By Sajad Ahmad Mir
Noble souls of humanity have always taken the enigma of life seriously and set out to find the answers to the fundamental questions basic to human interest, as Immanuel Kant puts them “What can i know? What ought i to do? And what may i hope?” These are questions of epistemology, ethics, and religion.
All-satiating answers to these questions have always been sought. But, common people hardly bother to respond to these queries and are absorbed into fulfilling the material and sensual quests of life. Moreover, the strict social fabric of society puts a severe restraint on intellectual ambits and makes its units not to transgress the limits of specific social ethos. Gautam Buddha rightly said, “Being an island in the land of lakes is an unforgivable sin”. However, men of wisdom and intellect have always been driven by the intense urge of the pursuit of truth. They strive to reach the boat of learning as the ocean of their inner quest for truth always tried hard to find the shore.
One of such noble souls is Dr. Nishikant Chatopadyay. A refined philosopher, a sober thinker, a shrewd analyst, cherished intellectual and above all a truth seeker in the literal sense who travelled through the various vales of human thought. He not only analysed all the available versions or interpretations of major religious or mundane epistemes of knowledge minutely but relished their experiences to the level of ecstasy they offered.
Dr Nishikant Chatopadyay was born and brought up in a purely Hindu philosophic tradition that makes him a refined Hindu Pantheist. He was a professor of history at the Maharaja College, Mysore, and principal of Hyderabad College. Dr Nishikant was born in the mid-nineteenth century in Bengal, it was the century of knowledge explosion where multitude of thoughts and ideas emanated. A heterogeneous medley of animism, fetishism, polytheism and pantheism known as popular Hinduism proved to be a failure for the rational pitch of this scholar. The quest for knowledge saw him in Scotland, where he became acquainted with Christian doctrine. He soon felt the warmth of genuine love and profound reverence for Christ in his noble heart.
He was immensely moved by the soft and beautiful behaviour of Christian doctors and theologians but he could not reconcile to some articles of Christian faith i.e Atonement, Eternal Damnation and the infallibility of the papacy. If the sins of humanity are washed away by admitting that Jesus PBUH was crucified for the sake of humanity, the entire scheme of human activities becomes somewhat unfathomable. The standards of truth and false, justice and injustice, tyranny and tenderness, vice and virtue, moral values and that of immoral ones altogether lose their meaning. Dr.Nishikant found it outrightly against human nature. In Edinburgh, he became familiar with the writings of Thomas Carlyle who infused in him a deep love for German literature and luminaries thereof such as Luther, Goethe, and Schiller. So he travelled to German to study science, literature and philosophy in the academic halls of a world-renowned university where Lessing and Goethe had studied a century ago. Dr.Nishikant hosted a strong inclination towards biology and was tremendously influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Besides Darwin, he read most of the writings of Buchner, Hackle, Huxley and Herbert Spencer, the second founding father of sociology.
Spencer applied the evolution theory of Darwin to religion, politics, art, and society that is why he was enamoured by ‘social Darwinism’. Dr.Nishikant was immensely inspired by Spencer whom he declared to be the greatest philosopher the world had produced since Plato and Aristotle. For Dr.Nishikant, the theory of evolution resolved all difficulties and cleared all doubts. He considered it as a strong base for constructing the future superstructure of all human thoughts and speculation. But, this didn’t leave room for the existence of the Almighty, and couldn’t reconcile with a basic question: Why is there something than nothing?
This scholar was then ‘part of a ship’ which lurched from the positivist philosophy of Auguste Comte to agnostic approaches of Huxley. Tossed amid the intellectual tides of the ocean of variable thoughts, he found a big relief in Buddhism, inculcating a lofty ethical code without supernatural sanctions, a religion of humanity without divisions of caste, creed and country. He studied almost all the books on Buddhism in the English and German language, learnt Pali and began to deliver lectures on Buddhism in the German language. Of all his lectures, two lectures on “Buddhism and Christianity” were widely applauded wherein he highlighted the richness and superiority of Buddhism over Christianity.
However, the inherent pessimism of Buddhism couldn’t appeal to him for long, as it could be seen as a unique system of philosophy enjoining to deny some and to entirely suppress others of the most natural instincts and emotions of youth and adolescence. The pinnacle and epitome of Buddhism rests in Nirvana (Salvation), the final stage or goal of Buddhism. But the term, as suggested by a well-known Buddhist scholar Sri Dhammananda, “is quite unexplainable and quite undefinable” but still achievable by experience and self-realisation through open-ended meditation. Such enigmatic and fatuous notions may suit mental recreation but find no way to approach the pragmatic ambits of human life. Dr.Nishikant then said “There must be something morbid and radically wrong in a system and a creed that goes against our human nature”.
— (To be continued)