Divine revelation gems from Chandogya Upanishad: Chapter 6 (Dialogue between Uddalaka and Svetaketu)

The Upanishads (also called Vedanta) are toward the end of the Vedas, the holy scripture of the Hindus. I must also say here that I am a Hindu. It is my fervent belief that these Upanishads contain wonderful gems of divine revelation about the mysteries of the universe and about divine power (formless God). Given below are some such wonderful gems of divine revelation from Chandogya Upanishad, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandogya_Upanishad.

I have included extracts of Chandogya Upanishad from Prof. Max Muller’s Sacred Books of East, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_Books_of_the_East, (spelt as Khândogya Upanishad in it) as that is out of copyright. It can be viewed from the index page here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe01/index.htm. I have used the term [MM, SBE] below to refer to Prof. Max Muller’s above mentioned book.

Readers who would like to see the Sanskrit verses in Devanagari (Sanskrit) script of Chandogya upanishad can do so here: http://www.astrojyoti.com/pdfs/DevanagariFiles/ChandogyaUpanishat.pdf. Note that Chapter 6 starts from pdf file page 50 but which has page number printed as 130 as the pdf file seems to be an extract from a larger file. I have also uploaded this pdf file on my blog here: https://iami1.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/chandogyaupanishat-sanskrit.pdf as the file has no copyright.

The shlokas (verses) below have the original Sanskrit verses in Roman (English) script followed by Max Muller,SBE English translation of it.

Chapter 6, Part 1

Verse 3: Yenaashrutam shrutam bhavati amatham matham, avijnaatham vijnaatham iti katham nu bhagavah sa aadesho bhavathithi.

[MM, SBE]: (‘His father said to him: ‘Svetaketu, as you are so conceited, considering yourself so well-read, and so stern,) have you ever asked for that instruction by which we hear what cannot be heard, by which we perceive what cannot be perceived, by which we know what cannot be known?’

Verse 4: Yathaa somya ekena mrt-pindena sarvam mrnmayam vijnaatham syaath vaachaarambhanam vikaaro naamadheyam mrttikethi eva sathyam.

[MM, SBE]: (‘What is that instruction, Sir?’ he asked. The father replied:) ‘My dear, as by one clod of clay all that is made of clay is known, the difference being only a name, arising from speech, but the truth being that all is clay’

Verse 5: Yathaa somya ekena lohamaninaa sarvam lohamayam vijnaatham syaath vaachaarambhanam vikaro namadheyam lohamithi eva sathyam.

[MM, SBE]: And as, my dear, by one nugget of gold all that is made of gold is known, the difference being only a name, arising from speech, but the truth being that all is gold

Ravi: My understanding of the above verses is that there is an underlying core being-ness (or existence-ness or is-ness) which is the vital aspect of all existence. It is this vital being-ness which is manifested in different ways and appears as the universe to us. This being-ness cannot be easily known by gross intelligence. This being-ness can be known or realized by subtle intelligence.

Chapter 6, Part 2

Verse 1: Sath eva somya idam agra aaseed ekam evaadvithiyam, tadd haika aahuh, asad evedam agra aaseed ekam evaadvithiyam, tasmaad asathah saj jaayatha.

[MM, SBE]: ‘In the beginning,’ my dear, ‘there was that only which is (τὸ ὄν), one only, without a second. Others say, in the beginning there was that only which is not (τὸ μὴ ὄν), one only, without a second; and from that which is not, that which is was born.

Verse 2: Kuthas tu khalu somya evam syaath ithi hovaacha katham asathah saj jaayethethi, sath thu eva somya idam agra aaseed ekam evaadvithiyam.

[MM, SBE]: ‘But how could it be thus, my dear?’ the father continued. ‘How could that which is, be born of that which is not? No, my dear, only that which is, was in the beginning, one only, without a second.

Verse 3: Tad aikshatha bahu syaam prajaayeyethi, thath thejo srjatha: thath thejo aikshatha bahu syaam prajaayeyethi, thad aposrjata, thasmaad yatra kva cha shochathi svedate vaa purushah thejasa eva tad adhy apo jaayante.

[MM, SBE]: It thought, may I be many, may I grow forth. It sent forth fire. That fire thought, may I be many, may I grow forth. It sent forth water. And therefore whenever anybody anywhere is hot and perspires, water is produced on him from fire alone.

