Abraham T. Kovoor: Rationalism and atheism cannot go together

Osho on Notable People

Osho speaks about an interview given by Dr Abraham Kovoor in December 1976 in which he talks about Osho, criticising him and the sannyasins.

Dr Abraham T. Kovoor

The Current of December 18, 1976, has an interview with Dr Abraham T. Kovoor, eighty-year-old rationalist and atheist, of Ceylon¹, in which he refers to and criticizes you. What do you have to say about it?

Abraham T. Kovoor seems to be a nice old man, but a little senile. Senile, I call him, because a person cannot be both together – a rationalist and an atheist. It is impossible. Either you can be a rationalist or you can be an atheist. A rationalist cannot believe in anything. A rationalist cannot have any belief – in God or in no God. A rationalist suspends all belief. A rationalist can only be an agnostic; he can only say, “I do not know.”

The moment you say “I know,” you are no longer a rationalist. The moment you say “I know that God does not exist,” you are as irrational as the person who says God exists. You have lost track.

How can you say God is not? The whole existence has not yet been measured. There are depths upon depths, there is much still unknown. A little is known. Far more remains unknown and unknowable. How can you say dogmatically that God is not?

A rationalist will avoid all temptation of dogmatism. He will say, “I do not know.” Socrates was a rationalist, Buddha was a rationalist, Nagarjuna was a rationalist, but they were not atheists. Atheism means you are against theism; you have chosen a belief. To believe in God is a belief; to believe in no God is a belief again. You remain a believer.

To be a rationalist is very difficult, arduous, because man wants to cling to some belief.

Now this T. Kovoor is eighty years old. For eighty years continuously he has been traveling around, arguing, saying to people that God does not exist. This seems to be absurd. If God does not exist, he does not exist. Why bother? And why waste your precious life for something which does not exist? It is absurd, it is irrational, but if you look deep into it, he is clinging to this no-belief. This disbelief has become his practice, his religion. Now he cannot simply rest; he has to argue – argue against God, argue against religion, try to prove that God does not exist. For what? What is the point?

Your precious life is wasted. And he believes that he has only one life; after death there will be no life. Then this is foolhardy, then this is simply stupid – to waste your life in the service of something which does not exist. And you don’t have a soul, he says, and there is going to be no more life, this is the only life there is. And he has devoted his whole life to nonsense. How can he be a rationalist?

A rationalist will say that life is mysterious. We are trying to know, we have come to know a little, but much more is still left; so the conclusion cannot be decided right now. We will have to wait till the very end. When everything is known, only then can we conclude.

A rationalist has to live without a conclusion. A rationalist has to live without a philosophy, without a religion.

Kovoor has made a religion out of his atheism. He is not a rationalist, because rationalism and atheism cannot go together. That’s why I say he must be suffering from senile dementia. […]

One should grow out of all confinements – theistic, atheistic. He is not a rationalist; otherwise he would have grown. Irrationalism has two alternatives: theism, atheism. A rationalist can only be an agnostic – like Nagarjuna, Buddha, Socrates. They don’t say anything about God; they keep quiet. If you ask Buddha, “Does God exist?” he keeps quiet, he does not answer, because to say yes is wrong, to say no is wrong. The question is so vast it cannot be contained in either yes or no.

God means the whole existence. How can you deny and how can you affirm?

Dr Kovoor must be having a very childish concept of God  – a great king, emperor of the world, sitting somewhere in heaven on a high golden throne, ruling from there. This is stupid, the very idea is stupid, and he has been fighting against this stupid idea. When the idea itself is stupid, your fight is meaningless. And he has been fighting with dummies, and by fighting with dummies he has become well-known and is thought to be a great rationalist. He is not, nothing of the sort, not at all a rationalist.

He has been fighting with very ordinary minds. For example, Satya Sai Baba; he is the opponent of Satya Sai Baba. Now Satya Sai Baba is neither a mystic nor a philosopher, just an ordinary magician. You can demolish him. And Kovoor goes on challenging him and he never answers. It is very simple to fight with Satya Sai Baba. Kovoor has never fought against a really rationalist mind.

