There seems to be something wrong with those who call themselves rationalists in Tamil Nadu and their friends in Karnataka. Today, I was shocked to read what Prof KS Bhagavan and others had to say during a meeting organized on Periyar’s birthday celebration in Bengaluru (Udayavani, 19 Sept 2015).
In short, they seem to equate rationalism with rejecting everything Hindu.
If you’ve read The Pyramid of Corruption or some of my articles on Hinduism, you know that I am myself a critic of how Hinduism handles society – the caste system in particular. But that doesn’t mean I hate everything Hindu. For example, I have always considered the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita, etc., as the leading lights of human life. Even that doesn’t mean I take everything they say literally. I always put them to my own tests – both spiritual and worldly – before accepting or rejecting them.
In fact, I shouldn’t say “accepting or rejecting them” because true learners don’t simply accept or reject anything in its entirety. If you’re open to learning, everything and everyone has something to teach. Therefore, I should only say “accepting or rejecting what you read in them”.
I’m stressing on this because this is exactly where, I think, the so-called rationalists are going totally wrong. By making statements such as “Rama wasn’t born to his father, so don’t worship Rama” (attributed to KS Bhagavan by the Kannada daily Udayavani), these people are making a mockery of their own religion: atheism.
A good atheist would never make such a statement. He’d question who Rama is, why he should be called God, who God is, and so on and so forth, and if he can’t reconcile the data using the scientific method, he’d walk away saying it’s all nonsense.
But this is not what these so-called rationalists are doing. They’ve reduced atheism to hatred of everything Hindu – a hatred they’re willing to spread by making stupid statements like the one above. Why is it stupid? Because it makes no difference who Rama was born to, or even whether he was born at all.
I’m reminded of the Kannada hymn “Neenyaako ninna hangyaako” in which Purandara Dasa sings, so beautifully, that the name of the Lord suffices for the devotee; the Lord himself is redundant. None of this, of course, makes sense to people who don’t understand or who haven’t experienced first-hand the psychological power of chanting.
The living Guru of all atheists, Richard Dawkins, doesn’t go about asking people to stop following Jesus because he was supposedly born to a virgin. He asks them not to follow because the whole theory about God as put forth in the Bible doesn’t fit together according to Dawkins. I’m saying ‘as put forth in the Bible’ on purpose, because it’s completely different in the Upanishads, the Gita, etc.
I asked Richard Dawkins once on twitter what he thinks of the concept of God in these texts, and he had no answer. It ended up bolstering my feeling that what they call as atheism is nothing but the denial of the Christian and Islamic idea of God.
The God of the Upanishads and the Gita cannot be denied. That’s because that which you’d have to deny is everything, including the denier and the act of denial. I wrote about this in an article titled The Irrelevance of Atheism for the Upanishadist.
By the way, I don’t think Rama is worth worshipping either, but that’s for a completely different reason: there’s nothing to learn from him and I can’t imagine worshipping someone I can’t learn from. If you haven’t realized, there’s no such thing called Rama’s teaching. Unless, of course, you include in that term the teaching given to Rama in various places including the Ramayana itself and the Yogavasishtha.
Krishna I do consider worth worshipping (which is another big word, by the way), and that’s again because he’s a great teacher. He’s the teacher (not the taught) in that great text, the Bhagavadgita. I don’t mean to say Krishna was an actual person – it doesn’t matter. What matters is his teaching. Nor do I mean that I accept everything Krishna says – even this doesn’t matter. Does he teach stuff which is worth learning? Yes, yes, yes, much more than anyone else from my point of view, and so I find him worthy of worship.
Coming back to KS Bhagavan & Co, the problem with them, in summary, is that they’re stuck with the idea that religious texts have to be accepted or rejected in toto. Why is that? Why can’t you take stuff which you think is good, and leave out the rest? Why act as if it’s take-all or leave-all? Why act like children?