Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
During a satsang (a gathering of seekers of the Truth) about two years ago, Brahmachari Yogesh (né Bonne) from Reunion while talking about the Hindu tradition said that it is about la culture du tout sacré. By that he meant that we are all part of a whole that includes living and non-living things, starting from that which has engendered life on this planet namely the Sun, and that we owe it to ourselves and to the rest of creation to conduct our lives in such a way as not to cause harm to each other. What is not meant is blind obedience to some hypothetical human-like or humanoid creature suspended or sitting somewhere imagined, and wielding a whip or a magic wand. The magic of co-existing in equilibrium, peace and harmony with all of creation – not only human beings – will come from us alone, or it will not come at all.
What this perspective enjoins upon us in practice, therefore, is that we must treat all that exist with due care and respect. To all objects we give various names and forms, but behind this multitude there is one thing that is common, and that is what we must come to recognize. For example and by way of analogy, we are familiar with different forms of gold used as ornaments on different parts of the body, to which we give names such as neck chains, earrings, bracelets, anklets, nose rings and so on. Yet underlying these names and forms there is one thing that is common to all of them: gold. Now think of the whole universe of forms to which we have given names – and there may be others not discovered yet. What underlies all of them? Whence are they derived, in what are they grounded?
Call that Supreme Being, Lord, God or by any other name, in our daily lives we must acknowledge its reality even if we may not know, or differ in our interpretations of its exact nature. And thus we can see that all forms and names, in other words, all that is created, resolve into that single Unity, and by extension, all names and forms can be considered as representing or be a symbol of that underlying Unity. In Hinduism, we refer to that Supreme as Om-Brahman, whose nature is Satchidananda. Sat is the One Eternal Truth, Chit is Universal Consciousness (of that Truth), and Ananda is the state of joy one is in once one has become conscious of and lives one’s life based on that Truth.
From the notion of God to the Elephant ‘God’
We have always known, but now science has also proved, that many animals possess characteristics that surpass those of humans, such as strength (the lion), speed (the cheetah), hearing (the bat), vision (the owl) and so on. If we have any superiority, it is only a matter of degree. And thus, in the spectrum of the living, we may assume but can never actually establish with absolute certainty that we humans only can have notions of a Supreme Being.
If the elephant is not God, it certainly has characteristics which qualifies it as a potential applicant for the job. Just imagine: the elephant because of its size is mightily strong and in spite of its size is a very gentle and friendly creature; it loyally responds to man’s requests for its services without ever complaining, granting its favours without discrimination; it does not kill other creatures for its pleasure or for eating; it has a very good memory, and it allows children and even adults who are so inclined to play with it without getting irritated or angry, displaying an almost infinite patience. But then perhaps the elephant, in all humility, may not even want to apply for the position.
We assume that the elephant does not know God. One of the ways in which humans imagine God is that of someone who resembles man – why not woman in a world whose population is at least half female is something that is still a mystery to me – so, as I was saying, God is then someone who looks like a man, is superstrong, is extremely good, has compassion for all creatures, etc., in short has all the superlative qualities that we can think of in a human being (especially the male variety) magnified infinitely. And it is said that God has created everything and everybody. Did he also create other creatures so that we may kill and consume them?
From an elephant’s point of view, perhaps this reasoning would be very strange indeed. Is it because the elephant can reason otherwise, or because it has innate sentiments for the welfare of and in fairness to other creatures that it is a herbivore? And, come to think of it, if man can imagine a God made in his own image, then why deny the possibility to the elephant of imagining a God resembling a mightier, better elephant?
Man – some part of mankind at least – has conceived of a God, and expects all other humans and creatures to have the same image of God. How do we know that the ant, or the horse, does not have their own idea of what God looks like? To the ant, a bigger ant maybe; to the horse a bigger horse perhaps.
Certainly not a man, I would think, who crushes the one pitilessly and exploits the other for money shamelessly. But then, on the other hand, does the ant or the horse have to think of a God? We assume that there is a God and that therefore everyone else must assume the same. In any case, come to think of it, even the word God – where does it come from, what exactly does it mean? If God is so good, so compassionate, why is there so much of deliberate killing and maiming in the world. To a child who has lost a parent, and to be told that God has taken him away for his own good reasons not understandable to us, may be a convenient enough explanation to start with – but once he starts reasoning it out, it does not add up. God cannot be good and cruel at the same time. It is not sufficient that God be a mystery.
And so we come to the question of what or who God really is? Or whether we should use the term God at all? As we can see, it boils down not only to a matter of language, but also to what exact meaning we give to the words we use. In this sense, the meaning ascribed to the word God is entirely alien to other ways of imagining the forces that are at work in the universe. If we base ourselves on reason, knowledge and experience, it does not make sense that there is a single way of conceiving God. Either there are several Gods or there is no God at all. But if there is only one God, then give me the strong, kind, wise, friendly and gentle elephant any time.
* Published in print edition on 21 September 2012