AOH :: SCIBND09.TXT|
"Science Without Bounds" - The God Who Is A Person
This is 09PERSON.TXT, chapter 9 of
Science Without Bounds
A Synthesis of Science, Religion and Mysticism
The author invites comments and criticism,
and may be reached at email@example.com.
"Science Without Bounds" is copyrighted by Arthur J. D'Adamo and may
be freely redistributed.
- The God Who is a Person -
We've discussed the relationship of the Real to our external and
internal worlds. What of Its relationship to the supernatural?
Does a supernatural realm even exist? In particular, do Gods who
are Persons exist? Let's begin our discussion of these questions
by examining some more ideas about the perennial philosophy.
As distilled by Aldous Huxley, the perennial philosophy's
"highest common factor" is (,13) a nucleus of four
fundamental principles and an fifth optional principle. The first
principle says the world of people and things is a manifestation
of a single Eternal Ground without Which it could not exist; the
second, that we can directly experience this Ground and even
consciously unite with it; the third, that we possess two selves,
an ego and a Self. We've already discussed these ideas. The
fourth principle, which we'll see more about later, is that
life's ultimate end and aim is unitive knowledge of the Eternal.
Huxley's fifth principle is of concern to us in this chapter.
We'll begin discussing it by briefly re-examining the first
Monism and Gods who are Persons
The first principle says that everything is a manifestation of
one Eternal Substance, a single Reality. It's been called
"pantheism" and "monism." Religious monism is the idea that God
is the One and only, the sole Reality, the One without a second.
We've seen a monist description of the universe and ourselves.
In contrast to monism, monotheism is the more familiar idea
that some God who is a Person, a Person supreme among all
persons, has created the universe but remains distinct from it.
In monotheism, God is one entity among many. God, people,
animals, and inanimate objects all exist and are distinct.
So, in monotheism there is only one God. In monism there is
only One. Period.
Religious monism says that everything - us, a lamp, a worm -
has the same Ultimate Ground of Existence, God. It may seem
absurd when it's first encountered, perhaps because the idea of
God as some Person is so ingrained. In his youth, Swami
Vivekananda met the monist viewpoint in the teachings of
Ramakrishna. He was less than impressed.
What's the difference . . . between this and atheism?
How can a created soul think of itself as the Creator?
What could be a greater sin? What's this nonsense about
I am God, you are God, everything that is born and dies
is God? The authors of these books must have been mad -
how else could they have written such stuff?
Vivekananda's statements were based on a misunderstanding of
monism. Saying the God which is not a Person is the Ultimate
Substance of both any person and any God who is a Person doesn't
say the two are equal or identical. Just as saying both ice and
steam are water doesn't say they're equal or identical. Ice and
steam are different, but share a common ground. People and Gods
who are Persons are different but share a common Ground.
So, monism doesn't equate the creature with any God who is a
Person. It doesn't equate any human soul with the Creator. And it
doesn't confused a God who is a Person, the Creator of the
universe who is distinct from it, with the God which is not a
Person, the creator and upholder of the universe at this very
moment in the sense of being its Eternal Substance. Rather monism
maintains a distinction between these pairs of very different
For example, Shankara, one of religious monism's foremost
spokesman, carefully maintained the distinction between the
creature and "Iswara," his term for the God who is a Person. In
an introduction to his Crest-Jewel of Discrimination, the
We can become Brahman, since Brahman is present in us
always. But we can never become Iswara, because Iswara
is above and distinct from our human personality. . . .
[W]e can never become rulers of the universe - for that
is Iswara's function. (,23-4).
They even label (,24) the desire to become Iswara as madness
and Lucifer's sin. However, they seem to slightly misstate our
relation to Brahman, perhaps for the sake of the parallelism "we
can become Brahman . . . But we can never become Iswara." In
fact, we already are Brahmam, the Source, the Ultimate Ground of
Existence. Our consciousness realization of this fact is all
that's lacking. Our ego has not yet realized its Basis.
So monism doesn't, as the young Vivekananda feared, teach that
a person can become some God who is a Person, just as it doesn't
teach that a person can become a rock. However, it does say that
people, Gods who are Persons, and rocks all lack the ultimate
reality possessed by the Real. It denies the ultimate reality of
people, the universe, and Gods who are separate, distinct
Persons, calling them "Maya," illusions, projections of Uncreated
Light. As Ramana Maharshi taught:
The Self alone exists and is real. The world, the
individual and God are . . . imaginary creations in the
Self. They appear and disappear simultaneously.
