THE BRAHMAN CONCEPTION OF GOD.*
[* The chief events of the Conference held in the Wesleyan High School Hall, Mysore, on the 14th December 1910, are as epitomized in the following paper by Mr. A. Govindacharya of Veda Griham, Mysore, and sent to us for publication in this journal. - Ed. L.T.]
Truth is ever a solid fact, above the accidents of space, time and circumstance. In other words truth is eternal; and yet to search for it, discover it bit by bit, put it together into a whole and bold fast to it thenceforward is a process which seems to require the forth putting of stupendous energy, and enormous periods of time, if not eternity itself. Of such truths, the truths of religion are much more conspicuous by their character demanding such output of energy and time, before they may be proclaimed as established on the broad basis of humanity and before they may be pronounced as satisfying the requisites of solidarity. Hence the never-ending enquiry after religious truths which anyone can detect by reading through the histories of world-religions. And now in this peaceful and enlightened age, you see how this enquiry is pursued with greater ardor and with a spirit not hostile, but friendly. If there is one characterization that can apply to modern civilization, it is this humanitarian spirit that pervades all investigation into religious truth. A new spirit is which broods and smiles on us all. That spirit seems to my mind the incarnation of God beating all other incarnational records of Him which have gone before. The best local proof of such spirit is the course of lectures inaugurated in Mysore by our Missionary brothers here, and we are all witness to the warmth, geniality and general welcome, harmony which have characterized the proceedings in this hall, month by month. A new age has certainly dawned on us, and is inviting us all to work all the more strenuously in the pursuit of truth lighted by the rays of that blooming dawn. We Hindus, are not wanting in that divine quality known as gratitude; and therefore permit me in your name to tender our heartiest thanks to all our Missionary brothers who have so lovingly and enterprisingly banded themselves together to egg on the most serious and solid inquiry after religious truth which can ever possess mankind. After performing this most pleasant duty, which by happy accident, I am glad, has fallen to my lot, I shall at once to my subject.
To my mind there is no religion worth speaking of without the fundamental substrate of God. God is such a large subject that man may at various ages with his limited vision but sight a phase of him, but some conception of Him is a sine qua non for any religion. What is this conception according to the so called Hindu religion? I shall present it to you as I have known it so far and in doing so try to use the verbal instruments furnished by the English tongue of the modern scientific age.
For any statement made, proofs are needed. That there is God underlying the cosmos is a statement; and proofs are demanded for it. The several kinds of proofs which may be adduced form a subject of inquiry by themselves. But today it is sufficient to bring to your notice that there are such proofs as the ontological, cosmological, teleological and historical.
The ontological proof consists in its attempt to search for the source or trace, the root of the system known as the cosmos with which we stand face to face. The cosmological proof consists in its inquiry as to how the germ of the cosmos develops or evolves into manifoldness. The teleological proof consists in the investigation it institutes as to the final end or purpose of the cosmos. The historical proof is the process of discovering the providential expression of God in the incidents or events comprising the history of the world.
Some may subsume these proofs under the label Natural Theology, and others may adduce Revelation as the safest ground on which to build all conceptions of God; but this vast enquiry need not interfere with our willingly accepting proofs from whatever source they may emanate.
Referring to the ontological argument for God, which in a way is convertible into what is known as the argument of design, it points to a Designer at the back of all phenomena, who to our rationalistic sense ought to be Existent, Intelligent and Eternal; and this the Veda supports by the expression:-
SATYAM JNANAM ANANTAM BRAHMA.
This does not mean a mere bundle of attributes, but attributes are employed to designate the real substance or substrate according to a conventional rule explained by Sri Vyasa in the Vedanta Sutra:
The term Brahman ought to be understood. It is a name for God, which signifies that God is He who always ceaselessly expresses Himself, unfolds Himself, manifests Himself. And this Brahman is therefore not a lifeless stone, nor pulseless stock, but is existent, intelligent and eternal. And this Brahman is the source or seed of the cosmos, in both of its cardinal aspects which we are accustomed to group under the terms Objective and Subjective. A famous Upanishadic expression 'That thou art', Tat tvam asi, so often quoted, means that the great truth, whom we call God is the one Truth underlying both the Objective and the Subjective sides of the cosmos. So goes the ontological proof. The several proofs are not independent of each other, but are involved, the one in the other.
The cosmological proof as said before is a consideration how the seed processes out into manifoldness. This process as we know has three main features; the origination, sustentation and dissolution, or if you prefer another set of terms, the processes of differentiation, duration and re-integration. This is also the argument of design; for in all the three processes, a wonderful design is evident, and therefore, behind the three-fold processes of cosmology there is God. As belonging to the school of Natural Theology, J. S. Mill's "Three Essays on Religion" may be read, and as pertaining to the School of Scriptural Theology, the summing up of the argument in the aphorism:
JANMADI ASYA YATAH.
of the Brahma-Sutras of Sri Vyasa of revered memory, may be consulted. This Sutra briefly means: God is He from whom is all creation, by whom is all protection, and by whom is all dissolution. The term dissolution includes salvation. God is thus our Creator, Protector and Savior. According to the cosmological proof the, God is the causa causorium or the Primal Cause which protects the cosmos, and into which it is abstracted again and again. The cosmological proof is thus a statement of the great scientific Law of Causation, or the Law which postulates the inviolable relation which holds between Causes and Effects; and our Upanishat comes to support this by its pronouncement:
SA KARANAM, KARANADHIPADHIPAH, NA CHASYA KASCHID JANITA NA CHADIPAH:
Which means: 'God is the Cause and Lord of both the Non-conscient and the Conscient verities of the cosmos, having Himself no cause and no Lord above Him.'
