God is a Noun, but Not a Person!
“Dad, do you believe in God?”
The innocent question was from my 10 year old child. I was teaching him the fundamentals of English grammar. But, what has grammar to do with God? I was explaining him about the difference between proper noun and common noun. A common noun refers to the general name that is never capitalized, unless it is in the beginning of a sentence. But, a proper noun is the name of a specific person, place, thing, etc., and is always capitalized. And, along with the examples ‘India, ‘Gandhi’, and ‘Sunday’, appeared ‘God’ with a capital ‘G’; and the question captivated me.
“Yes, darling, I believe in God,” I told my child.
Suddenly a soft voice interrupted me from the innermost core of my soul: “Is God a person?”
My inner voice was questioning me, trying to test my discretion.
After a few seconds of silence I replied to myself, “God is a noun, but not a person!”
The question whether God is personal or impersonal has been under debate for thousands of years. The word ‘God’ is the most complicated word in this world that lacks a clear definition. It is understood in different manner, in the popular sense as well as in the philosophical sense. In the popular concept, as per the widespread belief of the people, God is a person. This person has all traits of a human being, who can do everything that a human being can do, but in a most powerful manner. He is considered better than the best human being.
As per Vedas, in Hinduism, there were 33 Gods, led by Indra, the king of Gods and the ruler of Heaven. There were Asuras (demons) who were in continuous war with Gods, and could frighten them several times, but could never conquer them due to the timely interventions of super Gods, Vishnu or Shiva.
Vishnu and Shiva were the two supreme deities, who along with Lord Brahma form the Hindu Triad. It is believed that Vishnu had taken incarnations in the form of different species of life, starting from fish (Malsya), tortoise (Koorma), boar (Varaha), Man-Lion (Narasimha), and then different human forms, analogous to different stages of evolution. Lord Rama and Lord Krishna were considered as the most popular divine incarnations of Vishnu, and are still worshipped by majority of Hindus. Shiva, the God of destruction, is the supreme deity of the Shaivite sect. Most of the Hindus are either Vaishnavites or Shaivites, and they worship these two deities as well as their incarnations, simply referring them as “God”.
In addition to Gods, there were Goddesses too, called as Devi. Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva, also known as Shakti or Mahadevi, is the female counterpart of Shiva, and is worshipped as the Supreme Goddess of the universe. In peaceful manifestation, she adorns different positions such as Parvati the wife of Shiva, Lakshmi the wife of Vishnu and Sarasvati the wife of Brahma. Her aggressive form is as Durga or Kali, born to destroy demons.
Generally speaking, a personal God means a God who is a person. We are all persons, and unlike animals, which also have feelings, instincts and impulses, we have a peculiar power; that is our power of thinking. We can think, we can dream, we can feel and we can achieve. There is no confusion regarding who a person is. May be the degree of personality may differ based on the intellectual faculty and the nature of mind. The power of thinking may vary; the feelings and emotions may vary. Everything depends on the society we live and the impressions of habits we develop.
When we consider God as a person, we are bringing him under the limitations of our mind. We are giving him some attributes, but the difference is that these attributes are of unlimited capacity. The concept of power and wisdom attributed to a personal God is not the same level “power” and “wisdom” as per the limited environment of humanity. His capacities are limitless and transcend all levels of human conceptions. He is considered as supremely personal, living somewhere in the sky, and ruling the universe with his mighty power. In addition to the main deities familiar to us through our Epics and Puranas, there are so many local Gods in different regions and sects. These Gods, usually consecrated in the temples of villages or mountain tops, are glorified and strengthened by the exaggerated stories created by the devotees.
It is believed that if you pray to your personal God, praise him or persuade him with money and valuables, he will fulfill your ambitions and make you wealthy and successful. If you do something against him or deny his divinity, he will punish you. This kind of superstition still exists in common people and even among educated masses. This is the calamity of humanity. Religious faith is good; but, superstition is dangerous. Superstition is sharper than the edge of a sword. It is too difficult to eradicate such superstitions from human race, because they are deeply enrooted within their soul from time immemorial. Your words will scatter on the surface of their skulls; the brain is far away beyond the adamant wall.
Instead of condemning the old ideas of personal God as the ruler of the universe, the ancient sages began their journey to search the Supreme Reality within them. The result was the Vedanta philosophy and the Supreme Impersonal Absolute Reality. Shankaracharya, with his beautiful commentaries interpreted the Upanishads and extracted the gems of Advaita philosophy. Brahman is the Supreme Absolute, the oneness, which manifests itself in all beings in the universe. It is eternal and beyond all human conceptions, and transcends time, space and causation. Brahman is considered identical to the human soul, the Atman, thus reminding us that God is not something outside of you, but is the Supreme Reality, that is inside you.
