Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist’s novella, The Death Of Ivan Ilych is a literary classic. Its central message is illumination about death. The protagonist of the novella fears his death. He has lived a meaningless life.
He is suffering from an incurable disease. The incurable disease tortures and torments him daily. He confronts death daily. He does not want to die. Others may die. He cannot die. This is the common approach of humans to death. The syllogism he had learned as a student that ‘Caius is a man, men are mortal and therefore Caius is mortal cannot apply to him.’
‘Caius was indeed mortal, and it was only right and proper that he should die, but he, Vanya, Ivan Ilych, with all his thoughts and feelings- it was quite a different matter with him. And it could not be right and proper that he should die. That thought was too horrifying.’ ‘But the thought was more than a thought, it was reality itself and it kept coming back and confronting him.’
He persisted in thinking that ‘But it(death) cannot be. It cannot be, and yet it is. How is it possible? How is one to understand it?’ Ivan Ilych’s sick and tormenting life is vividly pictured. The pathetic picture touches the reader’s heart which sympathizes with him. Ivan Ilych is lonely and neglected by his wife and daughter. His son remains unconcerned and neglected.
Ivan Ilych lived a mechanical and meaningless life. But he longs for longevity despite his fatal disease.
On the day of premonition of his inescapable death, he realizes that his life has been purposeless and loveless. He admits the fact that death is the overpowering victor not to be feared. He instantly welcomes it. He smiles at it.
Tolstoy is spiritually-oriented like Mahatma Gandhi.
He espoused universal love and non-violence. Chapter Xii of the novella contains the message of the writer.
Love and forgive and forget is his message to the world.
Tolstoy practiced the philosophy of love towards all, that is, goodwill towards all and ill-will against none. Ivan Ilych is the Russian representative or type of the corrupt and power-hungry bureaucrat of his time.
Illumination At the End
He repents that he did not love his wife, his daughter, and his son as much as he ought to have as the head of the family. On the day of his death, Ivan Ilych comes to know his purposeless life. Illumination strikes him.
In the words of Tolstoy: ‘He felt for the pain. “ Ah, here it is. What of it? Let it be.
And death? Where is death?
He searched for the accustomed terror of death and could not find it. Where was death? What was death? There was no fear because there was no death. There was light instead of death.’
This illumination makes him happy at his end and he breathes his last happily.
The story is crafted in a life-like style and the structure of the novella is compact and both are harmonious and enjoyable. The message of the novella is spiritually enlightening and satisfying.
Let us not say, ’God only knows’; let us say, ‘we do not know now.’ ‘What is there after death? Is it a spirit? Is it a ghost? Is it the other world? Is it the rebirth? What is it? None returned after death. None brought a report after death. Does this matter for life on this Earth?’-Dr. D.V.Gundappa, a well-known Indian poet. What happens after death is nothing more than the memory of the death itself. There is no evidence for the afterlife. Human life ends with death. This is the well-known monistic view of the rationalist. But for the religious apologist, there is life after death; the human soul survives his death. For some, what happens after the human’s death is a mystery. I hold the view of the twelfth –century Indian rational mystic, Basavanna that there is no afterlife. Man has only one life. There is no duality in him: With his death, his brain dies and with his brain’s death, his mind or soul dies. His mind or soul is inseparable from his body. A disembodied soul does not exist. Carl Sagan, the astronomer recollects: ‘Probably a dozen times since their deaths, I have heard my mother or father, in a conversational tone of voice, call my name. Of course they called to me often during my life with them-to do a chore, to remind me of a responsibility, to come to dinner, to engage in conversation, to hear about an event of the day. I still miss them so much that it does not seem at all strange that my brain will occasionally retrieve a lucid recollection of their voices.’(quoted by Michael Shermer in Heavens On Earth). It is an admitted hallucination. Some may, however, treat it as an unexplained experience, a mystery. The pandemic, Covid-19 is not a divine punishment meted out to the people, as such other pandemics as plague, and so on were believed to be so in the past. It is not a mystery now. It is known exactly as what it is: It is a highly contagious infectious disease for which medical science is still to manufacture a remedy. Human consciousness and the origin of life have been still mysteries to science. These two mysteries have been unresolved by science. This epistemological situation is called a gap in the scientific explanation of natural phenomena. The theist grabs such an absence of scientific explanations of things(gaps) as God’s field. He is sure(how?) that only God knows these gaps and the gap is God!
A mystic’s poem quoted below appears apposite here:
‘You say you know.
Tell me how you came to know?
Those who truly know, do they say they know?
Those who know the unknowable supreme
live like those who do not know…’
These are the deeply meaningful words of southern India’s Allama Prabhu, another towering rational mystic of the twelfth century. The words, ‘the unknowable supreme’ is the cosmic energy (which the mystics call as Creation or God (not a supernatural God who performs miracles, answers prayers, rewards his followers and punishes sinners, and so on)) of which the human being and all sentient beings are parts. This concept of God is pantheistic.
‘We do not know it now’
Science explains the facts of nature, animate, or inanimate. Scientists do not simply ‘say they know.’ They prove what they know.
To believe in a mystery of nature to be a god is superstitious.
What science does not know we must admit that ‘we do not know now.’
You have to be humble in awe of the limitless mysteries of nature to snatch her secrets with sustained research.
Most of the people in the world suffer from misery, stress, anger, frustration, fear, tension, jealousy, hate, inferiority or superiority complex, and so on. They seek the solution of these afflictions. They may find temporary relief from them through medical treatment or rare self-effort. They fail to relieve themselves of them from moment to moment of life permanently. An enduring solution to human problems has been elusive for them.
They are the prisoners of their past thoughts, emotions, images, and so on.. Every day, they associate themselves with the thoughts, emotions, images, and memories of their past. They are bound by external impressions on their bodies and minds. They seek joy and try to avoid pain. Their mental peace and happiness are short-lived and pain follows the momentary mental peace and happiness. Their life is a cycle of momentary peace and pleasure and then unavoidable pain.
Is there a way out of this repetitive cycle of momentary peace and joy followed by unavoidable pain?
Sam Harris, the American thinker and yoga practitioner-cum-guru raises these questions: ‘Is there a form of happiness beyond the mere repetition of pleasure and avoidance of pain?’ ‘Is it possible to be happy even before anything happens, before one’s desires are gratified, in spite of life’s difficulties, in the very midst of physical pain, old age, disease, and death?’
Sam Harris continues: ‘Here is its logic: If there is a source of psychological well-being that does not depend upon merely gratifying one’s desires, then it should be present even when all the usual sources of pleasure are removed.’
The famous Indian yoga practitioner-cum- teacher, Sadhguru stresses: ‘If you really want to know spirituality, do not look for anything. People think that spirituality is about looking for God or truth or the ultimate.’ ‘Do not look for a way out of misery. Do not look for a way out of suffering.’ There is only one way-and that is in.’ ‘The human predicament is just this: the very seat of your experience is within you, but your perception is entirely outward-bound.’
In a similar vein, Sam Harris writes: ‘ But our habitual identification with thought-that is, our failure to recognize thoughts as thoughts, as appearances in consciousness -is a primary source of human suffering. ‘The practice of meditation is a method of breaking the spell of thought.’ ‘Meditation is a technique for waking up.’
There are two aspects of the activities of human life: the instinctual urge for survival and the natural urge for a search for breaking the limits of his physical life. The yearning for the expansion of his life is for breaking the barriers of human’s five senses and for going and being beyond their boundaries. Spirituality begins when he passes beyond the limits of his five sensory perceptions. Spirituality has roots in the human mind. It is not outside of his mind or related to an external Deity in any way.
Man is born borderless but is in disharmony and disunity with the universe in his life.
He has lost his way in the midst of the overcrowded noise and distraction of his unconscious sensory reactions to the stimuli of the external world. Sense perceptions are essential for survival. When you do not identify yourself with them, you will be ready for the yogic journey.
Rationality in our life maintains and guides our survival; yogic mystical meditation provides the key to unlocking the world of peace and psychological well-being and bliss and ecstasy in life and ultimately spiritual union with the cosmos.
He should consciously restore his freedom of disassociation with his unconscious evolutionary burden self-imposed on his body and mind. This restoration begins with his conscious response to the impact of the external world on his mind and body. He should not be a slave to or a toy in the hands of the outside world. He should look within himself for his salvation, the salvation from the misery and suffering or unsatisfactoriness of his life. He should claim his birthright of bliss by the practice of the ancient and tested yogic practice of meditation under a good yoga guru.
The science of yoga is India’s unique gift to the world. It is religion-free, that is, free from a supernatural God governing the universe. It is time-tested, proven to be effective, and easily understandable and practiced everywhere in the world now. Yoga is a science of experience and experiment. Its practice is possible for and available to everybody. Mystics practice yogic meditations.
