The Nature of God: Is There Contradiction in The Vedas? :: What is nature of God according to Vedas and Other Scriptures? :: Nirguna or Saguna ?? :: With features God is Saguna- Without feature God is Nirguna :: The ultimate source for discerning the nature of God are the collection of scriptures known as the Vedas. However, it is not easy to go through them. Why? Consider the following example: 'God has hands and legs everywhere, eyes, ears, heads and faces everywhere; and envelopes everything in this world.' (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 3.16 and Bhagavad Gita 13.13) However, the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad says: 'God is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, neither shadow nor darkness, neither air nor space. God is without eyes and ears or mouth. It is without taste or smell, speech or mind, without an exterior or an interior. It neither eats anything, nor anything eats It.' (3.8.8) The Isha Upanishad: 'God is without a body, sinless and without any wound.' (Mantra 8) And finally, 'God is Not this, Not this (neti neti). There is no other more appropriate description of God.' (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 2.3.6) We therefore see that the scriptures have described God in both ways – with form and attributes (saguna; savishesha), and without any form or attributes (nirguna; nirvishesha). We know that each and every word of the Vedas is sacred. Nothing can be left out. How, then can we reconcile these apparently contradictory statements? The correct thing obviously would be to study its context and then interpret. whether we have to accept God with or without form depends on who is making the choice. Doubt: Leaving the sadhana issue apart, if it is asked what actually is God, Nirguna or Saguna, what would be your reply? Resolution: Many people say that God is both Nirguna and Saguna. According to one school of thought, God is Saguna only, but the adjectives used to describe His qualities and features are transcendental, not material (prakritik). The Nirguna statements are merely metaphorical, indicating that God is extremely subtle. In such a scheme, we can easily reconcile the adjectives like 'without smell' (a-gandham), or without taste (a-rasam), i.e. we can say that God has transcendental taste and smell. However, what about the attributes 'not gross', 'not subtle', or 'not short' 'nor long'? If we say that these qualities refer to transcendental features, then we would have to say that God is transcendentally both gross and subtle, short and long. Thus again we are saddled with contradictory features in God. Not only this, if we interpret 'without a body' as meaning that God does not have a material body but a transcendental one, then we will have to interpret 'without wound' as God having a transcendental wound; and 'sinless' would mean having transcendental sins. This obviously will not be acceptable to anybody, not even to those who propound the above interpretation. Doubt: No, no. We have to accept only those features which reflect on God's benevolent nature, and discard the unpleasant qualities like 'without a wound' etc. Resolution: We must realize that even though a wound is harmful for the one possessing it, it is not so for the worm who finds shelter and nourishment in the wound. From the viewpoint of which creature are you calling a particular feature harmful or beneficent? We cannot discard any part of the Vedas. Not only this, the scriptures also say that even the negative, harmful aspects of the world are but God only: 'God has desire, anger and adharma' (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5) 'Fishermen, gamblers, all are God' (Atharvaveda, quoted by Shri Shankaracharya in Brahma Sutras 2.3.43). Hence, it is clear that such a narrowing down of the meaning is not sufficient at all. Therefore, now there is no other way other than reconciling the Saguna statements with a Nirguna God; i.e. God is fundamentally Nirguna , but due to 'upadhi', Saguna. Doubt: What is the meaning of this term 'upadhi'? You have introduced it without defining it first. Resolution: 'Upadhi' is a precisely defined technical term in Vedanta. It will not be an exaggeration to say that if we grasp the essence of this one term, much of Vedanta will fall into place for us, and things will become much easier to understand. Consider the following example: We go to somebody and ask him what is gold? In answer, he shows us a ring. Therefore, the ring becomes useful for understanding gold. Even though we recognize gold through the ring, the gold is totally independent of the ring; i.e., we could have come to know what gold is through a ring, bracelet, or a necklace. Whatever the shape may be, we will we get to know gold only. Even though the ring