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the mystical experiences of the religion’s founders. For this purpose, religious leaders designed special rituals within their historical and cultural contexts. These rituals may involve special places, robes, music, incense and various ritualistic objects – even psychedelic drugs. In many religions, these special means to facilitate mystical experience become closely associated with the religion itself and are considered sacred.

Modern physics and eastern mysticism Scientists and spiritual teachers pursue very different goals. While the purpose of scientists is to find explanations for natural phenomena, that of spiritual teachers is to change a person’s self and way of life. However, in their different pursuits, both are led to make statements about the nature of reality that can be compared.

Among the first modern scientists to make such comparisons were some of the leading physicists of the 20th century, who had struggled to understand the strange and unexpected reality revealed to them in their explorations of atomic and subatomic phenomena. In the 1950s, several of these scientists – Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, and others – published popular books about the history and philosophy of quantum physics, in which they hinted at remarkable parallels between the worldview implied by modern physics, and the views of eastern spiritual and philosophical traditions.

During the 1960s, there was a strong interest in eastern spiritual traditions in Europe and North America, and many scholarly books on Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism were published by eastern and western authors. At that time, the parallels between these eastern traditions and modern physics were discussed more frequently, and a few years later I explored them systematically in my book The Tao of Physics.

After its publication in 1975, numerous books appeared in which physicists and other scientists presented similar explorations of the parallels between physics and mysticism. Other authors extended their enquiries beyond physics, finding similarities between eastern thought and certain ideas about free will, death and birth, and the nature of life, mind and consciousness. Similar parallels have been drawn with western mystical traditions.

Deep ecology and spirituality The extensive explorations of the relationships between science and spirituality over the past three decades have made it evident that the sense of oneness that is the key characteristic of spiritual experience is fully confirmed by the understanding of reality in contemporary science. Hence there are numerous similarities between the worldviews of mystics and spiritual teachers – both eastern and western – and the systemic conception of Nature that is now being developed in several scientific disciplines.

The awareness of being connected with all of Nature

Drafting Drifting Consciousnest by Duy Huynh is particularly strong in ecology. Connectedness, relationship and interdependence are fundamental concepts of ecology; and connectedness, relationship and belonging are also the essence of religious experience. I believe therefore that ecology – and in particular the philosophical school of deep ecology – is the ideal bridge between science and spirituality. When we look at the world around us, we find that we are not thrown into chaos and randomness, but are part of a great order, a grand symphony of life. Every molecule in our bodies was once a part of previous bodies – living or non-living – and will be a part of future bodies. In this sense, our bodies will not die but will live on, again and again, because life lives on. Moreover, we share with the rest of the living world not only life’s molecules, but also its basic principles of organisation. Indeed, we belong to the universe, and this experience of belonging can make our lives profoundly meaningful.

Fritjof Capra, physicist and systems theorist, is a Fellow of Schumacher College and serves on the Council of Earth Charter International. His books include The Tao of Physics, The Web of Life and The Hidden Connections. He is co-author, with Pier Luigi Luisi, of the multidisciplinary textbook The Systems View of Life, on which his new online course is based.

Issue 310

Resurgence & Ecologist


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