The Personal God and the Absolute Godhead

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What I'm really going to talk about you could define more generally as Vedanta and Christian faith and it's this challenge which the Vedanta makes to our Christian faith. And as you know, Vedanta spread all over the world, there was a young swami from Kansas City from the Ramakrishna Center there, Vedanta Society, and it's all over America, it's all over the world. And we have to situate our Christian faith in relation to Vedanta. Now what exactly is Vedanta? It means the end of the Vedas and was originally used at the Upanishads, it's the last stage of the Vedas, about 600 B.C. And then, rather later, about 300 B.C. came the Bhagavad Gita, which is not strictly Vedic, it belongs to the Smriti, the revelation Smriti, what is heard, is the Vedic revelation, and


then you have a long period after that of Smriti, what is remembered, or rather tradition, and strictly Bhagavad Gita belongs to that tradition. But it was included with the Upanishads as the base of Vedanta. And then thirdly, about 100 B.C. probably, were the Vedanta Sutras or the Brahma Sutras of Adarayana, which are a more sort of philosophical summary of the Vedantic doctrine. And those are called the triple foundation of the Vedanta. And all the doctors of Vedanta, we'll be coming to them in time, commented on these three texts, the basic texts. And for those who are interested, I've brought along these translations. This is the Upanishads, translated by Mascaro, he was a Catholic actually, he was a professor of Sanskrit in Cambridge, and he did both the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita in the


Penguin Classics, very easily available, I suppose, in America, certainly in England. And he writes a very good introduction, and a very readable translation. It's a little free, and scholars may object to it at some points, but it's the most readable translation. In our prayer in the ashram, we always read from this text. So for those who are interested, on a very small scale, two small books, you have the essence of Vedanta, in those two small volumes, in good English. So Vedanta begins with the Upanishads, and then moves on to the Bhagavad Gita, and then summarizes it in the Vedanta Sutras. And that constitutes Vedanta, and that is the philosophy of Hinduism, you see. And so today, there's been a tremendous revival of Vedanta, Swami Vivekananda was one of the


great propagators of it all over the world, and they have their Vedanta societies and Vedanta groups in all parts of the world. And to the Hindu, Vedanta is the supreme wisdom, and he sees all religions and all philosophies in the light of Vedanta. And you must always remember, for him, Christianity is just a small western branch of this tradition. He accepts it quite willingly, the Christian western form of Vedanta, but the central one and the supreme is for him the Hindu Vedanta. And we have to remember that we're in the mid-India, and in the world perhaps, we're in the middle of a Hindu renaissance, you see, in the 19th century, Hinduism was at a very low end. Then Ramakrishna came, 1836 to 1886, and he revived Hinduism.


He was a saint, and he somehow renewed all the traditional forms of Hinduism. And so he founded the Ramakrishna order, Vivekananda brought it to America, brought their message to America, and it spread all over the world. And then that has stimulated a renewal of Vedanta, a renewal of the Vedas, of Sanskrit, of the whole Hindu tradition, and we're now in the full tide of, as I say, a Hindu renaissance. And they're very much aware of the centrality of it. We have an ashram some miles from our ashram, Hindu ashram, with a very learned pandit, Swami Chitpalananda, he's written a very good commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, and we've often been invited there. I remember once they had a map of the religions of the world, and you see you had India, and


you had Hinduism, you had Buddhism, you had Jainism, you had Sikhism, and other smaller groups, and that was the center of religion. And then right away on a small wing you had Judaism and Christianity, you see. For them this is central, and we must remember for us Christianity is central, we see them on the wings, Hinduism, Buddhism, but for them Hinduism and Vedanta is the central wisdom of the world, and they think it's absolutely universal, which I think it is. And so it presents a real challenge to us, you see, it's a marvellous doctrine which has grown up over 2000 years, beginning with the Vedas themselves, culminating in the Upanishads, then developing in the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma Sutras, and then a whole school of philosophers from Shankara, Ramanuja, I will go through them a little later, all right


up till the 15th, 16th century, see for 2500 years really this has been a growing tradition and now it's spreading all over the world. So that is how we have to look on Vedanta and see how we relate to it as Christians. Now the first thing is that in the Upanishads, as you remember, the search is for the ultimate reality which is given the name of Brahman, behind all the phenomena of the universe is the one reality, the one being, and that has this name of Brahman. And then the discovery is made, as we saw, that human consciousness, the human being, is one with Brahman, I am Atman Brahman, myself is Brahman, at the depth of the human person is that Atman, that self, and that is one with the spirit of the universe, the whole creation.


