Sunday, February 22, 2009

Origin of Atheism in India

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The origins of atheism and agnosticism are seen in Rgveda in following verses. These verses are present in 10th book of RgVed which is considered to be a last stage of Rgved composition and is conventionally dated around 1300 BC. Note the boldened and the underlined verses which exemplify their skepticism regarding existence of creator.

HiraNyagarbha Sukta (Rgved 10:121)

हिरण्यगर्भः समवर्तताग्रे भूतस्य जातः पतिरेकासीत | 
स दाधार पर्थिवीं दयामुतेमां कस्मै देवायहविषा विधेम || 
य आत्मदा बलदा यस्य विश्व उपासते परशिषं यस्यदेवाः | 
यस्य छायाम्र्तं यस्य मर्त्युः कस्मै देवायहविषा विधेम || 
यः पराणतो निमिषतो महित्वैक इद राजा जगतो बभूव | 
य ईशे अस्य दविपदश्चतुष्पदः कस्मै देवाय हविषाविधेम || 
यस्येमे हिमवन्तो महित्वा यस्य समुद्रं रसया सहाहुः | 
यस्येमाः परदिशो यस्य बाहू कस्मै देवाय हविषाविधेम || 
येन दयौरुग्रा पर्थिवी च दर्ळ्हा येन सव सतभितं येननाकः | 
यो अन्तरिक्षे रजसो विमानः कस्मै देवायहविषा विधेम || 
यं करन्दसी अवसा तस्तभाने अभ्यैक्षेतां मनसारेजमाने | 
यत्राधि सूर उदितो विभाति कस्मै देवायहविषा विधेम || 
आपो ह यद बर्हतीर्विश्वमायन गर्भं दधानाजनयन्तीरग्निम | 
ततो देवानां समवर्ततासुरेकःकस्मै देवाय हविषा विधेम || 
यश्चिदापो महिना पर्यपश्यद दक्षं दधानाजनयन्तीर्यज्ञम | 
यो देवेष्वधि देव एक आसीत कस्मैदेवाय हविषा विधेम || 
मा नो हिंसीज्जनिता यः पर्थिव्या यो वा दिवंसत्यधर्मा जजान | 
यश्चापश्चन्द्रा बर्हतीर्जजानकस्मै देवाय हविषा विधेम || 
परजापते न तवदेतान्यन्यो विश्वा जातानि परि ताबभूव | 
यत्कामास्ते जुहुमस्तन नो अस्तु वयं सयाम पतयोरयीणाम || 

Translation - 

1. IN the beginning rose Hiranyagarbha, born Only Lord of all created beings.
He fixed and holdeth up this earth and heaven. Which is a god like this whom shall we adore with our oblation?
2 Giver of vital breath, of power and vigour, he whose commandments all the Gods acknowledge -.
The Lord of death, whose shade is life immortal. Which is a god like this whom shall we adore with our oblation?
3 Who by his grandeur hath become Sole Ruler of all the moving world that breathes and slumbers;
He who is Loord of men and Lord of cattle. Which is a god like this whom shall we adore with our oblation?
4 His, through his might, are these snow-covered mountains, and men call sea and Rasā his possession:
His arms are these, his are these heavenly regions. Which is a god like this whom shall we adore with our oblation?
5 By him the heavens are strong and earth is stedfast, by him light's realm and sky-vault are supported:
By him the regions in mid-air were measured. Which is a god like this whom shall we adore with our oblation?
6 To him, supported by his help, two armies embattled look while trembling in their spirit,
When over them the risen Sun is shining. Is there any such god whom shall we adore with our oblation?
7 What time the mighty waters came, containing the universal germ, producing Agni,
Thence sprang the Gods’ one spirit into being. Which is a god like this whom shall we adore with our oblation?
8 He in his might surveyed the floods containing productive force and generating Worship.
He is the God of gods, and none beside him. Which is a god like this whom shall we adore with our oblation?
9 Neer may he harm us who is earth's Begetter, nor he whose laws are sure, the heavens' Creator,
He who brought forth the great and lucid waters. Which is a god like this whom shall we adore with our oblation?
10 Prajāpati! thou only comprehendest all these created things, and none beside thee.
Grant us our hearts' desire when we invoke thee: may we have store of riches in possession.

