"A profound unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life"
- R.K. Narayan

This is a personal insight into how man, with his craving for mastery, differentiated himself from rest of the living world, reaching the pinnacle of all God’s creations. Of the two-fold destiny this journey has led into – every unravelled mystery opened doors to newer unknowns and the pursuit seems never-ending; also man’s knowledge grew faster than his maturity and hence the legend of mastery of the world is today a legacy of shameful abuse and misuse. At the end, lies an attempt to provide a direction for ‘course correction’ in the future.

Foundations of a Mastering Attitude

   It’s an indisputable fact that human nature has an unfathomable and insatiable tendency to be a ‘Master’. Though it’s mysterious how humans came about to possess this character, and neither does it contribute any significant share in making a human being out of him, the desire to gain dominion over the objects of his perception is ingrained in his very being. It is so very evident even in a new born baby that gapes at any object of its amusement and starts investigating it in no time. All of mankind’s history is nothing but flourishing milestones of things mastered by him – starting with the mastery of fire, followed by mastering the art of making tools, then mastering various means of transport, then the art of communication and, lately, new frontiers of science and technology every day.
Every achievement of mastery may slightly be an end in itself but it also opens up a flood gate of new horizons, like how scaling a new peak shows the hitherto unexplored heights and territories that lay beyond it, yet this does not deter man in the least and he, ever more enthusiastically, marches forward in pursuit of the new summit and new landscapes.

The Mystery trigger to a Mastering Tendency

   One factor that strongly drives this engine of desire to be a master is the fire of curiosity that burns deep within the human consciousness. Man has an inherent hunger for knowledge. Even during the earliest days, which science designates as the time of the primitive man, this hunger was prevalent. It must have been a very brave and uncontrollably curious hominid that thrust its quivering hand and picked up a burning log of fire for the first time.
Everything that man encounters, which seems new, unknown, or unchartered, stokes that fire of wonder in him. There is an element of mystery in anything that is not known, and this ignites his basest passions. During his early animal days, the drive may have been more from a utilitarian point of view. He may not have worried about everything but only what seemed useful or threatening, but as he got more civilized, his thirst for knowledge spilled over into the avenues of ‘disinterested pursuit’. Over time, men went beyond empirical observations of nature, beyond the attempts to imitate nature and its ways, and stepped into a more transcendental realm of things. Knowledge stopped being just a hunger and became a means for understanding. It wasn’t just baby steps taken in queer wonder; it was, rather, a headlong plunge into the depths of mysteries of this world, where men, in pursuit of ultimate goals instead of just proximate causes, went tumbling into an abyss of confounding questions and perplexing realities.
From being a primate that picked up the sharp piece of stone to cut open flesh, he was now a mature human that looked up at the stars and wondered about his place in the universe. A journey that he had started with mere search for answers had now arrived at the threshold of seeking enlightenment. He would now seek the ineffable and chase the unbelievable.

A Transcendental Leap

  In Tielhard de Chardin’s theory of Creative Transformation, he proposes the concept of ‘Critical Points’, which are those thresholds where a marked qualitative transformation occurs compared to the mere quantitative additions that trigger it. Water reaches a critical point when it boils to a 100°C, as just a little more heating will transform water into steam, a substance of completely different nature. Man’s growth in knowledge reached a similar critical point in the Greek city-states of the Western World. It was here that man stopped building walls on old foundations of mythology and blind, unexamined beliefs. Ably aided by maturity in their nature, prudence in their intellect and a sense of renewed wonder, the Greek minds leapfrogged into a world of rational thinking. They made reason their bulwark and tread on the dangerous yet liberating path of scientific and critical enquiry. This path forked into two roads – one, the practical path, lead to science, while the other, the speculative path, led to philosophy.