And that was the great discovery of the Upanishads. And now a further stage is reached, come today, when the concept of the personal God evolves. And now again, you see, it is so interesting that Hinduism always approaches everything from the opposite way. For us the personal God is primary, God of Israel is very personal, Yahweh is a person about everything, and Jesus, when he speaks of God, speaks of him as the Father, and the most personal terms, and so for us God is primarily a person, but for the Hindu God is primarily supreme reality, Brahman. And there is a verse in the Rig Veda which shows the Hindu understanding, which is very important for us, because we tend to think that Hinduism is polytheistic, many gods,


and actually there are 33 million gods in Hinduism, 33 crores, 330 million, I'm sorry, gods, but all these gods are simply manifestations of the one reality. And the verse in the Rig Veda, which is so famous, says, ekam sat vipra ahudha vadanti, ekam sat, the one being, the wise called by many names, and the gods, the goddesses, and all other forms, are names and forms of the one who has no name and no form. And that is the reality, has no name and no form. And that is perfectly Christian, you see, ask St. Thomas Aquinas and he will tell you God has no name. The name of Yahweh I am is the nearest we can get to saying what God is, but it's only a term of analogy. God has no name and he has no form.


And that is what we later came to call the Godhead. But we perceive the opposite, they start with the Godhead, with Brahman, and they come to the realization that that Brahman, that Atman, has a personal character, has a personal form. We start with the personal God and only gradually come to the concept of the Godhead. Actually, you know, the word Godhead does occur in the New Testament. I remember our founder, Father Moshena, giving a very interesting lecture in India on this subject of the Godhead. It comes in the Colossians, in him which Christ dwelt the fullness of the Godhead, theotetos, bodily. So it's in the New Testament, but it's not developed at all, and it was only the Greek fathers and above all Dionysius the Areopagite who developed this concept of the Godhead. And he wrote this book, The Divine Names, and this is a key work, I mentioned it before,


for the understanding of the relation of Christianity to Vedanta, because Dionysius has a complete understanding, theory, of the names of God, but he understands that all these names, forms, concepts are all analogous and they're all leading towards the unnamed Godhead, you see, the supreme beyond. And so we're always focusing beyond every form of God, every concept of God, every name of God, to the ultimate reality which cannot be named, you see. And that is the focus of all religion. So the Upanishads reveal this nameless Godhead. But now in the third century, the time of the Bhagavad Gita and the later Upanishad, the Smrtasvata Upanishad, which is here, this concept of the person of God begins to develop. And it's a spontaneous movement, nobody knows quite how or where it arose, but the fourth


century B.C., a movement they call the Bhagavata movement, and Bhagavan is the name of the Lord, the personal God. I'm afraid we didn't explain yesterday, we chanted that chant, Om Bhagavan, and Bhagavan is the name of the Lord, the personal God, so it's addressed to the personal God. And a devotion to the personal God arose, and he was known Bhagavan, and the devotion is called Bhakti, and Bhakti is this devotional love. And the movement swept through India, as I say, nobody knows quite where it arose, and it swept all through India, and for centuries that movement has gathered forth, and the ordinary Hindu thinks of God as we do in personal terms, but with the great difference that for a Hindu, God can take many forms, and you can worship God under the form of Rama or of Krishna or of Shiva or of Vishnu, you can take any form of God you like, you have


what is called an Ishta-Devata, Devata is your God of your choice, your Ishta-Devata. And each one, and each family, tradition, caste it may be, has its own form of God, and they see no reason why you should only have one form, and this is the great difficulty of preaching Christianity in India, that for them there is no difficulty in believing that Jesus is God. You see, here again we have the paradox for a Westerner to say Jesus is God, it is an amazing statement, you see, a leap of faith, the child in the manger is God, but for a Hindu that is commonplace, there is no difficulty in believing Jesus is God, and that Krishna is God, and Rama is God, and Ramakrishna, the saint of the 19th century, is God for him, they are all manifestations of the one God here, you see. And that is why it is so difficult to give the Christian message to a Hindu, because


he is fully convinced that Jesus is God, he is a manifestation of God, and he is ready to worship him, but no more and no less than Krishna or Rama or anybody else. And a typical Ramakrishna Swami, he was a very good friend, a young man, came to our ashram and he kept on saying, you see, God, whether in the form of Rama or Krishna or Buddha or Jesus or Ramakrishna or Ramana Maharshi, forms of God, you see. And it is very curious, when a Hindu becomes a Christian, he certainly just changes the form of his God. I remember hearing one Hindu lady in a village was converted, and she was trying to explain to her Hindu neighbour what it meant, and then the Hindu neighbour read it, God, I see, your Swami, Swami is God, your Swami is Jesus, our Swami is Krishna. You have changed the name of your Swami, that is all that has happened. So, that is their belief, you see, that one is manifesting himself in all these forms,


and it needn't be a human form, you see, God can manifest in a monkey, Hanuman is a form of God, he can manifest in an elephant, he can manifest in a plant, the Tulsi plant, and you can worship God under any form of his manifestation, you see. But it is very important, Hindus are not idolaters, you see. Many people think all the Old Testament prophets denouncing the many gods and the idols applies to Hinduism, but it doesn't, because there don't be many gods in that sense, all the gods, as I say, are names and forms of the one, and all, any serious Hindu knows that all his devotion goes to the one God. Instantly there was a survey made by a Christian group in Bangalore of this faith of the ordinary villager in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and they asked them whether there was one God, and almost every villager said there is only one God, and then he has various muktis, various forms, avatars, manifestations, but they all said there is only one God.


