MODERN RISHI-3 (Post No.8228)



Post No. 8228

Date uploaded in London – 23 June 2020       

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R. Nanjappa

Fritjof Capra

Way of the Rishi

The essence of the Rishi is that he discovers or uncovers an aspect of Reality which permanently changes our understanding, and also helps in the further evolution of our consciousness. We may outwardly continue to do the same things as before, but we do so from a different state of knowledge and understanding. 

 The Zen masters say: Before enlightenment, mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after enlightenment, mountains are not mountains and waters are not waters; but when he attains to the abode of rest, mountains are once again mountains and waters are again waters!

 (Ch’uan Teng Lu.) 

Who can describe such a state in words! It has to be experienced! 

Thus the Rishis continue to live what to us appears as normal lives, though they experience the world differently.

One test of the Rishi is that the wisdom he reveals is permanent, and does not undergo revision or reversal. Every philosophy and theology has its contradictions and counterpoints. But so far, no one has contradicted a Rishi (or the true mystic) This state is what has been described as the “perennial philosophy” by Aldous Huxley. Perhaps, it is better to call it ‘perennial Wisdom’- Sophia perennis.

The Rishis and mystics do not contradict each other; they keep supplementing each other, because the Wisdom they speak about is inexhaustible. This can hardly be said of philosophy, theology or even science.

Rishi and his insight

How does the Rishi arrive at his insight? Popular claims and criticism both suggest that Rishi does not follow reason, and quite a few are prejudiced that he is therefore anti-rational. Really, it is this attitude which is anti-rational! No statement of any Rishi has ever contradicted reason, but it may not stop with reason! There are different, and higher faculties and modes of perception. Even in respect of fine music or art, there is no standard way of appreciation. Albert Einstein, perhaps the greatest scientist of our age, had a totally different understanding of reality from the normal scientist. His first reading of Euclid, it is said, mesmerised him through its visual and spatial forms. He thought in images, not words. As Einstein himself said:

“The words of the language, as they are written and spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanisms of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be voluntarily reproduced or combined..The above mentioned elements are, in my case, of visual and some of muscular type.”

 Quoted from: Howard Gardner: Frames of Mind. p.190. Basic Books, Tenth Anniversary Edition,1993.

Can we say, then, that Einstein was simply “rational” in the normal sense of the word? Was he then irrational? Those who celebrate reason as the highest faculty of man are in a fools’ paradise or madcap world. And they call the Rishis and mystics abnormal! Einstein himself said:

“It is certain that a conviction akin to a religious feeling, of the rationality or intelligibility of the world lies behind all scientific work of a higher order.” – 1923

“Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible, and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.” –  1927.

Both quotations taken from: The New Quotable Einstein, edited by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press, 2005.

Another aspect of the Rishi is that his insight embraces the whole of life. There are no borders or compartments in it. Once we accept those insights, not only our view of the world, but our very way of life changes. A Rishi lives his truth.

Science and divided consciousness

In our times, science is accepted as the supreme standard of highest knowledge or wisdom. Yet, all science progresses by contradiction. Yesterday’s hypothesis in disproved today, and the same fate awaits today’s theory! In the last three centuries, very few facts of science have remained unchanged or unchallenged.

The greatest accomplishment of science is the division of life or the world and the knowledge relating to it into disparate disciplines. In the process, each separate discipline has been so much specialised  (narrowed down) that today there is not a single body of knowledge in the name of science which looks at the world as a whole! There are physicists, chemists, astronomers , astro-physicists, biologists, etc but there is no “scientist” as such today! Yet, any sane person experiences the world as a unity- as a system of connected or related patterns; without this understanding, one would be mentally unstable.

Back to Unity! Fritjof Capra

There have been some scientists who have attained to this realisation, and it is entirely to their credit that they did so through their science! But they did not stop at any artificial borders. Perhaps the foremost among them is Fritjof Capra. A Physicist, and researcher in subatomic particles, he burst on  the world of thought with his 1975 book “The Tao of Physics”. In it he related how the latest findings of  atomic physics corroborated the age old mystical wisdom  of all the Eastern traditions- Vedanta, Taoism, Zen, Chinese Yin-Yang.

