“Hiranyakashipu, for example, was an exalted representative of the atheistic class of men. He always challenged the existence of God, and thus he became inimical even toward his own son. Everyone was afraid of Hiranyakashipu's atheistic principles. Nonetheless, when Lord Narasimhadeva appeared in order to kill him, Hiranyakashipu's atheistic principles could not save him. Lord Narasimhadeva killed Hiranyakashipu and took away all his power, influence and pride.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 8.5.31 Purport)Download this episode (right click and save)
The genuine theist runs into difficulty when in an argument with a committed atheist. The problem arises due to the inherent nature in each side. When you have rational going against irrational, the very fact of being irrational means that anything can be said in an argument. It is something like trying to explain high philosophy to a stubborn child.
There is a common saying that a person shouldn’t get into an argument with a fool since after a while there won’t be any difference between the two. The foolishness prevents the person from rising up, which means the other person has only one way to go in the argument: down. Nevertheless, there is value in at least questioning one’s beliefs and hearing other arguments. From thinking deeply in this way, a person’s own faith gets strengthened. Indeed, the most famous book of the Vedic tradition features a person politely arguing about the most important matters with a teacher who knows everything, is the source of everything, and can explain everything.
kaccid etac chrutaṁ pārtha
praṇaṣṭas te dhanañjaya
“O conqueror of wealth, Arjuna, have you heard this attentively with your mind? And are your illusions and ignorance now dispelled?” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.72)
The Bhagavad-gita provides all the answers. They come in short, quick verses that can be both memorized and sung. The same philosophy is found in story form through Vedic works like the Mahabharata, Puranas and Ramayana. Still, without even delving deeply into the philosophy known as Vedanta and relying on the word of impeccable authority figures, a person can legitimately raise doubts on the position of the opposing side.
1. The non-randomness of nature
The sun rises and sets at predictable times. It is not the exact same time every day, but it is even known why that is the case. The seasons are so predictable that if there is any anomaly in temperature, the less intelligent think that man must be the cause. “Man’s behavior is changing the weather; otherwise everything would be as it was previously.”
There is intelligence to the workings of nature, and nowhere in life do we see intelligence result from randomness. If everything collided a long time back, how did we get so much variety? How did that variety join up so perfectly? How is it that others have the intelligence to study such variety and symmetry? The rational person concludes that there must be an intelligent being behind the amazing and unbelievable intelligence of the material world.
2. The inherent intelligence of creatures
In a book on parenting we read that the newborn after a few months should be left to sleep in another room; lest they become attached. The practice can be argued either way, but how is it known that babies become attached to their parents? Obviously, there is past history to consult. That data serves as scientific evidence for a theory. Still, how is it known that the past behavior of children will be repeated with new children appearing in this world?
The answer is that there is intelligence already, at the time of birth. It’s there in other species as well. The horse starts galloping away pretty soon after it takes birth. It takes the human child a little time to learn how to walk, but other living things can do it right away. Some children are gifted in athletic ability. The most famous ice hockey player in history was skating on ice at two years of age. This intelligence must come from somewhere. Randomness cannot give predictable patterns. After all, random means unpredictable. The wise know that the intelligence comes from a higher power. The fact is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita.
sarvasya cāhaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭo
mattaḥ smṛtir jñānam apohanaṁ ca
vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyo
vedānta-kṛd veda-vid eva cāham
“I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)
3. Staying alive after a complete change of bodies
“Wow, is that really me? I’m so small. I don’t remember any of that.” By looking at old pictures, we learn that the body completely changes through the journey of life. We once survived inside the womb, in the tiniest of bodies. Our lack of remembrance doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. We don’t recognize the person in the picture from years back, even though that person is us.
The only difference is time and its influence on the body. Since the body has changed but the individual has not, the rational conclusion is that there is something animating within that is changeless. The wise know this to be the soul. The soul is spirit, which is something that cannot be seen with the naked eye. It is spirit which is above matter, the dull and lifeless substance that we see all around us. This knowledge of spirit is the fundamental truth of the spiritual science, or that which refutes atheism. The sober person understands that the body changes in this way. They are not bewildered by it.
