Sunday, August 5, 2012
How Can We Know God?
God seems distant from our daily lives, our sufferings and our joys, and He seems irrelevant to our desires and ambitions, unless, of course, by invoking Him, we believe that He will fulfill our material desires! Humankind views the existence of God through the entire spectrum of belief to nonbelief: atheism, agnosticism, stoicism, humanism, blind belief, worship, devotion and, finally, seeking union with God.
Even scriptures and spiritual teachers reflect, at least in part, much of this spectrum. India’s Shankya scriptures declare “Ishwar ashidha,” God is not provable. No wonder the never-ending debate and argument — no one can win! The modern mystic, Frank Laubach, campaigned among ministers that they would even mention God in their sermons! Perhaps, discouraged by the wide range of opinions, these ministers thought it easier to skip the subject!
While saints do not come to dash humanity’s hopes for a better world through God’s grace, or to suppress our faith in Providence, there is, nonetheless, a need, spiritually, to understand the role of self-effort and personal responsibility. Self-effort is the first step towards attracting divine grace. Buddha emphasized the former while those bhaktis (worshippers of God) in all traditions, like the Hare Krishna’s who insist that by only chanting God’s name can one be saved, emphasize the transforming power of divine grace. Somewhere in the middle path lies the truth.
Buddha urged his followers to be spiritually self-reliant, compassionate, noble in thought and deed, and to meditate. He also came to free people from Brahminical power and complex and costly rituals, and to reawaken their understanding of the need for personal effort and away from passive dependence upon an unseen and fickle deity.
But the followers of Buddha wrongly mistook the Buddha’s silence on the subject of Providence as disbelief. I read of a court case in Los Angeles where a Buddhist sued a school district for a school prayer because the Buddhist declared that he did not believe in God. But the Buddha’s motives were as simple and earthy as his teachings. His silence implied nothing except, by its own good example, an affirmation of the words of Lahiri Mahasaya of Benares, “He only is wise who devotes himself to realizing, not reading only, the ancient revelations.”
Buddha was a Hindu as Jesus was a Jew. Neither essentially rejected their spiritual heritage so much as they came to correct misunderstandings that had emerged, and to offer a new understanding and a renewal of spirituality. As Jesus put it; “I came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.” Buddha openly taught meditation and reincarnation whereas Jesus, though he remained silent or circumspect on both subjects, at least publicly, taught the Old Testament precepts to love God with all one’s heart, mind, and soul and to love others as one’s very Self. Buddha minimized the importance of his role but of course that was fitting in the context of his teachings. Nonetheless, Paramhansa Yogananda taught that Buddha was no less than an avatar (a “savior”).
Jesus’ teachings went a different direction, concurrent with his teachings. Jesus declared “I and my Father are One.” At another time he added, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Not only was he killed for his blasphemy, but, as if to balance the equation, Christians decided to emphasize the “I” rather than the “Father,” and thus have overly personalized Jesus as the only savior down through the ages. This dogmatic insistence runs counter to Jesus’ teachings, for as St. John declared in the first chapter of his gospel, “As many as received Him gave He the power to become the sons of God.” Jesus was an individual incarnation of the Father-Spirit both beyond and immanent in creation. He did not limit or define that Spirit. “Tat twam asi,” as the Hindu scriptures aver: “Thou art THAT!”
Paramhansa Yogananda asked his audiences, “How can the wave call itself the ocean?” It is correct to say God has become manifest in me, and in all creation, though, as Spirit, He is hidden by the outward forms of creation, but it is incorrect to declare “I am God.” Only when the soul has become fully realized in his Oneness can he declare openly with divine inner sanction, as Yogananda did, “I killed Yogananda long ago, no one dwells here but He.”
