Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Atheism and the Upanishads

Most people who are atheists are arguing against a specific concept or definition of God. They are pretty much all arguing straw men. Here are some examples:
  • They are arguing against religion, like Christopher Hitchens. "The Catholics exterminated the Cathars. Muslims forcibly converted their conquered enemies."
  • Or against stupid traditions that have been part of religion. "Religions have always been misogynistic."
  • They are arguing against specific beliefs. "If God is good, then why is there evil in the world?"
  • They are arguing against a particular concept of God. "If God is all pervading, why do you think of him in human terms, which is obvious projection?"
  • They are responding to poorly constructed defenses of theism. "Why should there be a cause of all causes, when infinite regression makes as much sense?"
  • And, of course, a real favorite: The concept of faith itself. Belief in revelation, etc.
Basically, they are all missing the basic point of Vedanta: Existence itself is proof of God. Not so much because God created it, but because there is no reason for there to be existence rather than non-existence. This is not a complicated idea. Existence exists. Existence itself is God. That is the minimum universal definition of God as sat.

This in turn leads to the idea of truth as God. Falsehood or Maya is the "not-God." These people should therefore be congratulated inasmuch as they present themselves as seekers of the Truth. But they are overenthusiastic and tend to miss the forest for the trees. The existence of falseness does not negate existence itself. The existence of darkness does not negate light, but the momentary presence of even the feeblest spark negates an infinite and eternal darkness.

But existence without consciousness is barely worth the name of existence. We stand distinct as conscious beings from the creation and can therefore reflect on it. We should reflect on reflection a little. The ability to reflect in itself poses a huge question. The atheist does not want to face this question above all--why? Why is there existence at all? And why am I able to reflect on it? Why am I even able to ask the question, "Why?" Ultimately, "Why?" is a more important question than "How?" But as long as I stand in relation to existence as a conscious being, the question imposes itself. It is the great elephant in the room of life, the one we try to sweep under the rug with an infinite number of rationales, all tottering on the shifting sands of agnosticism and doubt.

Cit, or consciousness, is the seat of the various versions of the ontological argument for the existence of God. Philosophers call this the most sophist of arguments, and yet it is the very consequence of being conscious itself. Consciousness means I as a subjectivity am distinct from an ultimately unapproachable and unknowable objective universe. The mystics therefore say, "Know yourself." And by knowing yourself in all your profundity, you will know that which appears to be not-self, not in terms of infinitely changing phenomena, but as One without a second.

And again, even a fragmentary, momentary spark of consciousness in infinity and all eternity, negates all unconsciousness for all time, in all places। What has been always is. And this is not in the slightest denied by the possibility that scientists may "one day" produce consciousness in a test tube or a super computer.

And then, there is joy. Love. But existence (the Other) and consciousness (the One) are barely worth the name without joyful response and interchange. It is the culmination of both the recognition of Oneness and the existence of Otherness. The synthesis of Unity and Distinction is the essence of love and joy.

And yet, atheists seem at their most confident when they debunk love and joy, seeing it as Evolution's invisible hand that exists only to promote the continued existence of the species, to confirm actions that are favorable to reproduction, etc.

Alright, but why is there an urge to seek pleasure in the first place? Some higher force (Nature) that is pushing us to reproduce or seek survival-friendly outcomes? And then we have to explain self-destructive actions in these terms also--Thanatos.

Love is the essence of joy. And in the awakened being, love is the gateway to God. "God is Love." If we are armed with this awareness, we will never be bewildered by arguments that point out the aberrations of religion (where there is a failure of Love) or those that rail against false concepts of God ("the angry, jealous or vengeful God") that are projections of the worst in Humankind. God is, in one sense, a projection, but a projection of the best in us; an instinctive ideal that becomes clearer with our evolution as individuals and as a species. It is the ideal that makes us grow as individuals and as a species as much as a lighthouse guides us to the harbor.

It seems that the Upanishads have given far better answers to these questions than the anti-religious, anti-God "Truth" seekers.

To say God is existence is really not different from saying existence comes from God. The multiplicity comes from One. And yet it is all One at the same time.

To say God is consciousness does not negate the fact that individual consciousness also exists. It is simply that we are capable of intuiting a universal basis of consciousness. Thus mystics from time immemorial have recognized that God exists primarily in the deepest subjectivity, which is found in meditation and self-reflection. If we disperse ourselves in externals, we become alienated from that deepest subjectivity, or what is called "knowledge of the Self."

But real joy comes from the synthesis of the One and the Other. This goes far beyond mere survival and evolution. Yes, Love gives meaning to life, where mere survival and reproduction do not. But why should there be any meaning at all? Why should there be any satisfactions at all? Surely the satisfactions of the atheist are perceived as something more that mere tactics that Nature is using to reproduce the species?