Yoga is a science and its practice is experimental and empirical. It can be tested in the laboratory of your mind. There is no esoteric or supernatural element in it. No God’s grace is needed for peace and happiness or bliss and ecstasy in human life. Man can attain them through the yogic meditation with the guidance of a yoga guru.
The only way out of his misery and sorrow is the practice of yogic meditation. The correct and consistent practice of yogic meditation under a good yoga mentor enables us to attain peace, happiness, and bliss even in the midst of human misery and suffering. Its immediate benefits are peace and happiness in all situations of life and its long-term goal is the highest achievement of human life itself: the bliss of moksha or liberation arising out of his spiritual union with the universal consciousness or energy or cosmos of which he is an inseparable part. This is the way to envision and experience the mystic’s uninterrupted joy of moksha. This perennial joy of liberation is possible for and available to everybody- yes, everybody if the person willingly and consciously practices, every day, the yogic method of meditation learned under a guru.
The practice of these exercises brings about harmony and alignment with the human being’s body, mind, and energy, and finally human being’s union with the cosmic consciousness or existence.
Mystics as yogis are adepts in the yogic path to bliss and ecstasy. When a yoga practitioner reaches a stage of freedom from human misery and sorrow, he is in a positive emotional position to love all human beings and the universe. The barriers of race, class, caste (in case of India), gender, hate, jealousy, conflict, and so on are broken and eliminated. He is transformed into a universal man. Let everyone become a universal man!
Some of the yogic meditative practices are listed in the books, Inner Engineering by Sadhguru and the Waking Up by Sam Harris. Both say that any one or more of the yogic meditative exercises listed in their books found suitable for an individual may be adopted and put into practice. These ways of the meditative practice are simple, practicable, and effective. Sam Harris has a popular Waking Up application also offering daily guided practice of ten or twenty minutes.
Yogic mysticism is both a direct way of knowing the world and a way of accomplishing the highest goal of human life, that is, spiritual union with the universal consciousness or enlightenment through the tool of yogic practice of meditation.
Two examples of yogic meditationOne simple example of daily yogic exercise about the limitless scope of love offered by Sadhguru is:
‘Love is never between two people. It is what happens within you, and your interiority need not be enslaved to someone or something. Try this fifteen minutes or so; go sit with something that means nothing to you right now- maybe a tree, a pebble, a worm, or an insect. Do it for a few days in a row. After a while, you will find you can look upon it with as much love as you do your wife or husband or mother or child. Maybe the worm does not know this. That does not matter. If you can look at everything lovingly, the whole world becomes beautiful in your experience.’
An example of a daily yogic meditation technique to eliminate negative emotions given by Sam Harris is:
‘The truth, however, is that you need not wait for some pleasant distraction to shift your mood. You can simply pay close attention to negative feelings themselves, without judgment or resistance. What is anger? Where do you feel it in your body? How is it arising in each moment? And what is it that is aware of the feeling itself? Investigating in this way, with mindfulness, you can discover that negative states of mind vanish all by themselves.’
The practice of yogic meditation is the unfailing tool to surmount the turmoil and grief in one’s life and live a life of peace, happiness, and well-being in their midst with his family. Life experiences. I must transcend the boundaries of the senses by consciously throwing the sack of the impressions of the external world off my mind and consciously and by rationally responding to the external stimuli from moment to moment of my life. In this state of pure consciousness, I can live as part of the universal consciousness cosmos or life itself and enjoy peace, happiness, and well-being. As an unknown mystic has said: Live life as if you do not live in this world of grief.
Our aim: mental peace, happiness, and fulfillment
We as ordinary people may aim at mental peace, happiness, well-being, or equanimity in our lives through the practice of yogic meditation. We may or may not attain our highest spiritual union with the cosmos or universal consciousness!
I have been daily practicing some of the meditative exercises suggested by both the Sadhguru and Sam Harris and enjoying mental peace, happiness, and well-being in my individual and family life.
You may practice the exercises you like every day and live a life of peace, happiness, and well-being. One may reach the peak of the mountain of yogic meditative practice and turn out to be a real mystic!
Knowledge is power enabling the human being to subjugate the forces of nature and to exercise control over nature and his fellowmen. There are two ways to gain knowledge of nature and life: 1) scientific method and 2) mysticism. The scientific steps to acquire knowledge about the world and life are:
1. Observation: A stone piece sinks in water and a plastic piece does not sink in water but floats on it. 2.Hypothesis: A thing having density more than that of water such as a piece of stone sinks in water and a thing of density less than that of water such as a piece of plastic does not sink in water but floats on it. 3. Test/experiment: We put both the stone piece and the plastic piece on the water. The stone piece sinks in water and the plastic piece floats on it. We conducted this test repeatedly and the result was the same. 4. Evidence: A thing having density more than that of water sinks in it and less than that of water floats on it. 5.Conclusion: We have some evidence that a thing having more density than that of water sinks in water and less than that of water floats on it. This is the way to discover truth about the world scientifically and to obtain evidence of the truth. Natural sciences like physics, chemistry, and so on and medicine, pharmacy, and so on follow this method to discover truth about nature and life. These sciences are exact sciences. Truth is ‘that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality’, fact is ‘a thing that is known or proved to be true’ and knowledge ‘true or justified belief; the sum of what is known.’(Oxford English Dictionary). Claims of truth about the world and life beyond the test and falsifiability are not scientific. Scientific claims are rational. Rationality is scientific. Every day we live our lives rationally and protect ourselves from risks and survive. We avoid risks from poison, fire, flood, wild animals, human frauds, vehicular traffic, diseases, and so on by using our rational knowledge of the risks. There are limitless risks to human life. Some risks are known, some are unknown, and some may remain unknown. History is witness to the fact that no yogi has transcended the laws of nature. To transcend nature is to perform a miracle. He has not produced child without a mother, brought rain through his prayer, defeated death, walked on water, and so on. Mythological miracles are not facts. As science is progressive, scientific evidence of truth about the world is provisional and not conclusive. New facts may be found out and may modify or overturn the existing scientific conclusions. Science, unlike religion, is not dogmatic and humble enough to accept its limitations. Human knowledge is limited. Mysteries of nature are limitless The mystic, Eastern or Western, claims that he has direct and empirical apprehension of truth about the world and life and that his vision of truth about the world and life is intuitive and completely reliable. This vision is a spark of light in the darkness. The mystic is like a poet or artist. He is a visionary. Dr S.Radhakrishnan, the respected Indian idealist philosopher claims: ‘The deepest things of life are known only through intuitive apprehension. We recognize their truth but do not reason about them.’ The philosopher further claims: ‘For the Hindus, a system of philosophy is an insight, a darshana. It is the vision of truth and not a matter of logical argument and proof.’ Logic can know the physical and not the spiritual. It can understand the without and not the within. But the mystic’s insight of truth about the world and life may not be fully true or may be false since such truth is claimed to be not subject to repeated test, falsifiability, always open to the public and is purely subjective. It is true that philosophers accept the element of truth in the mystic’s vision of the world and life. Bertrand Russell, the passionate skeptic writes: ‘… in fact, insight, untested and unsupported, is an insufficient guarantee of truth, in spite of the fact that much of the most important truth is first suggested by its means.’ Further: ‘But in fact, the opposition of instinct and reason is mainly illusory. Instinct, intuition, or insight is what confirms or confutes;…… Reason is a harmonizing, controlling force rather than a creative one. Even in the most purely logical realm, it is insight that first arrives at which is new.’ Dr Radhakrishnan also ultimately agrees with this stance: ‘Though intuition lies beyond intellect, it is not contrary to it.’ There has been a constant co-existence and harmony between science and mysticism in the search for truth about the world and life. Russell declares that the philosophies of Heraclitus and Plato represent this harmony and co-existence between science and mysticism. Intellect is superior to mysticism in discovering the truth about the world and life. The rationalist is the decisive arbiter of truth about the world and life.
The Buddha’s rational advice to us about truth is:
Merely because you have been told it.
Or because it is traditional.
Or because you yourself have imagined it.
Do not believe what your teacher
teaches merely out of respect
for the teacher.
But whatever after due examination and analysis
you find it conducive to the good, the benefit,
the well-being of all things,
that doctrine believe and cling to and take it as your guide.’
You may test if the intellect or reason is- or is not- the sole guide to discover the truth about the world and life.