Actually, the Self alone is the world, the "I" and God.
All that exists is only a manifestation of the Supreme.
The idea that the God who is a Persons isn't fully real also
occurred to certain early, heretical Christians who
. . . insisted on discriminating between the popular
image of God - as master, king, lord, creator, and
judge - and what that image represented - God
understood as the ultimate source of all being . . . .
"the depth" . . . an invisible, incomprehensible primal
Similarly, "Dionysius" taught, in the words of Rolt, that
. . . God is but the highest Appearance or
Manifestation of the Absolute. (,40).
So from the monist point of view, the God who is a Person and
mundane entities have this in common - their existence is
grounded, as is all entities, in the Ultimate Ground of
Existence. Later in his life, Vivekananda came to understand
monism. He shocked Christians by claiming there was no essential
difference between Jesus and the lowliest of God creatures, since
they are both manifestations of the same Godhead, the same
The Religious Monist
Since Gods who are Persons aren't absolutely and ultimately real,
why not just dispense with them entirely? A certain kind of
religious seeker often does. This kind of person is usually
capable of deeply loving entities which are just abstractions to
other people, such as Truth, Love, or the Ultimate Ground of
Existence. For someone with this temperament such things are
For example, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche
. . . lived with his intellectual problems as with
realities, he experienced a similar emotional
commitment to them as other men experience to their
wife and children. (,11).
Image someone with Nietzsche's temperament who is also religious.
Isn't it likely they'd naturally relate to God intellectually and
philosophically? For example, might they not tend to think of God
as the Root and Source? And might they not prefer this
relationship over an emotional one where, for example, they are
the child and God is the Divine Parent?
Certain mystics of Nietzsche's temperament have found the
intellectual and philosophical approach congenial. They've been
as devoted to the God which is not a Person as Nietzsche was to
his intellectual pursuits, and as other people are to their
spouses and children. For such mystics, Huxley's first four
principles - his "simple working hypothesis" - are sufficient.
Their religion doesn't require a God who is a Person.
A man who can practice what the Indians call Jnana yoga
(the metaphysical discipline of discrimination between
the Real and the apparent) asks for nothing more. This
simple working hypothesis is enough for his purposes.
Someone who discriminates between the Real and the unreal
practices what's called "Jnana yoga" in India. So, they're a
"Jnana yogi." Typically, the jnana yogi is a religious person
with an introverted, cerebrotonia personality. They're strong in
intellect, and often wary of emotion. I could use the term "jnana
yogi" to refer to such an individual. Although it's a Hindu term,
such individuals appear in any culture. Instead, I'll use the
term "religious monist" or simply "monist."
Monists naturally tend to philosophical and metaphysical
approaches to Reality. They often disdain highly emotional
presentations of religion based on the life of some religious
Personality or Incarnation. Sometimes they even condemn such
presentations as mere histrionics. For instance, Totapuri, one of
Ramakrishna's teachers, criticized him for worshipping Krishna
with dancing, chanting, and clapping hands. Totapuri
sarcastically asked (,166-7) if Ramakrishna was clapping
bread dough between his hands. Totapuri was a strict monist. He
regarded Gods who are Persons as mythological, that is, as having
less real existence than you or I.
Are Gods who are Persons mythological? Or are They real? We've
seen that own existence and identity vanish as we approach the
level of the One and the All. The existence of God considered as
an individual Person, as one entity among many, necessarily
suffers the same fate.
. . . Brahman only appears as Iswara when viewed by the
relative ignorance of Maya. Iswara has the same degree
of reality as Maya has. (,23).
All manifestations exist in the Ultimate Ground of Existence and
lose their separate existence and identity as we approach the
Yet we may say the same thing in a more positive way: Gods who
are Persons may be as real as you, or I, or the world we see
around us. Gods who are Persons may have a more than mythological
existence, they may have an existence as real as anything else.
Of course, they might just as well fail to exist at all. Without
proof, a religious science could neither deny or affirm the
existence of separate Gods who are Persons.
The Optional Principle
Huxley believed the religious monist was the exception rather
than the rule. He wrote Jnana yoga was
. . . exceedingly difficult and can hardly be
practiced, at any rate in the preliminary stages of the
spiritual life, except by persons endowed with a
particular kind of mental constitution. . . .
Many religious believers don't possess the monist temperament.
