The Perils of Vedic 'Science'

Hindu nationalists, like U.S. evangelicals, are co-opting their nation's culture and calling bad science good.

BY: Meera Nanda


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But it gets worse. Hindu nationalists have been keen on proving that the landmass of India was the original homeland of the 'Aryans,' and therefore the cradle of all civilization. 'Vedic Aryans,' on this account, were the authors of all natural sciences which then spread to Greece, Sumeria, China and other major civilizations in antiquity. To substantiate these claims, all kinds of modern scientific discoveries are read back into the Rig Veda, the most ancient of all Vedas.

But such boastful claims raise the question of methodology. How did our Vedic forebears figure out the speed of light, the distance between the sun and the earth and why did they code it into the shape and size of fire altars? Similar questions arise for the more general claims that are basic to Hindu metaphysics, namely that there is a higher realm of ultimate reality (Brahman) that cannot be assessed through sensory means. How did our Vedic forbears know it exists and that it actually determines the course of evolution of species, and makes the matter that we all are made of? How can you experience what is beyond all sensory knowledge? But even more important for the claims of scientificity of the Vedas, how do you test the empirical claims based upon that experience?

Here one finds an incredibly brazen claim: Because in Hinduism there are no distinctions between the spirit and matter, one can understand laws that regulate matter by studying the laws of the spirit. And the laws of spirit can be understood by turning inward, through yoga and meditation leading to mystical experiences. Within Hinduism, it is as rational and scientific to take the non-sensory 'seeing'--that is mystical and other meditative practices--as empirical evidence of the spiritual and natural realm. This purported scientificity of the spiritual realm, in turn, paves the way for declaring occult New Age practices like astrology, vastu, quantum healing, and even yagnas as scientific within the Vedic-Hindu universe.

Rather than encourage a critical spirit toward inherited traditions, many of which are authoritarian and patriarchal, postmodernist intellectuals have waged a battle against science. As the case of Vedic science in the service of Hindu nationalism demonstrates, this misguided attack on the Enlightenment has only aided the growth of pseudoscience, superstitions and tribalism.

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