Discourse about God: The word is God Part I

By Prof. Nishi Kanta Sanyal M.A. Bhaktisastri
As published in The Harmonist (Sree Sajjanatoshani)
Edited by Paramahamsa Paribrajakacharyya Sri Srimad Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaj

JUNE 12, 1935

Most people like to talk. Freedom of speech is one of the fundamental rights in all civilised countries. The modern newspaper panders to the craving for talk. But platform speeches and private discourses are also the order of the day. Of all the religions, Christianity possesses at the present day the most highly organised arrangement for systematic talking on the subject of religion.

All talk is not useful, and there may be some talk that is positively harmful. In some countries they are feeling the necessity of excluding harmful and reactionary talk. Newspapers are now owned by parties for serving definite interests. They are by no means free to talk as they like or even to talk as they think proper. Such indirect control of the freedom of speech is not due to any under-valuation of the utility of good and useful talking.

Although the value of talk is universally admitted and although talking is practised on a vast scale for every purpose, the world is not accustomed to listen to talks about transcendence and does not yet suspect the tremendous possibilities of such practice.

What then is this transcendental talk? In the first place it is a familiar enough idea almost all over the world that tidings about God came down to this world in the Form of the Word or the Scriptures. The word that corresponds to 'scriptures' in the Sanskrit language is 'shruti', the etymological meaning of which is 'that which contains the heard transcendental Word'. Srimad Bhagabat offers us the account of the Doings of Godhead during His difference Appearances in this world. It invites us to hear and discuss the narrative declaring that by such talk and such hearing alone it is possible for any person of this world to have access to the plane of transcendence.

At the same time it is recognised that there is a method by which transcendental discourses are to be conducted. Srimad Bhagabat distinguishes between transcendental talk and all other talk that is so familiar to us. Transcendental talk makes its appearance only through the proper medium of a person whose life is wholly dedicated to the service of God. On the other hand service to God cannot also be practised by those who have no access to the plane of transcendence available only through the proper kind of hearing of transcendental talk. The transcendental talk itself is the visible audible body of transcendence. It introduces itself to the transcendental part of our nature. It draws out the spiritual activity of our unalloyed souls. Such activity alone is service of Godhead. The nature of such activity cannot be understood by those who have no access to its supernatural plane.

The great proposition, which is unique of its kind that is offered for our acceptance by Srimad Bhagabat, is that religion consists in the transcendental service of God Who reserves the right of not being exposed to human senses. This at once suggests the problem as to how with our present senses it can be at all possible to serve God. In other words, it leads to the question of the method of the quest of His service.

Srimad Bhagabat assumes that its readers are prepared to admit the necessity of serving God. Those who believe in the necessity of a cosmic order for the attainment of the highest and best aspiration of humanity cannot avoid subscribing, in the long run, to the doctrine of the service of the Eternal. Men of this world do not live for themselves alone. They also live for their family, for their country, for mankind and for God. Srimad Bhagabat says that it is not possible for any person to live for God except on the plane of eternal life; that it is the only purpose of human life to find a footing on the plane of such service; that all other issues of mortal existence are automatically solved by the attainment of such service.

It is not, of course, possible for any superficial observer to understand how the solution of the problems of worldly existence is effected in the life of transcendental service of God. Therefore, the life of service has been always misunderstood and misrepresented by ignorant and interested parties. We, therefore, propose in this short article to distinguish between life that is led for God and which is led for any other purpose.

The best way of approaching the question will be by distinguishing between the methods that are pursued for the attainment of the respective forms of life. I shall confine my observation within the field of religion. The current practices of religion offer as many conceptions about the nature of the service of God as there are ways of living in this world. The subject of worldly living will, therefore, not remains unexplained if a comparative study of religion in regard to the method of quest is sought to be offered.

Let us begin by stating the universal object of religion. It can be put briefly as the quest of the Absolute Truth. The word truth itself requires to be explained. The corresponding Sanskrit word is satya, the etymological meaning of which is the principle of permanent unconditioned existence or existence-in-himself. Truth is one. Truth is consciousness as substance. Truth manifests himself as dominating and dominated consciousness. Truth is real. All this is implied by the word satya in which emphasis is laid upon the principle of permanent existence while the other parts of the connotation are necessarily implied.

But the thing-in-himself must possess both absolute objectivity and absolute subjectivity. Therefore, that method of quest of the truth should alone be fully admissible which does not tamper the complete entity of the thing.

Absolute Truth must also be distinguished from apparent and local truths. The methods of seeking for the truths that are current in this world both in the field of secular investigation as well as religious speculation, generally aim at the ascertainment of local truths. In this empiric method three phases are distinguishable which have been termed by the shastras pratyaksha, paroksha, and aparoksha methods respectively. The pratyaksha method relies on direct sense-perception of the knower as the only way of knowing the truth. The paroksha method relies more on the sense-experience of other persons. This latter is the ordinary methods of the inductive science. By the pratyaksha and paroksha methods it is possible to reach the truth as an object of perception, but the object so reached has very little to do with its transaction as a subject. The thing-in-himself (truth) in these cases is approached mechanically by our senses has no other alternative but to submit to be so approached. Its only subjectivity consists in its utter passivity. This makes the realisation itself incomplete if our definition of truth, as involving the full measure of objectivity as well as subjectivity, is accepted. In approaching an object with our senses, we are reduced to the necessity of being satisfied with a one-sided impression of a local and temporary entity. The aparoksha method seeks to avoid this insufficiency of the two foregoing methods by its assumptions based on the insufficiency of all perceptual experience as such that the truth possesses only a subjective nature and is devoid of all objectivity. It is by this assumption that this method explains the undoubted fact of its experience why the thing-in-himself fails to be an object of knowledge. It involves the further assumption that the truth does not possess any initiative by which he can make himself known to any other entity as there can be no second entity at all in this case. This is the impersonalistic doctrine.

The current religious views and beliefs of the world can be classified under one or other of these three methods of quest that is followed for their attainment. The Bhagabat does not accept any of these methods. It does not think that the truth can be found by the method of direct or indirect perception or by abstinence from the activity of perception. It invites everybody to reject the above methods on the ground of their self-evident insufficiency for the attainment of the complete truth. Therefore, it declares the truth to be adhokshaja. Sree Jiva Goswami explains the term adhokshaja as 'one who has reserved the right of not being exposed to human senses'. The word adhokshaja is always used in the Bhagabat as the equivalent of Godhead.

That the Bhagabat proposes to deal exclusively with the service of adhokshaja or transcendental Godhead. The service of adhokshaja implies that the absolute truth has his own situation as the subject and has the perfect initiative for making himself the object of knowledge. We can have the opportunity of seeing Him only when He comes upon the plane of our vision. The Absolute does show himself to us--He also remains inaccessible to us--as He likes. In this world we pose as the subjective observers of local objects but the adhokshaja is not any such object.

This points to the distinction between service and worldliness. In the case of service of God, I am to offer my services to the Lord Who is to accept the same. This relationship is not possible except between me and the adhokshaja. The objects that are perceived by the senses are utterly wanting in such complete subjectivity and objectivity.

The function that is appropriate towards the adhokshaja is called bhakti. In the process of bhakti the office of the object is higher than that of the subject or offerer of service. But the adhokshaja or the object of bhakti is object as well as subject. He is Vastava Vastu or the Absolute Reality. Our perceptual impressions of the truth are avastava, i.e. not the thing-in-itself. The objects that are accessible to our senses are not eternal. They are a passing show.

(To be continued)


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