Dear Mr. Dawkins,
God, gods and beyond
I had an interesting coincidence of reading the Taittireeya Upanishad and having unrelated dialogues with my monotheistic (namely Muslim, Christian etc.) friends, which results in to this note.
We Hindus, while forming sometimes exclusive but often overlapping fan clubs of our favorite gods, are different from the staunch and disciplined monotheistic fan clubs, which tolerate or forgive no multiplicity or nonsense. While retaining our right to remember one, two or many deities and gurus at the time of celebration or tragedy, at heart we know that ‘sab ka malik ek’ (Hindi for ‘one master for all’). However, our light hearted approach to our saviors appears to be conflicting to Non Hindus and often confusing to us Hindus, too.
One of my monotheistic friends told me that she believed that Vedic philosophy propagates monotheism i.e. belief in a single God. I said I couldn’t agree more.
Physicists tell us that the universe was created after the gases came together under heavy pressure and exploded in a big bang. Physical elements, mostly liquids hurling all around formed stars, planets and other astral objects that is our universe today. While life as biologically defined exists on earth as perhaps well as on some other planets, if self-vibrating atoms and airwaves are to be defined as alive then it pervades the whole universe.
What physicists seem to be telling us is that there is ONE single life force to the universe. In my view these physicists are scientifically monotheistic. They do not believe in multiple independent sources of energy driving the universe.
What do Vedas and Upanishads tell us? Let’s just take the example of Taittireeya Upanishad. It talks about brahme. In Sanskrit, it is ‘brahma’ where the end of the word is to be pronounced like in German words such as ‘Bayerische’ or ‘Porsche’, so I am changing the spelling to avoid confusing it with ‘Brahma’ the Lord.
Brahme is the name given to the pacific life force that was and still remains shapeless, nameless, indescribable, unclothed and without any physical features. It ‘decided’ to become many from ONE. The ‘sleeping’ energy thus first took the form of space, then air, then fire, water and solid matter. Brahme the energy continued to live within its physical manifestations – the life forms and objects made of vibrating atoms that make our universe.
Drawing parallel between modern science and the Upanishad, I guess the gases could not have existed without the vessel of space, which came first, and they would have cooled down from the explosion to convert to liquids and then solids. I like this storyline, as it seems to fit both the sources.
Indian wisdom or sciences (literally the Vedas) have been studied in great detail by Western academics and scientists for centuries. Max Mueller and others used the term ‘monism’, not ‘monotheism’ to describe the Vedic thought of oneness. Monism consists of the argument that everything that we know today as well as that, which our ever advancing science is finding in the universe, is integral and inseparable part of brahme-the manifestation and hence we all are intertwined and interconnected. Conversely brahme-the energy resides in all of us, in animals, plants, rock, plastic, etc.
Monotheism is different from monism because the latter argues that God is different from humans and other matter. The monotheist God is the creator, supervisor, blesser and punisher. He has to be different in order to effectively run the show. He is akin to an all-powerful father or a king or a superman. He is not human but is given to being understood by humans. I think there is an emotional element to this argument. Kids always indulge in oversleeping, over-eating, writing on newly painted walls etc. because they know the all-powerful mom or dad will take care of their mess, even if sometimes slapping them, only to love them more finally.
Acharya Rajneesh, as he was known before he became Osho, used to say something to the effect that all paths of understanding the universe and your place in it could finally be classified in to two – the path of emotion and the path of wisdom. He would have described monotheism, traditional Hinduism etc. as the paths of emotion, submission, devotion and often irrational belief – the Bhakti (devotion) or Prema (love) Marga (path).
The path shown by the rishis of Upanishad and Veda and the physicists, as well as the paths of Buddha and Mahavir (of Jainism) who do not speak about God and his role, are the paths of rationale, science and logic. Brahme is no loving father, nor does it punish. It is not visible, fathomable except probably through the big bang and its aftermath. Rajneesh would call this Jnana Marga – the path of knowledge and wisdom.
To each her own!