Questions generally come with a prefix, which is, ‘never-ending’! And so I don’t really expect the Thomases to have run out of questions by now. But I do suggest avoiding feeling guilty about having doubts, as that could lead to repressing them. It won’t help. Bring your doubts to the open and look for answers. With each new query we should remind ourselves that it is alright to have them and to start another search for answers.Those who look for direction in the bible will find that Saint Paul does suggest that we should test all things.
In fact, I feel that the contradictions within the myriad of religions are like a puzzle that God seems to have deliberately put in the world for us to solve. When the whole world is God’s play ground then how could God resist from putting a mystery to the search that leads to him. The search for the truth is the most challenging of puzzles. Thinking over it sharpens one’s mental abilities and the seekers level of intelligence rises which is very helpful for those who choose knowledge to lead to the truth. Another way to look at it is that lower level of understanding makes the same simple basic truth in all religions and philosophies seem so very different!
As the seeker unravels one mystery after another he would eventually find out that the mysteries are unending. His path of doubts may not end with a state of no more questions, but should end with a state of no doubts about at least one source of wisdom, so that any further question won’t shake one off that one tested answer. When that happens, questions would lose their sting and will not create doubts.
So Thomases, we do have to anchor our boat somewhere! We will have to affix our faith on to a tested source and then believe everything that comes from it! The doubters’ destination has to be faith, as only that can carry the extra measure that intellect alone cannot.
When I first wrote down all I had learnt in the form of question and answers, it was just for the sake of organizing everything and in the process getting the clearer picture. Just when I had written a short summary, my husband gifted me a book, ‘Conversations with God Part I’ by Neale Donald Walsch. It dealt with areas of my interest and expanded my view. But the real gift of the book to me was the way it drilled in the idea of ‘choice’, further than any other book had done before. I could see that what I had written was my choice of the way I wished to see the reality. But I also realized that I do not have to discredit my choice. ‘It can never be wrong. It is absolutely right from my perspective! It is how I see things reconciling all the perspectives that I have taken so far.
So I should have by now cleared every question I had in my mind? Well I guess there is still one question and the question is to my own self. It is the question that started me on to this search for truth and now as I conclude my search I have to give myself a clear answer. And the same old question put today to myself is -Do I believe the advaitic(literal meaning is ‘not two’) philosophy (which in essence implies that ‘tat twam asi’ or ‘that thou art’) as true? That is, though I have accepted as true that ‘everything is God’ (within an earlier query in section I), the question that still remains is whether I feel it is proper to declare it with a statement “I am God”.
My answer is both a yes and a no. Guess I have internalized the lesson of giving two contradicting answers and calling both of it true! I am prepared to explain it though.
I had misunderstood the advaitic philosophy when I was first introduced to it by my friend. It is because I could only see an arrogant lifting of the head as my friend declared that ‘I am God’! This expression was supposed to be the summary of the philosophy. This expression was given as an attack to the Christian philosophy that supposedly considered God as separate from man. I argued against this philosophy not merely to protect my beliefs, but because this philosophy was threatening to make me lonesome. I did not want this philosophy to be true because I didn’t admire myself too much and I didn’t want to be God!
From the book ‘The Wisdom of Yoga’ by K.P. Bahadur, I learnt that the import of this philosophy (advaitic) is that, the soul is identical to Brahman. Also that, ‘Brahman is the doer and the deed, cause and effect, creator and creation. It is the truth behind the universe of unreality. Brahman is all that there is’ (quoted from the book). The unreality mentioned in the book, I am led to believe means the false self which interprets the world in a particular way as to allot it a power to influence the self. When the true self is discovered the world becomes unreal, because the real self cannot be affected by anything. For example a circumstance is interpreted by the intellect as unpleasant and the false self consequently experiences pain and unhappiness. When the nature of the true self is realized as the imperturbable, circumstances and the world is understood as unreal having no power to influence the true self. Therefore the world and the emotion packed self become unreal and everything thus becomes a play of the only reality, the Brahman. This results in equanimity in all circumstances, which is called the experience of the spirit.