A human can be God. Swami Vivekananda, the venerated Hindu Vedanticof India valued an unbeliever as equal to God on the planet. He paid rich and unreserved homage to him for his outstanding English educational service to the Bengali(vernacular) citizens of Kolkota( then Calcutta). This man-God, according to him, was David Hare(1775–1842), the Scottish man who came to India in 1800 for his business. He was a watchmaker and earned wealth in his watchmaking business in India. But as a foreigner, he was exceptional. He did not go back to his native country with his wealth and live there a comfortable life as per the norm for such foreigners in India. He broke the norm and stayed and died in India. He loved the Indians, felt their need for English education, and, with his funds, established the Hindu School later renamed Presidency College and Hare School in the compound of the University of Kolkota for the spread of English education among the native Bengalis. He extended his helping hand in establishing the School Book Society on 6 May 1817. ‘It took the initiative to print and publish textbooks in both English and Bengali. This society contributed substantially to the flowering of the Bengal Renaissance.’ On 1 September 1818, he established the Calcutta School Society.’ The road where he lived is called Hare Street. As a progressive committed to the English educational service of the Bengalis, he developed and nurtured deep relationships with his students, followers, and sympathizers. Then an endemic, cholera broke out in Kolkota. One of his students was attacked by it. Hare, as his teacher, personally nursed him and saved his life. But in turn, he, a vulnerable old person, fell victim to cholera and died. His was the supreme sacrifice of his life for his beloved student.
The unbeliever ostracized As he was an unbeliever, he never went to church. His God was the people. The local Christian priests hated him. Christians not only not came forward to arrange his funeral and but also refused a place in the Christian graveyard for the burial of his body. Then Hare’s pupils and well-wishers carried his body on their shoulders and buried his body in the land in the area of his school within the compound of the University of Kolkota. Thousands of his pupils, followers, and people proud of his service followed the long funeral procession. In course of time, a memorial tomb was built on his burial spot and his bust statue was installed there. The place became-and has been- a popular site of pilgrimage in his memory. Human beings can attain meaning in their this-worldly lives. Hare’s meaning in his life was the provision of English education to the native Bengalis. He succeeded in fulfilling his life-meaning or purpose. Human beings can achieve their life-goals, small or big, in their lives and survive their death. They can become immortal on this earth in the minds and hearts of their relatives, pupils, friends, and well-wishing people proud of them for their work. It is notable that the celebrated dualistic Hindu Vedantic spiritual teacher, Swami Vivekananda characterized the non-Hindu foreigner-unbeliever as God in the form of the human on this earth. So profoundly he felt indebted to David Hare for his English education service to the Bengalis and so liberal and expansive was his idea of God.
Immortality of the human being
Immortality is attainable in this world and David Hare eloquently exemplifies this truth. The other world, human’s afterlife and immortality in that world do notexist. A famous poet epitomizes in his words what constitutes the human longing for immortality on this earth:
‘ I fall asleep in the full and certain hope That my slumber shall not be broken; And that, I be all-forgetting, Yet shall I not be all-forgotten, But continue that life in the thoughts and deeds I loved.’ Samuel Butler, Erewhon. We see that David Hares, though never desirous or thinking of their immortality, survive their death. Their life-work and people cherishing and honoring it immortalize them.
It is believed in the West that Indian philosophy is predominantly spiritual or religion-based. It is not widely known that India had other philosophies that are not religion-based or spiritual in the religious sense. They are in existence up to this day. The ancient philosophy of Charvaka called Lokayata, Nyaya, and Vaisesika philosophies are not religion-based. All these three are materialistic. Lokayata (meaning ‘a philosophy prevalent among the people’)that appeared in or near 6th century BCE, does not believe in- 1.God, 2.soul, 3.afterlife, 4.heaven and hell and 5. re-birth and karmic retribution. According to it, the human body is composed of earth, water, air, and fire. Consciousness in the human brain is a product of these elements chemically mixed in the body. With the death of a human being, his consciousness also dies. There is no soul attached to the human body which survives his death. The Vedics and Vedantins were-have been-extreme opponents of the Lokayata. They distorted and totally destroyed the original books on Lokayata. The Lokayata is now available in fragments in the book of Madhavacharya, the Vedic author titled Sarvadarshanasangraha, a philosophical digest. But Johannes Blonkherst in his book, Who Were the Charvakas? quotes Ramakrishna Bhattacharya: ‘this digest rarely quotes any Charvaka aphorism that can be taken as genuine,’ Some popular Lokayata aphorisms are: ‘While life is yours, live joyously, None can escape Death’s searching eye. When once this frame of ours they burn, How shall it ever again return? There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul in another world,’ … ‘If a beast slain in the Jyotistoma rite will itself go to heaven, why then does not the sacrificer forthwith offer his own father?’ -Sarvadarshanasangraha. ‘While life remains let a man live happily, let him feed on ghee even though he runs in debt; When once the body becomes ashes, how can it ever return again? If he who departs from the body goes to another world, How is it that he comes not back again, restless for the love of his kindred? Hence as a means of livelihood, that Brahmins have established here, all these ceremonies for the dead, — there is no other world for fruit anywhere. The three authors of the Vedas were buffoons, knaves, and demons.’ –Sarvadarshanasangraha. (Brahmins are upper-caste Hindus in India.) Scholars like Ramakrishna Bhattacharya feel that the few aphorisms attributed to Charvaka may be altered ones. We have no complete view of the structure of the Charvaka philosophy in the absence of their original works. In their works, Lokayatics might have advocated and lived a rich ethical and cultural life. It is our misfortune that their original works are not extant. Lokayata was the people’s world outlook liked by all. It was the expression of their simple approach to life and their hopes, aspirations, goals, and joys. Its hedonism is not abnormal. Lokayata is a rational philosophy and was revolutionary and popular in those ancient times. It is a philosophy of action, of active practice of life. It is not like a speculative philosophy of religion. You may have already observed that, in substantial aspects, it is like Epicureanism. Conservative religious forces not only obstructed the influence of Lokayata but also destroyed all Lokayata works! An irrecoverable intellectual property loss to humankind caused by Hinduism.
All religions have salvation as their goal for their followers. The human being as the creation of God should seek and attain salvation (liberation or deliverance). As Radhakrishnan, the Indian philosopher says in his book, An Idealist View of Life: “It is the moksha of the Hindus, the nirvana of the Buddhists, the kingdom of heaven of Christians.” And: “It is a supreme status of being in which the individual knows himself to be superior to time, to birth and death.”
According to the Indian mystic, Sadhguru, “Freedom- mukti or moksha– is seen as the natural longing in every human being and our ultimate destination.” The Sanskrit words moksha, nirvana, and mukti mean scriptural salvation. Hindu thinkers claim that it is the end of the human quest.
For the human being, salvation is the end of his suffering in his life and his past sin and the beginning of the life of infinite joy in the spiritual world. It means union of his soul or energy with the universal soul (called God), existence, universal consciousness or source, nature or energy, and so on or eternally blissful divine life in the heaven or the spiritual world of God.
But now more people are questioning and not admitting the concept of the religious or theological salvation: Has it any meaning? Is it true? Salvation in theology enslaves the human being by depriving him of his free will. The human being is born-free and not a puppet in the hands of a God or his messengers and not bound by the scriptures.
Rational concept of salvation
As Dan Barker, the thinker eloquently puts it: “We do not think there is a purpose ‘of ’ life. If there were, that would cheapen life, making us tools or slaves of a master. We think there is purpose ‘in’ life. As long as there are problems to solve, hunger to feed, illness to cure, pain to lessen, inequality to eradicate, oppression to resist, knowledge to gain, and beauty to create, there will be meaning in life.”
None in the human history who accomplished salvation and lived or lives in the divinely ecstatic spiritual world has returned to the human world or sent a message to tell his divinized life story, in a universally intelligible and acceptable way, to the common people in the mundane world. Why is it impossible for the salvaged individual to reveal his message of the divine life to the people with whom he physically lived? Why this age-old secrecy? Why this mystery behind the salvaged life?
None so far.
People, for an example, universally accept human travel to, and his footprints on, the moon, whereas the rationalists, skeptics, and other non-believers reject the religious salvation as unreal. The only reason for the rejection is the total absence of acceptable proof of the salvaged life.
The mystics, saints, sages, and prophets claim that they have the experience of the mystery of the spiritual world ineffable to others. Ineffable.
Many religiously oriented people now accept what Radhakrishnan says: “To be saved is not to be moved from the world. Salvation is not escape from life.” The life of ordinary people in the world. It is a solid declaration that theological salvation can happen on this earth and is earthly. But it is not the real individual or social salvation.
All life is the product of nature. All life arises from the earth and returns to the earth. No theological salvation. No afterlife or life after death. Then the end.
Belief in anything including salvation preached by saints, prophets or god-men without supporting evidence is irrational. Irrational because it has no evidence of its existence. We gain knowledge of a thing, animate or inanimate, through three ways: 1) the five senses, 2) use of scientific instruments like microscope, telescope, etc. by the senses and 3) applying the testing process of hypothetical models by the senses. None has established, in one of these three ways, the fact of salvation in religion. So none has the evidence.
For a rationalist like me, salvation in religion is an illusion. It is a religious fantasy. It does not exist.
Salvation is to be, in fact, an effective solution of social problems
Salvation is to solve any problem of humanity: Problems like poverty, illiteracy, disease (like Covid19), religious bigotry and lunatic violence, crippling absence of basic public roads and other infrastructural facilities and pure drinking water, electricity, malnutrition, housing, gender inequality, etc.
