What Is God?
“Our Deity is the eternal,
incessantly evolving not creating
builder of the universe,
that universe unfolding out of its own essence,
not being made.”
In the Indian philosophy of the Upanishads this same question, “What is god?” is asked by the pupil. Step by step the teacher brings the realisation of the great truth to the mind of his pupil – “Thou art That.” We ourselves in one part of our nature, in that part which is divine and spiritual, are God. Shri Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, “I am seated in the hearts of all beings.”
In the world of today this same question is answered from two different points of view: one, that of the orthodox creeds of the world; in the mosques and churches where it is taught that God is someone about whom we do not know very much. We are told that he is somewhere outside of ourselves and runs this universe according to laws the nature of which we do not understand. Also, we are warned it is better that we should not pry into the secrets of that Being and his mysterious working.
The other answer comes from materialistically advancing science. It says, my instruments will reveal everything. There is nothing permanently invisible, there is nothing permanently intangible; that which is invisible and intangible today is fast becoming visible and tangible. My exquisite balances can weigh it, my perfect microscope can observe it near at hand; my magnificent telescope can reveal it millions of miles away.
Within these two extremes a rational answer to the moral problems that affect the human heart is not to be found; for the answer of theology does not satisfy the heart, nor does the answer of science. What kind of a God is this Being pictured by religions who creates out of nothing a new soul for every baby born, many of them in sin, crime and ignorance, with diseased or deformed bodies? Such a Being would be a lawless Being, working the miracle of a lawless universe. It is not realised by those who give this theological answer, or by those who accept it, that they speak and accept a rank blasphemy. To say that a personal God, to whom is attributed all power, wisdom, mercy and justice, creates this universe in which weakness, ignorance, cruelty and injustice abide, is an answer which is the acme of unreasonableness; worse than wicked, it is blasphemous; worse than irreligious, it is ludicrous.
The other answer that everything can be known by scientists about the dust we are and the dust to which we return, also does not satisfy the human heart. The exquisite balances seemingly have weighed the smallest particle of matter known, but this is now no longer thought of as a tangible, visible thing at all and has entered the sphere of force. It is now viewed as a whirl of energy, an affair of mathematical calculations, not possible of microscopic observation. But the whirling invisible forces which build the human heart, even when explained and understood, do not throw any light on the problem of the joy and suffering of that heart.
It has been said, “Tell me the conception of God accepted by the followers of any creed, faith or philosophy and I will tell you the disposition and nature of the people who worship it.” This is so because we build the image of God in our own likeness.
Our ignorance of this subject is so tremendous and our attempt to have some idea so intense, that we readily accept the notions which prevail in the environment in which we are born, without much enquiry and without any thought. Although we may not believe it, it is a fact that in East and West alike people are worshipers of dead idols which they themselves, not Nature, have made. In some countries these images and idols are made of mud, stone or metal, in others of wood or brass, but there is no real difference between the fetish worship of the ignorant barbarian and that of the church-goer or temple worshipper. Each has built his idol and image in his own likeness.
What is the answer that the philosophy of Theosophy gives to this question? The answer of the ancient divine wisdom, known as Atma-Vidya and Brahma Vidya in the East, as Gnosis among the Greeks and as Theosophy today? It answers these ethical and moral problems of the human soul, mind and heart adequately and properly. Its answer is simple and straightforward. We are face to face with a universe, and the one clear conception that all of us has, each in his own way, is that we exist in the midst of space, if there are two things of which we are absolutely certain they are ourselves and space. We cannot conceive of ourselves as non-existing; we cannot conceive of ourselves as existing without space. We find that whether we look at space with the eyes of flesh or the eye of the mind, it has a limitation and at the same time an extension. Even though we think of space as a definite area, we know that it has the capacity of extension, for our horizon recedes and our conception of space extends. Space is composed, therefore, of two aspects, one visible and tangible and known to us, which can be thought of and emotionally felt, and the other which is not visible, being beyond our senses, emotions, feelings and thoughts. Astronomers mark off a space which they call our solar system; a space in which our sun is the central body and around which the planets revolve, the farthest planet marking the boundary of the system. But there are many other solar systems, and astronomers speak of space which contains systems of stars, sidereal space, etc. Though the most powerful telescopes may show us the boundaries of universes, beyond lies space. Even beyond mathematical calculations extends inevitably incalculable and unaccountable space. Beyond the visible is ever the invisible, beyond the knowable is ever the unknowable. If we imagine the tiniest speck of matter there is ever a tinier speck; between two tiniest specks of matter there is inevitably space.
Examine the same problem from the point of view of another fundamental of the universe ~ Time. Imagine a period of years, a century. Suppose our individual capacity to imagine time is limited by a concept of one hundred years. Beyond that period is still time. If we extend our conception to a thousand years, beyond this is time. Beyond a billion years is time. Reverse the process. Take our smallest unit of time as the second, there is a fraction of a second, one billionth part of a second. But there still remains the concept of a beyond in reference to time.
Each one of us lives in his own universe limited by his own vision of space and time and therefore the universe of each one of us is different. The vision of space and time to a fish in water is very different from that of the vision of a dog running on the surface of the earth; its vision in turn is very different from that of the human being who is a savage; and his vision is different front that of an intellectual man. The universe of the mathematician or the astronomer is different from ours, but for everyone there is a beyond. Herbert Spencer called this beyond the Unknowable, not the unknown but the unknowable. Just as there is an invisible for every degree of human sight, an unthinkable for every human mind, there is the unknowable for every human soul. As the Buddha said : “… measure not with words the Immeasurable, nor sink the string of thought into the Fathomless.” This unknowable is inevitable to the scientist, to Pythagoras or to the Buddha as it is to us. The tiniest of insects and the mightiest of sages can only say one thing about that Unknowable, using the language of the Upanishads, “Not this, not that.”
