President, Dravidar Kazhagam
In ancient period the reasoning faculty was bound by limitations of inability of humans to find answers to every question that arose in the mind. As an outlet to that questioning urge, humans designed god and tried to limit the reasoning with an alternative faith. As per the adage, “Ignorance is Bliss”, restricting the reasoning exercise and relying on faith gave some solace to humans, despite their being deceptive and self deceitful. Instead of god creating humans, it is the humans who designed gods in tune with the level of their limitations as per the culture and environment they were living in.
Later, humans surrendered to their designed gods and that became the essence of religion. Theist of one religion was described atheist in other religions. Religious clashes became routine, and it still continues on the premise of one religion being superior to another. The harmony of the society gets affected at large. The mindset of humans revolves around god and religion blocking the progress and the pace of development of humanity.
Let us discuss a few atheists, their school of thought and their organisational functioning, prevailing then.
NASTIKA, ‘denier’, or one who says, ‘There is not’, is the name applied to a number of unorthodox sects contemporary with the most ancient Hindu Philosophies. Some authorities derive nastika theories from the people of ancient Mesopotamia, but it is clear that they had a strong indigenous background. The nastikas denied the existence of God, the validity of the Vedas, the possility of an afterlife, and were so named in opposition to the orthodox astika, ‘asserters’, thinkers who believed in the ultimate realities such as God, the soul, a future life and, above all, the Vedas.
There were different forms of godlessness which had a strong following throughout Indian history including ancient history as they do today.
The ‘Lokayata’ philosophy of scepticism and materialism flourished from the first millenium BCE, even in Buddha’s own time. It was some two and a half millennia ago. There are some evidence of its influence in the upanisads. Atheism and materialism continued to attract adherents and advocates over many centuries. They were increasingly associated with the exposition of intellectually combative Charvaka.
In philosophical discourses throughout Indian history, atheist and sceptics make frequent appearances, even though, in many cases, their points of view are ultimately rejected and they do get their say.
Charvaka was the greatest of the nastika or materialist philosophers of India. He was one of the greatest skeptics in the history of philosophy. Doctrines representing the eternity of materialism and Pyrrhonism form the tenets of the Charvaka school. The Charvaka school of thoughts rejects in its entirety the concept of spiritual universe, believing that the whole world process, including thought itself, is the result of the activity of the matter.
The ultimate principles are earth, water, fire and air (the fifth principle of Hindu philosophy, ether is rejected) from the fortuitous combination of these elements the world has been spontaneously formed. The combining of these four elements has produced the external world, the physical organisms, the sense organs and intelligence. Both life and consciousness originate in matter. All knowledge comes through sense perception and what is not so perceived and experienced is false and non-existent. Consciousness is a function of the body, a by-product of the four non-conscious elements, just as intoxicating liquor results from the fermentation of non-intoxicating rice and molasses. All activity results from the inherent tendency in things to respond to external stimuli, just as certain flowers open in the day and close at night, and others turn their faces towards the sun.
The Charvaka school rejected the idea of God and regarded religion as an aberration and a disease. There is no retribution, no reward or punishment, no heaven and ho hell. There is no soul and no other world and the doctrines of transmigration and sacrifice are only suited to the intelligence of fools.
The Charvaka school rejected the idea of God and regarded religion as an aberration and a disease. There is no retribution, no reward or punishment, no heaven and no hell. There is no soul and no other world and the doctrines of transmigration and sacrifice are only suited to the intelligence of fools.
Charvakas, adherents of Charvaka school reserve their special scorn for the Vedas, the priests and religious ceremonial. The Vedas are the crazy rhapsodies of knaves and black-guards, are ridden with falsehood, self-contradiction and tautology and no sensible person with the brains of a blind buffalo could possibly accept them as inspired.
Brihaspati (?500 BCE – CE 500?): he is one of the foremost early nastika philosophers. His nihilistic Sutras have perished, but scholars like Adi Sankara and Madhva refer to him and quote brief lines in which Brihaspati condemned religion and the priests. He decried the study of the Vedas, denouncing their authors as buffoons and rogues. Vedic ritual, he said, merely yielded a means of livelihood to the priests.
He denied the existence of heaven and hell and of the soul, declaring that these infantile notions, fit only for mothers to soothe or frighten little children with, were exploited by the priests as a means of keeping the superstitious laity in subjection. These ‘soft-belied and slothful’ prelates were men devoid of intellect and manliness and loved nothing more than to reap the rewards of the labours of others and to receive humble obeisance of their deluded followers.
His doctrine was named after him the Brahaspatya, and Brahmin pundits naively asserted that it was expressly formulated in order to weaken the power of the asuras. As a result of following this teaching, they said, the asuras became enemies of the priests, gave up their duties, neglected the dharma, despised the Vedas, became weak and ineffective and were easily defeated by Indra.