Nasadiya Sukta (Rigveda 10:129)

नासदासीन नो सदासीत तदानीं नासीद रजो नो वयोमापरो यत | 
किमावरीवः कुह कस्य शर्मन्नम्भः किमासीद गहनं गभीरम || 
न मर्त्युरासीदम्र्तं न तर्हि न रात्र्या अह्न आसीत्प्रकेतः | 
आनीदवातं सवधया तदेकं तस्माद्धान्यन न परः किं चनास || 
तम आसीत तमसा गूळमग्रे.अप्रकेतं सलिलं सर्वमािदम | 
तुछ्येनाभ्वपिहितं यदासीत तपसस्तन्महिनाजायतैकम || 
कामस्तदग्रे समवर्तताधि मनसो रेतः परथमं यदासीत | 
सतो बन्धुमसति निरविन्दन हर्दि परतीष्याकवयो मनीषा || 
तिरश्चीनो विततो रश्मिरेषामधः सविदासी.अ.अ.अत | 
रेतोधाासन महिमान आसन सवधा अवस्तात परयतिः परस्तात || 
को अद्धा वेद क इह पर वोचत कुत आजाता कुत इयंविस्र्ष्टिः | 
अर्वाग देवा अस्य विसर्जनेनाथा को वेद यताबभूव || 
इयं विस्र्ष्टिर्यत आबभूव यदि वा दधे यदि वा न | 
यो अस्याध्यक्षः परमे वयोमन सो अङग वेद यदि वा नवेद ||

Translation - 

1. THEN was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it. 
What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?
2 Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day's and night's divider.
That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever.
3 Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness this All was indiscriminated chaos.
All that existed then was void and form less: by the great power of Warmth was born that Unit.
4 Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit.
Sages who searched with their heart's thought discovered the existent's kinship in the non-existent.
5 Transversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and what below it?
There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder
6 Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
The Gods are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?
7 He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,
Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not

There are few interesting observations about Nasadiya Sukta. Consider this verse in nasadiya hymn.

कामस्तदग्रे समवर्तताधि मनसो रेतः परथमं यदासीत | 
सतो बन्धुमसति निरविन्दन हर्दि परतीष्याकवयो मनीषा |

Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit.
Sages who searched with their heart's thought discovered the existent's kinship in the non-existent

The sages say that upon deep contemplation on the probable reason of creation, they found out that Sat (existence) is actually a sibling, a brother of Asat (Non-existence). Which means that both originated from same source simultaneously. This kind of makes sense because without the concept of existence, there can't a concept of non-existence.

However, this has a very interesting implication. In Indian philosophy, therea are three levels of reality.

1) Sat - One which exists or holds true in all times and all places. In other words, one which exists everywhere, all the time, without changing at all is Sat. Only Brahman OR the fundamental principle is considered as Sat. This is the basis for famous statement of Brahma satyam jagat Mithya.

2) Rutam - One which exists but not everywhere, all the time and which changes with change in space and/or time is Rutam. Everything apart from brahman is not constant and is hence Rutam. 

3) Asatya - Non-existence - one which does not exist at all is Asat.

Now, in first verse, Nasadiya says, - 

नासदासीन नो सदासीत तदानीं नासीद रजो नो वयोमापरो यत  - THEN was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it.

In other words, there was no Sat (Brahman) nor there was Asat (non-existence) before creation of this universe. The very concepts of existence and non-existence were not present before creation.

This is where the atheism and free-rationalism of this verse show up. The concept which people believe as supreme and most fundamental of all, is said to be non-existent before creation of Universe. It became supreme after it came into existence. This everything starts making sense after a point when Brahman came into existence. Before that, nobody knows. And nobody can know.

The sages end this verse on the same note. They say - 

को अद्धा वेद क इह पर वोचत कुत आजाता कुत इयंविस्र्ष्टिः | 
अर्वाग देवा अस्य विसर्जनेनाथा को वेद यताबभूव || 
इयं विस्र्ष्टिर्यत आबभूव यदि वा दधे यदि वा न | 
यो अस्याध्यक्षः परमे वयोमन सो अङग वेद यदि वा नवेद ||

Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
The Gods are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?
He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,
Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.

