The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 32: Our Concept of God

A very potent method prescribed by the yoga system, for the purpose of channelising the mind towards its salvation, is the worship of God. This is, perhaps, the ultimate stroke that one can deal upon the mind when everything else fails. The worship of God is an expression of one's love for God, just as when we adore a person in this world, in any manner whatsoever, we express our love for that person by means of various external forms of behaviour and conduct, which is, in technical religious terms, called a ritual. If I love you, how can I show that love to you? The way in which I show my love for you, is ritual. Even if I join my hands and offer my salutations, it is a ritual that I am performing, because it is an outward symbol of inward feeling. Though the inward feeling is more important than the outward expression or conduct, there seems to be a reciprocal relationship between these two aspects of one's approach to anything. So in the practice of yoga, which is aimed at ultimate God-realisation, the adoration of God may be taken as a principal technique which may commence, in the beginning, with external forms of the religious attitude. As a matter of fact, what we call 'religion' is nothing but ritual expressed in various degrees of subtlety and manifesting the spirit of which it is the expression.

As the realisation of God is the goal of life, and it is towards this purpose that we are putting forth all our efforts in every way, the absorption of the mind in the concept of God may be regarded as the highest of duties. The greatest duty is the occupation of the mind with that object for which purpose it exists and functions, and all other duties may be contributory to the fulfilment of this central duty. It is difficult to conceive God and, therefore, it is difficult to express our love for Him in an unconditional manner. As we have been observing, our religious traditions and performances have mostly been conditional. They have been some sort of an activity, like any other activity in a factory or a shop, though it is not true that religion is such a kind of temporal engagement. The religious spirit is what is important, and it is this that should animate the religious formalism and ritua.

Īśvara praṇidhānāt vā (I.23), is a sutra of Sage Patanjali. One of the methods of controlling the mind is surrender to God. According to many, it is perhaps the principal method of controlling the mind. This is a most positive approach, of the many that can be thought of. When our mind is absorbed in love for something – 'absorbed' is the word, completely occupied with the thought of a particular thing – there is no chance for the mind to think of anything else. The modifications of the mind, the vrittis in respect of objects, should cease spontaneously when they are all focused in the direction of love of God. There is no need for any struggle in the form of breathing exercises or any type of hardship in the control of the mind or its vrittis, if it is absorbed in a love which is all-consuming.

The extent of our love of God, the intensity of our feeling for God, will depend upon our idea of God, our concept of God. There are various concepts of the Creator, of God, the Absolute, etc., according to the various philosophical theories, doctrines, and religious traditions. One of the primitive forms of conceiving God is that He is the Creator of the world. We have a childish idea of a creator. A creator is one who makes things, and God is someone who has made this world. "God made this world" is an old saying which we often repeat. God made the world and, therefore, God is the Creator of the world. God is the Father of the world and, therefore, all His children should love Him as the Supreme Parent. The idea of creatorship that is in our minds is the conditioning factor of our love towards this Creator. We have seen in this world that if someone makes something, he is the efficient or sometimes the instrumental cause of that particular thing that he has made, and the thing that he has made is an effect that is produced by him, standing outside him. God can thus be regarded as extra-cosmic, which is the usual way in which we conceive God.

We cannot imagine God usually, normally speaking, in any other way than as someone standing outside the world. If a carpenter makes a table or a chair, we can call him the creator of the table or the chair; and the table stands outside him, so that there is no proper relationship between what he has made and his own existence. Hence, we have to cry to God in a loud tone so that our voices may reach Him in the transcendent paradise where He is seated. We have a concept of paradise in every religion. In the Hindu religion we call it Vaikuntha, or Brahmaloka, Kailasa, etc., but whatever term we use, it is a concept of heaven – the highest heaven where God is seated – which we have to reach. We love God as we love any other object in this world, because God Himself has become an object of the love of the individual.

Here I have to take a few moments to give some sort of an idea as to what love is, so that we may have an idea as to its relationship to the object of love. Most people have no idea of what it is and, therefore, it has been given many definitions. The most common definition of love is that it is a psychological emotion, a welling up of certain feelings in respect of an object. Love is the manner in which the mind arranges itself in respect of an object which it needs. Just as when one is on a battleground and there is a necessity to gird up one's loins for an immediate attack, one prepares oneself thoroughly, from head to foot, for the purpose of the task on hand – or, a wrestler in the field prepares himself for the purpose for which he is there, and in this preparation he is worked up into a feeling of total concentration of his personality for the achievement of that purpose – in a similar manner, the mind works itself up into a concentrated feeling in respect of the object which it needs for a particular purpose, at a particular time. This working up of the mind in sympathy with the object which it needs at a particular time is the love that the mind has for the object. Therefore, love may be regarded as a condition of the mind. It is a state of mind – not a perpetual state, but a temporary state of the mind – in respect of that particular object which is necessary at that particular moment.

