PERSONAL AND IMPERSONAL GOD
An address in London on April 2nd, 1944
Now the first point to note is that there is a clash between Theosophy and every religion, not always of the same kind, but there is a clash. SEVERAL times I have been asked why there is such a clash between Theosophy and Christianity, because the enquirer at our lectures, and particularly when reading some of our literature, notes that there is an attitude of what might be termed a veiled hostility towards the Christian religion.
Now the first point to note is that there is a clash between Theosophy and every religion, not always of the same kind, but there is a clash. Take, for instance, the clash between Theosophy and Buddhism, for in Buddhism as it exists in Burma, Ceylon and Siam(?), there is a denial of any soul in man, but in Theosophy one of the first axioms is that the permanent ego persists from incarnation to incarnation. Then there is a clash between Theosophy and Hinduism, not so much on the philosophical side, but because Theosophy denounces the whole caste idea as it exists with the barring of the door to the lower castes from certain higher possibilities. There is a definite clash between Theosophy and Islam, because Theosophy proclaims there are other prophets than the prophet Mohammed. Though a Mohammedan will admit that other prophets of God have appeared before, and reverence is given especially to Jesus Christ, he asserts that the Prophet Mohammed is the last of the prophets, and it is therefore our duty to follow the last whom God has sent. There is also a further clash between Theosophy and Islam on account of the doctrine of Reincarnation, and similarly so with Christianity and Zoroastrianism. So you see that Theosophy does clash with all kinds of accepted revelations.
But there is also another reason for a clash and it is because Theosophy is against every kind of priestly domination, whether in Hinduism, Christianity or any other religion; for where there is priestly domination (which does not mean any denial of "apostolic succession" and so on), it builds a doctrinal structure which is proclaimed sacrosanct. In Christianity, as anyone who reads history will know, there exists a record of oppression of all who differed from the ecclesiastical ideas of the day, and the martyrdom of such as Hypatia and Bruno is a matter of history. Throughout most of the centuries of Christianity, the persecution of one Christian section by another has been quite frequent. There is similarly a record of oppression in Islam. Mohammedans have not tolerated those who did not accept the Prophet Mohammed as the messenger of God, and have subjected them to penalties. So far has this oppression been carried out that even today there is on the part of the Mohammedans of Arabia hostility against the Mohammedans of Persia, due to dynastic quarrels which have nothing to do with Mohammed as the Prophet of God, for Persian Mohammedans accept the Prophet.
Then there was the suppression of the Mysteries in Christianity. One of the very great defects which arose in Christianity was that all the splendid traditions of the Mysteries and truths of the great philosophies of Greece were excluded, and the early church inculcated a more or less general belief that any kind of knowledge simply stood in the way of one's road to God.
....but where there is not that cruelty, we as students must not condemn teachings which others hold as necessary to their salvation. Now , our attitude, and I refer particularly to those who pledged themselves to make Theosophy a living power in their lives, may be said to be of a dual nature. Each one has to be firm in his faith, whatever it is. Faith is the very structure of our being, and we have to be firm in it. But at the same time we must not denounce the beliefs of others, except in the single instance where such beliefs involve an element of cruelty. Then we must take a stand; but where there is not that cruelty, we as students must not condemn teachings which others hold as necessary to their salvation.
However, there is a tradition in Theosophical circles in the West that Theosophy is anti-God. We have to accept that attitude as part and parcel of the baggage which we have brought from the past of the Society. There is nothing of it in India. The reason for this attitude of H.P.B. is the persecution by Christians of those who stood for truth, who were the messengers of the Masters.
There is one other aspect of this, that Theosophists are said to be particularly against the "Personal God" conception. They are definitely "anti-personal" in their idea of God, and some go to the extent of proclaiming that the Masters are against such a conception. For instance, they will quote you of the letters of the Master K.H. to Mr. Sinnett which begins: "Neither our philosophy nor ourselves believe in a God, least of all in one whose pronoun necessitates a capital G." That seems fairly blunt and straight. It is perfectly true that as you read the Letters you find an antipathy to the idea of a Personal God. Here, however, people forget a statement in another letter of the Master K.H., which comes incidentally in a few lines but is nevertheless most important. This is the statement:
"Believe me, good friend, learn what you can under the circumstances, to viz.- the philosophy of the phenomena and our doctrines on Cosmogony, inner man, etc. This T.Subba Row will help you to learn, though his terms- he being an initiated Brahmin and holding to the Brahmanical esoteric teaching- will be different from those of the Arhat Buddhist' terminology. But essentially both are the same- identical in fact. (The Mahatma Letters, Letter LXXVI).
