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Back Dialogue Oxford Union Debate 25 Nov 2010

Oxford Union Debate 25 Nov 2010

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Oxford Union Debate

A World without Religion is a world without Meaning – A Hindu Perspective by Anil Bhanot OBE

Namaste, which means I bow to the divinity in you all and as I join my hands I hope our minds, may meet in unison. The divinity in us all is our Atma, an atomic particle of God.

I would like to explain these Hindu concepts of God, our Atma, our soul and then the Laws of God, particularly Karma, to then conclude why they are important for us to live a meaningful life.

The general perception of Hinduism is that the Hindus worship many Gods and that it is a polytheistic religion. Hindus actually have only one supreme God, Brahm, which is formless, abstract and infinite, and hence it’s beyond our finite mind. However there are several aspects and a few incarnations of Brahm, called Avatars, through whom our finite mind is able to connect to that infinite entity. The most dynamic of Avatars is Lord Krishna who himself declared in the Gita, ‘Aham Brahm’, or I am Brahm.

In the Hindu creation story, Brahm, itself becomes this physical universe by emanating heat energy from itself. Stars and galaxies were thus borne in this physical dimension, which is separated from God’s dimension, by an illusory creative force called the veil of Maya. The ancient Hindu texts, the Vedas describe Maya as a golden disc, which millennia later appeared in the Greek philosophy I think as phantasmagoria. Also in the Judeo/Christian traditions I think the same idea comes across as ‘Man made in the image of God’. But the image is not a mirage; it’s real physical energy that could have only come from the absolute God, Brahm. The universe therefore is a manifestation of God itself, only it is in a different dimension, and hence the Vedas say God is omnipresent. It’s important to understand that there is only one reality, not two or more. So the Hindu concept of God is monistic, not even monotheistic which implies two realities.

I would now like to move on to explaining the relationship of our ‘soul’ to this supreme God Brahm. The soul as Jeev-atma is a composite body made up of two components. First is our Atma, which is our pure consciousness. Second is the Jeev component which comprises the mind, intellect and ego. Thus together Jeev-Atma is this composite body, the soul, which goes on a journey evolving through many births, in fact it goes through 8.4 million species according to the reincarnation theory, before it evolves into a Human soul. According to Hindu belief the Divine sleeps in minerals, awakens in plants, walks in animals and thinks in humans. Once it reaches the human stage then it has the opportunity to transcend to this other dimension of God, which is beyond the veil of Maya. As we transcend to that point we realize our true Self as the Atma, the pure consciousness. Then we know that we are part of the supreme God Brahm. So the fundamental point of religion is that we as Atma’s are all interconnected through God, whether you are a saint or a sinner or neither. We all exist in the one and only omnipresent God.

God is also omniscient and omnipotent, not us, since we are individual particles in an infinite sea of such particles which by themselves cannot know everything, only God in its omnipresence as a whole can know everything, and therefore God alone can be omniscient, and thus the only efficient cause.

God the omniscient, having created the universe, upheld it by God’s own cosmic law, Rita. It is a sort of underpinning if you like, permeating every atom in the cosmos. Rita represents all spiritual and physical laws except for Time and Space, which exist in the entity Brahm itself, according to the Vedas. Bells theorem in quantum mechanics gives statistical predictions which render an objective universe incompatible with the law of local causes. As I understand it, two particles which are brought into contact with each other once, are then separated by a large distance but when a change in one particle occurs, a simultaneous change occurs in the other, with the conclusion that there may be some invisible substance connecting those particles which are sitting far apart. Their behavior is as if they were linked somehow in one grand unified gravitational quantum field. This conclusion compliments the Hindu metaphysics of the omnipresent God or Brahm, our interconnected Atma’s, and the cosmic law Rita upholding that grand unified quantum field.

A major part of Rita is the law of Karma or action, which is the law of cause and effect but with a moral base. It is basically about being fair in all our dealings; else we have to pay the price in some other form at a later date. God in fact doesn’t judge us; rather our own Karma does. God created both good and evil and then gave us free choice, so the question of God judging us does not arise. If you accept we have free choice then we alone are responsible for our own actions. Karma teaches us personal responsibility. It teaches us that if we abuse or hurt others unduly then the after effects of that unfair hurt we caused will come back to haunt us in one form or another. Equally if we are good to others then we accrue credits in our Karma which may reward us with happiness at a later date or in a future life. Providence is of our own making. The unfair disadvantages or privileges at birth are determined by our past karma not by some impartial God and certainly not by mere chance. Einstein said once that God does not play dice, well, how true.

Desire or Kaam is at the heart of Karma, and it drives the cycle of life. Ultimately the desire to reach perfection persists in the soul, after it has matured through the twin pairs of opposites in nature, of pleasure and pain, until at last only the desire for perfection or to know the absolute truth remains. This final desire, to my mind, must come from the Atma, not the mind, which is at the lower end of consciousness and not at its pure end. Yogic intuition then leads to the opening up of the highest Chakra which releases the soul into that sea of pure consciousness. This is liberation from the twin pairs of nature, good and evil; it’s what we call Moksh or Nirvana. The veil of Maya is lifted and the grace of God shines, as if to use Jesus’s phrase, through the eye of the needle. Apparently this is when an enlightened Yogi can bend the physical laws and walk on water and so on.

I’ve had to explain all of the above because the Hindu religion is more of a scientific journey to lead to an experience of our spiritual interconnectedness. We accept we are different physically but religion gives a methodology to unite us spiritually. We can even accept that Richard Dawkins’ selfish-gene is actually about our selfish nature. In Karma one could argue that it is our own selfishness that steers us away from hurting others because we want to avoid bad karma which will inflict a misfortune on us later. So selfishly we become good. Thus criminality does reduce. Economically the emphasis shifts from maximising profits to optimising them. The killer instinct in business changes slightly to a more ethical outlook. We respect ecology as sacred because every atom in the universe is a part of God. Thus gradually even our selfishness matures through the three qualities of nature, as described in the Bhagvad Gita by Lord Krishna, to its Satvic or serene mode, as our own nature becomes a force for good only. We realise that our selfish-gene’s liberation lies only in its selflessness. Religion reminds us about a higher power, a higher law that goes beyond morality and ethics; it goes beyond our finite mind. The final desire for perfection is unavoidable to my mind. It helps us to aspire to the absolute truth and it is in this aspiration alone that our life finds a purpose and without which the world would lack a meaning, it will miss something enduring of a permanent value, though to my mind this can never happen.


Anil Bhanot – 25.11.10



The other speakers in favour of the motion were Bishop of Leicester Tim Stephens and the Social and Religious Affairs Correspondent from the Telegraph, Martin Beckford. Against the motion were Andrew Copson from British Humanist Association, Dr Susan Blackmore a psychologist and Dr Julian Baggini an author and philosopher. Sadly the motion lost but the debate had become more about fast points scoring than an in depth probe of Q&A. Anil Bhanot’s presentation had the disadvantage of first trying to explain the different concept of God in Hinduism altogether. Still it is fair to admit that the religionists lost badly.


0 #1 Nagaraja M 2011-04-19 00:20
Religionwas one of the civilisaion aspect developed to make 'stoneman' to live amicably in rural/urban clan/groups. Gradually in order to rope in mre persons conversions were attempted by christians, muslims and others. There seems nothing wrong if an individual is agreeable to this but not forcibly. Days are not very far when 'fanatic' states come back if religion and geographical domain are to be coterminus. Now there is a concept of 'Global village' no barriers whatsoever. Individuals need to have freedom to live anywhere in the world as long as they do not engage in subversive activities against the place where they decide to settle down permanently as a civilised person.

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