The teleological proof as said above professes to conduct an inquiry into the final purpose or aim of the world-process. The purpose, our Brahmanism tells us, is the education of the souls, so that they may finally attain to the fellowship of God. The soul is created as the image of God, and the image is in the end designed to fully reflect God Himself. The Upanishat again says:
PARAMAM SAMYAM UPAITI.
i.e. 'He, the soul, become like Himself, and Bhagavad-Gita assures:-
MAMA SADHARMYAM AGATAH.
i.e. 'They shall attain to My (i.e. God's) Estate.' It is this idea that is summed up by Sri Vyasa in the Sutra of the Uttara-Mimamsa, viz., Lokavat tu lila kaivalyam, i.e., God creates, not to sub serve any selfish motive but of His for the sake of others, i.e., for His creatures. This is the import of the word Lila, which translated by the English term 'sport' conveys to men a sense which places Brahmanism in a light so as to prejudice it in the minds of those who care not to seriously dive into the depths of Vedanta, though the term 'sport' is often used in the sense in which Brahmanism understands it, by Christian theologians themselves. To cite only one instance Thomas Taylor, in his Metamorphosis etc., of the Apuleius, (p. 43 note I) writes:-
"Every providential energy of deity, about a sensible nature, was said, by ancient theologists and philosophers, to be the sport of divinity."
To St. Clement, the whole history of the world was a divine drama (sport), enacted to prove a moral purpose of His; to evolve a flower and a fruit out of the grand tree of life."
It is thus evident: how the legerdemain of one language conceals the ideas of another. The idea of one language becomes the language of another idea. Hence at this juncture, I must tell my missionary brethren how important it is for them to cultivate the Vernaculars of the land, that they may better appeal to the populace and that they may better understand us especially in the domains of philosophy and theology surcharged as they are with the technique, singular to their topics. Also I as earnestly ask them, as they ask us, to study Brahmanism is all its aspects, not from translations, but from original sources with competent Hindu scholars. The teleology of the cosmos is thus lila, or recreation, which means the self-expression of God in His aspect of Ananda or Bliss, for the Brahman conception of God is not only what all has hitherto been shown to be, but He is blissful, as the Upanishat tells us:
God is essentially blissful, and being Brahma, i.e., always expressing Himself out, expresses His bliss as well. The expression of bliss is the marvelous tapestry of the cosmic display we perceive; and the purpose or teleology of it is to make every part of it to become like the whole; in other words to compass for all souls the estate of companionship eternal, with God Himself.
The historical, in other words, the moral proof of God is best state in Max Muller's words. [p. 334. Anthropological Religion]:
"It is this hunger (hunger and thirst after God), this weakness, if you like, this, this incompleteness of human nature, attested by universal history, which is the best proof, nay more than a proof which is the very fact of the existence of something beyond all infinite knowledge, call it by any name you like in all the numberless languages and dialects and jargons of the world. Those who maintain that this is a delusion, must admit at all events that it is a universal delusion, and a really universal delusion must be accepted as true, in the only sense in which anything can be true to human beings such as we are." Also Hegel closes his work: "The Philosophy of History" thus: "That the History of the World with all the changing scenes which its annals present is this process of development and the realization of spirit – this is the true Theodicea, the justification of God in History. Only this insight can reconcile spirit with the History of the World – viz., - that what has happened and is happening every day, is not only not "without God" but is essentially His Work". (p. 457. The World's Great Classics Series).
Thus, Brahmanism in its earliest or Vedic period conceived God in outside or objective nature; in its Vedantic period conceived Him in the inside or subjective nature, and thirdly in the Puranic period conceived Him in History as the God of Providence.
The conception of God according to Brahmanism is thus a complete conception. God to the Hindu is not only extra-cosmic, but intro cosmic; God is not only transcendent but the most intimate; not only sublime but the most gentle and meek as exemplified in the Avataras, in short, God is He who stands to the soul in every conceivable kinship which, is familiar language is grouped under the nine heads summed up in the verse:-
- Pitacha, (2) Rakshakas, (3) Seshi, (4) Bharta, (5) Jneyo Ramapatih, (6) Svamy, (7) Adharo, (8) Mamatmacha and (9) Bhokta ch-adya manuditah.
God to Brahmanism, to sum up, is the Infinite Person or the Personal Infinite; and, according to the Upanishadic dictum "Karanam tu-dhyehah" it is God the cause that is God to be prayed to. The one of the Nine relations formulated in the verse quoted is that subsisting between the Prayed and the Praying. There is no soul except it be prayerful, and there is no God except He be the Prayed.