And even if they were, what is this "Nature" or "Evolution" that is pushing the species to go on? And is there not an infinite regress of why's that are ultimately brushed under the rug of "we don't know and we will never know"?

And if that is the case, then why, oh why, do we neglect the obvious answer that the satisfactions--being, knowledge and love--are ends in themselves. Ends that ever-increasingly seek some form of infinity and eternity. Bhumaiva sukham. Svalpe sukham nāsti. "Happiness lies in the Great. There is no joy in the trivial."

So the search for God is the search to go beyond the trivial, to attain the Great. bṛṁhati bṛṁhayati ceti brahma. This is the true force of instinct, of Libido, and of evolution, and these cannot be separated from the search for God.

So you may concede that there is stupid religion, there are stupid concepts of God, but God and religion in themselves are not false concepts. These three, irreducible miracles are the unassailable attributes of God. They are the essence of spirituality. Religion is the social expression of Humankind's evolving attempt to approach this Truth.

The Bhāgavata thus says, 
dharmaḥ projjhitaḥ kaitavo'tra paramo nirmatsarāṇāṁ satāṁ.


Socrates said...

This one was quite an interesting train of thought. However, I'd like to offer a somewhat intriguing proposal; say, both atheists and Upanishads are plainly wrong.

They are indeed. Let's see if I can hold up to this conclusion.

Upanishads talk about God, and atheists talk about no-God, but reality, somehow, has room for both views and is not imposing anything. Do you hear a voice from the sky roaring about the one and only truth here? I don't. You?

Now you have a problem Jagat, because both Upanishads and atheists talk about perception of reality, or subjective reality. Your blog here is also a world of subjective reality. There's no such thing as objective reality. Who can claim it? What is it? You can't say, because whatever you experience is subjective.

Thus God and no-God can exists at the same time. Or, both atheists and Upanishads are right at the same time. Isn't that even greater beauty?

However, I said they're both wrong. The reason I've chosen that over 'they're both right' is because they believe their view is the right one. But it certainly isn't.

Can Upanishads claim objectivity? No way -- the words from Upanishads are not different than anything written in science books and popular novels today, but only using the scope, language and abilities of the Indian author of a millennia ago, or hundreds of years ago. Then you inflict another problem Jagat -- you put all Upanishads into the same basket, but different Upanishads clearly belong to different ages, to different theological thought and its development in the Indian subcontinent. Same would be as throwing Heraclitus, Aristotle and Aquinas into the same basket and talk about them in plural -- say Westernishads -- like it's all one and same thing.

Jagat said...

Good points. I should perhaps have said Vedanta rather than Upanishads, but since I just refered to a few texts from Upanishads (and implied a number of others), I said Upanishads.

There can only be "no-God" from a subjective point of view, in the sense that one is unconscious of it. But the point I am making is the same as the Vedanta: God is where objective and subjective reality meet. Therefore, in a very true sense, "no-God" is an illusion.

But this is, I admit, a kind of word play. I am saying that if you change the definition of God, then you can make it include everything. If there is no not-God, then the atheist is simply failing to recognize what is.

That is why I started the essay by saying that they are arguing against "straw men," i.e., they are arguing against specific definitions of God: "God cannot be a bearded old man, silly! God cannot be a flute-playing little blue boy, silly!!"

Once they have narrowed their definition sufficiently, it is easy to go "neti neti." "God cannot be a big orange blob because..."

With regards to subjectivity and objectivity. If you read what I wrote carefully, you will see that though I give primacy to the subjective perception of reality, I am not denying the objective world. We are constantly refining our subjective experience through contact with the external. This is why concepts of God evolve, as our own idealism is thrust into contact with a reality that makes a mockery of it.

A philosophy based entirely on subjective experience is foolish. Besides, subjective experience itself is built out of responses to the real world.

So my argument is really about the innate tendency to seek the ideal. We organize experience and constantly map it against a constellation of idealism. This idealism is mediated through cultural conditioning, which indicates that it is not simply an individual but a collective effort. That is why religion is a mediator of individual religious experience just like language is a mediator of discursive thought.

God is in ALL meaning. Satyasya satyam. He is the truth of whatever truth you have found, even the trivial. But there is a process involved that takes you from the trivial to the momentous, which is called the search for God.

What I am saying is that the need to find meaning itself is a proof of God's existence.

Jagat said...

Just to add one word: My idea is that sat, chit and ananda are progressive in terms of depth of realization. One starts with the broadest definition of God and progresses towards the narrower, which is, however, the most profound.

Jagat said...

"God cannot be a big orange blob because..."

