Need for God
to Vedanta, nothing exists other than Brahman, the ultimate
Reality. What we see around is only an "as-if" reality.
But this as-if or dreamlike reality continues to be real to
us, most of the times painfully, until the dream breaks.
the July 2003 editorial, "We, God and the Universe",
we discussed a triangle with (Personal) God, soul (individual)
and the universe as its vertices. The three vertices stand
or fall together. As long as our individualities are real
to us, a Personal God and the universe are inevitable realities.
In other words, Personal God can be negated only if we can
negate our own body-mind personality, or free ourselves from
the three vertices the individual is the most important. That
is because God and the universe assume realities depending
upon our attitude towards ourselves. According to Swami Vivekananda,
"Your godhead is the proof of God Himself. … If you are
not God, there never was any God, and never will be."
(1) In other words, the divinity behind the universe becomes
real to us only when we become aware of the divinity behind
our own body and mind. Even a strong intellectual conviction
of the divinity behind the body and mind and ordering our
life accordingly can help us appreciate the divinity behind
the universe. So, considering the centrality of the individual,
we examine the relationship between the individual and the
world (universe), the individual and God, and between individuals.
Search for Lasting Happiness
world is really too much with us. Most lives are fashioned
by unseen forces, pulling the mind and senses towards the
world and its lures. The average man seeks lasting happiness
and fulfilment from the world. It is not surprising when we
know how human personality is constituted. According to the
Katha Upanishad, "God inflicted an injury on the sense
organs in creating them with outgoing tendencies; therefore
a man perceives only the outer objects with them, not the
inner Self." (2) But the search for lasting happiness
and fulfilment in external things inevitably proves futile,
for real happiness is possible only in the Infinite; there
is no (lasting) happiness in finite things. (3)
is the way out then? Give up the world? Vedanta does not advocate
renunciation of everything for everyone. It shows a twofold
way of life: pravritti dharma and nivritti dharma.
(4) Pravritti dharma is characterized by the pursuit
of the three important values of life: dharma (righteousness),
artha (prosperity) and kama (desire). Such a life involves
responsibilities and dharma-regulated enjoyments in the world.
The outward focus makes pravritti dharma a centrifugal
path, making man move away from the central, divine core of
our personality. Sri Krishna considers desires perfectly legitimate
as long as they are in accordance with dharma. (5) Life in
the world is not one of unbridled enjoyment, but a graded
schooling to wean man away from the sensory system and turn
Hindu’s life was divided into four stages, called ashramas:
brahmacharya (life of self-control and studies), garhasthya
(householder’s life of responsibilities and enjoyment in resonance
with dharma), vanaprastha (retirement into forest, leading
a life of studies and meditation) and sannyasa (total renunciation
of one’s family, and embarking on the quest for Knowledge).
There is a significant point to be noted here: the self-control
practised in the first stage served as a sheet anchor for
the remaining stages of life. The householder has many sets
of dos and don’ts regarding sensory life. The self-control
he learnt during his student life helps him here. He practises
his morning and evening devotions and serves others to the
best of his ability. In the modern age, however, only the
second and fourth stages of life are in vogue, the all-important
first stage of self-control having almost vanished.
a man given to unregulated sense enjoyment gradually learns
that enjoyment is not all; that desires cannot be quenched
by satisfying them - they only flame up all the more like
fire fed with ghee. He begins to understand that what gave
him happiness once is only a source of misery now. He learns
painfully that he did not enjoy sense objects, but it was
they who enjoyed him,(6) robbing him of his consciousness
of his real nature.(7) When things go awry, when the world
does not function according to his pet plans, when his possessions
and kith and kin slip away from him by turn of events - man
begins to think about the purpose of human life. Convinced
that the world is not only impermanent but also an abode of
misery, (9.33) he begins his search for something lasting
amid the fleeting panorama of life. His reflection on the
ultimate Reality, discrimination between the real and the
unreal, and consequent giving up of attachment to ephemeral
things and practising spiritual disciplines - these mark the
beginning of the centripetal path, nivritti dharma,
which leads man to the realization of the indwelling God.
long as body and mind hold sway over us, the world continues
to be real and others appear as distinct individuals. Likes
and dislikes of others is an inevitable sequel to this perception.
