Ask the (atheist) Hindu

From this thread.
Bosda gave me the excellent idea of starting this thread. Now, I don’t know if this thread will fly or not, but I thought I’d give it a shot. There are tons of debates & discussions regarding the Big Three: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, but very little regarding Hinduism. And it is true that a lot of young Hindus know little to nothing about their religion.

I say, bollocks to that! I’m atheist and yet still follow my religion. Hinduism is one of the religions that can be followed in this way.

So ask me some questions and I’ll answer them as best as I can. Let’s break down some of the ignorance regarding Hinduism.

Please note, right off the bat, that Hinduism is not a polytheistic religion. From

Also note that while I don’t believe in the more mythical aspects of this religion, what I do believe in is:

Dharm: It’s been defined in many ways but personally I define it as one’s duty. One’s duty to oneself, the people around you, the world at large, and to one’s inner self. Note I don’t say soul.
Karm: I do not believe in reincarnation, but this in my heart generally translates to “You reap what you sow” - in this life.

There is no god that judges karma, it’s just sort of an account that builds up on you. If you do cruel, malicious things, they will come back to you. A bit naive, perhaps, but it works for me.

I also welcome other Hindus to state their views and raise questions. Hinduism is as varied as the days, and everyone worships differently.

Thanks, I’ll be here all week.

Does it follow from this that the poor, the diseased, and the the unlucky are that way because of past bad actions? Or alternatively, they are involunarily building up a credit they will drawn on later?

Is Atman Brahman?

According to a strict intrepretation of Hinduism, Yes. They are this way because of actions in a past life. I find reincarnation to be inherently silly. It’s hard to explain, so let’s break it down piece by piece.
I don’t inherently find poverty to be a curse. Bear with me! Extreme poverty, yes, of course. But just being poor itself doesn’t preclude happiness. It’s what you do with it that makes a difference. Many many actions contributed to someone being poor at one time or another…your parents’ actions, their parents’ actions, outsiders’ actions, etc. Another tenet is that everything is linked in one way or another. This is someone speaking who could be considered lower-middle class, so it’s not as though I’m rich & lecturing.

Disease exists, and afflicts people. There’s no rhyme or reason, so I guess unlucky is the best description. The only thing we can do is try and research into new cures and vaccines.

While I mostly believe that one makes their own luck, sometimes you can’t deny that bad luck just happens. Again, it’s just a part of this world.

I’m not sure if you’re asking me if he is or if I believe in it…I don’t believe in a Supreme Being, so I can’t really answer this fully. According to Hinduism, Brahman is the Ultimate Supreme Being from which all others stem.

Could you explain this please? Is it anything like being culturally Catholic?

If there is no god figure (inactive or active) balancing the karmic scales, how does that work? Is there a natural balance? How do you account for people with way more than their share of ‘bad luck’? It seems as though this philosphy rationalizes any outcome.

I know that Gandhi made huge strides to remove the caste system from Ind-a however, do you still find that sort of classist thinking in religious matters?

Please don’t think I’m trying to be snarky. I am really curious, especially since half of my family is practicing Hindu. But I also don’t want to give you a pass simply because you’re not speaking on Christian thought. too many people get caught up in the ‘cool factor’ of Eastern religions and overlook real world faults.

I don’t think you’re being snarky at all, Stonebow. Let me point out I am not the best debater and perhaps my words don’t come out clearly, so please ask me to explain everything that’s not clear. And forgive me if I’m still not very good at it.

It is similar to being culturally Jewish, I think. Hinduism has precepts that can be followed without a god.

*Dharma * is my duty. This means, for example, I must endeavor to be a good citizen to the country I live in, without forgetting the country I was born in. I shouldn’t forget my culture & traditions and yet, adopt the new country’s as well.
I must be respectful to my elders, treat those of my age as friends, and be affectionate and a mentor to the youngers.
I must stop injustice where I see it and where I’m able to, and must be just and fair, and non-judgemental.
I practice ahimsa, or non-violence.
I work towards shanti, or peace, both in my life and around me.
All of this can be attained & worked for without a god. I do it becaue it makes me feel good, and because I feel it’s the right thing to do. I would do it anyway, but Hinduism gives me a guide to go by.

As for people with way more than their share of bad luck, I don’t attempt to rationalize it. Really, what would be the purpose? If there is no god, then there are flaws in everything, even in my cosmic scale of karma. As I said earlier, I’ve had my share of bad luck, more than some and less than others. When I think karma, I only think of actions…in my current condition, do I do things to hurt other people in order to gain more for myself? Or do I try to be peaceful and happy in what I have?

The caste system is unfortunately very prevalent. Someone who has resided in India as an adult can probably tell you more of the details, but it seems to me it is still painfully obvious. Huge strides have been made, but there is still far left to go.

It seems to me India is one of the Third World countries who has the best chance to step into the First World. Unfortunately they must leave behind blind obedience to religion…Hinduism is traditionally one of the more “open” and lenient religions in the world but it’s been twisted to be much more strict than it is.


From The Principal Upanisads:

Atman is essence of individual. Brahman is essence of the Total. Actually, these are gnostically-derived concepts, so defining them rigorously, is unwise.

Something I’ve never fully understood about Eastern “Religions” (and I’ve heard this claimed about many of them) – how can one be an Atheist yet consider oneself as part of a religion as well? Or, conversely, In what way is, eg. in your case, Hinduism a “religion” rather than a philosophy?

