GOD REALITY OR ILLUSION

I was shivering when I boarded a plane in Melbourne . I wore two sweaters, and on top of all that I wore a camel hair overcoat. When I landed in Perth it was very hot outside. I wanted to run to the terminal so that I could remove all my warm clothing. I was walking fast in the hot sun when a woman stopped me. She wanted to take my photograph. Who wants to be photographed when smoldering like a volcano? I said, “Excuse me,” and walked past her, but she was quite an athlete. She ran ahead of me and started clicking from the front, the left and right. Without looking at her I continued to jog. She came close to me and asked,
“You are Swami what?”
“I am Swami Nobody,” I replied.
“Excuse me; is that an Indian name or the English nobody?”
“That is my name.”
“Oh, I see...I see... Do you believe in God?”
“I don't believe in anything.”
“Gee, you are impossible! If you don't believe in God on whom do you meditate?”
“On Chu-Chi.”
“Chu-Chi? What is that?”
“When people say God I don't understand. When I say Chu-Chi they don't understand.”
 
Dr. S.S. Barlingay, a professor of philosophy in Western Australia , carefully followed my dialogue with this woman, who happened to be a press photographer. He introduced himself to the lady and said, “This is not an ordinary swami. He is a philosopher. Whatever he says has a metaphysical meaning. 'Swami Nobody' means that he is not a body. His name is Nitya Chaitanya. Nitya means ‘eternal.' The body is transient; he is eternal. Further, he is Chaitanya which means ‘consciousness.' The body is material that is why he called himself Swami Nobody. Only religious people are believers. He is not religious. He is a philosopher who questions everything and only after careful scrutiny and a lot of pondering does he accept anything. This is why he said he does not believe in God. God is a vague term. He does not accept words that are not defined. To expose the vagueness of God to you he mentioned another word which was equally unintelligible. Am I right Swamiji?” I nodded my affirmation. I wanted to escape that woman. All this happened ten years ago. Now when the Editor of the publication Malayala Nadu , asked me to write on "God: Reality or Illusion?" I remembered this old incident. How can anyone speak about God without first of all coming to a tentative agreement on a meaning on which both parties in a dialogue can settle? To make matters worse there are three words that need defining: God , reality and illusion . A misconception of any of these terms can lead us to wrong conclusions. Whether God is real or not he has a rightful place in all dictionaries. Even confirmed atheists cannot escape God because in order to deny God they must first conceive him. Philosophy in the USSR (the 1979 publication of the Progress Publishers of Moscow) not only refers to God, but also, due to some reflex conditioning, it spells God with a capital G.
According to Roget's Thesaurus , God is also: Deity, Divinity, Omnipotence, Omniscience, Providence, Lord, Jehovah, the Almighty, the Supreme Being, the First Cause, the Infinite, the Eternal, the All Powerful, the Trinity, Christ, Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior, the Redeemer, the Judge, the World, the Logos, Emmanuel, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd, the Way, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, Paraclete. There are also other words like Allah, Khuda and Bhagavan. The English word God comes from the Anglo-Saxon god . For Icelanders it is Goo or Guo . For Danish people it is Gud . The Gothic word is Guth , and German is Gott . The indigenous root is ghu which comes from the Sanskrit hu as in huta , meaning "sacrifice." In the same sense, God is one who receives sacrifice, hutaceya . In Sanskrit, God is Isvara , the inner controller. In Malayalam, God is called Daivam. Daivam in Sanskrit means the incomprehensible fate. No one needs to look into a dictionary to believe in God. So, to consider the verity of God's reality we should consider the operational meaning of that term. In a church, when a congregation of one hundred people calls out in one voice, “Our Lord God,” it is possible that a good many of them are not calling the same God that their neighbors are praying to. When the word God is put on paper, all its significance vanishes and only a vague idea of the general term remains on the paper to be interpreted according to each person's fancy. God makes sense only when one speaks of God in a special context. When a man is writhing in pain and moaning “Oh God,” what he means by “God” is the possibility of a miracle that can happen to him there and then to relieve his pain. A man exclaiming “God!” on seeing a beautiful sunrise, by “God” means “How beautiful is this sight!” When a thief tiptoes in a house he intends to burgle, he fervently says, “God.” Here he is invoking the possibility of everyone going into a deep sleep and that no untoward thing should happen. When a physicist is watching an experiment in his cloud chamber, he may say “God!” as an expression of wonder at the inadequacy of all the tools invented by man for deciding the exact behavior of subatomic particles.
