Upanishads and the Poor Calibre of Hindu Apologists

Written by June 20, 2013 7:41 pm 235 comments

A short entry on my blog Critical Sagacity entitled Major faults of the Vedas and the Upanishads received some responses from offended Hindus, but there was one comment-response which was particularly characteristic of conservative Hindu protestation:

The irrationality in the world is Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism). They are violent by nature, inconsistent with each other, and absurd in their very core. They make believe that God is some angry old man with white beard lashing a whip. And man they keep fighting and fighting, wars after wars… dang!!!

Upanishads on the other hand explore the true nature of Brahman. The elegant principals of Dharma i.e. Karma, Punarjanma and Moksha were laid down by the Upanishads – any literate man will be able to tell you that. All Dharmic religions i.e. Sanatana Dharma, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism build on this.

I certainly don’t blame you for being an intolerant Christian or Muslim because that’s in the core teachings of Abraham. Dang one of the 10 commandments state that your God is a jealous God. How ridiculous can that get??? God save these people…

This article is my response to that comment.

Krishna Holding Mount Govardhan to protect the inhabitans of Vrindavana from natural disasters

Krishna Holding Mount Govardhan to protect the inhabitans of Vrindavana from natural disasters ca. 1790. Attributed to Mola Ram (1760-1833). Image from Wikimedia Commons, in public domain (links to source).

At first look, the comment above is a very silly and puerile defense of the irrational themes of Hindu religion and starts off with an unrelated accusation and ad-hominem attacks on other religions and ends with fallacious presumptions about the religious  and ideological affinities of the blogger, that is me.

On a closer look, it represents another sad and somewhat discouraging state of discourse of religious controversies. That is the very low and poor caliber of intellectualism that exists or is emerging from the ranks of Hindu defenders.

It is doubtful that these protestors like the one above are part of the higher rungs of Hindu or Brahmin intelligentsia. I have not had much success in  the past in engaging the upper crust of Hindu elites in any meaningful debate or controversy as this exchange with Anil Mehta of Chinmaya Mission shows.  That is because these elites do not feel the need to engage in any debate as their hegemony or brute dominance of religious ideology and feudal-patriarchal socio-cultural framework is not under any real threat of breakdown.

So skeptical reformist effort and activism has to deal with a different class of intellectualism from the Hindu faithful that uses the staple of fallacies, abuse and presumption to respond to critical attacks on the ideas of  religion inspired irrationality.

As I attempt to pick apart the above comment, statement by statement, I will try to highlight the fallacies as well as the complete ignorance or arrogant defiance of the rules and framework of argument, debate and disputation or both that these types of individuals display.

The irrationality in the world is Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism).

I am guessing that commenter meant to write “The irrationality in the world is due to Abrahamic religions”.

First off, it is an irrelevant and unrelated argument, that has no connection to the point raised in the original blog that Vedas and Upanishads have major faults as works of religion and metaphysics. What relation does irrationality in the world due to Abrahamic religions have to do with the faults and blemishes that are internal to Vedas and Upanishads?

To attribute irrationality of the world to just three religions is in itself a very sweeping generalization. So do other religions not cause any irrationality in the world? While the point of this rebuttal is not to argue against the irrationality of the three Judaic religions, these three are not alone in their irrationality. Any impartial observer and critic can surely note that Hinduism and eastern religions can be as irrational and absurd as the Judaic religions.

They are violent by nature, inconsistent with each other, and absurd in their very core.

To claim that the the Judaic religions are inherently violent (violent by nature) is again a very strong and sweeping claim and also a confusing one since it mixes up or conflates the tendencies or actions of religious followers with the teachings and/or dogma/doctrine of these religions. In case of the Bible, since it consists of both the Old and New Testament, the charge of violence against Christianity will face the challenge of the slippery apologetics of Christian adherents (both literalists and otherwise). While people can quote passages from the scriptures  that encourage violence and killing, to make the broader accusation of a religion itself being violent tenable, the accusers have to show evidence that majority of the adherents of these religions are either practising or inciting violence.

The most incredulous and astounding justification (not just an appeal or call) for violence comes not from the scriptures of Judaic religions, but from the Bhagavad Gita, currently the most revered and ‘studied’ book of Hindu religion.

Here Krishna exhorts a confused Arjuna

  • that taking up war and killing is the duty of a Kshatriya (casteist call) and
  • that not waging war and killing his enemies is unmanly (sexist bias) and
  • that since the people killed in the violence do not really die as only their body dies and the soul cannot be destroyed (metaphysical argument) and
  • that the death of the enemies is already ordained by him as the Lord (fatalistic super naturalism) and
  • that since body is unreal, violence and killing is of the unreal body or matter and not of the soul which is the only real thing (metaphysics again),

so war, violence and killing are all fine and indeed a duty to be carried out.

