1. Materialism, or the worship of material nature, 2. Idealism, and 3. Scepticism are three of the oldest kinds of atheism. All other kinds of atheism are included within them. It is a mistake to think that the various modern forms of atheism were all only recently invented. With different names and in somewhat different forms, these same kinds of atheism existed also in ancient times. Many different kinds of atheism were thus preached in our country. Among them nyaya, vaisesika, and karma-mimamsa were openly atheistic. Patanjali’s yoga philosophy and the philosophy of Vedanta Monism (advaita) were covered atheism. You may wish to take a look at these philosophies, so we will now briefly consider them.
Sankhya – this is an ancient philosophy expounded by pseudo-Kapila in his book. Maharsi Kapila says in his book:
“God’s existence has never been proved.” (Kapila-sutra 1.92)
mukta baddhayor anyatarabhavan na tat-siddhih
“God is either free from matter or imprisoned by matter. Nothing more may be said of Him.” (Kapila-sutra 1.93)
God is either free from matter or imprisoned by matter. What more may be said of Him. If God is liberated, then no one can know anything about Him. If God is imprisoned by matter He is not God at all. To explain this passage the commentator Vijnana Bhiksu says:
nanv evam isvara-pratipadaka-srutinam ka gatis tatraha
“What is the meaning of the Veda passages that assert the existence of God? In Kapila-sutra (1.96) the explanation is given:
muktatmanah prasamsa upasasiddhasya va
“The descriptions of God’ in the Vedas are actually only the praises or worship of the liberated souls.”
In this way the sankhya philosophy affirms that God does not exist.
Nyaya – the philosophy propounded by Gautama. Gautama asserts:
“By studying the different branches of logic, namely: pramana, prameya, samsaya, prayojana, drstanta, siddhanta, avayava, tarka, nirnaya, vada, jalpa, vitanda, hetu, abhasa, chala, and jati-nigraha, one attains the highest benefit.”
What is the great benefit of which Gautama speaks? That I cannot see. Perhaps he means that expert knowledge of logic is a great benefit for the living entities. God is not included among the sixteen items he says bring great benefit. That is why the Vedas affirm:
naisa tarkena matir apaneya
“God cannot be understood by material logic.”
Gautama sees liberation in this way:
duhkha-janma-pravrtti-dosa-mithya-jnananam uttarottarapaye tad-anantarapayad apavargah
“Liberation means attaining the knowledge that frees one from the ignorance that is the birthplace of sufferings.”
In general, this sutra may be seen to support the idea that liberation is the cessation of sufferings. Spiritual bliss is not present in Gautama’s conception of liberation. In his conception there is no bliss of meeting God. For this reason Gautama’s Nyaya-sastra is opposed to the Vedas. That concludes our description of the nyaya philosophy.
Vaisesika – the philosophy propounded by Kanada. There is no need to consider this philosophy at legnth. In the sutras written by Kanada it is said that there is no eternal God. Some authors writing in the tradition of this philosophy count the Supersoul residing within the individual soul who resides in the material body among the seven basic principles of existence. They did that in an attempt to drive the atheism from their philosophy. Still, in their commentaries on Vedanta-sutra, Sankaracarya and other panditas consider Kanada’s philosophy atheistic and anti-Vedic. The truth is that any philosophy that does not accept God as the independent supreme creator and instead posits some other conception of God is actually atheism. God s nature is that He is the master of all. Any philosophy that accepts some other eternal being as equal to God is atheism.
The author of the karma-mimamsa-sutras Jaimini . He did not write about God. His primary topic was pious deeds. He said:
codana-laksano ‘rtho dharmah karmaike tatra darsanat
“The Vedas teach religion. That religion is called ‘karma’ (pious deeds).”
Sabara Svami, the commentator on these sutras, writes:
katham punar idam avagamyate asti tad apurvam
“How should this be understood? It is understood in terms of the ‘apurva’.”
He says: “First pious deeds are performed. Then, from those deeds the ‘apurva’ (abstract secondary principle) is manifest. That apurva gives the results of the pious deeds. Why is there any need, then, for a God to give the results of actions?” Comte and the modern atheists have no power to say anything more outrageous than this.
The Vedanta-sutra propounds only devotion to God. In their commentaries on this book many atheists preached the Advaita philosophy (impersonalism), which is covered Buddhism. However, to show humankind the right path, the saintly devotees have carefully written the correct commentaries on Vedanta-sutra. Later in this book we will explain why the Advaita (impersonalist) philosophy is wrong.
The Yoga-sastra is also called the Patanjala-sastra. It was written by Patanjali Rsi. In the Sadhana-khanda section of this book is the following sutra:
klesa-karma-vipakasayair aparamrstah purusa-visesa isvaraha tatra niratisayam sarvajnya-bijam sa tu purvesam api guruh kalenanavacchedat
“God is a certain person who is untouched by suffering, karma, destiny, or calamity. He knows everything. Because He is untouched by time, He is the master of all.”
Seeing this description of God, many may think Patanjali is a true devotee of God. However, at the end of Patanjali’s book that mistaken impression is dispelled. In the Kaivalya-pada section of that book Patanjali writes:
purusartha-sunyanam pratiprasavah kaivalyam svarupa-pratistha va citi-saktir iti
“When the goals of life are no more, then liberation, which establishes the soul’s original nature, or the soul’s spiritual potency, is manifest.”
In the Bhoja-vrtti, this sutra is explained in these words:
cic-chakter vrtti-sarupya-nivrttau svarupa-matre ’vasthanam tat kaivalyam ucyate
“When the soul no longer has form, when it is situated in its spiritual essence, that is called ‘kaivalya’ (liberation).”
This means: When the spiritual potency is situated in its own nature, that is called ‘kaivalya’ (liberation). In this passage what is the meaning of the phrase “liberation of the spiritual potency”. Does it mean here that when he attains liberation, the individual soul no longer performs any action? Does it mean that after he attains liberation the individual soul continues to have a relationship with God? Unfortunately, this Yoga-sastra book does not answer these questions. After again and again reading this book one will become convinced that the ‘God’ described in the sadhana-khanda section is considered only an imaginary being created to help attain spiritual perfection, and after the soul attains perfection the idea of God is no longer taken seriously. Is this book theistic or atheistic? You give the answer.
In the different countries and in different languages the philosophy of atheism has been preached in many ways and called by many different names.
Excerpted from the “Tattva-viveka” of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Commentary on verse 17