 
When a Hindu devotee goes to a Siva temple, she either looks intently at the sivalinga or she closes her eyes as tightly as possible. In either case she is looking at God and the object before her has almost nothing to do with what she sees in her mind as God. The same Hindu devotee will go to a Vishnu temple or a Devi temple and may stand before a totally different image of God, but the formal differences of idols are immaterial to her. To her God is at once subjective and not subjective, objective and not objective. This seemingly philosophical enigma, however, only troubles the philosopher and not the simple devotee. When one person attributes everything to God, another person attributes it to Nature. The will of God can be easily exchanged for the law of Nature. To discern things, mind puts itself into a frame of reference and it then goes backward and forward between the reference and the referent. This is a process which is reflexive, cognitive and, by repetition, mechanical.
When a free thinker closes a letter, he simply writes “Best wishes.” A believer writes, “I pray to the Almighty to bless you with good health, cheer and prosperity.” The free-thinker does not know who should carry out the best wishes. It is like filling up a blank. Both people are flinging their stones of hope at probability, one reverently and the other nonchalantly. The freethinker congratulates himself for not being so superstitious as to pray to God, while the believer pities the freethinker being blind to the obvious. Only through a critical examination of one's own conceptual ground can one come to clear an idea of God in the philosophical context.
AN INNERVIEW WITH MYSELF
Yati: Are you a believer?
Nitya: Mostly I am ceaseless questions intermingled with hypotheses and underlines.
Yati: That is not my question. Is there anything called belief in your mental process?
Nitya: In one sense. Consciousness has a central focus. That central focus calls itself “I” and its possessive case is “my.” Mind functions; it is always engaged in creating its own worlds. The material for that world is some unexamined conventions, certain ideas which look almost innate, many hearsays, certain well examined convictions and a number of relationships which appear to be relevant. It is not likely that I will ever fully know all of them, much less examine them. Therefore, the total impact of my historical make-up to the present moment can in one sense be called my belief. I have no other belief in any other sense.
Yati: You are becoming too philosophical. My reference to belief is a simple one. When a Christian thinks he is a sinner, it is a matter of belief. He believes that there is sin. He also believes that it is wrong to be sinful. He believes that there is a direct relationship between an actor and his action. He believes that a wrong-doer should be punished. He expects to be punished because he is a sinner. He believes that the ultimate punishment for sin is hell. He believes that every man is vicariously a sinner because the first man sinned against God. He believes there is Satan and that Satan always uses his dubious ways to lead man into committing sins. Such being the bad inheritance of man, he is in dire need of a savior. Jesus Christ is his savior. By believing in Jesus he has an able attorney to intercede for him on the final day of Judgment. I suppose you now understand what I mean by belief. Are you a believer in that sense? Nitya: These are all interesting allegories proliferated by poetic and myth-making minds. In religion we have this and many other similes and metaphors which are weird or enchanting. When I was a child I could hardly distinguish an image from the original, but one does not remain a child forever. Growth sweeps away many cobwebs of imagination. The child in man, however, never grows entirely; so, the profoundness of silly dreams and silliness of profound beliefs follow him all the way to the graveyard My frame of mind is certainly different from that of a pious Christian, but I do not laugh at him and also I do not take him seriously when arranging my own thoughts.
Yati: You are juggling words; this is no good. You must have faith in God and Åtman at least.
Nitya: You have given me a clear idea of what you mean by belief. We should now have a similar tentative agreement on the definition of God and Åtman.
Yati: You are now bowling my questions back into my court. The very intention of this inner-view is to clarify the concepts “God” and “Self.” It is not a healthy dialogue when one poses counter questions. I shall make one more concession. I shall go into the analytical bits of my question and you can answer my special queries. In South India many people believe that there is a Goddess of Small Pox; she distributes this virus in those whom she loves and in those whom she hates. Her name is Mariyamman , do you believe in her?
Nitya: No.
