In the second part we have included some important world religions
which are generally misunderstood as Godless mere philosophies
or idolatrous religions, followed by The Question of Suffering.
Many of their followers are themselves unclear as to their
INDUISM is a class in itself in the comity of religions. To find in Hindu literature evidence of revelation as understood in traditional Divine religions is a difficult task. This is so, mainly because on the one hand the concept of revelation is wholly confined to the Vedic teachings, while on the other, God is mentioned to have manifested Himself in human form to instruct mankind.
Though in Christianity too, Jesusas is described in a manner somewhat similar to that of Krishnaas, the similarity however is superficial. In the personification of Jesus Christ, God the father remains in command of the universe, and a manifestation of His sonship somehow displays itself in the human image of Jesus. Again in the case of Christianity, there is a third person entitled the Holy Ghost who is neither Christ, nor God the father, but is an integral part of the Trinity in its own right.
Hinduism however, is not clear concerning the manifestation of Brahmâ in the person of Krishna. Did he rule the heavens and the earth from his heavenly seat even when Krishna remained on earth, or was it Krishna who as God personified governed the universe during his human phase? Or was Krishna merely an apparition or icon while God remained in command in the heavens like He ever was? Questions such as these remain unanswered.
Again as far as revelation is concerned, Christianity is completely at one with the belief of traditional religions concerning the nature of revelation from on high. In Hinduism, however, the mode of revelation is not shared by traditional religions. To fulfil the role of an exemplar, God manifests Himself in human form. He does not have to employ a messenger to fulfil this task.
The case of the ancient rishis who are said to be the recipients of the Vedas is different. "Rishi" is a Hindu term for a religious divine who severs all ties with the material world and submits completely to the will of God. Despite the fact that the Vedas are believed to be Divine teachings, there is no clear account of the rishis having received revelation as a well-defined verbal message. The question whether the inspiration of rishis can genuinely be entitled as revelation will perhaps forever remain moot. What we know from Hindu sources is based entirely on their belief. Although different ages are mentioned by different scholars, they are unanimous in their claim that the rishis are the most ancient of all human beings.
This description of Hinduism is in all probability born out of human fancy. Man always interpolates, misconstrues or misappropriates Divine teachings after the prophets have come and gone. No wonder then that the messages of the Hindu prophets were also distorted by the future generations of those who followed. When we suggest that the Vedas must have been interpolated, we do not mean that all the Vedic teachings underwent a complete man-made transformation. This is never permitted to happen to Divine scriptures by God. There is always retained some of the original truth, untouched and unadulterated. It is in the light of this that a careful study of every religion at its source is always rewarding. A careful scrutiny of the source material of Hinduism reveals it to be no different from other Divinely revealed religions in fundamentals.
With a slight twist in the kaleidoscope, the perception changes dramatically. Enough evidence can be presented from the Mahabharat and Bhagavad Gita that Krishnaas never claimed Godhead for himself, nor did he ever claim immortality. Krishnaas can easily be identified as just another prophet of God, no different from those who appeared before or after him throughout the recorded history of religion.
As portrayed in his authentic biographies, Krishnaas is known to have been born on earth, around 1458 BC, like any other human child, to Basudeba and his wife Deboki. They named him Kinai (Kinhai). The name "Krishna" was given to him later, meaning "the enlightened one". He is known to have led an ordinary child's life with an exceptional flare of the supernatural (which is also related concerning many other prophets of God by their followers). He lived like humans, acted like humans and attended the call of nature like humans. During his childhood, he occasionally took childish licences, like stealing a kilo or two of butter, or at least that is what is claimed by the Hindu analysts. We believe however that it was no crime on his part, children who are kind of heart do similar things in their own right for the sake of their poorer playmates. Such a child in the circumstances described generates love rather than abhorrence. All this is but human, in no way different from the birth and lifestyle of other prophets of God. He grew up to a strong adulthood and acquired and displayed outstanding qualities of leadership. In the battlefield he led great armies to epoch-making victories. In ordinary life, he rose to the exalted position of a great spiritual exemplar and performed his role as a reformer, the like of which had seldom been seen in India. He admonished people to become righteous and to eschew evil. To him it is important to destroy evil-minded people who want to wipe out religion and to promote Godlessness.