Those who know the philosophy of any philosophical Hindu like T.Subba Row know that there is an angle to this problem different from that of Buddhism. We must remember that the Master K.H. is a Buddhist abbot in Tibet, and therefore He and His pupils must necessarily present the Buddhist aspect of philosophy. Every Hindu believes in both a Personal and an Impersonal God, as T.Subba Row did. He was a deist. He offered his prayers to the Personal God, but at the same time he knew the conception of the Impersonal Brahman. But as an Advaita Brahmin, he had more an impersonal conception of God than a personal one. Another pupil, Mohini Chatterji, was also a deist, but he was a Visishtadvaita Brahmin, and so relied more on the personal aspect of God than on the impersonal. Both these concepts exist in Hinduism and the complexity of the problem is vast.
In all great philosophies we have
a proclamation that an "Absolute" is the basis of everything. I have
never been able to make clear to my mind why there must be an Absolute at all.
However.... Now in Theosophy we have a certain philosophy given us by our Adept
Teachers, especially the Masters M. and K.H.. Few seem aware of the teachings
which the Master Serapis gave to Colonel Olcott in 1875 in New York. Here I
will say something which may seem irreverent but is essential. We must not erect
the teachings of our two Masters into dogmas, which necessarily must cancel
out the teachings of every other Master. Each Master has His own standpoint.
But as Theosophists, while we have the utmost reverence for our two Masters,
equal reverence must be given to the teachings of other Masters like Shri Krishna,
Jesus Christ, Zoroaster, Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya and others. I mean Their
real teachings, not what is ascribed to Them. We must not enter into any narrow
bigotry, erecting the Masters whom we know as saying the final word.
In all great philosophies we have a proclamation that an "Absolute" is the basis of everything. I have never been able to make clear to my mind why there must be an Absolute at all. However, all philosophies postulate the necessity of having this vast enveloping sphere which they call the Absolute. Even Herbert Spencer, the materialist, posited the Absolute; so too all the German Philosophies. All they say about it is IT IS. The Hindu philosophies go somewhat further. When they postulate Brahman as the Absolute they posit certain attributes in the Absolute; one is Chit or energizing Consciousness, not a mere abstract intelligence but a dynamic energizing Consciousness; Another thing we must remember is that the Masters cannot in reality contradict one another, for They are one with Truth. They may seem to contradict, because They have to state in terms of words the nature of that which is "fathomless".a second characteristic is Ananda, Bliss. The third quality is Sat or Being or Be-Ness. But what is meant by "being"? Though the word "being" connotes a kind of negative quiescent Reality, I think it may be described as having some kind of a directing personality in it. What do I mean by that? Is not that a sort of Personal God in the Absolute? I am of course merely theorizing.
Now, from the Absolute, there issues Ishvara, the Personal Deity. I cannot imagine that from an Absolute, which is the negation of anything that we can postulate as personality, there can issue a personality. That is why I say that there must be some kind of a root of personality in the Absolute, in the same kind of a way that in the tiny seed of a great banyan tree the tree is latent inside one cell. One must postulate that the root of Ishvara is in the Absolute; and since Ishvara is, as Creator-Preserver-Destroyer, a directing personality, therefore the root of that directing personality must exist in the Absolute. So when one says the Absolute is Sat-Chit-Ananda, one implies that Sat or Being is a directing personality in IT in principle. There is also in the Absolute an Intelligence, Chit, which must be an energizing Consciousness in principle, for unless we postulate that, whence this cosmic, evolutionary planned and detailed action which manifests as the Intelligence of Ishvara? Without this idea of a root of personality in Brahman, we come to a mechanical conception of the nature of manifestation of the universe. This is the Buddhist idea. When the Absolute manifests as Ishvara and becomes the upper and the lower halves of a circle, to use the well known symbol, and the two halves interact (as flint striking iron makes a spark), then the latent Personality of God becomes active. This is the Personal God.
While Ishvara is the Personal Lord, there is behind Him a vast sphere of the Impersonal Godhead, and there will come a time at the end of this manifestation. When Ishvara reverts into His root nature as a principle of personality, and is no longer a Person.
So if we want to understand this problem we must understand both the nature of the Personal God whom we worship, and also of that vaster sphere in which He and we exist. How are we to define that higher sphere? One thing to remember is, that that Vastness IS, and that it is everything conceivable. In Hinduism the statement is that it is Sat-Chit-Ananda; Buddhism would simply say IT IS, without any quality that can be predicated of IT.
Now, any definition which we try to make must be "beside the mark." This is clearly recognized in Hindu teachings. There are innumerable philosophical works on the subject, but there is one place in one of the Upanishads where the truth is summed up in the statement that whatever another says concerning THAT, your answer must always be "Neti, Neti"- "It is never so, it is never so.". Nothing that is manifested can ever describe what is un-manifested. So we are instructed that as we rise from experience to experience, and even see the glory of the highest of all the planes with all its manifestations, when we are almost on the verge of knowing what is "God," we still must say "Neti, Neti." Whatever you discover on any manifested plane is still not THAT.
