A Collection of Esoteric Writings of T. Subba Row/A Personal and an Impersonal God
A PERSONAL AND AN IMPERSONAL GOD.
Attacks are made on those who deny the existence of a personal God, and we are told that such persons, even the believing in an Impersonal God, are in reality Atheists.
Now this is simply, in my humble opinion, a mistake, resulting from differences in the significations attached by different persons to the terms Personal and Impersonal God.
Let me at the outset, however, explain, that I am not here seeking to defend the Theosophist or yourself, you are quite able to defend yourself, and I am in no way empowdered or competent to express your views or those of the Himalayan Brotherhood whose representative you are, as to the nature of the First Cause—nor do I desire to enter into any controversy with any man; I desire to live in peace and brotherly love with all men; I have my own views, which satisfy my head and heart, in which I firmly believe, and which I hope all other men will respect in me; and I do not doubt that others who differ from me have equally seized the views that satisfy their heads and hearts, are equally justified in holding these and have an equal claim on me to respect these their views.
Looking round the universe nothing so strongly impressed me, as the system of division of labour which pervades it. Practical results never spring from solitary causes; they are ever the resultants of the more or less divergent effects of an inextricable plexus of diverse causes. It is from contrasts, that all the joys and beauties of the world arise; it is from the equilibrium of antagonistic forces that the Universe subsists. All progress springs from difference; all evolution is the result of differentiation; as in the great, so in the spiritual; as in the visible so in the unseen universe.
How, then, can men fail to see that differences of opinion on matters spiritual are parts of the necessary mechanism of the spiritual organism that everywhere underlies (as the bones underlie the flesh and skin) the physical or visible world? How can they find fault with others for holding views different from their own? How fail to realise that those others are as truly working in harmony with the pervading design or law of the All as themselves? Night is as needful to our mundane economy as day; shall the night revile the day, for its glare, its noise, its heat, or the day reproach the night for its dusky stillness?
So then it is no spirit of finding fault with those who differ from me, but only in the hope of clearing away imaginary differences which being unreal work harm, not good as real differences do), that I desire to say a few words as to belief in a Personal God, in an Impersonal God and in No-God.
Tne three beliefs are very different and pace our brethren of the Arya, who seem to think differently, the believer in an Impersonal God is not only no Atheist, but actually in many cases holds the exact tenets of the Upanishads.
It is in the meaning of the word Person that the misconception originates.
The Arya says, "By personal we understand the attribute of being an individual—the essence of personality is consciousness—the knowledge of the fact that I am." But this, if the writer will pardon my so saying, is really not a tenable position. Persona, or a mask, refers only to the mask of flesh and blood and bones and the associated powers that conceal, the spirit, soul or whatever it please? men to call that portion of the human entity which survives the dissolutions of the physical body. For materialists, who believe that with this latter the entire man perishes, it may be correct to say that the essence of personality is consciousness, but certainly, no Vedantist could ever say this if he really understood what personality signified. The essence of individuality is consciousness; it is the individuality which feels "I am," not the personality, which no more feels, of itself, I am, than does the suit of clothes in which it is arrayed.
Now there are many good men who believe in a Personal God, a radiant, glorified man, with head and body and limbs; and they draw pictures of him (those who have haunted the galleries of Europe only know what glorious idealizations of the "human form divine" this belief has inspired), and they attribute to him human feelings, anger; repentance and the like, and they picture him to themselves, and love him as a veritable "Father who is in Heaven." But there are others (who cannot accept these conceptions which to them seem derogatory to the Infinite and absolute) who believe in an Impersonal God. They hold that God is not a mere magnified man; that he has no form or persona, at any rate that we can conceive, that he is a spirit, all pervading, all sustaining, neither liable to anger, repentance or change, and hence panic (having always known from all eternity what was right and therefore what he willed), always working through immutable laws. Many of these (but by no means all) hold further that he is not conscious or intelligent, in our sense of the word, because both these terms imply duality, an entity to cognize and a thing to be cognized, whereas He is All in All and in Him, we and all things, move and live and have our being, but still that He is All consciousness and all intelligence. The believers therefore in an Impersonal God are some of them Theists, some Panthesists, but can by no means truly be designated Atheists.
