Feb 07, 2023
Feb 07, 2023
... with reference to Vedic-Hinduism, Buddhism, Carvakaism and Leftism-Marxism
Astika and Nastika – these terms are generally meant and used in common parlance to respectively connote belief and non-belief in Ishvara. This is simplistic, as we shall see; however, let us first examine the concepts in this general sense.
Astika ("there is or exists") in the sense of belief in God stems from logic of awareness. I am aware of my consciousness, so one thing is sure: there is consciousness and there is possibility of consciousness whether my consciousness continues or not. On observation I know, consciousness continues even when someone is dead. So, continuity of consciousness is reality, though there is no way to knowing whether that continuity would be valid after my consciousness ceases. To carry matters a bit far yet within reasonable inference: my consciousness does not prove that reality is really the way I perceive, because my consciousness works in a limited field of knowledge and experience, and is always confined in subjective perception; therefore, my awareness of reality is subjective reality. How can I be sure about the nature of objective reality out there or its reality? Or, to put it differently: my consciousness alone proves that there might be an objective reality out there, whose totality is beyond my grasp. My consciousness proves that there are larger things beyond my control; my experience proves, fate and chance indeed play role in coursing events along with efforts.
Now, I am also aware of simultaneity of consciousness – that is, other Beings exist with their consciousness. And simultaneously there is also Matter (material world) which has no consciousness; at least, I do not feel that way.
Since I exist, and I am aware of that, this is Asti (it exists). So, whether I regard myself Astika or Nastika in whatever sense in social reality, my ‘I’-ness is Asti. Theorizing on Nastika has to have that Asti at the base. How is a self-proclaimed Nastika, Nastika then?
Astika as belief in Ishvara works on a logic devised by human mind-brain-heart. It stems from awareness of consciousness and the logic is like: since on observation it is established that every creation has a creator, therefore, my created consciousness is a part of or has been created from a greater consciousness - the Supreme Consciousness- Ishvara.
The Nastika as non-belief in Ishvara questions this logic and seeks proof of God perceptible to sense-organs. Now, though ‘sense organ’ is said, the ‘eye’ and ‘ear’ are actually meant; so, this ‘Nastika-logic’ has preference for eye-ear while the three other sense organs are marginalized.
Now, since there is a centralization-marginalization process in the Nastika-logic, the very logic is thus loopholed by partiality. Ironically, the professed Nastika has thus an a priori concept-image of God who can be perceived by sense organs, the eye in particular.
So, if the Nastika has already concept-image of God like the Astika, how is he different from Astika? How is he Nastika at all?
Now, putting aside this subtle-logic for the time being, let us examine the Astika and Nastika positions further.
Astikya is the belief that supreme consciousness is primary, and both smaller units of consciousness (beings and human) and matter have been created from it.
Nastikya is the narrative of Creation where Matter-Energy (without consciousness) is primary, and both smaller units of consciousness and matter have been created from Matter-Energy. How consciousness can emerge from Matter-Energy, there is no scientific explanation. Modern physics becomes mystic on that count.
Now, is that Nastikya entirely Nastika [“there is not or exists not” (na + Astika)]?
Even when one regards oneself materialist-rationalist or not-God-believing-scientist and equates that with Nastika in the sense of belief in scientific knowledge and proof with the narrative – ‘since God cannot be proved, God doesn’t exist’ - he/she is still Astika because of that belief and still operating within a belief system – the belief in Truth.
Scientific Truth is also Truth. So, the belief in Supreme God is substituted with belief in Truth (abstract still, and concept of Matter-Energy). So, even if no belief in God exists with him, the belief in Truth and/or Matter-Energy is still there. And that is Asti.
To self-glorify and self-substantiate own position, some self-professed Nastikas often say: “I do not believe in God, I believe in Humanism.”
It’s an immpecablly great ideology, no doubt. However, logically, the concept-image of God is replaced by a belief system in Humanism – an abstract, therefore, similar to Astika belief in God. Besides, if the professing Nastika really believes in Humanism, that should include the Astika too. So, how do some Nastika indulge in Nastika vs. Astika power-game?