All this is very beautifully described in The Light of Asia, in the first sermon which the Lord Buddha gave. The first verse is:
OM, AMITAYA! Measure not with words
Th' Immeasurable; nor sink the string of thought
Into the Fathomless. Who asks doth err,
Who answers, errs. Say nought!
That is the true standpoint of Buddhism.
The problem whether there is God or not is beyond the range of mere human intellect to solve.
I have said that along our line of speculation the Absolute manifests as Ishvara, the Cosmic Logos. That is the first emanation, and therefore all the millions of Solar Logoi are within the Cosmic Logos, who enfolds in Himself the whole universe and energizes all Logoi and everything within them. The problem now is, How far will you go in your philosophical explorations? Will you, for instance, go from the Logos of our Solar System, God to us, to the Universal Logos, who of course is a Personality? If you say, "Thus far for me," then you will follow certain lines of teaching as to self-growth and salvation, But you take the other attitude and say, "No, I must proceed to the Absolute Being. I do not deny the existence of the Cosmic Logos and Solar Logoi, but my goal is to pierce into that far Greater Be-Ness, to know the nature of the Absolute, even though all philosophers say I cannot do it"; if you take this second attitude, that your aim is to come to know, however little, what is the nature of the Absolute, there is for you no God to worship. Not that you deny the existence of a hierarchy of Logoi; but you are concerned not with them but to go beyond into the nature of the Absolute. But if your temperament is towards the Personal Logos, as a Unity or Trinity with the Hierarchies emanating from them then there does exist a God for you to worship.
Now in all this where do you and I come in? What is our relation to the Solar Logos? There is one fact to go upon. I have my "being" within the circumscribing sphere of the Solar Logos.
The Solar Logos enfolds us; He feeds us; He is the matrix like the mother's womb which nourishes the embryo till it can live a separate existence. So we "live and move and have our being" in Him.
But we are created by Him? There I would myself say, No, for we are Monads and are rooted in the Cosmic Logos. But we are only potential Monads within the Cosmic Logos. It is the Solar Logos who brings these potential Monads into Himself and there fosters them, as the mother's womb does the embryo. He feeds us and draws us out night and day. It is His function to bring out the monadic powers of each Monad into activity.
You can worship the Solar Logos, as Father, Mother or Son, for He is our Mediator. Yet at the same time, if you are searching for the root of being you must go beyond even the Cosmic Logos.
It is interesting to note what was the attitude of the Lord Buddha to this problem. All sorts of questions were asked of Him on this question, Is there God? His answer always was to this effect: "The question is beside the mark. It is not rightly put. I am not here to answer that question, I am here to tell you of the cause of suffering and the way out of suffering." He never denied the existence of God nor asserted it. His attitude was once given in a parable. If you find a man wounded by an arrow, is it to the point to ask: "From what tree's wood is this arrow made? From the feathers of what bird is this arrow tipped?" What the wounded man asks of you is to have the arrow plucked out; he is not interested in your speculations. His need is healing, not philosophy.
Another thing we must remember is that the Masters cannot in reality contradict one another, for They are one with Truth. They may seem to contradict, because They have to state in terms of words the nature of that which is "fathomless". For instance, the Master K.H. says, "There is no god worthy of a capital letter," and yet when teaching Krishnaji (J.Krishnamurti) He uses the word God. The Master Serapis ends a letter to Colonel Olcott: "God's blessing upon thee, Brother mine." He concludes three other letters invoking God's blessing. And in one letter this:" God lead thee, Brother mine, and may He crown thy noble efforts with success." There are contradictions, but contradictions are of the very nature of manifested life. Think of a disc, set it in motion going in a certain direction. Observe the direction, but also note that by the very nature of the disc it has two sides. What is important is not the fact that disc always faces two contradictory directions but the direction in which it is going. You cannot describe a disc exactly except in terms of a contradiction.
Out of these experiences is born the truth which is sought. Each will come to a part of the solution by himself, in the silence. Therefore though we may by philosophical discussion realize the truth to some extent, we shall never grasp the entire truth. We have something of that today in physics. They say you cannot describe completely the nature of the ultimate particle of matter, the electron. You can make an accurate statement as to its velocity; but you cannot at the same time give an accurate statement of its position at the instant you define its velocity. If you give a correct statement about its position, then the statement about its velocity is only approximate. By the very nature of the root of the physical universe, the two important factors, velocity and position, cannot be equated, except approximately. There is formula which gives this approximation. This is the "Principle of Indeterminacy." Also, once you have stated what the electron is, the next instant that statement does not apply. The moment you have observed an electron you have changed it by your observation, your first statement about it is not valid for your second observation. We cannot understand this Principle of Indeterminacy except in terms of higher mathematics. Mere argument does not give the solution.
