Why are Einstein’s and Prabhupada’s metaphors about blind man-lame man contradictory?

by Chaitanya Charan dasJune 16, 2014

From Grisham P

Einstein compares religion to feet and science to eyes, whereas Prabhupada compares Eastern wisdom to eyes and Western technology to feet. Why the difference?

Answer Podcast

Transcription by– Keshavgopal Das & Ambuj Gupta

Question: Why are Einstein’s and Prabhupada’s metaphors about blind man and lame man opposite? Einstein says that “science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind”. He puts religion to be like the feet and he puts science to be like the eyes. But Prabhupada says that India which has spiritual knowledge is like the lame man who has eyes and the west, which has material facilities but which not has spiritual wisdom is like the blind man. Basically Prabhupada says that the Indian wisdom which is spiritual is like the eyes where as Einstein says that science is like the eyes. Prabhupada says that material things are like the feet but Einstein say religion is like the feet. Why are these two metaphors so contradictory?

Answer: They are contradictory because they are given in different contexts.

Einstein basically uses his quote to talk about something fundamentally different. Let us look at his full quote. Einstein says in his quote that science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with aspiration towards truth and understanding. Then he says the source of this feeling however springs from religion, to this there also belongs the faith in the possibility the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational that is comprehensible to reason. I cannot imagine a scientist without that profound faith. Science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind. So essentially what he is saying is that he is focusing primarily on the material realm only. He is not talking about anything transcendental. The idea that in the material realm there is order and that we can perceive that order, that idea is a faith and that faith comes from the religious instinct. So in that sense it is the intuitive feeling which we have. It is in one sense the operating principle without which you will not be able to operate. Just as feet enable us to operate, similarly without the primary faith given by religion that there is order in the universe, science will not be able to operate. So in that sense science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind means that, now people may believe in one God, people may believe in five thousands Gods, people may believe in devil, people can believe in so many things, but religion in and of itself can be blind. Through science one can confirm. Now he is focusing not on the transcendental realm. Science enables us to observe the material level of reality and perceive it and understand it. So the more we study science the more we observe order. We see majestic order. Therefore our faith get confirmed. There is an intelligence manifested in the universe and it just come from a super intelligent being. Thus whatever is believed in religion is confirmed by science.

Prabhupada, in his metaphor, is not talking primarily about science and religion. He is talking about material resources and spiritual wisdom. When Prabhupada uses this he is talking about the ultimate purpose and perfection of life that we want to achieve. So with material resources we can achieve some material prosperity, some material happiness but it’s all short lived. Ultimately because we are spiritual beings so we will not be satisfied by that. We need a higher spiritual fulfillment to get satisfied. So without that we are like blind people. Without the spiritual wisdom, no matter how much material facility we have, we are blind people because we don’t know what is the ultimate purpose of life.

There is a discussion between Werner Heisenberg and Elbert Einstein which is quoted by Dr. Abdul Kalam in his book “Ignited minds”, where he also gives the other metaphor. Where he compares the whole western civilization to a big ship which has all the facilities in it but it has no compass and doesn’t know where it is going. That in one sense is a blindness. Einstein also acknowledging that just material progress cannot tell us the ultimate purpose of life. Prabhupada is saying that without knowing the ultimate purpose of life we are blind and eyes for that will come from spiritual wisdom. While there is spiritual wisdom in various parts of the world, it is most systematically and coherently revealed in the Vedic literature. Then when he says that the material technology is like the leg that means spiritual wisdom is there, but for it to reach and benefit people we need resources and those resources are available in the west- western technology, western finances, western managerial skills, western dynamic resourcefulness at the material level. Prabhupada was proud of his western disciples also. He was also proud of his mataji disciples. He said you are quite different from the women that I knew in India. He was happy with their enterprising spirit in going around and achieving wonderful things. So he is talking basically about material resourcefulness, that is the legs help us to move around to get things done. So we have spiritual wisdom but to help this world live according to spiritual wisdom, we need resources and those resources are profusely available in the west. So Prabhupada said east-west synthesis we can have, that eastern spiritual wisdom and western material resources then there can be era of prosperity coming about in the world.

Prabhupada’s metaphor focuses on the interaction between matter and spirit. So having just material resources we remain blind. Having only spiritual wisdom we remain lame. When both come together than there is action and success. Einstein metaphor is nothing to do with spiritual directly. It is only about focusing on material reality. The idea that without having faith coming from religion that there is order we will not be able to move around in science. In that sense religion removes the lameness and it gives the foundational operating faith in the principle that there is an order which we can access. Then science enables us to confirm what religion intuitively tells us that there is order in the universe and that we confirm by science. So in this way science and religion are both talking about the material level and the interaction at the material level. In that sense the metaphors are not contradictory. They are complimentary because they talk about different levels of reality. Thank you.

Another relevant quote:

“You know in the West we have built a large, beautiful ship. It has all the comforts in it. but one thing is missing: It has no compass and does not know where to go.”

Werner Heisenberg to Albert Einstein, Quoted by Dr Abdul Kalam in Ignited Minds

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Chaitanya Charan das

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