Two sides of a coin

To neglect faith or reason unfailingly diminishes the totality of life, just as any one side of a coin. - PROF I.J. SINGH


Opinion | 8 Sept 2017 | Asia Samachar | 

By I.J. Singh

Two paths define and instruct my life.  Science and Sikhi have a hold on what I am, whatever it is.

Of the two, which is the original me and which the alter-ego (doppelganger)?  Any distinction between them is meaningless.  Like productive oxen, they are best yoked together.  Both realities are intimately engaged in the formation of my sense of self.

I fell into science in my teens, and never ventured out except for brief overlapping forays into the seductive art of writing.  I was raised a Sikh but Sikhi never really possessed me until I entered graduate school in the United States almost a lifetime ago. My stumbling into Sikhi was enabled and empowered by my environs that had few, if any, Sikhs then.  My non-Sikh neighbors and friends regularly invited me to their churches and synagogues, communities, and worship services; some, surely, were counting on a conversion. Instead, I leaned further into Sikhi to understand better the path from which I was being cajoled away. I have written elsewhere about those times.

I have argued earlier that science and religion (notably Sikhi) are not in conflict and are entirely compatible with each other.  But today I dwell on some dissimilarities that come together to create a rich, variegated mix.

The lab-based bench sciences, mostly verifiable, often replicable, present a very special reality. Despite unending and formidable progress in newly discovered secrets, science holds promise of many more mysteries to explore and unravel.  Religious systems, on the other hand, despite much devoted application, start and end with the unchallenged dictum of limitless unquestioned faith.

Which, then, is the harder of the two to connect with?

Modern social scientists tell us that religions are the glue that binds a people.  This is how communities emerge.  This is how they survive and thrive.  Clearly the human, alone or in a family unit, is neither fast nor strong enough to escape becoming part of the food chain of our many foes.  It is the common practices and traditions — the caring and sharing — that makes our survival possible, including human mastery over our environment. Hence the religions.

Religions speak of an Infinite Creator.  This tells us that there is a reality open to experience but one that still retains its mystery, and always will. This reality transcends both our senses and our intellect. Being infinite,it remains significantly unknowable and nothing will change that defining limitation on our finite ability, capacity, desire, and language.

Science, on the other hand, deals only with our finite reality.  Despite many newly discovered inventions and ideas every day, new mysteries remain beyond our imagination and understanding at any given time.  Yet, what we know today does not become unknown tomorrow.  What we have unmasked by our experimentation today remains ours – we own it forever, until we change it – like the idea of a flat earth.

Ergo, I would say that spiritual discipline is, at one level, more complex.  This path is not adorned with academic credentials, honors bestowed, papers published – medals or lucre. It sates my hunger but not in ways that I can effectively see, count, track, or describe.

A life of both faith and science then transcends one in which one single path is true and another that is false.  Ergo, it is not a matter of the self (me) being hamstrung by a doppelganger.  The two together define my life – a more complete existence. Both remain necessary; either reason or faith alone remains incomplete

This takes me to the fundamental precept of Meeri and Peeri that defines a Sikh life, where Meeri represents the externally directed worldly reality while Peeri speaks of an inner life of the spirit – the mind.  Doctrinally inseparable, both are essential to a meaningful, productive life, one path alone is an incomplete life. Be it a wholesome life or part of a vibrant community, we, the people, depend on a healthy marriage of the two.

Remember the age-old truism that weddings are easy, accomplished in minutes, no matter the religious label; making a marriage out of a wedding takes a lifetime. To neglect faith or reason unfailingly diminishes the totality of life, just as any one side of a coin.

Every coin has two sides dramatically different from each other, but only when welded together do they make a true coin with truly lasting value.

I.J. Singh is a New York based writer and speaker on Sikhism in the Diaspora, and a Professor of Anatomy. Email:

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.


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  1. The point is that the two are inseparable. Must they be equally weighed is not the issue here. If I am thinking or writing about a scientific issue or designing an experiment, I imagine reason dominates. But here, too, I must treat my experimental animals or subjects humanely, justly and with kindness and in that may be rooted in matters of faith. My totality speaks of both faith and reason as welded together to define a life. That’s the point. If I am thinking of the Creator –thinking is an intellectual process I accept that so,e matters may be beyond my limited finite reason.

    Thank you for your comment — not an eay matter to parse.

    I.J. Singh


    Davin Sandhu: Can reason and faith be held in equal accounts…??