Some can see God. Why can’t we?
Few figures so strikingly stand out as does Lord Narsimha.The golden flowing mane, angry eyes, sharp nails do make a strong impact on the beholder’s heart. Indeed, just the mention of Lord Narsimha immediately makes one visualize the giant form of half-man, half-lion divinity deftly evading blows by the mighty Hiranyakashipu. The Lord made His appearance just to protect His dear devotee Prahlada from his father’s wrath. Even as a deadly sword in the hands of his agnostic father awaited him as his fate, young Prahlada was unshaken from his beliefs. He continued to mercifully advise his ignorant father about the existence of God and the futility of possessiveness. Just when the cruel father acted to sever his little son’s head from his body, the supreme Lord made an extraordinary appearance to save him. What happened next is history. The king was vanquished and the glories of Prahlada were established for all time to come.
Irked by Prahlada’s conviction in God’s omnipresence, Hiranyakashipu, just before striking him, asked Prahlada if God was omnipresent. Did He also exist in a nearby pillar? Without twitching an eyelid, Prahlada nodded yes. This was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Hiranyakashipu immediately raised his sword to finish his task. Just then, the Lord appeared from within the very same pillar to prove Prahlada’s statement true.
Interestingly, in this incident, two people have exhibited completely diverse behavior one was completely convinced about the Lord’s omnipresence while the other couldn’t be more convinced of His absence. What makes this difference? Raised in an atheistic environment, how could Prahlada develop the vision of seeing the Lord everywhere even in a critical time of impending death? Having the company of the devoted Prahlada, how could Hiranyakashipu not appreciate God’s presence around him?
Men have searched for God in places of worship, in forests, on mountain-tops and similar such remote places in hopes of encountering Him. The general conception is that God is supernatural & so exists in faraway, remote places. People are also seen praying in the upward direction assuming that God is somewhere up there in the sky. Yuri Gagarin, the famous Russian astronaut to make a debut in space was asked upon his return to earth whether he saw God in space. His reply was an emphatic “No.”
So, where does God really exist?
Flame and Its Light
Modern civilization lays a lot of emphasis on the act of seeing. “Seeing is believing” is the new mantra. Never before, even in western thought has there been such an emphasis on empiricist thought. The current peak was started originally during The Age of Renaissance in the 16th century.
We can understand that air is everywhere and yet we can’t see it. Yes, we can feel it by its effects. We can sense it by its symptoms. And yet it’s not possible to see it. So, how much emphasis should we lay on “seeing?”
The Vedic scriptures (Vishnu Purana 1.22.53) mention that the supreme Lord spreads His energies all throughout although situated at a distinct spot, just like a localized flame spreads heat and light in surrounding areas. Sometimes this verse is also taken to refer to the all-powerful sun. In either case, God is taken to be all-pervasive through His energies while He is personally present in His spiritual abode. Indeed, the Chandogya Upanisad(3.14.1) declares sarvam khalv idam brahma that there is no existence beyond God.
People who don’t believe in God are awe-struck by the complex workings of nature and although they come up with atheistic hypotheses of mechanistic evolution of life, it takes them a lot of effort to promote these, even if in vain. (For more details please refer to Sep ’09 and Nov ’09 issues of this magazine). They become more concerned with His magnificent and efficient energies rather than Him, the source of energies. In reciprocation, the Lord too doesn’t allow His personal feature to become discernible to such non-believers. With the genuine aspirant though, God wants to strike a personal relationship. In this case, He manifests Himself directly instead of being present in the form of His energies. Thus, for Prahlada, the savior comes personally.
Is this characteristic of the Lord personally taking care of His sincere devotees biased behavior? Is this attitude deceitful? This is an important question concerning the nature of God. To understand this, we have to revert back to the same example we started off from. We saw that He is localized as an all-powerful person. A reasonable person never reveals intimate details about himself to someone whom he does not trust. Although one may converse freely with strangers, one doesn’t share intimate moments with them. There is always a chance that the other person may use such details against the person revealing those. This is not self-righteousness but simple reciprocation. Because the Lord trusts His devotees, He reveals more about Himself to them, while simultaneously restricting access to other persons whom He does not trust. A computer programmer restricts access to certain parts of websites to strangers but provides wholeheartedly easy admission to trusted users.
How do we instil trust for ourselves in the Lord’s heart?