I believe today therefore,(and have confirmed through my study) that the ‘I’ in ‘I am God’ does not refer to the emotion packed, sensitive, weak human being that I am, rather it refers to the Being( the Spirit) within me, which witnesses all the play of the mind and the body. The Being who is so close, as to be me though I am deluded by the body to believe that this Being is separate from me! The Being, which is in my body, is linked to the Cosmic Mind. The more I give time to this Being, the more I can get linked to the Cosmic Mind and be led by it, but the more I ignore this being I choose not be led by it. This Being can be called my soul! There is something shifting between the body and the soul and for want of a better word I just call this something ‘choice’, the freedom of choice, to be the body or be the soul. But this Being is for me(and is me)yesterday, today and forever even when the choice is to not allow the body to be ruled by it and thereby experience being a mere Body.
The advaitic philosophy only asks me to choose to see this Being or in other words my soul as myself rather than see myself as the body. It is difficult because choice is enabled by the bodily aids of sight and experience. It is compounded by the fact that only the ‘body’ can be seen and emotions generated by the body make a rush to get experienced thus forever clouding the inner calm which is the state of the true self!
I would not have been afraid of the advaitic philosophy had I know then what I came to know later that my soul has different characteristics than my body. The soul is ever calm and is ever at peace. The advaitic philosophy only asks me to switch off from the tense chattering of the body and become aware more often of the calm within. As the period of ‘switching off’ increases, this Being will get more and more control over the body. Finally when switching off becomes easy and natural, the Being would have come to be in full control of the body and therefore rule the body. The body will have receded then, to become merely an instrument to the Being and thereby to the Cosmic Mind. When this happens within a person, he would say ‘I’, and would in fact be referring to the Being within!
The awareness of God within is required and is inline with what Jesus meant when he said, ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’, and therefore if my understanding of the advaitic philosophy is correct, then it is no different from the Christian philosophy. I believe that the kingdom of God is within the crust of the illusory self that we have created and mistakenly call it our self. Therefore it becomes important that the awareness of the God Self be of the soul and not inclusive of the mind (of the body) that is the false self. Mind is of the mortal and ‘the mortal is no God’ as can be understood from Ezekiel chapter 28. It is Gods proclamation against the King of Tyre for comparing his mind with the Mind of God. A true awareness can be appreciated by the fact that it never brings in comparison and pride. Pride about one’s self as God is pride in the false self. Whatever is perishable is just illusory, and therefore not God as He is not illusion. God is the imperishable, who will be there even when the heaven and earth pass away. Therefore if the advaitic philosophy is summarized as ‘I am God’, then it is only true when a person speaks in communion with God in a state of total awareness, the awareness of being the whole forgetting all separations. Like the awareness of the ripple that it is water; the awareness of the ray that it is light. When that is not the case, I do not believe the statement to be true. Unless the separation from God is removed at least in terms of knowledge and understanding, the person is not in a position to be fit for the advaitic philosophy. He is yet to have this philosophy in his adhikara (the level of understanding). Each person according to his level of understanding takes a particular way to approach God and adopts a particular concept of God. This is called adhikarabheda as per Hindu philosophy. When one concept is understood and adopted, other concepts may seem wrong, but that is required for faithfully following the road of one’s adhikara. Therefore for one who does not fully grasp the essence of advaitic philosophy, it won’t be wrong to believe that God is separate from man (dvaitic philosophy) and thereby adopt the worship of a personal God to reach Him. While anyone who has fully understood the advaitic concept can definitely opt to use the affirmation ‘I Am’ or I am Infinite Being’ during meditation (not in general talk or in defining God to someone of a different level of understanding) for realizing the true self.(In fact the truth is that even dvaita and advaita will be found the same truth from different viewpoints to the one with experiential and not mere intellectual understanding of the truth.)