Ravi: It is the being-ness (or existence-ness or is-ness) that was there even before creation of the universe. And it was one only, without a second. There was no void prior to creation. Only this being-ness was there. Creation of the universe happened as this one and only one being-ness thought or willed that it become many! That resulted in the great variety of creation but all of which has this being-ness as its vital core. [I prefer not to comment on the fire and water part of the verse 3 above except for saying that I think it may be related to the understanding of ancient sages about material composition of the universe with fire and water being considered as key elements. I don’t think these views of ancient sages about material composition of the universe are important from the perspective of understanding the key spiritual revelation message of the above verses.]

In my earlier readings of this sixth chapter of Chandogya Upanishad, I had understood ‘the knowledge which if known, all things can be known’ to imply that a ‘self-realized’ person knows everything even about the material universe. So I thought that a self-realized person would, besides knowing his ultimate reality, also know about all physical sciences and about past, present and future of everybody including himself. But now my understanding is that Uddalaka tells Svetaketu that if you know the source (“being-ness” or “existence-ness” or “is-ness”) then you know the cause of the material universe and knowing the cause/source is the only important thing worth knowing. Perhaps it is like how when we are caught up in a ‘sleep’ nightmare dream we get very worried while in the dream. But the moment we ‘wake up’ from the ‘sleep dream’ we realize that it was ‘just a dream’ and dismiss the ‘sleep dream’ experience. We then focus on the ‘waking dream’ experience as the only important thing worth worrying about.

So my understanding of ‘self-realization’ now is that the ‘self-realized’ person realizes that his reality is the changeless “being-ness” or “existence-ness” or “is-ness” which projects his changing personality, mind and body as well as this entire (changing) material universe drama. He then stays aware of that changeless “being-ness” reality (sometimes also referred to as changeless “awareness” or “consciousness”) and lives out his/her life as a ‘waking dream’. He is not really bothered about material knowledge like, say, the laws of physics as they deal with the changing ‘waking dream’ world and not the changeless reality (“being-ness”). Of course as he lives in the material world he does need to have some level of material knowledge so that he (his mind & body) can survive and, in some cases, thrive. [Nisargadatta ran a ‘Tambaku/Bidi’ (Tobacco/cigarette) shop in Mumbai and so must have been quite knowledgeable about tobacco besides being ‘self-realized’ :-)]. The self-realized perhaps look upon the world as the great Leela of the Lord and some of them, at least, may be enjoying this Great Play, this phenomenal and utterly wonderful creation that the Maya Shakti of the Lord has projected.

Further, IMHO, Ramana and Nisargadatta did not seem to have any knowledge about their own future let alone future of others. So once again, most ‘self-realized’ persons may just be watching their own mind, body and ‘material life’ go through various ups and downs but not getting affected by it as they are aware of and established in their experience of the ultimate reality of their existence as the changeless “being-ness” (also referred to as unchanging consciousness).

Of course, some great siddhas (miraculous spiritual adepts) do have fantastic powers where they can do amazing things in the material world. And I believe that Avatars can do virtually anything and know virtually everything as they are Almighty God in human form specially endowed with Avatar supernatural powers. Devotees of the Lord can also, through their intense Bhakti, get the Lord to do amazing things/miracles. But many ‘Jnana’ marg (wisdom path) ‘self-realized’ persons like Ramana or Nisargadatta did not seem to possess or be even remotely interested in possessing ‘siddhis’ (miraculous powers).

This being-ness cannot be easily known by gross intelligence. This being-ness can be known or realized by subtle intelligence. I think this distinction between gross intelligence and subtle intelligence is crucial. This chapter (VI) of the Upanishad starts with Uddalaka pricking the puffed up ego of Svetaketu who thinks that by learning the Veda for many years (12 years perhaps) he has become very learned. This ‘gross intelligence’ learning pride balloon is burst when Uddalaka asks about the knowledge by which what is unknown gets known (6.1.3). Then Svetaketu becomes ready to receive the ‘subtle intelligence’ related knowledge (self-realization related knowledge) which Uddalaka imparts.

In the Jnana marg, unraveling the mind and eventually making it disappear, and thereby experiencing the “changeless being-ness” seems to need extremely subtle analysis of ‘experiential’/’existential’ reality. That is very tricky business as it usually would unravel one’s material life as well :-). And most people are too comfy with their material lives to pursue the subtle analysis of ‘experiential’/’existential’ reality to that extent.