A rationalist mind is sharp like a sword. A rationalist mind means: I cannot believe in anything unless I have experienced it, and I cannot disbelieve in anything unless I have experienced it. Has he experienced God? Has he ever meditated? Has he ever gone into the inner lab? Has he ever known a single moment of no-thought? Then all his assertions are just meaningless. […]

If you are really a rationalist you will have to commit suicide. A real rationalist person cannot live. Why? For what? I would like to ask Dr Kovoor why he is living at all. There is no God, there is no soul, there is no meaning, there is no love, there is no poetry; why do you go on dragging yourself? For what? Why are you burdening the earth?

In the same interview, to which I am coming, the reporter asks, “Dr. Kovoor, you are against the godmen and you are against religion. Your life must be in danger. Have you ever been threatened?” And he says, “No, I have never been threatened, but I always take precautions.” For what? If you die nothing dies, because in the first place there was no soul. If you die nothing is lost. You were just a coincidence, an accident. If Dr Kovoor dies, nothing dies.

With God disappear all values, all beauty, all ecstasy, all love, all significance.

Why are you taking precautions, for what?

He says, “I don’t believe in any existence after death.” Have you known death? Have you experienced death? Without experiencing death, how can you say that there is no existence beyond death? This is not very rational. This is very childish. This is very mediocre, not even intelligent. Unless you have passed through death, how can you assert that there is no life beyond death? You can only say, “I don’t know.” You cannot say, “I know there is no life.”

And if there is no life after death, how can life be before death? If there is no life after death, then there was no life before birth. There is no life before birth, there is no life after death; just suddenly between birth and death life exists? – out of nothing, out of the blue? This is not very rational. For something to exist, there has to be a continuity.

The Poona River exists. You cannot say, “Before it enters Poona it is not; after it leaves Poona it is not. It just exists in Poona, suddenly.” You will be thought to be a madman. If the river enters Poona, it must have existed before Poona; otherwise from where will it enter Poona? If it leaves Poona, it must go somewhere.

The existential remains existential. There is no existence coming out of nonexistence, and existence cannot go into nonexistence. You can ask the physicists. They have not yet been able to destroy a single atom. You cannot destroy anything – and you cannot create anything either. You cannot destroy a grain of sand. Science has progressed so far, so much, but we are incapable of creating a single grain of sand or of destroying a single grain of sand. You can grind it, you can change the form, but it will remain in another form. Only the form changes; life goes on.

And he says, “I believe there is going to be no life after death.” And who is this who is saying all this nonsense? Who is this? Matter cannot talk. And who is taking precautions? Life must be interested in protecting itself. Life must have an intrinsic mechanism to protect itself. For what? The seed protects itself; the hard crust that exists around the seed is a protection. It protects itself so that it can grow into a tree. You protect yourself to grow. If there is no growth, then why protect? Why not go and jump into the sea? And in Ceylon the sea is very close and beautiful. Why not jump into the sea and finish it? For what are you protecting and taking precautions?

Even in an atheist like Kovoor, life wants to live – a tremendous desire to live. For what? If the desire exists there must be a meaning to it. And the meaning is that life in itself is not the end. Life is just a passage. Life in itself is just the journey, not the goal. Life in itself is just a process of reaching somewhere.

A rationalist, if he is really a rationalist, has to commit suicide. He has nothing else to do here. But Kovoor is not a rationalist. He is atheistic, that’s true.

And atheism is the lowest form of religion. Why do I call it the lowest form of religion? Because it is the least productive, least creative. Have you watched? Down through the centuries, the theistic religion has been so productive, so creative – Khajuraho, Ajanta, Ellora, Michelangelo, Mozart, Leonardo da Vinci, the great churches and cathedrals, the great temples of the East, the great statues of Buddha. All painting, all sculpture, all music, all drama, all poetry, has come out of the theistic religion. Atheists have not created anything. That’s why I call it the lowest form of philosophy. They have not created anything; they have been the most unfertile, impotent people. They have not created any book compared to the Geeta or the Bible or the Koran. They have not created anything whatsoever. Their whole effort has been this: that there is no God. Is it enough just to go on declaring there is no God? They have not challenged the intelligence of man.