Shri Ramakrishna deconstructed the common misconception on Astikya and Nastikya long back. Once a devotee told Shri Ramakrishna that ‘nowadays’ the learned men of the West don’t accept even the existence of the God but believe in Power (Matter-Energy). Shri Ramakrishna said, “This is enough if they believe in Power. How are they atheist then? (Shakti to manche, Nastika kena habe?)" 
To Shri Ramakrishna, Astika is one who sees the unity of existence in all its manifestations through an operative power – and it is not necessary to call that power by the name of God or anything else. And Nastika is one who cannot see that Unity.
Shri Ramakrishna was a Ishvara-believing man; his liberality is unthinkable in any other God-believing religion.
To most Vedic-Hindus’ belief, other than belief in Ishvara, Astika extends to –
a. Belief in Vedas [RgVeda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharva Veda; henceforth ‘Vedas (RSYA)’]. This belief may be ‘read-belief’ or just belief (without reading/studying)
b. Belief in Vedanta or Upanishads [This can be tentatively distinguished from RSYA's Samhita-Brahmana-Aranyaka (SBA) part  that is, one may believe in Upanishadik teachings without believing in rites and rituals or performing rites and rituals]
c. Belief in both Ishvara and Vedas [RSYA and Samhita-Brahmana-Aranyaka-Upanishads (SBAU) - ‘read-belief’ or just belief]
And by further extension, courtesy discourses of the Medieval Age, the Vedantins (12th-16th century CE) constructed this schema of Astika philosophies or shaddarshana ("six systems") listed as: Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, and Vedanta; while Nastika philosophies are marked as: Carvaka, Ajivika, Buddhism, Jainism. 
All modern labeling of Astika-Nastika owes to this medieval discourse, and has no Vedic sanction. One believing in Vedas can easily reject such distinction or label too because Vedas have not defined Astika or Nastika that way!
Evidently, the labeling is from Vedantin or particular subject-position or subjective perception only, and has therefore, no absolute status or universality. If one does not regard oneself Vedantin of that School of Thoughts, one can discard these Astika-Nastika labels, and think on one’s own. This freedom – to accept or reject – on one’s own volition and inclination (Svabhava) is the basic tenet of Vedic-Hinduism.
Now, this position of preferring Astikya-identity has been reversed by the Carvakiyans, materialists, and Leftist-Marxists. They like to call themselves Nastika.
The Nastika is preferred over the Astika with sub-narratives like –
i. Nastika = rational (Yuktivadi), materialistic (Vastavavadi), scientific minded; while
ii. Astika = irrational, idealistic (Bhavavadi), opposed to science etc
And they extend the narratives to like -
i. Buddhism and Jainism are Nastika opposed to Vedic-Hindu Astika [And this leads to constructed narratives of ‘Hinduism vs. Buddhism’, ‘Hinduism vs. Jainism’ etc – which are in fact construction of Gautama Buddha and Mahavira too]
ii. Leftist- Marxists are Nastika opposed to Vedic-Hindu Astika
iii. Carvaka as Nastika opposed to Vedic-Hindu Astika
This leads to a peculiar paradox, where professed non-believers in religion or believers that "Religion is the opium of the people"  take side with Vedantins in labeling/regarding Buddhism as Nastikya; and even out-Buddhas Buddha because Buddha never called himself Nastika!
Do they know that Buddhists regard themselves Astika and orthodox, and call Vedic-Hinduism, Jainism, Ajivikism etc as Nastika and heterodox? Or do they hush this up?
Coming to Carvakiyans, they believe in hedonistic principles, the ideology of the primacy of sensual pleasures with no belief in Atma or Paramatma. So far good, excepting that, sensual pleasure is Asti (it exists) to them; so to themselves, they are Astika. Coming to Leftist-Marxists, they believe in emancipation of the mass which means a state where every ‘need’ is fulfilled – "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs". 
So, to Leftist-Marxists, there is a possible pre-determined future which is Asti (it exists). Being Astika to own ideology, how can they be Nastika?
