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On Hinduism and Atheism

Hinduism was never uncomfortable with Atheism and in fact it is perhaps the only religion that has accepted a fully developed school of thought supporting atheism. The Carvaka philosophical school rejected the notion of karma, moksha, the authority of the sacred scriptures including the Vedas, and the immortality of the self. The Carvaka School of Thought only recognizes direct perception (anubhava) as the true means of knowledge (pramana).

While atheism negates the existence of God, Hinduism sees God in all animate and inanimate. In fact Hinduism sees atheism also as a path to reach the Supreme Knowledge.

Prakash Shesh, a management consultant, writes in Times of India

Hinduism — the religion of a large majority of Indians — officially accepts that atheists can continue to be Hindus. India has produced many towering personalities who did not believe in God. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, despite his traditional upbringing, was an avowed nonbeliever. The Indian atheist list would include: Babasaheb Ambedkar, Veer Savarkar, Ram Manohar Lohia, Manavendranath Roy, Ramasamy Naicker (his protégés MG Ramachandran and Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi), Baba Amte and Khushwant Singh. Atheism not only rejects faith in life after death, spirits and God, but is also severely critical of religious principles that do not stand the test of scientific scrutiny.

Hindu mythology believes that Brihaspati is the presiding deity of atheists. His philosophy is known as the Charvaka (or Lokayata) school of thought, which rejects Vedic doctrine and ridicules ritual as self-serving procedures of no real benefit to anyone. An estimated 2% of India’s Hindus are atheist. Few of them are aware that their religion allows for atheism. Most of them believe that society regards the atheist as abnormal, immoral and irreligious and this is why many atheists are wary of publicly admitting to their beliefs.

Hindu philosophy is very liberal and extremely tolerant towards every living being, including plants and animals, there is no official costume, fixed days for worship, insistence on ritual, no desire to proselytize and ‘grow’ the religion beyond its current geographical boundaries, no rigid methodology for religious procedure. Hinduism gives its followers complete and utter liberty to choose their deity. Hinduism is tolerant but can we say that of all its followers?