Lastly there are the so-called Atheists, who say they believe in no God, Personal or Impersonal, who affirm that the universe is an infinite aggregation of substance, its undifferentiated condition, neither conscious nor intelligent, expanding and contracting by the inherent laws of its own being, and subject in accordance with these to alternate periods of day and night, activity and rest; who maintain that during such periods of activity in accordance still with these inherent laws, all things human and divine differentiate out of, and are evolved from, this primal all-pervading substance, to disintegrate, once more, into it as the night of rest supervenes.
These call themselves Atheists; and if there be such, they probably have the best right to assume the title, but I confess that I doubt whether even these are really Atheists.
In the first place, when they talk of laws, they overlook, it seems to me the fact, that a law postulates a law-giver—a will at any rate that has impressed a course of action—and so it seems to me that, admitting an inherent law, they cannot logically escape a will thatthat law, and such a will in such a case must be what mankind understands as God.
But in the second place, though they deny this primary will, they do not really deny all Gods. For they say that in accordance the inherent laws, develop, not only all we see and know, but incredibly and inconceiveably higher spiritual beings, who guide and direct all things in the visible universe, and to whose power and love are due all the beauties and wonders of the world that so impress us with a sense of design.*
So then, though they may call these, Dhyan Chohans or Elohim, these exalted spiritual beings are really their Gods, and they are Polytheists rather than Atheists. Only it must be remembered that these, their Gods, are neither infinite nor absolute. They are finite; billions on billion of years as they subsist, they pass into non-existence (but whether into non-being or not the holders of these tenets are not agreed) with the close of the great day, and they are conditioned by the eternal inherent law of the infinite substance one of whose developments they are.
Why, they have preferred finite and conditioned Gods to one Infinite and Absolute God is clear. On the former hypothesis, the origin of evil, the existence of sin and suffering offer no difficulty; the Gods do their best; but there are laws of opposite polarity, of antagonistic, opposites, to which the universe owes its origin, and with it they themselves, which are above them and which they are powerless to control, although they can largely modify their results. They do their best; if there still remain misery and evil, it is becaase not being omnipotent, they cannot cure without medicine, cannot make light apparent without darkness.
Why, too; they deny the primal Will as giving with to the so-called inherent laws is also clear. So long as these are blind laws, self-existing, no one is responsible for all the sin and sorrow and suffering that these laws entail. But admit the will, then this as (exhypothese) Omnipotent becomes responsible for all the evil that evolves from its behests and could not therefore apparently be perfectly beneficent. Whichever way we turn, then there are difficulties. No solution of the fundament problem of the universe that in all these thousands of thousands years the mind of man has been able evolve is altogether unimpeachable.
Let us then each take the solution that best suits our mental and spiritual constitution, and let us leave our neighbours an equal freedom of choice; let us never hesitate to state and defend our own views and oppose those other views that we think wrong, but let us do all this as we would defend our own and oppose our opponent's game at chess, with no more feeling against our opponents than we have agaiust an adversary at the noble game.
Above all let us remember that in this present life, the high theoretical questions of Personal, Impersonal, and No-God, are of less concern to us than our own everyday life about the right conduct of which no similar difficulties exist.
That we should all try to love our neighbours as ourselves, that we should forgive our enemies, that we should do good to those who do evil to us, that we should value purity of life, truth and goodness far above wealth or place or personal enjoyment,—these are truths admitted ubique, semper et ab omnibus, and surely these furnish a wide enough platform on which we can all, whether Bramhins, Christians, Theosophists, Aryans or what not, meet and labour in one universal being Brotherhood.
Replied by T. Subba , b.a., b.l., f.t.s.