4. The utter miserable nature of the atheist
From Vedic philosophy we get the term asura. This is the general translation for the word atheist. It is a simple negation of another word, sura. The asura is against God. Since one way to understand God is to say that He is the complete everything, the asura definition requires more specificity. The asura is against God the person, or the personal nature to the Divine. Everyone follows God, even if they don’t realize it.
ye yathā māṁ prapadyante
tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham
manuṣyāḥ pārtha sarvaśaḥ
“All of them - as they surrender unto Me - I reward accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pritha.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.11)
The atheists worship the material nature. This is due to ignorance, as matter is dull and lifeless. That worship has a specific result, namely continued ignorance and perpetual misery. If you strive to only satisfy the senses, you will be miserable. You can make a test of it. Spend an entire day only eating, sleeping, mating or defending. Take any of the four and try it for the entire day. You may enjoy for a few brief moments, but at the end you will feel miserable.
The general case is that the more asura-like a person is, the more miserable they are. The person who is genuinely a sura is the opposite in nature. A sura is conscious of God. They may not belong to an official organization. They don’t condemn all non-followers of a specific religion to hell. At the foundational level, they acknowledge a higher power and try their best to serve Him. They may not be perfect in their service, but they at least make an attempt. Sura-like qualities are kindness, compassion, strength, perseverance and wisdom. The asuras are mean, selfish, weak of heart, and not very smart. Thus from an assessment of qualities alone, the preferable path becomes clear.
5. Evidence from Vedic history of famous asuras
A person may not believe the claim that the asuras are more miserable than the suras. It is a claim in theory, after all. Not to worry, as the factual historical events documented in Vedic literature provide the best examples. We could take the biggest asura today and see that even wealth and fame don’t make them happy. Nevertheless, the examples of Ravana and Hiranyakashipu do a better job of illustrating the point, as no asura of modern times can compete with their opulence.
Hiranyakashipu had it all. He was feared throughout the world. He rose to that coveted status through performing great austerities. He was strong in his determination to win the favor of people who do good things for him. Once he gained the necessary strength, he made sure to use it. He was the undisputed king of the world, and he seemed to have it all.
Yet he would lose everything through intolerance. He could not tolerate the devotional activity of his son Prahlada. Hiranyakashipu was a committed atheist, and this meant that he couldn’t stand to see anyone worship the entity he deemed to be his greatest enemy. If atheism and its associated drive for material opulence were really the right way, Hiranyakashipu would have not cared a lick what a five year old boy in his house was doing. Why worry about worship dedicated to someone you think doesn’t exist?
Ravana had a similar fate. He was the king of Lanka, which was literally a city of gold. Imagine getting all the meat and wine you could consume and having it on hand at all times. Imagine being able to change your shape at will and enjoy with the most beautiful women in the world. Ravana had this, but he too was miserable. He was consumed by fear of loss. Though he didn’t believe in God, he knew that he couldn’t go up in battle against a man named Rama. This was God incarnate, appearing on earth in the form of a warrior prince. Ravana would lose everything through his unchecked avarice, which was rooted in his enmity with the creator of all things.
There are so many other examples, as Ravana-like people are found even today. Despite knowing his example, seeing what happened to him, the power of illusion is so strong that the obstinacy remains. In some circles, the asura is hailed as brave and courageous for going against the mean and vindictive God. The doubting person can make the judgment for themselves. From trying the devotional path, they can judge the results. Shri Krishna promises that even a little advancement on that path protects one from the greatest fear.
Since by sense demands overcome,
Asura experiencing peace of mind none.
Validated by theory of Vedas alone,
By examples of atheists shown.
Take Hiranyakashipu and Ravana too,
Who through demigods strength and power grew.
Never happy at all were they,
By God Himself everything taken away.