What is Hindu Atheist? Is he Hindu or is he an Atheist?
Can he not be both? In more conventional way, no.
In its most conventionally practiced form, Hinduism is about multitudes of rigid rituals practiced for various reasons from obtaining god’s favor to reaching goal of eternal salvation. The rabid mob of devout Hindus who flock in massive scale to any kind of yatras (pilgrimages) and utsavs (religious festivals) is testimonial of the fact that today’s Hinduism is far departed from some of the ancient philosophies that professed heterodoxy.
Even the philosophy of advaita vedanta – the philosophy that rejects externality of god and professes non-duality (advaita in sanskrit) of god and human soul – is also mostly followed by some elite intellectuals. For masses, Hinduism is about going to temple and praying to god for their material well-being.
Hence, in most conventional way one can not be Hindu and Atheist at the same time.
But if one goes by loose definition of Hindu ethos as collection of ancient philosophies prevalent in vedic era, then Hinduism doesn’t remain a conventional religion any more. It becomes a diverse collection of fruitful and constructive arguments, debates, discussions among the intellectuals of the era. That form of Hinduism does not prescribe any particular medicine as the ultimate elixir of life. You can choose what you like and you can still call yourself Hindu as in descendant of that legacy if that gives you a sense of belongingness and if you are looking for the one.
In Atheistic perspective, there are three main philosophies that emerged out of vedic/Indus valley/Indian civilization – Jainism, Buddhism and Cārvāka (pronounced Chartered-vaa-make) teachings. The first two philosophies preached non-materialistic atheism and ultimately diverged into different religions altogether. The later philosophy, professed by Cārvāka in 600BC, was perhaps far too ahead of its time and did not survive the brunt of puritan religion.
Today, Cārvāka’s philosophy can be seen as the most objective form of ancient atheistic philosophy. Perhaps, Cārvāka is the ancient visionary who professed the form of atheism which is gaining momentum today – 2600 years after his lifetime.
The philosophies of Buddha and Cārvāka have always fascinated me. I am not really sure which school of atheism I belong to – Buddhist or Cārvākist.