“Hiranyakashipu murmured to himself, ‘Lord Vishnu, who possesses great mystic power, has made this plan to kill me, but what is the use of such an attempt? Who can fight with me?’ Thinking like this and taking up his club, Hiranyakashipu attacked the Lord like an elephant.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.8.23)
In this hypothetical situation you are a true believer. You are wholly dedicated to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan as He is described in Vedic literature, which provides the most complete information about the Divine. It is impossible to close the book forever on God, since with the infinite continuation of time His glories increase more and more. The Vedas can be considered something like the complete dictionary to the pocket dictionaries that are other spiritual traditions.
You love Bhagavan and serve Him on a regular basis. To the outsider the practice goes by the name “bhakti-yoga,” which is devotional service. To you there is no forced procedure or end-goal. Love and devotion to God is your way of life. You can’t live without it, just as a fish can’t survive when taken out of water.
“O Rama, You should know that just as fish cannot survive when taken out of water, neither Sita nor I can live without You for even a moment.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 53.31)
The problem here is that your child has developed into an atheist. For years they weren’t much impressed by your devotional activities. Now that they have matured a little, they have decided that God doesn’t exist. Everything came from nothing and will go back to nothing, is what they tell you.
It feels as if someone has dealt a stiff blow to the stomach. You want everyone, including close family members, to worship Bhagavan with the same devotion. In fact, you hope that they surpass your level, since you know that will please the Almighty even more.
What to do? Based on Vedic teachings, there are ways to put a positive spin on the situation. There are signs of God’s amazing potency in all aspects of life, including flawed philosophies.
1. Atheists just don’t know what to call the origin
The closest matching word for atheist in Sanskrit is asura. This is a negation of the word that describes a person with good qualities, whose goodness is based on their belief in God. The sura may not be perfect at practicing. They may make terrible mistakes from time to time, but at the core they are not against the Almighty.
Studying with an optimistic eye, we know that the asura still believes in an origin. They don’t assume that the past doesn’t exist. Only a person who has completely lost their mind would claim that. The past can be as recent as two seconds ago. No one would claim that two seconds ago didn’t happen.
In this respect the asuras just don’t know what to call the origin. There is something from which everything has come. It must be intelligent, as well, for we know that smartphones don’t get produced through random explosions. Nature, a single cell, nothing- whatever the origin of choice for the atheist, they are just unclear on who God is.
2. Atheism is a negative response to the temporary nature of the world
Temporary and miserable. Shri Krishna uses these terms to describe a material existence. Temporary in that everything must be destroyed at some point. Miserable because who wants to see things destroyed, being totally helpless in the process.
Atheism is a kind of response to the ways of the world. Bad things happen to good people. Everyone dies eventually. There is so much misery experienced. This must mean that there is no God.
This mindset is positive in the sense that it proves the amazing potency of the illusion that is maya. Ignorance is intentional in a material existence, and it is facilitated by God Himself. He is the source of both intelligence and forgetfulness.
“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)
The story goes that the souls populating the material world were originally with Bhagavan in the spiritual world. They made a chance choice to opt for enjoying without Him, which led to the fall to the land of birth and death. Reincarnation is fueled by forgetfulness, for which Krishna kindly obliges.
3. Atheism can be corrected with intelligence, authority and experience
Time continues to operate. It is not that whatever we see now will remain forever. There was a time when I didn’t know how to walk. I didn’t know how to read. At that point someone could have cursed my existence. “The poor child will never learn. They are doomed. They will struggle in life.”
Atheism can be corrected with proper education and training. That is the whole point to the human birth, in fact. Athato brahma-jijnasa is for the human being. “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman, the spiritual energy.” Atheism focuses on maya, or the inhibiting material nature. Brahman is above birth and death and other dichotomies.
If the person in ignorance has the good fortune of meeting a bona fide teacher of the spiritual science, things can change rather quickly. Intelligence is reawakened, and further sharpening occurs through the experience in practicing spiritual life. This is the path the saints have travelled; they never become enlightened by a sudden touch or random occurrence. There is always some training involved, and the atheists have yet to meet the right teacher or actively take part in the culture that will do them the most good.
4. Some of the greatest atheists praised God with their antagonism
If the atheism is taken to the extreme, where there is constant focus in negativity on Bhagavan, then it is a kind of Krishna consciousness. Well-known and powerful atheists like Ravana and Hiranyakashipu actually gave Bhagavan the highest praise with their antagonism. They reached the heights of material living and showed to everyone that there was neither peace nor happiness as a result. Meanwhile, people much worse off in terms of material capacity were able to bring them down, without any malice.
The mere fact that a person can think that they might live forever or remain in a position of power in perpetuity pays the highest compliment to the illusory energy that is originally sourced in Shri Krishna. In other words, God’s intelligence is so great that He can fool otherwise intelligent beings into thinking the silliest things. They praise His abilities with their ignorance, and with the time factor there is always the chance to turn in the proper direction, even if it takes many lifetimes.
Question of death not even raising,
Bhagavan through this way praising.
Hiranyakashipu and other atheists like,
Brought down even with terrible might.
For close ones and others a positive spin,
That not yet meeting with guru to win.
Always the chance with movement of time,
That enlightenment one day to shine.
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