Chapter 20: Concepts of God
Swedish Visitor A: Are not intelligence and goodness narrow human concepts? How do we know that God is a person or a personality – that He has personal qualities?
Swamiji: Whether God is a person or not – this is your question? You see, this is a fairly important question in the study of theologies everywhere, in all religions. All the Semitic religions (Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam) consider God as a Supreme Person, almost identifying Him with the concept of a Supreme Father. "Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy name," – that is how the prayer goes. All these descriptions of God imply that He is a large inclusive universal personality. You are asking me whether He is really a personality.
Personality is a human concept. When we talk of personality, we always think of the pattern of human personality. We don't think of the personality of a lion, or an elephant, and all that. Our thoughts are conditioned by the human way of thinking. Now, is it true that the human way of thinking is the only way of thinking, and there is no other way? A frog also thinks, a reptile thinks, a cow thinks, an elephant thinks. Do you think that their thinking is wrong?
Visitor A: No, I think they are personalities, too.
Swamiji: They are personalities, but we don't think that God is a huge lion. We generally think that God is a huge human form, as big as this universe. The first point about this is that we are thinking like human beings, and it is not necessary that this is the only way of thinking. It may be subject to modification when we evolve further in the process of evolution. Man thinks in one way, a super-man thinks in another way, and it is believed that man has to become a super-man, until he becomes a God-man.
The other point is: what is personality, be it human or otherwise? A person exists in space and time. If space and time are not there, there cannot be personality. A person exists in space; there is space around him, and time also is there. Now, we believe that space and time were created by God, and they were not there prior to God's existence. We always say that God is first, not that space and time are first. "God created the heaven and the earth," says the scripture, which means to say He created space and time. If that is the case, God cannot be said to be conditioned by space and time. In other words, He is not in space and time. If He is not in space and time, how will you see Him as a person?
God, thus, is not really a person. He is not in heaven only. We say God is in heaven, but God created the heaven; so, before He created the heaven, where was He? Neither can we say that He is a person, nor can we say that He is in heaven. God is universal, all-comprehensive, infinite Existence. That seems to be the only conclusion we can draw by going deep into the question of the nature of God.
But, for the purpose of devotion, you see otherwise. Man cannot think of infinitude always. The mind is not made up of such potential. We want affection, love, and also response to our affection. An infinite all-pervading, non-spatial, non-temporal Existence cannot evoke our affection so much, just as logic and mathematics cannot evoke our affection. Logic and mathematics are perfect sciences; we accept that, but we cannot love them. Our heart does not go for them, our heart goes to a painting, music, architecture, sculpture, literature, etc. Where our heart is, there our love and our happiness also is. To manifest our love, we require an object. We cannot love the Infinite for obvious reasons. So, we have to consider God as a Supreme Father. Sometimes, in India, people consider Him also as a Supreme Mother.
From our point of view, from the requirement of human nature, there is nothing wrong in thinking that God is a Person, because the Infinite can also appear as a Person, in the same way as a block of stone can appear as a statue by carving. The block of stone does not contain the statue, but it contains a statue potentially. God can be a Person, and yet we need not limit Him to personality. He is rather a Super-Person. This is what I think God must be. What do you say?
Visitor A: I say thank you very much for an excellent answer.
Visitor B: May I ask a question?
Swamiji: What is your question, sir?
Visitor B: I agree with you on this description of the nature of God, but I must confess that I find it a little alien to see this multitude of idols which appear in Hindu temples. How does that go together with this idea of God?
Swamiji: This question has been put to me one hundred times. This is the one-hundred-and – first question. This is a difficult thing for a Western mind to understand; they are not accustomed to see these things. You must go deep into the psychology of this kind of religious behavior. One who worships an idol is not worshipping that particular thing.
There is a person called the President or Prime Minister of a country. You say, "The President has come, the Prime Minister has come," but really, only a human being has come, who is just like you. The President of the country is just like you, just like a shopkeeper, a person who drives a car or a railway engine, or a hotel keeper. He is the same human being as anybody else, but you don't think him to be so. When the President of the country comes, you do not say that a Mr. Guy is coming. Then, who is coming, actually? Is it a human being that is coming, or the President that is coming? Tell me. You are seeing the President in that human being, which is to say, the President is a concept of an all-inclusive authority and power in the jurisdiction of the country. You respect the President because he has all the country concentrated in him. But really he is only a Mr. x y z. Is it not?
The person is an idol, and you need not have any concern for him. Are you concerned with everybody in the world? So many people are walking on the street, but when the President comes, you will immediately get up and receive him with honour. Then, whom are you adoring? You are worshipping "something" that you see "through" this idol of a human being. Do you understand my point? Likewise, the idol in the shrine is not actually an idol but a representation of what it stands for, beyond its visible shape or form.
The whole universe is one integral being. Nature is not made up of little parts. Just as I can touch any little part of your body, and it is equal to touching the whole body, if I touch your finger, you will say, "You are touching me," so, a little part that I touch is equal to the touch of the whole to which it belongs. In view of the fact that Nature is an integral all-comprehensive whole, every part of it also is Nature. Every part, you may say, is even God Himself.
This "part" concept is only notional. There is no part in God; there is no part in Nature also. There is no part in your personality; you are a whole person. When you come here, you don't come like a jumble of many parts of your body, though it is so in fact. You are a conglomeration of many limbs, and yet you don't say that the limbs are coming. You say, "I am coming." In the same way, Nature is one whole person, and any part of it is as good as any other part. Because of the fact that it is difficult to conceive the total whole at once, due to our immature notion of reality, we symbolise it in an idol. We reach the ocean through a river. We cannot go to the ocean immediately. I will catch hold of a boat and sit on the Ganga, and it will take me to the ocean. All the rivers are like idols, through which you can see the ocean behind. In a similar manner, you touch any part of the world, and you are touching the entire world.
The worship of idols is not worship of any particular thing. It is symbolic as a part of the total which is hidden in that little thing, even as the President is present in one single individual.
Another example is that there are officials in the government – there are police, collectors, magistrates, and varieties of powers. Every person here represents the government, which is the total whole. If you want to see the government, you cannot go and see it physically anywhere; you cannot see the government where it exactly is. You rather go to a person who represents the government, such as a magistrate, a collector, or a commissioner. When I want to see the government, I go to a person. The total whole is represented in that person, which is the administrative authority of the government, which is impersonal in itself.
In a similar manner, any part of the world can represent the whole universe, and so, when a person worships the so-called idol, he sees the whole cosmos represented in it. Remember the examples I have cited to you. Thus, there are not many gods, just as there are not many governments, though there are many officials.
Visitor B: You are in good shape this morning! Thank you very much.
Swamiji: So, I have many friends now.