So, in all these Nastikya vs. Astikya debates, what actually happens is the game of Relativity of Perception. The labeled-Nastika may be non-believer to the Astika; however, the Nastika to himself is a believer in his own belief system. So, if the belief system of the Nastika is Asti to the Nastika himself, how is he an Nastika then? His belief system is Asti, and that makes him Astika to himself.
Indeed, even going by the popular meaning of Astika and Nastika, there are at least three things common to both this mode of Astika and Nastika –
i. Both Astikya and Nastikya accept Oneness. Astikya is to think and believe that Oneness as conscious and Nastika is to think and believe that Oneness is Matter-Energy and has no consciousness
ii. Both are belief system. The Astika believes in Asti (it exists) of his own belief system, and the Nastika believes in Asti of his own belief system
iii. Both believe in Creation and Change or eternity of existence [Astikya believes in Srshti (creation), Sthiti (continuity) and Laya (dissolution) – all happening in Supreme Consciousness. Nastikya believes in the same happening in Matter-Energy in Time-Space. The Astika also regards Kala-Time as Supreme Consciousness; to the Nastika, Kala-Time is one of the four dimensions, which is abstract.]
The flat labeling mode of Astika and Nastika becomes problematic when Carvakiyans, materialists and Leftist-Marxists call Vedic-Hinduism Astikya.
This is because Astikya in Vedic-Hinduism is complexer than usually thought; and one dynamic aspect of Vedic-Hinduism is the Astika-Nastika debate within herself.
The basic principle of Vedic philosophy is Continuous-Deconstruction of Static Concept [See- How Vyasa conveys Truth through RgVedic Signifiers and structure-architecture]. Here too, Vedic-Hinduism deconstructs static concept of Astikya in following ways, so that the Vedic-Hindu cannot be generalized as Astika or Nastika:
i. a Vedic-Hindu may believe in Ishvara but not in Vedas (RSYA) or the Samhitas [e.g. one who follows Gita or Upanishads or one who is Shakta or Vaishnava or even worships folk Gods not mentioned in Vedas like Marangburu, Bana-Bibi or Dakshina-Ray]
ii. a Vedic-Hindu may believe in Vedas (Samhitas-RSYA and SBAU) but not in Ishvara [e.g. one who follows Nasadiya Sukta (RV. 10.129); those who believe in different Devas-Devis and not ekamevadvitiyam  Ishvara or Brahma; or one who is polytheistic]
iii. a Vedic-Hindu may believe in both Ishvara and Vedas [this is most common]
Only it is impossible to a Vedic-Hindu to neither believe in Ishvara nor in Vedas, because-
i. Vedas speak of going beyond Vedic Texts or even rejecting Vedic Texts
ii. Vedas approve atheism and agnosticism. So, there is no way to go beyond Vedas because every possible way has been sanctioned in the Vedas
Coming back to the Vedantin and Leftist-Marxist narratives of Buddhists and Jains as Nastika, let us now examine what Buddhists and Jains say about themselves.
Both Buddhism and Jainism believe in Vedas and revere Vedic Rshis. Even the other movements of the 6th-5th century BCE – of Purana Kassapa (Amoralism), Makkhali Gosala (Ajivika), Ajita Kesakambali (Lokayata), Pakudha Kaccayana (Shashvatavada, Anuvada), and Sanjaya Belatthaputta (Agnosticism, Amaravikkhepavada) believed in the Vedic Brahmana-Ideal. All were regarded as Brahmana as Dharma-Teachers, all were teaching Dharma – which is the original name of Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism. [See- Brahmana: Ideal of Hindus, Buddha, Mahavira, and Anti-Hindu Agenda]
So, the narrative – ‘Buddhism and Jainism = Nastika’ – is absurd. Gautama Buddha and Mahavira took the inner meaning of Vedas like the Upanishads and Gita.
Long before the Vedantins, Gautama Buddha and Mahavira (and Buddhism and Jainism) actually began this sectarian game of Nastika-labelling.
Gautama not only criticized Mahavira,  he also called Jains and Vedic-Hindus ‘worthless’.  In Ashvaghosa’s Buddhacarita, the charioteer compares Siddhartha’s desire to abandon his father as an Nastika abandons True Dharma.  In Lankavatara Sutra, the Mahamati the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva asked Buddha: “How numerous are the heretics?” (2.2.36). Lankavatara Sutra also regards a vain talker and vain arguer, a Nastika. 
