The Merits of Having a Personal God

अर्जुन उवाच

एवं सततयुक्ता ये भक्तास्त्वां पर्युपासते ।

ये चाप्यक्षरमव्यक्तं तेषां के योगवित्तमा: ॥ १ ॥

Bhagavad Gita 12.1

Arjuna inquired: Which are considered to be more perfect, those who are always properly engaged in Your devotional service or those who worship the impersonal Brahman, the unmanifested?

Arjuna asks this question right after the section in the Bhagavad Gita when Shri Krishna reveals His universal form. Arjuna could witness right there in the middle of the battlefield that His charming friend turned chariot driver contains the Universe within Himself. Arjuna is naturally in a confused state.

What will be better?

To contemplate upon and connect to what is manifest before him or something impersonal?

क्ल‍ेशोऽधिकतरस्तेषामव्यक्तासक्तचेतसाम् ।

अव्यक्ता हि गतिर्दु:खं देहवद्भ‍िरवाप्यते ॥ ५ ॥

Bhagavad Gita 12.5

“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.”

In this beautiful verse from the Gita, Shri Krishna so logically points out that for the ones who are embodied, devotion to something formless is not easy.

I was wondering lately how people can get so attached to deities and forms of divinity. Even books, symbols, gurus or say, rituals. We see it more profoundly with religion but it also is the case with pop culture too. To give a few examples: Batman evokes more sentiments than comic books; Manchester United (toxically so in my case) evokes more emotions than the sports of Football; Sachin’s retirement made me stop watching Cricket altogether.

I have been reading Gita again but this time my focus has been more from the impersonal angle, the Advait Vedanta (non-dualism) route. While most of the content spoken by the Mystical Shri Hari goes over my tiny brain, it still does not fail to astonish. What it definitely made me think is about why has there been a need in human history to deify divinity or have a tangible form for worship. Reading Gita from an impersonal perspective helps me appreciate the beauty of the above verse. Additionally I can also appreciate why it is so easier to connect to some ‘tangible’ personal form like Krishna Himself.

Why A Deity

People who cannot understand or appreciate why there is a need for places of worship, deities, symbols can do well on ruminate on the B.G. 12.5 as quoted above. Pay attention on the usage of the word embodied. It not just means the spirit that is right now expressing itself through the body; it also means one who cannot perceive that which is beyond the body.

We cannot explain the taste of a rasgulla to a person who has never tried it. However, one who has tasted something sweet previously can come at least come to a state of imagination.

When the divine descends in the form of say, Krishna (or say a master, a saint or prophet) it becomes so infinitely easy to connect with. The beautiful form, play, interactions, stories, qualities of a personal form can so effortless attract our minds and hearts towards divinity. The advantage a personal form brings is so immense!

First step of approaching the divine is usually out of fear, awe or some need. That is a good start but it is definitely not first class. A higher step can be to humanise the relationship with God.

In Vaishnav tradition, there are primarily five ways, or more specifically rasas as they are called in Sanskrit of connecting with God:

  • Shant ras: Silent contemplation on God. Usually in the form of Lord Narayana (Vishnu). We find similar path preached in other religions as well. Here God is treated with awe and reverence.
  • Dasya ras: One now has a more personal connect. One connects to the Lord as a servant. The most famous example is Shri Hanuman from Ramayana.
  • Sakhya ras: Here the mood is of a friend and clearly a greater level of intimacy. Think of Arjuna, Sugriva or Vibhishan from the epics.
  • Vatsalya ras: Here one think of themselves as a parent of the divine. The divine is seen as a dependent and the level of intimacy and love is unmatched. We all know how legendary is the love between Mother Yasoda and baby Krishna.
  • Madhurya ras: The mood here is of a lover. One considers God as their beloved and all other rasas find an expression here. Gopis of Vrindavan are the prime example of this mood.

Reason I gave the above examples is to exemplify how these paths have been created to facilitate an easier route towards the divine.

The path of knowledge or Jnana yoga may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is not easy at all to engage your intellect in trying to understand that which is beyond the intellect itself.

The path of astanga yoga and it’s eight limbs are practically impossible to achieve for 90% of the populace in the modern era— I say that with some conviction after studying about the eight limbs during my yoga teachers training. Perhaps in future I can share more on this in a blog or podcast. The posture and breathing part of yoga that is popular in modern age is effective on many levels of our existence but that alone cannot take us above and beyond the material. Same goes for the path of meditation to achieve God. It is mighty difficult to focus the mind on something intangible.

The path of devotion or love is the easiest and most practical. One can use practically all human emotions to connect with the divine. One can use even ordinary day to day activities to connect to God and divinise our humanity. I have learned recently that for this reason even students of advaith vedanta are advised to first start with the 12th chapter of the Gita which directly deals with the path of divine love. Even Shri Aadi Shankaracharya the proponent of non-dualism at the end of His human adventure advised devotion to Shri Krishna (refer to Bhaja Govindam) as a sure shot way of rising above the material life!

God is not an idea or a concept that can be explained. God is not even an object that can be defined. God is ultimately an experience as explained by the wise ones. A personal form makes it so much easier to get a glimpse of the experience.

Thank you so much for reading this until the end. I hope the post sparks some joyful contemplation. As always, I look forward to your personal takeaways, realisations, critique or suggestions.

Wishing you the best on your life journey,

Kushagra

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