The Heritage of Indian Culture
by Swami Krishnananda

The Relationship Between Man and God

Religion is manifest in seven ways. Scripture, philosophy, mysticism, theology, ethics, ritual, and mythology are the principal branches of the religious phenomenon. While there can be any number of details by way of the expression of the religious outlook in practical life, it is mainly concerned with these foundational features.

Scripture is the foundation of every religion, so to say, and it is believed to be a record of the revelations of super-sensory perception. A revelation, a scripture, is regarded as holy because it is not an intellectual workmanship of any particular author. It is a supreme insight, a light that dawns in the soul of a prophet, a sage or a seer, a light that speaks the message of God to man. Such are the scriptures, which are the basic references in all matters of religious doubt and difficulty.

The revelation which is the scripture, the intuition of the Divine Reality, is also what is known as philosophy when it becomes a reasoned argument substantiating the dictum of the scripture. Especially in India, it is laid down that the philosophical disquisitions, while they can stand on the strength of reason and understanding, should not contradict scripture. Unbridled reason is not regarded as a trustworthy medium of knowledge. By 'unbridled', we mean independent of scripture. So, while scripture is direct intuition, a revelation which is super-sensory, philosophy is intellectual, rational, a method adopted to convince the reason by arguments which are logical in their nature—by induction and deduction, etc.—so that intuition, which is super-sensory, super-mental, super-rational, also gets confirmed by man's reason.

The seeds of theology and the other features of religion that I mentioned are actually laid in the scriptures themselves. In fact, we can find the foundations of every feature or aspect of religion in its scripture. The scripture is a storehouse of every blessed thing which a religion can be. It has its philosophy, the roots of reasoned arguments; it also has the seeds of mythology, ritual, ethics, and the general attitude of people in their social life.

The doctrine of theology is the concept of God as applied to human life, which again is a derivative from the proclamations of the scriptures themselves. In India particularly, the scripture, which has its foundations in the Vedas and the Upanishads, is also the basis of India's theology and philosophy, what to speak of other things such as mythology, etc. The Upanishads lay the foundations for the philosophy which is later called the Darshana, or the reasoned or rational perception of Truth.

The concept of God in its relation to the creation of the universe and the existence of the individual is the basis for theological doctrines. Theology is the science of God. It is the art of the disquisition of the nature of the Creator, or a system which argues the characteristics of the Creator in relation to His creation. Thus, inasmuch as it is accepted that theology considers the relationship that obtains between God, world and soul, and takes for granted the existence of this threefold principle, or tripartite entity, it is often distinguished from philosophy. Theology is not the same as philosophy if we are to define theology as a propounding of God's relationship to creation as well as to individuals, who are the contents of creation.

But philosophy is defined in many ways, and people have not come to a clear conception as to what philosophy is. Though it is generally defined as 'love of wisdom', that is a very vague definition indeed because one does not know what this wisdom is in order that one may love it. However, those who thought that philosophy is the love of wisdom must have had in their minds the idea that wisdom is nothing but the wisdom of God. It does not mean ordinary, worldly wisdom. In fact, the great philosophic hero who, for the first time, perhaps, made the word 'philosophy' popular was Plato, and he and his disciple Aristotle did not consider wisdom to be merely worldly knowledge, but an insight into Reality. Now, inasmuch as wisdom is supposed to be the content of philosophy, and wisdom also has been identified with an insight into Reality, and it is the task or the function of philosophy not to have any predispositions or preconceived notions, it has to differ from theology, which already accepts the fact of there being a creation and individuals inside creation whose relationship obtains in the context of God's creativity.

These principles, which can be identified with an impersonal search for Reality going by the name of an abstract philosophical disquisition, as well as theological concepts which are more prone to a cosmological concept of God, are all to be found in the scriptures of India—in the Veda, and particularly in the Upanishads. The outcome of these systems of thinking is the effect they have upon the individual's conduct and his relationship with other individuals in society. Thus, in a way we may say our notion of Reality decides our attitude to the world and our conduct with other people. Philosophy, therefore, taken in its true sense, lays the foundation for every other system of thought and every branch of learning, and a total outlook of life is manifest spontaneously from this foundational acceptance of the characteristics of Reality, which is the task of philosophy to discover.