Ordinarily speaking, there is nothing in this world which we require always. Therefore, it is not possible for the mind to be in a condition of love for all times. If a particular thing can be needed for all time, then the love also can be there for all time; but such a thing is not present in this world. According to the conditions of body, atmosphere, age, etc., needs go on changing, and the mind arranges itself accordingly, under different conditions, in respect of the outer atmosphere in which it wants to place itself. So the condition of the mind called 'love' is subject to the necessities of the time, and there is no such thing as an eternal love for anything in this world. It is a movement of the mind towards the object. Sometime back we were discussing the nature of the movement of the mind in regard to the object, where it pervades the object – that pervasion being called vrittivyapti, etc. So the mind, when it loves an object, is in the form of a vritti. Love is a vritti, and Patanjali says all vrittis must be controlled, which means that even love must be controlled.

Love of God is something different from ordinary love, because God is not something which we need today and do not need tomorrow. God is not an object of a temporal necessity. He is not a requisite of a particular period of time, or of a given condition. God is a necessity of every condition, of all times, and for every person, at every place. The reason is that God is the presupposition of every condition of being, and hence the love of God cannot be conditional; it is always unconditional. While every other love can be conditioned by circumstances and needs of the time, no such condition can apply to the love of God. But our concept of God is here a very important factor, which rules the destiny of our love for God. If God is extra-cosmic, which means to say that He is outside the world, as a carpenter is outside the table or the chair, then there should be some means of communication between the table and the carpenter, or the world and God. The means of communication is, of course, the very same means that we adopt in coming in contact with anything else in this world. How do we come in contact with any person or thing in this world? We adopt the same means also in respect of God. We cry and shout loudly so that the person will hear us, if the person is far away, and yearn from within for vision and contact of that something which we love.

Now, the yearning or the love, when it is directed to an object outside, becomes a psychological condition, and if love of God is also to become a psychological condition, then it may change according to the conditions of the mind. No condition of the mind can be perpetual, because it is related to the structure of the body also. In different incarnations, different types of births that we take, the states of mind may change, and so the attitudes which the mind has towards things also may vary in different incarnations. So the love of God may become conditioned if He is to be treated as an extra-cosmic something which has to be reached by a temporal affection in the form of a mental emotion, as we have in respect of ordinary objects in this world.

Secondly, the extra-cosmic concept of God makes Him an individual like other individuals, though He may be a vaster individual than others. Anything that is 'somewhere' is finite in its nature. If God is outside the world and the world is outside God, naturally the world would be finite, and God also would be finite in the same manner, because one would limit the other. The existence of the world would limit God, and the existence of God would limit the world, so both would become finite. Anything that is finite is subject to destruction, because every finite thing is seen to have a tendency to move towards something else in order that it may overcome its finitude. So God would be an imperfect being wishing to become more perfect, as any other individual would do, if He is regarded as extra-cosmic, conditioned, limited and finite. Also, there would be no means of approach to God, because an extraordinary perception, which would be necessary to come in contact with God, would be denied its need if the placement of God is extra-cosmic.

Anything that is outside us places itself in such a way that it cannot be possessed by us, in the true sense of the term. That which is outside us cannot be possessed by us, and we cannot do anything with that thing which is really outside us. We can have a tentative contact with things outside, but these contacts are conditional and subject to destruction and separation. Anything that comes in union with another thing is also subject to separation. Every union is subject to separation, because union has a beginning and an end. Because of this peculiar feature of contact with things, there is no such thing as permanent contact with anything in this world. If this is to be the nature of God, there would be no such thing as permanent contact with God. We would be separated from God in the same way as we are separated from other things in the world. Our aim, which is permanent union with God, will be an impossibility if He is an extra-cosmic individual.

So, there is a defect in the concept of God as a Creator or a Maker in the sense of a carpenter or a potter. To obviate this difficulty, people have conceived God as an Immanent Ruler - some such thing as the soul in the body. The soul in the body is not outside the body. It is not a creator of the body in the sense of a carpenter making a chair, and yet we cannot say that the soul is the body; it is not identical. So, a via media was struck by certain thinkers in the religious field, who made out that it is not fair or tenable to hold that God is totally extra-cosmic, in which case there would be no means of communication with Him. He has to be intimately present in His creation, and He has to be organically related to the world so that there may be a real contact of the effect with the cause. The soul and the body are organically united. We cannot separate the body and the soul – they are together.

Though this is a very satisfactory solution, and we can conceive God as an organic unifying principle of the cosmos which He has created, it becomes difficult to understand the factors that were responsible for the creation of the world, whether bondage is real or not, and what sort of relationship really exists between the soul and the body. Is the body a quality, an attribute of the soul, or is it something quite different from the soul? How does the soul pervade the body? Examples have been given. When we soak cloth in water, we find that every fibre of the cloth is permeated by water. The whole cloth is wet with water. Every part of the cloth has absorbed water, so that there is no part of the cloth where water is not. In that sense we can say that God is everywhere in the world. Yet, water is not the cloth – they are two different things. We can wring out the water from the cloth, and then dry it. Water and milk can be mixed together so that we cannot know where the water is and where the milk is. Yet we know that milk is milk and water is water – they are not one and the same thing. Though we cannot distinguish between water and milk when they are mixed together, they are yet independent and cannot be identified one with the other.

