GOD AND HINDU PHILOSOPHY
by Ajay Shukla
The concept of a divine god is not fundamental to the Hindu philosophy. What do we mean by this word god ? Traditionally God is considered as a being or an entity, essentially having these qualities -
a ) an existence in the material sense,
b ) a sort of consciousness, and a desire to control and to take decisions,
c ) possession of some supernatural overwhelming power to effect decisions.
The Christian religion is very unambiguous on this issue. The first book of the Holy Bible is the Book of Genesis, which starts with the statement that in the beginning it was all dark and the world did not exist. And then Lord said let there be light and there was light and so the creation came into being by a powerful entity called god who pre-existed the creation and who took conscious decisions about working of this system and still does. The Christian religion gives very clear attributes to what is known as god.
Is the Hindu god any different? Since Hinduism is not an organized religion, not one founded by a code book, we can only go by what are the traditional practices and beliefs of the people. These beliefs of the common Hindu present a picture of a god not very different from the gods of other religions. But if we go by the fundamental philosophical treatises, the Vedas, the main Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, then a very different picture emerges.
Riga-Veda is full of panegyric hymns venerating the numerous deities for their superhuman powers. Some scholars call it the prevalent polytheism. Actually none of these characters were in the category of a god. They were historical figures, like warlords who fought for the Aryans, and divine attributes got associated with them in time and legend. They lacked the status of absolute divinity. None of them was a supremo.
The sages of the Vedic age also came up with the concept of Brahma, a concept that should not be confused with god. To quote Sutra 129 of the tenth mandala of Riga-Veda :
In the beginning in the state of flood there was neither matter nor non-matter, neither being nor non-being. At that time there was neither the sky nor the space nor anything beyond . There was no life anywhere nor any source of pleasure. What was there ? And where ? What was the power ? At that time even the solemn water did not exist. There was neither death nor immortality, neither night nor any notion of the day. At that time only one, i.e. Brahma, imbued with energy in his nature was there and nothing else existed. Darkness was hidden inside darkness and the existence was unknown. With the exertion of its own tapas, heat-energy, out of nothing emerged Brahma without external cause or action. This caused the conception of creation and the sages realized the cause of matter in non-matter. Who knows the entire truth and who can speak about this creation ? What are the causative factors of this creation ? The gods have originated after the creation. Who knows the one from which this world has got created. It is not known how this existence has come up. He only knows the one who has unveiled it. Does he bear it or not ? It is not known whether the lord up above knows it or not .
The Vedic scholars treated Brahma as the source of creation, not as the conscious creator. Brahma is not a creator in the sense that He was a powerful and conscious being who existed before the existence of the universe. Brahma was something from which the existence came out into being. Brahma was an entity possessed only with heat energy but was without consciousness or desires. Creation occurred out of Brahma, not by Brahma, and it occurred out of non-matter and without any external cause.
The scientific theory on the phenomenon of creation says that in the beginning the entire universe was condensed in the form of a black hole. It was all dark and nothing existed, as described in the Veda. Then occurred an explosion, the big bang. I quote Stephen Hawking from his book A Brief History of Time - At the big bang , the universe is thought to have had zero size and so to have been infinitely hot. ( Recall the word tapas of the earlier quote of Rig Veda. Tap is heat.) This explosion led to creation of this universe and from then on the universe is continuously expanding.
The concept of Brahma was further elaborated in Atharva-Veda, and in the Vedanta i.e. in Upanishads it was the main subject of thought. The main characteristics of Brahma as described in Vedanta are -
It is interesting to note that in Vedanta the stress is not on the worship of Brahma but on understanding of Brahma. In Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna repeatedly says that when the yogi realizes that all this existence is just a variegated manifestation of Brahma, he assumes sambhava, and thus he integrates himself with Brahma, he attains the state of Brahma, a state of infinite peace and bliss. Thus Brahma is not a deity, it is not a god, it is nothing supernatural. Brahma is all that we are, and the abstract cause of all that is, it is a concept which has to be understood, realized and felt, not just to be worshipped.
And for this reason Brahma does not interfere or take decisions. Brahma is also not the chief controller of the human action. In Bhagavad Gita also Krishna says that He does not take decisions into mundane human affairs, he does not interfere. Krishna says ( Ch.V-14 & 15 ) that God creates neither the acts nor the cause nor the circumstances of the action. It is the nature that acts these out. God regards neither sin nor piousness.
Krishna further says that he is detached to whatever he is doing. He does not control the actions of people nor does he interfere with their affairs. He neither gets affected by human actions nor does he sit upon judgment on their lives. He does not take such decisions. He is not the grand judge. In fact there is no concept of a day of judgment in the Indian philosophy. To quote from Bhagavad Gita.
All works are accomplished by the qualities of nature. The ignorant feel they are the doer because of their ego. Ch. III sh. 27
Though creator of this existence you should understand me as one who does not do anything. Ch. IV sh. 13.
When one does not see the doer but sees only the qualities of nature performing their acts truly attains my being. Ch.XIV sh.19
The five factors which accomplish all actions are - the scene of action i.e. the body, the doer, the instruments or the sensory organs or the faculties, the efforts i.e. the motions or the impulses, and providence i.e. the divine factors. Ch.XVIII sh.14
This is only to show that in Hindu philosophy there is no superman type of god who would actively intercede into human affairs, a concept normally regarded as divine, and linked to god.
Since Brahma does not decide how the individual should act? Does anyone control ? Or are we all absolutely free ? Is all this uncontrolled and chaotic ?