Yati: Every year millions of people go on pilgrimages to Shabarimala, Guruvayur and Tirupati. These pilgrims believe that the benign presence of God is present in those temples. Do you think so?
Nitya: No, not at all.
Yati: There are godmen who can clearly read your mind, see your past doings, predict your future and materialize objects like sacred ashes, watches and talismans; they can also at times produce out of their mouths icons such as sivalingas. Do you think that is possible?
Nitya: You give me a list of possibilities and then you ask me if they are possible. All these are reported observations. Godmen are not laboratory equipment. People do not go to them with unerring metrical devices; also, there is little chance of performing an experiment to see the universality of the truth which someone presumes. Personally I am not impressed with such performances. I need ashes to manure my garden and not my forehead. So, a pinch of ashes cannot impress me. It is certainly interesting to get a costly watch with the blessing of a godman, especially if I don't have to compensate for it with money or lifelong servility. I am thankful to these great men, however, for not doing something as mind-blowing as producing out of their mouths something bigger than their heads. What I look upon as a miracle is that two plus two constantly equals four, and that a human mother gives birth to a human child and not the kid of an ass or a gorilla. I do not see why we should relate miracles to God. If God created this world, he did it with the meticulous precision of a much disciplined mathematician. Freak occurrences only give a bad reputation to his performance.
Yati: I see your point, but well informed scientists who have done thousands of fruitful experiments in their labs have changed their minds in their objective pursuits and they are now looking in other directions which are usually looked upon as mystical. I know scientists who have given their life earnings to temples and churches as a mark of great reverence to the unknown, which has become known to them through the intercession of the deity of a certain religious place, such as Lourdes , or of a godman who performs miracles.
Nitya: When in India , if I saw someone exhibit currency bills such as liras, rubles, yens and francs, I would think of them as instruments of fiscal transactions used in some far away country, but if I get an Indian rupee when I am hungry, it delights me. I know I cannot eat the rupee, but by exchanging it I can get masala dosha and tea. This possibility is implied in the rupee bill. I can never equate this to an advertised promise of a million rubles. The rupee is a reality here and now and the ruble is only part of a fantasy. The rupee or even a bundle of a thousand rupees can, however, become meaningless if I change my location from Madras to Madrid . The sovereignty of a currency bill has its own value reference. If someone goes to the Tirupati or the Guruvayur temples and feels good, I'll congratulate him for having found a currency bill for his faith, but these bills are of no use to me; instead, I have my own tokens of higher values, such as having an hour's talk with Brett, the painter, who I love, or an hour's listening to a violin concert by Yehudi Menuhin. It is all a matter of taste and choice. Taste and choice are only the surface gleanings of something seeded in us, the roots of which lie deeply buried. It is my pleasure to dig deep to investigate the hidden treasury of my mind as well as the catacombs of my irrational fears.
Yati: To cut it short, you are not a believer in God.
Nitya: If chanting and singing and telling of beads and fasting and praying and becoming a recluse are the marks of belief in God, I should admit that I am far from it.
Yati: Alright then! But, do you accept God in any sense?
Nitya: Yes, but does it matter if I believe or not? I already told you that God is in the dictionary. Some words have no operational dynamics until they are circumstantially placed. In railway compartments in India the word lock can be seen written near shutters. One cannot say whether it is a noun or a verb; however, when night falls you know it is unsafe to sit with the shutters open and then the word lock suddenly changes from a noun to a verb in the imperative. It is the same with God. God needs a set-up, a background, therefore there is no point asking about the existence or non-existence of God; rather, one should question the existential validity of an occasion which a person interprets as having to do with what he calls God.
Let us take a few instances. A child asks his father, “Dad, where does this world come from?” The father doesn't actually know, so he says, “From God.” Here God means "I do not know." If he happens to be more philosophically inclined, the father will recast his son's question into “Dad, if this world is an effect what is its cause?” At once he will see that such a train of thought will lead him only to the paradox of either begging the question or into the absurdity of ad infinitum . So, he can either answer the child with “an unknown mystery,” or “God.” In the entire vocabulary of the human race there is no word more convenient than God to escape the agony of facing the enigma that confronts humans all the time. If we don't want to use the word then we should change ourselves into mobile encyclopedias and go on piling hypothesis upon hypothesis until we and our adversaries are bored to death. My definition of God is "the genus of all genera." The old cliché, “Brevity is the soul of wit” comes very handy to me when I use God to punctuate disturbing thoughts.