Asuras:Asuras an Andrya (non-Aryan) people of ancient India. In the later portions of the Rig- Veda and in the frequently anti-Aryan, Atharva-veda, it acquired a directly opposite meaning, and came to connote, as it has done ever since, a titan, a demon, an enemy of the gods, with whose sacrifices he was constantly interfering.
Several theories have been put forward to account for the name ‘Asura’. Some say it comes from Ashur, the Assyrian god and the derogatory connotation derives from the fact that the Assyrians were enemies of the Aryans before they latter migrated to India. Others suggest that the Aryans who were hard drinkers of the liquor called sura, referred to the abstemiens Anarya people a-sura. The word also represents the negative form of ‘sura’, a term applied to the inferior deities who inhabit svarga or paradise. Hence, asura would mean no-god or godless person.
Hindu mythology is filled with legends of asuras and their ceaseless struggle with the gods. They were opposed in Vedic times by Indra,and in the epic period by Rama and Krishna.
Buddhism:There is nothing in the life of Buddha(?568BCE – 483?) to indicate that he set out to reform ‘Hinduism’, but some of the doctrines promulgated by him were contrary to many basic Hindu beliefs. Buddha was strongly opposed to religious rituals, to ceremonial worship and the sacrificial system and condemned the whole idea of caste system as false and wrong; and in this sense Buddhism may be regarded as a reaction against the pretentions of brahminism and the authority of the Vedas.
Scholars prefer to call early Buddhism a system of morality or ethics rather than a religion. Primarily it is concerned with moral precepts by which it urges men to live, and cares little for the soul or man’s relationship with God. Buddha’s teachings are sometimes agnostic and often frankly atheistic. His moral code does not rest upon divine sanctions and he has nothing to say about heaven and hell. He was keenly aware of the shallowness of intellectualism and verbal ‘profundity’, of the immense stupidity of the clever, and often warned his disciples against ‘the thickets of theorizing, the wilderness of theorizing, the tangle, bondage and shackles of theorizing.
Another cardinal teaching of Buddha was his doctrine concerning atman, the soul or ego. Buddha taught that the soul does not exist. In other words he postulated for man a condition of anatman, or non-soulness. What is called soul is in reality a physical and mental aggregate of five evanescent or impermanent conditions viz. form or the physical body, feelings, idea or understanding, will and pure conscience or reason.
From Buddhism, Hindu Philosophy acquired a precise system of logical equity and intellectual analysis, and it was largely as a result of the stimulus given by Buddhist teaching that the Brahmins were able to strengthen their Vedas, vulgarized their caste monopolies, and branded them as quacks and charlatans. But the Buddhist advances were not only a challenge to the Brahmins for clearing away their intellectual cob-webs, they also provided many an example for the reformation of their own religious ideals. Says Sarkar, ‘The so-called high Hindu tenets ethics and personal morality is very largely a Buddhist achievement; a lasting reform and refinement inherited by later forms of brahminism.’
Atheistic thoughts that emerged in the minds of humans later got developed as science and technology as a spirit of free enquiry.
Periyar E.V.Ramasamy (1879-1973) became an atheist by starting social fight against human discrimination in the society with the objective of equality of humans, leading to ultimately the establishment of egalitarian society. He found ‘god’ as the main hurdle and stumbling block and for that he commenced the valiant fight against ‘god’ through the following propaganda proclamation.
Nowhere is God
One who invented god is a fool,
One who propagates god is a scoundrel,
One who worships god is a barbarian.”
Such straight forward ruthless propaganda advocacy of Periyar is unique among the fraternity of atheist propagandists.
When his ruthless propaganda denying god was put before him for its severity with an appeal for mellowed propaganda, Periyar said,
“Belief in god is time-immemorial causing severe disease in the society. The disease cannot be considered as a mere wound for which application of ointment or some medicine would be sufficient. Belief in god is a deep-rooted disease in the minds of humans. So, it has to be operated on through surgical methods. Such harsh and ruthless propaganda is akin to surgery to cure the social disease and it is a must. Then only people who believe in god would at least start thinking over, the result of the surgical treatment would be positive for the betterment of individuals and the society wherein they live.”
Periyar’s propaganda does not restrict against the non-existing god alone but exhorts humans thus: “Forget God; Think of Humans”. That is the constructive aspect of the rationalist philosophy of Periyar. It is not mere denial of god but emphasis on upholding of humanism among humans.
Rational thinking, where we analyse every aspect connected with god and faith in him, will lead us to the inevitable conclusion that god and faith bring nothing but downfall in the life of man and make him a victim of priestcraft. Let us, therefore, once for all get rid of what is called religion and march in the path of rationality which will inevitably lead us to happiness. The future is ours.
Let humanity flourish and prosper through adhering the philosophy of Atheism!