Friday, March 24th, 2023 05:43:14

Who And What Is God?

Updated: September 1, 2012 5:36 pm

In Indian spiritual literature God is variously termed as Parabrahman, Paramatma, Parameshwar, Paramapurush, Bhagavan, etc. In the Bhagavadgeeta (BG) and in the Upanishads, God is also treated as ubiquitous, omniscient, omnipresent, indestructible, and is most anciently denoted as Parabrahman. According to BG: 13.27, Brahman (Supreme Lord) resides both in living and nonliving as deathless in dying and decaying, which the wise only can perceive it.

According to Indian mythology, God or specifically Bhagavan is all-powerful, all-knowing, almighty, the most glorious and adorable, yet having no affinity for anybody or anything.

In the BG, certain other axioms have also been adopted: That by which all this is pervaded—that knows for certain to be indestructible. None has the power to destroy this immutable entity—an axiom equivalent to non-destructibility of matter and energy. One could also rephrase the above as, “He by whom all this is pervaded” etc. But replacing ‘That’ by ‘He’ or ‘She’ makes the immutable and ubiquitous entity more or less personalised and generally less acceptable, because no one ever observes a person to be ubiquitous and immutable. However, one may specially define an impersonal ‘He’/’She’ to replace ‘That’ to signify a living Guru, who serves as a human instructor as well as a Brahmajnani master equivalent to God-Incarnate.

The unreal never is. The real exists always. Men of knowledge fully know both these (BG: 2.16). Note that common experience shows the universe to be in a state of incessant flux. That which takes note of such a change has to be itself changeless. That is the cosmic or Global Witness pervading all over the universe. To personalise this idea, one may replace the ever-existing Global Witness by a cosmic I-consciousness equivalent to the Upanishadic phrase ‘Aham Brahmasmi.’ Basic Properties of the Supreme Reality/Parabrahman.

From experience one knows the sky, electromagnetic waves as well as the gravitational force field and so on to be by and large ubiquitous. Instantaneously, the mind can reach any known corner of the universe but the Global Witness is itself ubiquitous. Therefore, that need not travel like the mind regardless of prior knowledge of the place.

The changeless Global Witness as referred to above has also been designated as the Parabrahman—that has no beginning and is beyond what seems to exist (Sat) and what does not seem to exist (Asat) as perceived by the senses.


The important difference between the Parabrahman and the Atman is that the Atman gets endowed with an inertia similar to that in matter (attachment to its own dwelling place, i.e., the body) and a restricted and local temporary I-sense (Ahamkar). Parabrahman, the Global Witness is, otherwise, the same as the Local Witness or the Atman except for its ignorance that makes it feel that it is born with the body and dies with it; and that it is little, does not have the power to do whatever it wishes, and afraid of losing the body through death, etc. However, owing to its inherent property of immortality, his ignorance stems from the assumption that does not like to die the self also dies with the body.

Parabrahman wills, as if, to temporarily lose its sense of universality and deigns to transform itself as the Atman for a period of time and then returns back to its original state. This is equivalent to allowing one’s whim to seize oneself in order to experience an altered state of existence for sustaining one’s own blissful nature. In this process, termed otherwise as   (re)creational activity, Parabrahman transforms itself as if to make it appear many to the ignorant (comparable to a magician’s show). ‘Appear’ because in reality it is a temporary feature. Hence, the process is Asat or an illusion.


One needs to perform austerities (vide chapters 13 and 18 in BG) in order to realise that pleasure, pain and opposites of the sorts come and go and hence are related to the body and not the self (BG: 2.14-15). This requires enduring practice and not merely bookish knowledge of it. The austerities are comparable to effort invested to overcome inertia in stationary bodies before they can start moving. Consequently, the practitioner realises that the opposites like pain and pleasure, etc. are the same owing to their transitory nature. They come and go in the same way as the ever-changing body. But the self, on the other hand, is not born nor does it die (BG: 2.20).

This experience is very valuable in the spiritual development of a person and it helps him in experiencing immortality. Therefore, the Mandukya Upanishad (MU: 2) declares that Parabrahman is all and the Atman is verily Parabrahman. The Atman may undergo waking, dreaming, sleeping and beyond these three states and attains the pure state of supreme consciousness when it becomes identical to Parabrahman. The BG declares that both birth and death are conquered by them even while living in this world whose mind rests in evenness, which is the knowledge that all selves are identical and perfect and, therefore, indeed they rest in Parabrahman. Such an individual then enjoys his state of union with the perfect Parabrahman and attains endless happiness or Brahmananda (BG: 5.19 and 5.21).


From the idea of Upanishadic Brahman (the impersonal God), an evolution towards the idea of a personal God is evident in our daily prayers: Thou my mother and my father Thou

Thou my friend and my teacher Thou

Thou my wisdom and my riches Thou

Thou art all to me, O God, of all Gods

The prayer indeed reflects the relationships created by God among human beings such that the devotee may propitiate Him now assigning a genderless God (Svetasvatara Upanishad, SU: 5.5.10) a gender and establishing a personal relationship with Him. In many instances, He is conceived as both mother and father (duo) for the satisfaction of the devotee.

The idea of a personal God has been developed in the course of time especially during the epic ages in full splendour synthesizing the Upanishadic with mythological thoughts into one wholistic concept. The Lord declares in the BG that by love he (the devotee) knows Me in truth Who I am and What I am. And when he knows Me in truth (i.e., when he has the realisation of Parabrahman), he enters into My being (BG: 18.55). (Note that the speaker in this case is indeed the Parabrahman in as much as He has already such realisation and that whosoever likewise realises becomes one with Him.)

This has been formulated by Jagadguru Sri Krishna whom one can take as a personal God. But one should not forget that before he can develop such love for the Guru Parameshwar and become one with Him, the aspirant should make him competent enough by austerity, etc. (BG: 18.51-53) and has had the realisation of impersonal God or Parabrahman, in which state, he has no grief, no desire, and attains tranquility of mind and an even outlook (BG: 18.54). Then the preceptor God becomes one with the disciple both being identically the same as Parabrahman.


Great souls: Ram, Krishana, Shiva, Durga, etc. whose greatness has been described in the epics are essentially one with Parabrahman. In the BG, Lord Krishna Himself declares (his identity) that I am the self, O Gudakesha, existent in the heart of all beings; I am the beginning, the middle, and also the end of all beings. Such great personages then act in the roles of missionaries or liberators of evolving human beings, their devotees, disciples through love and service of various sorts including most importantly teaching of spiritual doctrines as recorded in the BG. At this stage, the otherwise transitory world appears to them as quasi-divine and serves as a playground for divine sport.


Realisation is not acquired by merely textual and scientific knowledge, however perfect. That alone does not qualify one to become a Sadguru. After acquiring realisation through scriptural studies, spiritual practices as well as blessings of a pre-existing Sadguru in exchange of surrender and service are also required. On the other hand, surrendering to an invisible God cannot serve any purpose in matters of acquisition of spiritual knowledge and realisation of Parabrahman. Surrender does not mean sacrificing the power of discrimination. On the other hand, contact with a Sadguru and surrender to him sharpens such power, which becomes helpful in acquiring the esoteric knowledge. The Kathopanishad (KU: 1.2.8) declares:

“He cannot be taught by one who has not reached Him and He cannot be reached by much thinking. The way to Him is through a Teacher who has seen (realised) Him: He is higher than the highest thought, in truth, above all thought.”

By Swami Chetanananda Saraswati

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