This article is the second part of my earlier article on the vedic concept of God, where in I have tried to further simplify things based on reader comments and queries.
What God is NOT
First and foremost, God as described in the vedas is NOT some super human being with super human powers, who creates the universe, life forms, and then punishes or rewards people based on his own laws sending people to hell or heaven. God cannot be like this, because if he allows people to act according to their free will, then it means he has no control over his universe, and if he has control over the universe then how on earth can people do bad things, unless and until he wants them to do it?
Also if God has created everything in the universe, then how can he say that people of one religion are my people, and those who dont follow his religion are not his people and they should be killed or converted to his religion? This definition of God distinguishing between my people and others brings down God to the level of a tribal leader who is only interested in having more numbers on his side and wants everybody on his side with no opponents.
God in the vedic texts and as followed by hinduism, is not the God described above.
What is God?
God as defined in Vedic Texts
That which makes the tongue speak, but which cannot be spoken by the tongue…
That which makes the mind think, but which cannot be thought by the mind…
That which makes the eyes see, but which cannot be seen by the eyes…
If you understand the meaning of I neither know nor don’t know, then you understand God.
Those who know that God cannot be known, truly know God. — Upanishads
God according to the vedas is the entire universe itself, and this universe extends into the infinity well beyond the physical universe which we see, feel and live in- in the form of stars, planets, galaxies and inter-galactic stuff, all of which that was created during the big bang. The physical universe which we live in is a temporary phenomenon created in big bang and which has an end, and exists within the real universe which is nothing but God. So in other words, we all live inside the God, and we are a part of the God itself!
God according to the vedas is attributeless( Nirguna ), opinionless( Nirvikara ), formless( Nirakara ) and infinite/timeless( Ananta ) supreme consciousness( sacchidananda ). Now, how can a opinionless god punish or reward people? How can a formless god be seen? How can a infinite God be measured? How can an attributeless God be defined? Which is why the vedic texts describe God as Neti, Neti meaning Not this, Not that. Neither this, nor that. You can only define God as what it is not, not as what it is. The key here is to observe that God is referred to as ‘it’, not as some ‘he’ or ‘she’.
The Self is God
So God is the all pervading divine energy of which the universe is made of (of course including everything within the universe) and hence has no attributes/opinion/form and is infinite. We all are a part of this God. Which is why vedas say AHam Brahmasmi , meaning I am God , the I here referring to me identifying myself with the entire universe. That is the ultilmate truth, that when a person is able to recognize that he is a part of the God itself, he gains Mukti (salvation). It is like a cell in our body realizing that it is not some mere entity residing within the body, but is a part of the body itself!
So salvation or mukti is realizing and seeing things from a much higher level, from the level of the universe itself, and you will be free from all the worldly obstacles, and would be able to think and act from a broader world view, rather than a narrower I,me,myself view. Which is why in Hinduism you find sages/spiritual leaders being worshipped as God, since these people have been able to recognize themselves with the higher universal soul. Hinduism since it is based on the vedic texts, hence allows for a mortal person to be raised to the level of a God and worshipped, which is why you see hindus worshipping spiritual leaders like Shirdi Sai Baba, Shri Raghavendra, Buddha, Mahavira etc as God.
Container and Containment
The vedas compare God and the physical universe we experience to a spider and a spider’s web. The spider’s web comes out of the spider and the spider resides within the web itself. Similarly our physical universe has been created out of the God and the God is all pervading this universe. God is both the container of the universe as well as what is contained inside it.
Brahma – The Physical Universe
Brahma, not to be confused with Brahman, is the name given by the vedas to the physical universe that we live in. Brahma is nothing but the universe that was created out of Big bang. And so Brahma has a birth and a death. Brahma was born in the big bang and will die in a big crunch. Brahma hence is a temporary phenomenon, and thousands of brahmas come and go.
Vishnu or Narayana or Brahman is what is described as Nirguna, Nirvikara, Nirakara, Ananta, the all pervading permanent eternal universe which extends well beyond our physical universe, and it is the understanding of this ultimate truth which is said to be the ultimate goal of human life.
Shiva is the concept of periodic destruction that follows every creation in the temporary physical universe. And this completes the trinity of God = Generator, Observer and Destroyer in the form of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Brahma i,e our physical universe is said to be born out of the eternal universe Vishnu from a Hiranya Garbha. The description of Hiranya Garbha in the vedas represents the pre-bigbang universe which was infinitely dense and which gave birth to big bang and hence to our present physical universe. This physical universe is called the Saguna Brahman (i.e the God which has form, shape and other attributes), which is what our post big bang universe is, which can be seen, observed, felt and understood. The pre-big bang universe is called Nirguna Brahman (attributeless universe) which is what even the modern science describes as, since the pre-bigbang singularity soup had no attributes, no physical laws, was timeless and undescribable.