They aren't capable of loving Truth in the "abstract." Many
people, however, are capable of loving a God who is a Person.
They find it easier loving someone like Jesus, who died for us,
or the cute baby Krishna. In other words, many believers are
capable of practicing a religion which includes some form of
Huxley's fifth principle. This principle affirms
. . . the existence of one or more human Incarnations
of the Divine Ground, by whose mediation and grace the
worshipper is helped to achieve his goal - that unitive
knowledge of the Godhead, which is man's eternal life
and beatitude. (,17).
From the fifth principle follows the bulk of popular religious
belief and practice. In Christianity and Hinduism, the story of
an Incarnation's life is scripture; reverence and devotion for an
Incarnation is piety; and pleas to an Incarnation are prayer. And
if we take "Incarnation" in a wide sense, if we view any God who
is a Person as an Incarnation of the God which is not a Person,
then we find a similar situation in Judaism and Islam. That is,
Jewish and Islamic scripture consists of records of the actions
of an "Incarnation" (Jehovah and Allah), as well as the actions
of prophets. Again, reverence and devotion for an Incarnation are
piety, and pleas to an Incarnation are prayer.
Even Buddhism has, in a sense, an Incarnation. Buddhism is
perhaps the most impersonal and "unreligious" of religions, so
much so that some adherents claim it's not religion at all, but a
philosophy. Geoffrey Parrinder describes such believers when he
It is common nowadays for Buddhist apologists, in East
and West, to claim that the Buddha was only a man, or a
man like us . . . (,6).
Yet the needs of some Buddhists has forced Buddhism to undergo
some measure of "personalization," so much so that Parrinder
(perhaps overstating the situation) continues:
. . . but no Buddhist thought this in the previous two
thousand years, since the Buddha was for him the object
of faith and the means of salvation . . . Functionally
he is the Supreme Being . . . (,5-6).
In any case, belief in some God who is a Person underlies
religion as practiced by - and God as worshipped by - the great
majority of believers.
So, religion as it's usually practiced is based on the perennial
philosophy's fifth principle, a principle Huxley called optional
since some temperaments don't need it. But for most individuals
the fifth principle isn't optional at all. It's required. If
they're to have any religion at all, it will be a religion based
on the fifth principle. For many, monotheism in its most real and
actual form is essential. Emotional attachment to some God who is
a Person may be their primary, or only, motivation for living a
religious life, and for pursuing a spiritual quest.
The Power of the Personal Aspect
Belief is Gods who are Persons is quite powerful. Its influence
in civilizations, past and present, is obvious: much of the
world's population lives within walking distance of a building
dedicated to some God who is a Person. Such Gods play a vital
role in the lives of many, if not most, religious people. They
function as focus of worship, parent, friend, protector, judge,
or teacher. Their most important function, however, may be as a
bridge to the Unchangeable, the Real. As Underhill observes:
The peculiar virtue of . . . Christian philosophy, that
which marks its superiority to the more coldly self-consistent
systems of Greece, is the fact that it re-states the truths of
metaphysics in terms of
personality: thus offering a third term, a "living
mediator" between the Unknowable God, the unconditioned
Absolute, and the conditioned self. (,104).
What's the value of re-stating "the truths of metaphysics in
terms of personality"? To some religious monist there's none.
They have no need of a mediator, and prefer to approach the
Unconditioned directly. But to monists who seek to use emotions
as well as intellect in the journey to vision of the Real, the
personification of metaphysical truths can be quite valuable.
Transforming one's entire person is a difficult, long-term
process. Changing one's daily life to reflect religious and
philosophical truths can be an arduous task. Emotions are a
powerful aid to this transformation, even to those of the
cerebral, jnana temperament. One way the religious monist can
engage their emotions is to regard the Uncreated Light as if It
were a Person. Erwin Goodenough describes some ancient people who
seemed to have regarded their Gods in this way. In By Light,
Light, a book about Hellenistic Judaism, whose most famous
exponent was Philo, he writes:
. . . it is not the mythology itself which matters but
the mythology as a symbol of metaphysical truth. The
mystery is not a path to Isis or Attis; it is a path to
Reality, Existence, Knowledge, Life, of which Isis or
Attis is the symbol. The value of Isis, that is, is to
make the intellectual concept emotionally realizable,
something which can be taken out of the cold words of
formulation and made radiantly alive within the longing
hearts of mankind . . . (,1).
