What is Your Notion of God?

The Idea of God

by Jayaram V

There are two types of faiths, one that tells you in what you should believe, and the other in what you may believe. When you practice the faith of the first kind, there is little freedom and little value for any personal experience you may have that does not confirm to the doctrines of the faith. If you are bold enough to declare such experiences to others, you may be punished or excommunicated or declared a heretic or lunatic. History is the evidence that many people were tortured, killed, maimed, and silenced for their religious beliefs that seemed to threaten the stability of the establishment. Such faiths are mostly like the authoritarian regimes that severely restrict people's freedom to express themselves and practice what they believe in.

Fortunately, Hinduism falls in the other kind. It offers you an abundance of knowledge and a diversity of choices, just as creation itself. You may worship God as an idol, consecrating the idol as his living incarnation (arca), or you may meditate upon him as the highest supreme Brahman, who is eternal, infinite, indestructible, and formless. You may envision him in any of the numerous manifestations that you find in creation, or in any of the divinities who are extolled in the scriptures as forms of God, and worship him as either a personal or an impersonal god. You may understand him as existent or nonexistent, indifferent, disinterested, detached, passive, witness, and non-interfering, or as an actively virulent, emotional, living deity who responds with love and compassion to the calls of his devotees.

Just as there are numerous solutions to any problem and numerous paths to the same destination, in Hinduism there are many paths and approaches to God and liberation. If you have traveled on a path in your previous lives, you do not have to start all over again, but can continue from where you left. If you find a path difficult, you may choose a new one again. You may wonder why anyone should have such a wide choice. It is because diversity is the central feature of all existence, and all individuals are not the same because of the play of the gunas. Hence, the problem of their liberation which is part of this existence and part of this diversity, cannot be resolved by just one approach. It has to be as diverse as the beings and as existence itself.

The illusion of God

While Hinduism offers you a lot of freedom to know God or pursue your liberation according to your faith, it can also potentially create confusion and indecision in your mind. It is especially true if your faith is weak or your knowledge is superficial. Many Hindus are lay followers and do not know much about their faith. Without right knowledge, they may wonder what to believe and what not to believe, whom to worship and how to avoid making mistakes.

Since the world is an illusion, our notions of God are also part of the illusion only. We are not expected to possess right knowledge, but remain deluded and ignorant to facilitate the normal continuance of life. From Nature's perspective, liberation is an aberration, same like a prisoner trying to jump the walls and escape.

Therefore, it is difficult to overcome our ignorance and delusion to cultivate right attitude to the knowledge of God or to the possibility of liberation. The following guidelines are meant to help them to clear their minds and find some direction.

1. No one who is currently living on earth has ever seen God. If they tell you that they have seen him, know that they are either delusional or dishonest. God cannot be seen, because he is the seer, the one who sees. In a world of duality, both the subject and the object cannot be the same at the same time. You may see a vision of him, a form of him, or an illusion of him, but not him.

2. God is indefinable and indescribable. Hence, if anyone says that this and this alone is God, know again that the person is either delusional, dishonest, ignorant, or plain wrong.

3. If you believe that God and his creation are distinct, you will never be able to experience him As long as you perceive him through your mind and senses, with the duality of subject and object, you will remain separated from him. On the other hand, if you believe that God and his creation are the same, you will have an opportunity to feel his presence around you and within you.

4. For the mind, God is a concept, an idea, a philosophy, or a notion. Since they are products of your mind and since your mind cannot grasp the truths that are beyond its reach, for you they will remain the illusions of your mind. Since, the world we create upon earth is also an expression of the same mind, the same holds true for all who live here upon earth. Their notions of God are either borrowed, false, delusional, wrong, incomplete, imperfect, or incorrect.

5. Intellectually, your God is your creation. It may have no correlation to the reality of God in an absolute state. Your knowledge and understanding of God are relative to your knowledge, reason, mental development, maturity, desires, interests and expectations. The same holds true for every individual. In other words, you should be open-minded, tolerant and humble about your faith.

6. God is like any of the five elements that we know, namely the earth, water, fire, air, and ether, except that he has a will. He becomes what you want him to become, and assumes any shape and form that you intend to give him. If you think that God does not exist, he will not exist for you. If you think that he exists everywhere, he exists everywhere for you. If you think he exists only in the heaven, for you he will exist only in heaven, and you may not find him at all upon earth.

