How can we share bhakti with atheists who are nature-conscious and are relatively in the mode of goodness?
Transcription by- Keshav Gopal Das
Question- What about atheists who are nature conscious and are generally good people? How can we share bhakti with them?
Answer- Bhagavad-Gita explains people in three modes – goodness, passion and ignorance. These three types are actually three different psychologies and religionists or atheists are also found to be in these three psychologies.
Many times people take to atheism primarily because of bad experience with religion. For example, someone may find some religious practices very oppressive or irrational; the believers were very fanatical etc. Sometimes it appears that religion is cause of atheism. Sounds strange but religion when misapplied and mis-practiced, it could be the cause of atheism.
Thoughtful people want to make sense of their lives. They look around them for some explanatory framework. If they come in contact with a religion which is just a set of dogmas – do this, don’t do this etc., that will likely alienate them from religion. They might feel that probably atheism make more sense and that may drive them to accept atheism as the driving principle in life.
When we preach to such atheists, we can start by telling them that we all try to make some sense of life. If you look at science, actually it is trying to make sense of life, e.g. Newton seeing fruit falling tried to go deeper and connected the event with some cause or law (in this case gravity). However, the bigger question is – where does this cause/ law/ order come from? What is the basis of assuming that there is order in nature?
On the other hand, the materialistic view of life- which is simply based on the notion that an individual takes birth, grows, lives for some time and in the end dies – seems to be not making any sense. All our lives we kept on doing things which made quite some sense to us, but then in the end we are dead and gone, everything finished. The materialistic world view does not seem to offer a reason on what is the purpose behind a life?
Hence in the materialistic worldview, we continue to find islets of meaningfulness while sinking in the ocean of meaninglessness. This is illogical. For example, scientists are very excited about their successes that they have developed a theory, understood a phenomenon etc. – which is like islets of meaningfulness, but in the end everything finishes with death – which is like saying that everything is meaningless- everything meaningful thing that you do in life will end abruptly one day.
Hence, a thoughtful person should question, if there is ocean of meaninglessness, why there are islets of meaning? Or if there are islets of meaning, might be the ocean is also meaningful? We cannot have it both ways – if there is meaning in some part of cosmos then why not there is meaning everywhere? Or if there is no order then why there is order at all?
Further, let us also understand how science progresses? Even if some observation does not make sense to a scientist, he does not stop there. The scientist assumes- maybe there is some deeper theory involved, which we need to find. Take example of Newtonian physics vs. quantum physics. The Newtonian physics explained in general the world around us but could not explain things at cosmic level where very big objects are involved. It also could not explain things at an atomic level (e.g. fundamental particles). At this point science did not assume that there is meaninglessness beyond Newtonian physics but continued exploring deeper – maybe there is some other theory to explain things. Hence came, relativity physics, quantum physics to explain such phenomenon.
On similar line of thinking, for materialistic worldview, why can’t we also say that there is some higher theory, deeper philosophy to explain the “apparent” meaninglessness in life? For example, if we start accepting that our core is spiritual and there is a supreme being in control, life’s mysteries starts falling in place like the blocks in a jigsaw puzzle, and things start to make much more sense.
To summarize, we should approach atheists, who are thoughtful people from a thoughtful perspective by appreciating their thoughtfulness but pointing out the incoherence of the bigger picture.
In Bhagvad-gita also, Lord Krishna urges Arjuna to deliberate deeply and then decide what to do. Krishna does not impose himself on Arjuna that you HAVE to believe in me! In BG 18.63, Krishna says:
iti te jñānam ākhyātaṁ
guhyād guhya-taraṁ mayā
yathecchasi tathā kuru
Thus I have explained to you knowledge still more conﬁdential. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.
Bhagvad-gita calls for exploration of deeper realities. It does not demand faith rather it invites exploration. That way we can invite even thoughtful atheists to explore life’s spiritual paradigm.