By Mathew Idikkula
Nothing has been more intriguing in the history of mankind than the concept of God.
Confronted with misery and fear, the inevitable realities of life, people have sought refuge in
an outside supernatural power, which they called God. Unaware of God's true nature, people
have come to assume all kinds of costumes for God—a supreme Judge in a far away heaven, a
ferocious Being with immense power, a benevolent, loving Superhuman, and so forth.
In fact, both the existence and the nature of God have been profoundly misunderstood.
It is not surprising that the longest campaign of violence ever recorded in history was unleashed
on account of a misunderstood God. It remains true to this day that the same violence in the
form of terrorism continues unabated in the name of God, a misunderstood God. Rejecting a
popular view of God, Albert Einstein writes, “I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes
the objects of His creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own.”
The search for God assumed a higher dimension with the progress of humanity. While
the majority still looked for God in a far away heaven, philosophers and theologians, mostly in
the west, employed reason and logic in their vain attempt to comprehend that which is
incomprehensible and beyond reason “While the educated indulged in vain speculations about
the Inexpressible, the uneducated treated God as a being who could be manipulated by magic
rites or sorcery,” writes Dr. S. Radhakrishnan.
Is there a God? If there is, what can the word God possibly refer to? This short essay is
geared to answer these questions, based on the testimony of Vedanta.
True philosophy lies in probing the ultimate cause of the universe. In ancient India the
search for God was directed inward. Seeing that all objects of the universe are fleeting, the
Vedic sages hypothesized that there must be a stable entity from which all these are born, by
which all are sustained, and into which they all return. They also explored: What makes the
universe appear in the first place, and in the absence of what would make it disappear?
For answers they plunged deep into their own Consciousness and came up with the
most exalted and pioneering discovery that what they had been probing was nothing but their
own Consciousness. Incidentally, the same truth was observed at a much later period by St.
Francis of Assisi when he said, “What we are looking for is what is looking.”
In the process of their probe, the sages also established the simple but indisputable logic
that if there is Consciousness, there is universe; and there is no universe in the absence of
Consciousness. To understand this, consider if there is gold, ornaments are there; there can be
no ornaments in the absence of gold. Therefore, what appears as ornaments is nothing but gold
in various names and forms. Here, gold alone is the cause of the ornaments and is the only
reality. The ornaments have no existence apart from gold.
Similarly, if Consciousness is the ultimate cause of the universe, then what we perceive
as the universe is merely names and forms (nama-rupa) in Consciousness. Names and forms
have no existence apart from Consciousness and therefore are not real in the sense we consider
Consciousness to be real. Consciousness is the only Reality, the only existence, the underlying
principle of the apparent universe. As Vayu-Purana puts it, “Everything exists in Consciousness,
and Consciousness exists in everything.” The implication is that Consciousness is the
fundamental Reality beyond which there is no existence.
It is a grave error born out of ignorance that we think that there is a God outside
Consciousness—outside us. All gods having a name and form are products of our imagination,
not an absolute reality; as such, they belong to the world of manifestations. Listen to Paul
Twtichell: “The chief delusion of man is his conviction that there are other causes at work in this
life than his own states of Consciousness.”
The Nature of Consciousness
Consciousness, like space, is one only. It is infinite, eternal, immutable, unmovable,
inactive, and indivisible; it is never born and never dies. Above all, Consciousness is
incomprehensible, meaning it is not an object of sense knowledge. It is the eternal subject by
being the knower of all objects. How can the object, which is inert matter, ever conceive of
knowing its subject? Consider this analogy: “With a pair of tongs you can catch anything
outside it. Can it catch the hand which holds it?” writes Swami Rama Tirtha, quoted by Swami
Therefore, the ultimate Reality is beyond the reach of human intellect and beyond the
scope of science as well. Listen to what William Rees-Mogg says: “To argue that nothing exists
which cannot be proved scientifically is the crudest of errors, which would eliminate almost
everything we value in life, not only God or the human spirit, but love and poetry and music.”
Nick Herbert observes, “Science’s biggest mystery is the nature of Consciousness.”
Science deals with sense data which is measurable; the reality of Consciousness is
immeasurable. In fact, modern science has come to grip with this realization. Listen to Arthur
Eddington, “The frank realization that physical science is concerned with a world of shadows is
one of the most significant of recent advances.”
The world of reality that the Vedic sages have discovered, the ultimate Reality, is the
world that really is, not the world that appears to us. Vedanta called it Brahman, Buddha called
it Nirvana, Jesus called it Father, and Islam called it Allah. Reality (Truth) is one only (Ekam sat)
and beyond name and form; but the same Reality is called variously by different traditions of
the world. That’s all.
True, we can neither see God (Reality) nor know it. But we can experience it; therefore,
we can believe it—just as we can see neither electricity nor gravitation, but we can experience
their effects and therefore we believe in them.
Similarly, we do experience the Infinite within ourselves as our inmost Self – which is
known as “Atman” in Vedanta, and “the Kingdom of God” in Christianity. “One Self-effulgent
Being, hidden in all beings, all pervading, is the inner Self of all,” says Svetasvatara Upanishad.