etc. is by itself not a part of gold, it helps us to recognize gold. The ring is called an 'upadhi' for gold. It is not necessary that an 'upadhi' be always be in contact with the object we wish to understand. It can remain away from it also. Consider the example of a Linga made of crystal. Being by itself colorless, it is difficult to distinguish. However, if we keep a red flower behind it we can distinguish it clearly. But, rather than its colorless nature, we now see it as red. This red flower is an 'upadhi' for the Linga. Even though the Linga seems red due to its proximity with the red flower, in actuality it is not red because it seems blue due to an upadhi of a blue flower. In this manner, because the same Linga seems to take on the different color of its various upadhis, the only possible conclusion is that it is by itself colorless. Even though the Linga is invisible to the eye, we can come to this conclusion because of its upadhis. This is the advantage of an upadhi. However, we need to be cautious on one point regarding upadhis: Though due to an upadhi we could clearly see the colorless Linga, even then, the upadhi showed it different from its true nature, i.e. it showed the Linga to be red while it was colorless. Therefore, after having recognized an object through its upadhi, to know its true nature we have to discard the upadhi. This is the only faultless theory. God is without any form, otherwise how can It take any form? This is what the scriptures declare again and again. The Brahma Sutra, the ultimate authority on Vedanta composed by sage Vyasa, says: 'Arupa-vat eva hi tat pradhanatvat' (Brahma Sutras 3.2.14): God is formless because this is the primary meaning of the Vedas. What then is the significance of the statements in Shruti (Vedas), where God is described as formless and without any qualities? The next sutra gives the answer: 'Prakasha-vat cha a-vaiyyarthyat' (3.2.15): God assumes forms various forms like light, because no statement in the scriptures is without significance. Shankaracharya's commentary on the above sutra says: 'God may be said to take various forms due to Its contact with various upadhis, just as the light of the sun, even though it pervades all space, is said to become straight or curved when it comes into contact with curved or straight things. But this does not mean that the character, which appears to belong to God on account of these upadhis, is Its true nature. So long as avidya (ignorance) exists, there exist the upadhis and the various forms ascribed to God, allowing room for the worship of Saguna Brahman.' Doubt: So the scriptures give sanction to both Saguna and Nirguna Brahman? Resolution: Yes. Not only that, the Prashna Upanishad names them as Para Brahman and Apara Brahman – Prashna Upanishad 5.2 Nirguna God is Para Brahman and Saguna is Apara Brahman. Negating the transient, ever-changing world, what is described in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad as "Neti Neti – Not This, Not This", is the Nirguna Brahman. The God which is described in the terms of the world of names and forms is Saguna Brahman. Doubt: If you speak thus, will it not contradict the scriptures, which have consensus in declaring that God is one and one only? Resolution: Not at all. God is one only and that is Para Brahman. Those who cannot know this accept the God defined by various upadhis and perform karmas and worship. Para Brahman is knowable, and Apara Brahman is attainable (Param gyatavyam, Aparam prapatavyam) – Shri Shankaracharya's commentary on the Katha Upanishad (1.2.16) However way God is described, it is only on account of some upadhi. In its true nature God is indescribable. That is why, however way we describe It, Shruti calls it "Neti Neti". Doubt: If God is neither this nor that, then is God 'Nothing' (Shunya)? Resolution: No. Whatever we see in front of us has come from God. How then can it be Shunya? God is. Even then, the compassionate Vedas decide to explain God to us. Therefore, they describe God as having contradictory qualities: 'God moves not. God is swifter than the mind. Standing still It surpasses other runners'. (Isha Upanishad 4) 'It moves, It does not move. It is far, It is near'. (Isha Upanishad 5) 'God is very far, God is very near'. (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.7) 'God walks and holds without hands or legs, It sees without eyes and hears without ears'. (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 3.19) 'God is light (tejomaya), God is without light (a-tejomaya). God has desire (kamamaya), God is without desire (a-kamamaya). God has anger (krodhamaya), God does not have anger (a-krodhamaya). God has dharma (dharmamaya), God does not have dharma (a-dharmamaya).' (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5) CONTD..