I guess people involved in family life/ regular material life (‘samsara’) would typically find it almost impossible to do subtle analysis of ‘experiential’/’existential’ reality as the pulls and pushes of family life/normal material life would not be conducive to creating a detached and serene mental space which seems to be necessary for such subtle analysis of one’s reality. That may be why, in ancient days, the Upanishads (and the ‘aranyakas’) were ideally supposed to be read after withdrawing from ‘samsara’ and moving to the forest. However just moving to the forest alone would not guarantee serenity :-). Serenity may perhaps get achieved only after the arishadvargas (six passions, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arishadvargas) of Kama (desire/lust), Krodha (anger), Lobha (Greed), Moha (Infatuation/delusion), Mada (Pride/Arrogance) and Matsarya (Jealousy) are conquered or, at least, tamed.
—-

Chapter 6, Part 8

Verse 1 Uddaalako haarunih svethakethum puthram uvaacha svapnaantham me somya vijaanihithi, yathraithath purushah svapithi naama, sathaa somya tadaa sampanno bhavathi svam apitho bhavathi thasmaadenam svapithithy aachakshathe svam he apitho bhavathi.

[MM, SBE]: Uddâlaka Âruni said to his son Svetaketu: Learn from me the true nature of sleep (svapna). When a man sleeps here, then, my dear son, he becomes united with the True, he is gone to his own (Self). Therefore they say, svapiti, he sleeps, because he is gone (apîta) to his own (sva).

Ravi: My understanding of this is that while we are awake the being-ness (consciousness) seems to us to be limited to our mind-body complexes. But in sleep (or deep sleep rather) we lose our mind-body identifications and are closer to the pure being-ness (consciousness) state.

On the lighter side, now I have a ‘spiritual’ understanding of why I love and enjoy my sleep so much :-).

Chapter 6, Part 9

Verse 1 Yathaa somya madhu madhukrto nisthishtanthi naanaathyayaanaam vrkshaanaam rasaan samavahaarame kataam rasam gamaynthi.

[MM, SBE]: ‘As the bees, my son, make honey by collecting the juices of distant trees, and reduce the juice into one form,

Verse 2 Te yathaa tatra na vivekam labhanthe amushyaaham vrkshasya rasosmi amushyaaham vrkshasya rasosmiti evam eva khalu somya imaah sarvaah prajaah sathi sampadya na viduh sathi sampadyaamaha ithi.

[MM, SBE]: ‘And as these juices have no discrimination, so that they might say, I am the juice of this tree or that, in the same manner, my son, all these creatures, when they have become merged in the True (either in deep sleep or in death), know not that they are merged in the True. ‘

Verse 4 Sa ya esho anima aithadaathmyam idam sarvam thath sathyam sa aathma thath thvam asi shvethaketho ithi bhuya eva maa bhagavaan vijnaapayatvithi thathaa somya ithi hovaacha.

[MM, SBE]: ‘Now that which is that subtle essence, in it all that exists has its self. It is the True. It is the Self, and thou, O Svetaketu, art it.’ ‘Please, Sir, inform me still more,’ said the son. ‘Be it so, my child,’ the father replied.

Ravi: The ‘Thath thvam asi’ OR ‘Tat tvam asi’ Mahavakya comes from this Upanishad. The literal translations of these three words seems to be ‘You are that’. Like the other Mahavakyas, the full import is stunning, ‘You are (or your ultimate reality is) the subtle essence, the cause of all this world!!!’ Some mystics claim to have had such an experience of their reality, their truth. They experience that they are in others and that others are in them! What an awesome, mind-blowing and staggering experience that must be? I feel that there are degrees of self-realization. I know others may laugh but that’s how I feel as of now. The lesser degree is attained when a person realizes his “changeless being-ness” or “changeless is-ness”. But experiencing oneself in all and all in oneself seems to be a distinctly higher degree of self-realization.

—-

Ravi: I would like to add a reference here to the Neti, Neti teaching in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (and elsewhere too), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neti_neti.