Every time the formless Nirguna Brahman comes into a manifestation, it attains a dual aspect, i.e pair of opposites like good and bad, duality of light, space and time, spirit and matter, subject and object, etc. God is not a unit of measure, so it is incorrect to argue that there is one God or many Gods, for God is everything, it is this entire universe and exists much beyond the manifested form of the universe we see, into infinity.
Vedas also say that the Brahma i.e our physical universe will ultimately merge back into the attributeless Nirguna Brahman, and hence this observable universe is a temporary phenomenon, and its age/life span as specified by the vedic texts is given in this article .
Vedic texts also allow for atheism. Atheism is all about saying there is no God who is observing us, controlling us, deciding upon our fate, who is willing to punish or protect us. In other words, atheism is all about denying a super human intervention in human life, and this is exactly what the vedas say when they describe God as opinionless and attributeles.
In the post vedic period, when people misunderstood vedic representation of universe as God, and started worshipping different attributes of the universe as super human natured Gods (like Indra(Rain God), Varuna(Water God), Agni(Fire God), etc there were reformists like Charvaka, Madhavacharya (not Sri Madhvacharya of Udupi), etc in India who declared that there was no God, and created a movement amongst the masses in trying to make them understand and realize that God was not a collection of some superhuman creatures, or a single super human creature. The greatness of the hindu civilization lies in the fact that it has tolerance and allows space for all thoughts, and so none of these reformists were killed or burnt (unlike what happened to Galileo or Bruno in the west). Infact Charvaka and co, successfully created a mass movement based on their thoughts. Buddha was the greatest reformist of all who denied the existence of a superhuman God and who successfully created a mass movement trying to enlighten people.
So, hinduism in this way transcends theism and atheism. In other words it is transtheistic.
Nature and Personification
Since the entire universe is said to be divine in the vedic texts, hindus worship every form of nature as God. Of course the vedic texts clearly say that one should not believe that a form of universe itself is the God, but it is just a part of the divine wholeness. God is in everything and everything is in God.
Most of us are common people who do not have the ability or time to think to the level of realizing the formless, attributeless, infinite divinity. And since everything in the universe is contained within the God as described by vedas, you see hindus worshipping different forms of nature as God. Hindus worship rain, water, cow, snakes, trees, moutains, hill, parents, books, money, planets, stars, moon, sea, rivers, king, teacher, guests, everything as God. This does not mean that a cow is a Hindu God or a tree is a Hindu God. It is the hindu way of respecting the divinity that is in that cow, in a tree, etc.
Which is why when a hindu if by accident touches any other person or thing by his feet, then he apologizes to that person/thing for having unknowingly shown disrespect by touching with his feet. And that is because a hindu believes that there is God within every person too. And all this because hinduism, since it is based on the vedic texts, sees the entire universe itself as divine. The vedic texts also contain hymns which is supposed to be recited every morning as soon as one gets up from his bed before getting out of the bed, and in the hymn the person apologizes to mother earth, since the person will be stamping the planet earth with his feet for the rest of the day. It is this kind of respect towards nature that ensured in the vedic ages that nature be used only to fill man’s need and not his greed.
On the other hand today, by seeing the world with a materialistic outlook without any divinity associated with it, humans are plundering all natural wealth, destroying forests, polluting the planet, destroying water sources and what not. The difference between seeing nature as divine as described in the vedic texts, and by looking it as something which God created for humans to enjoy and plunder as described by other texts is quite evident today. During the vedic age there was no pollution, and today we are facing global warming and a planetary disaster, thanks to the misleading thoughts that God created the universe and other pleasures for humans to enjoy.
Personification of God in Hinduism is a simplification to express devotion by those who are unable to comprehend the formless universal consciousness as God. Contrary to the popular belief, Hindus do not worship idols as Gods. Instead Hindus worship God through idols. An idol is used as an object of concentration which one can focus on and use it as a medium to try to realize the divinity. It is similar to Christians using a cross or Muslims worshiping at Kaaba.
Now how can a person see God in an idol? Well, it is the same way a person sees and remembers his parents and their near and dear ones via photographs and videos.
NOT Holier Than Thou
There is this problem of religious fundamentalism, religious conversions and resulting violent acts like terrorism and communal disharmony because of the attitude of holier than thou by semitic religions. The moment a religion says that mine is the only way , there starts a conflict between it and other religions.
On the other hand vedas say that Ekam Sat, Vipraha Bahuda Vadanti meaning, there is but one truth (God), and learned scholars call it with different names. This fundamental philosophy of vedic texts makes it accept all religions and which is why you see Hinduism not being in favor of any conversions, for there is no reason to convert from one religion to other when God is one and the same for all irrespective of their religion. It is like calling the same person with different names.