So, that is understood. So, he believes in one God manifesting in many forms, and he never worships an idol, he worships the presence of God in the idol, it is a sacramental worship, and when the idol is not consecrated you cannot worship it, but once it is consecrated God has become present in that idol and you worship the presence, and when you go to a temple you go to have the darshan of the Lord, to see the Lord in his manifestation in the idol, you see. So, it is very sacramental worship. So, that is the background to this worship of a personal God, and it comes to light first of all in the Svatasvapara Upanishad, which is a later one, but extremely interesting among all these Upanishads, it is the theistic one, one that shows the supreme reality as a personal God, and there is one verse in particular which Swami Abhishek Ananda, one


of our two founders, always meditated on, and to me is one of the most revealing in the Upanishads, where it says, I know that great person of the brightness of the sun beyond the darkness, only by knowing him one goes beyond death, there is no other way to go. Vedaham etam purusham mahamtam, I know that great person, this cosmic person, and now this is how the idea of the personal God evolves, from the idea of the purusha, the cosmic person, and in the Vedas, there is a purusha-shukta section on this purusha, and it says this purusha, this person, describes him in various ways, and then it says one fourth of him is here on earth, three fourths are above in heaven, he is the heavenly man, you see, his nature is heavenly, he belongs with God, but he manifests with one fourth of him


here on earth, that is the cosmic person, the cosmic Lord, you see, and he is personal, and that is how the idea of a personal God comes into the Vedanta, and this is developed in the most marvellous way in the Svatantra Upanishad, where it speaks continually of this great Lord, this great person, I'll just give you one reading from it. His being is the source of all being, the seed of all things that in this life have their life, he is beyond time and space, and yet he is the God of forms infinite, who dwells in our thoughts, and who is seen by those who love him, he is beyond the tree of life and time, things seen by mortal eyes, but the whole universe comes from him, he gives us truth, and takes away evil, for he is the Lord of all good, know that he is the inmost of thy soul, and that he is the home of thy immortality, and then it says may we know the Lord of Lords,


the King of Kings, the God of Gods, the God who is Lord of all, and that is pure theism, you see, and that is, it's a rare text in a way, Hinduism emphasises much more the other aspect of Brahmanatma, but here in the Svatantra Upanishad was this breakthrough to a recognition of the one supreme personal God, the Creator Lord, you see, so this is a key text for Hinduism, and then almost at the same time, whereas with Svatantra Upanishad, the devotion is to Shiva, and we see Shiva, this rather mysterious, rather strange, grateful God, gradually taking the form of a God of love, it's one of the most marvellous things, and he gradually becomes more and more recognised, the God of love, until in a great Tamil poet of the early centuries, Tirumala, he, they say, the ignorant think that Shiva and love are two, they do not know that Shiva is love,


humble in Tamil it is, Shiva is love, so they broke through to the idea of a personal God who is love, and in the Bhagavad Gita it is Vishnu, as you probably know, most Hindus divide between Vaishnavites and Shaivites, those who worship Vishnu as the supreme form of God, those who worship Shiva, today they're not very strict, but in the old days a Shaivite would never go to a Vaishnavite temple and vice versa, and still you get some rather strict Hindus belonging to a particular tradition, but generally Vishnu and Shiva are the two forms of the supreme Godhead, and in the Bhagavad Gita Vishnu is the form of the Godhead and he manifests as Krishna, and Krishna is an avatar, avatar means a descent, a descent of God, and the belief is that at all ages of the world God descends to reveal himself and to save the world, it's a mythological concept, he appears as a fish


and then as a tortoise, and then as a boar, and then as a dwarf, and then as a hero, and then it is his Purnavatara, they call it, this full manifestation of God was in Rama and Krishna, they are the supreme manifestations, supreme avatars, and here in the Bhagavad Gita Krishna is the form which the supreme God takes to manifest himself and to communicate himself to man, and it takes place, as you probably know, in the midst of this battle, the war of the Mahabharata, where two armies are encamped against each other, and Arjuna, the hero on the one side, seated in his chariot, facing the enemy, feels he cannot fight, he says, opposite me, our relatives, friends, even my teacher, it's a sort of family war, and he feels he cannot fight, and he lays down his arms and says, I will not fight, and then Krishna, who is his charioteer, comes to counsel him, and the Bhagavad


