What is God?
Through bhakti yoga meditation we can know what is God through realizing a tangible, exquisite and very intimate personal relationship with Him.
The Hindu scriptures explain what is God from every conceivable and inconceivable angle, including seemingly contradictory angles. They also tell that God -- who is a Divine subject -- simply can't be grasped, realized or attained by a material intellect.
To find a reconciled and practical application of this philosophy that makes sense in our spiritual life, the experiences, teachings and association of true Saints and Jagadgurus in the Hindu religion are our greatest guide.
With their help, there is every possibility that the truth of God's existence, closeness, grace and love could be realized one day.
A correct approach to spiritual philosophy is the first step in helping you develop a devotional and faithful heart, which is essential to progress towards the attainment of your ultimate aim of supreme Divine happiness.
A Philosophy of Everything
The Hindu scriptures explain that all that exists can be categorized into one of three areas. These are:
- Soul (your true self)
- Maya (the material energy that produced the universe, and your body, senses, mind and intellect)
- God (the supreme Divine existence)
There are hundreds of scriptures and thousands of Sanskrit verses that describe the interrelationship between these three tattva or existences.
Although there has been nothing left unsaid about what is God in the Hindu scriptures, how do we utilize this knowledge? For example, God is referred to as "viruddha dharmashreya" -- a repository of simultaneously-existing opposites. He is also "kartum-akartum-anyathakartum samarthah" -- so unlimitedly great that He can do the possible and the impossible, and also the opposite of both of these situations.
God - One or More than One?
There are hundreds of places in the Vedic scriptures and Saints have affirmed through their own practical experience that there are two aspects of one supreme God.
What is God? The Vedas state in scores of scriptural verses that everything is God. That Divinity is one without a second, beyond all forms, names and qualities. That divinity is an existence that is eternally imperishable and indivisible.
Everything is one with God in its essential nature, including you as a soul. There is only one field of absolute Being where all divisions and separations merge into one existence.
More Than One
What is God is also described by the same Vedas from an opposite point of view. God is supreme and the souls and Maya are His subordinate powers.
All three have their own unchanging unique and separate characteristics.
God has form, name, abode, and qualities, the foremost among them being to grace the souls with God realization. He is an ocean of Divine bliss. The soul's ultimate aim is to realize God's bliss, visualize His Divine form and be in His eternal service forever.
The "one-only" (nondualism) and the "more than one" (dualism) perspectives appear to be irreconcilable, just as other statements found in the scriptures, such as:
|God is bigger than the biggest (so big the universe is within Him).
||God is subtler than the smallest thing a human mind could conceive.
|God resides in the heart of every living being.
||God eternally dwells in His own Divine abode.
|God is eternally unborn.
||God takes many births.
|God is completely unknowable by a material mind.
||God must be known if a soul is to find true happiness.
|Every soul naturally loves and desires God and he couldn't change this even if he tried.
||No soul could naturally love God even he tried continuously for millions of years.
|God is beyond the reach of your senses, mind and intellect.
||God is within the reach of your senses, mind and intellect.
|God is the supreme creator of the universe.
||God is a complete non-performer of action.
|God is attainable only with His grace.
||God is attainable only through spiritual practice.
|The path of karma is contemptible.
||The path of karma is praiseworthy.
|The path of jnana is contemptible.
||The path of jnana is praiseworthy.
|Bhakti is what is done to attain God.
||Bhakti is what attained upon God realization.
|A Saint is under the control of Maya, like an ordinary soul.
||A Saint could never be under the influence of Maya.
|Imagining a lump of manure to be a sweet won't give you the effect of eating a sweet.
||Imagining a stone deity or other religious image is divine will give you a divine benefit.
|By doing nothing you receive everything.
||By doing everything you get nothing.
Jagadgurus and Saints
Because of the complexity and contradictory nature of these descriptions -- and because of the Divine nature of Sanskrit -- if you try to study scriptural texts on your own, instead of answering your questions and resolving your doubts, they will only further increase your confusion, making you feel that God is truly 'farther than the farthest'.
The purpose of spiritual philosophy is move us closer to God. To help us, there is another body of scriptures that are equally respected in Hinduism called 'aapt vakya' (the writings or teachings of Saints).
These will give us the greatest help in understanding and developing faith in what is God and His path of realization. The remaining scriptures apart from these are the proof that substantiates these writings.
