Dismissing Atheism – the Upanishad Style

Atheism and Atheists have existed all the time. One may be under the impression that this is a modern phenomenon caused by science and in the ancient days everyone was a believer. Far from it. Even during the Vedic period there were several atheists. That was the reason why Upanishads had to make certain statements to dismiss atheism.

The Taitriya Upanishad dismisses atheists in its inimitable style. It needed only two lines to do this. Let me quote this here:

Asanneva sa bhavati asad brahmeti ved chet asti brahmeti cedveda Santanam tato viduriti

A simple translation is: If anyone knows Brahman as non-existing, he becomes nonexistent. If anyone knows that Brahman does exist then they consider him as existing by virtue of that (knowledge).

Surely, a preliminary reading of the translation is confusing. What is the Upanishad trying to say here? In simple terms, it says: If you say there is no God, then you yourself do not exist and if someone knows God as existing, he comes into existence too. This is still confusing. Isn’t it? One can get further insight into this statement by understanding how the Upanishads explain God. In fact the quoted mantra appears in Taitriya Upanishad after a detailed discussion on Brahman (or God). Let me try to summarize the discussion in this post:

Upanishads use different teaching methodologies to convey truth. The method employed in this Upanishad is known as KARANA – KARYA PRAKRIYA.  This may be translated as a methodology describing cause and effect.

The key to understanding Brahman(a Vedic terminology for Eswara or God) is just one famous line in this Upanishad, which is: SATYAM JNANAM ANANTAM BRAHMA. I will restrict myself to explain just this line in this post. I may not be able do complete justice to the discussion, considering that commentators have written volumes analyzing this line alone. Nevertheless, let me try.

Let us start with Jnanam or knowledge. Sastra says jnanam or Knowledge is Brahman, that is ‘Total knowledge’. It’s not knowledge of a particular thing. It may be understood as total integrated knowledge.

One may think that science has created knowledge. No – scientists have merely discovered existing laws. Newton did not create the law of gravity nor did any scientist create the laws of thermodynamics. They always existed. Everything in the Universe that exists is an expression of Eswara’s knowledge. In other words Eswara or Brahman is the cause of this knowledge.  If nothing can exist without knowledge or everything that exists is nothing but knowledge, then that total knowledge has got to be limitless or ANANTAM. The total knowledge, that is Brahman, manifests as different and distinct objects in the Universe. The very fact of manifestation or existence of an object requires knowledge as a prerequisite. In this sense Satyam (which is existence) and Jnanam are synonymous.

Sastra says: Satyam alone was present before the Universe began to manifest (Sadeva Soumya Idamagramasit: Chandogya upanishad). Satyam, as we have seen, is same as the Total Knowledge or Jnanam. The laws that scientists keep discovering from time to time are themselves manifestation of this all-knowledge which is Brahman.

For example, First law of thermodynamics which  says categorically that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, is a law which is followed in the entire universe. Similarly, law of gravitation governs the entire universe. Likewise, the theory of evolution and the rules behind cell division and multiplication, and all other theories of biological sciences explain how life evolved on earth – all existed much before scientists stumbled on them. All this indicates that there is a Universal order governing every piece of existence. That is, all life and its evolution, nature and its laws governing its existence and the laws by which scientists and technologists exploit nature are all based on a certain order. Science can only try to understand the order and these laws little by little in small steps. They don’t create any laws or knowledge but use those laws to create new materials.

Scientists like Stephen Hawking are struggling to identify the nature of this all-unifying knowledge without success. Stephen Hawking talks about the possibility of discovering a theory of everything.  Although scientists haven’t found such a theory, they do appreciate that the fundamental laws of nature are universally obeyed everywhere in the universe and there has to be one unifying law governing all laws.

Therefore, the Total knowledge which is Brahman, exists in everything that one finds in the universe (or Jagat). Without that knowledge nothing can exist. Since knowledge is a prerequisite for everything that exists in the jagat which is vast and infinite, the knowledge can as well be described as Limitless or Anantam.

That is why Sastra says that Brahman is both the efficient cause as well as the material cause. That is, Brahman has made the universe with Himself as the material. This is easy to understand if one looks at Brahman as all-knowledge. Knowledge exists in everything and everything is made by knowledge. That is, Knowledge is the maker as well as the material because the maker and material themselves are nothing but knowledge.

Brahman, which is all-knowledge, is self-existing. Everything else draws its existence from Brahman. Brahman is self-evident and everything else becomes evident because of Brahman. Brahman is self-revealing and everything else is revealed because of It.

With this understanding, it’s easy to demolish an atheist’s point of view which says Brahman doesn’t exist. If Brahman doesn’t exist, clearly the speaker himself doesn’t exist. In other words, the very fact of one’s existence is proof of the fact of Brahman’s existence.


Published in: on February 18, 2017 at 11:18 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hello,

    I am regular visitor to your blog and enjoy all your articles. This comment is not related to the present article but it is a request, I would like to know your opinion on “Swadharma” in the context of present day and age.


  2. Thanks Mr Bala for your comment. I think we need to look at this as kaala dharma. What I mean by this is that while certain aspects of dharma are not negotiable and apply to all times, there are certain types of dharma which need to be understood in terms of context of time and age. Swadharma, in my opinion, falls in this category. Swadharma need not necessarily be related to dharma of a family or the caste that one is born into. It has to be interpreted in terms of one’s aptitude. If a person is hungry about knowledge, pursuit of knowledge in any field of choice becomes his swadharma and so on.

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