It has been popular in recent years for certain scientists to disdain, scoff and mock belief in God. So, of course, have many people down through history. It is perfectly correct for a scientist to say “We cannot prove the existence of God,” but science has no basis to disprove that existence, either. The true scientist must remain silent on the subject if he is to represent science itself. It is just as rational to say this universe was created intentionally by an Intelligent, conscious Force as it is to say it came from nowhere and evolved more or less randomly to produce the profusion, quantity and complexity of life forms, the probing intelligence and creativity of the human mind, and the boundless capacity and drive of the human heart for feeling, compassion, and love. Well, actually, of the two choices, the former seems the safer bet. But never mind, let them feel like they have a choice since they can neither prove nor disprove either!
In the midst of all this confusion, the question some ask is, “Why does God hide Himself?” Paramhansa Yogananda said “You will know when you will know!” So long as we are caught up in the wheel of karma and unceasing duality, it is difficult for us to have the perspective that God has in being untouched by it. What is suffering to us is not suffering to God. The playwright is no less a good person for writing the villain into the play. Without an antagonist the play is uninteresting and will never be performed. Without suffering we would never delve deeper into the mysteries of our existence: why? How?
God manifested this dream universe, it is said, that He might know Himself and share his Bliss nature through others in a grand show and entertainment. Well, that grand show is all too often not very grand from our point of view. So, “you will know when you will know.” As unsatisfying as it may be, our more practical question is, “What can I do about it?” “How can I achieve freedom from suffering?” Besides, never has there been one who testified as to God’s presence who declared “What a mess He has made!” Admittedly, however, Yogananda said that he often argued with Divine Mother over the fact she did create this world and she owed it to us to help us.
Indeed, Buddha also asked the same question: How can I achieve freedom from suffering? Through his seeking and through his meditation-samadhi, he pierced the veil of delusion (maya) and declared his freedom, and, by extension, our potential freedom, for all eternity. Buddha saw through the unreality of pleasure and pain and, identified with his transcendent, omnipresent and eternal Self, could no longer be touched by the roiling oscillations of the play of opposites.
Paramhansa Yogananda taught that God has hidden Himself and His true nature from us that we might seek Him by choice and for His love, the one thing He does not possess unless we give it to Him. He is so humble even as the creation hangs upon His power. He will not disturb our free will except through his law of karma (consequences of our own actions) through which we have the opportunity to question, to wake up, and to yearn for freedom from error.
Paramhansa Yogananda also declared that “The time for knowing God has come.” By this he meant that in this age we would begin to prefer direct perception and personal experience over dogma and beliefs. To this shift in consciousness would come from God the means to fulfill this desire through the art and science of meditation. He also put it this way: “Intuition is the soul’s power to know God.” Now, of course, with intuition we can know all sorts of things, far more mundane than knowing God. But it’s by the same power that we receive an idea that is important to our daily life that we experience the ineffable presence of Peace in our hearts.
Paramhansa Yogananda described his life’s work as a new dispensation. One important part of this was his bringing the technique of kriya yoga, an advanced meditation technique. Kriya shows us how to retrace our steps from identification with the body and matter to soul realization by directing the Life Force through specific subtle nerve channels which are the paths through which we have descended from Spirit into matter. In reversing the “searchlights of the senses,” we discover the “great Light of God” as our own and the only Reality.
He also brought a new understanding that has the potential to sidestep centuries of debate on the subject of the existence of God. He brought forward into modern culture the ancient teaching of the Adi (first) Swami Shankycharya that the nature of God is bliss, or, more correctly, Satchidanandam. Yogananda translated this to say that God is, and our soul’s purpose in being created is, to achieve the state of immortality, omniscience, and ever-new Bliss. It is by seeking and experiencing the ever-new joy of the soul through meditation that the proof of God’s existence is found. And, as his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar added to this, “His adequate response to our every need!”
Thus one who seeks God as the joy (or peace) of meditation finds Him and finds Him ever increasingly the most relishable. From this contact we find, as Jesus promised, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and its righteousness (meaning in right attitude and action), and all these things shall be added unto you.” Let inner peace, even-mindedness under all circumstances and cheerfulness be your religion born of your direct perception in meditation of the truth that shall make you free from, as the Bhagavad Gita puts it, “dire fears and colossal sufferings.”
Blessings to you,