by Chaitanya Charan das
This new year greeting mostly remains a wish. Can this sincere wish be transformed into a reality? As we live in the age of science, let us first analyze this greeting from the perspective of science.
What’s A Year?
Let’s begin with the word ‘year’. A year is a unit for measuring time. And what is time? Though the reality of time, especially in the form of its effect on us, is undeniable, time is one among the many fundamental truths of life that defy scientific definition. Be that as it may, we measure time by the movement of the cosmic bodies. As per current scientific understanding, one year is the time in which the earth completes one revolution around the sun. For an object orbiting continuously in a circular path, no point on the orbit can be considered special. So scientifically there’s nothing “New” about the new year; the earth is going to continue in its same old path!
Let’s consider the word ‘new’. All of us have an inherent attraction for new things. Why? Is it not because the old is, in some way or the other, unsatisfactory? The old lifestyle, the old relationships, the old job – all these leave us feeling incomplete and unfulfilled. And the fond hope is that the new will change that same old story.
But what’s actually going to be new? People change their externals to make things better. But from a scientific viewpoint, everything is just atoms! The astounding variety around us results from sub-microscopic variations in the atomic and molecular structures, such as a different number of electrons orbiting within the atom of a particular element. Now what is the most dramatically ‘new’ thing that a person can do? Maybe get a new girlfriend or boyfriend. But that just means getting someone whose skin pigments have a slightly different atomic arrangement! (Talks about personality are, after all, “unscientific”!) So changing the atomic arrangement around you (new house, new car, new job, new spouse and the like) or the atomic arrangement inside you (mundane “new year resolutions”) and hoping that that will make the “new” year “happy” doesn’t make much scientific sense.
And what about “happy”? Happiness is another fundamental reality of life that is beyond the realm of science. Noble Laureate Physicist Erwin Schroedinger pointed out that the entire world of emotions remains inaccessible to science, “Science cannot tell us a word about why music delights us, of why and how an old song moves us to tears.” Though the situation remains the same today, reductionistic scientists have faith in their belief in reductionism, despite having no proof for it. For them, pleasure or pain is nothing more than certain C fibers or Delta fibers firing in certain parts of the body. Ironically, such scientists postulate theories claiming that all emotions including happiness are illusions to win Nobel prizes in order to ultimately become happy!
The sweet greeting “Happy New Year!” is often expressed with genuine good wishes. Does it have no meaning? Reductionistic science certainly strips this greeting (and in fact all greetings and even life at large) of all meaning.
Anyway, can everything in life be “scientific”? Would a chemist give his wife a bunsen burner as a wedding gift? If a neurologist found that his wife was upset with him, would he do a brain scan to find out what was wrong?
Philosopher of science Karl Popper puts this limitation of science as follows, “Science may be described as the art of systematic oversimplification.” The point is that though science is a useful, even powerful, tool to understand reality, but we should not forget that what science shows is a map of the complete reality; it is not the complete reality.
Explore The Spiritual Dimension
Therefore let us be open to all branches of knowledge – including the spiritual – that can help us to get a more complete understanding of reality.
Vedic wisdom explains that each one of us is a sentient, eternal and blissful spiritual personality having inherently the nature of befriending and loving God and all living beings. The Vedic scriptures also wish us a genuinely felt “Happy New Year.” In fact, they wish that every moment of our life be happy and new. Not only that, they go much further and delineate a practical process by which this wish can be transformed into a reality.
The Vedas agree with the common understanding that to become happy something new has to be done. But the understanding of new as given in the Vedic wisdom is significantly different from the general understanding.
The Vedic scriptures explain that all living beings eat, mate, sleep and defend. In fact, the subhuman beings do nothing but these four activities. And modern man is also doing just these four activities, although in a sophisticated way. Even most scientific advancement is impelled by these four fundamental drives. Let’s see how.
Among the first things that man did after unraveling the mysteries of the atom is to use the atomic bomb; that’s defending in the most horrendous form seen in the contemporary times. A major result of the advent of the information age is the internet, which has sex (and its related words) as the top search object on google; that’s mating. The leaps in genetic engineering have mostly been actuated by the desire for better meat and other foodstuffs; is that anything higher than eating? Dunlop beds, nowadays water beds and what not; they are all obviously for sleeping. So a little thought will reveal how all the “advanced” activities done by the modern man eventually boil down to eating, sleeping, mating and defending. And there’s nothing new in them, no matter how we do them externally. The Srimad Bhagavatam (7.5.30) describes this in graphic terms: punah punas carvita carvananam “Chewing the chewed,”
But humans are not meant to live the same old life of eating, sleeping, mating and defending; they is meant to something new. And that brings us to the realm of spirituality. A hog cannot understand the difference between its body and soul; a human being can. A dog cannot practice meditation; a human being can. Spirituality is not just a different ability that we humans have; it is our defining privilege, that we have been granted due to possessing a higher intelligence that accompanies the human body.
Therefore the Vedic scriptures encourage us to sublimate our attraction for the new by directing it to the realm of spirit. athato brahma jijnasa This starting aphorism of the Vedanta-sutra means: “Therefore, inquire about the higher dimensions of life.” Why does a start with the word “therefore”? Because implied is a clarion call, “Now, O spirit soul, who has acquired a human body, cease from the animal business of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Now you are endowed with a higher intelligence in the human form. Therefore inquire about the higher truths of life.”
The Real Happy New Year
This higher enquiry is not a fruitless armchair speculation. The answers to it constitute a practical way of life which bestows upon the seeker unlimited happiness from the spiritual stratum. This in fact is the Vedic mission: sarve janah sukhino bhavantu — Let everyone be happy – not superficially and temporarily by success in the rat race for sense gratification, but deeply and eternally by absorption in loving service to God.
Spiritual life culminates in the development of love of God, Krishna. Love of God, the Universal Father, precipitates love for all living beings as one’s own brothers. This selfless love completely satisfies the self and also makes the lover of God the topmost welfare worker for all living beings.
Love of God is our original and real nature, but due to prolonged and excessive contact with matter, it has become completely obscured and is now misdirected towards various material objects. All genuine spiritual practices are meant to revive this love of God, which is presently dormant in our hearts. Among all such practices, the most potent in the present age is the process of mantra meditation – chanting of the maha mantra Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.
God being infinite is eternally new (nitya navanavayamana) and so loving Him is an eternally new and happy experience. Hence, revival of our love of God is the ultimate fruition of the wish “Happy New Year!”