The Concept of God According to Bhakti Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken during Sunday night satsang in June 1983)

In the extensive sweep of Indian thought which attempted to convert the whole field of life into an occasion for religious living, a novel procedure was ordained for implementing this great purpose, the introducing of the religious spirit into the down-to-Earth realities of practical existence.

The concept of God reigned supreme in the religious mind of India, without which the meaning of religion is no meaning at all. The soul of religion is the element of God or the principle of God which enlivens and activates the adventures of human life on Earth, and this became the principle occupation of the ancient masters who devoted their lives to putting into practice the essentials of spiritual lore by bringing God down to the Earth in their conceptual meditations and day-to-day activities.

It is common and usual for the mind of the human being to contemplate the spirit of religion as a God transcending creation, and most of the religious doctrines of the world have not found it possible to escape the inevitable conclusion drawn by the common mind of man that a Creator of the world cannot be in the world. This is a simple logic of pure common sense. The created cannot contain the Creator, for various reasons. Hence, God was conceived as para, Supreme Being above and beyond all beings conceivable in this world. Living beings or non-living beings, beyond them is a transcendent being. The Creator transcends the created universe. The producer is not the same as the product. This is easy to understand, and the idea is quickly assimilated. The tendency of a religious submission to God Almighty as a transcendent Creator impelled movements which looked upon the high heavens as the ruling principles of the destinies of mankind, and we pray looking up to the skies.

Paramatman is the Supreme Self. God is so designated. Paramatman is God, Creator Supreme. In the theology of the specialised fields of devotion, God is principally conceived as para. But investigative as the human mind is, it has to seek God in the very field in which it is working, in the very world in which it is living, in the very processes it is undergoing, and in fact, in the very vicissitudes of the cosmical process. The Creator of this universe, transcendent beyond the universe though He might be and has to be, cannot be regarded as unconcerned with His creation. The concern of God in respect of what He has created has to interpret life in the world as an ordnance of God’s will itself. Transcendent God is not an unconcerned God because any sort of such an attitude that we may attribute to God would make us perhaps unrelated to Him in our vital and internal life.

The world is seen to pass through the processes known as creation, preservation and destruction. Among the many conditions through which the world passes and everything endeavours, these three are pre-eminent: the coming into being of things, the sustenance for some time, and the ending of all things. These processes – creation, preservation, transformation of things – have to be regarded as willed by God only. The religious interpretation of human life and the world as a whole has to connect God’s supernal existence with these three processes – creation, preservation and destruction – because God is intensely concerned with His creation. Perhaps the very purpose of creation is for God to manifest this great concern He has for what He has created. The evolutionary processes of the world and the activities of all living beings seem to be a kind of response evoked from the very hearts of all things to the call of God, the transcendent Supreme Being. Our business of life, crudest and most prosaic as it can be, is nevertheless an answer to the call of God. We are replying to His summons by our daily duties, activities and intense engagements and occupations.

Thus the concept of the creative principle, the Supreme Being as para, had to be further envisaged as something which, notwithstanding its transcendent character, is also the ruling principle behind the processes of creation, preservation and destruction. The word vyuha is particularly used in Vaishnava theology, suggesting the immanence of God in the processes of creation – God, not standing apart from His created world, but actively concerning Himself with its moment-to-moment processes. As the processes are multifaceted, variegated and manifest umpteen characters in the process of their evolution, God had to be conceived apart from His being a para or Supreme, as in involved immanence – Creator, Preserver, Destroyer; Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha; or in a more sophisticated Vedantic parlance, Ishwara, Hiranyagarbha, Virat; Brahma, Vishnu Siva. God is Creator, Preserver and Destroyer, which means to say that He rules even the processes of the coming, the maintenance, and the return of all things to their causes.

Yes, the mind of the human being cannot live without God. There is a necessity for a protective power which one feels as an inevitable and unavoidable necessity in life. We require protection from moment to moment. We ask for security in every conceivable way. We cannot regard ourselves as infinitely powerful. Our foibles are of such a nature that we seem to be incapable of even guarding our own selves at crucial moments. Let alone protecting property and other appurtenances, we cannot protect even our own body under conditions which could be expected in life.

So there is a need felt for a permanent protective power, and God is summoned into action into the daily life of man for filling this vacuum which ones feels in the absence of a means to guard and protect one’s own self. Whatever be one’s strength, physical or otherwise, they have to fail one day because the world is larger than what man can imagine himself to be. Secretly man knows his own weakness in spite of the paraded arrogance which he projects oftentimes in his daily life as if he is all in all. But this ego subsides when the might of the universe threatens him with the rule of law – which it can do any day, any moment. Even the strongest man knows his deepest weaknesses, and so secretly he requires protection. He seeks this protection in his religious life. He asks God to take care of him, and he prays to Him not as a transcendent, unconcerned creator but a Mahavishnu who is immanent in all things, a Narayana who sees with infinite eyes all the things that are taking place in the world, and a Trimurti, a three-faced single being – God in His faces of Brahma, Vishnu, Siva; God involved in creation; God come down to the level of what He has manufactured in the form of this world.