We can not psychologically accept that it is all chaotic and haphazard. Scientifically also we do find some order in the scheme of things, some principles making things act in the way they do. Existences are not free to do anything they want. Krishna tells Arjuna that his resolve not to fight in the battle is vain and an offshoot of his ego. He tells Arjuna, You think you are going to take decisions. But no. Your own nature will compel you to fight. Elsewhere also, Krishna says that even the sinner is a victim of his own nature, he is not a sinner in the real sense, as he is not the doer. Man is thus bound by his own nature in the context of his actions, but there is no extra-terrestrial control over him. This does put serious limitations on the individuals freedom but that is also true. It however relieves the individual from the dictates of an alien divine hand.
What is nature ?
Nature is an abstract metaphysical force prevailing everywhere, in each entity, which causes the constituent factors to act in the way they do and hence is the cause of all actions. It is not that nature is something outside the material entity. Rather nature is an innate and inseparable part of the material entity. It is that abstract factor which makes the material factor be or act whatever it is or does. And since it is an abstract quantity it can neither be fully understood nor completely controlled.
Nature controls everything, but it is a sort of non-predetermined control. What will be the outcome of the action is nowhere predetermined because all action that is taking place is a continuous process of interplay of the nature of various existences in an extremely dynamic and fluid situation. The process can be predicted to some an extent by empirical methods and by logic ( the laws of science ) but not always and not to the absolute exactness, both because of the sheer complexity of the total interaction and because of the unknown factors of nature.
Providence is also one of the factors of action, and this factor is unknown. No one can know this. It is mysterious. Like the uncertainty principle. We can understand a phenomenon on the basis of its principles but only to the extent of its singularity. There comes a point when the principle ceases to be applicable. That is its singularity stage. It is because of the principle itself is based on the phenomenon. Providence is not the divine but simply the unknown, the mysterious, the incalculable.
It may be interesting to discuss astrology also at this point. I do not say that astrology, palmistry and other such like mystical things are not sciences. They are sciences. The position of the sun controls the climate which influences the living world. Similarly the planets and stars can have influence on us. And based on their patterns certain predictions can be made, I am willing to go that far. I am however not going to accept is that these are exact or complete sciences. They have and would always have limitations. After all a doctor can tell quite a few things about a patient by examining the eyes, the fingers and other parts of the body. But whether the patient will die of a disease or in a car accident the doctor cannot predict.
Maybe the lines on the palm also carry some tell tale signs. What these signs tell is the present state of affairs. Based on the present some prediction can be made which may or may not come to be true. To put it differently, one can predict that a mango seed will grow into a mango tree. It cannot become a neem tree. But whether it will actually grow to its full bloom or will be cut down as a sapling cannot be predicted. No one can make all the predictions. No one shall ever be I challenge. Because then you are assuming that there is no providence, that everything can be predetermined and calculated. If one could calculate the behavior and movement of every single atom of this existence then maybe one would be able to predict everything. Maybe not even then because the uncertainty principle holds that the very action of knowing some thing alters the motion and the position of that thing. As such by the time we come to know about it the damn thing has altered course.
I am also surprised to see that the same astrologists who make predictions also provide prescriptions to avoid the dictates of providence ! This is like eating your cake and having it too. But this can be done only by god ! You cant have it both ways. If everything is predestined how can you find escape routes ? I cannot imagine the divine being inefficient. But fundamentally it is all like walking in dark.
I am reminded of the 14th shloka of Chapter VII of Gita, This three faceted Maya of mine is difficult to fathom. Krishna does not expect man to be able to know fully the unknown facets of action.
We come back to the question, Is there a god controlling things in this universe ? If you accept the phenomenon, then you have to per se also accept the concept of divine interference and divine disposition. I mean you cannot say that god is unfair and irresponsible. But if you go by this theory of karmic burden and commiserate disposition, then the theory of nature acting upon the beings does not hold good. Then you are negating almost everything said in Gita and Upanishads. And if you believe in Brahma and the forces of nature then you cannot sustain the theory of the karmic burden of the previous life, or anything indicating divine dispensation.
Thus I do not find the concept of a divine god either logical , or empirically sustainable, nor supported by ancient Indian philosophy.
That is why I hold that the Hindu philosophy was based on scientific perceptions, on rational and logical thought and there was no room in it for supernatural and divine concept of god. They believed in the concept of Brahma as the underlying universal cause of all existences. But they sages also realised that it was difficult for the common man to understand and accept such an abstract concept. To quote sh. 5 of ch. XII of Gita-
Efforts are tremendous for those whose who cling to the formless one, because the path of formlessness is attained by mortal beings with great pain.
At the same time it was necessary not to break the simple belief in the divine of those people who were not capable of understanding a complex concept of Brahma. And so in the third chapter sh. 29 Krishna advises that the knowledgeable person should not confuse the simple minded one by his knowledge. Let the ordinary individual carry on with his simple faiths, or he will feel totally lost.
The concept of god was mans answer to the mysteries of the existence. It was a reassurance in a system which was full of unknown, and full of inevitability of death. Belief in divinity satisfied a very basic need of human curiosity and bewilderment. And ofcourse, of fear. We must remember that the process of human survival was a very ruthless one. There was no democracy, no human rights and no concept of social justice to save the unfit. God was a part of mans quest for survival. The concept of god as a superior being capable of doing a rescue act was indeed a fascinating idea. Indeed god was the most sublime creation of the collective human mind.
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