I should have expressed this in the following way: "God cannot exist, because God is an infinite orange blob [as stated by the Church of the Great Orange Blob], and an infinite orange blob cannot exist..." Bad syllogism.

Anonymous said...

If realization is progressive, what comes after ananda?

Jagat said...

Let me know if you find anything.

Anonymous said...

I will let you know, but you might want to take a seat. I am still at the stage of paying bills, making sure there is food on the table.

Prema said...

Hi Jagat
Very interesting discussion on 'Neti', much food for thought, since I consider myself an agnostic!

I chanced upon your blog only today, but shall bookmark it.

I need some help from you, Jagat. In one of your earlier posts, you quoted some verses from Chandidas. I would like to know the source (and the translator), as I would like to quote a couple of verses in my forthcoming book on the artist Badri Narayan (in the chapter on his painting series on the Chandidas-Rami theme). My email id is Would greatly appreciate a response.
Many thanks and best regards.

Dominitrixxx said...

"If realization is progressive, what comes after ananda?"

After ananda comes fear, darkness and other scary stuff such as;

meghair meduram ambaram vana bhuvah syamas tamala drumair...

... which then of course creates the perfect background for the next level - BDSM (Bondage Domination Sado Masochism) as described here;

mugdhe vidhehi mayi nirdaya danta damsa dor valli bandha nivida stanta pindanani candi twam eva mudam anca na panca bana candala kanda dalanad asavah prayantu

Socrates said...

The Anonymous was asking a good question Jagat.

If realization is indeed progressive, then what comes after ananda? Why stop it there? So there's something wrong with the premise: sat, cit and ananda cannot really be progressive realizations, but something else. That's a flaw in logic of interpretation.

So, is there a better explanation than simple "when you reach ananda, then you infinitely progress in the realm of ananda". No, that's wrong too.

So, sat, cit and ananda stay for something else. What do you think would be a better solution to the problem? Now we philosophers from the west think of Ockham's razor, something not used by interpreters of Vendanta and that's one reason why we have such a chaos there. The situation there can be best described as: "if you don't know what to do, just add more unnecessary variables, that further confuse the point."

And then Shankara starts doing it first.

Hesitant Iconoclast said...

Hi all,

I caught this entry on Jagat's facebook. This is what I wrote there:

"Sorry to disagree with you Jagat, but there are too many strawmen here to be dealt with in a pithy comment. Atheism has about as many flavours, shades and colours as theism, possibly more, what to speak of the fact that it contains perhaps unfathomable depth of thought. It isn't simply a question of denying God, his existence, etc. It is about finding meaning through non-religious means; there is an entire world out there that can be experienced with as much love and joy etc. as possible without taking theistic routes.

Ultimately philosophy isn't the way to go about this subject matter as it can go only so far without being informed by evidence. For starters, I'd recommend reading Julian Baggini."

Jagat's reply referred to how everyone seeks meaning in their own way and will argue their own realisation, and that there is nothing wrong with that, followed by an invitation to discuss more here.

I would reply that it is certainly true that people seek meaning in their own way, but I would only object about arguing the merits of their realisation. If the situation is truly relativistic to all points then there is no use in discussing the position of the atheist and of the theist. It would be a semantic error. Furthermore, what is the meaning of meaning? I am not convinced that the theistic route to meaning is necessarily superior to other views nor a proof of God's existence. As I mentioned before, atheism has many diverse flavours and colours, and cannot be pigeonholed into one or a few concepts, for that would be making the same fundamental error as pigeonholing the theistic arguments.

Jagat said...

I appreciate that this post has attracted intelligent responses. I may be a little late getting back to them, as I have a bit of a deadline with paying work, and am quite far behind.

Jagat said...

About the progressive part. I tend to agree with our Dominitrixxx, in the sense that ananda gives the opportunity for complete, and yet ever-unfinished potential. Lila is an upward spiral to infinity.

Basically, I am simply stating what Bhagavatas have always said, that the personal understanding of God is the highest. If you look way back in some old posts about the different levels of Vaishnava, I discussed how theism can be both limiting for the kanishtha Bhagavata, and yet how it is simultaneously, when combined with the Upanishadic sense of oneness, the highest.

So in that sense, I think progressive may or may not be the wrong word.

Jagat said...

Dear Hesitant,

I may not give a complete answer here, for the reasons above-stated. Basically, I answered that in this afterthought:

God is in ALL meaning. Satyasya satyam. He is the truth of whatever truth you have found, even the trivial. But there is a process involved that takes you from the trivial to the momentous, which is called the search for God. What I am saying is that the need to find meaning itself is a proof of God's existence.

Trying to find meaning without God is like pretending that water and its ability to quench thirst are two separate things.

Anyway, such discussions tend to go on forever, so Jai Sri Radhe!

Anonymous said...