Yati: To put it in another way, God is a shorthand symbol for you.
Nitya: Agreed. Are you satisfied now?
Yati: Don't you accept Narayana Guru as your Guru?
Nitya: Yes I do.
Yati: Didn't Narayana Guru write a prayer addressed to God? Was he not praying to God? You wrote a commentary on this prayer. Was Narayana Guru praying to a shorthand symbol? Was your commentary a long-hand version of his short-hand writing? If that is so, you can be accused of hypocrisy.
Nitya: I have never seen Narayana Guru in person. I had no physical transactions with him. For me he is more his word than his historic personality. By his word I mean sixty works in Sanskrit, Malayalam and Tamil. I also have images of him which I have gathered from his biographies and popular hear-say. So, in one sense, my idea of Narayana Guru is also a short-hand symbol. When Narayana Guru prayed to God, calling him Daivame , the emotional impact he felt is unknown to me. Did his nervous system become agitated? Did he experience cardiovascular excitement? Did he maintain a steady blood pressure? All this is unknown to me. I do not even care to know about it. I am I, and Narayana Guru is Narayana Guru. I do not want to become Narayana Guru and I am not likely to. His language is that of a born poet, rich with allegories. He had an ear for music and whatever he wrote was melodic. He was happy to present his visions with rich theatrical vividness. That is not my style. I love cold logic, especially the logic of mathematics.
When I think, speak or write I always compare my thoughts with the known findings of science, both Eastern and Western, modern and ancient. By science I mean shastra ; it need not necessarily be confined within the limits of technocracy. Vyasa is as respectable a scientist as Newton or Einstein. My prejudice is such that I would set Vyasa and Narayana Guru on a higher pedestal than some scientists of high caliber. They were scientists who sang science with the richness of the song of bards. When you say, “the wind blows,” you instantly become poetical. The wind is not a person that blows; what you mean is that there is a high pressure velocity of movement. When you speak of a plane or train saying that she is late, it is not likely that I would become enamored of the femininity of these vehicles. When I agreed to be the disciple of Narayana Guru, I made it conditional that I should retain my freedom to translate his mystical language into a scientific language.
Yati: Do you mean to say that you differ from Narayana Guru only in the diction and style of his writing and not in your doctrinal stand? In the Darßana Mala , Narayana Guru says that this world is created by Paramesvara , the Supreme God.
Nitya: Not quite so. Before attributing the authorship of the world to the Supreme God he reduces the verity of the world to the status of a dream. Subsequently he also asks, “If the effect has no reality, what verity has its cause?”
Yati: Are you suggesting that Narayana Guru was a nihilist?
Nitya: In allegorical language the similes involve the reference and the referent. Narayana Guru builds up a system of philosophy by employing a methodology which takes us from the position of an ignorant person who mistakes his projections for reality to the vision of an enlightened philosopher who can pinpoint truth as aum tat sat , "that is it." After this, he uses a methodology complementary to what he used in the first half of the book to discuss both the experiential and the imperiential advancement of a seeker of truth until he becomes established in truth as a full-blown seer. It is wrong to lift a verse out of context and to place it on the table as the doctrine of Narayana Guru. All the ten Darßanas of the Darßana Mala are to be taken together. We should not mutilate its organic coherence.
Yati: Let me put a straight question to you. Do you pray?
Nitya: Yes I do, sometimes ritualistically, sometimes obligatorily and sometimes as a blissful indulgence.
Yati: What do you mean by ritualistically?
