Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How India Reconciles Hindu Values and Biotech


2001. President Bush restricted federal funds for stem cell research. He was influenced by the Republican Party's evangelical Christian base. It disappointed many American scientists and businessmen, but not the Indians. there was talk of India emerging as a powerhouse in this field.

It is happening. With highly trained scientists, the country is one of the leading biotechnology powers along with Korea, Singapore, China, Japan, Sweden, Britain and Israel. [Ernst & Young's Global Biotechnology Report in 2004]

American scientists and businessmen note enviously that religious and moral considerations do not seem to inhibit Indian bio-technologists. Would Gandhi have been appalled?? Most likely, given that those Indian scientists and businessmen are Hindus, mostly devout too. But then, Hinduism has infinite capacity to re-adjust to any development. It readjusts, without changing itself.

Indeed, most evangelical Christians, who believe that the embryo is a person, may find more support in ancient Hindu texts than in the Bible. And their would be a lot more reason than Christians can muster. Hindus see the soul - the true Self (or Atman) - as the spiritual and imperishable component of human personality. After death destroys the body, the soul soon finds a new temporal home. Thus, for Hindus as much as for Catholics, life begins at conception. But similarities end almost at this point.

One of the major reason why Hindus can reconcile to stem cell research is that: Hindu theologians never dictated to scientists. They recognized the value of keeping the secular sciences, like Ayurveda, separate from the religious teachings. Thus medical and surgical research was held to be for the purpose of larger good of humanity. Never a talk of interfering with God's plans. Centuries Christian church opposed anesthesia, Hindus had known its value, and Ayurvedic treatises contain a chapter on this topic, with pretty detailed dos and donts. A very old book, Garbha Upanishad, contains surprisingly accurate description of development of an embryo.

Second reason is the belief of Indian faiths that the corporeal body is just a shell or clothing or a vehicle for the Atma or soul. Thus any research into cloning, stem cell lines etc is nothing but a "recycling" of the body. And if it relieves human sufferings to some extent, then it becomes a recommended way.

Scientism has few detractors in India.

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