"Lila is an upward spiral to infinity."

Thats cool. But what if we little Buzz Lightyears find out our gears are not real, just play things?

Jagat said...


The very fact that we are having this conversation shows that your gears are real. But the juxtaposition of plaything with lila puts a welcome nuance on it.

The main point is that there is no real end. Don't let death trip you up. So, yes, "To infinity and beyond!"

shiva said...

The irony is that atheism is caused by god.

It's ironic but true that when atheists or agnostics or deists claim there is no god or that god is far away in never never land, that god is actually inside them, a conjoined invisible twin, giving them those thoughts; working to make sure they understand the language they are given in by giving them memory; and then motivating and moving their bodies to say it -- because the will to do something is beyond our power of understanding exactly how to it. For example: How do create a thought, or move your hand? You don't know how you do those things. Thoughts simply appear and you simply move your hand.

Elaborate arguments for the existence of god usually never work to change the mind of an atheist. People are atheists because god wants them to be. Whatever people believe is due to god causing them to believe it.

The most simple argument for god's existence is the stunning complexity and artistic beauty of the natural world. To accept that it could come about without intelligent over-site is preposterous. Some people intuitively understand that simple fact because it is so obvious, others will be blind to that fact because that is their karma. God deludes them, they cannot see the obvious.

In modern times atheists accept all kinds of ridiculous authoritative sounding pseudo-scientific arguments explaining how chemicals mixing together by chance can produce trees, fruits, flowers, animals, humans, and an earth type planet where all these things can exist. God actually created those pseudo-scientific arguments (god is behind and actually the motivator and creating everything everyone does) in order to give them a sense of philosophical justification to be atheistic. God's causation of this world is so obvious that in order to delude intelligent well-educated people it is necessary for god to create pseudo-scientific intricate plausible sounding theories to explain away the obvious need for a god, otherwise the people whose karma it is to be atheistic will have a hard time accepting that this world could come about without a god.

These pseudo-scientific arguments are not only limited to physical sciences, but also pseudo-philosophy is used to delude them. There is a perfect example in the above given by someone:

It isn't simply a question of denying God, his existence, etc. It is about finding meaning through non-religious means; there is an entire world out there that can be experienced with as much love and joy etc. as possible without taking theistic routes.

That type of argument is quite common among the "new atheism." Dawkins created his advertising slogan campaign trying to get across this common pseudo-philosophy: the idea that real freedom, deeper happiness, and more depth of intellectual and emotional appreciation for life is found in atheism.

A person who isn't deluded will see the obvious untruth of those beliefs: without belief in god there is no meaning to life because we lead such short lives. How can there be real deep happiness and depth of appreciation for life when you see your life ending forever very shortly. Atheism is obviously nihilistic, and it is only belief in a god who can extend your life beyond the life of your current body into eternity which can cure that despondency. That is obvious. But because of their karma, god needs to create these pseudo-intelligent arguments in order to delude people.

That's why debating with atheists always descends into the ridiculous. They cannot accept rational reasons for the existence of god, and, they cannot see the irrational arguments they make. God won't allow them to see the truth no matter how hard you try to make them see the light.

Hesitant Iconoclast said...

"The irony is that atheism is caused by god."
Really? Most atheists consider god to be utterly irrelevant. After all, if he doesn't exist, what is there to talk about? The only atheis who do talk about God thus clearly have some axe to grind, but for the majority the issue simply doesn't exist.

"The most simple argument for god's existence is the stunning complexity and artistic beauty of the natural world. To accept that it could come about without intelligent over-site is preposterous."
This is a recurring point that has been dealt with so any times that it has now turned into a canard, and to respond to it would do injustice to the various eloquent responses and rebuttals presented by those with much greater understandings than ours. All I can say is that one who states or repeats this point clearly doesn't have much understanding of basic biology, chemistry, cosmology, physics, neuroscience, what to speak of something so simple as the anthropic principle.

I guess you can have fun arguing this with people who are experts in those fields. See where it leads.

There isn't much more one can do with the rest of Shiva's comment. It is filled with more strawmen and faulty syllogisms than the original post.

Jagat said...

Oh come on, Iconoclast. You are being quite condescending. If there is something wrong with my original post, please state it. There were no straw men: everything argument I quoted was a paraphrase of ones that are commonly bandied about.

You have found some heroic atheist gurus with prolific arguments based on biology or some other science, and without minimizing the achievements of science, there is factually speaking no new discovery that can produce a novel argument against the existence of God. The debate is essentially unchanged and, furthermore, faith based.

The fact is that we decide what we are going to believe, one way or the other, and act and believe that way.

As far as I can see from the two comments you have posted here, you are no different from the religious people who believe in God because someone told them to. Now you don't believe in God because someone else you think is smarter told you not to.

