics and Spirituality?” asked Dr Evans, one of the staff, when she came to know of my Physics background. I was surprised, as no one had asked me that before. While I was wondering how to answer, my mind’s eye took me back to the age of 8.

Like many boys at that time, I was interested in toy cars, riding my bicycle, playing football and watching sci-fi shows and cartoons. I was an inquisitive child who was an expert in dismantling telephones, clocks and the TV to ‘see how it worked’.

I also had two perplexing questions on my mind: “Who am I?” and “What am I doing here?” I asked my parents and teachers but who takes an 8 year old seriously? Eventually my exasperated mother told me to ask God.

Here was a new problem: “Who is God and where do I find him?” Again I asked everyone but nobody seemed to know. My mother laughed and told me prayers reached God. I did try but found this one-way communication unsatisfactory. “Why can’t God talk back?” I wondered. Did He really exist?

This doubt was cleared by the age of 10, when I received the biography of Swami Vivekananda as a birthday present. In his journey, Vivekananda met Sri Ramakrishna who told him emphatically that God can be found, but one has to search and never give up. The principal method for this search is meditation – looking inwards. Here was one who had found God, so I had to trust his words and try.

While my quest for God was unfolding, I was growing up and focusing on my studies. The wonderful quality of education is that it invites one to think, if we take up that invitation! The more I thought, the more I realised how little I knew about this magnificent universe that sprawled infinitely before me.

It is magnificent. Our Sun is only one star amongst billions in our galaxy, the ‘Milky Way’. The nearest star to the Sun is Proxima Centauri, which is roughly 25 million million miles away. At the speed of light, 186,282 miles per second, the journey will take over 4 years. At conventional rocket speeds of 37,000 miles per hour, it will take around 80,000 years!

Search the Internet to see the fabulous pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. Our planet is a mere speck in the cosmos but our problems seem so large and weighty.

So how did this universe form and with what principles does it function? In an effort to understand more, I took up the study of physics and in doing so, began to discover many wonders.

Physics explores matter and energy and the forces behind their interaction. We live in a universe that is governed by a set of laws. As a kid, I loved to throw a ball as high as I could. I imagined that if I could throw it fast enough, it would keep going into space. Disappointingly, the ball always fell back to earth and I would try to catch it. Now, imagine my delight to discover years later that my thought had been right. To escape the pull of gravity, I had to throw that ball with a velocity of seven miles per second. Much too fast for my little arms ever to manage!

My studies have taught me that physics is in action everywhere. We take a lot for granted. Here are a few real-world examples to think about. On a hot day, it’s lovely to have a cold drink from the fridge. But how does a fridge keep things cold? A liquid coolant absorbs heat from inside the fridge and passes through a system of coils at the back to release it. As the heat is removed, the fridge becomes cooler.

Next time you travel by air and wonder how an aeroplane flies, take a look at the special shape of the wings. The curve of the top surface is designed such that the flow of air across it generates lift.

In the UK and elsewhere, it is common to see drivers with GPS (Global Positioning System) devices in their cars. This gives them a real-time map and directions to their destination so that they never get lost. How does the device know where you are? Is it really ‘magic’ as someone proclaimed to me? The system relies on the global network of GPS satellites that were created to provide reliable location and time information. The GPS device uses the data from 3 or more satellites to compute your location.

On the atomic scale, things start to get really strange. Normally we describe light as an electromagnetic wave. However, in Quantum Mechanics, light takes on a dualistic nature and is both a particle and a wave. In a vacuum, which by definition is supposed to be empty, particles are observed to pop in and out of existence. It gets stranger. Sometimes two particles can become ‘entangled’ and act as one system. If one particle is placed a long way away from the other, and its property changed in some way, its partner instantly ‘knows’ about it. Einstein called this “spooky action at a distance”.

Does physics prove God’s existence? Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) had this view: “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God's existence”.

For me the relation of spirituality and physics is very simple. Spiritual enquiry is discovering the mind of God. Physics is watching that mind at work.

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