As far as his physical description goes, we do find some oddities. The image of Lord Krishna as portrayed by Hindu artists depicts him as having four arms instead of two and is also shown bearing wings. He is often portrayed standing with a flute pressed against his lips. Again, some comely maidens rather colourfully dressed are shown to throng around him. These are gopis. Gopi is a term applied to such womenfolk who tend the cows. It is a term similar to that of a shepherdess. It should be remembered here that the title of Krishna himself was that of Gao'pal which means "the tender of cows". This, when read together with the Biblical accounts of Israelite prophets as shepherds tending the sheep of the house of Israel, makes the similarity between the two abundantly clear. As India was a country of cows instead of that of sheep, the common people are referred to as cows. Hence for Krishna to be entitled a tender of cows, is quite understandable. Likewise, reference to his disciples as gopis presents no mystery either.
Other episodes woven around the image of Krishna can also be read as parables and allegories rather than matter-of-fact statements. As regards the image of Krishna possessing four arms and wings, it can be symbolically interpreted to mean that highly ranked servants of God are gifted with extra faculties. The Holy Quran too, mentions wings in relation to the Holy Prophetsa of Islam. He is enjoined by God to lower his wing of mercy over the believers. Similarly, when angels are mentioned as bearing different numbers of wings, it is their attributes which are referred to, and not physical wings.
But it often happens that religious allegories and parables are taken too literally by the followers of religions and thus their underlying significance is altogether missed. The image of Lord Krishna and what is shown to be around him, is no exception.
Krishna is also called Murli Dhar which means a flute player. The flute here, is evidently a symbol of revelation because the tune that the flute emits is not emitted by the flute itself. It only transmits that which is being breathed into it. Hence, it was Lord Krishna himself who has been depicted as a flute played by God. Whatever tune God played into him he most faithfully transmitted to the world. Thus the reality of Krishna can be seen as no different from that of any other messenger of God who, as a faithful custodian of Divine messages, passes them on to the world unchanged. The flute thus becomes a most expressive symbol of the integrity of prophets assuring the world that they say nothing from themselves, other than what has been revealed to them from on high.
ET US NOW TURN to another fundamental feature of Hinduism, which is shared only by a few other religions, the most well-known among them being Buddhism. We refer to the doctrine of reincarnation. This doctrine is entwined with two other Hindu beliefs relating to the eternity of the soul and that of the matter on the one hand, and the eternity of the Supreme God and other lesser gods on the other. According to this philosophy, life on earth is not generated as a completely new creation. Every living thing that exists, though not eternal in itself, is composed of eternal constituents. The mother earth to them is only a mixing laboratory where soul and parts of matter are moulded together to give birth to a myriad of living forms. Thus they believe in the creative faculties of God only as those of an apothecary or a pharmacist. He does not possess the power of a Creator who can create something out of nothing.
Their vision of the universe envisages three levels of existence. The first and the highest is occupied by Brahmâ the chief god, along with many other lesser ones. They perform various functions in the universe for which they are suitably equipped. Some are responsible for maintaining the raising of clouds or the creating of thunderbolts. Some others are responsible for the administration, maintenance and command of natural phenomena. They enjoy a measure of comparative freedom within their own respective domains and seldom come to clash with each other. But when they do, woe to the universe. Storms are raised in heaven and furies are let loose upon the earth. It always pays to be on the right side of these gods or goddesses, otherwise their displeasure could cost the mortals most dearly. There are gods and goddesses of wealth, there are gods and godesses of fertility, there are gods and goddesses of health, longevity and what not. The mythical gods who occupy this level enjoy eternity.
The second, or the middle order of existence comprises soul and matter. It is they who, when combined together, make the lowest order of existence which relates to life on earth. According to this Hindu philosophy, it is Brahmâ, the supreme among gods, who alone possesses the power to bind souls to matter for the creation of life on Earth.