As far as I am concerned you haven't come up with a single reasonable argument, just hearsay from some scientists who have concluded they don't need God.

In some respects, predisposition to a particular belief may be detrimental to discovering the truth, but not always.

If you don’t find my arguments persuasive, bully for you. I don't ask you to give up your current faith system. If you have the patience to talk with someone who doesn't think like you, then at least have the decency to deal with the points that have been raised.

Start here: God is defined differently by different people. If you define God as the totality of existence, then you cannot deny his existence. Don't like that syllogism? Tell me why.

Hesitant Iconoclast said...

If you feel that your beliefs are being attacked then it is only natural that you'll perceive condescension when in fact there was none. However I apologise if you felt that way, but you went on to make some very condescending assertions yourself Jagat, unfortunately. It is also unfortunate how you feel the need to get personal instead of discussing the actual issues; the first one is how you speak with certainty of me and my "beliefs" and my journey as if you know it very well. You don't, so I'd appreciate it highly if you refrained from characterising me as a suggestible individual.

I am not an atheist, Jagat, but for the sake of discussion let's pretend that I am one. The second condescension is where you speak of my beliefs (and possibly atheism by extension) as a set of beliefs that is faith-based. Do you seriously think that characterising them in this way, that atheism is ultimately as much faith-based as theism, is a serious argument? If so, then I'd advise you to prepare yourself for a great shock if you ever presented your thoughts to an intellectually-informed atheist. Perhaps you are not as familiar with atheistic/rational arguments as I thought you were, or perhaps you haven't had much experience discussing these things with atheists or rationalists. But I cannot blame you for thinking the way you do, Jagat, because it is human nature to think and perceive things according to one's own worldview. Atmavan manyate jagat and all that. It is also human nature that people will, as you say, decide what they want to believe and will do so. My point is that I wonder how properly informed those beliefs are by evidence. The very fact that people even talk of beliefs, and try to characterise other people's opinions as faith-systems, as if to assert that a cloud for example isn't just a mass of condensed water vapor but can also be a vanilla marshmallow as well, to me shows either an ambivalence or dismissal of evidence. It's something I personally find disturbing.

What would make you think that I don't have patience to talk with theists like yourself? If you write something then is it unreasonable to expect people to comment or share their thoughts? Do you mean to say that your beliefs are exempt from examination and that theism is self-evident? Perhaps some other things are "self-evident" for you as well, such as that the entire creation is stunningly complex, ordered, and beautifully designed by God as enunciated by Shiva. If so, then we may as well stop here, because points like these have been made before so many times that they have transformed into canards, as I said. That people still repeat these things and actually believe them to be true betrays a lack of familiarity with the arguments against those points, what to speak of the scientific understandings that underpin each particular conclusion. It would be too much for me or anyone else to believe that the average theist is intimately familiar with those things, Jagat. Polymaths are rare. And that is why I told you that "philosophy" (as a generally singular approach) isn't the way to go about these things, because there are limits to how far it can go without being informed by evidence. So you are puzzled by why I haven't provided you with a "single reasonable argument", it is because I didn't provide one. There are already pages and pages of essays and discussions about these things on the Net, each accounting for a particular angle. One would do well to familiarise, bystand or participate in that public intellectual discourse.

(Continued in next comment.)

Hesitant Iconoclast said...

(For some reason my comments aren't being accepted. Please forgive me for submitting in 3 parts to circumvent whatever prohibion Blogger has.)

It is highly unfortunate that you don't feel that you learnt anything from my first comment, Jagat, because in that comment were the keys to the entire issue. This is why you still ask me to state exactly what it is that I find wrong in your post. There is nothing specifically wrong as such, but the entire characterisation of atheists/atheism and they way you frame it in comparison with Upanishadic philosophy. You feel that your paraphrases were not strawmen. Indeed, they probably are paraphrases of the common arguments out there. Meaningless labels like "new atheism" are also thrown about as well, and also irresponsible poster-boys like Dawkins and Hitchens. That is why I mentioned that arguments like that are generally 'axe-grinder' arguments; a truly (or purely, if you will) atheistic attitude renders the question of God to be utterly redundant and irrelevant. As I pointed out, if he didn't exist then what need is there to talk about? That you didn't appear to understand this is another reason why I suspect a lack of familiarity with proper atheistic arguments on your part, as well as the intellectual depth that exists in atheistic thought. Perhaps you may like to read the Cambridge Companion to Atheism to start with, or something by Julian Baggini as I suggested.

Hesitant Iconoclast said...

"Start here: God is defined differently by different people. If you define God as the totality of existence, then you cannot deny his existence. Don't like that syllogism? Tell me why."