From Charvak to Dr Kovoor, their whole history is the history of impotence. All that is beautiful has come out of the religious people, the theistic people.

Now, the interview proper.

The Current asked where he will be after death. Kovoor said, “I will not be anywhere…. I do not believe that I have a soul.”

Dr Kovoor says, “I believe that I have no soul.” Who is this declaring “I am not”? Even to declare “I am not,” you have to be there. To believe or not to believe is not the point. To declare belief or unbelief, you have to be there.

If there is no soul, then go and ask the same question to a rock. Ask the rock, “Is there a soul or not?” and the rock is not going to say, “I don’t believe in any soul.” The rock will not say anything; there is nobody to deny or affirm. In fact, you cannot deny yourself. It is not possible. You cannot say “I am not.” It is self-contradictory.

He says, “I will not be anywhere.” It is impossible not to be anywhere. You will be somewhere. You are somewhere, Dr Kovoor. Your body may dissolve into matter, your mind may dissolve into atmosphere – but everything that is in you will be there. Nothing will be lost.

And this concept of soul is just a symbol. It simply shows that you are a unity – body, mind, and something beyond it because you can watch your own thoughts. Who is the watcher? You cannot be totally identified with your mind. You can see a thought entering in the mind and moving. Who is this seer?

He has never tried meditation, it seems. A simple technique would be of tremendous help to him. Although he is eighty, it is never too late. A little technique of just sitting silently and watching will make him aware that the body is there as the outer shell, then thoughts are there as the inner shell, and there is at the very hub just a witnessing, just awareness. That awareness is soul. That awareness will be somewhere, because it is somewhere right now. It cannot disappear; nothing ever disappears. Forms change; the reality remains. But he says, “I do not believe….”

That’s what I mean when I say he is not a rationalist. A rationalist will never talk in terms of belief or no-belief. He will talk in terms of experience. He can only say, “I have not experienced yet, so how can I say without experiencing whether there is a soul or not? And I am not dead yet, so how can I say?” […]

Then, The Current asked him, “Does Bhagwan Rajneesh have a soul?” It amused me very much. How can you ask somebody else about my soul? And he could not even gather courage to say, “How can I know about Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh? He may have, may not have.” What he answered is sheer nonsense. He said, “I do not know much about Rajneesh.” As if by knowing much he will know whether I have a soul or not. Even if you live with me for a hundred years and you know much about me, you will not know me. Knowing much “about” will not help. Because there is no way to enter into me, you can only watch my behavior. You cannot see me; you cannot enter into my interiority, into my innerness – and that innerness is what soul is.

Matter has only an outside; matter has no inside. Listen to it attentively: matter has no inside. You can break matter and you will find the same matter inside that you found on the outside. It has no inside; matter only has an outside.

But a man has an inside. I say “I love you.” You can cut me and try to find out where love is, and you will not find it. Of course Dr Kovoor talks, says things, asserts, makes statements, but if we cut him we will not find any thinking inside, no thoughts, not even this thought that “I don’t believe in the soul.” When you cut a man, the inside disappears. When the man was there in his organic unity, the inside was there. The inside is what we mean by “soul.”

How can you know my inside? Only I can know it. He does not even know his own inside; he has never been there. He is an extrovert; he has never entered his own temple. He has never come to his own innermost shrine. He has not encountered himself.

And he says, “I do not know much about Rajneesh” that’s why he cannot say whether Rajneesh has a soul or not. Knowing “about” won’t help. Unless you know yourself, it is not going to help. I can say that Dr Kovoor has a soul because I have come to know my own soul. In that very recognition I have recognized the soul of everybody. Notwithstanding what he says, I say he has a soul, because I have come to know my soul. I don’t know much about him either, I have only seen his photographs, but I can say he has a soul, because his eyes show fire, sincerity. He is a sincere man – more sincere than your Satya Sai Babas. That much I have to concede: he is a sincere man.