We can especially look to the writings of the Jagadgurus. Enlightened Saints in the Vedic tradition who reveal world-class spiritual teachings are given this title, which means 'world teacher'.
The breadth, depth and Divine insight of a Jagadguru's teachings are unique, excelling and even revolutionary in their class and quality. They rejuvenate and restore the original teachings of spiritual philosophy for that age.
In gist, the topics these Saints reveal in their writings are:
- What is the soul
- What is Maya
- What is the soul's relationship to Maya
- What is God
- What is the soul's relationship to God
- What is Divine bliss
- How does the soul realize Divine bliss and find God
There were four historic Jagadgurus who wrote commentaries on the knowledge found in three scriptures collectively referred to as "prasthan-treyi" - the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and the Brahm Sutra.
Using scriptural evidence from these writings, they offered their particular views on the above points. Their philosophies were a version of vedanta. Vedanta means the knowledge which is the essence of the scriptures.
Also contributing to this important body of spiritual philosophy were two more Saints:
And the Jagadguru for our current age:
What Did They Prove?
Using verses from these scriptures as proof, the very first Jagadguru, Shankaracharya, demonstrated that the prime aspect of God is:
- Nirakar (formless)
- Nirguna (no qualities)
- Nirvishesh (no characteristics)
All the Jagadgurus that succeeded Shankaracharya referred to this description of God as a "preceding proposition" -- a concept that was intended to be further expanded upon.
For example, imagine someone said, "The Indian Ocean is the only ocean on the earth." Technically speaking, this could be proven because water molecules don't restrict their movement to certain areas. The molecules currently in the Indian ocean could be in the Arctic Circle or anywhere else in a week, a few days or even hours.
On the other hand, if you are sailing and want to go to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, this information won't help you and, in fact, it's wrong. How will you find Hawaii in the Indian Ocean?
So, from one point of view this statement is correct, from another point of view, it is incorrect.
Similarly, using the same Vedic scriptures, the remaining Jagadgurus' description of God was completely contrary to Shankaracharya's philosophy. They said God is:
- Sakar (with form)
- Saguna (with qualities: name, form, qualities, abode)
- Savishesh (with unique characteristics)
Confusing? Yes, and because of this, these contradictory revelations are often a huge stumbling block when not properly understood. The reconciled understanding is that both of these descriptions are true.
From the Divine point of view, it is not a question of "either/or", that God is either this OR that. God is both -- a formless, absolute existence and a supreme divine personalty with form and qualities. God is all powerful with an unlimited capacity to embody all these contradictory aspects at the same time. This, if anything, is the complete definition of God -- He is the abode of simultaneously existing opposites.
Setting Your Devotional Perspective
The reconciled and complete understanding of all these philosophies is that there are three powers or three eternal existences:
- God -- God is the supreme (para) power (shakti). This is the power of His own personality or swaroop shakti or His innermost (not dependent) power or antaranga shakti.
God is the supreme governing power, who is omnipresent and all-knowing. He is the ultimate refuge and the supreme Divine mother, father, friend, and beloved of all the souls. The most intimate expression of His Bliss is Divine love.
- Soul -- this is called God's marginal (tastastha) power or shakti or jeev shakti). It is a subordinate power of God, which means it is one of God's dependent powers.
The souls are called marginal because they are "on the margin" between God and Maya and can go to either side.
Although the soul is Divine and a part of God, eternally it is under the control of Maya. Because of this the soul has limited knowledge, it's existence is bound by time and space and it is devoid of Divine bliss. This separation from God is the origin of your quest for happiness.
The soul retains its individual existence whether it's under the control of Maya or liberated from Maya.
- Maya -- this is called God's external (bahiranga) power (shakti) or maya shakti). Like the souls, Maya is a subordinate power of God, which means it is one of God's dependent powers.
Maya is called an external power because this lifeless power exerts an extroverting or reverse-facing effect, causing the soul to face away from God.
Although the soul can go to either Maya's side or God's side, it is controlled by Maya. The soul is within a material body. Our faculties of perception are also material and we only see and know the material world. Although Maya has controlled the soul since eternity it is conditional -- it could end one day.
Maya is God's power and with God's drace, your personal effect of Maya (mayic ignorance) could be eliminated and you could attain God realization through bhakti yoga meditation.
Although Maya obscures the truth of what is God and also your relationship with God, it is also your ultimate well-wisher -- without a material mind in a human birth, spiritual practice and understanding of Divine philosophy would not be possible.