How and when this exercise began and to what purpose, is discussed at length in the Hindu philosophical literature with reference to the Vedic teachings. They believe that the beginning of life on earth did not take place in the manner as prescribed by the modern scientists. It did not originate with the appearance of the most rudimentary organisms and bio-units, in the primordial soup of the oceans or upon the surface of rocks a billion years ago. Thus writes Professor J. Verman, in his book The Vedas:
'... those scholars whose minds have been fed with the spurious Darwinian theory of evolution, find it difficult to understand this secret of revelation. However, we have overwhelming evidences to show that man's earlier stage was a better one, and there is no ground to believe that the pre-historic men were necessarily primitive. The Vedic rishis were not simple minded people. They were poets, visionaries, and spiritualists, all the three in one. Their students who too were rishis by their own rights, were capable of understanding the real import of the mantras the moment they heard them... we are also told that there was a gradual deterioration of the psycho mental powers of the people. The generation of the seers also started disappearing.'1
Thus according to his understanding of the Divine scheme of things, the earth is created eternally, again and again and yet again, so also is the life on earth. At the birth of every new earth, a new world is born. In the beginning of the creation of the world, Brahmâ reveals the Vedas, the constitution of the universe, to the rishis, on the basis of which they prepare laws to govern the actions of other men on earth. So life began with the human beings rather than with other forms of life preceding them.
Another passage from the same book further elaborates the role of the four rishis sitting on the roof of the world and what they were to bequeath to the future generations of man:
'... four seers, viz. Agni, Vaayu, Soorya and Angiraa, who were really men of great intellectual excellence and spiritual eminence, being moved by the soothing and enchanting scenes of the creation, while looking around from the roof of the world, from the holy region of the celebrated Maanasarovara lake in Trivishtapa (modern Tibet), the land of the gods, across the Himalayas, the prime source of the great rivers like Ganga, Sindhu, Shatadru and Brahmaputra, surrounded by the majestic snow-capped peaks and the fascinating natural phenomena, their hearts filled with ecstasy and rapture, their senses sublimated, their souls elevated and exalted, their minds filled with quest for knowledge, in a poised receptive state of awareness, went deep into meditation and exerted themselves. Then they saw into the spheres of reality, different from the physical universe and heard the divine eternal, speech-potent sound from within, and had simultaneously, the vision of the truth...'2
Thus, the Vedic teachings as understood by the Hindu pundits, would have us believe that life did not evolve, but devolved. Human generations which were to be born in a distant future from the time of the great four pioneer rishis were destined to deteriorate in all their faculties in comparison to the earliest men. This declining graph in human faculties also covers their moral behaviour. In the Hindu philosophy of Karma and reincarnation, it certainly augers ill for the future of the human race. According to Professor Verman:
'Destroying future life means, preparing to be born among species of living beings inferior to human beings. This is the fruit of action, this is the punishment for bad actions. The punishment comes in the form of deprivation of the various human faculties and organs of sense and actions. This is the doctrine of karma, and this is the system how the divine jurisprudence functions; this is called the rule of law in nature.'3
We believe that by attributing this doctrine to the Vedic teachings, the Hindus have done no justice to the honour of the Vedas. If such statements are to be taken seriously, the story of the origin of life will have to be rewritten altogether. In the new vision of the origin of species, Karma would certainly play the most pivotal role. The struggle for existence, survival of the fittest and the genetic mutations which the evolutionists so fervently talk about, would be rejected outright as mere figments of science fiction without an iota of substantial evidence to support it. The only key that would remain to unlock the riddle of life would be Karma.
Following this cue we can safely infer that life began its journey with the creation of holy men of the highest order, but as future generations were born, they began to deteriorate mentally, physically and spiritually. It did not take them very long to fill the earth with sin. With sin, comes Divine punishment and they rapidly began to lose their human status. They must have been deeply dismayed and shocked to watch the transformation of humans into animals of the lower order, but they had only to blame their own sins. The law of Karma must operate and the sins must take their toll. Hence it should not have been an uncommon experience with them to witness the birth of numerous new animal species instead of normal human babies during the course of reproduction.
But perhaps this is not how the Hindu religious scholars envisage the origin of species and how Karma operates. In the absence of a clear-cut statement on this point, one can only attribute to them some possible interpretations within the framework of their overall belief. Perhaps they envision the unfolding of the mysteries of life on earth in a different pattern. As man began to deteriorate during his journey away from the time of the four rishis, his reproductive faculties began to dwindle and an epidemic of sterility broke out. Rapidly the number of humans began to reduce and surprisingly a myriad of various animal species began to spring forth from the surface of earth.