God is the name given to Reality. We are facing a lot of realities in this universe: life, birth, death, rhythmic heartbeats of nature, all-devastating earthquakes, terrific death-dance of hurricanes, and violent vibrations of sky; and we cannot predict or control most of them. We are part of our experience and sometimes, consciously or unconsciously, we give some meaningful interpretations to the realities around us. Our interpretations may be fantasies or some analogies by which we try to create some meanings and images to the unknown truths. We exemplify realities using meaningful narrations and metaphors.
Are you safe in this life? Are you secure? Nobody is safe. Anything can happen tomorrow. You lose your job; a sudden cyclone takes all your possessions; your dearest one dies suddenly; anything unexpected can always happen. Life is delicate and uncertain, and we are mortal beings with our finite hopes and infinite pride. Uncertainty is the law of life and we don’t know how it happens or where it comes from. Is there any external force that binds us? Is there any external reality that makes us inescapable? Is there any mysterious something that makes our life unpredictable? It seems so. Some of us call it ‘fate’; others call it ‘God’.
If reality is termed as God, and it is God who makes our life uncertain and pushes us into an unpredictable world of solitude, it is the same God who blesses us with a world of happiness and prosperity. But when we are deeply involved in a world of luxury and pleasure, we rarely utter the word ‘God’. Happiness eradicates God from our mind and disaster recreates it. Thus God becomes a mirage in between happiness and misery. From the shore of misery we see God very clearly; but the farther we move away from misery and the closer we approach happiness, God disappears!
But, how can you make God responsible for anything? God is not a person. Only a person can take responsibility of something. God is the name given to Reality; and Reality is another name of Existence. God is pure Existence. We cannot even say God exists. By saying so, God becomes personified. But God is not a person or a thing. We create a God, personify him and make him responsible for everything. We convert the Infinite Reality into a finite image. We give him life. We talk to him. We pray to him. We worship him. We do everything to please him. We are living in an illusionary world.
We are the actors of a great drama that is consciously played every moment. Have you not watched your kids playing the role of ‘father and mother’, making houses in sand, preparing food using sand or leaves, serving the ‘food’ and acting as if they are eating real food? We are ‘bigger kids’ doing it in a bigger way, constructing great temples, installing the effigies of our favourite deities, worshiping them with rituals and prayers, offering them flowers and milk, and acting each scene so naturally as if they are real characters. Once we become mature and realize the reality, we will throw away the costumes and bid farewell to such dramas. But, majority of human race is having an immature mind, with a mental growth of a two year old kid. A time will come when will they get out of the darkness of ignorance and comprehend the glory of Truth.
We are the actors and we are the audience too. World is a large stage. There is a curtain in front of us; it is the veil of Maya. Maya does not mean illusion; it is another way of expressing reality. Maya is an expression of how reality happens in this world under the limitations of time, space and causation. Reality always frightens us. It involves tremendous contradictions in all facets of life. The world is a combination of good and evil. But why it happens? No such questions; it just happens. Contradictions are inevitable. It is the law of life. Just watch it; fight it. Life is a continuous fight against all odds. Fight incessantly till the light is visible. From the sanctuary of personal God, start your journey; not towards mountains and forests; not towards temples and churches; He is very near to you; nearer than anything; go within you and discover the real God in your own Self. It is Existence-Knowledge-Bliss!!!
* * * * * * *
I glanced through the notebook of my son. There were several ‘Gods’ at different levels from the horizontal line. I counted them. They were 33 in numbers. The first one had a capital ‘G’ and all others began with a small ‘g’. I looked at him questioningly. He read my mind that was tuned with the same frequency. He answered to my silent question:
“Papa, the first one is the king and has got a kingdom and hence a ‘capital’. All others are his subordinates, and hence small.”
“But I told you already to start a proper noun always with a capital letter.”
“But, Papa, where is the noun here? God is not a person, place or a thing. I cannot see it, touch it or feel it. So god is not a noun at all.”
“Okay, but listen to me. God is treated as a distinguished member in the noun family. We can use ‘He’ even though God is not a person. We can use ‘It’ even though God is not a thing. We have to respect the highness of the Existence. So, just do what I say; capitalize the G.”
* * * * * * *
The questioner is small and the questions are big. It is time for the windows of heaven to open. Through the layers of silky clouds two sharp eyes penetrate the universe. Brilliance of light spreads everywhere. The moment has come when there is no question or no questioner. The questioner and the question have become one. There is no more talk, no more prayer or no more dialogue. Words have disappeared in totality. It is a state of deep silence. In that tranquility, in that moment of celebration of self, in that state of ecstasy, Existence blossoms into hundred thousand flowers, radiating its luminous lustre in every molecules of life. That ultimate experience is God!
Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SwansCygnus_olor.jpg
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