In the Mundaka Upanishad, a disciple asks the teacher, “Master, what is that by knowing which we know everything.” The teacher replied: sages say that there are two levels of Truth: Apara vidhya (lower wisdom) and Para vidhya (higher wisdom).
Apara vidhya consists of four Vedas, rituals, and other sciences. The Para vidhya is that through which one knows God directly. Any knowledge of God that comes indirectly is lower wisdom; this includes even sacred scriptures. Higher wisdom is that in which a person has the direct experience of God and realizes the universal and indwelling presence of God (which is ‘Spirit’ — and neither a person nor an object).
God is not only everywhere outside us but everywhere within (omnipresent). In other words, there’s nowhere where God isn’t! A person says, “I am in God and God is in me.” A person may grow even further and realize that God is the source of one’s existence and may declare “God and I are one” (aham brahma asmi).
It doesn’t mean one becomes God or there are many Gods — it really means that ultimately God alone exists and the whole of creation comes from God and returns to God as ice comes from water and returns to it. We have to begin with Apara vidhya and grow into Para vidhya.
Once, when Moses felt he was in the immediate presence of God, he asked this ‘Presence’ its name. At first Moses was told enigmatically: “I am That I am,”
But this was too much for Moses to handle. So the revelation was regiven in more concrete and historical terms: “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Moses could then recognize the divine mystery as the God of his ancestors.
Here we see that revelation regarding the nature of ‘God’ or ultimate Truth. Revelation can have two aspects — historical and eternal.
With historical truth only, human beings experience God as transcendent mystery. God reveals his will through commandments.
The Ten Commandments given to Moses and the people on Mount Sinai imply: God is greater than human beings, they have to submit their will and intellect to the almighty, and that God demands absolute obedience, loyalty and exclusivity.
But this is not the ultimate divine-human relationship. God also promised that he would make a new covenant in which he would write the Law in the heart of the people. When this happens, there’s no need for one person to urge another to believe in God because everyone would then know God inwardly.
This is the experience of the indwelling and the universal presence of God. God is no longer an authority who demands the obedience of will and intellect, but he is the God of freedom who gives the recognition of What they really are to his mature children. God is known in silent inner stillness even while one is outwardly busy.
Jesus of Nazareth experienced this transition in his understanding from acknowledging the God of history to experiencing the God of eternity — probably at the moment of his baptism. He could then say, “I am in the Father (God) and the Father is in me.”
He went even further, however, when he realized he and his Father (God) were one. To say “God and I are one” may appear to some as a presumptuous and blasphemous statement but in fact it is a most humble statement.
It is the dropping of our egoic identity and the recognition of our oneness with God … and with everything else. It’s affirming that God alone exists — that we all come from God and return to God. It makes a person humble. It is the realization that everyone is that reality (tat vam asi).
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, an act of great humility. The deeper one grows into God the humbler one becomes.
All the sacred scriptures are the gift of God to humanity. But they belong to the historical manifestation of truth. Since theism is based on the sacred scriptures it also belongs to the historical manifestation of God or Truth. The historical manifestation of truth is conditioned according to the times and culture in which it is revealed.
The difficulty comes only when historical truth is understood as eternal truth. It’s like saying that the space within the four walls of a room is infinite space. To anyone who has been out in the open, it clearly isn’t.
Our confined experience when taken as a total and final revelation becomes a source of division and violence in the world. Just as every house has a door to the infinite space, so also every religion should have a door to the ‘God’ of eternity.
In every scripture and major religious tradition, there are keys that open the door to the God of eternity. It is the responsibility of spiritual guides to look for these keys if they want to grow in their spiritual journey and help others to do the same.
A wise spiritual guide is one who is well versed in the historical God (sacred scriptures) and is also established in the eternal God. In this way he or she becomes a bridge for the people to progress from the historical God into the eternal God.
Jesus was very angry with the spiritual leaders of his time. He said, “You have the keys of the kingdom of heaven; but neither will you enter nor allow others to do so”. He felt that the religious leaders of his society had become an obstacle for the spiritual growth of its members.
A theism that confines people to the historical manifestations of God is blocking the spiritual evolution of human consciousness and thus not in harmony with the purpose of God. It may be even acting against the will of God!
Mature atheism is a cry of the human heart to free itself from the God of history and authority and move into the God of freedom and eternity. It is an existential urge to be born into a new life.
The fight of atheism is against the God of history. Since the God of history demands the submission of the will and the intellect, he is considered to be authoritarian and oppressive.
Both atheists and theists can leave the ‘God of history’ concept behind and move out into the natural light and infinite space of the ‘God of eternity.’ It’s the next necessary step in our personal growth and in the evolution of human consciousness.
~ From: Atheism Vs Theism by Br. (Swami) John Martin Sahajananda, OSB Cam.
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Br. John is now Spiritual Director at the Saccidananda Ashram, Shantivanam, in South India. He was a close disciple of the great Vedic Christian mystic, Bede Griffiths, and contributes immensely to Hindu-Christian dialogue.