Man’s interaction with others is mostly driven by selfish
considerations. His relationship with others being body-centred,
defects in others appear more real to him. Such a self-centred
life unfailingly ends up in frustration. Is there a way out?
There is none as long as our vision does not extend beyond
the external world. That brings us to the subject of God and
our relationship with Him.
does not dwell somewhere up there, but within our own
hearts here. (18.61) According to the three schools of Vedanta
there are three relationships between God and the individual.
The dualistic school looks upon man as a soul, and God as
the supreme Person, eternally different from man. According
to the qualified monistic school, God is the supreme Person
and the repository of all auspicious qualities. Individual
souls are parts of God, even as sparks of fire are parts of
fire. God is the Soul of souls. According to the non-dualistic
school, the individual and God are identical in their divine
essence; nothing exists other than Brahman. Everything else
is illusory like a mirage on the desert, vanishing on the
dawn of Knowledge.
a spiritual aspirant these distinctions help him only to the
extent that they offer him a frame of reference. Of the three
relationships, the one according to the qualified non-dualistic
school is most helpful for a spiritual aspirant: that is,
a spark of divinity, part of the divine Fire. When someone
asked about the relative merits of the conceptions of God
according to the three schools of Vedanta, Sri Ramana Maharshi,
the twentieth-century sage of Arunachala who lived and taught
the path of self-enquiry, replied: ‘First know yourself. Then
there will be time enough to know God and your relationship
with Him.’ Sri Ramakrishna teaches that God is our own, like
Uncle Moon, to whom everyone can pray. God is like our own
Father and Mother and we can force our demands on Him. Says
is our very own. We should say to Him: O God, what is Thy
nature? Reveal Thyself to me. Thou must show Thyself to
me; for why else hast Thou created me? Some Sikh devotees
once said to me, "God is full of compassion."
I said: "But why should we call Him compassionate?
He is our Creator. What is there to be wondered at if He
is kind to us? Parents bring up their children. Do you call
that an act of kindness? They must act that way. Therefore
we should force our demands on God. He is our Father and
Mother, isn’t He?" (8)
Ramakrishna advocates cultivation of another important quality:
a strong faith in oneself - based on the fact that one is
a child of God - and a strong resolve not to follow the old,
unwholesome ways of life. Swamiji considers faith in one’s
higher nature a prerequisite to a meaningful faith in God.
Does God Seem So Unreal?
this discussion is all right, but why do they hardly make
a dent on us? Why does any talk on the subject appears so
dry, or if inspiring, the effect so momentary? In short, why
is God just a three-letter word to most people? Some devotees
used to visit Sri Ramakrishna, accompanied by some of their
friends who were worldly and had no taste for spiritual talk.
Since the devotees kept on talking for a long time with the
Master about God, the others would become restless. Finding
it impossible to sit there any longer, they would whisper
to their devotee friends, "When shall we be going? How
long will you stay here?" The devotees would say, "Wait
a bit. We shall go after a while." Then the worldly people
would say in a disgusted tone: "Well then, you can talk.
We shall wait for you in the boat." (145-6) Sri Ramakrishna
makes it clear that "one does not feel the longing to
know or see God as long as one wants to enjoy worldly objects."
(272) And none can teach anyone this hunger for God; it has
to come by itself. Continues Sri Ramakrishna:
you must remember that nothing can be achieved except in
its proper time. Some persons must pass through many experiences
and perform many worldly duties before they can turn their
attention to God; so they have to wait a long time. … Once
a child said to its mother: "Mother, I am going to
sleep now. Please wake me up when I feel the call of nature."