Gita is this counsel of Krishna to Arjuna, seated in his chariot, and facing the battle, and the symbolic interpretation of that is Arjuna is the human soul, seated in the chariot of the body, and Krishna is the Lord, the spirit, who is the charioteer, who guides your chariot, you see. And now, I think this is a little important, for those who mentioned yesterday their concern for peace and social justice, and many may think that all this talk of Vedanta and God and so on has little to do with the affairs of this world, but I think the Bhagavad Gita has the answer to that. You see, the Bhagavad Gita is a text which has become the most popular sacred text in India, and Mahatma Gandhi took it as his guide through life. He said at every stage in his life, in all his conflicts and trials, the Bhagavad Gita was his constant support, and I feel


today it really has a message for the whole world, and it is a message of how to face war. See, Krishna, Arjuna has to face this battle, and what Krishna says to him, the very first thing he does is to raise him above the conflict, and I think that is the answer. As long as you try to face these conflicts of capitalism and communism and Jews and Arabs and black and white people and so on, on that level there is no answer. The conflict always remains. You have to go beyond the dualities, beyond the conflict, to discover the source in the spirit, and that is what Krishna says. Find your true self, and then in the light of that you get the discernment, how to act. And that was what Gandhi did, you see, he lived from this awareness of the spirit, and he tried to act as the spirit dictated to him, to bring freedom and deliverance to India, you see. And I think that is the only way. In other words, unless there is a growth in consciousness, we cannot solve the


problems of the world today. You cannot solve them on the ordinary level of consciousness. And isn't that exactly what Jesus did? He didn't try to solve any of the problems of the Roman Empire, political, social, economic, he left them all aside, but he opened mankind to a new consciousness. Through his death and resurrection, the spirit descended, and the church is a new humanity awakening to the consciousness of God. And I think unless today something similar takes place, we awake to a new consciousness of the Holy Spirit in the church and in the world, there's no solution to our problems. So I think this is very relevant, you see, to the problems of peace and war. So Krishna comes to counsel Arjuna, and he reveals himself as the cosmic Lord, the Lord of the universe, the creator of all, and the one supreme Brahman. He is that supreme reality, you see, and it is personal. That Brahman, that Atman, is the personal


God, and that is the revelation of the Gita. Before it was somewhat impersonal, you see, Brahman is the reality behind everything, Atman is your own inner spirit, there's something more personal in it, but still not fully personal. But now that Brahman, that Atman, is seen to have a personal character, and to be revealed in Krishna. And this is what Arjuna says to him, supreme person, it's the Purusha, the eternal divine person, unborn God from the beginning, omnipresent Lord of all. So Krishna is revealed as the supreme reality, manifesting as a personal God, Lord of all creation, you see. And that is a text which is a text for all humanity, you see, it doesn't belong to Hinduism alone. That is why, as I say, we as Christians need to encounter this revelation. It's what I call the cosmic revelation, and we come to a distinction between


the Hindu is the cosmic revelation, God's revelation in the creation and in the human heart, and Christianity is God's revelation in history, God revealing himself to Abraham, to Moses, to David, and culminating in a personal revelation in a historic situation and event. That is the Christian revelation. But this is the cosmic revelation, and Krishna is the cosmic Lord. So that is how the revelation of a personal God came to India, and at the end of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says a marvelous thing, it sums it all up in the last book, and he says to Arjuna, give me thy mind, give me thy heart and thy sacrifice and thy adoration. This is my word of promise, thou shalt in truth come to me, for thou art dear to me. And Zena, another Catholic who's written a very profound commentary on the Gita, says that this was the revelation to India


that God loves man, before man was seeking God, trying to find this Brahman, this Atman, seeks and devoting himself to the personal God, but now he says you are dear to me, God loves man. That is a culmination, and all this took place probably, we can't date, two or three centuries before the incarnation in Christ, and I don't think you can separate them, you see, it's an illusion to think that all these things are separate here in India and in Palestine, it's all part of a cosmic whole, and God is revealing himself through all these channels, and it's deeply significant that just as the time for incarnation is coming, this revelation of a personal God in a human form is found, and that in Buddhism, with its very impersonal negative view of nirvana, the idea of the bodhisattva who refuses to enter nirvana, that all souls should be saved, the idea of the compassionate Buddha comes, and the devotion to Buddha really as a


personal God in Mahayana. So all this, you see, is related to the center of the incarnation. So now that is the revelation of the personal God. We now come to the great problem, what is the relation between this personal God and the ultimate Godhead? And as I say, in the Bhagavad Gita they are, I believe, are identified, but the whole of Vedanta developed in the conflict, how to interpret this, you see, and the first great doctor is Shankara, who lived to the 8th and 9th century A.D., and he is the great master for most educated Hindus, a little like St. Thomas Aquinas. In fact, we had a very interesting Hindu-Christian group in Trivandrum some years ago, and it was a centrist professor who was very active in it, and Father Panica wrote that book, The Unknown Christ