A letter signed by "H. X." has appeared ia the December issue of the Theosophist under the heading abovementioned coataining some observations on "the Theoretical Questions of Personal, Impersonal, and No-God." Anything like an intelligent discussion of these questions is beset with almost insurmountable difficulties; and it is not likely that any one, who has not exactly defined to himself what is knowable to man and what is unknowable, by a careful examination of the nature of man and his latent powers, will ever be profited by devoting any portion of his time to speculations concerning these subjects. Jesus declared that nobody had ever seen the Father; Buddha was silent when he was questioned about the nature of the Absolute and the Infinite, and our Sankarachariar said that all that was written on these questions only revealed the depth of human ignorance. But mankind have never ceased to speculate on these questions. Thousands of conflicting hypotheses have come into existence by reason of these speculations: disputants have never ceased quarrelling about them and the human race has divided itself into hundreds of warring sects on account of their differences of opinion in theoretical Metaphysics. If, as is stated by "H.X.," differences of opinion on matters "Spiritual" are inevitable, there must be an irrepressible desire in the human being to grapple desperately with the unknowable and unknown without knowing anything about the real capabilities of his own powers. The generality of the public (at least in this country) are accustomed to associate every religions and social movement with some particular belief regarding the subject under consideration. In their opinion every system of philosophy, science, or ethics which does not inculcate some particular doctrine with respect to the problems in question is necessarily imperfect. The importance of every religious movement, the usefulness of every association and the value of every philosophical system, is always estimated by them in connection with such belief or doctrine. An association, like the Theosophical Society, composed of various religionists and established for the purposes of religious and scientific enquiry, is a novelty to them. Consequently, enquiries are constantly being made regarding the views of the founders of the Theosophical Society and our great Teachers of the Himavat about the questions under consideration. It is represented to them by some people that they are Nastikas. When the great mass of the people are unaccustomed to philosophical enquiry and precise modes of thinking, the charge of Atheism is sufficient to lower in their estimation any particular individual or association. When any man's Atheism is condemned almost without hearing, no particular connotation hardly ever attached to the word; but it is associated with a large cluster of vices and deformities. It is highly desirable therefore to state to the public in clear language the doctrine of the Arhat philosophy regarding the problem in question and point out such misconceptions as are likely to arise from a perusal of the letter under review. Before proceeding further, I beg to inform my readers that in his letter "H. X." speaks of the Adwaita doctrine under the heading of impersonal God and introduces the Arhat doctrine under that of Atheism. It would have been better if he had referred to these two systems of philosophy under their proper designations. The general public have not yet accepted any one difinition of the so-called impersonal God, and the word atheism, as above stated, conveys but a very vague idea. Without attempting, therefore, to ascertain the significance of the same, I shall state the general principles of the Adwaita and the Arhat doctrines on the subject under consideration, and leave it to my readers to decide whether they indicate a belief in a personal or an impersonal God, or whether they amount to Atheism.
I shall here request my readers (such of them at least as are not acquainted with the Cosmological theories of the Idealistic thinkers of Europe) to examine John Stuart Mill's Cosmological theory as explained in his examination of Sir William Hamilton's philosophy, before attempting to understand the Adwaita doctrine; and I beg to inform them beforehand that in explaining the main principles of the said doctrine I am going to use, as far as it is convenient to do so, the phraseology adopted by English psychologists of the Idealistic School of thought. In dealing with the phenomena of our present plane of existence John Stuart Mill ultimately came to the conclusion that matter or the so-called external phenomena are but the creation of our mind; they are the mere appearances of a particular phase of our subjective self, and of our thoughts, volitions, sensations and emotions which in their totality constitute the basis of that Ego. Matter, then, is the permanent possibility of sensations; and the so-called Laws of matter are, properly speaking, the Laws which govern the succession and co-existence of our states of consciousness. Mill further holds that properly speaking there is no noumenal Ego. The very idea of a mind existing separately as an entity distinct from the states of consciousness which are supposed to inhere in it is in his opinion illusory, as the idea of an external object which is supposed to be perceived by our senses.
Thus the ideas of mind and matter, of subject and object, of the Ego and external world are really evolved from the aggregation of our mental state which are the only realities so far as we are concerned.