"My child," said the mother, "when it is
time for that, you will wake up yourself. I shan’t have
to wake you." (162)
do not feel the need for God as long as we are happy with
the world. The child does not seek its mother as long as it
is happy with its toys. Over to Swamiji: "We want everything
but God, because our ordinary desires are fulfilled by the
external world. So long as our needs are confined within the
limits of the physical universe, we do not feel any need for
God; it is only when we have had hard blows in our lives and
are disappointed with everything here that we feel the need
for something higher; then we seek God." (9)
attitude towards God depends on his attitude towards himself
and towards the world. According to the Gita, four kinds of
people worship God:  the afflicted who pray for a cure;
 those after worldly prosperity: wealth, power, position,
name, fame and so on;  jijnasus, seekers of spiritual
Knowledge; and (4) the jnani, the man of spiritual Knowledge.(10)
While Sri Krishna considers all of them noble, he reserves
the pride of place to the jnani and considers him His very
Self. A spiritual aspirant needs to be clear that the first
two kinds of worshippers are still worldly, using God for
their worldly ends; only their worldliness has a spiritual
veneer. He needs to consciously belong to the third group.
To such a seeker of knowledge every problem, every experience,
is grist to his mill: he understands the evanescence of the
world and uses his experiences to turn to God all the more.
He does not give up his devotion because his prayers remain
unanswered, or if some calamity befalls him. He is persistent
like the hereditary farmer in Sri Ramakrishna’s parable who
does not give up farming because he does not get any crop
in a year of drought. (11) He continues with his spiritual
sadhana, irrespective of returns from God. He does not go
back to worldly enjoyments because he has not gained in spiritual
Need to Begin Now
an aspirant is clear about the goal of life - knowing his
real divine nature, or knowing God - he does not wait for
his desires to subside, so that he could think of God with
a clean mind. He knows that waiting for all worldly cares
to subside before calling on God is as foolish as waiting
for the waves to subside before plunging into the sea for
a bath. Sri Ramakrishna advocates holding fast to God with
one hand and doing one’s duties with the other. When the aspirant
gets a respite from his duties, he can cling to God with both
of Attitude towards the World
spiritual aspirant learns to look upon the world not as a
place of enjoyment and misery, but as "a grand moral
gymnasium wherein we have all to take exercise so as to become
stronger and stronger spiritually". (13) Sri Ramakrishna
teaches us to live in the world like a maidservant in a rich
man’s house. Though she looks after her employer’s children
as her own, she knows deep within that her home is elsewhere
and that the children do not belong to her at all.(14) Even
so one needs to look upon one’s wife, husband and children
as God’s children under one’s care and serve them accordingly.
Such a spiritual aspirant does not look for defects in others
but learns to look upon others as children of God and serves
them in a spirit of worship of the God that dwells in them.
Both Sri Ramakrishna and Swamiji teach that God’s manifestation
is the most potent in a human being, and serving him in this
spirit is a potent spiritual discipline. Says Swamiji, "Think
day and night, this universe is zero, only God is. Have intense
desire to get free." (15) Swami Ramakrishnanandaji, the
embodiment of devotion to Sri Ramakrishna, sums up religion
in these few words: "Religion is giving God His due.
"God alone is the proprietor of this universe, God alone
is the proprietor of myself" - recognizing this and then
giving up all to Him, that is religion." (16)
sum, life becomes meaningful only if it is oriented towards
its all-important goal: realization of our real, divine nature.
A proper attitude towards ourselves, God and the universe
(including other beings) is fundamental to a meaningful search
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 2.308.
Katha Upanishad, 2.1.1.
Chandogya Upanishad, 7.23.1.
See Sri Shankaracharya’s introduction to his commentary on
Bhoga na bhukta vayameva bhuktah. - Bhartrihari, Vairagya
M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda
(Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 96-7.
Swami Chetanananda, God Lived with Them (Kolkata: Advaita
Ashrama, 2001), 302.