If followers of every religion accept this philosophy then there will be no communal conflicts in this world. Vedas wish Sarve Jana Sukhinobhavantu implying, may all the people prosper and live happily , and say Vasudaiva Kutumbakam which means Whole world is a family .
It is this philosophy of universal brotherhood in hinduism which has provided a space for people of all religions, thoughts and sects to live in India ever since the dawn of history. It is this principle which has made India the birth place of largest number of religions in the world including hinduism, buddhism, jainism, sikhism etc.
The vedic philosophy also makes every life form divine by default and it is only our actions as we grow that make us good or bad. Unlike chrisitianity there are no sinners-by-default in hinduism. While Christianity says that only Jesus Christ is the son of God and all others are sinners, Hinduism says We all are children of God . Vedas say ‘Sarve Amrutasya Putraha’ - We all are children of the eternal supreme divinity.
Israel has stated in its official records that all over the world wherever the jews went, there was violence against them in the past 2500 years, except in India. India is the only place on this planet where the jews settled and lived for centuries practicing their religion without undergoing any kind of harassment and that is because of the hindu vedic philosophy of accepting all and treating all equal. Even after the formation of the state of Israel, lot of jews in India preferred to stay back here instead of going to Israel!
Parsis (Zoroastrians) were fire worshipping people who lived in Iran before the Arabs invaded their land in the 7th century. Before Iran got converted to Islam following the arabic invasion, Zoroastrianism was a wide spread religion which was practised not only by Iranians, but also by the Pashtoons and Baluchis (in present Pakistan and Afghanistan), and by Kurds (in present Iraq).
When the Arabs invaded Iran, the parsis fled to India to escape religious persecution at the hands of Arabs and landed up in the western sea shores of India at Gujarat. The local hindu king who ruled then allowed them to settle and stay in his kingdom. The Parsis being fire worshippers had brought their holy fire with them, and requested to the Indian king that they wanted to build a fire temple for their God and the king obliged. Then the parsis demanded that their Iranian tradition does not allow non-parsis to enter within a radius of 50 km of their temple!
Now look at the irony here, the kingdom was a hindu kingdom, the people were hindus, the king was a hindu, and the refugees had demanded that no local hindu should enter within 50 km radius of their temple. And yet the king agreed and passed orders that no hindus should enter within the limits of the parsi temple! This is the vedic way of respecting everybody’s beliefs and not hurting anybody’s sentiments. There are numerous incidents from ancient India were people and kings have given their lives to protect the interest of their guests. This comes from the vedic principle of Athithi Devo Bhava meaning Guest is to be looked upon as God.
Today parsis are one of the most successful communities in India. Ratan Tata, one of the most respected businessman and owner of one of the largest business empires in India (The Tata Group) is a Parsi. It was his ancestor, JRD Tata, who started the prestigious Taj group of hotels during the British rule, following an incident of racial discrimination when JRD Tata was denied entry to the Mumbai’s Watson’s hotel since the British then did not allow non-British to enter into British owned hotels.
What about Satan or evil?
The next natural question is that if God is the universe itself then what about Satan? As described earlier, the moment the formless attains a form, it comes to existence in duality, as male/female, good/bad, beautiful/ugly, space/time, matter/spirit, etc. So Satan isn’t a bad guy who exists out there opposing God. God is omnipresent and it leaves no room for a competing satan. Satan is the evil vices in our mind defined by the vedas as the six greatest enemies of man ( Ari Shad Vargas ), they are – (Kama)desire/lust, (Krodha)anger, (Lobha)greed, (Moha)illusion, (Mada)egoism and (Matsarya)jealousy. Yoga is the pathway provided by the vedas to overcome these enemies and to realize the unity with God. Yoga is not just a mere physical exercise, it is a physio-mental dedication overcoming worldly desires to realize the supreme consciousness.
Karma, Not God
Now a question arises, that if the God as described in the vedic texts is attributeless and opinionless and does not punish or protect people, then what about good and bad deeds? Who punishes the bad and who protects the good?
Well, that is what is called Karma which is nothing but the sum of our past deeds. It is our deeds that punish or protect us. If we do good, think positively, wish good to all, then so will we be. If we do bad to others, think negatively, wish badly, then so will it happen to us. What we sow is what we reap. Which is why the vedic texts say, do your duty, respect the entire world as divine, and you will prosper. It is our deeds that decide what happens to us, for we are what we think we are and what happens to us is what we think should happen to the world. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we create the world.
Sarve Jana Sukhinobhavantu.