The earth split open here and there, as the elephants and the lions erupted. So also appeared the cats, the dogs, the hyenas and the wolves. From water emerged the fish in all shapes and colours, in multiple measure and sizes while the turtles did not lag far behind. Suddenly the insects invaded the animal kingdom, like locusts appearing from nowhere. Underneath such visible forms of life, the invisible kingdom of bacteria and viruses must have proliferated far more rapidly. But alas, despite all the attempts and warnings of the four rishis, man refused to submit and continued to rebel against the Vedic teachings. As a natural consequence of their sin, reincarnation of humans into lower forms of animal species must have run amok as if with a spirit of vengeance.
Finding no more space on the flat surface of the earth or in the depth of oceans, man began to be born within the human gut as well. What of the roundworms, the flatworms, the tapeworms and the threadworms—who would not even take pity on infants—there were an untold number of other viral or bacterial guises in which the erstwhile humans must have invaded the human body in the blood stream, in the capillaries, in the cellular tissue of flesh and the vital organs. The lymph would not be spared, or the bone marrow for that matter. What an ingenious plan to have man punished by his own hands. Yet, he would not see.
An extremely interesting scheme of things no doubt, in support of which Professor Verman claims to possess 'overwhelming evidence'! The only little snag we find in this scheme is the fact that humans continue to become more sinful with the passage of time, yet they are not diminishing in number. On the contrary, their population is exploding.
This takes us back to the ancient time when life
just began with the creation of four rishis and a myriad of common
men. If man was at his best in spiritual and social conduct at
the time, then there was no question of his transmigration into
the lower species after that generation had died. The scheme
of Karma guarantees that as long as this state of piety was maintained
by man, no animal species could have been created. They could
only be created as a result of punishment to a sinful generation
ROFESSOR VERMAN seems to have an answer to this dilemma. Human generations, as they moved away from the pious generation of the rishis, began to disintegrate in their character. Evidently therefore, the moment man became sinful, the gates for the creation of other animal species were flung wide open. From then on, there was no dearth of sinful human souls to be condemned to the rank of subhuman species during their reincarnation.
But such a scheme could only work if the total population of humans at that time were a billion or more times greater than their number today. The total number of animals belonging to all the species of life runs into trillions upon trillions upon trillions. Hence, it can be safely inferred that all these animals from bacteria upwards must have been human once. That being so, the human population, at the time of the great holy rishis must have been astronomical, defying all calculations. In such a case, this earth had to be a billion times more massive than it is today to accommodate the entire human populace of God-fearing ancient followers of Vedic Dharma.
Incidentally, scientists also inform us that the land of Tibet, where the four great rishis are related to be sitting at the beginning of time, was not yet created. It came into being much later—a billion years ago, as a result of continental drift and the subsequent collision between their plates. This clash of claims, between the geologists and the Vedic authorities, casts some shadow of doubt on the scenario of the four rishis, serenely watching the world go by from their lofty post on the Tibetan high planes. But of course the Hindu scholars, like Professor Verman, have a right to dismiss this geological yarn to be as hollow and devoid of sense as the theory of evolution. This too, should be chucked into the rubbish bin of scientific hallucinations into which the theory of evolution had been earlier dumped.
Turning again to the issue of the human populace, which sprang from the holy loins of the great rishis, it must have swelled to enormous dimensions because it was they who were to be the great-forefathers of all the animal species to follow. It would be their sinful souls who would be demoted to the rank and file of the lower animal kingdom. The size of the human population at that time had to comprise the total number of animal species which were to be born after. One is indeed confounded to visualize such a colossal number of humans squirming, wiggling-waggling like mountains of worms on the surface of this tiny planet Earth. All that could be surveyed from any rooftop anywhere, call it Tibet or the Himalayas, would be humans, humans everywhere, and not a morsel to eat.
Re-examining the issue of Karma, let us now return to a purely academic discussion. The fate of every generation of life hinges entirely upon the Karma of its previous generation. The soul in itself is a neutral entity; so also is the matter to which it is bonded. As such the real question which Hindu sages try to resolve, relates to the wisdom behind the creative policy of God. If He is a just God, they argue, why should He display partiality to some over others? It is to answer this apparently unanswerable question, that they present the philosophy of the eternal unending circle of deeds and corresponding rewards or punishments. For the transmigration of souls it is this priniciple which works as an ongoing circle of cause and effect, crime and punishment, goodness and reward. As against this view, the image of God perceived by other major religions of the world is that of an All-Powerful Supreme Being, who can create at His own Will whatever He pleases. As such, He is the Supreme proprietor of all creation, enjoying absolute liberty to dispose of them as He pleases. His hands are free. He can make whatever He likes. The principle of justice in relation to the choice of His creation does not apply. However, by virtue of being All-Wise, All-Fair and All-Powerful, He provides to perfection all that is needed by any animal species, internally and externally. Thus an amoeba could be as happy and content within his tiny insignificant domain as a great king sitting on his majestic throne.
