Two great theologians of all times, one a Hindu from the East and the other a Christian from the West, came to similar conclusion about their writing on God. Sree Shankaracharya, the main systematizer of Hindu religion, said that his mistake was to attempt to define God who could not be defined. St. Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the greatest Doctor of the undivided Christianity, repeatedly asked to start writing by his companion after a spell of not writing, stated that all he wrote seemed to him like straw, that is, not worth much. He did not write anything more since then. Keeping these two great theologians in the background, we come to the inescapable conclusion that a human cannot really know anything about God. And rightly so. What we know about God, we know by analogy. That is, in anthropomorphic or our own human way.
How do we get our idea of God? The moment we are born we are conditioned and programmed about relevantknowledge and information about the world and God. Beginning with the basics at home and our immediate surroundings, we acquire the knowledge from religious settings, educational institutions, and the society we live in. Our life is one of continuous learning from the university of hard knocks. Thus our idea and knowledge about God come from others who hand down the tradition from one generation to the next. Although we are taught critical thinking, we are not encouraged to question traditional values or even our given concept of God. It is amazing how we unquestioningly went on living racist, casteist, sexist, slavish, and classist attitudes and values for centuries! To question them might have meant one’s own life. Yet we are not still out of the woods. We are not fully free. It is interesting to note that we cannot still talk and share our views about God freely without heavy censure or ostracism from keepers of God, a God who interestingly in infinite wisdom gave us the ultimate freedom even to reject God. The official, hierarchical keepers of the Catholic Christian faith, for instance, would have the subscribers to believe that the Church is the guardian of the Deposit of Faith and true doctrine from which no one would deviate without impunity. Does God need any church or authority to keep certain doctrine pure and unsullied through anathema? I do not think so. Humanity has not still learned to agree to disagree in an agreeable way. Only a few have learned to accept others’ views respectfully without denigrating or condemning them.
As a sequel to my article on A Simple Way to God, I am attempting to express my understanding and experience of God. It took years before I managed to break loose of the deep programming from childhood on, and express my views of God in the final stage or setting zone of my life. God for me is the all-embracing Cosmic Ocean with safe harbors as well as terrible dangers in which I am privileged to negotiate and celebrate my life. God to me is the Higher Power that powers all, the Intelligent Organizer of the cosmos that keeps on going amid human made chaos. God is the Energy of the Universe (Prapanchashakti) that energizes and keeps all beings in equilibrium. Is God personal or impersonal? I do not know.
What about the role of prophets, sages, and universal teachers (Lokgurus)? Some of the world teachers that influenced me most are Buddha, Christ, and Gandhi. Of these three, Christ has the first place in my heart. Among the things that he taught to help us actualize the Kingdom of God that is in our midst are: Truth alone can set us free; purity of intention is essential in every word, thought, and action; God is compassionate; accepting and forgiving us unconditionally, God celebrates our life when we turn to him; all are our neighbors, God’s children, truly brothers and sisters; nothing is more important than doing the will of God; loving the least of humans is loving God; unconditional love, forgiveness, and reconciliation are the basis of all human relations; no one is given preference before God; God prefers those who serve humans in distress.
Christ has a universal appeal. Some Hindu seers think of him as an avatar (incarnation) of God. Islam thinks of him as a prophet, second only to Muhammad. Enlightened as Buddha was, he did not believe in God as everyone could achieve salvation on one’s own effort. Gandhi was remarkable in that he put Christ’s teachings into practice putting most Christians to shame while staying steadfast in the best traditions of Hinduism. Christ reveals God as his father. Presenting himself as the way to the father, he modeled life for all humanity through his teaching. Is Christ God? I do not know. No one, including the keepers of the deposit of faith, is sure of the saving faith. What remains for all then is to work for salvation with “fear and trembling”. Or we work out our salvation doing God’s will made manifest in our conscience. Either way we are safe as God saves all sincere persons. Do I always believe in God without doubt? No. When in doubt, I hear: “Believe, you man of little faith”. And my prayer is: “Lord, you do take care of doubters; ‘I do believe, help my unbelief’”.
Swami Snehananda Jyoti