By Chandra Wickramasinghe The problem of a life-giving Creator had baffled even primitive man who treated the Sun and the Moon as ‘gods’ for the life giving beneficence and the bounteous munificence bestowed on him in his day-to-day existence. In keeping with the lives primitive man led, he devised his own norms of social behaviour [...]

Sunday Times 2

Creation – a perpetual conundrum!


By Chandra Wickramasinghe
The problem of a life-giving Creator had baffled even primitive man who treated the Sun and the Moon as ‘gods’ for the life giving beneficence and the bounteous munificence bestowed on him in his day-to-day existence.

Ever expanding universe in the centre of the creation conundrum

In keeping with the lives primitive man led, he devised his own norms of social behaviour springing basically from natural human instincts of self-preservation, the safety of the immediate family and with time, the security of the community. These required his performing animal and even human sacrifices in the early stages, to propitiate his Gods. They also made a virtue of killing rival neighbouring villagers who posed a threat to their own security. This was , the incipient beginnings of what we term ‘conventional norms of social behaviour’ necessitated by the exigencies of the times and circumstances they lived in.

The advent of organised religion
With the advent of civilised living and the emergence of organised religion, concepts of morality assumed didactic forms based on theistic religious beliefs, where the moral distinction between right and wrong was projected and oftentimes equated simplistically, with GOD and Satan (Light and Darkness)respectively. What was decreed by the priests as religious tenets were deemed God ordained, while what was ruled by them as sinful was attributed to the malefic influence of Satan!

There was therefore a natural tendency for people to attribute all their good fortunes to God and all their misfortunes to Satan, his arch-rival! This was quick and convenient justificatory logic, capitalised on and enlarged upon, with time, by rulers assisted ably by the designing priestly classes, to keep the populace in perpetual thralldom. Rational analysis of religious beliefs was totally discouraged and even deliberately suppressed, on the grounds that it was blasphemous and outrageously sacrilegious to question God’s Word. These were times when learning and literacy were confined to the ruling elite classes, with the large masses of the ‘unthinking’ peasantry consigned to live in ignorance, misery and abject subjugation. The State and the Church ,till the Age of Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, jointly, conspiratorially and steadfastly, held on doggedly to the belief that, “Once people begin to reason, all is lost” (Voltaire).

Landmark scientific discoveries
Even following the landmark discoveries of Galileo, Kepler, Newton et al, people who dared to hold such ‘heretical’ views were tried by institutionalised “Inquisitional Tribunals’ and meted out the direst of punishments for holding views contrary to the entrenched, orthodox ,religious beliefs.

St. Augustine and the belief in the Prime Mover
St. Augustine who believed fervently in the Act of Creation by the ‘Prime mover’(God), discouraged overly rational analysis of what he deemed ‘imponderables’, or matters he felt were beyond human comprehension, by peremptorily intoning – ‘Where Reason ends, belief begins”.

The benign influence of religion
Many rationalists are inclined to deride religious beliefs that have not been proven by scientific investigation and by objective rational analysis. They forget that apart from blind belief by fervent religious followers in a divine creator, the ethical norms preached by the great religious teachers have served to enrich the day-to-day lives of believers over the centuries meaningfully by making these adherents responsible members of the family and the community.

Their familial and social obligations have been, to a large extent, predicated and influenced by the religious exhortations and the ethical norms laid down by these religious teachers. Religious beliefs have additionally and crucially served the people by the immense solace they bring to believers in times of deep distress and devastating tragedy and the resultant periods of inconsolable grief. Prayer itself offers hope and much needed relief, which are often essential psychological bulwarks lending support to emotionally traumatised votaries.

The mysteries of the universe
The mysteries of our world, our universe and the parallel universes that are being continually investigated through
the searching probes of the long range ‘Hubble’ and close scientific analysis, should indeed prove a humbling experience to rationalists in contending with the hard reality, that a great many ‘unknowns’ lie outside their limited ken and scientific understanding. Inveterate rationalists should learn to temper the unprepossessing hubris shown by them in their being cynically dismissive of religious dogma, when they stand in the humbling presence of the sheer, awe inspiring immensity of the ever expanding, limitless universe that holds its own deep, unfathomable mysteries! This should lead to a greater understanding and tolerance of widely differing and, often times, mutually exclusive views and beliefs held by rationalists on the one hand and religious zealots, on the other.

