Ours is a culture that has witnessed the conception and the widespread practice of both philosophies – Theism (Aastik Darshan) and Atheism (Nastik Darshan). The Theist philosophy teaches us how to attain the true nature of Self, that is, the state of Eternal-Conscious-Bliss (Sat–Chit–Anand). While Atheist philosophy, such as the one propounded by Lord Buddha, associates our existence with Temporary (Anitya), Suffering (Dukha) and No-Self (Anatman).
Now, at first glance, one may think that Atheist philosophies represent a negative or sadistic way of looking at life, while Theism seems to give a perspective that is more positive and full of life. But it is not so. If we go a little deeper, we understand why enlightened souls like Buddha emphasized upon Nastik Darshan. It wasn’t meant to denounce or undermine Aastik Darshan, rather it was meant to propound a way of living that was more suitable for that time and place.
But how do we embrace these contrasting philosophies without assuming one to be positive and the other to be negative?
The answer lies with Spirituality. Sri Guru says that approaching both philosophies from the spiritual dimension allows us to discover their subtler aspects, rather than confining ourselves to the surface level. Having an inclusive nature, spirituality eliminates the unnecessary conflicts between them and unifies both the philosophies to give a complete understanding of Dharma.
The Atheist Approach
Buddhist philosophy characterises all beings using three marks of existence, which are:
1. Temporary (Anitya)
The nature of everything that we see and perceive around us, is temporary and ever-changing. And it includes ourselves. Whether it is the materialistic world outside or the mental world comprising our thoughts, emotions, memories and opinions – nothing is permanent. Wisdom lies in recognising this temporary nature of things so as to prevent suffering.
2. Suffering (Dukha)
Wherever there is impermanence, there will be suffering and dissatisfaction. The reason we suffer is because we constantly try to hold on to the impermanent, whether it brings us pleasure or pain. Holding onto the good or bad thoughts, relationships, possessions or circumstances, despite knowing their transient nature, is the cause behind Dukha. Sri Guru explains that in order to rid ourselves from Dukha, we just have to learn to drop our attachments and accept the dynamic nature of life.
3. No-Self (Anatman):
Wherever there is suffering, there is Anatman. Sri Guru says Anatman shouldn’t be viewed as the absence of Self, rather as a state of inertia (Jadta). This state is opposite to consciousness (Chetna) and it reflects our lack of awareness and effort to change our primitive beliefs. Conversely, remaining in the state of unawareness and inertia is what leads to suffering.
This is how Lord Buddha linked the temporary nature of things (Anitya), suffering (Dukha) and the state of No-self (Anatman). The four Noble Truths of Buddhism also revolve around the notion of suffering.
So instead of talking about the eternal and everlasting consciousness, Lord Buddha adopted a different approach which was suitable for that time and for subsequent generations which prefer logic and reason over scriptural beliefs. Buddha’s path, therefore, isn’t negative or sadistic. Rather, it talks about suffering as it is easier to understand and relate to. Furthermore, His path focuses on eliminating the suffering, but refrains from calling it happiness. This is because Buddha knew that people tend to wrongly equate the notion of true happiness with worldly pleasures and fulfilment of desires. Thus, He emphasized only on going beyond our sufferings, without mentioning Anand. But we know from Theist philosophy that Anand is the effortless state of being which lies beyond all suffering.
The Theist Approach
The Theist approach regards the existence of Self whose nature is eternal, conscious and blissful (Sat-Chit-Anand). Briefly, these three can be understood as:
The eternal nature of Self means that it remains unchanging and everlasting with regard to time and space.
In its simplest form, consciousness is the awareness of our existence beyond the body, mind and intellect.
Anand is the state of pure, unvarying happiness that lies beyond all suffering.
Hence, Theist philosophy begins with the concept of consciousness (Chetna) whose nature is blissful & eternal. However, not all human beings are familiar with this notion as they cannot directly relate to the experience of Sat-Chit-Anand. This makes it challenging to comprehend and also gives room to misinterpretations associated with our true nature.
Spirituality – The Unifying Force
Spirituality embraces the theist approach so that we understand the nature of consciousness. It talks about how everything, including us, is a manifestation of the same eternal consciousness that pervades the entire universe. But since it is difficult to understand such a state without experience, spirituality takes the atheist approach, which talks about suffering – something we all can relate to. Here we learn about the nature of suffering, its causes and the ways to rise above it. Since the ultimate goal is to rise beyond all suffering and reside in the state of effortless bliss, the path of spirituality neither denounces nor unfairly sides with a single philosophy. It aims to dilute the boundaries and establish a harmony between both. This all-inclusive approach of spirituality is what allows it to give a complete understanding of Dharma and our purpose in this existence.
An enlightened Master knows the importance of both the philosophies in a seeker’s journey and therefore brings about the necessary balance to give us a complete picture. This is why Lord Buddha also believed that a Sadguru’s Dharma shall never get old or obsolete. It will keep on transforming itself as per the needs of time and space.