The role of Abrahamic religions

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    Sai Saurab

    Hi Ashish! Hope you are doing well.
    The points that you make here are really astute and explain a lot of things. You expanded upon the dominant legalistic flavour of the abrahamic religions brilliantly. But there are strains of these religions such as eastern orthodox christianity where the ideas of God and our relationship with Him are closer to love than to contracts.

    My question is where do these religions fit in the Vedic narrative of the universe? For eg., Buddhism, as I understand, was as a transition for removing animal sacrifice and rebooting vedic culture. The dominant monotheistic bent of the Abrahamic religions is something to appreciate. What role do these religions exactly play?

    Ashish Dalela

    Srimad Bhagavatam 1.1.2 states:

    dharmaḥ projjhita-kaitavo ’tra paramo nirmatsarāṇāṁ satāṁ

    The term kaitava has the following meanings from the dictionary:

    कैतव n. kaitava cheating
    कैतव n. kaitava gambling
    कैतव adj. kaitava deceitful
    कैतव n. kaitava roguery
    कैतव n. kaitava fraud
    कैतव n. kaitava falsehood
    कैतव n. kaitava deceit

    The term nirmatsara has the following meanings from the dictionary:

    निर्मत्सर adj. nirmatsara without envy or jealousy
    निर्मत्सर adj. nirmatsara unselfish

    The meaning of the verse is that all kinds of cheating, deceitful, false religions are forbidden here. This Bhagavatam is for the highest truth (param) for the truthful and non-envious (nirmatsarāṇāṁ satāṁ). By this statement, there is an indirect recognition that there are many cheating, deceitful, and false religions. But they are followed by those who are jealous of God, and selfish.

    Factually, there is no form of God in Vedic philosophy that responds to jealous or selfish attitudes. None. Not a single one. There is no form of God with whom you can enter into a contract. None. Not a single one. All forms of God require unconditional surrender, rejection of all materialistic propensities. Those who cannot do that, take to impersonalism, which is permitted as a state in which you bury your head in the sand such that you cannot see anything other than the self. When the head is buried in the sand, and the world disappears from the vision, then it is called “liberation” from the world. That is certainly allowed and permitted as the Brahman liberation.

    Then, there are levels below that which pertain to the merger into the causal ocean in which you don’t bury your head in the sand, but you enter the state of deep sleep. Now, you cannot even feel your own existence, even though it exists. This is called nirvikalpa-samadhi. This state is aspired for by the Buddhists. Higher than this, but lower than Brahman, is the state in which the soul enters the planet of Lord Shiva, who is identified as Time. In this state, you can see the world, you are conscious (and not in deep sleep), but you see the world timelessly. For example, you know that if there is prosperity today, then there will be poverty tomorrow. The poor will become rich, and the rich will become poor. You don’t have the short-term perspective. You have a really long-term perspective. It is better than deep sleep, and inferior to the Brahman realization.

    In this way, within the Vedic system, at least three forms of “religions” that lead to a deep sleep state, a timeless material observation state, and a head buried in the sand to see the self, are recognized. These are examples of what the Srimad Bhagavatam calls cheating, deceitful, and false religions.

    Similarly, the system of sacrifices is not meant for demigod worship. I’m translating the Mimamsa Sutras presently and they spend a full chapter (out of 12 chapters) repudiating demigod worship. They clearly state that the Lord of the universe is the only personality to be worshipped. Even when demigods are worshipped, since Lord Vishnu is worshipped prior, this is said to lead to progress. This so-called karma-kanda system is held in higher esteem than impersonal liberation. All claims of “oneness” are summarily rejected, even as demigod worship is conditionally accepted on the premise that because the Lord of the universe is worshipped, hence it leads to progress.

    But there are three problems here. First, the sacrifice system that caste Brahmanas were practicing before Buddhism was against the Mimamsa system; so it was already a cheating religion. Second, its repudiation by Buddhism replaced one cheating religion with a second cheating religion. Third, the repudiation of Buddhism by Advaita again replaced the second cheating religion with a third.