of Hinduism, probably many of you know it, and this professor, after our discussions on St. Thomas Aquinas and Shankara, wrote a book in Malayalam, The Unknown Shankara of Catholicism. So Shankara is the supreme doctor of Vedanta for majority, but this has raised a very grave problem, because the doctrine of Shankara, it's very subtle, and it's a mystical doctrine, and one can't sort of pin it down, but the way it's normally understood, the Godhead, the Parabrahman, is the one supreme reality, and all else is maya, is due to avidya, to ignorance, and consequently the physical world, and the world of human souls, and the personal God, are all conceived as projections, or he calls them superimpositions. The Godhead is one, absolute, sat-chit-ananda,


being, knowledge, and bliss, pure being, pure consciousness, and pure bliss, and that is the one beginning and the end of everything, and the whole created world is an appearance of the one, but an appearance which is real as long as you think it's real, as long as you live in this world and conceive the world as it stands, then it's real to you, but when you're awake to wisdom, then you realize it's real to you. When I first came to India, I encountered it on every side, particularly in professors in the university, that kind of person, for then that is the supreme wisdom, and you can see how attractive it is in a way, you see, they will say that Jesus and Christianity and the church and Buddha and Buddhism and so on, all these are manifestations of the one, they're beautiful in their way, but they will all pass away and only the one supreme reality remains, you see. It's very attractive in its way, but it denies any ultimate reality to this


world, to human existence, or to a personal God. Now this provoked a great opposition in Vedanta, in India, and nearly all the other doctors of Vedanta, who are nearly all Vaishnavites, Vaishnavas and Vishnu, they uphold the personal God against this interpretation of Shankara. There was a real conflict, and modern Hindus tend to misinterpret that. They say that you begin with a dualistic view of God, you are here and God is there, you're two, and then when you're a little more in depth of understanding, you say that I am related to God, I am a part of God, manifestation of God, but still there is distinction between me and God. But when you reach supreme wisdom, then you realize that you and the personal God are both projections and only the one reality, that Chittananda remains, you see. But in historic fact it's the opposite. Shankara put forward that


view, and Ramanuja, who in the 11th century taught at Trichinopoli, a town near our ashram, and he upheld the supreme reality is the personal God, Vishnu, Vishwara. And he interpreted everything in the light of the personal God. And this is a beautiful doctrine, it's been commented many, several Christians have written books and are writing books on him, and it's extremely attractive because for Ramanuja God is, whereas for Shankara the Godhead is nirguna, without attributes, for Ramanuja God is saguna, all auspicious attributes belong to God. He is goodness, he is truth, he is love, he is beauty, he is grace, everything is given to God, you see, and you worship that supreme God full of all these powers and graces. And then human beings


have fallen into this world of ignorance, avidya, and sin, and the grace of God, the prasad is very strong in nationalism, the grace of God comes to awaken you, to make you realize your sin, your ignorance, and to restore you to unity, and you are united with God in love. That is the end. So many people feel this is the ideal Christian form, but unfortunately, and we'll see it in each doctrine, there is always some negative aspect. And in Ramanuja God is not fully transcendent. The world, he says, his doctrine is vishitadvaita. Shankara is advaita, non-duality, there is no duality between me and God, between this world and God, it's one. But Ramanuja is vishitadvaita, qualified non-duality, and he says that God is qualified by the world. He uses various illustrations,


it's like a lotus, it can be blue, or red, or yellow, and so on, but the lotus remains the same. So God is like the lotus, it's the same, but he's qualified by the world and by souls, you see, they're sort of accidental aspects of God, which is really pantheistic, you see. Another and more profound illustration he gives is that God is like the soul, and the world and human beings are like the body. So God dwells in every human being, in all creation, like the soul in the body, but then the soul is affected by the body, you see, it doesn't create the body, and so again God is not fully transcendent. It's a beautiful doctrine, and when we criticize these doctrines, I think we must always bear in mind that they're based on a profound mystical experience, the same with Shankara, you see. When you put it into rational terms, I find it very unsatisfactory, but Shankara was a mystic, and they can't express adequately what they believe, and the language they use is nearly


always unsatisfactory. So also with Ramanuja, it's beautiful in some ways, but it's unsatisfactory in others. And then the next page was Madhva, who came from South Kannada, present Karnataka state, in the 13th century, and he is a dualist, a dwighter, and he says God, the world and human beings are all different, and that of course is nearer to our Christian view in many ways, but it has very little following in India, very little following, a few hundred thousand I should think probably, and again it's not fully satisfactory because God doesn't create the world. The world, souls, and God are all eternal. God is Svatantra, he depends on himself alone, the world and human beings are Paratrantra, they depend on God. It's a beautiful idea, but they're not created by God, they're still, and God is not fully transcendent. So it's fascinating to see how century after century they were pondering on this mystery of the personal gods,