The chain of our mental states of consiousness is "a double-headed monster" according to Professor Bain, which has two distinct aspects, one Mr. Mill has paused here confessing that psychological analysis did not go any further, the mysterious link which connects together the train of our states of consciousness and gives rise to our Ahankaram in this condition of existence, still remains an incomprehensible mystery to Western psychologists, though its existence is but dimly perceived in the subjective phenomena of memory and expectation.and the other subjective.
On the other hand, the great physicists of Europe are gradually coming to the conclusion* that mind is the product of matter, or that it is one of the attributes of matter in some of its conditions. It would appear, therefore, from the speculations of Western psychologists that matter is evolved from mind and that mind is evolved from matter. These two propositions are apparently irreconcilable. Mill and Tyndal have admitted that Western science is yet unable to go deeper into the question. Nor it is likely to solve the mystery hereafter, unless it calls Eastern occult science to its aid and takes a more comprehensive view of the capabilities of the real subjective self of man and the various aspects of the great objective universe. The great Adwaitee philosophers of ancient Aryavarta have examined the relationship between subject and object in every condition of existence in this solar system in which this differentiation is presented. Just as a haman being is composed of 7 principles, differentiated matter in the solar system exists in 7 different conditions. These different states of matter do not all come within the range of our present objective consciousness. But they can be objectively perceived by the spiritual Ego in man. To the liberated spiritual monad of man, or to the Dhyan Chohans, every thing that is material in every condition of matter is an object of perception. Further pragna, or the capacity of perception, exists in 7 different aspects corresponding to the 7 conditions of matter. Strictly speaking, there are but 6 states of matter, the so-called 7th state being the aspect of Cosmic matter in its original undifferentiated condition. Similarly there are 6 states of differentiated Pragna, the seventh state being a condition of perfect unconscionsness. By differentiated Pragna, I mean the condition in which Pragna is split up into various states of consciousness. Thus we have 6 states of consciousness, either objective or subjective, for the time being as the case may be, and a state of perfect unconsciousness which is the beginning and the end of all conceivable states of consciousness, corresponding to the states of differentiated matter and its original undifferentiated basis which is the beginning and the end of all Cosmic evolutions. It will be easily seen that the existence of consciousness is necessary for the differentiation between subject and object. Hence these two phases are presented in 6 different conditions, and in the last state there being no consciousness as above stated, the differentiation in question ceases to exist. The number of these various conditions is different in some systems of philosophy. But whatever may be the number of divisions, they all lie between perfect unconsciousness at one end of the line and our present state of consciousness or Bahipragna at the other end. To understand the real nature of these different states of consciousness, I shall request my readers to compare the consciousness of the ordinary man with the consciousness of the astral man, and again compare the latter with the consciousness of the spiritual Ego in man. In these three conditions the objective Universe is not the same. But the difference between the Ego and the non-Ego is common to all these conditions. Consequently, admitting the correctness of Mill's reasoning as regards the subject and object of our present plane of consciousness, the great Adwaitee thinkers of India have extended the same reasoning to other states of consciousness, and came to the conclusion that the various conditions of the Ego and the non-Ego were but the appearances of one and the same entity—the ultimate state of unconsciousness. This entity is neither matter nor spirit; it is neither Ego nor non-Ego; and it is neither object nor subject. In the language of Hindn philosophers it is the original and eternal combination of Purusha and Prakriti. As the Adwaitees hold that an external object is merely the product of our mental state, Prakriti is nothing more than illusion, and Purush ia the only reality; it is the one existence which remains eternal in this universe of Ideals. This entity then is the Parabrahmam of the Adwaitees. Even if there were to be a personal God with any thing like a material upadhi (physical basis of whatever form), from the stand-point of an Adwaitee there will be as much reason to doubt his nominal existence as there would be in the case of any other object. In their opinion conscious god cannot be the origin of the universe, as his Ego would be the effect of a previous cause, if the word conscious conveys but its ordinary meaning. They cannot admit that the grand total of all the states of consciousness in the universe is their deity, as these states are constantly changing and as Cosmic idealism ceases during Pralaya. There is only one permanent condition in the universe which is the state of perfect Unconsciousness, bare chidakasam in fact.