I just fail to see how it is possible to disbelieve in a supreme deity while believing in a religion in the Abrahamic sense; so I guess the question really is: How does a Hindu define “religion”, if not as “a system of behavior stemming from the belief in a Supreme Being that has mandated this behavior”?

Also, as a Culturally Jewish Atheist, I’m not certain I understand your analogy here

Again, I just don’t see it – I separate Cultural Judaism from Religious Judaism completely. I am one but emphatically not the other. And I disagree that Judaism as a religion canbe followed without a belief in God. Maybe, like I’ve already suggested, I just don’t (and maybe can’t) understand what it means to “belong” to Hinduism as a “religion”.


Sorry to harp on this, Anaamika, but I’m still lost.

I understand that Hinduism has some precepts that can more or less be followed by non-theists. But my understanding has always been that dharma is a projection of Brahman, and as such (in mainstream Hinduism at any rate) cannot be divorced from belief in the Divine.

I mean, it seems to me it’s the same as saying I’m an atheist Christian because I believe in the Golden Rule, or an atheist Wiccan because I agree with the Rede . . . so what am I missing.

(sorry for the simulpost. not trying to jump your shit, really.)

Who says you can’t follow the precepts of cultural Hinduism without believing there is a God or a soul? And I also didn’t claim to be a mainstream Hindu.

What I am basically saying is

I am atheist, but I find it easier to follow a set of rules than making up my own.

The rules of Hinduism are easiest for me to follow because I’ve been raised in them.

As for cultural Judaism vs. cultural Hinduism, I apologize for the comparison and didn’t mean to imply that cultural Judaism is the same…just similar. I’ve heard many people claim they are culturally It seems they’re not so similar. Hinduism would not be defined as such:

a system of behavior stemming from the belief in a Supreme Being that has mandated this behavior

But as such:

a system of behavior that stems from the belief that one has a duty in this world to complete, and that what you do comes back to you in some form or another.

Again, I apologize for not being clear.

Noone Special & andros,

The definition of Brahman that I quoted should answer your concerns. Think of the Brahman as the essence on which all existence is predicated. The Supreme Being does not have to be a personal, corporeal spirit.

Instead of religion as “a system of behavior stemming from the belief in a Supreme Being that has mandated this behavior”, think of it as “a system of behavior stemming from the discovery of a cosmic order”, which leaves the questions of “why this cosmic order?” and “from where?” open.

I can’t see any problem with an Atheist following the 10 commandments and keeping perfectly Kosher in what he/she eats, wears, and does all as a cultural but not spiritual activity. So why not an Atheist follow the cultural rules of Hinduism without considering them spiritually linked to the existance of a God or Gods.

To the OP, do you avoid eating beef? Why or why not?

This is what I was trying to say, thank you.

No, I do not avoid eating beef. As a matter of fact, I eat any and all meats…tripe excepted.

When I was 17 or so, I did take Brahmin vows of vegetarianism. This lasted about three years, or until I finally went away to college at age 20. (I commuted for two years). In college I found it simply wasn’t practical to be a vegetarian and survive.

The reasoning behind no beef, is Indians worship the cow. The reasoning behind that is, when Lord Krishna resided on this Earth he was a cowherd. When the village said they were going to pray to Lord Indra (god of the heavens) Krishna said

“Why would you pray to him, who does nothing for you? Worship the sun who gives you energy, the fields for the food, Govindh Mountain for sheltering you, and the cow for giving you milk.”

I am perfectly happy eating beef and it doesn’t contradict with any of my beliefs, neither do I believe Krishna really was a God , so I consider this to be not necesary to be fulfilled.

BTW, Hindus are supposed to be complete vegetarians. (Not vegans). Lots of people eat chicken, and fish is HUGE in the port cities, but they get very upset if you eat beef. My cousins were horrified.

Then why so dogmatic, Gyan?

Aanamika, I, too, am an atheist, but find much metaphoric meaning in Hinduism. Neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran states better than I can what I was getting at with my question:

Make any sense to you?

It does make sense, and you can even follow this if you don’t believe in a God. The Universe may seem to be chaotic and disordered, and it IS, but you’re still a part of it. Death isn’t to be feared…you’re only one person and even if the human race dies out the Universe will go on. On the contrary, I think believing in it without a God is easier, because gods have always seemed to me to be capricious and whimsical.

Was it difficult for you to eat beef the first time you did it?

No, because the first time I ate it was at McDonald’s and I was very young. I didn’t really think about it. I barely remember it.

If you mean when I went back at 20, no, it wasn’t a big deal. It was more of a relief, actually, that I didn’t need to be so careful anymore.

My aunt has lived in this country for 12 years and still doesn’t eat beef, though.

Depends where you are and who you are, to my understanding. In some areas like Kerala, Karantaka and Gujarat, Hindus, mostly but not exclusively Dalits ( but almost never high-caste Brahmins ), do more or less commonly eat beef.

  • Tamerlane

It depends on which school of thought you follow. Non-dualism preaches that Atman and Brahman are one and the same and it is this realization that leads to salvation.

Anaamika: interestingly enough, the words Dharma and Karma have multiple meanings. While you are right in talking of Karma as a “reap what you sow” concept, it’s also talked about as one path to salvation. Karma, in that context, refers to selfless work not focused on results.

As for Dharma, while “duty” is one interpretation, I have actually seen it used more often in the context of righteousness. Dharm vs. Adharm - battle of right vs. wrong, morality vs. immorality etc. Right at the beginning of the Bhagavad-Gita, Arjuna is confused about the Dharma of fighting his own brothers.

Not trying to confuse the issue :wink: