"We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonizing the Vedas, the Bible, and the Koran." - Swami Vivekananda












PRABUDDHA BHARATAThe Need for God | Editorial  




                The Need for God








     According to Vedanta, nothing exists other than Brahman, the ultimate Reality. What we see around is only an "as-if" reality. But this as-if or dreamlike reality continues to be real to us, most of the times painfully, until the dream breaks.


     In the July 2003 editorial, "We, God and the Universe", we discussed a triangle with (Personal) God, soul (individual) and the universe as its vertices. The three vertices stand or fall together. As long as our individualities are real to us, a Personal God and the universe are inevitable realities. In other words, Personal God can be negated only if we can negate our own body-mind personality, or free ourselves from body-consciousness.


     Of the three vertices the individual is the most important. That is because God and the universe assume realities depending upon our attitude towards ourselves. According to Swami Vivekananda, "Your godhead is the proof of God Himself. If you are not God, there never was any God, and never will be." (1) In other words, the divinity behind the universe becomes real to us only when we become aware of the divinity behind our own body and mind. Even a strong intellectual conviction of the divinity behind the body and mind and ordering our life accordingly can help us appreciate the divinity behind the universe. So, considering the centrality of the individual, we examine the relationship between the individual and the world (universe), the individual and God, and between individuals.




     The Search for Lasting Happiness




     The world is really too much with us. Most lives are fashioned by unseen forces, pulling the mind and senses towards the world and its lures. The average man seeks lasting happiness and fulfilment from the world. It is not surprising when we know how human personality is constituted. According to the Katha Upanishad, "God inflicted an injury on the sense organs in creating them with outgoing tendencies; therefore a man perceives only the outer objects with them, not the inner Self." (2) But the search for lasting happiness and fulfilment in external things inevitably proves futile, for real happiness is possible only in the Infinite; there is no (lasting) happiness in finite things. (3)




     The Centrifugal Path




     What is the way out then? Give up the world? Vedanta does not advocate renunciation of everything for everyone. It shows a twofold way of life: pravritti dharma and nivritti dharma. (4) Pravritti dharma is characterized by the pursuit of the three important values of life: dharma (righteousness), artha (prosperity) and kama (desire). Such a life involves responsibilities and dharma-regulated enjoyments in the world. The outward focus makes pravritti dharma a centrifugal path, making man move away from the central, divine core of our personality. Sri Krishna considers desires perfectly legitimate as long as they are in accordance with dharma. (5) Life in the world is not one of unbridled enjoyment, but a graded schooling to wean man away from the sensory system and turn him within.


     A Hindus life was divided into four stages, called ashramas: brahmacharya (life of self-control and studies), garhasthya (householders life of responsibilities and enjoyment in resonance with dharma), vanaprastha (retirement into forest, leading a life of studies and meditation) and sannyasa (total renunciation of ones family, and embarking on the quest for Knowledge). There is a significant point to be noted here: the self-control practised in the first stage served as a sheet anchor for the remaining stages of life. The householder has many sets of dos and donts regarding sensory life. The self-control he learnt during his student life helps him here. He practises his morning and evening devotions and serves others to the best of his ability. In the modern age, however, only the second and fourth stages of life are in vogue, the all-important first stage of self-control having almost vanished.




     The Centripetal Path




     Even a man given to unregulated sense enjoyment gradually learns that enjoyment is not all; that desires cannot be quenched by satisfying them - they only flame up all the more like fire fed with ghee. He begins to understand that what gave him happiness once is only a source of misery now. He learns painfully that he did not enjoy sense objects, but it was they who enjoyed him,(6) robbing him of his consciousness of his real nature.(7) When things go awry, when the world does not function according to his pet plans, when his possessions and kith and kin slip away from him by turn of events - man begins to think about the purpose of human life. Convinced that the world is not only impermanent but also an abode of misery, (9.33) he begins his search for something lasting amid the fleeting panorama of life. His reflection on the ultimate Reality, discrimination between the real and the unreal, and consequent giving up of attachment to ephemeral things and practising spiritual disciplines - these mark the beginning of the centripetal path, nivritti dharma, which leads man to the realization of the indwelling God.




     Attitudes towards Others




     As long as body and mind hold sway over us, the world continues to be real and others appear as distinct individuals. Likes and dislikes of others is an inevitable sequel to this perception. Mans interaction with others is mostly driven by selfish considerations. His relationship with others being body-centred, defects in others appear more real to him. Such a self-centred life unfailingly ends up in frustration. Is there a way out? There is none as long as our vision does not extend beyond the external world. That brings us to the subject of God and our relationship with Him.




     Individual and God




     God does not dwell somewhere up there, but within our own hearts here. (18.61) According to the three schools of Vedanta there are three relationships between God and the individual. The dualistic school looks upon man as a soul, and God as the supreme Person, eternally different from man. According to the qualified monistic school, God is the supreme Person and the repository of all auspicious qualities. Individual souls are parts of God, even as sparks of fire are parts of fire. God is the Soul of souls. According to the non-dualistic school, the individual and God are identical in their divine essence; nothing exists other than Brahman. Everything else is illusory like a mirage on the desert, vanishing on the dawn of Knowledge.


     For a spiritual aspirant these distinctions help him only to the extent that they offer him a frame of reference. Of the three relationships, the one according to the qualified non-dualistic school is most helpful for a spiritual aspirant: that is, a spark of divinity, part of the divine Fire. When someone asked about the relative merits of the conceptions of God according to the three schools of Vedanta, Sri Ramana Maharshi, the twentieth-century sage of Arunachala who lived and taught the path of self-enquiry, replied: First know yourself. Then there will be time enough to know God and your relationship with Him. Sri Ramakrishna teaches that God is our own, like Uncle Moon, to whom everyone can pray. God is like our own Father and Mother and we can force our demands on Him. Says Sri Ramakrishna:


     God is our very own. We should say to Him: O God, what is Thy nature? Reveal Thyself to me. Thou must show Thyself to me; for why else hast Thou created me? Some Sikh devotees once said to me, "God is full of compassion." I said: "But why should we call Him compassionate? He is our Creator. What is there to be wondered at if He is kind to us? Parents bring up their children. Do you call that an act of kindness? They must act that way. Therefore we should force our demands on God. He is our Father and Mother, isnt He?" (8)


     Sri Ramakrishna advocates cultivation of another important quality: a strong faith in oneself - based on the fact that one is a child of God - and a strong resolve not to follow the old, unwholesome ways of life. Swamiji considers faith in ones higher nature a prerequisite to a meaningful faith in God.




     Why Does God Seem So Unreal?




     All this discussion is all right, but why do they hardly make a dent on us? Why does any talk on the subject appears so dry, or if inspiring, the effect so momentary? In short, why is God just a three-letter word to most people? Some devotees used to visit Sri Ramakrishna, accompanied by some of their friends who were worldly and had no taste for spiritual talk. Since the devotees kept on talking for a long time with the Master about God, the others would become restless. Finding it impossible to sit there any longer, they would whisper to their devotee friends, "When shall we be going? How long will you stay here?" The devotees would say, "Wait a bit. We shall go after a while." Then the worldly people would say in a disgusted tone: "Well then, you can talk. We shall wait for you in the boat." (145-6) Sri Ramakrishna makes it clear that "one does not feel the longing to know or see God as long as one wants to enjoy worldly objects." (272) And none can teach anyone this hunger for God; it has to come by itself. Continues Sri Ramakrishna:


     But you must remember that nothing can be achieved except in its proper time. Some persons must pass through many experiences and perform many worldly duties before they can turn their attention to God; so they have to wait a long time. Once a child said to its mother: "Mother, I am going to sleep now. Please wake me up when I feel the call of nature." "My child," said the mother, "when it is time for that, you will wake up yourself. I shant have to wake you." (162)


     We do not feel the need for God as long as we are happy with the world. The child does not seek its mother as long as it is happy with its toys. Over to Swamiji: "We want everything but God, because our ordinary desires are fulfilled by the external world. So long as our needs are confined within the limits of the physical universe, we do not feel any need for God; it is only when we have had hard blows in our lives and are disappointed with everything here that we feel the need for something higher; then we seek God." (9)




     Attitudes towards God




     Mans attitude towards God depends on his attitude towards himself and towards the world. According to the Gita, four kinds of people worship God: [1] the afflicted who pray for a cure; [2] those after worldly prosperity: wealth, power, position, name, fame and so on; [3] jijnasus, seekers of spiritual Knowledge; and (4) the jnani, the man of spiritual Knowledge.(10) While Sri Krishna considers all of them noble, he reserves the pride of place to the jnani and considers him His very Self. A spiritual aspirant needs to be clear that the first two kinds of worshippers are still worldly, using God for their worldly ends; only their worldliness has a spiritual veneer. He needs to consciously belong to the third group. To such a seeker of knowledge every problem, every experience, is grist to his mill: he understands the evanescence of the world and uses his experiences to turn to God all the more. He does not give up his devotion because his prayers remain unanswered, or if some calamity befalls him. He is persistent like the hereditary farmer in Sri Ramakrishnas parable who does not give up farming because he does not get any crop in a year of drought. (11) He continues with his spiritual sadhana, irrespective of returns from God. He does not go back to worldly enjoyments because he has not gained in spiritual life.




     The Need to Begin Now




     Once an aspirant is clear about the goal of life - knowing his real divine nature, or knowing God - he does not wait for his desires to subside, so that he could think of God with a clean mind. He knows that waiting for all worldly cares to subside before calling on God is as foolish as waiting for the waves to subside before plunging into the sea for a bath. Sri Ramakrishna advocates holding fast to God with one hand and doing ones duties with the other. When the aspirant gets a respite from his duties, he can cling to God with both hands.(12)




     Change of Attitude towards the World




     A spiritual aspirant learns to look upon the world not as a place of enjoyment and misery, but as "a grand moral gymnasium wherein we have all to take exercise so as to become stronger and stronger spiritually". (13) Sri Ramakrishna teaches us to live in the world like a maidservant in a rich mans house. Though she looks after her employers children as her own, she knows deep within that her home is elsewhere and that the children do not belong to her at all.(14) Even so one needs to look upon ones wife, husband and children as Gods children under ones care and serve them accordingly. Such a spiritual aspirant does not look for defects in others but learns to look upon others as children of God and serves them in a spirit of worship of the God that dwells in them. Both Sri Ramakrishna and Swamiji teach that Gods manifestation is the most potent in a human being, and serving him in this spirit is a potent spiritual discipline. Says Swamiji, "Think day and night, this universe is zero, only God is. Have intense desire to get free." (15) Swami Ramakrishnanandaji, the embodiment of devotion to Sri Ramakrishna, sums up religion in these few words: "Religion is giving God His due. "God alone is the proprietor of this universe, God alone is the proprietor of myself" - recognizing this and then giving up all to Him, that is religion." (16)



                                                       *           *           *



     In sum, life becomes meaningful only if it is oriented towards its all-important goal: realization of our real, divine nature. A proper attitude towards ourselves, God and the universe (including other beings) is fundamental to a meaningful search for Truth.







     1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 2.308.

     2. Katha Upanishad, 2.1.1.

     3. Chandogya Upanishad, 7.23.1.

     4. See Sri Shankaracharyas introduction to his commentary on the Bhagavadgita.

     5. Gita 7.11.

     6. Bhoga na bhukta vayameva bhuktah. - Bhartrihari, Vairagya Shatakam, 7.

     7. Gita, 2.67.

     8. M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 96-7.

     9. CW, 7.83.

     10. Gita, 7.16.

     11. Gospel, 238.

     12. Ibid., 627.

     13. CW, 1.80.

     14. Gospel, 81.

     15. CW, 7.92.

     16. Swami Chetanananda, God Lived with Them (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2001), 302.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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