Sincerity shows his soul. He is an honest man. He has not deceived anybody. He may be deceived himself; that is another matter. He is deluded; that is another matter. But he has never deceived anybody. He has a soul, a very sincere, religious soul.

But I can say that, not because I know much about him. Because I know myself, that’s why I say it. He cannot say anything about me because he does not even know himself.

It is not a question of knowing about me. If you ask me about somebody in China whose name I have never heard – if you say, “A certain man, Ching-chang, has he a soul?” I will say, “Yes, if he exists, he has a soul.” I have not even heard his name and I don’t know whether “Ching-chang” can be a Chinese name or not – looks Chinese – but if Ching-chang exists, he must have a soul. That much is absolutely certain. It is not certain because I know anything about Ching-chang. I have not even seen his photograph; I have never heard about him; I have just invented the name here, now. But I can say he has a soul, if he exists at all, because I know – I know myself. Knowing myself, I have known all human beings. Knowing myself, I have known the whole of life. Not only do I say that you have a soul and that Dr Kovoor has a soul, I say trees have a soul, and animals and birds.

And I say to you the whole of existence is full of soul. That’s what we mean when we say “God is”: existence is full of soul. Existence has an interiority; it is not just the surface. It has a depth, it has meaning. It is not a chaos; it is a cosmos. It has a destiny, a direction. It is going towards a certain fulfillment. It is moving towards an orgasm, ecstasy.

And then he goes on saying – which was not asked, hence I call him senile: “But the cult spread through him shows the mental derangement of his devotees. It is as bad as the Hare Krishna.” Now the question was about me, not about my devotees. A rationalist will stick to the question. There is no need to go to my devotees. He has not known much about me, and I think he has not known anything about my devotees, about my disciples. He may have heard some rumor, but that is not the way of a rationalist. He should come here; he should see my devotees. And seeing from the outside won’t help much. He should dance with them. It will be a beautiful scene – eighty-year-old Dr Kovoor dancing, doing Kundalini Meditation.

And he says that “the cult spread through him shows the mental derangement of his devotees.” It shows many things. First, he believes that the mind can be in a derangement. That means he believes there is a certain arrangement of the mind. Arrangement brings soul back; arrangement brings God back. If you say the mind is deranged you accent some criterion, you say that there is a certain way when the mind is arranged rightly; otherwise you cannot say this is deranged. You have a certain concept of how the mind should be. If you have some concept of how the mind should be, you have brought a value in from the back door. This cannot be allowed to a rationalist.

How should the mind be? Harmonious? Loving? Compassionate? Intelligent? How should the mind be? And if there is a “should,” then existence is not accidental. Then you have a value. And if you have a “should” about the human mind, why should you not have a “should” about the whole?

He is not a rationalist at all, poor fellow. He does not know anything about rationalism. He has not done his homework. He may have collected a little bit from here and there, but he does not know the intensity of a rationalist’s intelligence.

A rationalist is more like Sartre; he will say everything is meaningless. A rationalist will be more like Samuel Beckett – absurd. Samuel Beckett’s plays go on, move in absurdity, because the whole of life is absurd. There is no possibility of any coherence, meaning. All is mad. So somebody asks you about A and you talk about B; that too is okay because there is no way to know what is okay. There is no way to judge what is what. It is a chaos. […]

Now, he says my disciples are mentally deranged. Then he must have some criterion. What criterion is there? Is Dr Kovoor the criterion? If people are like him, then they are rightly arranged? Then he seems to be the ultimate value. Then Mahavir was deranged because he walked naked; Kovoor has never walked naked. Then Buddha was deranged because he left his kingdom and beautiful woman and the child and all the pleasures – abnormal, deranged. Then Jesus was deranged because he was saying that he is the son of God. What nonsense. God does not exist, so how can the son exist? He must be hallucinating.

My disciples are the sanest people possible on the earth because they are not accumulating insanity. That is the whole secret of catharsis. He must have heard that my disciples scream and shriek and shout and dance and go mad, but he should come.