A small extract from the above wiki page:

Neti neti, meaning, “Not this, not this”, is the method of Vedic analysis of negation. It is a keynote of Vedic inquiry. With its aid the Jnani negates identification with all things of this world which is not the Atman, in this way he negates the Anatman. Through this gradual process he negates the mind and transcends all worldly experiences that are negated till nothing remains but the Self. He attains union with the Absolute by denying the body, name, form, intellect, senses and all limiting adjuncts and discovers what remains, the true “I” alone.
— end extract —

Ravi: During my younger days when I read the Neti, Neti statement of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, I felt that the main point it conveyed was that Brahman was indescribable. Now the understanding is that one subtly analyses one’s experiential/existential reality and keeps negating whatever can be negated experientially (subtle experience). E.g. Experiencing that one is not the body and then that one is not the mind and not the intellect. What then remains experientially is awareness alone and that cannot be negated or denied. Further that awareness never changes (changeless “being-ness” or changeless “is-ness”) and that is the experience of Brahman, or, at least, partial experience (lesser degree of experience) of Brahman.

Experientially getting deeper into one’s reality and negating the mind and intellect can wreck the normal life that one leads. So perhaps this process can be done typically by recluses and not by people leading regular lives. However this process of Ultimate Existential Real Analysis seems unbelievably simple theoretically :-).
—-

Ravi – Overall Notes

The shlokas mentioned in this document and the comments related to it are about the subtle, deep and ultimate truth of existence. Experiencing the “changeless being-ness” or “changeless is-ness” would give paramshanti (deep peace or as the Holy Bible says, the peace of God, which passeth all understanding), fearlessness (e.g. no fear of death) and freedom (from worldly wants/responsibilities/bonds). But the experience of Love does not seem to be mentioned. So the impression I have, right or wrong, is that the vedantic (upanishadic) path gives the saakshi (witness) experience but not necessarily the experience of Love.

The Karma Kanda (Samhitas and Brahmanas) part of the Vedas revels in the worship and adulation of the Awesome, Almighty and Wonderful God. It is a phenomenal and staggering achievement of Bharat/India that the Vedas have been preserved across millennia and yugas. Perhaps that achievement too is due to the Grace of God. He sees to it that whenever reverence and worship of and faith in the Vedas dips either some Mahapurushas are sent amongst humanity or He Himself comes as the Avatar to restore reverence and worship of and faith in the Veda to its glorious and rightful place. Even today certain mantras from the Karma Kanda of the Vedas like the Gayathri, Purusha suktam, Rudram and Mahamrutyunjaya mantras are revered and devoutly chanted by millions of Bharatiyas/Indians. But once again it perhaps is more awe, reverence, wonder and worship but not so much of Love.

In contrast, the Great Accounts/Histories of the Avatars (e.g. Bhagvat Purana and Ramayana) clearly show the Great Love that Almighty God displays when He comes in human form. Almighty God in human form like Rama or Krishna allows Himself to be bound by the love of His Bhaktas. The Avatars declare and affirm that God is Love and that man can sanctify his human birth by loving God with all his heart and lead a joyous life. The Avatars come for all humanity or, at least, for all the devotees of God, not just for the Vedantic/Upanishadic truth seekers or for the Vedic Karma Kanda worshippers, and show how one can lead regular lives (family lives/material lives) and make that life a great and happy gift of God by having staunch faith that All is God and Loving All to the extent possible considering one’s duties and responsibilities.

Some say that the Upanishadic/Vedantic truth seeker must first go through the Karma Kanda of the Vedas phase and acquire the attitude of intense devotional worship and reverence of Almighty God before he embarks on the Upanishadic/Vedantic phase of spiritual sadhana.

Perhaps the Upanishadic/Vedantic truth seeker can bring in the experience of Love in his/her sadhana by having staunch faith in Almighty God’s (avatars’) declarations that God/Parabrahman is Love, and do his/her seeking of his/her existential reality with a heart full of Love for Almighty God who is his/her Creator. The Mahavakyas from the Upanishads like ‘Tat tvam asi’ may perhaps lead the seeker to the goal of realizing that he/she is a part of that same Loving God and is in essence the same Loving God.

Another fascinating aspect of the Vedantic search is the role of faith. Some mystics say that just intense faith in a Mahavakya like ‘Tat tvam asi’ has the power to confer the experience of ‘Tat tvam asi’!! Such kind of intense faith perhaps has the power to tear away and discard all the false notions that the Great Maya of the Lord traps us in (like I am the body or I am the mind or I am so-and-so personality) and thereby grant the direct experience of the “unchanging is-ness” or “unchanging being-ness”.

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What I am Joyful about Being a Hindu

28th July 2013 Update: This article seems to have got pulled off Google search engine results. I presume that is because of certain sentences in it which may have been deemed communally sensitive. My intent is not to increase communal issues but to decrease it and bring more peace and joy :). So I have attempted to reduce sensitivity of this article by suitably editing it. I wonder whether Google search engine folks will have this article back in its search results now.