Many talk about developing trust in existence of God. Likewise, there is also a great need to facilitate development of trust in God’s heart for us. This will be assisted if our actions are based on knowledge instead of ignorance. The more we have authentic knowledge about God, the more He becomes a factual reality; the more we realize His presence around us, the more we enhance our understanding of His nature, and more is our impetus to please Him. Thus knowledge plays a crucial role in advancing in God realization.
Advanced knowledge enables a doctor to perceive symptoms of an impending disease in a patient. While the patient is blissfully unaware, the doctor can detect and pinpoint the exact disease. A knowledgeable geologist detects a waterbed below arid land. Everyone else sees the dryness of the soil but the geologist can sense the moisture. Similarly, a sincere spiritualist perceives the presence of the Lord where others can’t. Endowed with knowledge about the Lord, such spiritualists develop vision capable of letting them witness the Lord always. This vision of God is not sentimentalism or a fool’s paradise. This is based on factual understanding of the Lord’s glories.
The Bhagavad-gita (15.9) too explains this concept. Lord Krishna mentions vimudha nanupasyanti pasyanti jnana-caksusah the foolish cannot understand… but one whose eyes are trained in knowledge can see all this.
Modern civilization prides itself on being advanced on several counts, especially in terms of information. All over the world, there are more universities than ever before. More educational facilities are existent than ever before. The present age is called very unhesitatingly, “The Information Age.” With gigabytes of data at your disposal, search engines on the internet can give whatever you want whenever you want it. And yet “God” is definitely not amongst the most frequently searched words on the internet. Submerged under this deluge of information about the world surrounding us, man has not been successful in trying to find a way to see God, much less to develop a relation with Him.
On the other hand, a spiritualist armed with spiritual knowledge sees the world as connected to the Lord as an expansion of the Lord’s energy and sees everyone and everything in relation to the Lord. Just as a shrewd businessman sees everything as an opportunity to generate money, all that happens around a devotee is seen as God’s working.
Prahlada, while in the womb, had received spiritual teachings from none other than the venerable sage Narada. Narada has proven expertise in the matter of elevating unsuspecting individuals to high standards of God realization. He is famous for delivering spiritual wisdom effortlessly. This significant, though brief stint with Narada had impregnated Prahlada’s eyes with sufficient knowledge and ability to see the Lord everywhere.
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.29.12), Lord Krishna in fact desires this quality in us. He says,
mam eva sarva-bhutesu
bahir antar apavrtam
yatha kham amalasayah
With a pure heart one should see Me, the Supreme Soul within all beings and also within oneself, to be both unblemished by anything material and also present everywhere, both externally and internally, just like the omnipresent sky.
Interestingly, the comparison of a flame and God mentioned in the Vishnu Purana can again help us. We can understand how God may sometimes even expand into unlimited forms and yet retain His original svarupa, spiritual existence. By lighting other flames, an original flame does not lessen its intensity. Similarly God can manifest unlimited forms and yet retain His original nature. Followers of some prominent faiths deny any manifestation of the Lord in this material world thinking that this would color Him with a material tinge. Rather, this will be imposition of one’s limited experience on the supremely endowed Lord. The all-powerful Lord can manifest in unlimited forms, all untinged by any material qualities and yet maintain His original position and form.
Thus, there are unlimited ways to see the Lord. One may see Him through His all-pervading energies or one may see Him in His many incarnations. The determining condition is whether we have the required knowledge. Even today, with the required knowledge and training, we can perceive the presence of the omnipresent around us. All we need is the Lord’s blessings in the form of His bonafide representative like Narada to teach us.
The act of seeing God
One of the greatest acaryas of contemporary times, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura would make an interesting statement steeped in practicality, “Don’t try to see God. Act in such a way that God wants to see you.” In today’s do-it-yourself age of help-yourself books, a statement like this is sure to unnerve us. Yet, it is a most practical assertion of truth. How many men have submitted themselves to searching for God and have returned empty-handed! God, being supremely independent cannot be forced to reveal Himself. He reveals Himself to a person who shows eagerness to understand Him. Eagerness can be expressed when one is ready to serve someone. In readiness for practical service, eagerness can’t be feigned.
It all starts with one’s eagerness to understand God. When Yuri Gagarin replied in the negative about seeing God in space, a local priest had remarked, “If he couldn’t see God while he was here on earth, how could he see God up in space?” It is clear thus that it does not take a geographical change to see God but rather a change in our mental frame.
This was the difference between Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada. Possibly then, this is the change that could make a difference for us too.
Nanda Dulal Dasa (Nanda.Dulal.RNS@pamho.net) is part of the editorial team for BTG India. He also assists in teaching Krishna consciousness to the youth.