Nitya: In all countries, communist, capitalist or otherwise, the national flag is raised and lowered every morning and evening to the sound of the national anthem. This is a ritual. The human being is a social animal who lives in groups and such rituals are part of our group life. To flow with the current amicably and harmoniously it is good to join the masses, but it is also good to sneak out when the masses degenerate into mobs. Whenever I am in the company of religious people who like to attend a church service, or a Sabbath in a synagogue, a Sufi dance, or a Hindu sankirtan , it is my pleasure to join my friends. I may not go along with all the implications in the song sung or the ritual performed, but I do appreciate the sharing of fellowship and the musical qualities of the songs which can sometimes lift our minds to ethereal heights. I still remember vividly how my mind was lifted to a sense of elation when I listened to some Hebrew hymns chanted by a rabbi in a synagogue in Australia . Hebrew or Greek makes no difference to me because I do not understand either. So evidently, it was not the purport of the words that sang in my heart, but the spiritual fervor of the rabbi who appeared to me at that moment as a true symbol of pure devotion. Ritualistic prayers can be quite boring too. I attended an Easter service in a Presbyterian church. The phoniness of the vicar and the shallowness of the songs were so disparaging that I decided to use the occasion to study the characters around me in terms of descriptive psychology.
Yati: And what is obligatory prayer?
Nitya: There are many ardent religious believers who are deeply devoted to me. They want me to pray when somebody is sick, mentally depressed, or caught in some tight situation. They believe that my prayer may bring the benign grace of God to lift the blues and bring them beneficial results. I do not question their faith, nor do I ask to which God I should pray. Our world is not a chaos, it is a cosmos. As the Greeks believed, it is some sort of a collage made up of the earth, chaos and Eros evolving into a cosmos. In that evolution what is significant is a high percentage of recurring probability. My obligatory prayer is aimed at this probability factor. It is a blind-man's-bluff in good spirit. There is nothing wrong in hoping for the best. Beyond that I do not exaggerate the effectiveness of my intercession.
Yati: Do you pray for your personal needs?
Nitya: In times of physical tiredness and mental weariness, imitating elders, I used to say “ ayyo ” “ amme ” (mother), and “ Daivame ,” and jokingly at times I used substitutions like “ Daivatinte natune ,” meaning “God's sister-in-law.” These expressions have become a kind of conditioned reflex. Sometimes, imitating my Christian friends I say, “ ente kartava ,” meaning “my creator,” or “Allah,” as my Muslim friends would say. These are like sighs; they mean nothing, yet, unconsciously the myth in me gets an occasion to surface and that way it must bring some psychological relief. When a serious occasion arises in my life, such as facing death, I would rather have death than the intervention of any supernatural force. Once, as a heart patient, I seemed to be coming to a close in a hospital in Singapore . I saw the nurses offer fervent prayers for an extension of my life. A couple of Chinese nurses knelt by my bedside and spent the whole night in vigilance, praying. I searched in my heart for the need to pray and I found neither the need to pray nor a power to pray to. I can categorically say that I do not pray for myself.
Yati: What do you mean by blissful indulgence with prayer?
Nitya: The Indian rishis, both ancient and modern, are poets endowed with a great sense of humor. They can present a mathematical formula in the format and tone of a hymn. One such is:  
Aum purnamada purnamidam
Purnat purnam udachyate
Purnasya purnam adaya
Purnam eva avasishyate.
  This can be chanted with eyes closed, hands enfolded and a feeling of devotional piety, but it is only a mathematical formula and it can be expressed in a much less devotional way such as, “The value of zero is absolute. The unmanifested value of zero and its manifested value are the same absolute. Zero plus zero, or zero minus zero is the same absolute zero.” Similarly, there are whole passages in the Upanishads and hymns composed by Sankaracarya and Narayana Guru which can be sung in perfect ragas (musical scales) and they can also be the subject matter for philosophical pondering. The allegories used appeal to our high aesthetic sense, to our poetic delight and our creative imagination; at the same time the truth they reveal through poetic suggestion can stand the glare of mathematical logic. Such prayers make ego boundaries flexible and sometimes they produce the magical effect of effacing all frontiers that separate the individual from the totality of being, of which he is an organic part. Here prayer becomes a meditation on excellence. You can take one ideogram and live with it for days till you become possessed with it. This is what poets call the magnificent obsession of the hidden splendor. Whether Aristotle likes it or not there are moments when we have to part with syllogistic reasoning so that we can listen to the choir of the heavenly spheres.
Yati: Are these philosophical prayers addressed to God?
Nitya: Once again you are going back to the need to define God. Once, a Marxist asked Nataraja Guru to define God. He said: “That which is right even when you are wrong is God.” In the Upanishads God is defined as existence, subsistence and value (sat cit ananda); Narayana Guru repeats the same in his universal prayer.