Of course the BG does not care to bother or explain that if the soul cannot be killed, what is the point of killing the body and how is the destruction of a so-called unreal thing, a righteous victory for the protagonist engaging in war and killing.

The impression or presumption that adherents of one religion think poorly of other religions and their followers is not enough to accuse any religions of violence.

To claim that these religions are inconsistent with each other is plausible. But then Christianity does not have to be consistent with Islam or Judaism. But then this is again an unrelated argument. The inconsistency of the scriptures or the teachings of Judaic religions does nothing to rescue the Vedas and Upanishads from their inherent faults.

As I mentioned in the earlier point, Hinduism can be shown to be as absurd to the core as Judaic religions. The Hindu dogma of reincarnation or Punarjanma is as absurd as the Christian belief in resurrection of the Christ or Islamic belief in an afterlife in paradise. For instance, it is very strange that Hindus don’t find anything absurd in the attributes and qualities of their own deities like:

  • Some gods having 4 or 8 hands
  • Some gods having 3 heads and another god having 6 heads
  • Some goddesses having 10 more hands
  • A god having the head of an elephant, 1 1/2 tusk, writing an epic with his broken tusk and riding a mouse.
  • A god sometimes shown with 2 eyes and sometimes with 3 eyes.
  • A wish-fulfillment goddess with 4 eyes!!
  • Gods who need vehicles from the animal world like eagle, peacock, mouse, ox and can’t travel by themselves.

They make believe that God is some angry old man with white beard lashing a whip. And man they keep fighting and fighting, wars after wars… dang!!!

If the God of Judaism is some angry old man with white beard lashing a whip, that caricature does not apply to Christianity and Islam. The God of Islam is formless and the God of Christianity is a triune (Father, Christ and Holy spirit) almost like the troika of the Upanishads (Brahman, Atman and Maya). The caricature of Judaic god cannot be generalized and applied to Christianity and Islam which have changed and refined their metaphysical attributes and theories after they were spawned from Judaism. This kind of vague generalization shows poor knowledge of comparative religion on the part of the commenter and Hindu apologists. The way these people portray rival faiths, shows that they are ignorant of even some of the most basic ideas and themes of those religions.

Then the rant about people of Judaic religions fighting amongst each other is another instance of irrelevant argument of quoting events of the past (religious crusades) and applying them to the present. This argument also does not consider the role of religious composition and relative social positions of rival adherents in understanding the cause of religious conflicts. In India, the religious clashes invariably involve the majority religion. It is less likely that Christians and Muslims would clash and riot in India or Nepal. The communal clashes in India are mostly of the Hindu-Muslim and Hindu-Christian type. Again the Hindu-Christian clashes and riots are less than the Hindu-Muslim type, since Muslims in India far outnumber Christians. To illustrate further, in Sri Lanka, the religious strife is usually of the Buddhist-Hindu variety, rather than Buddhist-Christian or Hindu-Christian type.

And wars are now not fought by people, but by sovereign countries, for reasons that are geo-political and economic, rather than religious. Both the Indo-Pak wars of recent decades had geo-political triggers and had very little to with religion.

Upanishads on the other hand explore the true nature of Brahman.

I can’t stop laughing at these kinds of claims. Upanishads and exploring the true nature of Brahman! Really! Other than the usual Vedanta vested interests like Swamis, Acharyas, missions and cults, only people who have not read the Upanishads can make such fool-hardy claims. If one says that the Upanishads pose riddles and quibbles about Brahman without explaining what it really is and whether such a thing as Brahman is meaningful or useful or worthy of pursuit, that would make some sense. How can anyone explore the true nature of something that is a fiction, fantasy or a bogus intellectual construct. Saying that Brahman is all-pervading and is everywhere and in everything is not exploring its nature, but making vague and unverifiable claims. The same can be said about the sky, air and atmosphere. So then how is Brahman any different from or greater than these natural entities? Then claiming that everything emanates from Brahman and dissolves into it is not helpful or explanatory or explorative, since Upanishads provide no means for validating these grand claims.

Mere assertions or arguments, how many ever times they may be repeated in the Upanishadic texts are not a proof or validation of a claim or statement.

When in some verses of the Upanishads, the authors themselves confess their inability to understand or realize Brahman, where is the point of exploring the true nature of Brahman. Asserting that Brahman is transcendence or beyond senses or perception is an exercise in intellectual escapism and a tactic of deflecting proper inquiry or examination of a claim. These rhetorical tactics will not cut any ice with criticism or proper inquiry.