On this we have an example in Hinduism, in the name Muni for a sage and saint. Muni means the Silent one. A Sannyasi often makes a vow of silence for a certain period, and behind that is the fact that it is "in the silence" that he begins to enter into a realization of the mystery. But each needs, however, before he goes into the silence, to possess the experiences which all his past incarnations have given him.. Therefore we must never try to impose our partial realization upon another .Out of these experiences is born the truth which is sought. Each will come to a part of the solution by himself, in the silence. Therefore though we may by philosophical discussion realize the truth to some extent, we shall never grasp the entire truth
There is one supreme fact which is clear on this line of inquiry. It is that you can never understand THAT till you begin to understand THIS, which is manifestation. You cannot know THAT merely out of abstract principles of philosophy. The universe, even with its Maya, has a value for us in our journey to THAT. Similarly you cannot completely understand the nature of God till you begin to understand at least partially the nature of man, for man is God here below. Therefore then we need to go outwards into manifestation, and note the interrelations of manifestation among men, note the relations between workers, friends, enemies and so on. All our human problems are a part of the transcendent spiritual problem.
Further, the problem is different with each of us. Some discover something of God first, and then afterwards they begin to understand man. On the other hand, others discover much of man first, and then they come to something of the realization of God. But once again, the practical advice is, "Say naught." Argument and discussion lead nowhere. If I were to say this in India, the typical Hindu will say, "All the same, what an exciting and exhilarating adventure we can have "getting nowhere." That is India all over, through the ages-- the would-be philosopher philosophizing, while on all sides is human misery, which scarcely arrest his attention.
My advice to you is to do what the
did:" And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."
There is one absolutely essential factor, in this problem of understanding the Reality. After you have so pondered in your heart, you must create. What? Deeds of love and sacrifice, new gifts to God or man, hopes, dreams, philosophies, arts and religions, it little matters what. You must first be utterly certain what is your "mark" and then go straight to it, as the arrow goes straight to its mark, ignoring everything else. When you have created, you must "stand by" that creation, unwavering and loyal to it, however much all men may deny its value. I shall here always remember how Dr. Annie Besant, used to recite with fervour these verses from Myers' poem St Paul:
Lo if some strange intelligible thunder
Sang to the earth, the secret of a star,
How should ye catch, for terror and for wonder,
Shreds of the story that was pealed so far?
Scarcely I catch the words of his revealing,
Hardly I hear him, dimly understand,
Only the Power that is within me pealing
Lives on my lips and beckons to my hand.
Whoso has felt the Spirit of the Highest
Cannot confound nor doubt him nor deny:
Ye with one voice, O world, tho' thou deniest,
Stand thou on that side, for on this am I.
Rather the earth shall doubt when her retrieving
Pours in the rain and rushes from the sod,
Rather than he for whom the great conceiving
Stirs in his soul to quicken into God
Ay, tho' Thou then shouldst strike him from his glory,
Blind and tormented, maddened and alone,
Even on the cross would he maintain his glory,
Yes, and in hell would whisper, I have known.
"I have known." That is what she said as Hypatia and Bruno, when the bestial Christians scraped her flesh to the bone with oyster shells and the emissaries of the Pope bound him to the stake and lit round him the devouring fire.
In conclusion I have this to add.
The problem on which I have addressed you fascinates me, but only intellectually.
It does not grip me heart and soul. Yet I have my own form of worship of the
Personal God as the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, Pallas Athena. An exquisite marble
statue of Pallas as a girl is in the vestibule to the Shrine Room here in this
Centre. As I lie in bed, it stands a few feet from my head on the other side
of a door, and this Pallas suffices me better than any image of God created
by sculptor or painter since the days of Greece.
The eternal problem for me which I am discovering is not that of an Impersonal or Personal God, but of God as man. I do not mean by God as man God on earth as an Avatar, as the Incarnation of God as Jesus, or Shri Krishna. I mean God in man as the human man, woman, and child. To know these "fragments of the Divine,"The eternal problem for me which I am discovering is not that of an Impersonal or Personal God, but of God as man. I do not mean by God as man God on earth as an Avatar, as the Incarnation of God as Jesus, or Shri Krishna. I mean God in man as the human man, woman, and child. To know these "fragments of the Divine," who are struggling even as I am struggling through darkness to Light, as the very Solar Logos and Cosmic Logos (and both are one), to know each as a God of Gods, is this that I have discovered, and am discovering more and more each hour. From that Discovery has come whatever I have so far created; from it will come the greater creations still in lives to come as a "Brother of the Glorious Mystery."