Yati: However tenable is the meaning of God as interpreted by theistic philosophers, don't you agree with me that crusades were made in the name of God? Was India not divided into two nations because the Hindus and the Muslims could not pray to the same God? Is not priest craft instituted with the blessings of God and are not the priests perpetuating superstition and exploitation of the gullible? Do we not have the menace of megalomaniacs that pretend to be agents or incarnations of God? Are you prepared to tolerate all these evils in the name of God?
Nitya: No, we should not. Evil is evil and the upholder of truth should always fight these evils. Do we give up science just because it invents and enables power crazy politicians to manufacture atomic bombs and weapons even more destructive than that? Science is not at fault there. If science can be accepted, God is also acceptable for the same reason. In a human body 90% of the mass is only water and the rest is composed of various chemical combinations. In the same way 90% of human consciousness is buried in the unconscious; of the remaining 10% at least 6% is the memory that is amassed during one's lifetime. The active functioning of the mind is mostly of the nature of recall and imagination; even a large percentage of discernment which involves judgment is of a routine mechanical nature. Only once in a while does our awareness become acute and we become critical in our reasoning. We cannot spotlight that rare moment of reasoning as the only significant core of our life.
There should be due recognition given to the myth of our unconscious, the creative work of our imagination, and the indiscernible truths of our faith in perennial values, such as love, justice, truth and compassion. Major institutions of man, such as family, church, nation and political affiliations are all based on assumptions. Some such assumptions are irrational, as for instance when a man says, “she is my wife” and “she is no longer my wife.” Such being the collage of the rational and the irrational which make the totality of our life, I think that the healthy attitude is to have a holistic appreciation of life, which comprises elements of fear, curiosity, wonder, sense of justice, ununderstandable opacity, bi-polar relationship, love, the need to sacrifice, great moments of serenity and beatitude, pure chance, hidden dynamics, hope, delusion, sense of loss and the need for reverence and acceptance of testimony.
Life is playful, it is serious, it is factual and equally it is fictitious. All this can be termed in one word, God. I have accepted the testimony of two brilliant minds to have the full appreciation of the world of which I am and the world which is none other than me. My two authorities are the mathematician and the poet. The mathematician leads science, the veracity of which is good fodder for my mind, and the poet presides over the musical throne of my heart. I don't think one can exist without the other. Only schizoids want to draw a clear line between the two, and what poverty of imagination it is to stand with either one of them and to reject the other. I am deeply in love with Vyasa and Valmiki, Kalidasa and Homer, Dante and Shakespeare, Goethe and Hugo, Tagore and Basho. What laboratory can measure, weigh and grade the worth of an epic or the value of a haiku?
When Tagore says, “We the rustling leaves have a voice that transfers the storms, but who are you so silent? I am a mere flower,” or when he says, “The fish in the water is silent, the animal on the earth is noisy, the bird in the air is singing, but man has in him the silence of the sea, the noise of the earth and the music of the air,” do we not want to sit with the poet and nod our head in admiration? Tagore once said: “Logic is a sword, all blades and no handle. It bleeds the hand that holds it.” Sometimes a poet has a better insight of mind than a professional psychologist.
Saigyo says:
The mind for truth
begins, like a stream, shallow
at first, but then
adds more and more depth
while gaining greater clarity.  
All that counts in our life is not our bank balance or the jewelry securely locked in a safe; we can be as pleased with a mood, the mood of a poet.  
Seduced by the warm breeze,
my blossoms went off with it
to who-knows-where;
so, loath to lose them, my heart
stays here with nothing but my own Self.
There are philosophers who have combined the vision of the mathematician and of the poet in one. One such was Spinoza whose God reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists. Although Einstein was prepared to go that far with Spinoza, he maintained that God does not play dice with the world. On December 12th, 1926 , he wrote the following to Max Born: “Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing, but an inner voice tells me that is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the Old One. I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.” To Einstein's famous maxim: “God is subtle, but he is not malicious,” his own explanation is: “Nature conceals her mysteries by means of her essential grandeur, not by her cunning.” Who said that, Einstein the physicist or Einstein the poet? I bow before the certitude of the scientist and the assurance of the poet for revealing to me the God who, to me, is everything.