The proof of the existence of these chronic mass problems is evident in Pew research.
Seeking for and finding salvation is to be here on the earth. Salvation has social meaning and purpose. Salvation is not only individual but also collective. We have conquered plague, polio, smallpox, controlled TB, malaria, cancer, and diabetes and will vanquish the coronavirus.
Though the extra-sensory mental power mystics claim to have is a fact, that is only for them (who are few). The human power of transcending the senses or the self is a superior mental achievement through the practice of yoga which is a psychological science. This too is sometimes wrongly elevated to the position of moksha. Yoga never mentions the soul or God in its book.
The individual and collective salvation lie in the humanist solution of the heart- breaking and massive problems of the people in most of the countries of the world.
The real salvation is the solution of the above gigantic and chronic human problems to deliver the people from the social scourges. This deliverance will be their freedom.
The people have to end the scourges.
People have to set up the real heaven on the earth.
How can I attain perpetual peace or bliss in my life of struggle and chaos? Everyone confronts this challenge. The human being is incessantly searching for constant peace and happiness in his life. He is aware of his incomplete life and continuously tries to upgrade it. He knows also that he is subject to the destructively overpowering impact of his six enemies on him. The six enemies are desire, anger, greed, jealousy, delusion, and vanity listed in the Hindu scriptures.
A venerated Indian yogi aptly expresses in his vachana (prose poem) the depth of the pervasive six enemies and implores his own conscience to empower him to vanquish them: “I melted away in lust, I writhed in anger, I ached with desire and greed, I boiled in arrogance and envy, I have become dull because of my ego and selfishness, That is why purge me of this group of six enemies, remove my ego and selfishness make me one without ego and self ………………………………………………..” The supplication is a passionate call to oneself like the other classic call ” Know thyself.” The six mental enemies are conquerable for the upliftment of the individual.
The Four Stages of Human Life
Again, according to the Hindu scriptures, the human being has to pass through the four stages of his life, dharma, artha, kama, and moksha. The Sanskrit words mean that dharma is right conduct, artha is wealth, kama is desire and moksha is liberation resulting in eternal peace or bliss in life, the final goal of the human being. He has to conquer his six mental enemies during his life to meet his spiritual destination. To maintain physical health, breathe clean air, take good and nutritious food, have a sound sleep and practice daily exercise. Everyone knows these health principles and has to adhere to them. To maintain mental health and attain the ultimate goal of the human being, practice three life management steps, satsanga, discipline, and meditation as suggested by Swami Amartyananda, the yoga practitioner, and guru in his book Effective Life Management.
1.Take good and nutritious food to nourish and naturally grow your body, maintain and enjoy good physical health. Items of such food are available and cheap. I prefer vegetarian food. The food choice is individualistic. You have a choice. 2.The exercise must be regular and systematic under the guidance of a qualified trainer. It may be jogging, walking, sports activity in a group, etc. It should be in the morning or evening. You should sweat after the exercise. Exercise is essential tonic for revitalizing and refreshing the human body. 3. Sound sleep is essential for both physical and mental health. Different people need different durations of sleep from a maximum of eight hours to a minimum of five hours a day. Sound sleep is nature’s best immunity against diseases.
4. Clean Air One cannot overemphasize the importance of the life source of oxygen. Our environment at our home and workplace should be full of oxygen, clean and pollution-free.
Mental and Spiritual Health
5. Satsanga is keeping the company of good and inspiring people, of good and ennobling books and of relaxing sonorous music. Good people are the living source of direct impact and inspiration. They are wise, mature and sympathetic and influence our minds for our good. Good books of literature like the poetry of Shelley, Gitanjali of Tagore, nature poetry of Wordsworth, novels (my two favorites, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck), autobiography (My Experiments with Truth by Gandhi), Shakespearean plays, and so on leave a lasting and deep mark on our minds. Great books on philosophy like the History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, prose poetry (vachanas) of Basavanna and of Allama, India’s rational mystics have a similar impact on our minds. Urdu ghazals (lyrics) pregnant with hidden mystical meaning are memorable and soothe our hearts. The lilting instrumental music of Ravi Shankar makes you forget yourselves and has an unfailing healing effect on your mind. Songs and music touch your heart and offer ecstasy to and unerringly relax you.
6. Discipline is a planned daily schedule of work. Discipline sets up organized regularity and saves time. It is one of the basic tools for productive life and time management. It is an antidote against the waste of time and energy. Waking up in the morning and going to bed at night at a fixed time should be the norm. Disciplined life can make your lifespan longer and uplift you to more productivity and enhanced life.
7. Meditation is a systematic introspection without attachment. Watching our thoughts dispassionately is like doing the gatekeeper’s duty. A watchman at the gate watches over the entry and exit of people efficiently. When his wife meets him at the gate and he talks to her, he cannot properly watch over the people entering and exiting the gate. Meditation enables us to view our mental world minutely and to analyze our mental and physical activities objectively. It controls, focuses and calms the mind. Practice it.
“One ounce of practice is worth a thousand pounds of theory.”-Swami Vivekananda.
Swami Amartyananda stresses: ” The crucial difference between our physical and mental ailments is that while we have medicines, hospitals, doctors, and nurses to help us treat physical sickness, there is really nobody who can cure us of mental sickness. We can at best get some guidance from people like psychologists or psychiatrists but ultimately it is our own efforts that will help cure us. We have to become our own doctor and make full use of introspection, which is the most effective (and in fact, only) tool available to us. Introspection is also a form of prevention because when we practice it regularly, we become strong enough to ward off mental diseases even before they appear. This makes introspection even more important, since prevention is better than cure!”
Waking Up guided course of meditation developed by Sam Harris, the reputed American neuroscientist offers one of the simple and easy meditation practices. The regular practice of this course produces the desired result of constant mindfulness, mental peace and spiritual serenity in a world of disquieting noise, restlessness, and distraction. Waking Up is a popular application.
I have been practicing it for at least ten minutes in the morning and evening and got an impressive positive result. The practical method is a rational way to achieve and maintain mental and spiritual wellness; it has no religious intrusion. This is one of several ways to achieve the highest goal of life that is uninterrupted peace or bliss. Who doesn’t want uninterrupted peace or bliss in his life by implementing these simple and easy processes? You may practice them and see the profound beneficial effect on you.
Student. Photo by Sule Makaro on Unsplash India has a secular Constitution. In India, government (public) schools have no religious prayer as part of their daily work schedule.
FREEDOM FROM BURDEN OF RELIGION
People support the public schools, colleges, and other higher educational institutions, Hindu, Islamic, Jain, Veerashaiva, Lingayat, Christian, and Parsi, by their tax payment. The government has never permitted religious group prayer in these institutions. Because religion is private and public educational institutions are public.
Children as students are born with no burden of religious faith on their heads: They are born free from mental slavery to any religious dogma or non-religion and should have the right to be so free till their death. At birth, they are fresh and free from religion and god and let them be so till their demise. What religion they want to choose is to be left to their decision after they reach maturity. Parents must desist from imparting religious education to them: They must give them ethical, moral universal humanist education; the human values like love and goodwill towards all people of all religions or no religion, rational and scientific temper, awareness of environmental protection, peace and social justice, humility, altruism, global awareness and so on must be instilled into them They should allow and empower them to enjoy their freedom from all forms of religious indoctrination in educational institutions.
We cannot trace morality in society to religious prayer or religion. Japan has no religious prayer in its schools. But it is one of the most morally robust nations.
The countries founded on religion like Pakistan, Iraq, and so on have allowed religious entry into schools and indoctrination and are witness to senseless religious violence, killing of innocent people (and even children). And, remember, religious prayer is an element of religion and rooted in the human’s meaningless surrender to an unknown, non-existent supernatural person or power variously called and worshipped as a god.
Recently. fundamentalist politicians in India have been vigorously attempting to introduce religious prayer and elements of religious bigotry in the school curricula. The secular society has successfully resisted and defeated their attempts.
The preamble of the Indian Constitution reads:
” WE, the people of India having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure all its citizens
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this 26th day of November 1949 do hereby ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES this Constitution.”
This Constitution is secular.
The Maharastra State of India has introduced this preamble to be recited by students at the beginning of the school hours in the State. This secular practice needs an introduction in all the public schools in all the States in India in their languages.
BIRTHRIGHT TO FREE-THINKING
Students have the right to their religious or secular beliefs. They are products ultimately of nature and have a natural intellectual birthright to their freedom from religious instruction or indoctrination in their educational institutions. They have to swim in the waves of the religious, secular and rational sea of knowledge and, out of that knowledge, choose faith or no faith for themselves. They must have their choice in the matter of faith or non-faith without indoctrination by anybody, parents, schoolteachers or preachers. The book of faith and of non-faith must be open to them for their choice and not imposed on them.
