The entire question of whether the spiritual goal of liberation from the world into another ‘eternal realm’ can be achieved depends ultimately on the assumption that there exists a God and/or some kind of divine realm (however conceived). The Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas and in ancient Sanskrit, deals with this fundamental question of a creator God and the creation of the universe. It does not categorically accept the existence of a creator God.
The RigVeda creation hymn (Nasadiya Sukta – 10th chapter) asks: “Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this cosmos.“
This is ultimately non-theism, because no single all-powerful creator God is accepted, but only deities which arise with the cosmos or universe. Further, in the Brihadaranyaka, Brahman (qua God) is characterised as ‘everything and “no-thing”, while the Chandogya Upanishads stress the importance of the subjective self and are therefore considered atheistic by commentators.
The reason is that all doctrines which deny the real existence of the experienced changing self (except as a mere illusory ‘appearance’) fail to account properly for whatever exists independently of the individual self. Later speculative theologies, especially Adi Shankara’s ‘advaita vedanta‘, held the belief that the self as it is experienced by the ordinary individual is false, while the ‘self-realised’ individual sees through this delusive ‘maya’ of the ego or personal self and realises his true identity to be Universal Self (as many would call God). Thus an opposition supposedly exists between the individual ‘ego’ (based on selfishness) and the ‘Self’ (being unselfish divinity).
Because the Universal Self of advaita (non-duality) is one and indivisible, however, it cannot be described in any way nor defined through language, since language always divides reality in that it must distinguish forms (objects, words etc.) from one another. It is therefore held in advaita that this is only to be realised as an ineffable, all-surpassing experience of being, truth and bliss. This claimed ultimate truth – omniscient and omnipresent – is necessarily individually and thus subjectively experienced. Therefore no evidence of any observable or measurable kind can (so far) be produced to justify it. All there can be are many differing testimonies and attempts at description that have been made by those who claim to have (or have had) the experience.
A famous historical example: In 1865, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa met a wandering adavitic monk, Totapuri who instructed him in advaita. Having renounced all ties to the world, Totapuri guided him to experience believed by adherents to be the highest state in spiritual realisation possible: “Brahman alone is real, and the world is illusory; I have no separate existence; I am that Brahman alone.” Later Ramakrishna rejected the path of advaita for his Kali worship, and he spent a very large part of his life in non-communicative trance. He also warned that not one in a thousand who attempt to reach what to him was ‘nirvikalpa samadhi‘ can succeed, while madness lies in wait for the majority of those who fail. To take a chance on these suppositions, assumptions, claims and uncertainties such as to devote oneself to the ‘spiritual search’ for decades is a huge risk, as it can well be an entirely unproductive wild goose chase.
One must subsequently ask whether it is at all reasonable or conceivable that an experience is possible which awarely embraces everything that has ever been, from the smallest quark to the greatest universe (or a possible limitless multiverse?) and whether any person on earth has ever attained to it or anything remotely close to that, whatever the claims made. The most likely answer is that this is not so. The experiences referred to by claimants would necessarily be unique and myriad, not the identical revelation. Remember that, throughout history, countless people have been worshipped as God, set themselves up as dictator Gods and claimed to be God or deities.
Today millions are aware that most unimaginable living visions can and do arise in human consciousness, including extreme self-loss and bodiless experiences, paranormal effects or abilities and extra-sensory visions, some of a vastly intricate and apparently cosmos encompassing scope. These are caused by many agencies from all manner of mind-altering plants and chemicals, and even too large doses of medicines (eg. morphine derivates) even from accidents to extreme blood loss. These can trigger all manner of mystery hidden within the brain, from unknown subconscious yearnings to extreme traumas. The brain (the seat of a living person’s mind) is undoubtedly the medium that produces anything or everything conceivable or experiencable, from fantastic dreams to the highest science and art, surpassing perceptive grasp of the nature of things or descending to many forms of cognitive or emotional delusion as well as madness. Meditation is most probably not an efficient as a means to achieve the experience since it requires very extreme self-discipline, the exact correct regime for the specific person and many years of practice. (See ‘The Blissful Brain’ downloadable for free at The Neuroscience of Meditation Blissful PDF)
Ancient Indian atheism produced many arguments against the existence of a God creator
The Vedas are numerous, grouped into four main categories: Samhitas, Bhahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. Of these I summarise some little promoted facts about them.
The Mimamsa school of philosophy was concerned with the critical interpretation of the Vedas. Mimamsas denied the existence of God in any form. Their fundamental text was the Purva Mimamsa Sutras, by Jaimini (ca. 200 BC–200 AD). Mimamsa philosophers believed that the Vedas were without an author, (apaurusheyatva) sacred and infallible, and so as not to lose their purity Vedic ritual alone must maintain the dharma (cosmic order) they revealed. It certainly appears, and even to most Hindu pundits and their followings, that this dharma has been largely destroyed in the current age, indicating to them that the cause was the decline of the Vedas in human life. Most other people in the world would not agree to this or that the Vedas had any power whatsoever to prescribe one right way of life or – as an early Iron Age product – to have foreseen into what humanity, civilisations, culture, the sciences and much else would grow.