    We look at this history and say: Something is happening here, but the fact is that nothing of value is being produced. One false idea is replaced by another, then another, then another. We can understand this perspective if we study the whole Vedic system and the Srimad Bhagavatam. Then we can see why it begins by saying “we forbid all cheating religions”. It means that there are many cheating religions, which are practiced by the envious, selfish, and materialistic people.

    Once you have taken this exhaustive analysis of the systems within the Vedic tradition, then you can also look outwardly. Any so-called religion of contracts is a cheating religion because God never enters any contracts. Unconditional, unquestioned, and undemanding loving devotion. Sri Chaitanya expounds on this philosophy deeply: I don’t want wealth, I don’t want beautiful women, and I don’t want liberation. Life after life just an opportunity to perform bhakti. In short, even salvation is rejected, then what to speak of other materialistic contractual ideas. So, anybody who says that we have a contract with God made up something that is impossible. At least the root of that claim is impossible in principle, although there may be some other truths in them.

    Now there are some possibilities, on how to understand these religions. The first possibility is that these religions evolved out of the system of worship of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, as remnants of an erstwhile Vedic culture. I have described this view of religions in the book Cosmic Theogony. There is good evidence presented in this book that these are in some way loosely connected to the worship of Brahma (Judaism), Vishnu (Christianity), and Shiva (Islam). The religion of Lord Shiva is also the religion of the Moon, that of Lord Vishnu is also the religion of the Sun, and that of Brahma is also the religion of stars. Abraham and his wife Sarai might be Brahma and Saraswati.

    The second possibility (a very strong one) is that all these systems were extensively modified by political forces. The scriptures were not in the control of Brahmanas but in the control of Kshatriyas. Even when there were some Brahmanas, they were not from a disciplic succession. They just emerged out of nowhere, started writing some stuff, and inserted their speculations. A lot of evidence for this is presented by Western scholars. Some scholars have argued that 82% of the New Testament is doctored. There are other pieces of evidence presented about the influence of Romans on the Bible, about the conflicts between the Church and the Kings which lead to changes.

    There is also evidence available that after the supposed dawn of Islam, coins were still being minted with images of rulers on them, so the Islamic forbidding of images must have come later. Likewise, there is now evidence that the earliest Mosques–for a period until 200 years after Islam’s advent–had their Quibla pointing toward Petra and not Mecca or Medina. Since Petra was destroyed by an earthquake in the interim, there might have been changes to retell a story differently.

    The point is that there are so many discrepancies that doctoring to some extent is the only conclusion. To what extent, and to what extent in the philosophy, is not well known.

    A third possibility (which is highly debated) is that the personalities indicated in the texts never existed. In short, they were manufactured out of thin air by some people who had vested interests. I don’t think this is a very well-proven theory but people are trying to justify things forcibly.

    My personal view is that the truth is a mixture of the above three possibilities. That is, there was a remnant religion of Sun/Moon/Stars and Vishnu/Shiva/Brahma, which was extensively modified by kings and uninitiated priests for their selfish ends, and some falsehood and fabricated folklore was inserted in the process to make it attractive and appealing to common people. The personalities mentioned in these texts existed, but in what we have today, it is hard to tell what is true and what is not. There were probably good intentions behind these, but either the truth was misrepresented to appeal to the people who would not have otherwise been interested (e.g., that you can enter into a contract with God), or simply made up subsequently through changes to make it appealing (because people figured out that the original truthful presentation was not getting widely accepted).

    This is an active area of research and scholarship in a lot of religious studies departments, and I’m neither the expert nor do I have the time to do focus on these things. So, I can’t comment further on this topic, but certainly, there is scope for excavating this area more.

    I have some interest in understanding how Vedic philosophies and ideas influenced Western civilizations, but that’s again not my focus. For instance, a Greek scholar named E. Pococke wrote a book entitled “India in Greece” during colonial times, where he tries to show linguistic connections between Sanskrit and Greek. The British burned this book as it went against their narrative. But it is possible that the Greek ideas of demigod worship and Platonism were based on Mimamsa philosophy.