Ok, let's give it a try. You said that God is defined differently by different people, and that is certainly something I can agree with. Does this not tell you, however, that a variety of opinions about something isn't a good statement or argument for it's existence? I may as well assert that fairies prefer wearing navy blue skirts rather than their usual turqoise, but there's no way a debate on that can arrive at a fruitful conclusion in the absence of evidence.

Defining God as the totality of all existence? Seriously, how more thinly-spread can one get? And how humiliating must it be trying to find a way as thinly-spread as possible to avoid castigation by those rascal atheists? In this thread you did say that you thought the personal understanding of God was the highest. Why do you now wish to define him as the totality of all existence? Ah, but brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti sabdyate, just see! A very convenient doctrine, no? One may as well say God is space (akasa), and since we can't get away from space we can't get away from God either. Thus God exists!

And you'd like me to tell you why I have a problem with that syllogism? Seriously? This is the type of argument you wish to make?

This line of thought is interesting for many reasons Jagat, because I am interested in how the theologically/philosophically intimate Gaudiya doctrines can (organically?) arise from more simplistic roots. It is a process not unlike evolution, complex memeplexes arising from different strands. It is a matter of personal research into the origination of such doctrines, that make me think they may be the result of either deviancy or genius. Perhaps it is even a combination of both. Discussing these things with an esteemed Gaudiya intellectual like yourself is providing me with much food for thought, giving me an insight into the whys and wherefores in practical terms. By the way I've read your entries on memes, but unfortunately I think you are greatly misinformed about that subject too.

Perhaps you are still disappointed that I haven't yet provided you with a reasonable argument, Jagat. That is because I think that this issue is too big and this blog is too small to discuss it. After all, you did say that trying to find meaning without God/religion is like trying to differentiate water from it's thirst-quenching ability. Bad example, I think, but clearly the idea of life without God is devoid of any meaning to you. When I tell you that the key to 'real' atheistic philosophy lies in the non-existent discussion of a non-existent person, these things seem alien to you. Perhaps if you are interested in discussing these things further, why not at a Gaudiya forum like the Caitanya Symposium? It is run by your old friend Nitai Das, and I'm sure you will be more than welcome there. Since Nitai considers himself a 'rational' Vaishnava, your thoughts should go down very well there.

Jagat said...

So you don't like my definition because it is too broad. But that is only our starting point, Jay. We have to start somewhere. You would rather argue about sky fairies, I know. And I thank you for reminding us that there are people who believe in sky fairies.

But most people who believe in God are beginning from an attempt to understand their relation to the Totality of Existence. Now if you deny that the Totality of Existence exists, then who is the crazy one?

My small blog is about my tiny thoughts. I am just hoeing my little corner of the field. There is no crusade here.

Jagat said...

You are a smart lad, Jay, and I like you, but I am not at all interested in reading your authors. I really haven't got time. If you want to reproduce some of their insights, as I am so ignorant of them, feel free.

But quite honestly, I am sure that they are merely paraphrasing something that went before. Tell me how they are not.

As to the evidence-based/philosophy question, you have a point. But isn't it agreed by nearly all that belief is (1) optional and (2) subjective. Anyway, that is why I framed my question the way that I did. You cannot deny existence itself.

To talk about non-existent responses to a non-existent entity is just nonsense. The only alternative in such a case is suicide, i.e., to stop existing, but even that is a response to existence. Anyway, it is rather Buddhistic, don't you think?

You say you are NOT an atheist. And you seem to approve of Nitai as a rational theist. So rather than tell us how stupid we are, why don't you enlighten us? Even with regards to Gaudiya Vaishnavism, where you seem to find me barking up some illusory trees, why don't you enlighten me?

Of course, I would not impose on you to lose your valuable time in such an insignificant forum, in which case, I thank you for reminding me that I don't know everything and that I make mistakes, and so on, being unfortunately human.

I have only a short time till I die. What on earth am I to do?

Jagat said...

BTW, Iconoclast-ji, the definition of "canard" is "An unfounded or false, deliberately misleading story, a hoax."

I believe that you are using the word incorrectly, as the things you refer to are interpretations of reality that are unprovable one way or the other.

An example of a canard is saying that Obama intends to send Youth Corps volunteers to reeducation internment camps, or that Health Reform requires anyone whose health costs exceed a certain amount annually to be euthanized.

But as far as Shiva's argument is concerned, although I agree with it, I am not going so far. To begin with, I am just interested in the fact of existence. Existence exists. God is existence. Therefore God exists.

Jagat said...

Excuse me for making all these points, I am just jotting down the ideas as they come up.

Iconoclastji, you say you are not an atheist. This must mean that you find the authors you cite to be ultimately unpersuasive. Perhaps you could tell us why that is so.

shiva said...