It would be interesting to know that dvaita and advaita are in fact the two marked trends of the same philosophy called Vedanta which in turn is based on the Upanishads (part of the Vedas)! Yet for the follower of advaitic philosophy dvaitic philosophy is wrong and for the follower of dvaitic philosophy advaita is wrong. But I would say both are absolutely right in their thinking as long as it helps them in what they aim for and as long as they do not try to force their concept on someone whose adhikara is different. Because the only thing wrong would be to make a person adopt something, especially terms like ‘I am God’, that he is not intellectually or experientially ready for.
Therefore I do think that instead of saying, ‘I am God’ it would be always wiser for the Mortal to say that ‘God is there in me’, so that neither the speaker nor the listener gets confused about the statement. Beyond all the illusions of the world and behind the illusory veil of emotions of each person is the eternal calm, the stillness that is the only reality, the imperishable, the God. Even the Hindu scriptures do not proceed by teaching everybody that they are Gods. Instead the three initial sections (the Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aaryanyakas) of each of the four Vedas lead the simple man through rituals and cleansing, till he has grown in understanding and relationship with God and till he is ready to read the final section of the scriptures, that is the Upanishads where it is whispered into his ears (and is meant only for his ears) that tat twam asi (that thou art). I personally have not yet attained the 'perpetual' awareness to be a worthy student for the ‘Upanishad’ or in other words, for ‘the truth to be whispered’ in my ears. So for me what is true for now is that, God is in me. And yet my understanding of the advaitic philosophy does permit me to meditate using the powerful affirmation ‘I Am’ to discover the God in me. I have answered the question I put to myself and I hope that it is also clear to the reader as to why I said both a yes and a no to the statement ‘I am God’.
And so finally I reach the state where I have no more questions? Not really, there are still questions like, what could be meant by the promise of the resurrection of the body? Could it mean that the followers of Christ will undergo a transfiguration of their bodies, where the perishable body would be transformed into an imperishable body? After all, Jesus took up his earthly body, three days after death and ascended into heaven with the Body!?
Buddha longed for Nirvana. He did not want to maintain his separate identity within the body. He never desired to keep his body; he wanted to lose his identity in the oneness with God. Does that mean there can be different destinations to man after the death of his physical body? One, where the spiritual body is absorbed into the oneness of God and becomes indistinguishable from it; another where a separate identity (as a spiritual body) from the one God is maintained? Then could Jesus be calling us to another world where those who have learnt to let the spirit direct the Body, those who have mastered the (enjoyable but difficult to handle) machine called Body, can live for ever with a Body and that too an imperishable body? Saint Paul says as follows regarding the raising of the dead, ‘When buried it (the body) is a physical body; when raised, it will be a spiritual body.’ 1 Corinthians 15:44. ‘Those who belong to the earth are like the one who was made of earth (first Adam); those who are of heaven are like the one who came from heaven (the second Adam or Jesus). Just as we wear the likeness of the man made of earth, so we will wear the likeness of the Man from heaven. 1 Corinthians15: 48, 49’. Saint Paul also says that the mortal cannot possess immortality and therefore the mortal will be changed into the immortal (in an instant) when the time comes.
Also, why does Jesus say that I am going ahead of you to make a room for you, there are many rooms in my mansion? Could it be that the ‘life in abundance’ that Jesus promises is ‘a life for ever in an imperishable body’? The Bible does say that those who are baptized are actually baptized into the death of Jesus and so those who share in his death will also share in his resurrection. Maybe this question can be answered by a concept that many religions share, that is, the concept of Seven Heavens and even seven Earths or "the many worlds of space and time" (both Abrahamic and Hindu religions). From this concept it is understood that there are unseen universes where 'form' is, where there are angels and ascended souls. Even beyond these heavens is the state called "Nirvana" where there is no form.This I believe is the state called the Divine Throne which is said to be in or above the seventh heaven in most Abrahamic religions.
This question often is answered to people with the gift of visions, and so I cannot go further into with mere thinking; but there is one more significant controversy remaining which can be contended with reasoning.
