Defining God — A Vedic Interpretation
Existence of the Universe with all its diverse facets and millions of life forms has been the greatest puzzle of all times. The mysteries surrounding its origin, nature and the functioning have been a subject of immense curiosity and fascination since antiquity. Despite unprecedented advances in sciences, we still ask ourselves whether the Universe had an origin or a beginning. How did it come into existence? If it does have a beginning, what existed before the Universe came into existence? If nothing existed before its origin, how did it come into existence out of nothing? Will it come to an end one day and if so, then how? If it does come to an end where will it disappear? Is there a creator and if so who created the creator? Who regulates the functioning of this vast entity? These are mind boggling questions that have been agitating the minds of the humanity since times immemorial. Most intelligent as well as ordinary mortals have all engaged themselves in the pursuit of unraveling these mysteries of creation.
Several scriptures and religious texts address these questions in some form. The most profound and detailed explanations can be found in the Vedic writings particularly the Upanishads. In fact these puzzles of creation constitute the core of most Upanishads. Nevertheless, the readers might ask me as to why am I digressing by addressing these issues in an article titled ‘Defining God’. It is because the Vedic definition of God is inter-twined with these puzzles of our existence. Finding answers to these puzzles is almost synonymous to defining the God. In Vedic parlance God is not a Super Human sitting somewhere out there regulating the Universe, creating stars and planets, regulating birth and death and rewarding and punishing people sending them to the Heaven and the Hell. Instead the Vedas state that the Universe is merely a physical manifestation of God in various names and forms.
Whatever exists in the Universe is nothing but self projection of God into the conditions of Time and Space. It is something like the ocean and the waves. Waves have no separate existence of their own. They arise from the ocean and then dissolve into the same ocean and cannot exist independent of the ocean. On the other hand; reward and punishment is the outcome of human actions something like the law of action and reaction. In Vedic writings this Ultimate Reality - the God or the Almighty - has been referred to as ‘Brahman’ (??????). Therefore in order to define ‘God’ in Vedic parlance let us first understand the concept of ‘Brahman’.
Vedic writings define Brahman as eternal, most subtle and all pervasive supreme reality which is the primeval cause and source of all that exists. Whatever appears in the manifested form emanates from Brahman and with time dissolves back into Brahman. It is like constant flow of thoughts appearing from human mind and then dissolving back into the same mind. Thoughts and mind cannot exist independent of each other neither could the waves and the ocean as stated earlier. Similarly take the phenomenon of dream and the dreamer. During the course of the dream thousands of objects are projected on the mind by the same mind creating a dreamer and a dream world. During this state one fibre of mind becomes dreamer while the another one becomes dream objects. Once the dream state is over the dreamer and the dream dissolve into one and the same; completely wiping out the duality created during the dream state. However this truth cannot be realized so long as we are in dream-state. The moment we wake up we realize the truth. Another example given in the Vedic literature is that of a spider. A spider spreads a web around itself, lives in the web and then withdraws it back. Similarly the manifested world emanates from the Brahman and dissolves back into the same Brahman. However the Brahman remains undiminished and unaffected in the same way as the ocean despite projection of infinite number of waves and the mind despite projection of infinite number of thoughts and dream objects.
Linguistically, the word Brahman has been derived from the Sanskrit root ‘brih’ which means ‘to grow great, to enlarge or to spread like a net’. Hence Brahman literally means; the one who has the power to grow infinitely without any limitations. According to the Taittiriyopanishad, whatever reality is in existence by which all the rest subsists, is Brahman. He is an eternal behind all instabilities and a constant which supports all mutations. He is hidden in all appearances and forms. Although I have used the word He, Brahman has no gender. He is neither male nor female. Since He is hidden in all appearances and forms, He is male in a male, female in a female, child in a child, bird in a bird and animal in an animal. In this sense Brahman is akin to space which turns into a house, a playground, a shopping mall, a factory, a theatre or a stadium depending on the structure and use. Space exists in all these forms as well as outside of these forms. Similarly, Brahman exists in all forms and appearances as well as outside of them.
Vedic writings define Brahman in a variety of indicative ways. These definitions are useful in understanding the overall nature of the Brahman. Each of these definitions serves like an arc used in geometry to arrive at an unknown point with help of known points. Let us now have a look at some of these definitions that are spread over several Vedic texts.