We keep using the English term “God” as if we know what it means. But do we? “Of course”, many may reply: “God is the English term for the Creator of the universe, for the Highest Truth.”
Few will doubt that this universe and we included have to come from somewhere and ‘God’ is given as the answer. He is seen as the ultimate power, the highest truth, from which all else emanates. Yet somehow, ‘God’ has taken on strange attributes in public perception: He is invariably male, and has allegedly spoken to a few special persons and told them what he wants from us humans.
He is also said to be compassionate and loves those who believe in him and who follow the instructions sent down through those special people, but he won’t have any mercy for those who don’t follow his specific instructions. They will be sent to eternal hellfire.
Somehow this Abrahamic view of God has taken predominance, maybe because the majority of humans are either Christians or Muslims. This view is reinforced and fear of eternal hell is instilled in children generation after generation. Even as adults, most don’t question their belief. It has become part of their mental make-up. And there is comfort in believing that one has the ‘right’ belief in the ‘true’ God and belongs to a big group of like-minded people, which will stand up for this God and defend him ferociously against any criticism.
However, though Christianity and Islam go both back to Abraham and have similar views regarding the creator, each one insists that its own God alone is the true one.
Therefore, they see it as their divinely ordained duty to make the whole world believe in their particular God. That means, Christianity claims all must become Christians, and Islam claims all must become Muslims to gain entry into heaven, and they can be (and have been) ruthless in pursuing their goal.
Both are united in claiming that those who worship many gods are the worst offenders in the eyes of their “only true” God and this ‘evil’ needs to be wiped out. So they feel justified in defaming especially Hindus whom they see as “idol-worshippers”.
This notion of God needs urgent scrutiny – not only by outsiders, but also by insiders. Is it possible that the Supreme is a sort of superhuman entity and heavily biased towards his followers and unforgiving towards ‘others’?
Are there different views? Here, ancient India comes in.
In ancient times, long before Christianity or Islam appeared, Vedic Dharma (today called Hinduism) had a very mature understanding of the Highest Truth which is generally called Brahman (there are other names, like Paramatman or Tat).
Brahman is not personal, not a superhuman entity, not male or female, but the most subtle, invisible, conscious, one basis of all. The Rishis meditated on the truth and came out with astonishing insights. They declared, “Brahman is not what the eyes can see, but That whereby the eyes can see. Brahman is not what the mind can think but That whereby the mind can think” (Kena Upanishad).
They realised that this universe is a kind of wrong perception of Brahman, completely dependent on it but not the real thing. An example is given: we mistake in dim light a rope for a snake. The snake is not real, but since we believe it is real, we jump and run and our hearts beat heavily. Yet when we realise that the snake is a rope, all fear is gone.
The Rishis give another example how it is possible to miss the truth though it is right in front of our eyes: we go to a potters shop. We see all types of cups and jugs, but we miss to see the mud from which they are made. The mud is the essence of the temporary form of a cup. It remains after the cup is broken.
Similarly, Brahman is the essence of our person and remains when our person has ceased to exist.
Yet do the Rishis have any proof for their view?
Unlike the clergy of Christianity and Islam, who rely basically on a story book, the Rishis vigorously and intelligently enquired into truth which is reflected in the ancient texts, especially the Upanishads. For example, they had criteria for what is true:
One: it must be at all times – past, present and future,
Two: it must not need anything else to shine or in other words, it has to be self- evident.
Those two criteria dismiss the whole universe as untrue. Apart from the fact that it was not always, it also needs something to ‘shine’ – it needs consciousness.
So what is left after the universe is dismissed as not true? The Rishis claim that the extremely subtle, conscious basis of everything is left. It means that it is here right now as the source of our awareness. It is not some separate thing at some different place. It is our very being and therefore there is a chance to ‘real-ise’ (know it as real) by turning inwards to what is unchanging and true in us beneath the ever-changing activity of our mind and develop devotion for it.
Unfortunately, we miss out on being aware of this source of our awareness because we prefer to look outside and hardly make an attempt to stop the mental chatter once in a while. This is unfortunate, because the Rishis claim that our essence is not only the source of valuable inspiration, but is also most blissful – far more blissful than what any worldly enjoyment can give. And the Rishis spoke from experience.
So the English term “God” is actually not denoting the absolute, highest Truth, but a great power in this manifested reality – more on the level of the “gods” in Hinduism, whom these two religions so despise.
The Vedic gods are mainly personified powers who are, as it were, in charge of running our world and on whose benevolence humans depend for a happy life. They however, unlike the two Abrahamic gods, do not condemn anyone eternally to hell if people fail to propitiate them.
It is strange that the Christian and Muslim theologians don’t realise that their understanding of God as a personal, separate, biased entity cannot be the ultimate truth. Scientists have realised it. In fact, some scientists are aware that the ultimate truth that they seek is in all likelihood the Brahman of ancient India, and many big names in modern science, though those names sound Jewish or Christian, were inspired by India’s ancient wisdom – from Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Oppenheimer, Einstein till Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.
Maybe the clergy of Christianity and Islam don’t want to realise it, as the present set-up suits them in pursuing their goal of world dominion. The threat that God will send those, who don’t do what the clergy tells them to do, eternally to hell is surely a powerful incentive for the ‘believers’ to stay in line. At the same time, it puts their intellect into a strait jacket and is an affront to human intelligence.
Hindus escaped this strait jacket. They are not told what to believe. Most of them don’t believe in God or gods, but they are sure that Brahman is the truth and the gods are at least as real as our persons are real – temporary aspects of the one eternal Brahman. This intellectual freedom may well be the reason why all over the world their intelligence is acknowledged and admired – and this in spite of the fact that Indian students need to take this huge, unfair hurdle of studying in a foreign language.
By Maria Wirth
Picture Credit: Rishabh’s Lens
Article republished with permission from Maria Wirth