Later interpreters of the Mimamsa sutras put forward arguments against idea of God. The early Mimamsa not only did not believe in God but held that human action alone was sufficient to uphold dharma through creating the prerequisites for human benefit from its results. Arguments against God’s existence were put forth by Prabhākara (ca. C7th AD). Likewise Samkhya (from around 400 AD) was atheistic and strictly dualistic, though it preaches the existence of higher selves, while materialistic and non-theist Cārvāka, (C6 AD) viewed everything as caused by natural phenomena. It rejected all otherworldly and speculative concepts: soul, karma, life after death, heaven or hell, rebirth, rituals, other world (heaven and hell), and fate rather than free will.
Jainism’s Mahavira and Buddhism’s Gautama Buddha also avoided the God concept, but otherwise shared many features with otherworldly aspects of Hinduism.
Mimamsas argued that supposing the world was created by a being was superfluous, as they saw the Vedas as authorless. Ther simply appeared from nowhere (rather as in modern Big Bang theory). God and the deities (as worshipped in the Vedas) were nothing but empty names. The idea of karma as a universal law obviated the need of God as a moral overseer of the world, nor as an enforcer of karmic results because God’s motives would not be altruistic (in enforcing suffering), while an egoistic God is a sheer self-contradiction. Their other supporting arguments were detailed and far-reaching. In short, the is no proof of the existence of God who cannot be perceived and so forth. Hindu atheists in recent times
Prominent modern Indian atheists:
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, father of the Hindu nationalist ideology Hindutva, was a self–proclaimed atheist. The Indian Nobel Prize-winner Amartya Sen, in an interview with Pranab Bardhan for the California Magazine published in the July–August 2006 edition by the University of California, Berkeley states:
“In some ways people had got used to the idea that India was spiritual and religion-oriented. That gave a leg up to the religious interpretation of India, despite the fact that Sanskrit had a larger atheistic literature than what exists in any other classical language. Madhava Acharya, the remarkable 14th century philosopher, wrote this rather great book called Sarvadarshansamgraha, which discussed all the religious schools of thought within the Hindu structure. The first chapter is “Atheism” – a very strong presentation of the argument in favor of atheism and materialism.”
According to Markandey Katju, Chairman of the Press Council of India and former judge of the Supreme Court of India, eight out of the nine systems of Hindu Philosophy are atheistic, as they do not have a place for God in them. Only one of the nine systems, Uttar Mimansa, which is also called Vedanta, has a place for God in it.
Brahmananda Swami Sivayogi was an atheist and rationalist who founded the organization Ananda Mahasabha. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the president of Hindu Mahasabha, described himself as a Hindu atheist.
Shreela Flather, Baroness Flather of Windsor and Maidenhead (1934– ), the first Hindu woman in British politics described herself as a “Hindu atheist”. Broadly, she is an atheist with affinity to secular aspects of Hindu culture such as dress and diet.
Kamalahaasan – A well-known Tamil Actor and film maker who make films with atheist ideals and has a popular dialog in his film Dasavathaaram, “I don’t say that God doesn’t exist, I just say it would be good if he existed”.
Amartya Sen – The Nobel laureate is a self-proclaimed agnostic and associates it with the idea of Hinduism as a political entity.
See also The human personality and the ego vs. the self
And as a curio, this amusing case:-
Hinduism no religion, Shiva a ‘superpower’, says IT tribunal
Outlandish it may appear but an Income Tax Tribunal in Maharashtra has held that Hinduism is not a religion and Shiva, Hanuman or Goddess Durga are regarded as “superpowers of the universe” and do not represent a particular religion.
The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Nagpur, in a recent order, said the expenses on worshipping Hindu deities and maintenance of temple could not be considered as religious activity. “Technically, Hinduism is neither a religion nor Hindus form a religious community. Therefore, expenses incurred for worshipping Shiva, Hanuman or Durga and for maintenance of temples cannot be regarded to be for religious purposes. They are merely regarded to be the superpower of the universe,” it said. The order by accountant-member P K Bansal and judicial member DT Garasia came on an appeal filed by ‘Shiv Mandir Devsthan Panch Committee Sanstan’ against an order of Income Tax Commissioner of Nagpur, who had denied the trust an exemption on the ground that more than 5 per cent of its expenses had been on religious activities, thus rendering it ineligible for such concession. (http://www.deccanherald.com/content/319292/hinduism-no-religion-shiva-superpower.html)
Comment by ‘tripur': ‘Then why does the Constitution of India say Hinduism is the majority religion and that the government can therefore administer all temple funds and “look after” temples and even educational institutions run by the majority religion.’
Comment by Satheesan Kochicheril : ‘How can these deities be super powers. The World was neither created by them, nor do they have any role in its working. They remain in the realm of imagination. They have no reality.’