Because of the luminous Self we are aware of not only our own existence but also everything
else. Keep in mind that only the animate beings are conscious of their existence, not the
We are all conscious that we exist; our existence is self-evident. No one thinks “I am
not” (I don’t exist). We do not need any proof for our own existence.
We can doubt anything else in the world except the immediate “self-certainty” that we
all constantly experience. Do I need somebody else to prove that I exist? Sankara, the
philosopher sage of India, says: “All means of knowledge exist only as dependent on self-
experience, and since such experience is its own proof, there is no necessity for proving the
existence of Self….The Self cannot be proved since it is the basis of all proof and is established
prior to all proof”
The Self – the changeless and imperishable Reality – is spiritual; everything else is
material – changing and perishable. One is Infinite, the other is finite. Both represent two
diametrically opposing realms of reality. Let us put this fundamental truth into perspective with
respect to our own individual life experiences for more clarity.
Vedanta says we all experience the world through three different states of
Consciousness: waking, dream, and deep sleep – an exclusive analysis done by Vedanta only.
One state of experience is always contradicted by another. However, in the midst of the shifting
states experiences, we all experience a stable center(experiencer): the sense of “I.” This very
center is our Self.
Obviously, all our experiences are centered around this “I,” which never changes while
the experiences are changing. For instance, we all know that it is the same “I” who is the waker,
dreamer, and sleeper. Are they different? Have a close look at your own life spectrum. Our
thinking, our likes and dislikes, conceptions, convictions, emotions, and even our bodies
undergo constant change. We all pass through stages of childhood, adolescence, youth,
adulthood, and old age. And yet the sense of “I” remains the same throughout. In retrospect,
can I deny myself in any of these various stages of development, seeing that both my body and
mind have changed over the years? The truth is that the sense of “I” – the Self – is never born,
never ages, and never dies; birth, growth, and death are features pertaining to matter only.
It is noteworthy that the Self under discussion here is the deeper Self—the true Self,
which is one only by being the Self of all. It is not to be confused with our ego sense—our
apparent self, which is nothing but a reflection of the deeper Self.
The One and the Many
As we have noted above, though there is but one Self, there are countless
individualized selves, just like there are countless reflections of the same sun. The sun is not
affected by its numerous reflections. Similarly, the one and the only Reality (Consciousness)
pervades the entire universe by being the indwelling Self – the subtle essence – of all, but
without being affected by the qualities of the objects that it illumines. “Know that (Self) to be
the imperishable by which all this is pervaded,” says Gita.
Another important aspect of Reality worth discussing is that it is both transcendent and
immanent. When the Reality is viewed without any subject-object relation, beyond the world of
objects, it is transcendent. But when the same Reality is considered as being in contact with
objects (matter), it is immanent. In its transcendent nature, which is its true nature, Reality is
one; in its immanent nature, which is only apparent (not real), this one Reality appears as many.
This twofold aspect of Reality is highlighted in a passage of Gita: “All this world is
pervaded by Me in My unmanifested form…All beings exist in Me; but I do not abide in them.
Nor do the beings abide in Me. Behold My divine mystery! My being, which is the substance and
sustenance of all, does not abide in them.” What the quoted passage implies, though difficult to
grasp, is this: The transcendent aspect of Reality is the absolute truth; the immanent aspect is
his divine mystery—appearance(Maya).
From the perspective of a man of knowledge, the Reality is absolutely one without a
second. But from the perspective of someone who is ignorant, the same Reality is manifold.
Swami Satprakashananda has illustrated this profound truth by means of a perfect analogy:
“The sun, which is ever stationary and ever resplendent, appears as rising or setting, as bright or
dim, to those who are on the earth, but from the position of the sun all these movements and
changes have no meaning, there being all along the same glorious, steady sun.”
The Vedantic conception of God is nowhere else better illustrated than in Chandogya
Upanishad, which Swami Vivekananda quoted in a lecture at Harvard university on March
25,1896: “That is the Infinite where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, knows nothing
else. But where one sees something else, hears something else, knows something else, that is
finite. That which is Infinite is immortal; that which is finite is mortal.”
The Search for God
It follows, therefore, that the Reality that remains ever the same is one only; it is the
cause of the many that come and go. But we see the many, not the One. We can dismiss the
many seeing that they are not real, but not the One that sustains the many. We can dismiss the
bubbles and the waves, but not the ocean.
The search for God is the search for the One. The search for the One is knowledge; the
search for the many is ignorance. For, the One is the eternal subject, the knower, the many, the
known, are the objects.
Our material life is a relentless flight, consciously or unconsciously, towards the One. As
the rivers flow to reach the ocean, everything in nature moves towards its ultimate source from
which it originated—the ultimate Reality. “The One which is the culmination of human
knowledge, the One which the human mind invariably seeks, the One in which human
aspirations attain fulfillment cannot be but the ultimate Reality,” writes Swami
Ultimately, the search for God is never an inquiry into the objective universe, but rather
an intense search into the inner nature of man—who am I? Because we are what we are
searching for. “If a man knows himself, he shall know God,” writes Clement of Alexandria. And
realizing which, there is nothing else to be sought or known.