Hence, in the theology of the doctrine of devotion, para, the Supreme Transcendent Being, is also adored as the multiply involved protector and object of direct adoration by the soul of man in His manifestations as the ruler, the sustainer, the guide, the friend and philosopher of man.

But man can never be satisfied by assurances which are abstract in their nature. Man is a concrete egocentric individuality, and all that he seeks is concrete substance. Any abstraction – a power that is merely promised in the future, or a satisfaction that is invisible to the eyes – is no consolation to the crying soul of the human being. He expects God to visibly guard him and answer his calls in times of distress, crisis and need. God is not merely the transcendent, invisible, super-universal being, He is not just the para or the Paratman, He is not also the vyuha or the involved Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, or the Vasudeva, Sankarshana, etc., because they are universal abstractions, at least from the point of view of the so-called concrete ways of human thinking. A direct, visible and sensible protective power, a friend in a human sense, is required.

God takes incarnations, and His incarnations come to the level of even the human being, though in a way the supernal manifestations as the vyuhas mentioned – Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, etc. – are also the descent of God and, therefore, they can be called Incarnations. The human notion of incarnation is different. Incarnation is a coming-down of God down to His own level of sense perception.

The glory of God is not restricted merely to the far and remote heavens of Satyaloka or the Garden of Eden. It is a perennial and perpetual activity taking place under the orders of an unwinking eye which never sleeps, which is eternally vigilant. Eternal vigilance is the character of God. God can never sleep in the sense of not knowing something on some occasion. God will not say, “Oh, I did not see.” “Oh, I did not know.” There is nothing that He cannot see, and does not see. There is nothing that He does not know. The omniscience God follows from His all-pervading presence.

The incarnation of God is a direct response from God to the heartfelt cries of the soul of man, so He is a glory that is visible even here on Earth. He is a majesty, a splendour, which aspect of God’s manifestation is amply detailed for us in the tenth chapter of the Bhagavadgita, called Vibhuti Yoga. All excellences in life are God’s incarnations. Anything that is superior beyond a certain limit, unexcellably great, is God’s pre-eminence. Forces which are superhuman are to be considered as God’s incarnations, and everyone knows how many powers operate in this world which are beyond even human comprehension, let alone human operation.

It is impossible for us to state these majesties, magnificences and splendours which God reveals daily before our eyes, and we can see these glories with these very naked eyes of ours. Let those who have eyes see, and those who have ears hear. But if you have no eyes to see, you cannot see. If you have no ears, you cannot hear. What are these things that you see before you, except glories of God’s majesty? What wonder, what splendour, what grandeur, what perfection, and what incomparable beauty is manifest even in the littlest flower in the wild forest! In the neglected wing of a butterfly, in the spotted deer of the jungles, in the mighty movements of the planets, in the fierce energy of the sun, in the cyclic motion of the seasons, in the very act of the beating of the heart of man, in the very process of the breathing by which we are living, in the mystery involved in the very act of our standing up on our two legs and the lifting of our fingers, do we not see majesty, miracle, mystery and incomprehensible mathematical precision? Are these not Manifestations? Are they not Incarnations? Yad yad vibhūtimat sattvaṁ śrīmad ūrjitam eva vā, tat tad evāvagaccha tvaṁ mama tejoṁśasaṁbhavam (Gita 10.41): Wherever these inscrutable majesties operate in excellence far beyond human comprehension, understand that as My glory. So God is transcendence supreme, incomprehensive grandeur no doubt, but He is also involved in creation. He is an Avatara; He is manifest here, just before our eyes.

The necessity felt by the mind of man to adore God in his attempt to convert the whole of life into religion fills a need to visibly recognise God even in the sensory objects. The objects of sense perception, the things which we come in contact with, are veritably objects of worship. Is not God present here in these things that He has created, in the very things we call inanimate? Is there not life creeping subtly, invisibly, unknowingly? God is, therefore, transcendent no doubt, involved in the process of creation, destruction and preservation. Yes, He is also manifest in all this visible panorama of nature. Thus, prostrate thyself before each and every visible thing in the world.

The world is an image of God. Every article that you touch with your fingers becomes a sanctified symbol by which you can show your gratitude to God by your adoration. Here is the philosophy behind idol worship. The images that you worship in your temples or in your holy of holies in your own house, these little images, these murtis are not fancies of idiotic brains. They are veritable symbols of your recognition of God’s omnipresence even on this very Earth. You can touch a pencil and see God there, not merely in the high heavens. So God is also an archa; He is a murti, a symbol, a vehicle in the form of an image, and you can visibly worship God, not invisibly conceive God merely in your inward mood of meditation. Why? Because God is antaryamin, He is present inwardly as the heart of all things. Īśvaraḥ sarvabhūtānāṁ hṛddeśerjuna tiṣṭhati (Gita 18.61): In the heart of hearts throbs the vital force of the centre of the cosmos. The most remote God, the para, is also the nearest friend, nearer than our own necks and noses.