Hence, while a religious outlook taken in its comprehensiveness has to root itself in a scriptural revelation, and it has a philosophy of its own which substantiates the revelations of scripture, it also has its own theology—a concept of God. 'Concept of God' is the important phrase to note here. God is not a mere concept. God is an independent Being, Existence in its own right, but when God becomes a concept, we turn from philosophy to theology. Our idea of God is the root of the theological doctrines of religion, but the idea of God is not the same as God Himself. God has a status of His own—an independent existence free from the ideas which may be related by the percipients in the form of the individuals who came subsequent to the creative act.

But, as we gradually come down from the scriptural foundational acceptance in the religious fields of philosophy and theology, we automatically come to our social and personal levels, wherein our external conduct has to perform a double duty: religious and secular. Our external conduct has to be religious and also secular, which means to say, it has to be a conduct in relation to God and also a conduct in relation to other people around us. The outwardly manifest conduct of our individuality in relation to God becomes the rituals of religion, and our conduct in relation to other people becomes the ethics of society.

Thus, rituals are derived from the principal enunciation of the insight of a scripture through philosophy and theology, and we come down to our visual world of human relationship and assume a relationship even to God Himself. It is not given to man in his ordinary frail mortality to contemplate God in His Absoluteness. Whatever the scripture may say, it remains only in the scripture. It does not enter our mind because the mind of man is mostly physical, though it is dubbed 'psyche'. We call the mind 'psyche', and it is distinguished from the body, but we are wholly bodies, and we think in terms of bodies. On account of this bodily engrossment of the psyche, we are unable to contemplate the pristine independence of the Supreme Creator as He ought to have to been before the act of creation took place. God must have been something before there was creation; and in His status before creation, where there was no universe, we should not attribute to Him even such characteristics as omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, etc. We cannot call God omnipresent because it implies spatial constraint, and the idea of omniscience and omnipotence are also involved in the notion of space and time. Hence, because space and time came after creation took place, we cannot become God as He is in Himself independent of these notions that have come down to us through the creative act. Thus is the frailty of man in his attempt to conceive God in His pristine originality.

However, we see the world—we see the universe around us—and so in terms of our notion of the universe around us, we also have a notion of God as the Creator. We see a vast universe, a big world outside us, and with our causal arguments of the intellect we posit a God who is superior to and larger than this great effect as the universe and the world. So we think of God as a large being, a vast expanse encompassing the whole world, the entire creation. Therefore, we say He is present in all things. The argument is: The cause is present in the effect; therefore, God is present in the world. Thus, God is immanent in the world, though He is also transcendent to all the particularities in the world. Because we think of God in terms of creation—the universe and the world—we say He is sarvantaryami, sarvajna, sarvasaktiman: omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent. Otherwise, we cannot think of Him. To think God is to objectify Him, to make Him external, which He is not; and, therefore, there is no such thing as thinking God.

So comes the need for ritual in religion, the practice of the adjustment of oneself in an external conduct motivated by an inward feeling of devotion and surrender in respect of the great Almighty who is the Creator, the Preserver, and the Transformer (or the Destroyer) of the universe.

While we are incapable of conceiving God in His originality prior to the creative act, we also find ourselves incapable of conceiving God even through His creation. The world is so large that we cannot imagine what it is. The universe transcends the comprehension of even the best of religions. So, our attitude towards God is one of humble obeisance. There is an external act which we have to express in some way or other, which is, in our opinion, in consonance with the relationship that obtains between ourselves and God. Rituals in religion imply the relationship between the devotee (the individual) and God (the Supreme Being).

The different schools of thought, systems of philosophy and religion, are different ideas of the relationship of man and God. Thus, we have many philosophies. The many philosophies and the many religions are nothing but the outward expressions of the many ideas of the relationship between man and God. No one knows how we are related to God, or how God is related to us. I have one idea, you have another idea, and anyone can have any idea. These ideas of the relationship between man and God are the schools of thought, the systems of philosophy, and the doctrines or the faiths of religions. We need not go deep into these variegated fabrics of the philosophical structure or the foundations of religion, because many of them are known to us. Suffice it to say, among the many types of relation that we can conceive between ourselves and God, and between God and ourselves, three are fundamental and primary.