Madness is when it is beyond your control. Have you watched my disciples meditating, shrieking, shouting, going crazy? Then suddenly Chaitanya orders them, “Stop!” And they stop. Go to a madhouse and say loudly, “Stop!” Nobody will stop. That’s how you judge madness. This is a willed madness; they are in control. They are doing it; it is not happening to them. They are going into it. They are releasing the pent-up energy.

People go mad because they don’t release. Then the energy goes on accumulating and it becomes too much. One day it explodes. Then Chaitanya will go on saying, “Stop! Stop!” and you will not stop, because you cannot stop; now it is beyond you.

If Kovoor goes mad he will not listen to “Stop!” If my disciples go mad, if somebody comes and says, “Stop!” they will immediately stop. It is within their power. It is catharsis; it is not madness.

And it seems he has not heard anything about modern trends in psychotherapy. He does not know anything about Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy. He does not know anything about Encounters, Growth Groups, Humanistic trends. He does not know anything about Psychodrama. He has not heard anything. He is a very, very ancient, dead man. He is not contemporary at all. It seems he has not read anything other than Charvak and Epicurus and Karl Marx. He is out of date.

Dr Kovoor, you are dead. You don’t know anything about what is happening in the world; you are not a contemporary.

These people here around me are going to be the sanest people in the world because they are not accumulating. They have come to know a secret: how to release and how to drop everything that goes on accumulating inside, and always remain virgin, fresh, young – sane. Sanity does not have anything to do with control. Sanity is a natural state. If you control anger, one day suddenly you will find it has overpowered you. Release it.

I believe in release, in catharsis, because I believe that is the only way to remain sane. To remain sane in an insane world is a difficult thing because people all around are stuffed with all sorts of illnesses – anger, sex, jealousy, possessiveness, hatred. They have been taught to control from the very childhood. They have become just like volcanoes; they are sitting on the volcano. People are not sane; people are insane.

Animals are saner, trees are more sane; and I am teaching you to be natural. And to be natural is to be in tune with God. To be natural, to be spontaneous, is to be religious.

And he says, “It is as bad as the Hare Krishna.” No, then too he is not right. It is worse than Hare Krishna. The Hare Krishna people are very simple, almost simpletons. They don’t know anything about life. Prabhupad has attracted the lowest, the stupidest people of the world, foolish people. No, sir, this is worse than that. These are very intelligent people around me. These are not simpletons; these are very intelligent people.

And Hare Krishna is not going to bring any revolution in the world. It is traditional. What I am doing is worse, Dr Kovoor. It is going to bring a tremendous revolution in the world. It is going to shatter your old world completely. I am creating atomic explosions; sooner or later they will explode all over the world. They will shatter your whole society, your whole so-called civilization. They will shatter the whole past. These are totally new beings.

I am helping a new world to be reborn, a fresh consciousness, a new consciousness.

Hare Krishna people are nothing. Maybe a sort of entertainment, amusing, eccentric, but they have no future. They have a past. My people have no past; they have a future.

And the future is always dangerous – because if the future is allowed, the past has to be dropped. Only by dying to the past does one become available to the future.

I would like Dr Kovoor to come here, taste some of the energy of my people. Although it is very late, better late than never. If before you die you can have a taste of something beyond, it will be good. Sooner or later, Dr Kovoor, you will be dying. It is better to have some preparation. It is better to be ready for an after-death life. It is possible.

And when I say it is possible, I am not talking theoretically. I am a very practical man, down to earth. I am a Jew! I mean business. If you come here and allow me to dismantle you a little, to destroy you a little, I can create you again. This is a promise.

Osho, Ecstasy: The Forgotten Language, Ch 8, Q 1 (excerpts)

¹ Abraham Kovoor was born in Thiruvalla, Kerala in 1898. After working briefly as a lecturer in botany at C.M.S. College in Kerala, in 1928 he decided to move to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. Kovoor taught botany at Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai for 15 years, and later at various other colleges; he retired in 1959 as a teacher at Thurstan College, Colombo. He also practiced hypnotherapy and applied psychology, and was the founder of the Ceylon Rationalist Association. He also is the author of several books in Hindi and English, among them ‘Gods, Demons & Spirits’ and ‘Begone Godmen’.

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