In response to Mr. Ramchandra Guha’s recent article in a mainstream Indian newspaper I had written a mail to him (and the newspaper’s Letters section). The following is a slightly edited version of its contents.

I read Mr. Guha’s article, “What Hindus can & should be proud of“, in The Hindu dated 23rd July 2013.

I agree with Mr. Guha that the 1971 war victory was achieved by an Indian army consisting of people from various faiths.

I also agree that Babri Masjid demolition is not something which should fill Hindus with pride. Given India’s very turbulent history since the Mughal invasion such ‘revenge’ attitude can create horrific tension and bloodshed as we already have seen. In my humble view, for such centuries old matters, forgive and forget is what the great Hindu saints and Avatars would advise.

Regarding the “story of Hindu pride” part of the article, I agree that Hinduism has had horrific caste prejudice over centuries and the great Hindu reformers mentioned in the article have played a vital role in reducing or removing many of these horrific prejudices. Given the reports of atrocities on Dalits that one reads about, it is clear that a lot more needs to be done on this front.

However the article does not seem to mention saints and mystics of Hinduism or associated with Hindus, who were above such caste and other prejudices. They taught and practiced all embracing forms of Hinduism (and other religions too in some cases) which appeal to Hindus of all castes and many non-Hindus too. I am joyful about being a Hindu due to these masters and I thought I should mention some of them below:

  • Meera whose devotion to Krishna won the admiration of Emperor Akbar and may have played a role in Akbar’s multi-faith initiatives and tolerance.
  • Sant Kabir who was a student of a Hindu master and who taught a wonderful path of love beyond narrow ritualistic boundaries of religion
  • The great Maharashtrian Bhakti saints of Tukaram, Namdev and Eknath as well as the Jnani Gnaneshwar.
  • How Hindus accepted the spiritual power and grace of the outwardly dressed Muslim, Shirdi Sai Baba. Fascinatingly, he lived in a then dilapidated Masjid which he named Dwarkamayi – a Hindu name – but would, it is written, frequently refer to Allah (Allah Maalik). I am very joyful about so many Hindus having accepted the teachings of Shirdi Sai Baba, including the simple but very powerful statement, ‘Sabka Maalik Ek’, and the devotion to Shirdi Sai Baba among Hindus being seen in many places across the country today.
  • Chaitanya Mahaprabhu showed the joyous path of chanting the name of the Lord and dancing in joy. Today’s worldwide ISKCON movement draws inspiration from that figure.
  • The article mentioned Vivekananda but not his master, the great mystic Ramakrishna, who showed the path of Bhakti to so many people and continues to inspire the Ramakrishna mission.

I am not so well versed about South India’s great Hindu saints of the past few centuries. So I will just mention some names: Bhadrachalam Ramdas, Yogi Vemana, Purandara Das, Raghavendra Swami, Annamacharya, Thyagaraja …

I am particularly joyous about being a Hindu as this religion produced in the recent past, great Advaita masters like Ramana and Nisargadatta.

Please note that I am not mentioning names of contemporary Hindu mystics and spiritual masters to avoid controversies.

Is Believing in a Personal God Childish?

Last updated on 21st November 2012

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_God states, ‘A personal god is a deity who can be related to as a person instead of as an “impersonal force”, such as the Absolute, “the All”, or the “Ground of Being”.’

So Jesus, Rama, Krishna etc. when looked upon as human beings infused with divine force/supernatural power would be personal Gods. Many intellectuals look down upon people who believe in such deities, as childish people. Einstein seemed to hold this view as per a letter of his, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2213513/Albert-Einstein-letter-uses-say-religion-childish-goes-auction-1-85MILLION.html. Some scientists today are strongly influenced by Einstein’s views and tend to have the same attitude.

Advaita Vedanta has the view that one’s inner self itself is God. But the view that I am God (an all powerful, all knowing being) is so counter to the experience of almost all of humanity that it is not acceptable to most of humanity, even if it were to be the ultimate truth which gets experienced only by the very, very, very rare fully enlightened beings.

In marked contrast, viewing God via an image, or as a divine force enveloping and controlling all of existence, of which we are a small part, to which we can pray to and get strength, and even have some of our wishes fulfilled is what appeals to most of humanity. Of course, the Abrahamic religions reject image worship but they consider God to be a divine power far greater than themselves (I am of God but not I am God – I think that is their view).

