Questioner (Q): There is a nice story on a Master, who said that everything has some value, is good for something. Then someone asked him, “What is the good in atheism?” He said, “Everyone must be atheists. If you are in deep prayer and somebody comes to you for help, you forget your prayer, forget the god, and help him.”
Acharya Prashant (AP): In fact, this is not only a smart answer, it is actually the only answer that there must be. What he is saying is that God for you is a concept. Whereas the fellow who is coming to seek help is a fact, and the fact must always be placed higher than the concept.
So, being an atheist often can mean not believing in the concept of god, and being religious often just means believing in the concept of god. So then, being an atheist is just only as bad as being religious, no worse. In fact, in that sense, all mystics are atheists. They don’t believe in the concept of god, because they don’t believe in any concepts.
You see, to say that 'God is unknowable' is actually getting very close to atheism. At least, now you are being agnostic, now you are saying, “We cannot say anything about God.” So the Upanishads are all works in atheism. Do you understand this? Are the Upanishads saying, “Yes! Yes! God is there”? Instead of that, they are saying, “Neither do we know nor can we know.” So how can you say that these are religious texts?
You remember when we had said, “Glory to the God that atheists worship!” When an atheist has a Godly experience, then it is Real. When the religious man, the so-called religious man has that experience, it is a very fake thing, because it is a learned experience, it is a cultivated experience. The religious man already knows what to experience.
So the real Godliness is found only by atheists. To be an atheist means that you are first doing complete neti-neti (not this – not that). So complete that you have negated even god. And only when you have completely cleansed your mind of all the concepts, including the ‘concept of god’, that you can move into real mysticism now.
So, first of all, you must be an atheist, only then you can be religious. If you think that you can be religious by just being religious, then your religiousness is a borrowed religiousness, not your own.
The mystics have no religion. Formally, they may be called religious, but actually, the mystic has no religion. His Religion is God.
Q: Sir, the way the word 'atheism' is used popularly, in today’s world, it is a means to believe in the concept that there is no God. This is what atheism means – “I believe in the concept that there is no God.”
AP: Now this atheism is as bad as religiousness. You see, these two are very different, “I believe in no God.” and “I do not believe in the concept of god” – These are not the same. “I believe in no God”, is still a belief. Whereas saying, “I do not believe in the concept of god”, is not a belief anymore; it is a total disbelief in any concept. Since I do not believe in concepts, so I also do not believe in the concept of god. Now, this is Real atheism. This is total negation. This is what the Upanishads do, and this is what the Buddha does.
Q: There are short compilations of the writings of Bhagat Singh. One of it is titled – ‘Why I am an atheist?’ When you read it, you realize that he was really pissed off.
AP: One has to be pissed off. One has to be pissed off with religion. Because religion, instead of becoming the bridge between man and God, is actually the wall between man and God.
Q: And an atheist simply condemns the superstitious belief, while everybody else is practically worshipping that wall. That’s what Bhagat Singh said, “How can I believe in god, when people are suffering?”
AP: See, you cannot do what Bhagat Singh did, without being deeply religious. And it is an instruction in itself that this religious man is saying, “I am an atheist.” In fact, you must be very boldly able to say that you do not believe in any god. Because God is not a belief.
Q: I don’t remember this very well, but at the end of the article, Bhagat Singh mentions that the jailors came to visit him a few days before he was to be hanged, and told him that he should at least now worship god and make peace with him before he is hanged. But Bhagat Singh tells them that he does not need to depend on an imaginary god for support.
AP: When the jailor asked him to go worship on his last day, Bhagat Singh could have as well replied, “Now, don’t interrupt my worship, please. I have been worshipping for so long, do you want me to interrupt my worship on this last day?” The jailor wouldn’t have understood, so Bhagat Singh did not say it. The jailor would have said, “What? Throwing the bomb is worship?” Bhagat Singh would say, “Yes. You break coconuts, similarly, I threw a grenade. Just like a coconut.”