So in this wondrous concept of religious devotion, this miraculous introducing process of religion into the daily life of man, the ancient masters conceived God as para, vyuha, vibhava, archa and antaryamin. These words are well-known phrases, particularly in Vaishnava Schools of divine devotion, but they are scientifically conceived notions of God for the purpose of adoration at every level of our encounter with the miracle of creation. God has to be worshipped at every level of our encounter with the world. This is the prerogative, the speciality, the novel discovery of the ancient seers of this country. The whole of life is religion manifest. It is not a temple’s affair, the church’s affair or the affair of a monk. It is nothing but religion that we see before our eyes.

The crudest materialistic powers and the remotest natural occurrences are spiritual powers operating secretly for a purpose beyond themselves. Even the most ungodly movement in the world is a movement towards God. Nothing else can take place in this world which is ruled by God. An unGod cannot exist in the kingdom of God. Hence, even the unGod or the Satan is a condemned process which is struggling to revert its attention to that from where it has fallen and attempting to move back to that centre to which it has to gravitate. The worst of things is a movement towards the best of all things.

Such is the glorious concept of the religion of this country. It has little to do with these parochial notions later on developed by the sectarians of religion. Religion is not a sectional operation of the human mind. It is an all-comprehensive absorbing of the spirit of man into the totality of life’s occupation. Such was the grandeur with which religion was conceived, faced, and brought into daily action. Thus, God lives; God is not dead. God cannot die as long as the universe lives.

Thus, in these little analogies of the principles of adoration, namely para, vyuha, vibhava, archa and antaryamin, I have tried to place before you a few suggestions which require deep reflection by everyone. The power of the instincts, the strength of emotions and the call of material comfort blow us off from our very feet sometimes, and the best of people cannot be safe in this world because of the force of these instincts. The reason is that the world is large, wider than the little brain of man. The powers of nature are twofold, one aspect of it being an impulse towards the centre we call the para prakriti, the other aspect being the lower, the apara prakriti. The apara prakriti is the power operating in nature which impels everything and everyone to rush outward in the direction of sense objects. The other is the impulse towards the centre, a Godward movement. These are what are called the daivi sampat and the asura sampat in the Bhagavadgita. The daivi sampat is that glorious heritage of human life which also has within itself the capacity to move inwardly towards the centre of the cosmos. But there is also the asura sampat. The world of the senses, in which we are, is the glory of sense operations.

Hence, even the intellect gets tarnished many a time with the impetuous calls of the senses and the insistence of the eyes that the beauties of the sense world are the total reality of the world. We trust our eyes, and we cannot trust anything else. Only what we see can be believed. Unfortunately, we also think in terms of what we see. Our intellection, ratiocination, is also mostly sensory. It is a justification of sense activity and a confirmation of the sensory demands of human life. Intellect is thus not always a safe guide, though unfortunately we do not have a better guide. There is something in the intellect which scintillates, sparks forth a radiance which comes from a realm that is beyond the world of sense. Though this is true, it also walks dimly in the twilight of sensory longings. We live in a double world, and have a dual existence in which we are partaking. We live on Earth and also in heaven at the same time. Man’s life is supposed to be a blessing because the human individuality, while it is strongly planted on the Earth and is stuck to the ground of sensory longings and cravings, has also the capacity to look above in terms of the light that is descending from the heavens.

Thus, man is a glorious creation of God Almighty, notwithstanding the difficulties in which he finds himself, the weaknesses to which he is subject, and the blunders that he is capable of committing. With all these unwanted traits that are abundantly visible in human nature, there is the little voice of the heavens which sweetly speaks in moments of leisure and tells us, “My dear friend, your Father is calling you.” That indomitable call, that irresistible summons, that sweet message is what keeps us alive in this world even by breathing this dry air as if sweet nectar is flowing through our nostrils.

“Who could be living in this world if nectar were not to be spread in space?” says the Taittiriya Upanishad. How could you exist here, breathing this air as if it is ambrosia flowing from the heavens? Is it not nectar that you are breathing? Are you not happy and overjoyed by a breath that you breathe? How could it be possible if ananda is not to be seen spread out through the entire space? If the whole space is not a repository of the bliss of God, who could be happy by breathing the air? Such a mighty protective friend is with us. May we not be in a state of despair. May we summon this power and may we be blessed with an unforgettable remembrance of this great force that is within us and is everywhere.