What God Is
By Swami Rama
All the religions of the world have been promising the vision of God, mental peace, salvation, and many kinds of temptations to their followers, but so far nothing has come true. The more that people are involved in sectarian religious activities, the more likely they are to become disappointed because of frustrated expectations of God and religion. Many preachers claim that if their teachings are followed without question, believers will find salvation. But after they return from their church or temple, they are frequently more stressed, frustrated, and worried about their problems than are “non-believers.”
Mere belief in God alone does not satisfy the students of life who are searching for Ultimate Truth. Suppose a student believes in the existence of God but is not emotionally mature and does not have a peaceful mind. Such a student does not have tranquility and equanimity, which are the main prerequisites for enlightenment. On the path of enlightenment, it is necessary to have control over the senses and mind, but it is not necessary to have belief in God. Enlightenment is a state of freedom from the ignorance that causes suffering, and attaining this is the prime necessity of every human life. There is no necessity to attain mere belief in God, but it is necessary to have profound knowledge of the truth which lies behind the concept of the word God.
The word G-O-D is not God. The religionists, because they superimpose their own limited fantasies upon the truth and call it God, suffer more than the people who do not believe in the concept of God. If Ultimate Truth is called God, then there is no difficulty. Then it can be practiced with mind, action, and speech, and once the truth is known with mind, action, and speech, knowledge is complete. But having faith in the fantasies of the religionists creates limited boundaries for the human intellect and leads to a religious atmosphere in which the poor followers must suffer until the last breaths of their lives.
Though religious dogma tempts the human mind with promises of the vision of God, it does not clarify and define the concept of God. The way religious books present the picture of God is injurious to human growth, for one who believes in God without understanding what God really is, closes the door to further knowledge and learning and cannot experience the inner dimensions of life. Such false promises are strongly discouraged in the Upanishads, which warn, “Neti, neti—not this, not this.” The student is made aware of the need to understand the reality and is encouraged to search for truth within. The Upanishads inspire one first to know oneself and then to know the Self of all. Upanishadic literature makes one aware that every being embodied in a physical sheath is a moving shrine of Supreme Consciousness. It also provides methods for entering the inner shrine, wherein shines the infinite light of knowledge, peace, and happiness.
Prayer is a major technique used by religionists to seek satisfaction of their desires and comfort in spite of their frustrations. Many people who are not acquainted with the basic principles of Vedantic philosophy think that there are prayers in the Upanishadic literature. For example: "Lead me from the unreal to the Real; lead me from darkness to Light; lead me from mortality to Immortality" may bethought to be a prayer. But it is actually an expression of the aspirant's spiritual desires that remind him of his goal of life constantly. It is not a prayer but a way of maintaining constant awareness of Supreme Consciousness. It is not asking God or any supernatural being to help one or to lead one to the higher states. The idea is not to know God as a different being, but to know one's own real Self and its essential nature, which is the Self of all. One is not attaining something that is not already there but is realizing that which is self-existent. This Upanishadic verse is not a prayer asking for anything but a way of strengthening constant awareness of Supreme Consciousness which is the goal of the Upanishads.
Dualism is the preliminary experience of a contemplative mind. All religions suffer on account of dualistic concepts, such as "Human beings are a creation of God; the universe is a creation of God; human beings have no choice but to suffer and should delight in their sufferings at the mercy of God." These concepts are illogical when they are analyzed with clarity of mind and pure reason. In the course of study, a student first experiences dualism—the reality that he exists and the Supreme Consciousness also exists. Then a state comes when he experiences "Thou art That." These two fields of experience appear to be different, but they are essentially one and the same. These are the progressive states that aspirants experience, but as far as Absolute Reality is concerned, there is only one without second.
Religionists say the ultimate goal of human life is to know God, and materialists say it is to eat, drink, and be merry. But the philosophy of the Upanishads asserts that the ultimate goal is to be free from all pain and misery whatsoever. This state of freedom from anxieties, misery, and ignorance is called enlightenment. It is the union of the individual with Universal Consciousness. Religionists say that one has to have faith in the sayings of the scriptures and in the way they are preached. But in Upanishadic philosophy; the mind is released from all religious prejudices so then one can think and reason freely. The Upanishads declare that even the best of intellects is incapable of fathoming the unfathomable, and that learning the scriptures is not the ultimate way of realization. On the path of enlightenment, even the lust for learning must eventually be abandoned.
In some of the Upanishads, the word Īśa or Īśvara, which is roughly translated as God, appears. But the concept of God as preached by religion is not found in the Upanishads. In the Upanishads, the word Īśvara is used to denote a state of collective consciousness. Thus, God is not a being that sits on a high pedestal beyond the sun, moon, and stars; God is actually the state of Ultimate Reality. But due to the lack of direct experience, God has been personified and given various names and forms by religions throughout the ages. When one expands one's individual consciousness to the Universal Consciousness, it is called Self-realization, for the individual self has realized the unity of diversity, the very underlying principle, or Universal Self, beneath all forms and names. The great sages of the Upanishads avoid the confusions related to conceptions of God and encourage students to be honest and sincere in their quests for Self-realization. Upanishadic philosophy provides various methods for unfolding higher levels of truth and helps students to be able to unravel the mysteries of the individual and the universe.
Knowledge of Brahmavidyā, the direct experience of Supreme Consciousness, is the common theme of all Upanishadic literature. "I am Brahman; the whole universe is Brahman; Thou art That"—such statements are the foundations for all its theories, principles, and practices. All philosophical and psychological discussions are meant to make students aware of their true nature—Brahman, the Supreme Consciousness. For a realized one, there is perennial joy in the universe, but for the ignorant there is only misery everywhere. The moment a student realizes his essential nature, the darkness of ignorance is dispelled, but before that the individual mind travels to the groove of self-created misery and thus projects the belief that there is misery everywhere. In reality, this universe is like a great poem of joy, a beautiful song, and a unique work of art. The moment one unfolds and realizes one's human capacity and ability, one becomes aware that, "Thou art that—Brahman."
Here lies the difference between a Self-realized person and a religionist. The religionist does not know and yet believes in God, but the realized person is directly aware of the self-existent Ultimate Reality of life and the universe. First, he knows the truth, and then he believes it. If God is the Ultimate Truth hidden behind many forms and names, then it should be realized, and, for realizing the Truth with mind, action, and speech, one needs to practice truth rather than being a hypocrite and a fanatic. It is not necessary to believe in God to attain self-enlightenment, but it is very necessary to know the various levels of consciousness and finally to realize the ultimate source. The manifest aspect and the unmanifest aspect of consciousness (Brahman) should be realized, for that alone can enlighten aspirants.
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