Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 2: The Nature of God (1)

All the theological beliefs in the world can be divided into two camps: the personalist, i.e. those that describe God as the Supreme Person (our loving Father, etc.), and the impersonalist, i.e. those that describe the ultimate Absolute Truth as formless, faceless, and impersonal.  Throughout the history of the world, it is the former who has introduced Himself to us over and over again through revelation, and it is the latter concept that has over and over again been arrived at through human intellect, reasoning and philosophy.  The idea that the Supreme Infinite Absolute Truth could be a Person with feelings, eager to awaken a relationship with us, and even more radical -- that He could have a transcendental BODY, is difficult for the rational human intellect to grasp.  Such an idea is generally dismissed, to one degree or another, by humans with a strong aptitude for rational thinking as being due to the anthropomorphic imagination of the simple, childlike masses.  Each time God has revealed Himself to mankind as a personal God, after the first blush of excitement and devotional service to Him that springs up, it's only been a matter of time before philosophers begin questioning the revealed tradition that describes Him in personal terms, saying it couldn't possibly be meant literally, and editing it (or at least footnoting and explaining it) to their own satisfaction, which basically changes that religious tradition's concept of Him to a far more impersonal one.  Time after time, this scenario has played out.  I'm afraid that the majority of faithful in the world are very much influenced by these skeptical, rationalist, human-generated, impersonal ideas about God.

The problem is that the farther you go down that road, the harder it is to feel any love for God, which is the whole thing that makes religion worthwhile.  Being saved is not the most important idea -- which some people have noticed, as evidenced by the sort of fun, flippant comments they'll make sometimes about how boring Heaven sounds and how they might almost prefer Hell if there's better company down there.  Wanting to be saved from Hell is a very negative reason to want to go to Heaven.  The positive reason -- what we're REALLY looking for -- is what we in the Vaisnava tradition call rasa, or "juice": anything that makes life sweet, interesting, delightful and worthwhile.  A lovable God whom you're actually inspired to spend your time serving is what makes religion fulfilling!  And the fewer glorious, exciting, wonderful qualities you're able to attribute to Him and praise Him for, the fewer stories you're able to tell of personal dealings He had with you or others you respect and care about (ways that He offered His protection and/or the possibility of sweet relationships with Him), the more He tends to fade into the background, becoming simply something you believe in (e.g., an eternal force underlying, permeating and sustaining the world) rather than someone you can actively serve in loving relationship.  It begins to make less difference whether you believe in Him/It or not, and you get closer to out-and-out atheism.

Hare Krishnas acknowledge that God does have an impersonal aspect, which it is possible for intelligent human beings (like Socrates and others) to realize the truth of through their own powers of reasoning, even without having met or heard from any representative of God.  However, the human intellect is not able to penetrate any farther than that on its own into understanding God; and there is so much more to know about Him, which we can only understand through His merciful revelations.  We are infinitesimal, and He is infinite: how could we possibly expect to be able to understand everything about the unlimited Lord with our small, limited minds?  So although both conceptions of God are correct, the personal aspect (called Bhagavan) is the deepest and most complete realization of Him; that transcendental form of the Lord is the energetic source of the impersonal Brahman energy, just as the sun is the source of the sunlight.  Therefore, we Hare Krishnas are situated in the personalist camp.

Whenever we recite the standard prayers to Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of our movement, part of the praise we offer him therein is that he came to deliver the Western countries from impersonalism and voidism.  Oh, yes -- belief in God the Person, our eternal loving Friend, Sri Krsna, whose body is imperishable, transcendental, spiritual, and full of bliss and knowledge, who is the reservoir of all beauty and pleasure and power -- is central indeed to everything we are and everything we do.

As I alluded to above, both in the East and in the West, personalists encounter plenty of condescension from impersonalists, who patronize our "anthropomorphism" and consider the idea of a God with a personal form to be childish, suitable only for simple-minded beginners.  However, considering that God loves the humble, simple and childlike devotee and has said "Except ye become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven", I really wonder how those who consider themselves Christian, at least, can hold that against us!

Now, let's see whose view actually makes more sense.

To be continued...