What is meant by ‘God’?

We keep using the English term „God“ as if we know what it means. But do we? “Of course”, many may reply: “God is the English term for the Creator of the universe, for the Highest Truth.”

Few will doubt that this universe and we included have to come from somewhere and ‘God’ is given as the answer. He is seen as the ultimate power, the highest truth, from which all else emanates. Yet somehow, ‘God’ has taken on strange attributes in public perception: He is invariably male, and has allegedly spoken to a few special persons and told them what he wants from us humans.

He is also said to be compassionate and loves those who believe in him and who follow the instructions sent down through those special people, but he won’t have any mercy for those who don’t follow his specific instructions. They will be sent to eternal hellfire.

Somehow this Abrahamic view of God has taken predominance, maybe because the majority of humans are either Christians or Muslims. This view is reinforced and fear of eternal hell is instilled in children generation after generation. Even as adults, most don’t question their belief. It has become part of their mental make-up. And there is comfort in believing that one has the ‘right’ belief in the ‘true’ God and belongs to a big group of like-minded people, which will stand up for this God and defend him ferociously against any criticism.

However, though Christianity and Islam go both back to Abraham and have similar views regarding the creator, each one insists that its own God alone is the true one.

Therefore, they see it as their divinely ordained duty to make the whole world believe in their particular God. That means, Christianity claims all must become Christians, and Islam claims all must become Muslims to gain entry into heaven, and they can be (and have been) ruthless in pursuing their goal.

Both are united in claiming that those who worship many gods are the worst offenders in the eyes of their “only true” God and this ‘evil’ needs to be wiped out. So they feel justified in defaming especially Hindus whom they see as “idol-worshippers”.

This notion of God needs urgent scrutiny – not only by outsiders, but also by insiders. Is it possible that the Supreme is a sort of superhuman entity and heavily biased towards his followers and unforgiving towards ‘others’?

Are there different views? Here, ancient India comes in.

In ancient times, long before Christianity or Islam appeared, Vedic Dharma (today called Hinduism) had a very mature understanding of the Highest Truth which is generally called Brahman (there are other names, like Paramatman or Tat).

Brahman is not personal, not a superhuman entity, not male or female, but the most subtle, invisible, conscious, one basis of all. The Rishis meditated on the truth and came out with astonishing insights. They declared, “Brahman is not what the eyes can see, but That whereby the eyes can see. Brahman is not what the mind can think but That whereby the mind can think” (Kena Upanishad).

They realised that this universe is a kind of wrong perception of Brahman, completely dependent on it but not the real thing. An example is given: we mistake in dim light a rope for a snake. The snake is not real, but since we believe it is real, we jump and run and our hearts beat heavily. Yet when we realise that the snake is a rope, all fear is gone.

The Rishis give another example how it is possible to miss the truth though it is right in front of our eyes: we go to a potters shop. We see all types of cups and jugs, but we miss to see the mud from which they are made. The mud is the essence of the temporary form of a cup. It remains after the cup is broken.

Similarly, Brahman is the essence of our person and remains when our person has ceased to exist.

Yet do the Rishis have any proof for their view?

Unlike the clergy of Christianity and Islam, who rely basically on a story book, the Rishis vigorously and intelligently enquired into truth which is reflected in the ancient texts, especially the Upanishads. For example, they had criteria for what is true:

One: it must be at all times – past, present and future,

Two: it must not need anything else to shine or in other words, it has to be self- evident.

Those two criteria dismiss the whole universe as untrue. Apart from the fact that it was not always, it also needs something to ‘shine’ – it needs consciousness.

So what is left after the universe is dismissed as not true? The Rishis claim that the extremely subtle, conscious basis of everything is left. It means that it is here right now as the source of our awareness. It is not some separate thing at some different place. It is our very being and therefore there is a chance to ‘real-ise’ (know it as real) by turning inwards to what is unchanging and true in us beneath the ever-changing activity of our mind and develop devotion for it.

Unfortunately, we miss out on being aware of this source of our awareness because we prefer to look outside and hardly make an attempt to stop the mental chatter once in a while. This is unfortunate, because the Rishis claim that our essence is not only the source of valuable inspiration, but is also most blissful – far more blissful than what any worldly enjoyment can give. And the Rishis spoke from experience.