You say you are not an atheist yet you argue for atheism, not just here but also at Nitai's forum. You said this about atheism there:

[Atheism is] The beginning of humanity and real progress.

If you enjoy practising religion and believing in God and all of that, you'll enjoy these types of religion-related things. If one has an open mind and a good grounding in science and technology, and an awareness of how fast science is moving ever closer to finding "all the answers", you cannot but help think how terribly boring religion is. It will take your breath away when comparing the two.

Nevermind, Buddysattva, nevermind. When your balls finally drop, illumination will dawn and enlighten the inside of your skull. In the meantime, feel free to cut this out and keep it safely:

What is your purpose in promoting atheistic viewpoints in a place where a theist is giving out his ideas? What do you hope to gain by that?

Nitai is not a "rational theist," whatever that is supposed to mean. I'm not sure what he believes but I do know that he considers atheism superior to theism and considers theism to be stupid since he has said so on many occasions. Yet he says he is not an atheist.

To me that means he is some type of deist. When I debated him some time back he argued that god is not directly present in this world. He claimed that was the proper interpretation of Vedanta and Gaudiya Vaishnava theology, i.e. god's "energy" or shakti is present in this world -- but not god. God is different from his energy, and this world is going on like clockwork set in motion by god.

I argued that he misunderstood the concept of god's energy and god's relationship to it as taught in Vedanta and Gaudiya Vaishnavism. I showed him in sastra that god and his energy are never separate, like fire is always accompanied by heat. In Gaudiya theology god is energy and the controller of energy. The energy is not something different from god, it is simply a word (shakti=controlled substance/energy of god) to classify an aspect of god that is different from the aspect which is controlling everything (shaktiman=god's mind/intellect controls everything). God is both the substance/energy/shakti of everything in existence (sarvam khalv idam brahma) and the controller of the selfsame substance/energy/shakti. In the Bhagavatam Krishna states:

Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.13.24

manasā vacasā dṛṣṭyā
gṛhyate 'nyair apīndriyaiḥ
aham eva na matto 'nyad
iti budhyadhvam añjasā

Within this world, whatever is perceived by the mind, speech, eyes or other senses is Me alone and nothing besides Me. All of you please understand this by a straightforward analysis of the facts.

All through Vedanta and Gaudiya Vaishnava theology we are taught that god is fully present everywhere and that the goal of yoga is to enter into a state where you can perceive and commune with god through everything (internally and externally) everywhere. The story of Prahlad and Narasimhadeva is the classic example made to illustrate that Vishnu is fully present everywhere.

Nitai rejected all the classic arguments and insisted that the proper understanding is that god is fully separate from his energy; that somehow the energy of god does god's bidding like some kind of programmed automaton, and that god is not personally present in this world.

I told him that was closer to Madhva's tattvavada than it was to Chaitanya's achintya bhedabheda.

If Nitai was being honest about his beliefs then he is a deist, not a "rational theist."

Anonymous said...

Nitai wrote on 19 July 2009 on his forum: "Let me just say briefly that though I am an atheist, or maybe better a non-theist, I firmly believe in Krsna."

I don't know what this means but I thought I add this quote to the interesting discussion going on here.

Zvonimir Tosic said...

Nitai wrote on 19 July 2009 on his forum: "Let me just say briefly that though I am an atheist, or maybe better a non-theist, I firmly believe in Krsna."
I don't know what this means but I thought I add this quote to the interesting discussion going on here.

Being a non-theist, or even an atheist, and having some faith in Krishna is not paradoxical.

Actually, that's a reality for most seekers. The notion presupposes that a person feels Krishna in and around, but finds present theistic philosophies childish and inadequate to deal with such a complex experience.

That's the problem with theism in general.

A much better alternative would be panentheism, and the idea of Radha-Krishna, no matter what theists say, much better fits into it. The experience of Radha Krishna is too complex and variegated to be squeezed into some outdated theological worldview, including Gaudiya Vaishnavism as is presented today (some say GV is panentheism, but real-life practice says the opposite).

I dare to say that a first notion on panentheism in Indian philosophy we find in Bhagavad-gita, where the author, through inspired narrative, speaks about Govinda who poses not as a God, but predominantly as a friend.
From there the archetype of Govinda grows, develops further and in time becomes much more: a beloved child, a husband, a lover.

shiva said...

Zvonimir Tosic

From what you have written it seems you are not using the words theism and panentheism in their normative usage.

Theism is a broad term that generally means belief that there is a personal God who is involved with our world and our lives. There are different types of theistic philosophies and panentheism is one of them.

Panentheism is theistic conception about the ontological nature of God. It states that God is immanent and transcendent.