Such is not the freedom which can be justifiably enjoyed by the supreme god of Hindu mythology. Not being their creator, he has no right to interfere with the freedom of the soul and matter subjecting them to his slavery. There is also the question of choice at every act of creation. Why should one be made better than another, or placed higher in the order of creation? Why should one be born in the stately palace of a king or be delivered in the gloomy emptiness of a pauper's shack?
It is this dilemma which necessitates the provision of some manner of justification for God in relation to His multifarious scheme of creation. The Hindu philosophy resolves this question by suggesting that God never takes an arbitrary decision in His capacity as a Creator. Contrary to the rest of the world's religions, they see the earth as a place of punishment and reward. The conduct of life on earth, according to this philosophy, will directly bear upon the future shape to be granted to it in its next incarnation. The supreme god Brahmâ adjudges every act of life during its sojourn on earth. The future rests upon its own Karma.
Life and death are interwoven as parts of an eternal scheme of goodness and reward, crime and punishment. But the problem is that, when the soul is picked by God from its abode in space and brought down to Earth to be bonded with matter in the form of some species of life, it is at that instant that a term of imprisonment is imposed upon it without a previous Karma. It is this first imprisonment which constitutes a glaring violation of justice and fair play on the part of God Himself, justly warranting His own incarnation into the lowest forms of animal species.
Returning to the discussion of how Karma works, it should be understood that it is an extremely intricate scheme which takes into account even the minutest variations in the good or bad conduct of life on earth. These variations could help God to pronounce a punishment to be harsher or milder or a reward to be lesser or greater.
Every crime would not necessarily result in the transformation of every sinful human into another animal. A person who was a king during his previous incarnation for instance, could be turned into a poorly beggar during the next. Likewise, a beggar could be transformed into a Royal Highness during his next incarnation, all depending upon their respective bad or good conduct in the sight of God, during their previous term of life on earth.
As already explained, depending on the merit of each case a species can be transmigrated into any other during its reincarnation. A human in his previous incarnation could as well be turned into a worm in his next. An unpleasant surprise indeed, but one should thank one's own sinful stars for that.
Where does the chain begin? That is the real question—an insoluble eternal enigma. If every reincarnation requires a previous incarnation then how would the chain begin? Surely, it cannot be done by simply pushing the cause and effect chain further back in time. This would require all life forms with their respective Karmas to be eternal. A proposition which even the most zealot of the Hindu pundits could not endorse because the eternity of animal life would render the act of creation redundant and meaningless. The only other alternative is to perceive Karma, and its consequences in the form of a chain which is linked together in a circle. But this is not possible either, because even such an unending circle of Karmas and their resultant reward or punishment, cannot be possible without a beginning and an end. An eternal circle of cause and effect can only be logically entertained if it comprises identical links. If there is a change in the nature of links, the beginning and the end can immediately be identified. Links which show for instance, a downward or upward trend of deterioration or improvement cannot be organized into an eternal circle.
Let us return our gaze once again to the Vedic scenario of the beginning of life and the origin of species. If it is a circular chain, as the Hindu theologians insist, then after the deterioration has reached its maximum, the chain must become unidentifiable from the links which mark its beginning. After the human species has been wiped out from the face of the earth, all that is left is the animal life of lower order, constantly sliding down the scale because of their persistent sinfulness. The only task left now would be to link them to a new beginning of life on earth, so that the circle is completed. Life on earth according to the Vedic teachings, as we have already seen, always begins with the four rishis reclining on the Tibetan roof of the world. How on earth could the vermin and insects and centipedes and rats and skunks (the end products of the sinful humans), be hooked on to the lofty start of life in the holy personages of the four rishis to complete the circle! The circle of transmigration we have just described, can neither be linked onto its beginning nor can it be described as eternal, because eternity demands an unbroken continuity.