The history of humanity has these very, very powerful divine figures like Krishna, Jesus etc. who exhibited extraordinary powers. People could pray to them/God through them and get their wishes fulfilled! And they pray to them even to this day with some getting the divine response. Further, even in this day and age, some people are hugely fortunate/blessed to have experienced the mind-blowing divine power of living spiritual masters and mystics.

I am of the opinion that it is not childish to view the all encompassing divine power through a personal God like Jesus, Krishna etc. Even for an intellectual it may be far easier to pray to a personal God at times as against praying to a nameless and formless divine power. Some persons may, at different times depending on their state of mind, pray to a personal God like Jesus or Krishna, or to a nameless and formless divine power considered to be either within their own being or outside of their being. In other words they may pray to either the outer God or the inner God depending on their state of mind.

Enlightened spiritual masters tell us that intense prayer has its effect whether the prayer is directed to a personal God or to an impersonal God/divine force. They encourage belief in a personal God for suitably inclined people and forcefully reject notions that such belief is childish or wrong.

Praying Openly While Doing a PhD

Last modified on November 19th 2012

A correspondent sent me an anecdote. I have given it below in a slightly edited form.

A student who had done his undergraduate studies (and maybe post-graduate too) in a holistic, spiritual-cum-secular knowledge Indian university was doing his PhD abroad. Everyday, when he entered his office / lab in the morning, he used to pray for a few minutes and then start his work. His lab mates had observed him for quite some time and then quizzed him about it as follows:

“You seem to pray everyday. What if God does not exist ?”

The student replied politely, “If God does not exist, by praying I would have wasted only 5 minutes a day. Whereas if HE did exist, then by not praying at all I would have wasted my entire life !!”

This would be as good an answer as any we might hear !! 🙂

Does Presence of Pain and Suffering Imply That There is No God?

One Indian scientist-professor thinks so and has tried to spread that view among the public via a part of a newspaper article. The article argues for inculcating a scientific temper which is fine but goes way beyond the limits of science in its concluding part. The author mentions occurrences of natural calamities like earthquakes in 19th century Europe killing thousands of innocent people, including children which, the author says, convinced many thinking scientists that there is no god.

The author then questions, if there was an almighty god why did he not prevent it. He then states, “The only logical explanation was that there is no god with supernatural powers”, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/lets-ignore-science-at-our-peril/article4017252.ece.

That is a flawed logical conclusion. A correct logical conclusion that can be drawn from the previous statements is that if there was a god with supernatural powers he/it chose not to intervene to prevent the natural calamities.

A further question may be raised as to why did such a god with supernatural powers, if he/it exists, choose not to intervene to prevent the natural calamities. To generalize the question why does god allow pain and suffering? This is a complex theological question for which various religions have various answers.

The following are not definitive answers but some possible answers:
a) Perhaps it is part of the natural rhythm of existence that there is creation and destruction, pleasure and pain, joy and suffering/sorrow. Perhaps we cannot have one without the other.

b) Perhaps pain and suffering are triggers which make humans seek higher spiritual states beyond mundane material existence where he/she can transcend pain and suffering. Without pain and suffering humans may not have the motivation to seek higher spiritual states of existence.

Lack of a definitive answer to the above question does not lead to a logical conclusion that there is no god with supernatural powers.

What one can logically conclude is that if a god with supernatural powers exists then he/it does not always use his/its powers to prevent pain and suffering from happening. He/it may be using it on some rare occasions to prevent pain and suffering from happening e.g. miracles of such type claimed/reported by sacred scripture of various religions.

Epicurean Paradox – A Hindu Take

In an email exchange I was referred to the following Epicurean Paradox (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicurus):

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

— end Epicurean Paradox —

My take on it is as follows:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.

My understanding of Hindu philosophy and my belief is that good and evil are two sides of the same coin. Good and bad/evil actions done by living beings are, at least partly, out of choice. E.g. In one case, jealousy may lead a person to hurt another (bad/evil act) whereas in another case a person may overcome pangs of jealousy and not interfere with the happiness of another (not bad/evil act). Similarly one person may be indifferent to another person’s suffering whereas a third person may be moved to help the suffering person (good act).

