GOD: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher - The Podcast

EPISODE THIRTY: Where I am told about God’s encounter with the Hindu sages.

June 02, 2021 Jerry L. Martin Season 2 Episode 15
GOD: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher - The Podcast
EPISODE THIRTY: Where I am told about God’s encounter with the Hindu sages.
Show Notes Transcript

"There had been vaguely mystical experiences of Me before, but these seers were highly spiritual, highly developed, and made much more of the encounter. "

 GOD: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY - The Podcast Ep30


CHARACTERS

 

JLM (NARRATOR)              ----  Jerry Martin

JERRY                       ----  Jerry, a human

GOD                         ----  A mystery

  

GOD

We have clarified the ways in which I grew and things I learned from My encounter with Zoroaster, polytheism, and so forth. Now the question is how did I grow and what did I learn from interacting with Hindu sages.

It was different from other encounters. There had been vaguely mystical experiences of Me before, but these seers were highly spiritual, highly developed, and made much more of the encounter. It was like the difference between being swept away by a sunset and having an experience of mystical union with God--a qualitative leap.

JERRY

How did this affect You?

GOD

Before, I had mainly whispered to people--as conscience, aesthetic awareness, and of course presented Myself in nature. I had, you might say, realized Myself in all these ways.

Now people were coming to Me--not in limited ways, praying and offering sacrifices and so forth--but in a kind of merger. I was not just "extending My limbs" as physical nature or being the quiet advisor and guide, but they were entering into Me, and I was receiving them. That was a new experience.

JERRY

And it made You understand or develop a new aspect of Yourself? 

GOD

It is hard to explain. It's like suddenly finding that you are the natural home for these creatures, as they return to the cosmic womb. And I became the bosom or womb or home or ocean that all return to. That is no more important a part of My nature than others we have discussed, but it is important, and was both a new development and a new side of Me.

And then another thing happened. Much more than before, these sages began to ponder My nature and to try to articulate their understanding of it. 

For the first time, I was an object to be defined and analyzed. It is like your first experience with a psychologist who has a lot of boxes to put you in (introverted, repressed, etc.). As God, I had not pondered My own "nature." I had no need to "define" Myself, but the effort of others to do so had an impact, as it does when someone assigns you a personality type. If the description is apt, you think about yourself in a different way. But, most of all, it came clearer that I was an object to others, a source of puzzlement, even mystery, to them. In fact, they would say that My nature was ineffable, beyond all language, all logical categories. They would describe Me in paradoxes—"neither existent nor nonexistent,” and so forth.

And this has an impact. I did not feel ineffable. To be sure, I am hard to describe and human concepts are not adequate, but that is true of the physical universe as well.

JERRY

Is that a problem?

GOD

It puts a barrier between Me and My creatures. How can they approach the ineffable? And even that mystical aspect leads them to regard Me as a pea soup they want to dive into.

As you know, I am a Person, though I am also much more than a Person. But even the God beyond God is not ineffable--just very, very removed from normal human categories.

JERRY

That is ironic. The effort at a mystical union actually creates more distance.

GOD

Well, there is a great deal that is valid in Vedic and Upanishadic understandings and practice, but it did leave Me with a problem: how to break through the fog of mystical union. Part of the history of God is the effort to correct people's misunderstandings. I did that, with mixed success, in the Mahabharata, the great Hindu epic.

JERRY

Lord, does doing one's duty fit in here?

GOD

Not exactly. Suffering and sacrifice are more essential. The essence of sacrifice is the denial of desire. The full sacrifice is being equally willing to have desires satisfied or not, depending on the will of God.

JERRY

Yes, Lord, I have experienced that.

JLM

I was thinking about that early training in obedience, in which I was given arbitrary commands. Sometimes what was commanded was subsequently withdrawn, but only after I had become quite as willing to do it as not to do it. 

JERRY

Lord, does setting aside desire in this way relate to reincarnation?

GOD

The aim of each life is to meets its particular challenges, and that requires detachment--a total willingness to forgo other pleasures.

JERRY

Then the inner relation to God, mystical union, is not important on its own. What matters is to live the life you're assigned, not to relate your Atman to the Brahman?