The composers acknowledge that it really can't be known how the universe came into existence and whether or not, there is a creator. All the demigods came into existence much later. The one who created the universe, perhaps only he knows or perhaps even he does not know because he does not exist.

Essence of Philosophy  and Concept of Brahman
 
Brahman is the STUFF universe is made up of.. whatever it is.. the most fundamental physical entity which makes up universe. Using modern physical analogy, it can be said that quantum fields which is hypothesized to make up everything in universe is Brahman... Now quantum fields may or may not be brahman... 

If it is proven that quatum fields do make up everything in this world including space-time and dimensions then it will be proven that quantum field is Brahman. If not, then perhaps there something even more fundamental in this universe than quantum fields. Indian philosophers did not inquire into the physical nature of that fundamental entity.. They just named the most fundamental entity as Brahman...

The aim is not to have information about this fundamental unity, but to KNOW it, experience it. As long as a person has ego (sense of "I" as separate identity), he can't experience the unity. The definition has to be open ended because if it is crystalline, it will resist any modification. And frankly, it is impossible to KNOW how far the chain goes.. Hence it is logical to remain open-ended. There is no crystalline concepts giving exact information, because it is impossible and bound to be wrong.

Exact information is God created heavens and earth in 6 days and he rested on 7th and he created man in his own image. This is exact, crystalline, clear and WRONG!!!

How can one expect an exact knowledge about origin of universe from bronze-age people? even today in space-age, we don't know the answer. science is working towards it. And is expected to reach a result which will most probably be the fundamental entity of world. Vedics simply named that expected fundamental entity as Brahman. 

The questions in life of everybody can't be answered by one scripture. Million people have million different natures and zillion different types of problems. It is impossible for a scripture to answer all of them. It is foolish to rely on scriptures. Vedic literature merely serve as signboards on journey, not as driver. For example, Yoga teaches how to control your mind and focus it on thing we want to. If we focus it on our problems, then we will get the solution depending upon the level of our intellect.. This does not mean that Patanjali answered all problems in his Yogsutras...

What vedic philosophy says is know one self.. once the knowledge of self comes, no problem is difficult to solve. 

Some questions asked to me by friends in course of discussion. 

What is the reason behind the composition of Veds?

They are chronicles of Vedic people over the period of time. everything they held true, believed in, thought about, throughout their creative years is Vedas. It is illogical to as a poet why does he compose poetry. There is no reason. It just is.

Why their are additions in Veds rather than separate work with a different name?

They are not separate books. They were just collection thoughts and ideas, memoirs. many pastoral societies who move about have such oral traditions which are passed on orally thorough generations. Later this tradition stopped for some reasons after they left their pastoral life-style and settled down. 

Why Veds are written by so many seers and all their work was called Veds?

explained above. It is compilation of thoughts and ideas of wise people from one civilization through the period of thousand years.

Do you accept everything which is written in Veds?? If not then what exactly you accept and what you don't?

I don't accept everything written in Vedas. If I feel it logical, relevant, and which can be explained without having to invoke divine idea, I am fine with it. Its not that I do not appreciate it.
I appreciate Vedas a lot and hold them in high esteem as they are remarkable feet of creativity in terms of language, grammar, philosophy, rationalism, History. But appreciation need not be reverence and blind acceptance. 


Conclusion - Vedas have left a mark on India that is impossible to remove. The very concept of Bhaarat is found in Vedas along with the record of steady evolution and expansion of that concept. Almost all philosophies produced in India by Indians are influenced by Vedas. Some accept their authority, some reject them, but none can ignore them, not even rabid hedonists like Charvakas. The origin of all the philsophical schools ranging from Monism to Pantheism to Diesm to Polytheism to Agnosticism and Atheism, all of these schools can be traced in Vedas. Truly, they have given India her very cultural identity.

As far as atheism and free-rationalism is concerned, it also finds its origin in Vedas. It was widely practised in pre-islamic India. As education percolates, atheism and free-rationalism will again be popular amongst Indian masses.


1 comment:

rk said...

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