The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.
It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow.
I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.
~ Stream of Life, a Bengali poem from Gitanjali written by Rabindranath Tagore
It was on the edge of Berlin on July 14, 1930, that science and spirituality came together in one of the most intellectually stimulating conversations in history, as Albert Einstein met with the Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore in his own house.
The conversation that ensued is detailed in Science and the Indian Tradition: When Einstein Met Tagore by David L. Gosling, a book that covers the blossoming of intellectual thought in early twentieth century India, amid the already strong Indian spiritual traditions.
In excerpts from that meeting, the conversation between Einstein and Tagore is a wonderful exploration of the fundamental questions of existence, touching on science, philosophy, consciousness and beauty.
Similar to the way the Dalai Lama embraces the latest developments in science, especially in relation to the long Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Tagore uses the language of science to explain his views, such as when he compares human society in terms of fundamental particles.
“Matter is composed of protons and electrons, with gaps between them; but matter may seem to be solid. Similarly humanity is composed of individuals, yet they have their interconnection of human relationship, which gives living unity to man’s world.”
And when the conversation shifts to the nature of reality — whether Truth can exist independently of humanity — Einstein admits that his beliefs may not rely solely on what he can know through science.
“I cannot prove scientifically that Truth must be conceived as a Truth that is valid independent of humanity; but I believe it firmly. I believe, for instance, that the Pythagorean theorem in geometry states something that is approximately true, independent of the existence of man.”
Although this interaction between science and spirituality took place over eighty years ago, it is still relevant today. In spite of all the advances in science since that point — especially in quantum physics — the questions of the very nature of the universe, from fundamental Truths to Beauty, still resonate with us today.
First published here in January, 2015