So the English term “God” is actually not denoting the absolute, highest Truth, but a great power in this manifested reality – more on the level of the “gods” in Hinduism, whom these two religions so despise.

The Vedic gods are mainly personified powers who are, as it were, in charge of running our world and on whose benevolence humans depend for a happy life. They however, unlike the two Abrahamic gods, do not condemn anyone eternally to hell if people fail to propitiate them.

It is strange that the Christian and Muslim theologians don’t realise that their understanding of God as a personal, separate, biased entity cannot be the ultimate truth. Scientists have realised it. In fact, some scientists are aware that the ultimate truth that they seek is in all likelihood the Brahman of ancient India, and many big names in modern science, though those names sound Jewish or Christian, were inspired by India’s ancient wisdom – from Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Oppenheimer, Einstein till Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.

Maybe the clergy of Christianity and Islam don’t want to realise it, as the present set-up suits them in pursuing their goal of world dominion. The threat that God will send those, who don’t do what the clergy tells them to do, eternally to hell is surely a powerful incentive for the ‘believers’ to stay in line. At the same time, it puts their intellect into a strait jacket and is an affront to human intelligence.

Hindus escaped this strait jacket. They are not told what to believe. Most of them don’t believe in God or gods, but they are sure that Brahman is the truth and the gods are at least as real as our persons are real – temporary aspects of the one eternal Brahman. This intellectual freedom may well be the reason why all over the world their intelligence is acknowledged and admired – and this in spite of the fact that Indian students need to take this huge, unfair hurdle of studying in a foreign language.

By Maria Wirth

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47 comments

  1. SS Reddy · · Reply

    Fantastic article Madam. Thank you for such an insightful view on the eternal Brahman.

  2. Super writing, brilliant idea and hard worked thesis came out surely admirable….

  3. jowilson365 · · Reply

    Very, very well explained. Rather than spirituality and fact based conclusions, Christianity and Islam have mostly been overused as a political tool throughout history. Their doctrines can be followed (or imposed) as law and their unjustified statements that lack basic proof hold no correlation with modern sciences and technology.

    In fact, the European Renaissance arose soon after the destructive rule of Christianity and its lessening political interference. Hinduism (recently adopted term for Vedic traditions that have endured millennia) on the other hand is inwardly focused and cannot be imposed, thus India’s Golden Age happened during the time it was the dominant faith and all were under harmony.

    Those who choose to understand true spirituality and question dogmas (People such as myself) eventually come to the same conclusions as the Dharmic views of life as evident in our modern societies.

    Overall a fantastically written article, thank you Maria.

  4. Namaste Maria,

    Very well written, as usual. Thanks much for the effort.

    I am an avid reader of your posts and enjoy reading your style of writing. I tried contacting you through email last year and couldn’t do so. Is it possible to provide your email so I can have more insightful, relishing discussions? Thanks.

    Regards,
    Sriram

    1. it is under ‘about’

  5. Narayana · · Reply

    Christianity and Islam have destroyed many beautiful and traditional cultures all over the world by trying to destroy Pagan beliefs and impose their own culture everywhere. These two religions also have caused the maximum suffering to humanity by using torture, warfare and violence for the sake of conversion, combined with political reasonings. Forget all dictators of the world, more people all over the world had been killed in the name of Jesus and the Prophet and this continues today and will continue in future too. While attempting to convert everyone so as to make them fit to go to heaven, these religions have converted this earth into a big hell. The difference between these two and Asiatic (Indian) faiths is that we pray that “Let all beings on this earth be happy” unlike Christians who say “Jesus will love you only if you love him” or as Muslims say “you will go to hell if you don’t believe in Allah”.

    1. Janardana Krishna · · Reply

      A great insight, Narayana Ji.
      So enlightening!

    2. jowilson365 · · Reply

      I agree. People ought to know the horrors committed by Christians and Muslims in the name of religion and understand how a unified, strong world cannot be dominated by people who put their tenets before peace and trust. But no, instead the concentration is focused on the Indian “caste system” and “pagan” beliefs/rituals of tribal people across the world in attempt to weaken their societies. Very unfortunate to see such things happening.

