Search This Blog

24 November, 2011

Does God exist?

       Every religious person, especially a Hindu, is supposed to do worship God every day.  On special occasion such as festivals, religious people worship God more elaborately.  Thus, the worship of God is very, very natural to a devotee.

       When we worship God regularly, we may get a doubt.  This doubt may just pop up in our mind without rhyme or reason or may occur when we are going through difficult times.  Any thinking intellect will get this doubt one time or the other - 'I am religiously and devotedly worshipping God but it there really a God existing somewhere?  This is a fundamental doubt - Does God really exist?

       The moment we get this doubt, we feel very bad because we are supposed to have implicit faith in the existence of God.  Despite deep faith, this doubt is bound to arise in a thinking intellect.  And even if we do not get this doubt, there are others - atheists, agnostics, irreligious people-who may raise a question or two - Does God exist?  Can you prove the existence of God?

       How are we going to answer this question?  Are we supposed to blindly, unquestioningly accept the existence of God or is there any proof  for the existence of God, a proof that is scientific, logical and religious.

       The issue does not belong to our religion alone.  Every religion has to face this question because all religions accept a God, be it Islam, Christianity or Hinduism.  Many people belonging to many religions have dealt with this issue in many ways but unfortunately the issue is getting more complex and complicated.

       How does the Vedic tradition approach this issue?  Let us suppose a spiritual aspirant asks a traditional teacher [one who has received spiritual knowledge through the guru (teacher) - sisya (disciple) - parampara (tradition)] - Does God exist?  A traditional teacher will not answer.  Instead he will put a counter-question to the aspirant - What do you mean by the word "God"?

       Each person has his or her own concept of God.  The word 'God' is used by several people in several ways.  The spiritual aspirant uses the word 'God' with a particular meaning while the traditional teacher's definition of God may be different.  Hence, before answering the question, a traditional teacher wants to ascertain whether the aspirant has the same concept of God as himself.  If not, there will be a communication gap leading to misunderstanding.  Thus before giving a proof for God, a traditional teacher tells the spiritual aspirant - 'First let us know the definition of God.  Then, when we both use the word 'God', we are both referring to the same concept.  When the communication gap (that can arise due to differing perception) is bridged, we can then ask for proof about the existence of God.'

Definition of God: 

       What is the definition of God?  The Vedas or scriptures say God is Caitanyam.  In English, Caitanyam can be translated by the word 'Consciousness'.  So according to our scriptures, God means the Consciousness principle.

       What exactly is meant by the word 'Consciousness'?  Again the Vedas provide the answer.  Katha Upanishad says - 'It is by this Self (Consciousness) that a person knows form, taste, smell, sound, touch'. (2.1.3).  Consciousness is that principle by which we are aware of, or conscious of everything around us.

Proof for God:

       Once the definition of God is made clear, we can ask the next question - Does the defined God exist or not?  Since God is defined as Consciousness, we can instead ask the question - Does Consciousness exist or not?  To answer this question, let us ask the question - Are we conscious of our surroundings or not?  What will we have to say?  The very question is possible only because we are conscious beings.  It is ridiculous question because it is only because we have a tongue that we are able to ask the question.  Similarly, it is ridiculous to ask for the proof of Consciousness or GodPancadasi says - 'As it is shameful for a man to express doubt if he has a tongue or not, so also it is shameful to say 'I do not know what Consciousness is'. (3.20).

       Every activity or experience of life is possible because we are endowed with Consciousness.  Thus every experience of ours is a proof of Consciousness and therefore a proof of GodBhgavad-gita says - 'the deluded do not see him who departs, stays and enjoys, who is conjoined with the guns, they see, what possess the eye of wisdom'. (15.10).

       A doubting Thomas may still persist with the question - Does God exist?  He has only to study the scriptures systematically and understand the definition of God.  Atheists, agnostics and some scientists doubt the existence of God because they have not been told the definition of god.

Nature of God:

       What is the nature of Caitanyam or Consciousness?  Science is not able to provide a clear answer.  Even through a lot of research has been done in different areas, science has not understood the phenomenon of Consciousness due to which the body is alive and sentient.  Is Consciousness an electrical phenomenon?  A neurological phenomenon?  Or a cellular phenomenon?  Varieties of theories are emerging and scientists are not able to resolve the issue.