So, some ancients didn't regard Isis or Attis as actual Gods
who are Persons, as real, distinct personalities, as separate
Entities. Rather Isis and Attis functioned as personifications of
the Ultimate Ground of Existence. Those ancients used the
"personal aspect" of the Eternal to help make higher truths
"emotionally realizable" and "radiantly alive."
Goodenough observes certain Hellenistic Christians employed the
same device. These Christians regarded Christ as a
personification of the Eternal Light.
The same process is illustrated in Christianity. The
early Christians seem to have been content with the
mythological assertion that Jesus was the Son of God
and would return from the clouds to assert his power .
. . Such a religion in itself meant nothing to the
Hellenistic religious thinkers. Christ almost at once
became to them the Logos, the Sophia . . . (,2).
Logos and Sophia, of course, were Greek philosophical concepts.
Goodenough continues that after this transformation
. . . Christianity became another and more adequate
means of making emotionally real and accessible the old
Hellenistic abstractions . . . (,2).
Now, he observes,
. . . it was ready to conquer the Graeco-Roman world.
Actual and Operational Monotheism
We've seen that the separate existence of you, I, the universe,
and Gods who are Persons vanishes when we approach the Absolute.
For someone temperamentally suited to the worship of a God who is
a Person, this leaves two unsatisfactory choices. First, they can
choose to worship the ultimately real God which is not a Person.
Second, they can choose to worship some ultimately unreal God who
is a Person. A very poor choice indeed.
There is, however, an alternative. Someone might choose to
relate to, and even to worship, the Self-Existent as if It were
alive and conscious, as if It were a Person.
We've seen that consciousness may be considered identical with
the Absolute. If we turn this around, we can say the Self-Existent is
Consciousness, is conscious and living. Thus the Root
and Source may be regarded as a Person, as Friend or constant
Companion or Spouse, for example, or as Mother and Father.
After all, the Source gives "birth" to us at this very moment.
Our existence depends on the Self-Existent more fully and
intimately than it depends on our parents. For we'll continue
existing after our parents are gone. But we couldn't continue to
exist if the Ultimate Ground of Existence ceased to exist. So,
the Real is our Father and Mother in a very actual and literal
sense. For It creates us and keeps us at this very moment, and is
with us always.
So we can think of the God who is not a Person as a Person, as
Mother, Father, Companion, Friend or Spouse, if we desire. If we
want, It can be a living, conscious Father and Mother, an eternal
Companion and Friend, even a Spouse. So, a monist who has no
belief in God as an actual, separate Person, as one entity among
others, might nonetheless choose to think of, and even worship,
the Absolute and Source as if It was a Person.
After all, a person still has some emotions no matter how mind-centered
they are. True, some monists choose to ignore their
emotional faculties and approach God solely through their
intellect. They choose to regard and worship the Real as an
entirely non-personal Entity. But others, even if they're
predominately mind-centered, choose to also use their emotions in
the journey to God. They choose to sometimes regard the Ultimate
Ground of Existence as Mother or Father, Friend or Spouse. Such a
choice provides them with an Entity able to attract both heart
and mind. Such a God (who is like a Person) truly is eternal,
omnipresent, the Mother and Father of all.
Thus we may distinguish the actual monotheism of the monotheist
from the "operational monotheism" of some religious monist.
Operational monotheism is a type of monism. It acknowledges the
separate God who is a Person as ultimately, ontologically false.
But it nonetheless worships the Uncreated as if It is a separate
entity, a Person among persons.
. . . [T]o conceive one's self as separate from God is
an error: yet only when one sees oneself as separate
from God, can one reach out to God. (Palmer, Oriental
Mysticism, in ,108).
Operational monotheism is actually a form of monism. It's a
pseudo-monotheism. The Eternal is regarded as a Person, even
though the believer realizes It is not actually a Person.
The Dual Aspects
A monist who practices operational monotheism regards the Eternal
as if It were a Person. Such a monist emphasizes the "personal
aspect" of the Ultimate Ground of Existence. Thus we may
distinguish two sides or aspects of the One. When we regard It as
an non-personal Entity, we emphasize It's impersonal aspect. When
we regard It as a Person, we emphasize It's personal aspect. It
may seem paradoxical to regard an "It" as a Person, to regard the
God which is not a Person as a Person. But the God which is not a
Person is also the God which is not a Thing. Thinking of the
Uncreated as a Person is as accurate, or inaccurate, as thinking
of the Real as a Thing. The Self-Existent is like a person and
like a thing. Yet It is neither.