      1. Yes, Mr. Jowilson, I always write about such things because I am pained at the destruction of many a tribal cultures across the world, especially in African continent and in India and far eastern islands in the name of civilization, western values thus being thrust upon them. In the Americas, the whole lot of ancient cultures were entirely destroyed by the use of guns. In Africa, missionaries invaded the interiors. In India, bribery was extensively used to seduce the poor. On another side, from the days of the Prophet, Islam used its cruel sword all over Arabia ,Europe and Asia to spread the faith of Allah. While Christianity imposed its faith and western culture, Islam imposed its faith by sword but not any new culture even, because Islam itself being a denial of history, arts, music etc had neither had any culture nor values. Might if sword and dictatorship of Mullahs were and are it’s only known culture. Destruction of historical monuments became its past time! It is very sad that world is still losing many of its valuable historic treasures and cultures due to thus aggression of Abrahamic religions.

      2. jowilson365 · ·

        +Narayana, that is the tragedy. In the case of the African continent, it is blessed with some of the richest minerals and natural resources in the world and is incredibly diverse in terrain as well as culture. Very few are aware of this fact here in America, but almost all are familiar that Africa is a poor, conflict and disease-ridden land and for many Christian groups view it as an opportunity because of the “pagans” needing the “love of Christ.”

        In fact, the situation of that continent now can be written off as “The Shame of Europe” partly due to European countries completely disregarding local customs and traditions and imposing their own which led to widespread conflict that we are still seeing today. It is not at all better in the Muslim north, where religion is synonymous with law.

        There is even a quote by Jomo Kenyatta, well-known Kenyan Prime Minister and anti-colonist.

        “When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.”

        Even today, we see Christian vs Muslim conflict all over the continent in places like Chad, Sudan, etc. All being senseless, unneeded violence that is only preventing development and prosperity in the name of religion.

        Other places besides Africa such as the Pacific Islands were also rich in cultural heritage and practices, and were almost effortlessly converted to Christianity, causing the indigenous peoples’ beliefs to become only “fairytales” and “stories.” Now the children of the converts will have no idea of their ancient history and beliefs that were once part of them, and instead are brainwashed into believing in dogma. How sad…

  6. Sharan Sharalaya · · Reply

    Great article. Thanks for the effort !!

  7. Loved it! Keep writing please!! Would love to see some more blogs from you!

    1. plese check out others on my blog. there are some 80 posts, a few also in Hindi and Marathi

  8. Wrote a comment earlier but the daft WordPress log in had me confounded. So here goes again. You’ve spoken my mind on this subject and not everyone will agree. Hindu thought has been hijacked by fundamentalists and is under threat by the virulent spread of Christianity and Islam. That being said we need a renaissance. Thinkers like you can make people realize what they’re up against. Atheism is at a rise because of how wary people are with regard to the hypocrisy surrounding Islam and Christianity. I wrote something similar just yesterday on that regard on my Facebook page. Do have a look see. I endeavor to change the very thought process of the world. An ambitious idea but an idea nonetheless.

  9. Jayashree Bhat · · Reply

    Superbly articulated, it is the simplest, yet best explanation I have every read. Thank you Maria.

  10. Nitish arya · · Reply

    You are totally wrong Maria disregarding Hindu Gods as lower than Brahman. Brahman is just another Hindu God, at same level as individual Jiva is a God. There are higher and lower Gods than Brahman and Jiva.

    1. please learn more. your knowledge is incomplete

    2. Narayana · · Reply

      There is nothing like lower or higher Gods! Some people create such differences among Gods too to suit their individual communities. Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara are the Trimurthis (copied as Trinity in Christianity) responsible for creation, preservation and destruction. Rest are all Devas. This is mythology. But in reality, Hindus create their local gods and goddesses depending on conditions where they live. In this way, millions of Hindu Gods were born! But the essence of Hindu faith lies in its adoration of everything that is there in nature. We worship stones, plants, trees, rivers, mountains, oceans, air, space, earth, sky, sun, planets and the stars. We worship all life whether they are fish or animals or birds. In short, Hinduism worships nature in its entirety. This is the reason we say that God is there in every atom of this universe. There is nothing lower or higher.

