Questions by various friends, and Answers by Swami Nirmalananda, abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram
Do you believe God is the all-powerful Person? That is, do you believe that God has also a personal feature, a more or less human form, but with all the powers?
God, being the source of all things and attributes, must of necessity possess all things and all attributes. God is totally PERSON. He is not merely "principle," or "being," or "reality," or any such abstractions-though He is the source of those things. In essence He is pure Consciousness. He IS what we ascribe to Him rather than possessing traits as surface appearances or adjuncts (upadhis in Sanskrit). In other words-in as correct terminology as we can get: God is not omnipotent, omniscient or omnipresent. Rather, He IS omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. God does not rule or know all things-He IS all things. Yet, in essence God is in truth also No Thing. That is, He is the eternal subject, never really an object, though it may seem so to our defective spiritual "eyes."
God does not "have" name and form, He IS name and form. When the purified soul directly has the vision of divine form, it is not to be considered in any way like our present mode of "seeing, " nor is That Which is perceived to be considered in any way like our earthly form. Nor must His name be looked upon as the type of names we know upon earth. Instead, we must come to realize through direct experience that the Name of God IS God.
The ultimate experience of God is only possible in perfect union of the soul with Him. The soul has no senses-indeed needs none. The manner in which it perceives and delights in God is inconceivable to mortal minds. To even speak of either form or formlessness in relation to God is incorrect, as these are attributes which God transcends.
The goal of the soul is not to go to some perfect world which is like the earth except without defects, and there to eternally see God as an object. That is one stage on the path of evolution, but it is an elementary (though a sweet) one. The goal is to attain full union with the Lord, with no intermediary of time, space, or sense. The soul must become "naked"-that is, it must divest itself of all physical and psychic bodies and senses, and in its essence as pure spirit (and therefore pure consciousness) unite with the Infinite Source in the most intimate union of love. This is not the union of modern monism (which must not be mistaken for non-dualism which is quite different) in which all distinction is lost and the soul can think it has become the Lord. Rather, it is a union of love wherein the unity itself is a form of relationship, not annihilation.
If we could grasp the nature of this inmost, sacred state with our finite minds it would not be worth attaining. How those souls, made one with the Lord, perceive and communicate with Him, living in His life as He lives in them, has never been stated. Nor can it be. To seek to define it is to commit sacrilege and is the height of intellectual egotism.
I hope these answers are clear, but I should point out that none of these views are dogmatic but only my personal understandings.
As we evolve, is God also evolving?
God being beyond change, I would not say that He is evolving. But since He has projected Himself (or so it seems to our viewpoint) as the evolving universe, and since the evolving consciousnesses are part of His greater Life, then it can be said that He indeed is experiencing the process of evolution. But it is important for the individuals to know that their "evolution" is more of a therapeutic appearance than an absolute reality. That is, all of this changing drama is really the dream of God.
Frankly, your writings have me confused. At one time they speak of God as non-dual, impersonal, and formless, and at other times God is spoken of in very anthropomorphic and personal terms. You also seemed to speak disparagingly of monism in a book review, but in several places in various publications you advocate it. Am I really confused, or are you?
Reading your question there immediately came to mind the response once made to an inquirer by Sri Ma Anandamayi: "Have you now seen that no answer is perfect in itself? Wherever there is the questioner and the answerer, truth cannot be expressed." In other words, where there is the sense of duality-and that includes the idea of truth and untruth-the True cannot be either spoken or grasped. But let us analyze your difficulty.
Those who hold to the one-sided view that God is only formless and disdain those who accept the fact that God is manifest in many-indeed all-forms, are like the little children in the third grade who sneer at the second-graders as "babies." After all, they read in the third primer, having long ago left the second primer behind! Such childishness is rampant in contemporary religion, especially among theologians-which is to be expected since the intellect itself is hopelessly childish in its innate egoity.
That Which Is embraces both form and formlessness and exists outside them both. God manifests as both with and without form in order to communicate the Divine Essence to the evolving consciousness according to its evolutionary status. To some, form is most immediately communicable, and to others it is just the opposite. But we must realize that form and formless are dualities, one of the pairs of opposites (dvandvas) which must eventually be transcended as the spirit evolves beyond all relativity. And formlessness is within relativity, not beyond it, for it is simply the opposite of form and cannot stand alone. Formlessness implies form-in fact, we cannot grasp the concept of formlessness without the concept of form. The two are inextricably united, for they are really one. To speak of accepting one and rejecting the other is as absurd as attempting to divide heat from fire or wetness from water.
Form and Formlessness are the two halves of merely one of the principles of manifestation-i.e., relativity. However, since THAT Which manifests is God, then it naturally follows that God is thus both with and without form to the consciousness that is yet within the realm of manifestation and relativity. Once that state is passed beyond by the perfected consciousness or spirit, the idea and experience of form and formless cannot arise, for no mode of contradiction or duality is any longer possible. In that illumined state neither acceptance nor rejection of anything, including philosophical concepts or principles, is possible, either.
Now, of course, some people do not like to use the term "God" because they feel it implies some limitations or conditioning. But, being limited by our language there really seems no alternative but to use that term. Obviously we are going to have to keep in mind as correct a concept as we can (realizing as well that no concept is complete or perfect) while using limiting terms-including the Vedantic terms such as Brahman or Satchidananda. Words are still just that: words. After all, we need not flatter ourselves, for fewer things are more limited than the intellect with which we love to so pontifically philosophize. This is why the wise remain silent. Wherever we find the noise of philosophical or theological controversy, there we may be sure ignorance is rampant and wisdom will never be triumphant.
No one can really understand these things except through direct experience that far exceeds the mind and intellect. And such experience is impossible within the human status except through perseverance in the practice of valid meditation.
What should be rejected is "unripe" non-dualism or "monism" which refuses to acknowledge the simple fact that the Sole Reality is immanent in relative existence-creation-indeed is Itself manifest and embodied in and through this relative creation. That being true, then it is certainly possible for It to manifest certain divine forms in order to stimulate the evolving consciousness to further awakening. If God can appear as a grasshopper or a mountain, then God can certainly appear as a "god" or "goddess." And since every particle of every atom maintains its existence and position simply through the conscious will and purview of God, then God is actually more intensely personal than we can even conceive. And since it is God alone who is manifesting as all human beings through taking on all these forms, a certain degree of "anthropomorphism" is entirely admissible as long as it is held within the wider perspective that also embraces the divine transcendence of form.
How really silly to declare that God is appearing as all transient forms within the universe and then deny the existence and viability of those deific forms which the questing consciousnesses of all ages have perceived. To complacently agree to the existence of gnats and camels as temporarily viable "realities"-nay, manifestations of the Real-and then shriek that all divine forms and manifestations are lies and inventions of "priestcraft" is to prove oneself a fool of the first order. Why is it only within the realm of religion that the experience of the individual becomes delusion to be rejected and fulminated against? Where now is the "all is One" and "everything reflects the Real" philosophizing upon which we preen our "advanced" selves? What kind of sophistication is that which solemnly affirms the reality and meaningfulness of a mosquito and its bite while denying any such status to the experience and objects of religion and mysticism? I leave it up to you to figure out the motive behind such spiritual and philosophical chicanery.
To sum it all up: God is both with form and formless. And God is also beyond both form and formlessness. Therefore all three: form, formless, and beyond both, are appropriate to affirm, while keeping in mind the realities of the other modes. It is when we declare that one or the other is the only truth (or the "highest truth" with the implication that the other two should be rejected out of hand) that we fall into error. Simplistic thinking in these matters is neither sophisticated nor beneficial. But such thinking is the bane-and the boast-of the Western mind.