The dawn of Indus Valley Civilization led to the rise of Hinduism in this South-Asian subcontinent. The land extending from Hindukush to Arunachal, known as Bharatvarsha at the time, was the place for great cultural heritage and spirituality. The people of India were free to practice any way of living that they pleased. But apparently, the word ‘Hinduism’ did not exist at that time and it was the Greeks who used this word first for those who lived near the banks of Indus. Thus, Hindu (‘indu’ from Indus) is our real identity.
However, today we are misled by our identity. We are taught to preach idols. People who call themselves atheists are considered to be different from us. But there is much more to Hinduism than merely preaching idols or their belief system.
Hinduism is the only religion in the world which is flexible and liberal enough to let its followers decide whether they want to preach idols or not. It gives people the space to decide whether they want to be an atheist or be a lover of God; a karmayogi or a saint; scientific or spiritual- all at the same time.
Atheism in isolation is of no use. Atheism is indeed a part of Hinduism. In Hinduism, all are free to follow whatever they wish to.Nobody can question their freedom. This is the greatest opportunity for atheists in Hinduism. This is because no other religion gives you this privilege.
If you believe in nothing, it means that there is still some belief. Atal Ji once quoted, “विश्वास किस में है इससे मतलब नहीं, विश्वास है या नहीं, ये बड़ी बात है” which means that it does not matter whom you believe in; what is important is whether you believe in something or not. The same goes with atheism and spirituality. If you follow Saakar Vishnu, you are Tulsi or Meera or Soordas. If you believe in Nirakar Nirgun, you are Kabir or Rahim.
The Indian mythology has many examples which show atheism as a belief in Hinduism. The famous one is that of Udhav, a friend of Krishna. When Krishna was going to Mathura, he sent his friend to the Gopis of Vrindavan, to reconcile and sympathize them for the grief of separation. He was a believer of Nirakar Nirgun, even though was the friend of the Lord of Universe. The Gopis scolded him and said, “You are an atheist who is free from emotions, you would not understand what love is”. Udhav, indeed, believed in something that had no physical attribute of existence. But the Lord is both full of attributes as well as formless.
Another instance is from Ramayana. Jabali was a minister in Dashratha’s court. A Nirgun believer, he used to see death of humanly body as the end of everything. According to him, all virtues, beliefs and acts end with the demise of a person. After performing the last rites for Dasharatha, Bharat proceeds to the forest where Ram lives and begs him repeatedly to come back to Ayodhya and assume the responsibilities of a king even though it would make him break his sacred promise to his father. He finds strong support from Jabali, one of the members of Dasharatha’s council of priests. Jabali, with his non-ethical Naastikavaada, tries to convince Ram that it would be fitting and proper within the framework of Kshatriya Dharma to do so.
Surprisingly, today, there is a temple of Jabali in UP. He is proclaimed to be a great saint. So, if an atheist can have a temple of his own; if a non-believer friend can believe in the enchanting love of Gopis for Krishna then how can atheism be different from Hinduism?
Osho was once questioned whether he was an atheist or not. He replied, “Both believers and atheists believe in something. Both struggle to prove their beliefs. One believes in denying some existence. Other tries to prove an existence. But a believer has the belief that someone is there to help him every step of the way and thus, he is happy. However, an atheist is striving to deny every possible evidence of the existence and is, therefore, more frustrated and alone in life. Hence, I am not an atheist”.
Atheism and spirituality are, both, some sort of belief that makes one’s life easy. Some find believing in nothing to be the source of happiness, whereas some find everything in life to be a gift bestowed upon them by the Supreme Power. It is only the believer who can see the Lord either as saakar or niraakar. Anyone who believes that the Lord has no form is also a Hindu.
This is because although we are believing in two different things, what unites us is “belief”. Hinduism is nothing but a story of beliefs.
Beyond the conventional definitions of religions, Hinduism is a way of living. There is no obligation to the preach anything or to praise anyone, no limits on enjoying life and most importantly, no restrictions on how you want to perceive and love the world in which you live!
About the Author:
Rajat Dwivedi (UIET, PU Campus)