The communion with God is also threefold; (1) communion with God as revealed in nature by the method of works (Karma-yoga) formulated by the Veda; (2) communion with God as revealed in consciousness, by the mode of knowledge (Jnana-yoga), as formulated by the Vedanta; and (3) communion with God as revealed in history, by the mens of love (Bhakti-yoga) as proved by the Puranas.
I have therefore very little sympathy with those simple shallow folk, who thoughtlessly and recklessly permit themselves to be swayed by every whiff of religious wind, and, carried away by the freak of the moment and blinded by the impulse of a sentiment, which may be provoked for the occasion by any enthusiast globe trotter, allow themselves to be transshipped from one company of religious persuasion to another of a like dispensation, - for selfish consideration in all likelihood!
There are such grand questions as the mystery of the Avataras, the most perfect divine characters of our Rama's and Krishna's in connection with that Avataric purpose, - here I ask you to read just one chapter in the Ramayana for Rama's character and just one in the Vishnu Purana for Krishna's character, - the inquiry into Evidences, the Personal God and so forth, which it is left to those for study in whom the sense of religion is sufficiently awake i.e., if man shall not live by bread alone; but I may say for their information that judging Brahmanism as embodied in the Sutras or Aphorisms of Vedanta by Sri Vyasa, there is no higher and lower Brahman or God, save that it means the fivefold hypostases of God as formulated in a recent treatise of mine, the Artha-Panchaka; the world is not unreal, nor is the individual soul identical with God as the passage Tat tvam asi is by some interpreted, and as I showed it already when speaking about the ontological proof. The Vedanta or Brahma-Sutras are composed of Four Parts. The First Part proves God by affirmatives, the Second Part by negatives or privatives. Here 'Neti Neti' of the Upanishat, 'not so, not so', has been much misinterpreted by prejudiced people. The affirmatives endow Godhood with every conceivable divine attribute, and the negatives show Godhood in contrast or antipolarity to every attribute which smacks of imperfection and depravity. Lionysius the Areopagite, quoted in James's 'Varieties of Religious Experience', pp. 416, 417, strikes the true key-note when he speaks thus – "Qualifications are denied to Divinity, "not because the truth falls short of them, but because it so infinitely excels them… It is super-lucent, super-splendid, super-essential…. super-everything that can be named." The Third Part is devoted to the Methods of Praying, and the Fourth shows the Object and Fruit of Prayer. Just reflect them what the Brahman conception of God is from such treatment? The First Two Parts show God to be Holy and Ethical, the Third Part proves His Grace to be the souls' ultimate refuge, by Prayer, God being hence very personal, and the Fourth part showing the summum bonum of souls' life to be salvation.
I have no doubt that whatever labels or hall-marks several of us congregated here may bear, I feel sure they will join me when I pray:-
'O heart, pour forth to your Mother, Father and Spouse, in praise, adoration and worship; O Soul! Flow forth to Her and Him for the eternal fellowship of Salokya, Sarupya, Samipya, Sayujya and Sarashti, whether the pouring forth or the flowing forth come by the thrill of joy or the stress of pain. Let the soul, illumed and penitent, ever murmur, in the inner most recesses of its silent being, its everlasting monotone of mental poise, and heart's bliss, amidst the mingled harmonies and dissonances of life, and let it ken the cosmos as the radiant garment of the inimitable and illimitable grace of the living God.'
Brothers and Sisters, the subject of God is so vast that I have tried to compress it into as small a space as it is possible to compress the Infinite into the Finite, to confine the Absolute into the Relative, and show the nexus between the Infinite Personal and the Personal Infinite. Having thus in a way presented the Brahman conception of God, I believe there is very little for contrasts, as all men have more or less conceived God in some such manner.
When I asked, I should next present you with a short paper on the Brahman conception of soul.
Once more, let me thank in your name our Missionary friends and brothers for providing the Mysore people with an opportunity to exchange views on subjects of the most vital moment, and affecting the abiding interests of the soul. I also feel sure that such reciprocal amenities will bridge the gulf between the Eastern and the Western shores; and the bonds of love and grace shall be so cemented as shall no more give room to unrests, et hoc. I believe that there is a vast prospect of peace for our Christian brothers and sisters to reconnoiter if they only know the right ways to go about. I believe the Christian Missions in India are the best instruments to achieve this much desirable end, if they will only sympathetically, heartily, enter the field and understand us better by entering into our national instincts and feelings. The first step in this direction, let me repeat, is for them to sedulously cultivate the vernaculars, and if they can, our Mother Tongue, the Sanskrit. Without these requisites, I am afraid, salvation of any sort is far afield.
For the third time, let me thank all the Missionary gentlemen, who banded themselves together to give a most interesting course of lectures in Mysore and if we did not thank immediately on the close of Rev. Thorp's closing discourse on Sunday evening last, it was because he stole an unconscious march over the time he should have left at our disposal. However let me assure you, my beloved Christian Brothers and Sisters! That if our thanksgiving was tardy, it was certainly not for want of appreciation.