So if God is to permeate this world, in what sense does He permeate it? How does He become immanent in this world? Does He enter into this world as water enters cloth or electricity charges a copper wire? When electricity passes through a wire, we find that every particle of the wire is charged with electricity, so that if we touch any part of the wire, we feel the shock of the current. The force of electricity is present in every particle of the wire, and yet the wire is not electricity - they are two different things. The electrical force can be withdrawn and the wire will be just wire, dead and powerless. So, whatever be the manner in which we may conceive the presence of God in this world, a difficulty will arise in understanding the relationship between God and the world.

The organic connection that has been introduced into the field of religion is a practical solution of a difficulty that has been posed by the concept of the extra-cosmic presence of God. Yet the problem persists in a very subtle manner, so that we may be inwardly unfriendly with a person though we may be sitting on the lap of that person. As we know very well, physical proximity of even the most intense type need not be an emblem of friendship. Though I may be sitting on your head, I may not be friendly with you.

There is an internal dichotomy subtly pressing itself forward, even in the organic concept of God; and how can there be an unconditioned love of God, a perpetual feeling for God, when the relationship of oneself with God is not clear? "I don't understand you and, therefore, I cannot love you. So my love for you depends upon my understanding of you, and the more I understand you, the more I love you." Here, the understanding is nothing but an appreciation of the real connection that exists between oneself and the other. "I must know, first of all, what my relationship with you is, then I can tell you how much love I have for you. Are you my father? Are you my brother? Are you my boss? Are you my servant? Are you my friend? Are you my enemy? What are you? If you tell me what you are, I can tell you how much love I have for you, because your context in relation to my presence is what determines my feeling for you." Likewise, I may ask this question: "How am I related to God?" This question was completely brushed aside by certain schools of devotion. They never wanted to answer this question at all, and kept it aside in cold storage. "We shall love God as we love anything else in this world.

But wholly dedicating ourself for the sake of God – these feelings for God, in a whole-souled fashion, though in a rarefied form of the ordinary loves in the world, are called the bhavas in bhakti yoga. A bhava is a feeling. Our feeling for God is called a bhava. Here, the basic difference that seems to be there between man and God is taken for granted, and it is not solved, because it cannot be solved so easily. If we go on trying to solve this question, our whole life will be spent in only answering this question. Therefore, the teachers of the path of devotion emphasised the necessity to love God, somehow or other, even if it be a magnified form of human love; and the answer to the difficulty as to whether human love is really divine love was that when human love gets magnified into infinity, it becomes divine love. There is a great point in this answer, because when the finite is lifted up into an unconditioned expanse to the extent possible for the mind, it loses the sting of finitude. The doctrine here is that when this human affection is expanded into the vastness of creation, though it may be true that in quality it has not changed, because of the fact that it has transformed itself into an utterly inconceivable magnitude of quantity, it will be free from the stigma of finitude of affection, and will be able to achieve certain miraculous results which finite love cannot.

These bhavas or feelings of love for God are, therefore, human affections diverted to God in an all-absorbing manner, so that the conditioning factors of human affection are removed as far as possible, and God is taken for granted as a permanent Being - not like an ordinary object in the world which can die one day or the other, but as a perpetually existent Being – and the necessity for loving that permanent Being is emphasised. Here, the feeling for God is similar to the feeling we have towards human relationships. These bhavas of bhakti are the central features of one path of yoga, called bhakti yoga, where God can be loved as a father, for instance. This is called shanta bhava, where emotions are least present.

We do not have a lot of emotion in respect of our father. We have a reverence for our father, a respect and a feeling of awe, coupled with a sustained emotion of love – not in the form of an ebullition of emotion, but as a controlled form of feeling which is designated as the peaceful attitude, or the shanta bhava. Most religions regard God as a father, and very few religions have any other attitude. He is the Supreme Father, and our relation to God is the relation that we have to a father, and we feel for God in the same way as we feel for our father. What is our feeling for our father? Fear is also a part of this love when God is regarded as a parent, because we fear our father – not because we dislike him, but because he has certain regulating principles which may not always be commensurate with our whims and fancies of personality.

The juristic concept of God as a lawgiver, a lawmaker and a dispenser of justice is a pre-eminent feature in the concept of God in most religions. This feeling can be regarded as one of the channelising factors which can draw all the forces of the mind towards God. The teachers of bhakti tell us that if God is regarded as All-in-all, as the Supreme Maker and the All-powerful Being, even if He be the Creator in the sense of an ordinary maker of things, a day will come when this quantitative expanse of devotion will automatically bring about, in a subtle manner, a qualitative transformation also, so that human love can become divine love.