Controversy regarding the logic of Synthesis
Yes! The truth is that even 'synthesis' has its own share of criticism. Since I have accepted synthesis and worked with it to find my own picture of unity within contradictions, I have to share the criticism meted out to 'synthesisers'. I read the book 'Hindu view of Christianity and Islam' by Ram Swarup (the author participated in our country's struggle for independence). In many parts it spoke very disapporovingly of Semitic religions (prophetic religions, that is, Judaism, Christianity and Islam) which is understandable given the ideological imposition of semetic religion onto the rest of the world (including India). The author quotes Ralph Barsodi (educationist and thinker) "everywhere in the world excepting Asia Minor, the three great Semetic religions..are intruders.....indigenous Asia is Brahmanist, Confucianist, Buddhist, Taoist; indigenous Europe is pagan"
I too believe that it is oppressive to force one's beliefs onto another Human who has equal rights to use his own discretion (discussion and dialogue are the respectful way to understand differences) and so I took much of the criticism with a pinch of salt. But I have to object when certain criticisms are very unfair.
Ram Swarup says 'Besides the rationalists, many seekers in the West had learnt to reject Christianity as an inadequate spiritual ideology. But under the auspices of Hindu Synthesisers (Hindu's who claim that all religions preach the same thing), it began to find a new acceptance.'
'They(synthesisers) misrepresented the spirit of different preachings by slurring over important differences and by making too much of incidental agreements'
Here(and often through the book) I can't help but feel that the author's anger against the Christian ideological oppression over the ages which he too witnessed and experienced, is speaking rather than a real understanding of the unifying features of the two religions. He doesn't seem to note that synthesis cannot be acceptable to rationalists and unbiased thinkers, if it is not a 'rational' synthesis.
The author speaks of Visuddhi marg which tells that the first four dhyanas(meditation) are charecterized by reflection, sustained application, joy, one pointedness and mindfulness. The fourth level of dhyana involves mindfulness and equal mindedness. This equal mindedness opens the door to many kinds of infinities. Beyond these infinities lies the nirodhbhumi of Patanjali Yoga or the Nirvana bhumi of the budhists.
He says that Higher Indian spirituality begins with the fourth Dhyana..whereas in prophetic religions the truths are restricted to the first two or three dhyanas.
He points out that on several occassions the New testament emphasises on faith, piety, joy..which are all truths of the first dhyanas.
But the author doesnt seem to realize that he has picked up few words in the Bible and on their basis he has 'synthesized' the prophetic (semetic) religions to Lower Indian Spirituality! He is very obviously himself guilty of unfair synthesis! There are more words in the bible than just faith, piety and joy! Often in all comparisions he seems to be speaking only in terms of the Yogic branch of Hinduism forgetting that it is just one branch of Hinduism, where Hinduism is like a huge tree with numerous branches and no branch claiming to itself anymore glory than that of being part of the tree. In choosing to speak only on the yogic branch he is choosing to be on the safe side and also is definitely not being a fair synthesiser. Synthesis by Ram Swarup aims to show, 'My religion is better' and speaks of the anger of the author, whereas synthesis by the 'synthesisers' mentioned by the author, has been with an open unbiased mind. In fact the Christian prayer experiences are similar to what is claimed in the Dhyana experiences'. The Christian Prayer groups and retreats focus on few hours or days exclusively of prayer and worship, and it is a very powerful meditation on 'Love for God'. The blessings of the Holy Spirit that are claimed to be received in such meditiations are true (and I speak as one who has participated in a retreat). This blessing is the same as opening up the connect with the Universal divine spirit (it can viewed as opening up of the Kundalini or the channel through the whole body that is in direct connect with the universal spirit). The spirit opens up essentially the gifts of Agape(godly) Love. Though in different names; all are seeking the 'Dhyana' and Divine connect, though this experience of 'becoming opened up to God' is referred differently in different religions. Of all meditations I have tried, I personally feel that focusing hours and days on one's own 'Love for God' is utmost powerful and it naturally brings in mindlessness without having sought it! And so it is totally untrue to say that Christianity is limited to only the lower dhyanas like sustained application of joy and not the higher dhyanas of mindlessness which opens the doors to the infinite.