In engineering there are stable and unstable balances. A ball
in the bottom of a bowl is in a state of stable balance: shake
the bowl and the ball moves but eventually returns to balance. A
ball at the top of an inverted bowl, or on the peak of a
mountain, is in a state of unstable balance. Disturb the ball and
it doesn't eventually return to the top. Instead, it rolls to one
side or another and stays there. Only with effort is the ball
returned to the mountain peak.
The idea that the Eternal Reality has a living, conscious,
Personal aspect and yet is not an actual person, not one entity
among many, seems to put the mind into an unstable balance. The
mind tends to fall to one side or other of this truth. On one
side, the tendency is to think of the Eternal as a non-personal
Energy which one may regard as a Person (especially if one is a
rather fuzzy thinker). On the other side, the tendency is to
think of the Eternal as really a Person among other persons, a
person who theoretically has non-personal qualities - of no great
consequence. A mind trying to hold on to the dual nature of this
situation often falls to one side or the other.
It seems the dual aspects of the Ultimate Ground of Existence,
the impersonal aspect and the living, consciousness aspect, both
represent It imperfectly. To use a familiar analogy from physics,
the twin ideas of "particle" and "wave" both represent light
imperfectly. Light is a physical entity which has both a particle
nature and a wave nature. Yet light is truly neither particle nor
wave. In the same way, the Eternal truly has both a personal
aspect and an impersonal aspect. Yet the Real is truly neither
person nor thing.
Starting now, I'll use the phrase "God who is not a Person" to
emphasize the Self-Existent's dual aspects, personal and
impersonal. So the phrase "God which is not a Person" refers
exclusively to the impersonal aspect of the Real, as it has
throughout this book. And "God who is not a Person" refers to
both the personal and impersonal aspects of the Ultimate
Substance. And as always, "God who is a Person" refers to some
God such as Jesus, Krishna, Jehovah, or Allah.
The phrase "God who is not a Person" attempts to remind us of
the Eternal's dual aspects. It's easy to forget one aspect or the
other. When this happens, confusion and misunderstanding often
result. Two instances follow where an author apparently failed to
fully grasp the idea of the Self-Existent's dual aspects. One
author was writing about Ramakrishna; the other, Guru Nanak.
Confusion of Actual and Operational Monotheism
Sri Ramakrishna worshipped the Eternal as Mother, specifically
the Hindu goddess Mother Kali. He deeply yearned for direct
experience. He prayed and wept for it and eventually in his
frustration almost went mad. He felt (,143) as if his heart
and mind were being wrung like a wet towel. Sometimes bystanders
assumed he grieved the loss of his human mother, and offered
their sympathy. In fact, he grieved that he had not yet had the
vision of God.
Eventually, driven by longing and despair Ramakrishna resolved
to end his life. As he reached for a sword,
. . . suddenly I had the wonderful vision of the Mother
. . . I did not know what happened then in the external
world . . . But, in my heart of hearts, there was
flowing a current of intense bliss, never experienced
before, and I had the immediate knowledge of the light,
that was Mother. . . . It was as if houses, doors,
temples and all other things vanished altogether; as if
there was nothing anywhere! And what I saw, was a
boundless infinite conscious sea of light! However far
and in whatever direction I looked, I found a
continuous succession of effulgent waves coming
forward, raging and storming . . . (,143).
Ramakrishna declared he had "immediate knowledge of the light,
that was Mother." He described his vision as a vision of shining
conscious Light. He had prayed for the Mother to reveal herself,
and the Mother, Brahman, the Uncreated Light, had revealed
Herself - as a shining ocean of Light and Consciousness. The
situation seems clear.
Christopher Isherwood's Ramakrishna and His Disciples recounts
the story of Ramakrishna's life. In it, Isherwood writes:
Ramakrishna knew that Mother Kali was not other than
Presumably then Isherwood knew "Mother Kali" was a personalized
label for the God who is not a Person. Yet he wonders if
Ramakrishna also saw a woman in his vision, specifically Kali. He
It is not quite clear from Ramakrishna's narrative
whether or not he actually saw the form of Mother Kali
in the midst of this vision of shining consciousness.
Did Ramakrishna see a woman in his vision? Both Isherwood
(,65) and no less than a direct disciple of Ramakrishna
decide he did. Why? Because afterwards
. . . as soon as he had the slightest external
consciousness . . . . he, we are told, uttered
repeatedly the word 'Mother' in a plaintive voice.