Disobedience of god’s commands in the scriptures is a sin. Most religions have sin as part of their theology.
Jerry Coyne, the evolutionary biologist states the fact:
‘The central lesson of Christianity is that sin was brought into the world by the transgression of Adam and Eve, the Primal Couple, and expiated by the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, whose acceptance as savior removes the taint of sin.’
Thus, Christianity has the concept of the original sin of man and woman.
Man, a sinner from his birth? Is it not absurd, unjustifiable and strange? On the day of his birth, he carries on his head an unknown burden of his basic sin!
In Hinduism, there is no conception of the original sin. But here also, disobedience of the edicts of the Hindu scriptures of Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavadgita, and so on is a sin. A sinner has rebirths till he is purged of his sin.
As Jayaram. V observes:
‘The idea of sin forms the basis of Hindu ethics and morality. Its purpose is to facilitate the order and regularity of the world, the enforcement of Dharma and the evolution of beings through the corrective and punitive process. Sin may arise from both intentional and unintentional actions and through negligence and ignorance.’
Sin Outside Religion
In the rational and humanist worldview, there is no concept of sin.
Human beings commit moral mistakes, knowingly or unknowingly. To err is human. Their offenses or crimes meet with punishments awarded by punitive agencies of the society. After undergoing the punishment, they have a chance to be transformed into new individuals and to step into a new life.
Morality and ethics have links with the humanist principles that are not static or dogmatic.
Punishment for human mistakes is not a permanent taint.
For the human beings on this Earth, salvation or deliverance or liberation or moksha is and means freedom from hunger, disease, fundamentalism, bigotry, superstitions, religious violence, destruction of natural resources, authoritarianism, absence or lack of freedom of expression, and other individual and social ills.
Rationalists and most of the humanists are unbelievers and do not accept holy books, the concept of sin, divine rewards and punishments, judgment day, an afterlife, and so on and do not believe in the concept of human salvation in the religious sense.
As a ‘sinless’ individual on Earth, the human being desires to sing, dance, write, paint, do sports, meditate, practice yoga, travel, write, fly to the moon and so on.
As Dan Barker, the rationalist author observes:
“Sin is a religious concept and in some religions, salvation is the deliverance from the ‘wages of sin’-death or eternal punishment. Sin has been defined as missing the mark of God’s expectations or holiness, or ‘offending God,’ so it follows that there is no god, there is no sin, therefore no need for salvation. Only those who consider themselves ‘sinners’ need this kind of salvation. It is a religious solution to a religious problem.”
The linkage of human ‘sin’ to god operates outside this world and belittles or nullifies human effort for self-improvement and self-transformation and shackles human beings to an external supernatural deity.
Basavanna, the Indian rational mystic welcomed all offenders, irrespective of their creed, social status, and gender, to his side if they gave up their immoral actions and started their new journey on the morally right path. Once an offender, always an offender? No. His vachanas (prose poems) vouch for this commitment as one of the basic tenets of his philosophy.
I quote two of his vachanas:
‘ Man, O man, you who committed the sin,
Man, O man, you who slew the saint,
Do say but once, ‘I bow,’
All sinning flies away!
The golden mountains will not suffice
For atonement of all your sins
Do say, ‘I bow to One
To our Lord,……….’
‘If I call them thieves, prisoners,
snake charmers, whoremongers,
servants and warriors,
and not call them you yourself
when the devotees come keeping you in the front
that is treachery.’
(Basavanna’s ‘Lord’ is not a supernatural god rewarding or punishing man. His god is man’s conscience in a broad sense; his god is the ‘divine’ element in man himself and his god’s temple is in the human body itself. Basavanna forbade his followers to visit temples to offer prayers to god.)
The priests, the self-appointed agents of god on Earth may demand a mountain of gold from the sinner for his redemption. But even if the sinner gifts more than a golden mountain to them, they cannot redeem the sinner through the god.
What the human needs is his sincere and firm repentance. Repentance for him is redemption from his sin and a fresh path. Basavanna, by this simple, effective and potent method, cleansed the masses of their inferiority mentality, instilled self-confidence in them, and freed them from the exploitative clutches of the wily, parasitic priests and from their bondage to a supernatural world-governing god.
Basavanna brought about a sweeping sea-change in the people’s spiritual mindset.
It was an explosive spiritual and social movement in the twelfth century- the twelfth century!
We always remember that there was a time in human history when human beings had no religion, no concept of sin, no god, no concept of the soul, and so on and that they just lived a natural life as the children of mother nature free from the mental prison of religion.
We have ever the hope and the scope to transform ourselves into better human beings. We can leave behind us the shadows of our repentant past lives and take the new step onto the right path, the fundamentals of which, according to Basavanna, are:
‘Do not steal, do not kill,
do not lie, do not rage,
do not loathe the other,
do not brag of yourself,
do not revile the opponent.
This itself is inner purity,
this itself is outer purity.
This alone is the way to win
our Koodalasangamadeva’ (‘Lord’ as defined above).
Sin evaporates once the sinner repents and starts a new life on the right path.
Death! An evil? It is terrifying and wraps its incidence with dark all around gloom and numbness. No living entity welcomes it. Death is not only inevitable, irreversible, universal but also final.
Kahlil Gibran says:
‘Life and death are two ends of the human’s journey on the planet. With life, death is a shadow. For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.’ In the words of Michael Shermer, the historian of science: ‘The ‘purpose’ of life is to survive, reproduce and flourish, and it has been fulfilling its destiny for 3.5 billion years in an unbroken chain from the Precambrian to today and encompassing all forms of life of which we know.’ Death, the invincible victor? We know that death is the human’s disconnection with all his relationships and the world and entails the death of his consciousness.
Death begins with the first breath.
Only people affected by the fatal and debilitating diseases, loneliness by desertion by relatives, extreme poverty, social shame, unbearable debt, torturous attacks of guilt consciousness and so on may unwillingly embrace death. To them, death is better than life, a life that is lifeless.
Unfortunate deaths occur in accidents, individual murder for robbery or out of hate, and homicide in implementing irrational scriptural commands. These result in agony to the relatives and friends of the deceased.
As A. C. Grayling, the British thinker puts it:
‘Death is natural to a rational human being. If we base our view of death on evidence and reason, we see it as a natural process: the ceasing of bodily functions, including consciousness followed by the body’s dispersal into its physical elements, remaining part of nature but in a different way.’
‘Death is therefore the basis of life and fully half of its rhythm.’
Can We Be Immortal?
Humans desire endless life, immortality. Longing for immortality is inherent in humans. Humans have endless goals. Their endless desires and goals are the source of their misery.
‘Propagating our genes into the next generation’ and creating and leaving an everlasting legacy behind us are the only forms of immortality known and available to us. A man can attain immortality through his memorable legacy. He can live on in the minds and hearts of his family or society or the world if he has produced and left behind him an unforgettable and enduring bequest for them. This legacy will be an inscription in stone for him.
Nature does not allow her child, the human being to be alive forever and takes him back through his death. She maintains a balance between life and death so that life and death should continue. From the Earth to the Earth! This is man’s journey on this planet.
Basavanna, the unique Indian mystic says:
‘What you call life
Is a wind-blown lamp’
‘Death is to me A solemn festival.’
This view belongs to the rationally spiritual realm. A seeker faces his non-existence with equanimity because he will attain liberation from existence and union with the Void, not a supernatural god.
Human beings long to immortalize themselves through their souls too which do not exist. According to the Bhagavadgita, the Hindu scripture, unlike the human body, the human soul is deathless. But there is no disembodied soul or mind. No body, no brain; no brain, no mind; no mind, no soul. The human body is primary and the mind or soul is secondary. The hard fact is that, simultaneously with the death of the body, the mind or soul in the body passes away. Neuroscience has proved it.
You and I have only one life gifted by mother nature. Let us make the most of it by living a good life individually and socially and leave an enduring legacy behind us. This is the only option, and this is enough for us to immortalize ourselves.
Science has been engaged in attempting to extend the human life span with the aid of technology including medical technology.
Science and technology have not so far invented a way to make living things infinite. It is a sure hope that they may enable us to live infinitely or at least for a period of life longer than the present highest human longevity of 125 years. They can ‘defeat death’.
Death Is Defeatable
In the words of John Donne, the poet:
‘Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so.
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more.
Death, thou shalt die.’
The great poet’s purely spiritual message we may apply and adapt to our rationally spiritual message: Life is short but its genetic inheritance and human legacy are immortal.
The human being needs no long life for a fulfilled and happy life, ‘a good life.’
As Basavanna says:
‘What does it matter for a man
Of good repute, to live five days?
What does it matter to live four?
Or three or two?’
The ‘good repute’ relates to the good work done and left behind by the human being as his legacy for his family or the society or the world.