If the end of the chain has to be linked on to this beginning, the consequences are too horrendous for anyone to visualize. Imagine a serpent sitting coiled with its tail held in its mouth. No sane observer can call it an eternal circle with no beginning, no end. A tail is a tail, even if securely pressed under the teeth. This circle will have a head and it will have a tail; it will have a beginning and it will have an end. No man with the slightest respect in his heart for the great rishis (four in number) would permit himself to envision their rebirth out of a tail made up of the lowliest forms of animal existence.
We do sincerely hope that no Hindus, educated or uneducated, subscribe to this bizarre fantasy of an eternal circle. Nature debunks this notion absolutely. There is not the least evidence to support it.
The issue of Karma should also be examined from another angle. The term Karma applies to all actions for which the actor is answerable, i.e. he will be rewarded if the action is good, and punished if it is bad. This requires that the Divine Will must be clearly expressed, regarding the goodness or badness of actions, otherwise no one can know as to what God approves or disapproves. It is for this specific purpose that the four great rishis are placed in the beginning of mankind. If Vedic teachings had not been revealed to them, humans could not learn what was good or bad for them, hence they could not be held accountable for their Karmas. Thus the principle of Karma can only be applicable to humans alone, who are provided with a clear charter of do's and don'ts by the pioneer four rishis.
When it comes to animals, other than humans, the problem becomes rather complicated. Do all species have their own well-defined books based on Divine law? If not, how would they conduct themselves and how could their Karma be adjudged? Will their intuitive behaviour replace the Divine teachings? If it is the intuitive behaviour which fills the void of Divine teaching among animals, then how can they exercise any free choice?
Again, in humans, the Divine teachings are vouched through the human agency (the four rishis were no doubt human). But it is somewhat difficult for one to perceive the office of prophethood being discharged by animals. Every species has its own limited sphere of understanding, with a specific ingrained way of life. If prophets are to be sent to them, they must be sent separately to each species. If animal rishis are to be born among them they have to be born equally among the lions, the brown bears, the white bears, the hyenas, the reptiles, the fishes of all sorts and the birds of all feathers. Can one imagine for instance a prophet crow or a rishi wolf?
But that is not all. If instincts replace the Divine teachings and works as the animal code of life, then the same question of choice in relation to the instinctive animal behaviour will have to be raised and answered. Can they accept or reject instinctive trends? It is instinctive to a horse to eat grass or grain, could a horse possibly defy this Divine injunction? In case he chooses to be wicked, can he possibly change his diet from vegetable to flesh, thus blatantly violating the Divine law of instinct? In such a case, of course that horse could justifiably be punished by God for being a wicked horse. Perhaps the most likely punishment for him during his next incarnation would be a transformation into a donkey or a dog. What if that donkey also persists in the misconduct which was responsible for his degenerate birth and chooses to remain carnivorous, relishing dog meat more than green grass. What would be his next incarnation one wonders—maybe he would be turned into a dog, left at the mercy of other wicked donkeys—God knows best.
We are building this hypothetical scenario, only to bring to the surface the underlying absurdities in the philosophy of reincarnation, based on the current Hindu understanding of Vedic teachings. It is farthest from our intention to hurt anyone's sensibilities.
The same hypothetical illustration applies to the entire animal kingdom. If a lion, for instance, will be adjudged goody-goody and noble only if he remains true to his instinct, then his disregard for the sanctity of life will be a sure sign of his nobility. If on the other hand he abandons eating flesh, showing a wanton disregard of his noble instinct, then such a beastly vegetarian lion is likely to be demoted during his reincarnation to, maybe, a carrion eating vulture. Thus the beasts of the jungle could only be adjudged gentlemen by God, if they continue to follow their ungentlemanly instincts.
It should have become apparent by now, that in no way can intuitive animal behaviour be treated as a Divine code of life, as long as the animals are deprived of the freedom of choice. If, however, the advocates of The Vedas insist that the instinctive animal behaviour is a substitute for a Divine law, then all animals must be promoted to the human rank during their next reincarnation because they follow their instincts meticulously—much better than humans ever follow Divine laws. It is an extremely dangerous proposition. It would lead inevitably to the total extinction of non-human life, culminating in a most gigantic explosion of human population, pushing man back to the beginning of time. Will there be any food for them to survive, or will they turn to cannibalism as a last resort? Allah knows best.