That we are totally different from God and God is totally different from us is one idea. There is a fear of God, a dread of the curse and imprecation that can befall us by the might of the Supreme Creator, and an abject feeling of helplessness in the presence of this terrific might whose grace alone can save us as an act of compassion, and from our side we can do nothing. We have no strength of any kind and are bereft of every capacity on account of our complete isolation from God. Man is a slave. Even to say man is a slave of God is a great dignity given to him, because man is worse than that, is the feeling of certain thinkers who cannot identify any relationship between man and God. All these notions of the complete duality between man and God lead to the practices and rituals of religion, which take the form of varieties of types of devotion, the principal form of these types being what is known as surrender of self—the technique of negation of oneself in an acceptance of one's total incapacity, as it is impossible to imagine that man can have any worth at all in light of the fact that he is isolated from God, root and branch. In India this is known as the Dvaita philosophy in the technical language of Sanskrit, but it is prevalent in other countries also. Wherever and whenever a drastic and marked distinction is drawn between man and God, we have the Dvaita philosophy.

The school of Sri Ramanuja—the Sri Vaishnava school of thought, as it is called—accepts a sort of relationship between man and God, though it is not intelligently clear. It is a sort of organic connection, something like the relationship of soul and body, which visualises an inward connecting link between man and God, though outwardly He is separate. The Sri Vaishnava school accepts the organic connection of the soul with the Almighty. The organic connection does not mean identical, nor does it mean complete separation. It is a relatedness comparable to the relation of the body to the soul or the soul to the body, or the parts of the body to the whole body—sarira-sariri-sambandha, as it is usually known. We know that the soul is not the body, and we know that the body is not the soul, yet they cannot be separated. We cannot keep the soul here and the body there. They are inseparably related, yet the one is not the other. Also, though the parts of the body are not the body, and the cells of the body do not constitute the organism, yet they do constitute the organism; they are inseparably related. This is the Vishishtadvaita school of Ramanuja, and any school which holds this doctrine of the organic relationship of the individual with the Almighty is of this character.

The third school of thought is that which accepts the total identity, an utter inseparability of man and God in essence, a point which is made out by many philosophers in the West such as Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, etc., and by Shankaracharya, who cannot see any difference basically, principally, essentially, between that which is created and that which creates. They cannot see a distinction between the effect and the cause. The cause moves towards the effect, becomes the effect. As the clay in the pot is not different from the pot, God is not different from creation. Such is the visualisation of the relationship between creation and the Almighty—between man and God—by schools which accept the total identity of things.

All these schools of thinking, theology, philosophy and ritual have their place in scripture. We will find these mentioned in some form or other, in some modicum, in some corner of the Veda or Upanishads. The rituals, therefore, are the outward symbols expressed in religious obeisance to God in terms of the relation that obtains between oneself and God. Before we perform religious worship or conduct a religious ritual, there is already an idea in our minds of the relationship between ourselves and God, and His relationship to us. That conditions the nature of the ritual, and also explains the meaning of it. Hence, while there are rituals in every religion, they differ in their inner connotation. The rituals of different religions and faiths may have an outward similarity, but the inner significance differs on account of the difference in the acceptance of the relationship between man and God.

Here we have, therefore, the features of the religious outlook—scripture, philosophy, theology, ritual; and ethics follows from that. Ethics is nothing but a further extension of the principle of the relation between man and God, and the relation between God and creation. How we have to conduct ourselves among ourselves as human beings will be decided by our idea of the relation that God has to the world and to ourselves.

Hence, philosophy is the basis of sociology and ethics, and perhaps even of politics, because political science and administration are nothing but a concrete implementation of our propriety in relation to, in regard to, the ethics and morality of human relationships. We have some idea as to what is good and what is proper, and on the basis of that idea we lay down our constitutions, rules, regulations, etc. But our notion of the good is conditioned by the nature of the philosophy that we follow and our concept of the relationship between God, world, and soul.

Finally, we conclude that every effort of man, and every enterprise in any field of life, is based on a philosophy—of which he may be aware, or he may not be aware. Even a cat has a philosophy of its own when it pounces on a mouse, though it may not be a written step which it reads before it manifests its activity in the way it does. The conduct of a person is not always intelligently analysed by that person in terms of a foundational philosophy, but it is subconsciously present. An idea of what is proper is present in the mind of every person. This idea of what is proper is the philosophy of that person, which is unconsciously projected in the form of external behaviour, conduct and action.

Therefore, the practice of religion is the practice of God-consciousness, in some degree or the other. It is to flood our personality with something super-mundane, super-personal and super-individualistic. When we become religious seekers, we become non-temporal not only in our personal life but also in our social existence.

This is the message of Bharatavarsha, the message of India's culture, the message of true spirituality, and the message of all the mystics, saints and sages of the world. God bless you all!