God is one, almighty and all-pervasive

Published 20 October 2001 THE CONCEPTS of 'One and Different' are as old as the hills. Philosophers have grappled with them since the dawn of time. One wonders what does this seemingly difficult-to-grasp concept mean and why such apparent contradictions are (such as unity in diversity) still popular? Is there a spiritual dimension? The most widespread concept of God holds that God is an energy - even the source energy - or the manifestation of various forms, like Shiva, Surya, Vishnu, Ganesh, Durga, Brahma and Lakshmi. Meditation, yoga, nirvana and samadhi thrive in the West, are still considered the province of the mysterious East with its unbreakable ties to Hinduism, Buddhism and their derivatives. To serious students of Hinduism the array confuses. The six big names in authors of yore - Jaimini, Kanada, Gautama, Patanjali, Kapila and Badarayani - present a daunting tangle of different approaches. The idea of "different" embraces the conviction that God is in every different thing. This would explain the anthropomorphic gods. But where is the "oneness"? For answers, we needn't look beyond the Bhagavad Gita itself. What does Shri Krishna mean when he says to Arjuna: "By me, in my unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded? And "All beings are in me, but I am not in them". In his 'unmanifested' form, he pervades everything. But the universe is made of individual things. So this very pervasiveness is diverse. Then how about "All beings are in me, but I am not in them?" Well, there must be an original "I"! Oh? Excuse me, did you say you're not "praying to an old man with a beard, sitting on a throne, communing with cherubs who float on clouds playing lyres and singing"? Many great persons, poets and sages, including Ved Vyas, Badarayani, Jayadev, Asita, Mirabai, Narada, Vidyapati, Devala, accept the Gita's original "I" or original "one". This may be a bhakti 'interpretation', but at least it's not posing as the truth. We live in a world of competing truth claims. In 1996 and 1997, many thousands visited an exhibit at the Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Institution's Sackler Gallery. The display - organised by Sarah Cunningham of England - was called simply Puja. Puja occupied all the rooms of an entire floor. It's message: Deities in temples, homes and outdoor shrines fulfil the inherent human need to devote ourselves to a 'personality.' In the Gita, God's form is depicted as not only an energy that pervades everything, but also as a personality. To meditate on a personality is no more difficult than constantly thinking of our loved ones.