its relation to the godhead, its relation to the world, and each system of Vedanta comes up with some new understanding, century by century. And then another interesting doctrine is that of the Beda-Beda. Beda means difference, our Beda, non-difference, and the Beda-Beda school says that the world and human beings are both different and non-different from God, and they use the illustration of the ocean and the waves. The waves are one with the ocean and yet they're different from the ocean. So God is one and the world is different from God and yet not different. Now that is really pantheistic, isn't it, again, you see, it's not adequate. But they're trying to express this difference, this relationship, and seeking so many different ways. And that doctrine of Beda-Beda was held by Chaitanya, and the Hare Krishna movement derives from Chaitanya,


and that is the doctrine they hold. Achintya Beda-Beda-Tattva, the inconceivable difference in non-difference. It's the inconceivable, it's the transcendent mystery that's different and non-different. So those are the different ways in which the Vedanta has sought to express this relationship. And I would say none are quite adequate, perhaps you can't find an adequate, but they've all got very definite limitations, and yet all are striving to express this amazing mystery. And what is so interesting, you see, is this, that whereas for us the reality of the world is never a question, the question is, does God exist? But for the Hindu it's the exact opposite, that God exists, it's evident, he is Satchitananda, he is the reality. Does the world exist is the real problem, do we exist? And nowadays, you see, with the growth of modern physics, we're beginning to wonder about the world, aren't we? You see, as you begin to go down below the atom to the sub-atomic


world, to these electrons, you can't say whether an electron is a particle or a wave, and you can't be certain where it is if they talk about probability movements, don't they? It's only a probability that it will appear there. So they begin to think more and more the world is unreal, all this, the surface of it has this appearance of reality, but when we come down to the bottom, it's the waves of energy which simply seem to disintegrate. So the reality of the world is beginning to be called into question. But there it is, for the Hindu, God is the one reality, and how to relate human beings and the world to God is the problem. And that is why, you know, India is still permeated by this sense of God. It can be very corrupt in many ways, you know, it doesn't prevent you being a criminal in many ways, but it gives a sense of the sacred, and that is what people find


as soon as you land in Bombay or anywhere, you feel yourself in another world. And whereas in the West, God is being pushed out and you've got to seek him to find him, in India God pervades everything, he's everywhere. And how to relate world and things, people, to that God, that is the real problem. So the ordinary Hindu today, I would say, tends to move between the two extremes, one of Shankara, God alone is real, the world is unreal, and the other, that the world is God, it's a manifestation of God, and every human being, every creative thing, is God in a particular form. And neither of those is acceptable really, you see, we will not say the world is unreal, and we will not say that the world is God. And that is where I feel a Christian theology comes, a Christian Vedanta, you see, starting from the revelation of the Vedas, and then seeing it in the


light of Christ and the Christian tradition, we can frame a Vedanta which would avoid those extremes of saying that the world is unreal, or that the world is God. And that I feel is really a function of an Indian Christian theology, what we're seeking, you see. So now that takes us on to this question, how do we interpret all this in Christian terms? And I find, you see, that the key to Christian theology is the doctrine of the Trinity. And our founder, Father Moshe and I, you know, his whole life centred on the Trinity. He once said, one object is Advaita and the Trinity, how to relate Advaita, the Advaitic experience of non-duality, and it's an experience, don't forget, it's not just a theory, it's a theory derived from an experience of non-duality, how to relate that to Trinity. And he meditated constantly on the Trinity, I was told even to the last hours of his life,


he was reflecting on the Trinity. And to me, more and more, it holds the key to everything. And you see, our doctrine is very profound. We don't say God is a person. God is not a person. God is interpersonal, you see. The Godhead is interpersonal relationships. The Godhead is one Advaita, without duality. There is no duality in God. But within that Godhead, there are distinctions of person, there are relationships, relationships of knowledge and of love. And Father Moshe and I used to say, you see, the Hindu will say Advaita is supreme reality, Trinity, you're coming into formal manifestation, it's a lower stage. But we would say the opposite, that Advaita is true, there is a non-dual Godhead, but within the non-dual Godhead, there are distinctions, you see, distinctions of person, which means that within the Godhead there is relationship. And this is


profoundly interesting today, because more and more, Western science sees the whole universe as a web of interdependent relationships, everything is related to everything else. And I think we see human life more and more, we're not isolated individuals, separated from one another, we're all interrelated, members of a whole, members of the one body of Christ of the whole humanity. So the whole world is this web of relationships, and this stems from the Godhead. Within the Godhead there is personal relationship. That's very wonderful, really. And what that means is, of course, that in the Godhead there is love. You cannot have love without relationship. And that is the problem, you know, with Yahweh or Allah. In the Muslim, God is a person, Yahweh, Allah. And you can say God loves, or God is angry with man, and so on, but you cannot