Lack of appreciation of the Eternal Light's dual aspects forces
"Mother" to be taken as Mother Kali, a God who is a Person. Lack
of appreciation leads to confusion and uncertainty since
Ramakrishna talks of the Mother yet describes an experience of
Who was the God Ramakrishna longed for? Was it some God who is
a Person, specifically a Hindu goddess, Mother Kali? Or was it
the Self-Existent, in his own words
. . . the universal Mother, consisting of the
effulgence of pure consciousness . . . (,255)?
I believe it was the Real. Once, he had declared Brahman
. . . is Light, but not the light that we perceive, not
material light. (,307).
He had also said
[t]he attainment of the Absolute is called the
Knowledge of Brahman . . . (,307),
I believe Ramakrishna wanted - and finally received - first-hand
knowledge of Brahman, a direct experience of the Uncreated Light.
Ramakrishna was, I believe, a monist practicing operational
So if the dual nature is understood there is no cause for
confusion. The Mother is the Uncreated Light. Thus there is no
reason to suppose Ramakrishna also saw some female image. The
Mother he referred to was the Mother of the Universe, the
Uncreated and Eternal Light.
Like Ramakrishna, Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion,
also seems to have known the dual aspects, the personal and
impersonal aspects of God. In Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion,
W. McLeod writes (,164) that God for Nanak was "the one" and
that Nanak often affirmed "There is no other." McLeod wonders if
such statements should be understood in a monotheistic sense -
Does it refer to the uniqueness of God, to His absolute
difference in essence from all other beings . . .
- or in a monist sense -
. . . or does it denote the unity which denies ultimate
reality to all phenomenal existence? (,164).
McLeod chooses monotheism.
If we are compelled to choose between these polar
conceptions our choice must settle upon the former
alternative. Guru Nanak's thought cannot be made to
conform to the categories of advaita doctrine without
equating his concept of God with the ultimately unreal
Isvara of Sankara's philosophy . . . (,164-5).
Nonetheless McLeod finds elements of monism in Nanak's teaching.
Nanak himself explicitly declares notions of 'duality'
. . . the essence of man's problem, and the overcoming
of such notions to be a vital aspect of man's quest for
salvation. Moreover, we must also acknowledge the
stress which he lays upon divine immanence and upon the
fundamental importance of this immanent revelation in
the quest for salvation. (,165).
Again, there's confusion. Nanak wasn't a monist but often spoke
like one anyway. Is it Nanak's statements which are confused and
inconsistent? Or is it their interpretation?
If the two aspects of the Uncreated are understood, then
Nanak's beliefs are neither inconsistent or confusing. If Nanak
is seen as a monist who often used a "operational-monotheistic"
mode of speaking, then there is no confusion. Nor is there a
compulsion to choose between the "polar conceptions" of monism
and monotheism. Guru Nanak, I believe, was an operational monist.
Unrecognized Experience of the Personal Aspect?
The dual aspects are easily forgotten, even by the spiritually
aware. The mind easily slips to one side or the other of the
unstable balance. It's natural, therefore, that the personal
aspect of the Eternal might over time in the minds of the average
believer become some God who is a Person.
In Judaism and Christianity Yahweh is the name of a God who is
a Person. How did the word "Yahweh" come to be connected with
God? In Exodus 3:14 we read
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said,
Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM
hath sent me unto you. (, Ex3:14).
A footnote explains
I am who am: apparently this utterance is the source of
the word Yahweh, the proper personal name of the God of
Israel. It is commonly explained in reference to God as
the absolute and necessary Being. It may be understood
of God as the Source of all created beings. (,61).
Thus the phrase "I am who am" may have once referred to the
Source, the Root, the Ultimate Ground of Existence. That is,
"Yahweh" may have originally indicated the personal aspect of the
self-existent and eternal Reality. In time, however, it became
the name of a God who is a Person, a God separate from creation,
one Entity among others.
In the mind of the average believer, the Eternal's personal
aspect is liable to change into a separate, distinct Person.
Conversely, in the minds of the mystics a separate, distinct God
who is a Person tends to change into a personal aspect of the
Eternal. Nicholson describes this phenomena when he writes the
Light, Knowledge, and Love . . . rest upon a
pantheistic faith which deposed the One transcendent
God of Islam and worshipped in His stead One Real Being
who dwells and works everywhere . . . (,8).