He confirmed the basic wisdom of these traditions- which posit a Unity beyond all contradictions, which unites all opposites.

“The multitude of things and events  around us are but different manifestations of the same  ultimate reality”.(p.87)

Another basic insight he discovered was that the universe is not static,but in constant flux. And he related it to the image of dancing Shiva! 

In a passage of outstanding beauty and insight, he said:

“To the modern physicists, then, Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter. As in Hindu mythology, it is a continual  dance of  creation and destruction, involving the whole cosmos; the basis of all existence  and of all natural phenomena. Hundreds of years ago, Indian artists created visual images of dancing Shivas in a beautiful series of bronzes. In our time, physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the patterns of the cosmic dance. The bubble-chamber photographs of  interacting particles, which bear testimony to the continual rhythm of creation and destruction in the universe, are the visual images of the dance of Shiva equalling those of the Indian artists in beauty and profound significance. The metaphor of the cosmic dance thus unifies ancient mythology, religious art, and modern physics. It is indeed, as Coomaraswamy has said,’poetry, but none the less science”. (p.245) 

Dance of Shiva, Dance of Cosmic Delight!

How did Capra arrive at this insight? Like in all great but true scientists, some faculty above and beside reason was at work! In the preface to the first edition of the book, he said:

“Five years ago, I had a beautiful experience which set me on a road that has led to the writing of this book. I was sitting by the ocean one late summer afternoon, watching the waves rolling in and feeling the rhythm of my breathing, when I suddenly became aware of my whole environment  as being engaged in a gigantic cosmic dance. Being a physicist i knew that the sand,rocks, water and air around me were made of vibrating molecules and atoms, and that these consisted of particles which interacted with one another by creating and destroying other particles. I knew also that the Earth’s atmosphere was continually bombarded  by showers of ‘cosmic rays’, particles of high energy undergoing multiple collisions as they penetrated the air. All this was familiar to me from my research in high-energy physics, but until that moment I had only experienced it through graphs, diagrams and mathematical theories. As I sat on that beach,,my former experiences came to life; I ‘saw’  cascades of energy coming down from outer space,in which particles were created and destroyed in rhythmic pulses; I ‘saw’ the atoms of the elements and those of my body participating 

in this cosmic dance of energy; I felt its rhythm and ‘heard’ its sound and at that moment I knew that this was the Dance of Shiva, the Lord of Dancers worshipped by the Hindus.” (p.11. Written in December,1974)

All quotations here from: The Tao Of Physics, Third edition, Shambhala, 1991

We get an idea here how the great scientist, mystic or Rishi actually “sees” what he knows! We can also see that it is not seeing with the physical or even the mind’s eye! This is the experience of which we speak when we talk of true knowledge by identity.

Capra has written other books since, but each one builds on this basic wisdom of a unity behind the universe, of a pattern which connects everything, of the web of which we all are part. 

The choice before mankind is whether we will be guided by this wisdom which can lead us to the Buddha (State of Enlightenment) or by mere secular knowledge, which surely takes us to the Bomb!

Fritjof Capra has shown us how we are all part of the great Universe! Conventional science since the days of Descartes divided man and nature,man and God, man and other forms of life, and even man from man, and man from his own inner Self.. Capra has turned it upside down. He has shown us the path to Unity and sanity! Establishment science may ignore him, but his insight cannot be contradicted.

I salute Fritjof Capra as one of our great modern Rishis!. 



‘Coomaraswamy’ mentioned above is Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), the great scholar and savant and advocate of Indian wisdom. His book ‘The Dance of Shiva’ is a favourite.

He said in the book that the dance of Shiva is ” the clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of”.

tags – Dance of Shiva,  MODERN RISHI-3  ,Fritjof Capra,


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1 Comment

  1. Santhanam Nagarajan

     /  June 23, 2020

    super article
    Fritjof copra is an important figure in explaining Nataraja dhandavam. The Tao of Physics is an important book. thanks for explaining his findings with appropriate quotes

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