When Science Points to Spirituality (excerpt)

By Chaitanya Charana Dasa, from Back to Godhead Magazine, April 2006

Suicide is a sad symptom of our society’s spiritual starvation.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that mental diseases—stress, depression, addiction, psychosomatic problems—will be the greatest health hazard of the current century. Worse still, WHO statistics show that over one million people commit suicide every year. That’s more than the total annual deaths from wars and crimes combined. And this figure is only the reported number of suicides.

Mental disease and suicide have many causes. But the common origin is frustration in achieving one’s goals, whatever they may be. When this frustration rises to an acute and hopeless degree, one feels one’s very existence to be an agony. And the ending of one’s existence appears to be the only solution. Why is it that we modern humans, the most “intelligent” among all species, are the only species whose members commit suicide in such alarmingly high numbers? WHO calls suicide as “a tragic social health problem” and states that there is no proven cure for it. Could it be that the goals society sets for us are incompatible with our selves and invite the frustration that leads to mental health problems and ultimately suicide?

See and Believe

How does channeling human energy for spiritual elevation affect ecology, human health, and the self? Lets see what science says.

Ecology: Most environmental problems have arisen from the materialism and consumerism that has accompanied the decline of spirituality and its inherent self-restraint. Therefore the following quote from Alan Durning of the World Watch Institute represents what many scientists consider to be the only hope for saving the environment: “In a fragile biosphere, the ultimate fate of humanity may depend on whether we can cultivate a deeper sense of self-restraint, founded on a widespread ethic of limiting consumption and finding non-material enrichment.” All forms of non-material enrichment—prayer, meditation, yoga, chanting the holy names—clearly point to a spiritual dimension to life. And this spiritual dimension is most comprehensively explained in the Vedic scriptures. In fact, the Vedanta-sutra begins with a clarion call: athato brahma jijnasa, “Now therefore [now that you have a human body], devote yourself to spiritual enquiry.” (Vedanta-sutra 1.1)

Human health: The current epidemic of indulgence-born diseases shows that universal scriptural injunctions for self-restraint—sobriety (no intoxication) and continence (no illicit sex), for example—are sound health advice too. Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School, citing extensive research on the physical and mental benefits of spiritual living, states that the human body and mind are “wired for God.” Not only that, a survey published in Reader’s Digest (January 2001) stated that believers in God live an average of eleven years more than nonbelievers.

The self: And what about the self? Science has come up with a precious finding: spirituality is a sure solace for the self. Survey after survey has shown that spiritual practices protect people from self-destructive behavior and habits. Patrick Glynn of George Washington University writes in his book

God: The Evidence that surveys show that those who don’t attend spiritual prayer meetings are four times more prone to suicide than those who do so. Further, the giving up of such meetings has been found to be the best predictor of suicide, better even than unemployment. These findings indicate that spirituality provides inner joy, which frees people from the uncontrollable and insatiable craving for external pleasures that leads to addictions and suicides. Such findings have inspired some modern thinkers to echo the Vedic conclusion that spirituality is not just a part of our life; it is the essence of our life. Stephen Covey, well-known author of the Seven Habits series, aptly remarks, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.”

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