It is another false narrative that Vedic-Hinduism = orthodox; and Buddhism = heterodox. Both orthodox and heterodox are subjective perceptions and have no absolute existence.
From Faxian (337 – c. 422)  and Hsuan-tsang or Xuanzang’s (fl. c. 602 – 664)  writings, we learn that Buddhists regarded themselves Astikya and orthodox, while labeling all others – Vedic-Hindus, Jains, Ajivikas etc – as Nastika, Heretics, Pashanda and heterodox.
On the other hand, Mahavira also called the Buddhists, heretics,  and later they also labelled the Brahmanas as Pashanda or heretics. 
Pashanda is an interesting word – used both as Nastika-label and Sect.
In Buddhist Therigatha (7.2. Cala),  Mara uses the term Pashanda in the sense of one who does not approve philosophy (Buddhist). In reply, Cala too regards all outsiders to Buddha’s philosophy as Pashanda, and says that they do not know Dhamma. 
Ashoka (ruled c. 268 to 232 BCE)  uses the word Pasamda several times in his Rock Edicts, but in the sense of Sects – referring to all – Vedic-Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Ajivikas. Ashoka was preaching coexistence of different sects as well as separating his Dharma-Teachings from all others. Now, if it is argued that Ashoka was a ‘Buddhist’ (which he was not), then it proves that Buddhists called others Pasamda, just as they were called Pashanda by Vedic-Hindus.
The ideas/notions of Astika, Nastika, orthodox heterodox – are always someone’s idea (subjective reality or subjective perception) or ideas/notions of some School of Thoughts, and have no Nirapeksha or objective existence. Depending on one’s feelings, one may call oneself orthodox or heterodox, boast of being so and bask in that self-glory.
The common reasons why Buddha is called Nastika is that, he allegedly did not believe in Atma and Paramatma. This needs a separate discussion, which I shall do in a separate article; for now, let me note how Nasti (na + asti = it does not exist) is an Upanishadik way to Truth and that gives us the clue to understand Buddha’s philosophy.
Katha Upanishad (2.8) explains that Atma’s knowledge is relative to the spiritual capacity of an individual. For those who think and speculate on Atma in various ways (bahudha cintyamana?) and are themselves shrouded, that is, in illusion and delusion (avarena narena), the Atma does not exist (nasty)  though they might think so. Atma cannot be attained by arguments and speculation (sha tarkena na apaneya); however, if the one who advises is self-realized, then Atma becomes a matter of good Jnana (sujnanaya) (2.9).
The Rshi marks the objective criteria of the Nastika; the Nastika is the one who wants to know Atma through arguments, thoughts and speculations; however, that leads to nowhere. Like the Nastika-paradox (the self-proclaiming Nastika is actually Astika because he believes in the Asti of his own belief system, subjective perception and subjective reality), here we have the Astika-paradox. The self-proclaiming Astika who engages in arguments, thoughts and speculations is actually Nastika.
An Orthodox view without understanding Gautama Buddha might call him an Nastika for his Anatma-theory, however, Gautama was the self-realized (of Katha Upanishad) who was advising on Satya-Dharma and actual realization; so he was Astika. His Anatma theory owes to Katha Upanishad that nothing can be gained by arguments, thoughts and speculations.
The RgVedic Nasadiya Sukta (RV. 10.129) deconstructs Concept-God by pointing out Concept-God’s limitation (- ‘or maybe even he does not know’). Vyasa’s structure-architecture of the RgVeda as a whole teaches the principle of Continuous-Deconstruction of Static Concept [See- How Vyasa conveys Truth through RgVedic Signifiers and structure-architecture].
Gautama Buddha adopted this way of deconstructing Concept-Stasis, and acknowledged Vyasa as his previous incarnation. 
Gautama deconstructed the concept of Atma, so that one does not get stuck in Concept-Stasis. His teaching method was to dispel concepts by negation of concepts - ‘Not this Not this’ which is the same Vedic-Hindu Negation (Neti Neti) doctrine. 
In Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (2.4.12). Yajnavalka explains to Maitreyi that infinite reality is great, endless and pure Intelligence (- this is Astikya); so that, the self emerges from it and destroys in it, and thereafter the preta has no consciousness.  So, nasti is the state of dissolution of the individual self in the pure Intelligence, by which one’s self or Atma realizes and becomes one with the Paramatma.
To Yajnavalka, to be Nastika is thus an essential way to Truth.
The difference between Yajnavalka and Gautama Buddha’s way is in Yajnavalka preferring the necessity of a priori concept (mahad bhutam anantam aparam vijnanaghanetebhyo) to focus the mind, and Gautama, coming later to him and realizing the Concept-Stasis in his times, further deconstructing that concept with SHunyata-theory.
There are two approaches to Truth. One is through acknowledging Concept-formation, which is inevitable in any case in any normal human psyche. Devata and idol-worship stem from this path in recognition of mind’s natural propensity to form concept-image.
The paradox is inescapable. By deconstructing the concept-image of Ishvara or Brahma (like in Nasadiya Sukta) and introducing new concepts of Shunyata and Nirvana, Gautama’s philosophy has suffered the same Concept-Stasis. For a layman Gautama’s follower, Shunyata and Nirvana would be nothing but concept-image – similar to concept-image of Ishvara or Brahma. Just as Atma is concept-image, Anatma too is.
Ishvara or Brahma by whatever name called is avanmanasagocaram (that cannot be imagined in mind or expressed in words). Shri Ramakrishna explained this in his inimitable style: Brahma kakhano ucchishta hay na (Brahma-experience or Brahma-realization cannot be ort, that is, ‘ort’ as metaphor means, Brahma cannot be expressed through words of mouth).
So the moment one utters the name of Ishvara by whatever name – Jehovah, God, Allah, there is bound to be concept-formation, and the God thus becomes mere Concept-God as pointed out by the Nasadiya Sukta (RV. 10.129).
Professing Monotheism and professing belief in One Formless God is thus a pretension only because Concept-God (whatever concept-image the mind forms – abstract or concrete) is not same as Truth or One Formless God, just as actual Shunyata and actual Nirvana are not same as the Concepts-Images of Shunyata and Nirvana.
The Upanishadik Rshis aware of this paradox has thus suggested untangling the Concepts-Images by Neti Neti. Concept is acknowledged, and by probing into the nature of concept, it is nulled as a constant dynamic process till actual realization.
Both paths are taught by Vedas, particularly in the Upanishads through questioning and realizing the limitation of concept-image. This spirit of questioning is again RgVedic: the Ka Sukta (RV. 10.121 by Hiranyagarbha Prajapatya) regards Query as the highest.
Krshna expands the idea and details the paths in the Gita – Karma-Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Rajoyoga and Bhakti Yoga – so that an individual may choose his own path according to his Svabhava or Svadharma. After ending his Gita discourse, Krshna tells Arjuna: yathecchasi tatha kuru (‘now do as you wish’) (Gita 18.63/ Mbh.6.40.63).
The Bengal/Indian Renaissance thinkers like Svami Vivekananda, Bamkim Candra Chattopadhyay and Rabindranath Tagore redefined the Astika and Nastika in Mahabharata tradition. [See- Re-Defining Nastika - Draupadi Vivekananda Rabindranath, The Power Of Why]
The real Nastika and the Orthodox is the one whose open or hidden belief system is: “I am Right, You are Wrong” or “My Path is the only Right Path” or “My Dharma-teaching is best” or “I am the best Dharma-Teacher” or, ‘My Subjective Perception is The Objective Reality, and My Statement on that Objective Reality is The Truth.”
The real Astika and heterodox is the one who sees Unity in Diversity, who is dynamic and deconstructs any possibility of any sectarian Name-Game in the spirit of the RgVedic Rshi: ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti,  whose only belief system is: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The Whole World is One Family) (Maha Upanishad VI.71-73).
More by : Indrajit Bandyopadhyay