properly say that that person is love, you see, because there's no relationship in Yahweh or Allah. And they find it difficult to get this relationship, but for us, in the Godhead itself, Jesus reveals that there is relationship, so that God is love. And now, this whole question of the reality of this world as distinct from Brahman. You see, for the Hindu, and also for the Buddhist, and for the Easterner generally, they always tend to say that all distinctions, all differences, belong to the world of dualities to the lower mind. And when you get beyond your lower rational mind, you go beyond the dualities, and no differences exist. In Sunyata, in the void of Tibetan Buddhism, or Mahayana Buddhism, or in Advaita, no differences remain. You've got beyond the dualities, and all is a


non-dual being. Pure being, pure consciousness, and pure bliss, you see, absolute. But the differences are illusory. And again and again, you see, ultimately the world is illusory. God alone is real. Now, we assert that in the Godhead, there is a principle of differentiation in the Godhead. And that is the principle of differentiation in the world. The son is different from the father. And this is very interesting. You see, Jesus, in St. John's Gospel, speaks of himself in this relationship to the father. I am in the father, the father in me. I and the father are one. I once had a correspondence with Swami Ranganathananda, a very well-known Ramakrishna Swami, who wrote a book, The Christ We All Adore. And it was a typical Hindu Christ, that Christ was a man who realized God. And he realized God in Advaita, non-duality. He knew himself as God, you see. And he quoted, I and the


father are one. That is Advaita. And I wrote back and said, Jesus said, I and the father are one. He did not say, I am the father. That would be Advaita. Jesus could never say, I am the father. It is profound, you see. And when we think of Jesus, we have to think, you know, the Greeks separated the humanity from the divinity and made their theology like that. But in the Gospel, they are never separate. And Jesus says, I and the father are one. I am in the father, the father in me. He who sees me sees the father. And he is saying it temporally. In time, Jesus is in the father, the father in him, and he is revealing the father. But also in eternity, he is in the father, and the father in him. That is what is called circumcision or perichoresis. The Greeks had this beautiful idea that the three persons of the Trinity are all, it is a dance, perichoresis, a dancing round. They are all in


one another, you see. There is only one, and yet there is a distinction. It is a marvellous thing. It is a dynamism, you see, within the Trinity. That is why Rubelev's icon is so marvellous, those three angels. It is very crude in a way, but it is so beautifully expressed that you see that they are all involved in one another, you see. And this, of course, is a model for humanity, where all intend to be within that dance, dancing in one another, parts of one another, you see, sharing in this divine line. So in the Trinity there is this perpetual dance, and the father knows himself in the son, and to know is to distinguish. You cannot know without distinction. So the father is distinct from the son, and the son knows himself distinct from the father, as Jesus always distinguishes himself from the father. But at the same time, the very moment that the father distinguishes himself and knows himself in the son, he unites himself in the


Holy Spirit. The son, the logos, is the principle of differentiation in the Godhead, and the Holy Spirit is the principle of unification. And of course there is no time. At the very moment that he distinguishes, he is united. So in the Godhead there is perpetual distinction and unity. It's a little like the Beda Veda in a sense, it's a great mystery of course. But now you see, this has tremendous repercussions in the world, because what it means is, just as the son comes forth from the father and differentiates the son from the father in the Godhead, so the whole creation comes forth from the father in the son, and all the differences in creation derive from the principle of the Godhead. They're not an illusion. God willed all these differences. He willed all these differences of you and me, and all the clothes we're wearing, and the language we're using, and all the differences of the world, of plants and animals, and every leaf is different, even every atom is


different. All these differences are willed by God and come from this principle of differentiation in the Godhead, the Logos. And just as the whole creation comes forth from the father in the son, so the creation has to return to the father in the spirit. And that should always be, that is the Ritta, the Tao, the rhythm of the universe, you see. And sin is the failure to return to the father. We come forth from God, you see, each distinct in his own individuality, his own person, distinct reflection of God, but we must immediately return to the father. We must immediately recognize our total dependence on him, but we don't. We stand on our own person, you see. We center on ourselves. And that is sin, and that is the cause of all conflict and division in the universe. It's not the distinctions which are wrong, but the separation, the division, the disintegration, you see. And so those two movements in Hinduism are called Pravrtti and Nivrtti. Pravrtti is the


coming forth of the whole creation from Brahman, and Nivrtti is the return of the whole creation to Brahman. And we say it comes forth in the son with all its diversities willed by God, and it returns in the spirit, preserving all those diversities, you see. And in Advaita, in the ultimate reality, all these differences don't disappear. And this is very important, and there are many indications of it. I notice modern Hindus, some of the Ramakrishna Swamis, beginning to insist more on that. Ramakrishna himself said that God is with form and without form. And you can go to God without form, Advaita beyond, but again you can return to this world and see how everything is a manifestation of God. So they try to see how the world manifests God, and the differences are real, you see, manifesting God. But we can say without any difficulty that God is one, non-dual being, and there are these distinctions within that non-dual being in the


