Can a Hindu be an atheist?

What is the first thing you think about when you think about Hinduism?

If you are anything like I was a couple years ago, you’d think, “A polytheistic Religion with millions of gods.”

If you are anything like I was a couple years ago, you’d only be sort of right.
I used to use the Memecard below a lot on Twitter:

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I have Praveen, @openmindedatma on Twitter, for letting me know that it is not accurate. He understood the point I was trying to make, but I had fallen victim to my Western Ignorance of Hinduism, although Praveen was far more diplomatic than that in pointing it out. I had made a Generalization Fallacy by implying all of Hinduism relies on their Holy Scriptures. The truth is, Hinduism is far more complex than I could have possibly imagined and Praveen was kind enough to educate me a little on the topic of atheism in Hinduism.

My mind was blown wide open and I count it as one of the pivotal moments in my education in world religions. I can never thank Praveen enough for showing me my ignorance and becoming one of my many teachers.

I knew Hinduism was a “Religion of many Religions.”, meaning it has many schools of thought and differing philosophies, but I always thought they were all theistic in nature. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

There is an ancient and rich history of atheism within Hinduism, dating back as far as 600BCE and likely earlier. Schools of thought like Buddhism and Jainism are fairly well known within the atheist circles I “hang” with as being atheistic in nature, but the Samkhya school of thought is also atheistic in nature and relies heavily on rationalism. Samkhya borders on having supernatural beliefs in that it see “consciousness” as being a separate reality from the “living” reality. It also refers to mind/body imbalances, which you could argue science is beginning to show this train of thought may have some merit. Considering what we have learned about the effects of excessive stress on our bodies and how exercise relieves stress and helps many mental disorders, it’s hard to argue against how important mind/body balance is.

Mimamsa is another Hindu school of thought that is generally accepted as being atheistic in nature, with the very name translating to “critical investigation”.  Some people I know would fiercely debate whether Mimamsa is “truly” atheistic in thought (risking a No True Scotsman fallacy), since it does subscribe to supernatural ideas like Dharma and Karma, and purported that the Human Soul not only exists but is eternal and omnipresent; basically making the Human Soul the divine entity. I would say it is indeed atheistic in nature since it does not hold to a belief in god(s), it just isn’t a naturalist or materialist philosophy.

That brings me to Charvaka (also known as Lokāyata and Bṛhaspatya). This is a Hindu school I like and I think a lot of you will too.  It is the school of materialism, empiricism and philosophical skepticism. Those words make my brain moist. Charvaka rejects supernatural notions such as reincarnation, souls, heaven, hell, karma, etc. and is critical of the Vedas (Hindu scriptures) claiming they were man-made and not of divine authorship. It doesn’t get any more “atheistic” than that.

I intend to do some deeper research into Charvaka as it has peaked my interest and I expect I won’t be disappointed based on the little bit of research I have done so far.

I hope that I may have blown open a few minds like Praveen blew open mine, but until next time, keep drinking the Kool-aid.

 

1 thought on “Can a Hindu be an atheist?

  1. Pingback: Can a Christian be an atheist? | The Cult of Eh™

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