When my readers once realize the fact that this grand universe is in reality but a huge aggregation of various states of consciousness, they will not be surprised to find that the ultimate states of unconsciousness is considered as Parabrahmam by the Adwaitees.
The idea of a God, Deity, Iswar, or an impersonal God [if consciousness is one of his attributes] involves the idea of Ego in some shape or other, and as every conceivable Ego or non-Ego is evolved from this primitive element [I use this word for want of better one] the existence of an extra-cosmic god possessing such attributes prior to this condition is absolutely inconceivable. Though I have been speaking of this element as the condition of unconsciousness, it is, properly speaking, the chidakasam or chinmatra of the Hindu philosophers which contains within itself the potentiality of every condition of "Pragna," and which results as consciousness on the one hand and the objective universe on the other, by the operation of its latent chichakti (the power which generates thought).
Before proceeding to explain the definition of Parabrahmam with which my last article closes, I beg to inform my readers that in the opinion of Adwaitees, the Upanishads and the Brahmasutras fully support their views an the subject. It is distinctly affirmed in the Upanishads that Parabrahmam which is but the bare potentiality of pragna,* is not an aspect of pragna or ego in any shape and that it has neither life nor consciousness. "H. X." will be able to ascertain that such is really the case on examining the Mundaka and Mundukya Upanishads. The language used here and there in the Upanishads is apt to mislead one into the belief that such language points to the existence of a conscious Iswar. But the necessity for such language will be perceived on examining the following remarks.
From a close examination of Mill's Cosmological theory as explained in my last article, it will be clearly seen that it will be extremely difficult to account satisfactorily for the generation of conscious states in any human being from the stand-point of the said theory. It is generally stated that sensations arise in us from the action of the external objects around us: they are the effects of impressions made on our senses by the objective world in which we exist. This is simple enough to an ordinary mind, however difficult it may be to account for the transformation of a cerebral nerve-current into a state of consciousness.
But from the stand-point of Mill's theory we have no proof of the existence of any external object; even the objective existence of our own senses is not a matter of certainty to us. How, then, are we to account for and explain the origin of our mental states, if they are the only entities existing in this world? No explanation is really given by saying that one mental state gives rise to another mental state as may be shown to a certain extent by the operation of the so-called psychological "Laws of Association." Western psychology honestly admits that its analysis has not gone any further. It may be inferred, however, from the said theory that there would be no reason for saying that a material Upadhi (basis) is necessary for the existence of mind or states of consciousness.
As is already indicated in my last article, the Aryan psychologists have traced this current of mental states to its source—the eternal Chinmatra existing everywhere. When the time for evolution comes this germ of Pragna unfolds itself and results ultimately as Cosmic ideation. Cosmic ideas are the conceptions of all the conditions of existence in the Cosmos existing in what may be called the universal mind (the demiurgic mind of the Western Kabalists).
This Chinmatra exists as it were at every geometrical point of the infinite Chidakasam. This principle then has two general aspects. Considered as something objective it is the eternal Asath—Mulprakriti or Undifferentiated Cosmic matter. From a subjective point of view it may be looked upon in two ways. It is Chidakasam when considered as the field of Cosmic ideation; and it is Chinmatra when considered as the germ of Cosmic ideation. These three aspects constitute the highest Trinity of the Aryan Adwaitee philosophers. It will be readily seen that the last mentioned aspect of the principle in question is far more important to us than the other two aspects; for, when looked upon in this aspect the principle under consideration seems to embody within itself the great Law of Cosmic evolution. And therefore the Adwaitee philosophers have chiefly considered it in this light, and explained their cosmogony from a subjective point of view. In doing so, however, they cannot avoid the necessity of speaking of a universal mind (and this is Brahma, the Creator) and its ideation. But, it ought not to be inferred therefore that this universal mind necessarily belongs to an Omnipresent living conscious Creator, simply because in ordinary parlance a mind is always spoken of in connection with a particular living being. It cannot be contended that a material Upadhi is indispensable for the existence of mind or mental states when the objective universe itself is, so far as we are concerned, the result of our states of consciousness. Expressions implying the existence of a conscious Iswar which are to be found here and there in the Upanishads should not therefore be literally construed.