There were numerous other instances, while reading the book by Ram Swarup that I felt that he is not doing a Just and total comparision. For example, when he speaks of the wrath of the Biblical God, he forgets of the wrath of Shiva the destroyer.
He also forgets the Hindu faith in incarnates when he doubts the intentions or incarnation of Jesus.
He questions the intentions of Jesus in his statements like in the following statement of Jesus-"Beware of false prophets who come to you in the sheeps clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves"(Jn.10.8. This is a verse which all Christians understand as a warning not to believe in everybody but rather to test them. The verse urges one to test with the question-Are they like wolves that devour up the innocent, or are they really like a sheep that symbolises peace and calm? But these very words have been made to look by Ram Swaup as if Jesus was jealous of attention to anybody else as prophet! Knowledge as always is an instrument in Man's hands which can be used for good or for worse. It can be seen that the words used to explain the same statement can make totally different impressions on the hearers and readers about the very same statement. And so, this is what I have to say for Synthesis as well. Synthesis if does good and brings peace (which is the state in which God exists) then it can to be accepted (with one's own discretion of course), if it brings discord and doubt, it is not to be accepted.
But before I end this answer on this note, I want to address my respect to all the authors whom I have read and expressed critically. I want to thank them because without their thoughts to guide my own thoughts, my own book would not have been complete
For example the beautiful statement by Ram Swarup regarding the Yogic approach , 'The man on the inner journey not only realises that God or Gods are within him, but he also realises that he is within them. On this path one meets many divine figures which are also truths of his own soul' To the authors doubts on the Historical truth of Jesus, his own statements are the answer. The Historical reality of Jesus is not outside but within as a divine presence and an ever present reality.
To come back to the question of the destination to which a christian is called, the honest answer is that I do not know ‘the Christian destination’. Logic fails me here but here is my challenge to believe what I cannot view even with any reasoning.
And so here are my personal statements of faith(not logic), ‘I have tested with the help of knowledge and reasoning the truth and promise of faith that the name Jesus represents namely 'of freedom from the binding to the world'. I will follow his command of love (for God, for neighbours) and wherever that leads me though I may not understand any thing about the destination. My destination faith is Jesus. Therefore I give up my oars to him and from now on he will row me forward and I will relax and wait patiently for him to reveal the destination he has prepared for me.’
I could have followed somebody else, considering my faith in all scriptures or looked towards other possible destinations, but the reason I have accepted Jesus(or the symbolic reality called Jesus that chooses by design of the universe to be part of the known world) as destination faith is that he was the only one who said, ‘This is my body which will be given up for you.’ I cannot think of anybody else with such selfless love. I would rather follow a so called lunatic who demonstrated such love for each man and who promised that his sacrifice has prepared a place for me in heaven, than follow any other person (or other symbolic realities) who might have attained the oneness with God but neither suffered for me nor promised me a place; or follow the disbelief (in Jesus and his promised destination) of a world absorbed in self love. Even in everyday life we follow the friend who promises to keep a seat for us at the theatre than another equally loved who tells the way to the theatre but makes no such promise. There may be many who ask us how we can be assured that he will keep his promise. The answer could be something like," It is because I know him as I know myself"
There is also another thing I am sure of and that is; faith does eventually get rewarded. ‘According to your belief be it done unto you’.
Jesus fulfilled the requirements of Thomas (for believing that Jesus had indeed risen) as we see in John20:27- Then Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not persist in doubt but believe.’ We also the Christian Thomases may have had some requirements to be fulfilled before we could believe in everything about Jesus. If Jesus has not by now fulfilled it then be sure that he will in time. Because Thomas had not even addressed his requirements to Jesus but rather, he only had said to the other disciples that he won’t believe until he put his finger to the wound in Jesus’ hand. And yet Jesus was listening. I believe that Jesus is always listening to our hearts too. Though we may not be aware (quite like Thomas) but the Lord is surely present, listening to our every doubt and ever prepared to clear it. We only have to be clear about what proof we want to help us believe. Jesus can’t be angry with us for doubting as most Christians believe. He only says that those who are able to believe without seeing are happier. And so we may doubt but we shouldn’t persist in our doubting and thereby persist in unhappiness. That is, we must search for answers and clear our doubts, because peace and faith is important to reach God. And peace and faith cannot come where doubts live.