    3. Narendra Apte · · Reply

      You are wrong, my friend, not Maria. Please take some pains to read the upanishads and understand the philosophy with understanding the technical words. Bramhan is a purely technical term, what you are referring to ब्रम्हा ,
      Mind well that Maria is not disregarding our God’s.

    4. Surya, USA · · Reply

      @Nitish, please read a small book, ‘The Upanishads’ by Nikhilananda , sold at Ramakrishna Math (rupees 110). Brahman is supreme being, without any attributes, without a physical form or gender. Brahman isin everything and everything is in Brahman. Our individual Atman is part of Brahman, at the stage of mukti or moksha the atman, having completed the mission to resolve all accrued karma, will merge into Brahman again. Till mukti time, Atman will have to come back acquiring a new body, again and again.This applies to all sentient beings not just to hindus.

  11. I prefer the Term Asha. Check it out when you can.

  12. Surendra Swami · · Reply

    अहम ब्रह्मास्ति अर्थात मैं ही ब्रह्म हूँ। यथा पिण्डे तथा ब्रह्माण्डे अर्थात जो एक पिण्ड में है वही ब्रह्माण्ड में है। अर्थात ब्रह्म ही ब्रह्माण्ड है यह असीमित है, अकल्पनीय है, अदृश्य है, अक्षुण है। सजीव, निर्जीव सब इसमें समाहित हैं। जीव (मनुष्य) इसी ब्रह्म में समाहित हैं या फिर ब्रह्म जीव में समाहित है। या फिर आत्मन यानि मैं परमात्मा का एक अंश हूं या फिर मुझ में ही परमात्मा है अर्थात मेरे स्थूल शरीर में सूक्ष्म मैं हूँ। तो क्या मैं मेरे सूक्ष्म को ब्रह्म विलीन कर सकता हूं। क्या यह स्थूल जो भौतिक है इसके अहसास से परे होना सम्भव है। क्या मैं परलौकिक से अलौकिक हो सकता हूं। हिन्दू धर्म मे यही जीव और परमात्मा का रिश्ता है। परमात्मा को स्थूल रूप में अवतरित करना इसी प्रक्रिया का हिस्सा है। जबकि इस्लाम और ईसाई धर्म में मनुष्य और God अलग अलग इकाई है कर्ता ओर कारक हैं मास्टर और सर्वेंट रिलेशनशिप है। यही मूल फर्क है।

  13. Wowww … Amazing article Ma’m

  14. Thanks Maria. I have been your follower on tweeter ever since I happened to read your article on Devraha Baba.I admire your clear understanding of the basics of Dharmic tradition. I think you should consolidate your articles in a book.
    PS: I had met one German lady in Pokhara,Nepal way back in 1985/86. I was a child then and had gone there on a trip arranged by my school. Two of us friends had met this some what strangely magnetic lady who shook our hands and introduced herself as Maria Wirth. “Pleased to meet such friendly boys” was her parting shot. Strange that I remember this till day.

    1. Thanks Ranjeev. it is strange, i stayed in Pokhara for some 5 weeks, but not in 1985, but around May 1981. since you were a child, 4 years is a big difference, so it must have been somebody else.
      this article on love in India was conceptualised in Pokhara. though it is not mentioned in the article
      https://mariawirthblog.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/love-in-india/

  15. sudhir gupta · · Reply

    keep it up

  16. Hey 🙂 been reading your articles for sometime now. I want to know the top three books which have helped you move closer to understanding Brahman. Thank you.

    1. it surely did help to be in the surrounding of Anandamayi Ma between 1980-82, as she seemed to live from this level, also Jnana Yoga of Swami Vivekananda, conversations with Ramana Maharshi, I am that by Nisargadatta M, major Upanishads, Brahmasutra commentary by Adi Shankara…

  17. sr walvekar · · Reply

    I read your article. It is informative. I think Hinduism needs to be understood through hindu cultural knowledge.
    God is just like infinite as understood in mathematics. It is said in Hinduism that God can not be defined because any definition falls short. Further there is belief of rebirth as also belief in cause-effect (karma).