Godhead. Then the whole creation comes out with all its differences from God and returns to God and to the unity of the Godhead, yet preserving the differences. It's a little difficult, you know, to formulate it or to conceive it, but it does mean that when we reach the fullness of reality, we don't lose our personal being. Every human person is a unique reflection of the Godhead, like a distinct colour. The Godhead is light and is manifesting all these colours. Each of us is a unique reflection of the Godhead, and that is eternal. In eternal life each one of us uniquely reflects the Godhead, and all alike are reflecting the one Godhead. And there's a beautiful image in Plotinus, where he speaks of how in the final state it's like a lot of mirrors reflecting one another. There's only one light, but that light is reflecting itself in you and me and in the world


around us, and in the ultimate state we're all reflecting the one light and all reflecting one another. So it's a non-dual reality with all differences, separations have disappeared, but the distinctions remain, you see. The beauty of the whole creation remains, the beauty of every human person remains. So I think this is an indication of how we can answer those problems, that God is not a person, but there is personal relationship within the Godhead, and that the whole principle of differentiation is in the Godhead and is the cause of all the differences in this world which are real and are willed by God, and that the creation is moving back to God, met to this non-duality, when we retain our individuality and our distinctions but are all united in that non-dual experience of non-duality, you see. Mind you, we're using words, trying to point, but they're all inadequate, but I hope you see


what's behind it. I mean all the words we're using are terms of analogy, we can't express that great mystery, but we can point to it, and some pointers will be much more adequate than others, and it does seem to me that the doctrine of the Trinity is the supreme indicator of this mystery of the Godhead, you see, and that furthermore the doctrine of creation, that the world comes forth from God, is distinct from God and depends on God, has no reality in itself apart from God. You see, Shankara is perfectly right, this world apart from God has no reality, it's a pure illusion, it's a mire, and we're simply deceiving ourselves when we think this table is real, it's standing there by itself, it's simply a part of the whole cosmic order, which totally depends on the spirit who is present in all. So we are all members of this whole, and the Trinity gives us the key to the whole creation,


and it gives us also the key to incarnation, you see. Jesus is not just one of the avatars, there is, the differences in the world are willed by God, you see, for the Hindu, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, it's all the same, you see, all simply manifestations ultimately are the same, but for us the Buddha has his enlightenment, is one of the great revealers of the world, you see, and has a message for all mankind, and the seers of Upanishads had this illumination from God, they were enlightened seers, and they've revealed mysteries of Godhead to us, but they're all distinct, you see, and Jesus comes within the tradition of a particular people to whom God revealed himself in a particular way, you see, Israel is God's revelation in history, I'm sure if any of you have done a scripture course they always emphasize that, God revealing himself in history, and history is unique, you see, that people is unique, their history is unique, and Jesus is a unique human being at a particular time, at a particular place, undergoing death at


a particular moment of time, you see, it's absolutely unique, you see, that person, and so Jesus does not disappear in the Godhead, at the end of the century he doesn't disappear in the Godhead, but his human nature, his human body is transfigured, his human soul is transfigured, body and soul are taken up into the life of the spirit, and that body, that soul, humanity of Christ is ever-present in the Godhead as something distinct. All gather their meaning, it seems to me, in this context, and this is how I see that we could formulate a Christian, Indian Christian theology. So the, just the last point I'd make is that this distinction in unity applies to the whole mystical body of Christ, you see, what we're seeking is each to be a distinct person within that body, and yet all alike sharing the one


life of the one body, cells in the one body, inspired by the one spirit, and united with the one head, you see, we all form this unity, and the more we grow in that Christ life, the more we realize this non-duality, the more we realize that though we're distinct, yet we are one, you see, and we are one in Christ. So that would be the understanding of the Christian revelation in the light of Vedanta, and I offer it to you for reflection and it's only an effort to see how we could interpret our Christian faith in a way which would be intelligible to the Hindu, and which to me at least, makes the Christian doctrine more intelligible, because I think for many people the Trinity is just a puzzle, it's not a mystery, it's a puzzle, how it's being won, and very often the incarnation is understood in a very crude way, you know, the Koran always says that most Catholics are monophysites, they think that Jesus is God who appears on earth and then goes back to heaven,


you see, just like Krishna, he appears on earth and manifests, and then he disappears again into the Godhead, but that is not the Christian revelation, and it's so much more profound, you see, and so much more real, and it's God entering into the context of human life, of human history, of our own life, our own history, our own suffering, our own death, God enters into the total human reality and takes that total human reality into his own life, into his own being, knowledge, and bliss, see, we share in that, satchit anata.