       However, our scriptures do talk about the nature of Consciousness.  According to our scriptures, Caitanyam or consciousness is totally a non-material entity.  It does not come under matter principle or energy principle.  Bhgavad-gita says - 'As I (Consciousness) transcend the perishable and am even above the imperishable, I am known in the world and in the Veda as 'Purushothama' the highest purusa'. (15,18).

       That spiritual principle that is present in everybody is beyond the laws that govern matter or the material universe - physical, chemical or biological.  Scriptures refer to this property of Consciousness as 'Asanga' meaning not attached, not hindered.

       Every material object is conditioned by time and space which is an integral nature of matter.  Caitanyam is not governed eve by time or space.  Hence, scriptures use the expression 'ananta' meaning endless, infinite, boundlessBhgavad-gita says - 'The dwells in the hearts of all beings, O Arjuna, and by His maya causes all beings to resolve as though mounted on a machine'.  (18.61).  Just as a visible form is activated by independent, non material Consciousness.  In every movement we experience the Consciousness principle.  This asanga, ananda Caitanyam is Purusothamma or God whose existence no one can doubt.  The scriptures say understanding this asanga (non attached), ananta (infinite) caitanya Isvara alone is the aim of every human being which scriptures calls 'Isvaradarsanam or Isvaraprapti.

God with form:

       If God asanga, ananta Caitanyam, how are we to understand Brahma, Visnu, Siva and all other Gods and Goddesses described in the scripturesBrahma has four heads and lives in Brahmaloka and Sarasvati grace His tongue.  Vishnu lives in Vaikuntham and Mahalakshmi adorns His chest.  Siva resides in Kailas with Parvati occupying half His body.  Do such Gods and Goddesses exist or not?

       When scriptures use the word 'god', we must understand that the primary meaning of God is asanga, anata caitanyam.  All the finite, personified Gods that are identified with locations and elaborately described in the Puranas are only temporary presentation of God and are called 'gauna' meaning secondary Isvara.  This Gauna Isvara is a compromised version because God is given a form,  a location, a date of birth (in the case of incarnations), etc.

       The question arises - Why must we have Gauna (secondary) Isvara (God) at all?  Why must we settle for a compromised version?  It is for the sake of sadhana meaning religious and spiritual practice, that sastra or scriptures presents Gauna IsvaraIt is for the sake of refining our mind.  A refined mind is necessary to know mukha Isvara or primary God (asanga, ananta caitanyam).

       Our traditions, customs and practices are based on Gauna (secondary) Isvara.  Doing puja and rituals requires a shrine or altar.  Can we offer flowers or do abhisekam to a formless entity?  Karma (action), Upasana (puja and rituals) and Dhyanam (meditation) all require Gauna Isvara.  Since the tastes of people vary, we have several versions of Gauna (secondary) Isvara (God) which are very useful both at the individual and collective level.  The Puranas contain numerous stories that reveal God with many names and forms.  These stories are replete with elaborate details and descriptions that are very useful for our sadhana.

       India enjoys a very rich religious culture only because Gauna Isvara (secondary God).  Every festival centres around a Gauna Isvara and a Puranic story.  Every temple has a sthalapuranam (Puranic story) associated with it.  Music, dance, painting, sculpture, cinema are all possible because of Gauna Isvara.  The compositions of the great composers are inspired by their ista devatas or personal Gods (Gauna Isvara).  The length and breadth of our country is associated with one form of God or the other providing a religious atmosphere that enables the religious attitude to be maintained all the time.

       We need not probe into or ask for the proof of Gauna Isvara (secondary God).   Does Brahma really have four heads?  If so, how is He able to sleep?  Gauna Isvara is a temporary version purely for the sake of our sadhana or spiritual practice.  We enjoy the Puranic stories; we enjoy Gauna Isvara.  We use this personified God for puja, karma (action), upasana (rituals) and dhyanam (meditation).  We refine the mind, understand mukhya Isvara (primary God) and become free.  That is the Vedic approach to Isvara - Isvara jananam and Isvara prapti.

Source: From the Talk delivered by Swami Paramarthananda on Sivaratri, February 18, 2004. 

No comments: