From Health Central: When You Stop Believing -- A Hindu View

Q: I've recently come to realize that I no longer believe in God. Does this make me a bad person?

God, the Divine, Brahman, Allah, Paramatman, Yahweh, Lord, Shiva, Ishwara, Vishnu, Bhagavan - which of these terms have I used to label the Supreme, and which of them don't I believe in now? And if I reject all of these terms for the "Supreme" or "Divine," am I rejecting the concept of the Divine or the Supreme? How have I or how do I define or conceive Brahman or God? Is my definition of God the same as the definition of Brahman? Do I describe Allah in the same manner I describe Ishwara? Is God the Omniscient, Omnipotent other from whom/which I am separate, and therefore I either fear Him/Her or love Him/Her but because I now no longer believe in God, I neither fear nor love, anyone or anything? And if God is all loving, does it even matter whether I believe or not? And if God is a fearsome schoolmaster who wields the stick if I dare ever stray, what horrors are in store for me, and will belief in such a God make me a good person?

In the first verse of the Purusha Sukta in the Rig Veda, one of the oldest extant texts, the Supreme Being, Purusha, is described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet and enveloping everything and extending by ten inches. Humans tend to imagine the Divine given our human capacities and limitations. Thus the Rig Veda is also a text of skepticism, acknowledging human limitations.

Do Hindus conceive of God as Purusha? Not necessarily. The way Hindus conceive of God is complex, and thus the cliché that Hindus have 330 million Gods, and that you can choose your God based on ishta (choice) and adhikara (authority/qualification). Many Hindu texts, however, warn the individual that losing faith is dangerous, and that it is the worst sin an individual can commit. So, in the Caraka Samhita, the ancient Hindu text on medicine or Ayurveda, there is an explicit caution about denying the Supreme. In the Yoga tradition too, which is not necessarily theistic, the fourth injunction is swadhyaya - studying and reciting scripture.

But Hindu philosophy includes the heterodox school of atheism called Carvaka, in which the idea of reincarnation and after-life is rejected, and it is claimed that religion is invented by man for selfish purposes.

So, in this season of Christmas and other religious observances, what should we do about God? Accept Her or reject Him? Believe or be skeptical? We may be inclined to reject God because we have suffered some recent tragedy, been disappointed in love, or lost a job. Or maybe we just discovered Prof. Dawkins' writings! Our love for God waxes and wanes because we identify ourselves with our physical body and with our mental fluctuations. Thus, the second sutra in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra proclaims - Yogah chitta vritti nirodha -- that the goal of yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of mind.

But stilling the mind is hard, we all know. One of the yoga traditions in India is the Bhakti tradition, and acknowledging the Bhakti yoga tradition as adumbrated in the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali offers the student the goal of Samprajnata Samadhi - where the mind remains concentrated on the object of meditation - a deity of your choice. Bhakti is divine worship, and it is said to be the easiest and most joyful path to self-realization. So, why not be joyful, and become a bhakta (a devotee)? You could be a bhakta of Jesus or of Vishnu or of Lakshmi - that is your choice, your ishta.

Non-belief does not make you bad, but it sure can make your path through life lonely and hazardous. Choose bhakti instead.

Published originally in The Washington Post, online --

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