  18. Ma’m
    Please read the first article on the link provided below – spiritualism vs science; consciousness, energy and matter and Sadgurus (Perfect Masters).
    http://www.heritageofshirdisai.org/newsletter/Vol113.htm

  19. Ma’m,
    Please read the first article on these links: spiritualism vs science; consciousness, energy, matter and the Perfect Masters (Sadgurus)
    http://www.heritageofshirdisai.org/newsletter/Vol43.htm#a5
    http://www.heritageofshirdisai.org/newsletter/Vol113.htm

  20. महोदया मारिया, very nicely articulated. I am so greatful to you for representing vedic thoughts and culture. But to speak on a factual note current world is so intoxicated with materialism that most of the people will not get out of their ‘zone’ or ‘influence of चार्वाक philospohy’ until you shake them. These nicely written articles are useful for people with little fire or glimpse of spirituality. We need something else to create a shift.

  21. It is a wonderful piece in the simplest possible words. The arguments are cogent, reasonable and presented lucidly. Various western scholars sometimes get confused because of the confusion created by various versions of the spellings in English of the terms Brahm (ब्रह्म), Brahma (ब्रह्मा) and Brahmin (ब्राह्मण). But Maria having stayed so long in India is very clear in her mind.

  22. The ancient Indian wisdom regarding ‘Brahman’ and the other gods who provide and sustain this universe and other set of gods relevent for other nunerous univereses answers many complex questions. Brahman is same for all kinds of universes and its qualities are omnipotency, omniscience and being infinite resrvoir of blissfullness!

  23. Dhruba Basu · · Reply

    If you believe in the God, only then he/she will manifest himself/ herself. Argumentativeness will not take you to him/ her. Therefore do not search for the meaning of the God. Even Stephen Hawking could not find the meaning, then who are you? God is beyond all meanings, all words, all mundan perceptions, all mundane vibrations. He is with them, beyond them. He is the universal creation, the universal destruction.

    1. this article is just to clarify confusions, because there are Hindus who go on the defensive when questioned about their Gods.

    2. On reading this comment, I only remembered that “you can never argue with the faithful nor with an atheist. Both are so convinced about their knowledge about God that they are beyond any redemption”!

  24. To say thank you sounds pretty silly. To identify and hold a mirror to better see our own selves and others:to inform us in simple words the philosophy of our ancestors by which we continue to live and to fortify self-belief is the highest service one can perform
    You have performed.
    Namaskaram!

    Sesha

  25. Dr paramjit singh · · Reply

    God starts when a persons thoughts& opinion ends,
    For some it is a surrender for others it is a unending search
    May be that is the reason for repeated rebirths

  26. Namaste Maria. Very well written article. It’s only in the past two to three years that I’ve finally begun to understand my faith, all thanks to the Bhagawad Gita classes I attend. Sanatana Dharma is so all-encompassing, available to seekers at all stages of their spiritual journeys that the usual trope of ‘my god is greater than yours’ or ‘mine is the only true god’ seems a very rudimentary view. Thank you for explaining the basic tenet of Dharma so clearly.

  27. NARENDRA KUMAR MATHUR · · Reply

    Excellent effort, Maria. You have addressed a complex issue (aham brahmasmi) in a lucid and simplistic style !

    You might like to run through the 241-page book “The Probability of God” by Stephen D. Unwin.

    May “God Almighty” keep helping you in your noble pursuits! To thank you shall not be right – You have the blessings of this octogenarian.
    N K Mathur

    1. Thank you, Sri Mathur ji

  28. GOD is the short form of Generator, Operator, Destroyer i.e. Brahma, Vishnu & Mahesh.Trimurti.

  29. Jeyavasukhi · · Reply

    What’s the reason for evil in this world? What’s the date of a man, who is sexually abusing a two year old child and killing that child? Is there no punishment for a man killing innocent lives in the name of God (jihadist)

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