This may look confusing, but let us take the example of water. One person may see water in a pot and argue that water has the form of the pot. Another person may put it in a glass and argue that the water is of the form of the glass. One may add salt to the water and argue that water is salty, and another may add sugar and say that it is sweet. Such contradictions happen when people do not look at the water (essence) but at the form that holds it. In this analogy, the pot, the glass, the salt, and the sugar are the illusions (forms) that humans create about the reality of God (water) and consider them true. In truth, it is what we do with regard to our notions of God. We focus upon the names and forms or the outer aspects and ignore the essence that is hidden beneath them.

The truth regarding God

What does this mean? It means that you should have an open mind about God and begin with what you have, in what you believe or disbelieve, without being dogmatic, fanatical, or definitive. Just as the great Buddha did centuries ago, do not try to define God for the whole world, and do not argue with others about your notions of God. Let people practice their faith in their individual ways and believe in whatever God they choose to believe.

As far as you are concerned, begin with what comes to you naturally, as a starting point, and remain open and flexible. If you want to see him in a statue and worship, you may do so. If you want to see him in the infinite universe as a formless, infinite God, you have the freedom to do it. However, it does not give you the right to denigrate those who may see him in a tree, river, mountain, plant, or symbol

In all these cases, God is the essence of all things. He becomes whatever his devotees want. For them he becomes their thoughts and plays along according to their illusions and expectations. If you love anyone unconditionally, you will do the same. God molds himself according to your beliefs. He will not enter your mind or your life, if you shut your mind and heart and do not let him in. He will not enter your heart until you empty your mind of all desires for other things. You can also open your heart with abundant love and let him in. In both cases, you choose how you want God to be part of your life and consciousness.

The rewards of unconditional love

Do you know who the most endearing person in the world is? It is the one who gets along with everyone. The endearing person is gentle, humble, open, and unassuming. He just fits in. If you serve him food, he will eat. He will not complain that the food is cold or you served him non-vegetarian food. He will eat whatever you serve him. He will not demand a bed but sleep where you ask him to sleep. If you ask him to get out, he will go out and wait outside at the entrance of your house. If you ask him to come in, he will come in. If you starve him, he will remain hungry, but will not curse or complain. In fact it is how the monks and the ascetics are explected to live. They are supposed to emulate God upon earth and be like him so that they earn a right to enter his world.

God is the most endearing person you will ever find in the depths of your own heart and in the highest vision to which you can reach. God just fits into your vision and prayers. It is what it means when we read that God is formless, indefinable and indescribable. He is formless so that you can give him a form of your own, he is indefinable so that you can define him according to your knowledge and understanding, and he is indescribable so that you can relate to him by your own descriptions.

As the pervading spirit of all, God fits in into every form, shape, process, and condition, without choice, preference or condition. He complements, completes, perfects, improves, joins, or disappears according to your wish to complete your equation of a relationship or your vision of life or reality. If you understand this profound truth, your doubts regarding God will disappear, and your mind will settle in the faith that you practice. If a father has five children, they love him in different ways. One or two may even hate him and wish he were dead or gone forever. As the Creator of all, God has numerous children. Some love him and some hate him, while he does not have expectations from them. Instead out of his abundant love, he becomes what they want him to become.

This is the reality. God becomes the reality that you wish to see in your life. All life that happens to you is God happening to you. God is you and your creation in the mirror of existence. You may mistake it for reality, but know that someday you have to break that mirror of illusion to find a different truth that is not presently known or visible. By birth and by nature, human beings are given a tunnel vision. They cannot see much through the tunnel like senses. To see things as they are, you have to open them wide, or completely silence them to go even beyond.

These are individual differences that no one can resolve. You have to take personal responsibility for your life and relate to the God of your highest vision. You have even the permission to be him in all states of your consciousness. Therefore, let him become the forms when you see him with your eyes, and let him become the sounds when you listen to him with your ears. Let him become the words when you recite a sacred scripture, or transform into your devotion when you feel him in your heart. In the silence of your heart, when you transcend your mind and senses, let him become your very essence. Since he is unconditional in his love and expression, let him fit into your vision according to your dreams, hopes and expectations, rather than allowing yourself to suffer from doubt and guilt.

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