Doubt in the life of the Hindu

via By MSN Menon - published on June 1, 2010

“DOUBT is the beginning of wisdom,” says Betrand Russell, the philosopher. To doubt is to invite punishment in the Semitic faiths.

The Rig Veda begins with doubts. A hymn wonders:

Who is there who truly knows
And who can say, whence this
Unfathomed world, and from
What cause.

With that began the eternal quest of the Hindu for the truth. The quest took him from one extreme to another extreme, from hedonism to asceticism, from ritualism to atheism. But with that was born its greatest contribution to humanity-freedom of enquiry. There is no parallel to this in the world.

The Vedas affirmed the existence of God, the Upanishads were not so sure, and atheism (Kapila, Charvaka) denied the existence of God. Such has been the range of Hindus philosophic thought. According to atheism, the universe was always there and God had no hand in creating it. All this 2500 years before Karl Marx!

The Sankhya (system of philosophy) of Sage Kapila (6th c BC) is the mother of atheism in India. It is the oldest and most profound philosophy in the world. It had a powerful impact even on the Greeks-on Pythagoras, Democritus, Epicurus and others.

Sankhya proclaimed that Prakriti is eternal, that it was not created by God, that it is the mother of human intelligence.

As against this, we have the semitic faiths which were revealed by God. Being revealed by God, they cannot be questioned. The words were final. To question the words of God is apostasy. It can invite punishment, even dead.

Kapila says in Sankhya that complete cessation of pain is the earthly goal of mankind. Mahavira and Buddha were influenced by Sankhya. According to Kapila, the material cause of the universe is Prakriti. Sankhya was not influenced by any factors outside itself.

As per Sankhya, the effect is also implied in the causes. In this sense, Sankhya is a doctrine of materialism. The distinguishing part of Sankhya is its theory of evolution. It is matter which existed originally, he says, in an unmanifest form. The transformation into a world of objects and beings is effected through the three gunas-Satva, Rajas and Tamas.

But Sankhya is not totally materialist. There is a dualism, for matter contains Purushah (pure consciousness) which is independent of matter. In short, according to Sankhya Prakriti is blind, but can move, while Purusha can see, but not move.

The Nastikas denied the existence of free will. Life and consciousness, they said, originated from matter. There is no life after death. They did not believe in Karma.

Jabali was contemporary of Sri Rama. We also know that he was a highly respected Brahmin. Shows how tolerant Hindu society was in those days! Vasishta, teacher of Rama, speaks highly of Jabali. The Mahabharata speaks highly of Nastikas as “venerable sages” Valmiki makes Jabali the greatest of Brahmins.

The story goes, that Bharata took Jabali to meet Rama in the hope of persuading Rama to return to Ayodhya. Their conversation shows how advanced atheism was.

Jabali says: “Rama, a noble and intelligent person like you should not think like a common man. Everyone is born alone and dies alone…. You are wise enough to known that there is no world other than this. Believe in what you see and turn your back on the unseen. Take the kingdom as Bharata has asked you.” From what Rama says it is reasonable to infer that the Hindu society was ready to accept atheism. Rama says: “What you have just said is unacceptable, though it seems appropriate.”

Atheism did not make a major mark on Hindu society, but it had a powerful effect on the history of world philosophy. The depth of their theistic approach, their remarkable logic and their sweep far outstripped the achievements of classical philosophy, says an authority.

The Buddha was hostile to atheism. So were the Jains. Be that as it may, atheism prevented the growth of fanaticism in India. Doubt gave birth to wisdom.

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