    There is so much that needs to be done, and so few people wanting to do it. That’s the short summary.

    Sai Saurab

    Brilliant summary. It’s funny how you have already written a book for almost any question that I can think of.

    I became interested in understanding Christianity seeing the rise of Jordan Peterson, the canadian psychologist. In an ironic way, he used Darwinian reasoning – which the moderns used to undermine religion – to make the case that because religion had survived for many millenia, it must be affording some fitness to its citizens and civilizations. He brought back a lot of Jungian ideas and illustrated them through his lectures on bible which apparently took a lot of people back to Christianity.

    Also, as it is sometimes said, the best thing that postmodernism gave us was its critique of modernism and its project of reducing everything to matter(although without offering an alternative). So the vacuum that has been left is surprisingly being filled by these figures such as Jordan Peterson (and other lesser known one’s like Jonathan Pageau, John Vervaeke) etc., who talk about archetypes, symbolic meaning and metaphorical truth as being more important than what they call literal/ scientific truth. To hear from them statements such as – “Reality follows a narrative. Once a narrative has been setup, characters will appear who will take on various roles to complete the narrative” was surprising. I’m sure I would not have been able to grasp what they even meant had I not engaged with your work before.

    All this is to say that I see how there is more and more hunger for meaning but the solutions being offered are far from being consistent and complete. Not to say that they’re wrong but they seem to not be able to make up their mind whether something is emanation or emergence and things like that. I find your project to be vastly more comprehensive because of the bold – its meanings all the way down – stance which I haven’t found another instantiation of so far.

    Ashish Dalela

    Below is an excerpt from the book Cosmic Theogony‘s last chapter entitled “Mythology and Psychology”:

    In one fell swoop, Jung resurrected all of mythology as the study of the human psyche. Therefore, if you heard about the fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, you must think not in terms of real people who fell from a real garden, but as presenting a recurring story in which the rational side of a person (Adam) is tempted by their emotional side (Eve) when the emotions are stirred by an enticement (the snake) who offers a pleasure (poisonous fruit) which has earlier been forbidden by God (the moral sense). Upon indulging in that forbidden pleasure, you lose the happiness you had (life in a garden). The point of the story then would be to not give in to your temptations and allow better sense to prevail to preserve your happiness in the longer run.

    How many times have you seen this story repeat in your life, or around you? How many movies have been made, for example, where a married couple loses their happiness because one of the partners decides to indulge in an extra marital affair, and both partners fall from their platform of happiness?

    Jung’s point is that such stories are embedded in our psyche as moral narratives. They represent the ideal and exalted behaviors expected of humans, and nobody gets tired of telling these stories again and again. The pattern of the story is the archetype, and religion is the sum total of such stories. However, since these stories are already embedded in our deep psyche, in one sense they are unconscious, and when religious texts narrate them, they only state what we can easily relate to, and by bringing them to the surface through a narration, the religious texts only present what is already within. The gods and deities are therefore not real personalities. They are instead part of our psyche and religion shows us the mirror in which we can see what lies deep within as the unconscious. Contrary to Freud—who viewed the unconscious as depraved ego, perversion, and lust—Jung saw human ideals in it.


    This type of thing is not new; it was earlier tried even for Vedic scriptures. For example, the Bhagavad-Gita is given an interpretation in which Arjuna is the mind, Krishna is the intelligence, the Kurukshetra battle is the battle of life, and the intelligence advises the mind on how to act. So, when Krishna says “surrender to Me”, the interpreter will say “surrender to the intellect”. When Krishna says “become my devotee”, then the interpreter will say “become the devotee of the intelligence”. When Krishna says “you are my friend”, then the interpreter will say “intelligence is the friend of the mind”. In this way, everything becomes a moral story about how life must be lived.

    This is almost an irrefutable philosophical twist where the scientific concepts are imaginary stories about the world using concepts such as space, time, matter, and causality, and the religious concepts are similarly imaginary stories about the world using moral values, archetypes, and ideals, etc. Both science and religion are creations of the mind, and they are both useful for human society.