The human being should work to live and to enable society to live. He is born with this responsibility. The work may be physical or mental. There is an aphorism: He who does not work neither shall he eat.
Work is sacred; work is heavenly; work is divinity in the human being. ‘In planned economy beggary and unemployment are unthinkable in any form or sense. Even preachers should not be parasites on society but accept the profession of preaching as a Kaayaka (work) for social service. According to Basava no one is to beg. He should rather work as a coolie than be a beggar.’
All kinds of work are dignified and symbolic of human divinity.
In the inimitable words of Basavanna or Basava:
‘A man becomes a blacksmith by heating iron;
he becomes a washerman by washing clothes;
he becomes a goldsmith by tinkling gold;
he becomes a Brahmin by reading Vedas;
Are there people who are born of an ear in the world? …………………………………………’
When the human being works, he maintains his good health, both physical and mental. If the work is as per his choice, he feels pleasant, refreshed and invigorated. He should contribute part of the fruit of his work to the pool of society for its common use. This will be more fulfilling for him.
Individual and the community are interdependent. To become complete, both need each other. Individual welfare and fulfilment go hand in hand with those of society.
Basava’s followers called sharanas (in Kannada) (spiritual and social revolutionaries) say that sun graces our planet with sunlight daily, trees produce oxygen and fruits, rain feeds both the living and the plant world, the soil produces food; the mother nourishes her child till it becomes fit to take outside food and so on expecting nothing in return for their continuous gifts and services to people. Nature is the mother of all living beings on this planet.
Contribution To the Pool of Society or dasoha
Basavanna’s words about free sharing part of the fruit of one’s work with the community of which he is the part are:
‘Does not the crow call all its group at seeing a morsel of food? Does not the cock make a call for its kith and kin at seeing a few grains? A devotee of Shiva (God), who has no such feeling, is worse than cocks and crows.’
The human being should learn a lesson from mother nature and the human mother. He must contribute his share of the fruit of his work or labour to the pool of society for its beneficial utilization and its welfare. According to Basava or Basavanna, spiritually this is dasoha or contribution to the social pool in any form of food, money, service, and so on with no self-interest.
This, in a nutshell, is the philosophy of work preached and propagated by Basavanna, the twelfth-century mystic, the extraordinary humanist and social revolutionary. There should be a balance between the human being’s work and his need for leisure for his optimal growth and full enjoyment of life.
The rational, logical and genuine answer to these questions is a categorical ‘No’, as they are questions relating to concepts of religious irrationality.
Rise Of Humanism
The thinkers realized that humanism should replace religious irrationality with a humanist way of life and rational spirituality.
They have formulated, step by step, the genuine philosophy of life, humanism founded on reason and human experience.
‘So, no one invented or founded it. The word describes a certain set of linked and interrelated beliefs and values that together make up a coherent non-religious worldview, and many people have had these beliefs and values all over the world and for thousands of years.’ (Andrew Copson, What Is Humanism). ‘
‘By definition, humanism is concerned with the human being and not with any external divine authority who stands in a superior position to man.’ (TheCore Principles of Secular Humanism, Victor A. Gunasekara).
Humanism is a non-theistic, non-religious, naturalistic and secular world outlook, according to which-
1. Human beings can shape their life and destiny. They can look after their welfare individually and collectively.
‘Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.’ (Byelaw 5.1 of the International Humanist and Ethical Union)
2. Human beings, as creations of nature, are innately moral and do not need, to be moral, divine or scriptural commands and the fear of imaginary divine punishments for their breaches.
‘In the fourth chapter of The Descent of Man Darwin accumulated examples of co-operative behaviour among social animals, and remarked very reasonably, ‘It can hardly be disputed that the social feelings are instinctive or innate in the lower animals; and why should they not be so in man?’ He concluded the chapter with what may be regarded as the classical statement of the humanist view on the social basis of morals: ‘The social instincts-the prime principle of man’s moral constitution-with the aid of active intellectual powers and the effects of habit, naturally lead to the golden rule, ”As ye would that men should do to you, do ye to them likewise”; and this lies at the foundation of morality.’ (Margaret Knight, Honest to Man)
This is the social basis of the origin of morality and not a divine scriptural command of do’s and don’ts for human beings!
3. Human beings are led by reason and their experience for living ‘a good life inspired by love and guided by knowledge’. Science lights their path of life- and science is no dogma. They are nourished, strengthened and united by the human values of love, empathy, sympathy, justice and compassion.
‘So it is frankly admitted by the humanist that descriptions of reality offered by science are provisional and never entirely and totally certain-at any time evidence may present itself that renders old explanations redundant and new explanations preferable.’ (Andrew Copson, What IsHumanism).
4. Human beings don’t believe in the soul and afterlife.
In the words of Bertrand Russell: ‘I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive.’
5. A mystic is not supernatural. The mystic’s spiritual practice is human biology-based.
Sam Harris, neuroscientist and philosopher observes in his book, Waking Up:
‘….. scientists generally start with an impoverished view of spiritual experience, assuming that it must be a grandiose way of describing ordinary states of mind-parental love, artistic inspiration, awe at the beauty of the night sky. In this vein, one finds Einstein’s amazement at the intelligibility of nature’s laws described as though it were a kind of mystical insight’
‘A rational approach to spirituality seems to be what is missing from secularism and from the lives of the people I meet.’
‘The human mind does, in fact, contain vast expanses that few of us ever discover’
6. Human beings have an equal right to happiness
7. Human beings have inalienable thirty rights as declared in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the most important of which are:
‘(1) All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’
‘(2) Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.’
‘(3) Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, worship and observance.’
‘(4) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.’
Humanism-the Light of Life
In the words of Bette Chambers:
‘Humanism is the light of my life and the fire in my soul. It is the deep-felt conviction, in every fibre of my being, that human love is a power far transcending the relentless, onward rush of our largely deterministic cosmos. All human life must seek a reason for existence within the bounds of an uncaring physical world, and it is love coupled with empathy, democracy, and a commitment to selfless service which undergirds the faith of a humanist.’
There is a worldwide celebration of the primacy of man and his natural capacity to pursue his life-goals of achieving meaning and purpose in his life on this Earth. On this planet, he can make his life into a fulfilled or ‘a good life’ or a bad life.
Humanism is the sacred and magnetic mantra of mankind. It is the spirit of the times. It belongs as an ennobling and empowering way of life to not only the present but also the future, as it had so belonged to the past.
I have chosen and been following the rational and humanist way of life. Have you any hesitation in choosing this world outlook?
Swami Vivekananda, the celebrated propagator and progressive interpreter of Vedanta philosophy has explained his ideas of God, religion and man’s place in the spiritual practice in the book, What Religion Is:
Search for God
‘……. man, after vain search after various Gods outside himself, completes the circle and comes back to the point from which he started-the human soul; and he finds that the God whom he was searching for over hill and dale, whom he was seeking in every brook, in every temple, in churches and heavens, that God whom he was even imagining as sitting in heaven and ruling the world, is his own Self. I am he and he is I. None but I was God and this little ‘I’ never existed.’
‘What does the advaitist preach? He dethrones all the gods that ever existed or ever will exist in the universe and places on that throne the Self of man-the Atman, higher than the sun and moon, higher than the heavens, greater than this great universe itself. No books, no scriptures, no science can ever imagine the glory of the Self that appears as man-the most glorious God that ever was, the only God that ever existed, exists, or ever will exist.’
‘ I am to worship, therefore, none but my Self.'(The ‘Self’ is the soul of man.)
God of the masses
‘The religions of the unthinking masses all over the world must be, and have always been, of a God who is outside of the universe, who lives in heaven, who governs from that place, who is a punisher of the bad and rewarder of the good, and so on.’
‘The God of heaven becomes the God in nature, the God in nature becomes the God who is nature, and the God who is nature becomes the God within this temple of the body, and the God dwelling in the temple of the body, at last, becomes the temple itself, becomes the soul and man-and there Vedanta reaches the last words it can teach.’
‘Talking about God, and the Impersonal, and this and that, is all very good, but these men-Gods are the real Gods of all nations and all races. These divine men have been worshipped and will be worshipped as long as man is man. Therein is our faith, therein is our hope, of a reality. Of what avail is a mere mystical principle?’ The men-gods are only human, visible, accessible spiritual teachers to the people and not scriptural gods.
‘These great Teachers are the living Gods on this earth………They are higher than any conception of God that I could ever form.’
These ‘men-Gods’ are the great Teachers of the world- Jesus Christ, Buddha, Mohammad, Mahaveer, Basavanna and so on.
Swami Vivekananda emphatically preached that all religions are not contradictory, but supplementary to one another.
The twelfth-century Indian mystic, Basavanna established and spread an almost similar spiritual, humanist philosophy called lingayatism in south India. He taught that there is no heaven, no hell, no supernatural god, and so on and that we, the people could change this earth into heaven or hell. Man’s body is a temple, as it were, and man is divine. God is one and his names are many. Man can attain his ultimate spiritual goal through his own perseverance.
