TO doubt is the way of the Hindu. It could be traced back to the Vedas.
A hymn in the Rig Veda says:
Who is there who truly knows
And who can say, whence this
And from what cause?
Or, even the gods do not know!
There was a profound doubt in the heart of Hindu thought. The rishi was not even sure whether the gods knew the answers.
No wonder, the Hindu set out on his eternal quest to know the truth about the “unfathomed world”. And our first meeting was with Yajnyavalkya.
Yajnyavalkya (1200 BC), the great teacher of Hindu philosophy, perhaps marked the transition from Vedic gods to the Supreme Being (Brahma). The sage says “Brahma is limitless in time and space.” The Vedic gods were limited,
Of the six great philosophic systems (Darshanas) (Sankhya, Nyaya, Yoga, Vaisesika and two Mimamsas) four (Sankhya, Nyaya, Yoga and Vaisesika) were not so sure whether gods existed.
Sankhya, the oldest and most profound philosophic system believes that the universe was not created by god, that Prakriti was the mother of everything. The law of Swabhava ruled the world. Even the Buddha took advantage of Sankhya.
Nyaya is more logic than philosophy or religion. There is only a casual reference to God in Nyaya.
Yoga is anterior to Nyaya. It is a means to acquire supernatural powers, even to surpass the gods. It is independent of the Vedas.
As for Vaisesika, it preceded Buddhism and Jainism, it saw no need to introduce god into the cosmic system.
One would imagine that the age of Rama was one of great devotion to god. No, it was not. The Ramayana says that Jabali, the “great Brahmin scholar” tried to persuade Rama to return to Ayodhya. Jabali was an atheist.
Buddhism and Jainism made atheism respectable. In fact, Buddhists were rulers in many parts of India till the advent of Islam. Buddha chose not to speak of god. There was no sharp division between man and god in Buddhism. Sunyata is the apex thought of Buddhism.
The Charvakas and Lokayatas were the greatest propagators of atheism. They gave life and blood to Sankhya. There was no place for god in Chanakya philosophy. Creation took place, they said, because “it is in the nature of things to happen.” They called it Swabhava Vada, which is the only law of nature. It is the cornerstone of the Charvaka philosophy. The universe had always existed. It was not created. Virtue and vice were conventions, they said. The only good was the pursuit of pleasure. Hedonism was their ethics. They refused to be swayed by the Vedas. Kautilya hailed their philosophy an important doctrine. Mahabharata speaks highly of the Charvakas as “vanerable sages”. It shows how India respected dissent. Charvaka had a powerful impact on the development of atheism in the world. Their remarkable logic and sweep of thought far outstripped the achievements of classical philosophy.
Lokayatas were popular atheists and free thinkers. They opposed the Vedic tradition. But they were not addicted to hedonism. They held moderation a virtue. The Lokayatas believed that the world alone was real. They rejected all authority other than theirs.
The advent of Islam brought about the complete destruction of the incipient civilization of the Hinduism. They took to Bhakti. It also meant the end of Buddhism in India. Islam could not tolerate atheism.
To conclude, the Hindu grew up in the cradle of atheism till the advent of Islam. Atheism brought about tolerance among Hindus. True, the Hindus withdrew into a shell. But that was to protect their faith. But in the process, all disputes ceased and the Hindu quest for the truth came to an end. Dear Reader, our task is to revive our old traditions – the tradition of bold enquiry.