This blog is an attempt to discuss the essential philosophy of Advaita Vedanta in a scientific, philosophical and "traditional-religion"-agnostic point of view.

Concept of God

A lot of accessible Hindu philosophical texts are in English where the term "God" or "Lord" gets freely used and can easily be misinterpreted as some sort of a powerful being or even a force that looks over all other beings and things. Not an idea I can agree with! In fact in Hindu texts there is no one "God" - there's Ishwaras, Devas, Paramatmas, Bramhan, etc. - each pointing the reader to the different aspects of the same ultimate truth. I feel that clubbing these into a single God entity can easily pollute the intent of the teacher/writer as the concepts go through lossy translations en route to being absorbed by offline readers along the different points in the time horizon.

The traditional concept of God is created by humans in an effort to project the Absolute into our world of waking in the form of something larger than life. This God is a social concept. It is the ideal that the society is expected to look up to and follow. To make this projection comprehendible, it has been given various forms, attributes and concepts. This God is very much a part of this system called Maya. In Indian philosophies this God is called the Ishwara.

The role of this Social God or Ishwara is to provide the guidance and support that is needed within this world of Maya. This God is symbolized to help the mind go beyond the plurality. The concept of this God is essential to prevent the degeneration of the society and provides a path for people to evolve. And religion as a system is built around such a God to help provide the progression. (Of course a lot can be said about the history of this Social God including it’s origins in the worship of Nature by early man but this present discussion is more on the philosophical implications rather than the historical significance and accuracy.)

Vedanta, on the other hand, introduces this concept of the Absolute “God” - the Brahman. I use the term God here very loosely so that wherever “God” is used in the various texts I can, in my mind, substitute with this concept of the God. The Brahman is not a force or a super powerful being. Think of it more like a concept, for example like the concept of Space.

And according to Advaita, this Brahman or the Absolute God is essentially your pure Self – your pure consciousness, your pure awareness, your atman. This Absolute God is you without your attributes; without any form or boundaries it is not the many but the one; this atman within you is the same atman within me and within everything - it's the universal awareness. This God is not someone sitting somewhere high up in the clouds but exists in the very essence of your Self. It is not "in" you but "is" you - just like the clay is not inside the pot but the pot "is" clay in a certain form. It is not something you can know because it is higher than knowledge. It is subtler than your intellect and hence your intellect cannot catch it. But at the same time it is there in the very fabric of our world – the very fabric of space, time and existence. That is the true omnipresence of God.

This Absolute God is not something you can ask favours of. It just exists. As a “silent viewer”! Its just there similar to how we accept the fabric of space and time in Maya – nothing more, nothing less! This God does not favour anyone over the other, it can’t. If it can then it starts having attributes and that is not possible. This God does not look out for you. It is as much in favour as the noblest as the evilest of men that have roamed this earth, in fact favour is not an attribute of this God. You can equate this God to rays of light – they are the same to anyone and anything. It reflects better on a smooth surface and less on a rough surface. This cause of different reflections has nothing to do with which ray falls on the surface. The rays are the same, it’s just the surfaces that are different.

That being said the reason the worship of this Social God is encouraged for individuals to build faith. This allows individuals to focus on their tasks without focusing on the results. It is said that God will provide you with results based on your work – you don’t worry about the results. This faith allows one to perform one’s duties without the anxiety of the results. This faith is what helps elevate people to achieve what they seek and has been discussed at length in the Bhagvad Gita. This encouragement of building of faith in humanity is the reason behind the birth of the Social God as a projection of the Absolute God.