So, we may describe experience of a God who is a Person as
unrecognized experience of the personal aspect of the Uncreated,
as unrecognized experience of the personal side of the God which
is not a Person. In other words, as unrecognized experience of
the God who is not a Person.
Ramakrishna spoke of such experience when he said:
For the bhakta He assumes forms. But he is formless for
the Jnani. (,3).
A Bhakta yogi uses a heart-centered approach to the Eternal, who
usually is some God who is a Person. Someone who practices Bhakti
yoga uses the emotions to draw nearer to God. Ramakrishna
. . . Brahman, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, is
like a shoreless ocean. In the ocean visible blocks of
ice are formed here and there by intense cold.
Similarly, under the cooling influence, so to speak, of
the bhakti of Its worshippers, the Infinite transforms
Itself into the finite and appears before the
worshipper as God with form. That is to say, God
reveals Himself to His bhaktas as an embodied Person.
Again, as, on the rising of the sun, the ice in the
ocean melts away, so, on the awakening of jnana, the
embodied God melts back into the infinite and formless
Brahman. . . . But mark this: form and formlessness
belong to one and the same Reality. (,3-4).
Notice that "blocks of ice are formed" and "the Infinite
transforms Itself into the finite." We've seen the problem with
God actually being a Person is that personhood is too limited and
finite. So perhaps "transforms" is too strong a word. Perhaps the
Infinite appears as a finite Person, but remains infinite
Of course, there are different kinds of limited, separate
existences. A person is a distinct, separate entity, just as a
block of ice is a distinct, separate entity. Yet a person is
higher in the "Great Chain of Being" than a rock. Similarly, a
God who is a Person is higher than a person. Yet all three are
still limited, distinct, separate manifestations of the Uncreated
Light. All three are "blocks of ice" in the shoreless ocean of
So angels, demons, Gods who are Persons, and other
"supernatural" entities - if they exist - are no more
supernatural than a rock. Since the Ultimate Ground of Existence
underlies their existence as It underlies the existence of the
rock, one is no more above nature - i.e, super-natural - than the
other. Therefore the entire realm of existence - rocks, angels,
and Gods who are Persons - is united, one. It is all natural. Or,
if you prefer, it's all supernatural since the God which is not a
Person underlies it all. Therefore, the "supernatural" realm is
actually a part of the natural universe. However, mentally
dividing the natural realm into the interior domain, the exterior
domain, and the "supernatural" domain may still be useful on
occasion. It should be remember, however, that the "supernatural"
realm is actually a part of the natural universe, even if the
double quotes are omitted.
The quote also has "He assumes forms." Plural. There are many
different Gods who are Persons in the same ocean of Uncreated
Light, even as there are many different blocks of ice in the
ocean. This brings us again to a question raised in a previous
chapter: why mystical experiences of the God which is not a
Person generally agree, while experiences of Gods who are Persons
often disagree. It's because the Self-Existent assumes different
forms for different worshippers.
As a young boy, I heard a T.V. talk show host describe his trip
to Japan. He remarked some Christian statues of Jesus and Mary
there had oriental features, particularly eyes. At the time, this
amused me; I thought such statues ridiculous. Only later did I
realize the distinctly Western, Caucasian appearance of the
statues of Jesus, Mary, and the saints I had seen.
Our Gods who are Persons are Gods who are persons like us. But
suppose creatures existed on another planet and looked like, say,
spiders. And suppose these creatures would experience an
uncontrollable revulsion at the sight of a human. Then their
mystics who experienced a God who is Person would probably
experience a God who was a spider, not a human. Therefore, Gods
who are Persons are, to some extent, our own creations. I don't
mean they are entirely our creation, that they are mythological.
I mean only that our personalities and limitations condition our
experience, that the Eternal seen as some God who is a Person is
not seen as It is in Itself. It's seen in a form It assumes for
our benefit, as a accommodation to our limitations.
Therefore, there can be as many Gods who are Persons as there
are people (or spiders) to see them. As Rufus Jones remarked:
. . . there is always a profound subjective aspect of
interpretation of the Divine . . . in terms of the
expectation of the individual, and in terms of the
prevailing climate of opinion. (,86-7).
I once knew a man who with perfect sincerity believed Jesus had
been tall, light-skinned, blond-haired and blue-eyed. I could, no
doubt, find someone else who believes Jesus was short, brown of
skin, hair, perhaps eyes, too. Do these two people have the same
God who is a Person? Suppose each of them became a mystic, intent
on direct experience of their God. Suppose they worshipped and
prayed constantly, hoping for an experience of God. Would it be
surprising if one experienced a tall, blond-haired Jesus, the
other, a short, brown-skinned Jesus? After all, if the Eternal
assumes a form for our benefit, might it not assume the form we
wish to see?