God of Islam
No God or prophet (‘man-God’) of any religion is the only truest God or the prophet. Swami Vivekananda stresses the mistaken view of Islam that Islamic God is the only God and Gods of other religions are not Gods and highlights a historical fact:
‘In this line, the Mohammedans were the best off. Every step forward was made with the sword- the Koran in one hand and the sword in the other. ‘Take the Koran, or you must die; there is no alternative.’ You know from history how phenomenal was their success; for six hundred years nothing could resist them. And then there came a time when they had to cry halt. So will it be with other religions if they follow the same methods.’
Religion is individualistic
Swami Vivekananda eloquently says:
‘Religion is not talk or doctrines or theories nor is it sectarianism. Religion cannot live in sects and societies. It is the relation between the soul and God; how can it be made into a society? It would then degenerate into business, and wherever there are business and business principles in religion, spirituality dies. Religion does not consist in erecting temples or building churches or attending public worship. It is not to be found in books or in words or in lectures or in organizations. Religion consists in realization.’
The spiritual leader’s words are clear, heart-touching, inspiring and convincing and awaken man from the deep and rigid grip of outdated superstitious religious beliefs. Two things stand out in the spiritual path of this revered Indian mystic:
Swami Vivekananda’s God is a ‘man-God! His God is not a supernatural God living in heaven and governing the world.
Stephen Hawking, the genius of astronomy and cosmology has the profoundly path-breaking and rationally impactful insight into the origin of the universe and the idea of God. He says in his book, Brief Answers To TheBig Questions:
‘ You can’t get to a time before the Big Bang because there was no time
before the Big Bang. We have finally found something that doesn’t have a cause, because there was no time for a cause to exist in. For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator, because there is no time for a creator to have existed in.’
‘I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science.’
‘Time did not exist before the Big Bang so there is no time for God to make the universe in. It is like asking for directions to the edge of the Earth-the Earth is a sphere that doesn’t have an edge, so looking for it is a futile exercise.’
‘There is no God’
‘Do I have faith? We are each free to believe what we want, and it’s my view that the simplest explanation is that there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization: there is probably no heaven and afterlife either. I think belief in an afterlife is just wishful thinking. There is no reliable evidence for it, it flies in the face of everything we know in science. I think that when we die, we return to dust. But there is a sense in which we live on, in our influence, and in our genes that we pass on to our children. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that I am extremely grateful.’
The universe was self-created and God had no chance ortime to create it!
Opium Of The People Karl Marx, the venerated German icon of the world proletariat, philosopher and the pioneering revolutionary asserts that religion ‘is the opium of the people.’It is an intoxicant. It offers temporary relief to the working people from their daily hardships of life.
Birth Of Illusion
Economic poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, ill-health, debt, and other widespread social maladies of the class society render the working class helpless and hopeless and constrain them to seek a helping hand in the form of God, Messiah, saint, savior and so on. The working class finds temporary solace in its illusory world of God, heaven, etc. But they do not get a permanent solution to their frustrating privations and agonies by resorting to this illusory world of religion. Religion is thus a human product; it is not a divine gift or creation.
The capitalist class, one of the historical ruling classes legalizes various forms of injustice in a class society and brainwashes, through the religion, the working people into believing in illusions of God, his grace, his protection, rebirth, afterlife, heaven and hell, and so on. This is in a sense something akin to the Hindu karma and rebirth theory. The exploiting class not only blunts their rebellious sharpness but also weakens their combative spirit, in this invidious and secretive way, with the potent spiritual tool of the all-pervasive irrational religion. Historical Fact There was a time when there was no private property; there was a time when there was no religion. The ancient tribes lived happily by using natural resources commonly for their livelihood and needed no God.
Private property divides society into the class of capitalists and the class of workers where the former exploits the latter by applying, among other things, the opium of religion to them. Class society is one source of sustenance and prevalence of religion. A classless society will be one without religion.
How Religion Ends
The Marxist solution for establishing a classless society is a social revolution and abolition and socialization of the private property. The Marxist idea and aim are that private property, the historical source of class oppression should not be a means for exploiting the socially weaker class of workers by the dominant property-owning class, the capitalists. Religion loses its influential status as a powerful tool in an exploitation-free classless society.
Religion withers away just as the State as the symbol of the power of the ruling class and the ‘organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another’ withers away.
Karl Marx expresses the essence of religion in his following inimitable words:
‘Man makes religion, religion does not make man.’
‘Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world and the soul of the soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusion.’
The agnostic says that there are no sufficient reasons for either an affirmation or denial of the existence of God, Satan and so on. He sits on
fence about these matters. But his stand is irrational, as we can see now.
Rational approach to truth
A belief to be true should be rational. It should have reasons for its acceptance by people.
Those reasons should compel us to accept it fully. The test of rational belief, as A.C.Grayling, the philosopher says, is ‘a question of an all-or-nothing affair and not a matter of degree.’
‘It is likely that God exists’ is an agnostic‘s stand; ‘there is no proof that God exists’ is a rationalist’s position. The former is a proposition of degree of belief and the latter is a proposition of total belief with evidence. The first statement is irrational and the second one is rational.
‘But agnosticism, as the position that entertains the possibility that there might be or couldbe one or more supernatural agencies of some sort, is an irrational position, for precisely the same reason as holding that there might be or could be fairies or goblins or the Olympian deities or the Norse gods.’-A.C.Grayling.
Again, “Is the belief that ‘rain might not wet me next time I do not have an umbrella’ less irrational or absurd than the belief that rain does not wet at all? Obviously not.”-A.C.Grayling.
Experience and experiment have long back found out that there is no evidence for the existence of God, devil, ‘fairies or goblins or the Olympian deities or the Norse gods.’
Theists resort to agnosticism to somehow defend their faith in God, heaven, hell, soul, afterlife, and so on. You now know that their religious faith dependent upon agnosticism too has no foundation.
Agnosticism is a believers’ ‘quibble that does not ……. hold water.’ It is a fallacy with a possible ulterior motive.
Books are products of our culture as inexhaustible and perennial sources of human knowledge and wisdom. They are revered as gifts of knowledge goddess. We believe that they always do good to us and can never do harm to us, their readers. However, we have to read religious books with critical and rationalist eyes.
The holy scriptures, the Bible, the Koran and, to a very small extent in recent times, the Hindu scriptures have caused incalculable harm to mankind through their literalist or fundamentalist adherents’ actions.
The fundamentalists have defiled and desecrated the sacred books. They have abused the words of the scriptures as the literal voice or word of God and, to protect the sanctity of the books, killed unbelievers and other innocent citizens with the use of suicide bombs, weapons, torture, and other barbarities.
Sam Harris, the American philosopher, neuroscientist and humanist has, in his famous book, The End of Faith, listed the abuses of the religious scriptures and their gruesome effects on the world. I quote from his book extensively:
“Our past is not sacred for being past and there is much that is behind us and to which, it is hoped, we could never return with a clear conscience: the divine right of kings, feudalism, the caste system, slavery, political executions, forced castration, vivisection, bearbaiting, honorable duels, chastity belts, trial by ordeal, child labor, human and animal sacrifice, the stoning of heretics, cannibalism, sodomy laws, taboos against contraception, human radiation experiments-the list is nearly endless.”
“Indeed, religion is as much a living spring of violence today as it was at any time in the past. Recent conflicts in Palestine (Jews v.Muslims), the Balkans(Orthodox Serbians v.Catholic Croatians; Orthodox Serbians v. Bosnian and Albanian Muslims), Northern Ireland(Protestants v.Catholics), Kashmir(Muslims v.Hindus), Sudan(Muslims v.Christians and animists), Nigeria(Muslims v.Christians), Ethiopia and Eritrea(Muslims v.Christians), Sri Lanka(Sinhalese Buddhists v.Tamil Hindus), Indonesia(Muslims v.Timorese Christians) and the Caucasus(Orthodox Russians v. Chechen Muslims;Muslim Azerbaijanis v. Catholic and Orthodox Armenians) are merely a few cases in point. In these places, religion has been the explicit cause of literally millions of deaths in the last ten years.”
“Over one million people died in the orgy of religious killing that attended the partitioning of India and Pakistan.”
In “the violence that erupted between Hindus and Muslims in India in the winter of 2002”, “Over one thousand people died in this month long series of riots-nearly half as many as have died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in more than a decade.”
Sam Harris has a striking insight into the mindset of the religious terrorist and the real source of inspiration for his mindset. The suicide bomber is relentlessly indoctrinated, has a deep interest in carrying out the literal mandate of the scripture, kills unbelievers and innocent people of his and other religions by bombing and then feels assured of his place in the paradise in his afterlife, mistaking paradise to be a fact.