Just because non-existent things or people (unicorns, UFOs, dragons, Bigfoot, Vishwarupa) can be conceived or contemplated, does not prove their reality. In the same way some states like transcendence or supra-consciousness can be contemplated. But their existence or reality, if at all, still needs to be established independently and without recourse to testimonials, assertions and circular arguments.

The elegant principals of Dharma i.e. Karma, Punarjanma and Moksha were laid down by the Upanishads – any literate man will be able to tell you that. All Dharmic religions i.e. Sanatana Dharma, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism build on this.

It is the stock Hindu belief that Karma (deeds) leads to Punarjanma (re-birth) and Moksha is a release from re-birth. But what is so elegant about this is hard to understand. Other than that the Hindus of today have learned this from almost infancy and never felt the need to examine and question these dogmas. Where is the evidence for re-birth and what efforts have Hindu believers made to really seek and search for its evidence other than taking the words of the Upanishads and Gita on faith and at face value. Not all the Upanishads endorse the theory and doctrine of re-birth. Some Upanishads don’t even mention re-birth. And unfortunately for the ignorance of the average Hindu believer, the idea or notion of birth as well as Moksha is likely an import into Upanishads from the Sramana school of thought (which inspired Jainism and Buddhism). The invention of soul and scare of re-birth into lower forms of  evolution (like animals and insects) seems like the reactionary innovation of Jainist-Buddhist metaphysics to counter the mass killings of cattle and agrarian friendly animals at the elaborate and grotesque Yajurvedic sacrifices.

Eventually Brahmin theologians seem to have hijacked this theme and woven it into the Upanishads and subsequent sutras and scriptures. A very poor historical perspective of how societies could have evolved and changed in ancient India makes the average Hindu understanding of their scriptures very shallow and narrow.

The poorly informed  Hindu apologist also cannot resist the itch of the current fashion in Hindutva circles of calling Hinduism the “Sanatana Dharma”. These fundamentalists know the meaning of neither Sanatana nor Dharma. Hinduism is surely not Sanatana in any way. In a narrow sense it is a Dharma, but not in the broad sense as with the case of Buddhism which can lay some claim to a code of morality of a secular and humanistic type as against the narrow caste and class privilege based morality of the Dharma Satras of Vedic Hinduism. I have tried to counter this Sanatana lie of the Hindu right in this earlier blog post.

And then again to expose his ignorance of comparative religion, we should remind the commenter that Sikhism is closer to Sufism or even Islam in its conception of a formless divinity and avoidance  of idol worship. It is in no way based on Hindu tenets of superstition like re-birth.

I certainly don’t blame you for being an intolerant Christian or Muslim because that’s in the core teachings of Abraham. Dang one of the 10 commandments state that your God is a jealous God. How ridiculous can that get??? God save these people…

But I would like to blame the commenter for his poor tolerance of religious criticism. Then he also accuses me of being an intolerant Christian or Muslim. Now offended Hindus are unable to make up their mind on whether the critic of Hindu irrationality is a Christian or Muslim. So either or will work for them. Just as they know or care very little about those religions and their teachings, their intolerance is also lumped together. And they also want their God to save such people. What a weird and contorted sense of generosity?!

I wanted to do a summary of the fallacies of the protesting Hindu right, but I am hopeful that readers and critics will be able glean that and more from the above responses.

(Editor’s Note: This article was earlier posted in the author’s blog.)

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This post was written by:

- who has written 13 posts on Nirmukta.

An accountant and a man of commerce by background and education, I am a Business Applications analyst by work and profession. I am a lover of diverse intellectual pursuits and interests. I have over time cultivated interests in literature, history and social sciences. In terms of beliefs, I have had in the past my share of swings between irrationality and rationality. As hopefully thinking processes and impulses mature, I am learning to cultivate the faculty of examining all systems and forms of thought and opinions, in whatever it is received and only accept those that accords with reason, logic and understanding.

235 Comments

  • @ Captain Mandrake, all Indians were not cowards to convert at the point of sword or at the pain of rape nor did they sell their souls for a few Kgs of rice and cheap American Milk powder!! Is that too complicated for you to understand?

    • This is disgusting in two way, one to blame the converted, other is to appreciate the unconverted- factually who tolerated those type of atrocity…? Why cannot we be a rational?

  • >>>>Do the Hindutwadi fascists like you ever wonder about when you complain about the role of Islam and Christianity in India?>>>> pl do enlighten us why they came to a “god forsaken” country like India. Were they here to do charity or to civilize the uncultured Pagans/Heathens/Kafirs?

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