To the good fortune of the human race, however, no plan of Karma can conceivably work among the non-human animals. Once condemned to be animals, souls can in no way regain their lost human heights ever again. Thus the scheme of Karma would swing the fate of man from one extreme to another. Which of the two would he opt for if ever he were to make a choice? Neither, of course, if he has an iota of wisdom. Not to be is the only sensible option.
We consider it proper to observe here that the Hindu doctrine of transmigration of the soul also offers a third option, but only for the insignificant few. Such humans as lead a life of perfection, like the four ancient rishis for instance, are not recycled immediately, but there is a long intervening period of relief for their souls. This is the vision of Hindu Nirvana or heaven. But this period of rest, even if it runs into millions of years, must come to an end. At last, such souls having enjoyed their Nirvana must return to earth for reincarnation.
But this critical appraisal of Hindu mythology has been carried too far afield. The Hindu religious scholars may claim the right to divorce their faith from reason as has been often done by the followers of some other religions. In that case, despite anything proved to the contrary, they would still maintain that somehow a balance is juggled by God between various animal species, and they are all judged by some invisible system of Karma.
Each individual belonging to any species of life is judged in accordance with its Karma. If a man misconducts himself, he would also be transmigrated into an animal of a lower order during his next visit to earth. Likewise, an animal with good conduct could be raised to the status of a human in his next incarnation. A well-behaved dog for instance, could be born into the house of his earlier master as the master himself, while the wicked master could be reborn in his own house as a dog to his new human master (ex-dog).
It is evident that this philosophy has its internal logic. Although God appears to be an absolute dictator Who despite having no right subjugates free soul and free matter to an eternal chain of slavery, He does so on the basis of a system of justice. He presses soul and matter together, always as a reward or a punishment for their Karma in their previous earthly sojourn. Also as already mentioned, there remains a chance, however thin, for a soul to gain Nirvana which is a temporary deliverance from material bondage. Hence what we despise as death could in fact be a great benefactor which liberates the soul from body, its corporal partner. For how long shall the separated couple enjoy their deliverance from each other, is a question which will be decided in relation to their conduct during their wedded life on earth. If they had conducted themselves ideally—the physical body taking good care of the soul and the soul discharging its responsibilities to the physical body—the longer would be their reward of separation. No different would be the fate of married couples. The noblest among them who have the ideal relationship as husband and wife, most satisfied with each other's pleasant loving company, would no doubt be awarded the Nirvana of the highest order. This means that their souls will be separated not only from their bodies but also from each other for an extremely long time bordering on eternity. The sinful couples, however, may be despatched to earth soon after they both finally die, to yet another even longer spell of each other's company of sinful carnal pleasures! Good Heavens! What a Hell on Earth and what a Heaven in heavens!
O A SCIENTIST, the Hindu philosophy of life, death, and eternity may appear devoid of sense and reason, yet it cannot be denied that this philosophy has a special charm about it which keeps many a modern man and woman enchanted by it, without bothering about its rationale. The most powerful attraction it possesses lies in the hope that one would return to this miserable earthly life again. Man is the strangest of all the living paradoxes. All his life he continues to complain against the strings of miseries attached to life, hoping for death to sever them, yet how he longs to return to the same earthly dungeon again!
The imprisonment of life and the bondage of sorrow are in fact one and the same thing. How can deliverance from sorrow be possible without death? Yet how he yearns at the same time to pay an unlimited number of visits to the same wretched abode. Evidently, the charm of this philosophy lies in the universal love of life ingrained in the fibre of the living.
Yet, those infatuated by this promise of another tomorrow, should not forget that human society as a whole has substantially deteriorated in moral and religious conduct. For such as these to entertain the hope to be reborn as humans yet again, is a dream most unlikely to be fulfilled. If the Vedic philosophy of Karma is right then most probably the majority of the humans of today will be reborn tomorrow as monkeys, wild boars, crocodiles or mere worms. To live again is good indeed but will it be worth the risk at such a price?