Advantages of Monism and Operational Monotheism
Relating to the Eternal as if It's a Person is obviously very
similar to relating to a God who is an actual Person. There's a
difference, but is it important?
The difference may not be important to the average believer.
Someone who only knows of a God who is a Person can progress
quite far in religious or even mystical life. As Shankara writes:
Devotion to . . . the Personal God, may lead a man very
far . . . it may make him into a saint. (,23),
More than that, it may make him a mystic who achieves first-hand
knowledge of God, or some restricted kind of "union." Many saints
and mystics have known nothing of the God which is not a Person.
Yet, experience of the Eternal is obviously less conditioned by
the experiencer. It's purer, truer, and more universal than
experience of some God who is a Person. Therefore, Shankara
describes such experience as a higher goal than monotheism
But this is not the ultimate knowledge. To be
completely enlightened is to go beyond Iswara, to know
the Impersonal Reality behind the personal divine
To know the Reality behind the appearance of Gods who are Persons
implies either first-hand or unitive knowledge of the Ultimate
Ground of Existence.
Many mystics, Meister Eckhart, for one, valued union far above
first-hand knowledge. In fact, Eckhart placed the Godhead so far
above any God who is a Person he wrote:
. . . I pray God to rid me of God, for my essential
being is above God . . . (,219).
This phrase is no doubt shocking as translated. To understand it
properly, we must understand Eckhart's ideas of "God" and
Eckhart drew a sharp distinction between the God who is a
Person and the Ultimate Ground of Existence. In fact, Rufus Jones
claimed (,224) this distinction was at the very core of
Eckhart's thought, which he described as follows:
He whom we call "God" is the Divine Nature manifested
and revealed in personal character, but behind this
Revelation there must be a revealer - One who makes the
revelation and is the Ground of it, just as behind
ourself-as-known there must be a self-as-knower - a
deeper ego which knows the me and its processes. Now
the Ground out of which the revelation proceeds is the
central mystery - is the Godhead. . . . This
unrevealable Godhead is the Source and Fount of all
that is . . . (,225).
Eckhart, it seems, had direct experience of the Godhead. He
When I still stood in my first cause, I had no God, I
was cause of myself. . . . But when by free will I went
out and received my created being, then I had a God.
When Eckhart's Consciousness was united with the Real, the First
Cause, there was no separate, distinct God who is a Person. When
It descended to the plane of duality, then the universe,
Eckhart's ego, and a God who is a Person all reappeared.
And so we see why he "prayed to God to rid him of God." Eckhart
prayed to stay united with the Real, and not to fall back into
duality where a separate God who is a Person exists. Though "for
my essential being is above God" is true, I much prefer "for
God's essential being is above God" or "for the Godhead is above
any God who is a Person." All three versions express the same
thought - that the Godhead is above any God who is a Person - but
the last two avoid the appearance of blasphemy.
In any version, the meaning is the same: the Godhead, the God
which is not a Person, is the Ground of, the Source of, the Basis
of - and therefore above - any God Who is a Person. Shankara and
Eckhart agree: experience of the God which is not a Person is
above experience of any God who is a Person.
So, for mystics who seek the highest goal, union with the
Eternal, the distinction between the Eternal Substance and Gods
who are Persons may be important. The distinction may also be
important to a scientific religion.
We've seen Gods who are Persons are subjective, to some extent.
That's why they're experienced differently by different people.
The God which is not a Person, on the other hand, is objective.
Different mystics experience the same Reality. Therefore, the
more universal and objective God which is not a Person is a
better foundation for a scientific religion than some particular
God who is a Person. Science has found itself more able to study
objective phenomena. Physics and chemistry, for example, are
often predictive and exact while psychology and sociology often
aren't. Therefore, an emerging scientific religion might decide
to study the objective Ultimate Ground of Existence, rather than
the multitude of different Gods who are Persons.
The distinction could also be important if the human race ever
encountered another intelligent species. Any species who can
experience some God who is a Person would, presumably, be able to
experience Its Ground, too. That is, any species which possesses
consciousness would be able to experience God in the same way, as
the Eternal Light, Consciousness Itself. The God which is not a
Person might be the only God different species could have in
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