Today I may not be free of questions but I am free of doubts. That is, I sure have reached a state where questions do not come with the usual baggage of discomfort and pain. It is because I have finally anchored myself to Jesus. I allow the questions to be answered in their own time because it is no more a life or death issue as I am in trusted hands. What I work towards now is to experience again the everyday communion with God that I had once lost. With my doubts put to rest I am in touch with my calm! I can now experience again what it was to be so happy as to want nothing but the company of God. No questions in the world are worth giving up this relationship. ‘I would rather walk in the dark with God than go alone in the light. I would rather walk by faith with Him than go alone by sight.’
Everything turns out to the good of those that trust God. For eventually I gained from having strayed from the path of faith, as I have come back stronger and more evolved in my thinking in a way that any sort of question, can no longer shake me off. Today if anybody says ‘advaita’ I can say ‘yes’, or dvaita( man and God are separate) and I would still say ‘yes’. If somebody says God is nirvikar (without emotion), I would say surely, and if somebody says God is love, I would say ‘absolutely’.
And if the question is, why God didn’t give just one answer to who he really is, then I have to point out that just as a country like India which is a myriad of cultures cannot be understood by visiting one state, how can God who is unimaginably more complex be understood in one statement. So lets not argue whether ‘I am God’ or ‘God is separate from man’. We need these and even more concepts to create a vast mosaic of ‘ideas about God’ and then view the picture to add an ounce more to our understanding of God. In any case what use is our understanding alone when we finally reach our death beds? Would our understanding alone prepare us to leave the life we love and go to where God calls us? To be prepared to go to God, we need to love him more than anything, and that can come only when we accept our intellectual limitations and work more towards building a relationship with Him. For it is only a strong relationship with God, that will help us at our death beds to feel that ‘I am not going away from my loved ones but rather that I am coming home to somebody who not only loves me most but whom I too have learnt to love the most.’ It is obvious why we are asked to love God above all else. It is, so that bidding the world adieu may not become too difficult!
Therefore we need to cross over to God in this life itself and that is possible only when we take the road of Faith and build the relationship with God; by finding time each day to meditate upon His Word and thus opening our inner eyes and then doing what is asked of us, even when our circumstances and intellect point to a totally different course of action. For example, if God’s words suggest that we should not let our heart be troubled and that we should have a merry heart, then we should at least remember these words in our trying circumstances. We will at least be definitely thanking God in our old age for these words that we obeyed, for the robust health, that a merry heart helps maintain! In the context of these particular words, it also becomes important that we clear our doubts about God as it is one of the major causes to a troubled heart! Moreover how can a person discover the 'perpetual calmness' within unless the person has an untroubled heart which is the result of an unshakable trust in a Power within and without!
My concluding suggestion to every Thomas and especially the Christian Thomases, is that whenever faced with any more of confusing contradictions, just bring to mind the Sun! God made the Earth go round the Sun, and yet it seems to us on Earth that the Sun goes round the Earth. It is not God’s fault or even our mistake that what is, does not look the way it really is. From out in the universe the former is true and for all practical purposes on Earth, the latter is true. One can choose to keep wondering and worrying about which the truth is as the majority of us have never seen the whole thing from outer space. On the other hand we could believe in the words of one reliable person who has actually gone there and thereby put to rest our doubts and thenceforth just enjoy the warmth of the Sun and all the blessings of life that it is to us; for after all that is what the Sun is for!
Today I personally choose the latter. I would rather experience the joy of the companionship of God every moment of my life than keep troubling my heart by worrying about contradictions and controversies. And so for me God is the name for the One Power that Holds all that exists and the one Power called God is also moving in me, and yet God is my loving Father on whom I lean. This is my realization.