Returning to the issue of the four rishis—the recipients of the Vedas—if one accepts the time scale in which they are fitted, they must have been born aeons before life began on earth, in an age when the earth's atmosphere was empty of oxygen. What Karma preceded their promotion to the rank of rishis, is the question. Who could survive in an oxygen-free atmosphere generation after generation after generation and what did they feed upon is no less an important question. All that polluted the oceans and the air was rudimentary forms of viruses and bacteria. Either the first generation of these holy men survived on this staple food or maybe human life began on earth not with holy men but with holy viruses and pious bacteria. If the time calculations regarding the appearance of the four rishis or other holy men on earth is erroneous, if they did not appear on earth as early as maintained by some scholarly pundits then the beginning of life on earth and the Vedas had to have happened much later. Their appearance upon earth could not be possible before the Tibetan archipelago came into being. In fact the entire Indian subcontinent was shaped similar to what we find it today, some time between twenty million and forty million years ago. Although India had been carved into a sub-continent around one hundred and sixty million years ago it had yet to begin its merger with the rest of Asia. It was this merger which in fact was responsible for the eruption of the Himalayas and other great mountains including the Tibetan archipelago. It matters little when exactly Tibet was created within this time scale. The evidence of fossil remains proves beyond a shadow of doubt that life had begun some eight hundred million years before the creation of the Indian subcontinent. Whoever and whatever they were who sat on the top of the Tibetan plateau could not have been human because humans appeared on earth much later. At that time the most advanced form of life that had evolved was dinosaurs. Evidently one cannot conceive a dinosaur rishi by any stretch of one's imagination. Hence, if the Vedic teachings in their interpolated form as we find them today are to be taken literally, then the rishis and their holy companions must have landed on earth from some alien planet. But this solution, if at all worthy of being called a solution, would create a far more intricate and utterly absurd problem to solve. The story of Karma will have to begin not with the four rishis but with the weird and varied forms of life emanating and evolving from the first bio-units on earth a billion years ago.
An unprejudiced appraisal would clearly reveal that the doctrines of Karma and reincarnation are the products of a decadent age of Hindu philosophy. It must have happened when the Hindu theologians attempted to find answers philosophically to the enigma of life and death, reward and punishment, by themselves, without enlightenment from on high. Still, it is not impossible to trace the elements of Divine revelation in the Vedas. The elements of ignorance which we find therein today must have been the product of human interpolation from that which was interpolated into the Vedas by the human hand.
Before ending this discourse, we would like to examine the nature of yoga, and where it fits into the vast intricate network of Hindu philosophy. It is of special interest to the main subject of discussion, because it is widely claimed that through deep contemplation, a yogi can reach the fountainhead of knowledge and truth within himself. However, it is not at all easy to determine with any measure of certainty whether the yogic system is Hindu in origin or Buddhist. It is an instrument of learning which at least Lord Krishna is never reported to have employed.
But that is not all there is to yoga. Apart from its meditational value, yoga is also a highly developed physical science, which attempts to promote the latent qualities of human physique to their maximum. Miraculous deeds are reported to have been performed. It is even claimed that through yoga one can reach a state of almost perfect hibernation, whereby the metabolism is brought to a near standstill and life seems to hang by its finest thread. Some yogis, having mastered the art of yoga, are said to have lived for days submerged under water. Some reports even speak of their uncanny ability to de-materialise at one place and materialise at another. Some exaggeration indeed!
Yet some other special powers developed through yogic practices, cannot be waived off as mere exaggeration. For instance, some yogis are known to have held their breath for so long, that an ordinary man would die many a death during the same period without breathing. Again, yoga is a form of exercise which helps to improve the quality of human physique in every sphere of its functions. It is also acclaimed as an excellent remedy for the alleviation of physical and psychic tensions. We have briefly discussed the yogic potential for improving the physical qualities of man and developing some latent possibilities in him, which otherwise would remain dormant. The same can also be spiritually enhanced by disciplining the human ways and conduct of life.
Now we explore these possibilities with reference to the yogic system. The yogis claim that they can reach the fountainhead of inner truth merely through the instrument of contemplation and inspirational yogic practices. How far they are right or wrong, is only a matter of opinion. Unless an inner truth, discovered with the help of yogic practice, is presented to the world as a solution for human problems, one is not in a position to accept or reject this claim. The maximum that can be granted in this regard is the fact that yoga in itself is an excellent code of exercise.
- VERMAN, J. (1992) The Vedas. Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. PVT. LTD, New Delhi, p. 6
- VERMAN, J. (1992) The Vedas. Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. PVT. LTD, New Delhi, p. 4
- VERMAN, J. (1992) The Vedas. Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. PVT. LTD, New Delhi, p.24