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The Vedic origins of Rationalism

Does Vedic literature, starting from the Vedas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata, up until Arthashastra, qualify as “religious” scriptures? Do they, in any way, promote misguided ideas like blind beliefs? Are they bereft of rationalism? Do they discredit rationalism? Or are they built on the very foundation of rationalism?

Does Vedic literature, starting from the Vedas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata, up until Arthashastra, qualify as “religious” scriptures? Do they, in any way, promote misguided ideas like blind beliefs? Are they bereft of rationalism? Do they discredit rationalism? Or are they built on the very foundation of rationalism?

To answer these questions, we need to understand the very definition of rationalism, first & foremost.

Rationalism is known as the practice or principle of basing opinions and actions on reason and knowledge rather than on religious belief or emotional response.

Given this definition, it is essential that for anything to qualify as rational, religious as well as emotional quotient must be absent. Many assume that Dharma propounded by the Vedic texts denotes religion. This assumption is made by most adherents of Vedic tradition, including Hindus. But is that assumption correct?

Dharma taught by various Vedic Rishis (sages) has no fundamental precursor to any religion we know. It has no prophets, no commandments, no mandatory rituals, and moreover, no uniformity in beliefs.

Rationalists, mainly, are those who challenge anything and everything. In principle, rationalists refuse to believe anything at face value and seek scientific explanations or credentials for any claims put before them.

The rationalism of the Vedic Rishis goes a step further: it questions the very credibility of our sense organs. Is that what we see by our eyes, hear by our ears and perceive by our mind – the same? Technically, the rationalism of these rishis is more profound and more phenomenal than the present-day rationalists.

A doctored scientific report sometimes is adequate to fool modern day rationalists. The belief of today’s rationalists is like the blind beliefs of religious fanatics who perpetrate most heinous acts in the name of “protecting the faith.”

To uproot such detrimental qualities the rishis devised a simple yet effective three-step education process, namely: Shravan, Manan, and Nidhidhyasan.

1. SHRAVAN: Most people today – be they theists, atheists or agnostics – have a preconceived notion ingrained in their subconscious by their parents, teachers, and friends. So, they are opposed to listening to anything and everything that is contrary. The same people will have no problems cherishing any knowledge that is in line with their faith or beliefs. As a result, their knowledge seldom grows and remains limited. Rishis never asked their students to adhere to anything blindly; instead, the students were encouraged to challenge and question their understanding of the world, by first listening to and observing the world. Shravan essentially translates to But not plain listening; it implies listening attentively without interruption and with an absolute focus to any data, information, knowledge or wisdom.

2. MANAN: Manan is the process of memorizing everything you’ve listened or learned without manipulation or distort emotions. It is natural for most people to agree with something just by listening – particularly without understanding it. Most despots in history have used the subtle yet effective strategy of mob mongering where they drive people to follow something simply by inciting specific emotions like that of chauvinism. A mind that does not think is the easiest to conquer by others. Such minds are not rationalistic even though they are assumed to be so.

3. NIDHIDYASAN: To ensure that your mind remains unswayed by people with ulterior motives, Rishis suggested the process of Nidhidhyasan – a continuous pursuit of questioning, challenging, re-learning, rejecting or re-affirming everything which you have learned. In this life where change is the only constant, it is vital to keep a watch on your mind and all that it holds. If you do not change – you perish. Refusal to change stems from ignorance. Such ignorance also stems from holding on to irrelevant data, information or knowledge. The only way to check your ignorance is through Nidhidhyasan. 

The fact that Vedic rishis never expected anyone to follow them blindly and instead persuaded them to ask questions and retrospect anything and everything, makes their approach and knowledge the very foundation of rationalism. True, most Hindu ‘gurus,’ cults and institutions, who claim to follow the Vedic tradition, often follow the semantic faiths and discourage questioning. But the fact that such “Hindu” individuals and institutions do not even teach this fundamental three-step process disqualifies them from even being termed Vedic.

1 responses on "The Vedic origins of Rationalism"

  1. How to practice this process(Shravan,Manan & Nidhidhyasan) in daily life for beginners?

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