The good and bad actions living beings do, typically, create Karmic effects which they experience later on in this life or a future life. Prayer to God (Divine Power) may give strength to face the fruits of bad Karma, and, in rare cases, cancel the bad Karma. Also, very importantly, at rare points in human history, intense prayer by devotees of God have led to Avatars take form like the Narasimha Avatar and, in this case, kill the evil doer who was harassing the devotee.

But these are beliefs – I certainly do not have solid historical evidence of Narasimha Avatar which is acceptable to scientists. Puranas and similar scripture of other religions may be viewed as myths by many scientists and I can’t really fault them for it :).

Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

He/It lets it happen but is willing to interfere in Karmic law only on intense prayer or something like that.

Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

At least partially answered in above points.

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

He/It is able and willing but only on intense prayer or something like that.

Fantastic Espousal of the Good of Religion by Honourable Mr. Tony Blair in Nov. 2010 Debate

A few days ago, I saw this very interesting debate held on 26 Nov. 2010, “Christopher Hitchens vs Tony Blair Debate: Is Religion A Force For Good In The World?“.

I congratulate honourable Mr. Tony Blair for his eloquent espousal of the good of religion in the face of very eloquent criticism of religion. I loved the way Mr. Blair accepted the valid parts of the criticism that the late Mr. Hitchens made but also put forward the good of religion quite powerfully and lovingly.

It was a joy to see such a debate being conducted in a civilized manner :). Usually such debates tend to become unsavoury. I congratulate both Mr. Blair and the late Mr. Hitchens for the civilized debate on such a sensitive topic.

A mail correspondent referred me to these reports on the 2010 Blair-Hitchens debate: Guardian and heresycorner.

My views on the debate are somewhat different.

Mr. Blair could be considered the loser judging by count of supporters vs. opponents – yes. Though I don’t know whether the numbers changed after the debate. My interest was not really in such counts but in the valid points of the discourse, as I saw it.

Hitchens zeroed in on the known failings of organized religion, especially in the Western world. He slammed the Abrahamic religions from the scriptural authority viewpoint though I don’t think the majority of believers of these religions interpret all of scripture literally. Perhaps it was just a debating strategy of his to zero in on this caricature of religious believers as people who interpret all of scripture literally and project it as if all believers are that way.

What I appreciated of Mr. Blair was that he accepted some of the valid points of Hitchens. But he was, at least in my view, able to put forward some important points. From what I recall of the debate, he made the following points that I liked:

a) The way Hitchens spoke one would think that all religions are pure unadulterated evil! Mr. Blair made the point about a lot of good being done by religions, IMHO, to bring a reality-check into the discourse.

b) He said that scriptural authority being interpreted literally (for each and every part of scripture) was not what most moderate religious believers approve (including him).

c) Many times it is not religion that is the main issue but politics & social issues that cause conflict. He referred to both the Northern Ireland and the Israel-Palestine problems.

d) He pointed out that removing religion from the picture, if at all that is possible, is no guarantee of such problems disappearing. He gave the example of Hitler and Stalin whose reigns of terror did not have any religious background.

e) He acknowledged that certain wrongs had been issued from the pulpit like in Christian Rwanda problem of Hutu & Tutsi. But he also stated that in the same problem many religious people had defended people of the other tribe and some even lost their lives doing it.

f) He advocated, if I recall correctly, focusing on the common good of religions and encouraging that.

g) He said Darwin and Christian religion can go together.

h) I felt that Mr. Blair presented the sober, moderate religious faithful view, which perhaps is the majority of religious believers in the Western world. He boldly took a stance which may not be supported by some rigid religious believers.

Hitchens was brilliant at his vitriolic criticism of religion. But then I felt he was playing to the gallery by using his brilliant command of the English language, his wit and his book-knowledge about religion (as against experiential-knowledge). He did not really respond, if I recall correctly, to Mr. Blair’s moderate religious faithful view. Maybe the structure of the debate was such that you don’t try to arrive at a meaningful solution but just attack the other party. So as a debater he perhaps did an excellent job in ensuring he ‘scored’ over the opponent.

But I felt Mr. Blair was the statesman looking for a solution rather than wanting to simply ‘score’ over his opponent.

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation seems to be a very interesting organization. It’s website states that it, “Promotes respect and understanding about the world’s religions through education and multi-faith action. We show how faith can be a powerful force for good in the modern world.” I think such an initiative is a wonderful one. I pray to Almighty God to shower His Grace on The Tony Blair Faith Foundation to achieve its above-mentioned goals.