Man, the Wayward Master

   Philosophical inquiry has been the rightful elevation that has raised man to a dignified level that he ought to occupy, but Science seemingly did the opposite. Man’s being was equipped with the faculties to relentlessly pursue the objects that aroused his curiosity and the ability to unearth the answers and not rest until he was satisfied with his findings. This formed the corner-stone of science. In the beginning, Science was a challenging endeavour – taking on the hurdles of nature and uncovering her veil, one fact at a time. Science gave strong and powerful tools into the hands of brilliant, inquisitive minds while they donned the mantle of heroes seemingly ‘rescuing humanity from the vagaries of nature and absolving us from the helplessness of accepting the natural world and our humble place in it’. Nature ‘humiliated’ us with diseases, natural calamities and placed a limitation on our freedom; with the power of Science in our tow, we didn’t have to bow to nature and her forces anymore. Initially from mere observations and hypothesis, and then with gradually more complex and involved experimentation and verification, science made man the ‘Lord’ of his phenomenal world. His achievements were highly justified as it provided his species with better means of sustenance, in a world ravaged by the unpredictable natural powers. With an improvement in living conditions, his species flowered in its numbers and this, in turn, added more diversity to his search. With every passing day, Man groped at newer truths and, seemingly, unlocked newer mysteries.
Science has, with all due credit to it, endowed man with great gifts in-line with his basic necessities. Every living creature’s survival instincts are mainly towards nourishment, self-defence and reproduction, and scientific achievements in agriculture, weaponry and medicine respectively have verily enhanced his abilities in these areas. But these boons notwithstanding, science has also inflated the ego and self-pride in man, who, today, thinks of himself as a self-sufficient creature and completely in control of his destiny. He proudly claims science has the answer for everything and that nothing, absolutely nothing, is beyond its enslaving reach. With more doors of knowledge that science unlocks, he sees more mysteries thrown at him, but as is his wont, man continues his aggressive run to remain always ‘on-top’. Neither is he deterred by the new challenges nor does he stop to evaluate if he is going in the right direction at all.
Though man’s original steps of scientific mastery made him a better creature of accomplishment, as time passed it lost its original orientation. Today, science is a ‘bastion of the greedy and the pompous’. When Gandhi said, “The world has enough for man’s need, but not his greed” he was indeed referring to the scientific progress that pushed us beyond the boundaries of ethical and virtuous living. Science has helped us flourish but at the cost of over-exploitation of all available resources. It has poisoned the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil we eat out of. It has given us weapons of mass destruction to guard our territories that keeps the world on tenterhooks today. Relentless pursuit of scientific innovations has brought the world onto the brink of a wide-scale ecological disaster.
In the name of science, man today rides a dragon that breathes fire on all of God’s wonderful creations. God is relegated to the status of a rubber-stamp and the enlightening streams of Philosophy and Religion are reduced to mere bystanders that can do nothing more than chant hollow summons to a distracted and indifferent trespasser.

Man, a Slave of his Own Mastery?

   Man does not possess a Midas’ touch. Whatever he engages with - turns up with both faces – the good as well as the bad. In fact, with amplifying greed, lust, and avarice, his scientific accomplishments have turned more evil than beneficial. With advancements in medicine, new and more resistant strains of pathogens appear. The gap between rich and poor is widening every passing day. Millions sleep hungry every night.
If in one way, it looks like man rides science with his baser passions, in another way it seems he has lost control of his self and is being driven. His advancement in science has outpaced his maturation. The natural cycle of life is to evolve organically, and science has defied this with its growth in leaps and bounds. Man had started this journey with an endeavour to master his skills and has ended up a slave to his passions. Science has become for him an alter ego, a global personality that overrules his basic values and changes his outlook into complete objectivity, removing all strands of the subjective being that he is.
According to science, man is not the thinking, willing emotional being that was created by God in divine expedience; rather he is like a machine driven by chemical reactions that evolved from inorganic matter, just out of chance.

Path Ahead – Light at the End of the Tunnel

   All is not lost; it’s certainly not too late yet. God, in his infinitely benign and merciful nature, is ever-ready to accept his lost flock back into his fold and nurture us all over again.
As mentioned earlier, there is another path called Philosophy, that man embarked upon in parallel with science and to which many wise minds have contributed, but it has unfortunately remained creeping in forgotten corners of this world. Philosophy, along with Theology and Religion, are not courses restricted to didactic discussions in academic setups. They are branches of learning vibrant in their treatment and brimming with a purpose to participate in our lives and show us the right direction. They share a similar rational foundation with science but aren’t marked with hasty and reckless developments. In fact, philosophy grew in pace with our maturity as a species. Unlike science, philosophy chose a pluralistic approach and with inclusiveness cultured itself into a comprehensive ensemble.
Our race needs to immediately shift its focus towards philosophy and let science ‘breathe-free’ for a while. Philosophical aspects like the core concept of being, metaphysical aspects of reality, ethical and moral principles need to enter into the mainstream of public discussions and debate. Practical aspects and applications of philosophical truths should be arrived at and put into practice feasibly as well as contextually. A foundation in philosophy should be made compulsory at secondary level school education so the seed of a spiritual thought is sown into the fertile young minds of our subsequent generations.
God is neither a mystery that can be mastered nor a master that likes to taunt us with his mysterious ways. God is the wholesome purpose of our existence; the vast sea of goodness and truth where all our individual life-streams finally meet and find their ultimate salvation.