Vaishnavism is clearly panentheistic. The sastras all teach that God is present everywhere in our world, and also that God is transcendental to everything in our world.


What "real life practice" are you referring that somehow isn't panentheistic?

And what does "the idea of Radha Krishna" have to do with panentheism?

Zvonimir Tosic said...

What "real life practice" are you referring that somehow isn't panentheistic?

On one side there's a potential inside philosophy, but it's squandered by centuries of religious practice. The way GV is conducted is pure theism, on par with Islam and Christianity (apart from progressive Christianity).

There are rules, and rules are to be followed. We're here, and God is there and there are so many things he demands from us.

I'll use five important questions from 'The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith' by Marcus Borg as an outline to understand the difference. Borg has outlined a panentheistic outlook for Christianity in that book we can use to see how GV stands in comparison:

1. “Is the religious life focused on this life or the next (and if both, then in what proportion)?”

2. Is it about meeting God’s requirements, whether they are many or few? Or about living by grace in a place beyond the dynamic of requirements?

3. Does it lead to a preoccupation with our own salvation and goodness (or lack thereof)? Or to liberation from self-preoccupation?

4. Does it result in an emphasis on righteousness and boundary drawing? Or is the emphasis on compassion and an inclusive social (and even ecological) vision?

5. Is it about believing in a supernatural being “out there” or about being in relationship with a sacred reality “right here”?

shiva said...

You are using the term theism like a lot of people do, but a more proper term is classical theism or even traditional theism.

Either way, the Gita and the Bhagavatam teach that everything is in and a part of Krishna, and that Krishna is controlling everything. Gaudiya Vaishnavas are taught that Krishna is present everywhere, to try to see him in everyone, and to try to see him in ourselves. That is the basics of Gaudiya Vaishnavism taught in the Gita and Bhagavatam.

You said:

We're here, and God is there and there are so many things he demands from us.

What you are describing is what is described as one of the stages of bhakti-yoga, called the kanistha or neophyte stage. But, it's not that neophytes have been taught classical theism, they haven't been taught by Vaisnava doctrine to see God as far away, it's simply that they have not experienced or realized that Krishna is everywhere and controlling everything. That's a lot different then not believing that God is present everywhere and in control of everything, which is what you suggest most Gaudiya Vaisnavas believe in practice. And from my experience is simply not true. If you ask most devotees if they will tell you they believe Krishna is present everywhere as paramatma. They may not have experienced that reality, but that is what they believe.

As far as rules and demands from God, that has nothing to do with whether you see God as present or absent. That has to do with prescribed practices meant to enable you to attain higher states of consciousness. The more time and effort you put into bhakti practices, the faster you can reach the goal. That is the purpose of rules and regulations. It's not that you cannot advance towards the goal of bhakti unless you follow all the rules and regulations, but a sattvic lifestyle is certainly highly recommended for beginners. That's because they have so much mental conditioning to overcome. They see the world and themselves in one way, and need to totally transform that vision to become self-realized.

Jagat said...

I think Shiva makes an important point. It is not because they haven't been taught, they just haven't understood.

Moreover, I think it is something of a necessary step. I suspect that simply jumping directly to the negations of theistic forms within a more complex "panentheistic" or whatever other term is used, for most people means something other than a personal deity.

Inasmuch as God is personal, we are theists. But Vaishnava theism does not deny the fundamental realization of the pantheists, but sees it as a stepping stone to understanding. That is why I called the realization progressive.

Zvonimir Tosic said...

Both Jagat and you Shiva are right. And the atheist too. The search for ultimate meaning Jagat's terms is indeed God. And the theism I've described is komala sraddha theism. When I tried to describe what people think theism is, I was describing not what a dictionary and encyclopedia say, but what general practice and conduct say about it.

Similarly, when an atheist disagrees with Jagat's notion that the search for meaning is God, that atheist is right too. You don't need to call it 'God' -- a 'search for meaning' suffices. This is where panentheism helps to accommodate both views.

There's a chasm of discrepancy between a good theory and life, of course, and sticking with encyclopedic definitions won't help us analyse the problem properly.
Thus I've used practical questions as outlined by Marcus Borg because they go beyond the definition into the reality of our thinking and everyday life. For that very same reason Marcus Borg made them, so people don't cling to dictionary definitions and entrench their imaginary positions.

Anonymous said...

Hesitant Iconoclast wrote:

"Perhaps if you are interested in discussing these things further, why not at a Gaudiya forum like the Caitanya Symposium?"

On checking Caitanya Symposium its not an open forum. Why should one register if one cannot even read whats been discussed, what the atmosphere is like, is it worth going there at all?

Anonymous said...

This is just a pseudo intellectual post...Who the hell has give you authority to speak on behalf on upanishad...these fools do not know how many upanishads are there...