It now remains to be seen how Adwaitees account for the origin of mental states in a particular individual. Apparently the mind of a particular human being is not the Universal mind. Nevertheless Cosmic ideation is the real source of the states of consciousness in every individuals. Cosmic ideation exists everywhere; but when placed under restrictions by a material Upadhi it results as the consciousness of the individual inhering in such Upadhi. Strictly speaking, an Adwaitee will not admit the objective existence of this material Upadhi. From his stand-point it is Maya or illusion which exists as a necessary condition of pragna. But to avoid confusion, I shall use the ordinary language; and to enable my readers to grasp my meaning clearly the following simile may be adopted. Suppose a bright light is placed in the centre with a curtain around it. The nature of the light that penetrates through the curtain and becomes visible to a person standing outside depends upon the nature of the curtain. If several such curtains are thus successively placed around the light, it will have to penetrate through all of them: and a person standing outside will only perceive as much light as is not intercepted by all the curtains. The central light becomes dimmer and dimmer as curtain after curtain is removed the light becomes brighter and brighter until it reaches its natural brilliancy. Similarly Universal mind or Cosmic ideation becomes more and more limited and modified by the various Upadhis of which a human being is composed; and when the action or influence of these various Upadhis is successively controlled, the mind of the individual human being is placed en rapport with the Universal mind and his ideation is lost in Cosmic ideation.
As I have already said these Upadhis are strictly speaking the conditions of the gradual development or evolution of Bahipragna—or consciousness in the present plane of our existence—from the original and eternal Chinmatra which is the 7th principle in man and the Parabrahmam of the Adwaitees.
This, then, is the purport of the Adwaita philosophy on the subject under consideration and it is, in my humble opinion, in harmony with the Arhat doctrine relating to the same subject. The latter doctrine postulates the existence of Cosmic matter in an undifferentiated condition throughout the infinite expanse of space. Space and time are but its aspects, and Purush, the 7th principle of the Universe, has its latent life in this Ocean of Cosmic matter. The doctrine in question explains Cosmogony from an objective point of view. When the period of activity arrives, portions of the whole differentiate according to the latent Law. When this differentiation has commenced, the concealed Wisdom or latent Chichakti act in the Universal mind and Cosmic energy or Fohat forms the manifested universe in accordance with the conceptions generated in the Universal mind out of the differentiated principles of Cosmic matter. This manifested universe constitutes a solar system. When the period of pralaya comes, the process of differentiation stops and cosmic ideation ceases to exist; and at the time of Brahmapralaya or Mahapralaya the particles of matter lose all differentiation and the matter that exists in the solar system returns to its original undifferentiated condition. The latent design exists in the one unborn eternal atom, the centre which exists everywhere and nowhere; and this is the one life that exists everywhere. Now, it will be easily seen that the undifferentiated Cosmic matter, Purush and the one life of the Arhat philosophers are the Mulaprakriti, Chidakasam and Chinmatra of the Adwaitee philosophers. As regards Cosmogony, the Arhat stand-point is objective, and the Adwaitee stand-point is subjective. The Arhat Cosmogony accounts for the evolution of manifested solar system from undifferentiated Cosmic matter, and Adwaitee Cosmogony accounts for the evolution of Bahipragna from the original Chinmatra. As the different conditions of differentiated Cosmic matter are but the different aspects of the various conditions of pragna, the Adwaitee Cosmogony is but the complement of the Arhat Cosmogony. The eternal Principle is precisely the same in both the systems and they agree in denying the existence of an extra-Cosmic God.
"H. X." is pleased to inform his readers that the Arhats call themselves Atheists. They will be justified in doing so if theism inculcates the existence of a conscious God governing the Universe by his will-power. Under such circumstance the Adwaitees will come under the same denomination. Atheism and theism are words of doubtful import and until their meaning is definitely ascertained, it would be better not to use them in connection with any system of philosophy.
- * Reference is here made to the Tibetan Arhats—our Masters.—Ed.
- * See Tyndall's Belfast Address.—S. R.
- * The power or the capacity that gives rise to perception.