If we look at visible space we find that even though each one of us sees a different universe there is one common factor in all. We are all observers, perceivers, although we see differently. Is the difference in the thing perceived or in the faculty of perception? It is in the faculty of perception and we find that this faculty grows.
All perceivers are unit consciousnesses and the objects perceived are consciousness for they are a collection of consciousnesses, each one perceiving things for itself in its own way.
The faculty of perception in the animal is instinctual, in the evolved human being it is intellectual, in the sage it is spiritual. Consciousness through its power of perception can come into a position of self-consciousness, able to say “I am myself,” and can then pass from self-consciousness to universal self-consciousness, when the “I” becomes the universal whole.
Once grasp the idea that all perceivers are consciousnesses, that evolution only pertains to faculties, and that all objects perceived are real as perceivers and illusory as objects perceived, and the basic ideas of the philosophy of Theosophy begin to stand out in bold relief.
When we speak of the evolution of forms we mean the evolution of all perceived objects. When we speak of our psychic or intellectual evolution, the evolution of the inner man as it is sometimes called, we mean the evolution of the power of perception whereby the universe perceived becomes different for each one. Spiritual evolution or unfoldment is the gaining of that power of perception by the Consciousness which is spiritual, which enables the consciousness to perceive the universe not as it appears but as it is, a unit, complete and whole. Human beings are in a state of self-consciousness. Sub-human beings are conscious but not self-conscious. Super-human beings are not only self-conscious but are universally self-conscious, that is, their self-consciousness views and understands the whole manifested universe, and possesses the power to become a unit perceiver at every point of space in that universe. This means that universal self-consciousness is that power of perception which enables it to realise the universe as a perceiving being, not merely as a perceived object.
There is one universal self-consciousness which holds in its embrace all separate individual consciousnesses. Every atom of matter is an unfolding God; as atom it is an object perceived, as God it is the perceiver. That God’s faculty of perception is sensuous and instinctual in the lower kingdoms; in the human kingdom the faculty of intellect, of mind and reason, is added. This faculty of intellect makes consciousness self-consciousness. The reasoning intelligence enables consciousness, limited or confined in any organism, to know itself as “I”. Imagine a faculty as far beyond the reasoning mind as the reasoning mind is beyond sensation or instinct, and we will be imagining the condition of all-self-consciousness.
In any universe perfection of perception can be reached; that perfection implies that the perceiver is in all, and the faculty of perception is realisation and expression, not impression and response. Such perfected perceivers in our solar system are the Mahatmas or Masters. Even so their power of perception evolves in a beginningless and endless Unknowable.
This universal self-consciousness is possible for us, for we are self-conscious beings in the process of growth and unfoldment toward becoming universally self-conscious. Those who reach this stage do not see different universes, they see one universe, for their knowledge of it is the same, there being nothing else left for them to know or see. They therefore are all of one mind, of one thought, one feeling, one will. They act as one man.
The characteristic of universal self-consciousness is perpetual activity, activity which is sacrifice. Sri Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, “If I did not mingle in action all the three worlds would go into ruin,” – the three worlds of perceiver, objects, and the faculty of perception.
What we call God has, therefore, to be looked at from three points of view: that of the perceiver, i.e., the totality of consciousness of all perceivers; that of the power of perception- to see, to hear, to sense, to feel, to think, to reason, to know by intuition; and that of the power of direct cognition of the soul. These three are the powers of the soul, divine powers. All objects are also divine.
As perceivers we are also destroyers and regenerators of the objects we perceive, for the moment our faculty of perception undergoes a change, the preservation of what has been perceived ceases and death has set in. The perceiver is the regenerator; perception is the preserver; perceived objects are creatures and they live and die in terms of the powers of perception. So we have here the three aspects of the Hindu trinity reflected in each one of us. Vishnu, the Preserver, incarnates again and again. We must understand this in the sense of the ever-changing and evolving faculties of perception. Shiva is the Knower, pure white consciousness, always the same, seeing through his power of perception different universes which are all Vishnu. The objects within Vishnu are created objects, creatures, in their totality Brahma.
To realise ourselves as not separate from nature but as links in a living Nature, ever-expanding and extending with the Unknowable ever embracing and beyond it, this is the vision that Theosophy gives us and the answer to the question, what is God. We ourselves are perceiving gods in the objective universe which is also ourselves. We are not merely human beings but are immortal divine beings. In time we shall enjoy the glorious state of universal self-consciousness which grows from the state of self-consciousness; from the state of “I” to the state where the universe grows “I”, the ocean of universal self-consciousness empties itself into the drop of individual self-consciousness. Then we shall become sacrificers in action, making compassionate our faculties of perception, sensuous, emotional, mental and intuitional; transforming all objective universes into a projection, an emanation, a radiation of ourselves. To feel that we are God, to recognise intellectually that unity, to act as though we are that unity, will bring the reign of brotherhood, which is the recognition of the solidarity of man arising out of the immanence of God. Those who have realised this unity are the Elder Brothers of the Race. In them is the perfected perception, through Them is the perfect action, compassion and sacrifice. They are the example of the birthless and deathless Brahman, and Their Lodge the only true Power, the only true Wisdom, the only true Love because it is manhood realised and therefore Godhead attained.