Call To Violent Action
Sam Harris has quoted the pertinent extracts from the scriptures:
“If your brother, son of your father or of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the spouse whom you embrace, or your most intimate friend, tries to secretly seduce you, saying, ‘ Let us go and serve other gods,’ unknown to you or your ancestors before you, gods of the peoples surrounding you, whether near you or far away, anywhere throughout the world, you must not consent,you must not listen to him; you must show him no pity, you must not spare him or conceal his guilt. No, you must kill him, your hand must strike the first blow in putting him to death and the hands of the rest of the people following. You must stone him to death, since he has tried to divert you from Yahweh your God………(Deuteronomy 13:7-11)”
” Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fate. ( Koran9.73)”
“Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them. Know that God is with the righteous. ( Koran 9:123)”
” Jihad is your duty under any ruler, be he godly or wicked. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the Hereafter) would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and get killed again(in Allah’s Cause). He who dies without having taken part in a campaign dies in a kind of unbelief.
Paradise is in the shadow of swords.
Many hadiths of this sort can be found, and Islamists regularly invoke them as a justification for attacks against infidels and apostates.”
Dangerous Support To Bigots
A sizable section of the Muslim community worldwide defends the suicide bombers’ homicidal crime in the interest of and at the command ofthe Islamic scriptures. We may see the Pew study produced by Sam Harris in proof of this fact:
(The relevant statistics in respect of Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, and other religious violence-infected countries are not available.)
Books Enlighten And Upgrade Us
Books are meant to be our intellectual companions. They upgrade us anddonot degrade us. We have to cry an immediate halt to the religious literalist madmen’s homicidal misadventure. Human blood should not spill on to the books. Human beings adore books and worship them as vehicles of knowledge, education, and inspiration. Books are not weapons for homicide and fratricide.
We have the right to rationally study and embrace them. The scriptures are human, andnot divine, productsthat should not be put to torridly profane use.
I am entering a restricted or prohibited, sensitive and sacred area.
Religion-practitioners lay down the adoption of God, acceptance of scriptural literalism as God’s voice and religious miracle stories and rituals as prerequisites, and so on for a lofty spiritual human life. Faith can move mountains and prayer to God can bring rain to the divine creation of nature. Into the religious spirituality, rationality has no entry.
Contrary to this general conception, religion (faith) is not essential for spirituality in human beings.
Human beings are not only social animals but also spiritual beings. Spirituality is inborn and natural to them. Religion is an external imposition on them; God is an external burden placed on them. Both are not requisite for either human welfare or their spiritual expression in art, music, writing, sports, drama, adventure activities, dance, philosophical speculation, and so on.
The poet sings out of joy inspired by the sublime sea or sky, a young man, full of his intense love for his sweetheart, sings a romantic song, a musician plays his musical instrument inspired by his inner urge, and so on.
What Spirituality Is
Human spirituality is a human’s inner world, his mental realm, his realm within.
One popular view is that spirituality breaks human perceptual boundaries and enables the human to unite with the cosmic existence. This is described as self-realization, nirvana, and so on
Another stream speaks of spirituality as the process of the ultimate union of the individual soul with the universal soul or God, moksha, liberation from birth and death, and so on.
The well-known Indian mystic, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev says in his book, Inner Engineering: ‘When you say ‘spirituality’, you are talking about a dimension beyond the physical. The human desire to transcend the physical is a completely natural one.’
A mystic’s self-realization is the highest stage of spirituality. Sam Harris, the American neuroscientist and philosopher observes, ‘Mysticism is a rational enterprise. Religion is not.’
Yoga is a way, a potent scientific tool to break the borders of human physical life and to unite it with the borderless nature or creation or cosmos, whatever one may call it. This is self=realization. The ancient yoga path is a science away, far away from God.
The Sadhguru continues:
‘That is why the yogic system does not talk about God. It does not talk about the soul or heaven. Such talk makes people hallucinatory.’
‘The problem is that religious nuts around the world have exported everything that is beautiful about a human being to the other world. If you talk of love, they speak of divine love, if you talk of bliss, they speak of divine bliss. If you talk of peace, they speak of divine peace. We have forgotten that these are all human qualities. A human being is fully capable of joy, of love, of peace. Why do we export these to heaven?’
No involvement of religion is perceptible in this spirituality. Spirituality is not the monopoly of the religion which imposed its God-linked spirituality on the people. Religious spirituality has faith without evidence as its basis and inevitably results in human enslavement to irrational dogma.
Massacre of Innocent Citizens
Extreme and blind loyalty to the scriptural literalism, a form of dangerous religious idiocy takes the dogmatists to violence and homicide. The horrifying explosion of religious fanaticism, its increasing network, and organized violence against people have shocked and shaken the world to its roots again and again.
The dogmatists are hardened robots remorselessly indulging in massacring innocent citizens with alarming ease and absolute fearlessness- with the divine scriptural sanction!
(Alas! Is there no way out for the world to vanquish the religiously indoctrinated robots and end religious dogma and their lunatic violent homicidal rampage?)
Decline Of Spirituality Of Religion
Jerry Coyne, the reputed American evolutionary biologist, geneticist, and rationalist provides the statistical evidence of nontheistic people in northern Europe: ‘The degree of pure atheists-those who agree with the statement, ‘I do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god or life force’-runs between 25 and 40 per cent of the population of countries like Germany, Denmark, France, and Sweden. The level of nontheistic spirituality ( ‘I believe there is some sort of spirit or life force, but not God’) is even higher: 25 to 40 per cent. When you add the two groups to get the total population of nontheists, it is a majority:71 per cent in Denmark, 73 per cent in Norway, 79 per cent in Sweden, 67 per cent in France, 52 per cent in Germany, and 58 per cent in the United Kingdom. In contrast, nontheists in America constitute only 18 per cent of the population, while 80 per cent affirm a belief in God.’
The European and American nontheists have been living their emotionally, culturally, spiritually, intellectually fulfilled life. They have been normal healthy human beings. Their secular rationality has not impacted their life in any adverse way.
Future Belongs To Rational Spirituality
This is a solid, incontrovertible and directly visible proof that religion is not needed for good human life ‘inspired by love and guided by knowledge.’
There are nontheists in other countries too, who also enjoy happy and fulfilled life in every field.
Human beings are borne free, but religions have enslaved them to irrationality. Let the religious irrationalists assiduously try to re-gain their-
‘Freedom from the burden of the ages, bending your head,
breaking your back, blinding your eyes to the beckoning call of the future.’
‘Freedom from the insult of dwelling in a puppet’s world,
where movements are started through brainless wires,
repeated through mindless habits,
where figures wait with patience and obedience for the
master of a show to be stirred into a mimicry of life’
(The above quotations are parts of a stirring poem of Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate, which he passionately addressed to India when the nation was not free.)
The world calls upon them to become rational and free from the religious, spiritual cage.
The reader can easily understand who has been a ‘puppet,’ who has been a ‘master of a show’ and which are ‘brainless wires’ in therealm of religion.
The faith spirituality is fake and has an ignoble past and nofuture. Rational spirituality, reliable, ennobling and robust, has a bright future.
‘Searched for the non-existent God
In the temples of stone and soil everywhere,
Failed to recognize the love and
Friendship present among ourselves here.’
This is the intense outpouring of the rationalist heart of one of India’s national poets, Dr.G.S.Shivarudrappa.
God is present in the heart of man in the form of love and goodwill among human beings. Men are Gods when they are in harmony and co-operation with their fellow beings. A man helps a man in every situation.
Human brotherhood is the natural and noblest bond. Human conscience is the universal binding force. A good man is God if we prefer to call him so.
The celebrated poet continues:
‘From the beginning, I have no interest in the subjects of God and spiritualism. More than these, my basic concern is for man and human relationships.’
REAL GODS ‘ ‘As I see, more than the invisible God, Jesus Christ, Basavanna, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Gandhi, who lived like us and reached godly heights, are venerable to me. Their concern for the life and solving the pains and privations and upholding the values-because of these, they deserve our veneration! And because of this, temples and related concepts of God did not enchant me. So I do not like the class of people, who exploit common people’s superstitions as their capital in the name of God…………… Instead, love, friendship, kindness, mercy are our Gods.’
WORLD WITHOUT GOD
The poet’s sensitive heart has seen the truth of the ultimate reality that is life on this planet. He has sharply differentiated the truth from the myth, the myth of the other world( heaven and hell). Life is the truth and after-life is the myth; life is the beginning and death is the end.
The poet eloquently echoes Basavanna, the 12th-century Indian religious rebel extraordinary on humanism and enlightenment.
NATURE IS GOD
Man is next to Nature. Nature is his mother. Nature, in a sense, is the god and man her child.
This is our world; the other world is illusionists’ dream world.
Life on this planet is good without god; the godless world is real and good.
And this has been the truth since the flowering of life on this planet.
Responses are welcome.