Rig Veda and ancient Greek meta-physical thinkers
The scriptural writings of the ancient Rig Vedas and the Upanishads which date back to more than three thousand years surprisingly provide broad based liberal approaches in their interpretations of concepts such as God and creation. The ancient Greek philosophers who were cast in the same mould — with a marked predilection for interpretative analysis of abstruse concepts such as truth, beauty and virtue — sought what they widely termed the ‘Socratic Truth’, by the dialectic method of understanding language by constant and continual dialogue. There were no ‘Eternal Verities’, which immutable and everlasting category, was posited by Plato, in a special ‘World of Forms’, where ideal perfection was portrayed by him as unachievable models of the perfect, that could best be only aspired to, but never achieved! The Heraclitean theory, ‘Panta rhei’ (everything is in a state of flux) underscores the quintessence of Greek metaphysical inquiry. Change which, in the nature of things, is paradoxically the only unchanging reality! This is further reinforced by the fact that everything in the world is dependent, interdependent, relative and correlative!

The advent of Buddhism and the Kalama Sutta
Contemporaneously, in India, the advent of Buddhism witnessed a complete departure from traditionally held dogmatic religious beliefs. Buddhist philosophy laid particular emphasis on the Mind being the forerunner of all things. The Buddha instructed his disciples in the Kalama Sutta to always have an open and enquiring mind when faced with questions that puzzled them. He advised them not to accept age-old traditional beliefs merely on the grounds that they had found wide acceptance among the people up to that time, without first rationally analysing them and checking on their veracity and feasibility. In the Kalama Sutta, the Buddha listed the four ‘consolations’ which had to be assiduously pursued by the seeker after the final goal, of release from suffering.

The Buddha’s view on creation
When questioned by some disciples on the creation of the universe, the Buddha said that any explanation was of little practical value as there was little hope of the resolution of the issue to anyone’s absolute satisfaction. The resolution of the issue, in any event, would not help a person on the journey to enlightenment. There were more important things of greater immediacy and greater practical value, a person treading the Noble Eightfold Path should concern himself /herself with.

The religious teachings of the Buddha, Christ and Muhammed
The great religious teachers of the world, the Buddha (the Compassionate and Enlightened One), Christ (the Prince of Peace) and Muhammad (the Messenger), all preached peace, compassion and tolerance. Tragically, over the centuries, the benign and compassionate teachings of these great religious savants have been distorted mostly by self-serving priestly classes, often beyond recognition, leading to deep religious schisms that have resulted in sectarian violence of the most horrendous kind imaginable. Ironically enough, violence has taken its most extreme form, among members of a particular religious community who worship in common, the same Almighty God! These are the inexplicable ironies of life! Extremism is certainly not restricted to a particular religious community. It rears its ugly head in many religious communities, at times taking virulent forms. The only effective way to curb such extremism is by promptly dealing with the miscreants by strictly enforcing the applicable laws, justly and equitably.

The natural splendour of the universe
Many philosophers and dedicated scientists have never ceased to marvel at the wondrous splendour of the universe, with it delicately balanced natural forces which seem to operate with mysterious precision! This is what made Emmanuel Kant the eminent German philosopher, rapturously exclaim – “Two things fill me with awe, the starry heavens above and the moral law within”!

Kant in his illuminating treatise ”Critique of Pure Reason”, did not fail to emphasise the limitations of the existential human dimension, by expressing succinctly – ”Space and Time are empirically real and trascendentally, ideal”. Here Kant stresses, with the greatest emphasis, the fundamental, integrative principle of ‘Unity’ and ‘Oneness’ that pervades the Universe. The all-encompassing and universally abiding principle of Oneness, is best expressed in the Bhagavat Gita hymn, which puts it succinctly (I am quoting here from memory)-
“Aham kratur aham yagnam,
Svadhaham aham ausadham,
Mantro ham aham eyagnam.
Aham agnir aham hutham”.

In translation, the first line means “ I am the invocation and the incantation”. The last line expresses beautifully, the all integrative principle of Oneness, when it concludes ‘I am the Fire ,I am the Sacrifice”!

Einstein’s views on the creator
Einstein, with his marked clinical scientism, had been deeply cynical of the existence of a Divine Creator with a sense of moral purpose –“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his own creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own- a God in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives, the death of his body, although feeble souls harbour such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egoism”! Einstein, despite his biting cynicism on the existence of a personal and moral God, had had his own deeply felt religiosity, which is enunciated by him in his evocative observation – “My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit. That superior reasoning power, forms my idea of GOD”.

These seeming contradictions of Einstein, would make one wonder whether, there is any ambivalence in the views he expresses on God, and his own concept of Divinity! Moreso, when he says – “The Divine reveals itself in the physical world”. (Einstein).

The wisdom of the ages
Going back to the ancient wisdom spelt out in the Rig Vedic hymns and the Upanishads, I feel it may be of interest to readers if I quote in conclusion, the pithily cryptic lines on the Act of Creation, found in the Nasadiya Hymn of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which encapsulates and conveys, in good measure, the Wisdom of the Ages: “Who is Creator of the Universe? Only the Creator will know the answer. Even he may, perhaps, not know it himself”!

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