    But when religion becomes a story about the world, or how to live in the world, rather than transcendence from the world into eternal life, then its purpose is lost. Now, you strip the religion of concepts such as karma and reincarnation, and God is a human invention to lead a better life. Now you can even produce an evolutionary account of religion–it helps us survive better.

    But we don’t view Vedic philosophy in this way. Religion is the theory of everything, period. There is no scientific theory separate from moral story separate from cosmology or sociology. So, in Jordan Peterson’s approach, psychology will remain one of the dozens of academic departments, all mutually incompatible. And in our approach, there will be one department of the study of God in which we study everything as an aspect of God. This is the radical approach of the Vedic texts.

    The mind is described in three ways in the West. In Locke’s philosophy, it is a blank slate. In Freud’s theories, it is forever contaminated. In Jung’s approach, it is already pure. The result of these theories is that there is simply no impetus to purify the mind. Either it already has the pure and perfect ideas (Jung), or it was a blank slate at birth and we have filled it with knowledge about the world (Locke), or it is forever dirty and there is nothing to feel guilty about (Freud).

    Now contrast these ideas with the basic principle in Christianity where the soul is sinful and fallen in the world due to its sins, and needs the help of a savior messiah to take it out of this world. Again, you have nothing to do, because Jesus will do it for you. You just have to accept Jesus as a savior.

    In short, if you are sinful, you need someone else to purify you (Christianity). Or, you are sinful but stop feeling guilty about it (Freud). Or you are already innocent (Locke). Or you are already enlightened (Jung). The net result is that you stay where you are because you are never going to make an effort to progress because you don’t want to accept any hardship. So, people may talk about this or that approach, but the point is that they don’t take anybody anywhere. These are merely apologies, rationalizations, and justifications for staying in the status quo situation.

    Sai Saurab

    This is very much on point especially about being stuck in the status quo. For eg., there is this argument which comes up a lot in christianity about sola fide (justification by faith alone) – whether faith/belief in Jesus Christ alone is sufficient or whether one needs works (external actions/deeds) for salvation.

    But, is there any truth/value in jung-style interpretations? Do these mythical archetypes (in addition to being historically true) actually manifest themselves in the psychological structure?

    Ashish Dalela

    Faith is accepted in Vedic philosophy also in the sense that you have to have some faith to read a book, some faith to approach a teacher, some faith to try a path. If there is no faith then nothing would be done. But “faith” is not the right word for this. The word is sraddha. This word has no English translation. It means reverence and trust and affection. And even this trust and reverence is not opposed to reason and observation. That’s why there is so much philosophy to understand rationally, and there is a practice for practical realization, step by step, in this life. This type of practical realization and philosophical discussion is not there in any other system in the world. Even modern science is a closed system in the sense that it operates under certain assumptions. You can only improve things within those assumptions, but you cannot challenge those assumptions. But in Vedic philosophy, you can challenge anything, and we try to answer everything. If we cannot answer it, then it is a sign that our understanding is not yet perfect, but the question is not invalid.

    Regarding the Jungian style archetypes, they are called mahattattva in Sankhya philosophy. You can call them “essences of greatness”. This mahattattva exists in every person, and it exists as your personal ideals. For example, some people might think that hard work is an ideal, honesty is an ideal, etc. And others might think that honesty and hard work are for the weak; ultimately might is right. So, there are many different ideals, and when the soul enters the material world he accepts some ideals, and based on those ideals the rest of the material life is shaped. So, there is no need to reject Jungian-style thinking; but we can reject the idea that soul and God are mahattatva. Western psychology doesn’t know how to go deeper than moral principles and ideals of life. So they claim that soul and God are nothing but these ideals. But for us, these are material principles, and soul and God are transcendent to matter. Hence, religion is also transcendent to these moral ideals.

    All these things are discussed in different books. You should try to read them one by one.

    Sai Saurab

    That was really helpful. Thank you.

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