GOD

Yes!

JERRY

So the idea that the Atman is Brahman poses a danger. It can pull people out of the real world, make them smug and complacent, and neglectful of ordinary life, as they waft off into a misty-eyed union with the One. The Mahabharata seems to constantly undercut that idea at the same time that it honors and expounds it.

GOD

Yes, this is right! The Mahabharata is a corrective.

JLM  

In the Old Testament, the truth of the One God is precarious in a polytheistic world. 

JERRY

Lord, why is survival of the truth a big issue in Israel but not in India?

GOD

It is an issue in India, but the threat to the truth, to My communication, is different. There was no possibility that Vedic piety would disappear. It was in no way dependent on the survival of a regime or a specific people. The threat in India to My communication was the loss of grip on reality.

JERRY

Not so much a threat that the message would be lost, but that it would be understood in some flabby way, hence misunderstood?

GOD

Yes. And that is what happened. Look at Shankara.

JLM

Shankara is considered the greatest of all Hindu thinkers. Writing in the ninth century, he articulated a nondualist or Advaita Vedanta based on the Upanishads. In this view, All is One. The appearance of a plurality of selves and objects is something like an illusion. Spiritual liberation is achieved by removing this ignorance and realizing the Self's identity with the Brahman.

GOD

The dominant school is radical idealist monism. All tension is lost. Don't get Me wrong. Shankara was a great man and understood in great depth what he understood, but what he understood was extremely one-sided.

The outer world is not unreal, not in any sense other than being less important--for example, the desires are not as important as they seem to be, hence pleasure and material wealth must rank much lower. But the outer world is also Me, and I am also real and present in this form. Life on earth is not just play-acting, an unwelcome pause between stops in heaven. Passivity is not called for, action is.

JLM

I was surprised when I was first told to read the Mahabharata. It is perhaps the world's greatest epic, but it is barely scripture at all, although that portion known as the Bhagavad-Gita is highly revered.

JERRY

Lord, is it a revelation?

GOD

The Mahabharata is a compendium of many stories. Some are "revelations" written by men of spiritual openness. Others are imaginative fiction. There are degrees of revelation--an insight or moral impulse can be a revelation in part. Just read without worry, and I will let you know which parts to pray over. Also, remember that these are the reflections of the religious life of a people over a millennium.

JLM

The Mahabharata presents a sustained tribute to dharma, the norm of proper action. The rules of dharma are usually stated in an uncompromising form, such as: Always tell the truth. Always grant the wishes of a Brahmin. Heroes are praised for their constancy in upholding dharma. However, the Mahabharata also contains a powerful countertheme--the limits, or even the trap, of dharma. Piety prevents saying this outright. It is expressed as well as masked by the dictum "Dharma is subtle."

More myth and legend than history, the Mahabharata tells a story of dynastic struggle within the royal family of the northern Indian kingdom of Bharata, a name that still appears on Indian currency. The good King Samtanu, the epic reports, "knew dharma" and was "upright and true to his word." His son and heir was said to be "of like conduct, like behavior, like learning" as well as "mighty in strength.”

While hunting, the king sees a "divinely beautiful maiden" and falls in love. He seeks her hand in marriage, but her father, who is "king of the fishermen," insists on one condition: the son born to his daughter must inherit the throne, not Samtanu's son. It is an impossible demand. Heartbroken, the king drags through his days in brooding silence.

Distressed at the king's unhappiness, his son pledges to renounce the throne. "And for your progeny as well," demands the fisherman. The son will have no kingdom, no wife, and no children to pray for him in the afterlife. "Agreed." It is an extraordinary oath, and the son is showered by flowers from the gods, who proclaim his new name: "He is Bhishma, the Awesome One!"

The king's marriage results in two possible heirs, the blind Dhritarashtra and Pandu. Since kings are also warriors, Dhritarashtra's lack of sight disqualifies him. Pandu and his line take precedence. However, Pandu is killed while his eldest son, Yudhisthira (Yudi for short) is next in line but is still a minor. Dhritarashtra serves as interim king. But his son, Duryodhana (Dury for short), lusts for the succession for himself.

Yudi embodies all the virtues. Like George Washington, he cannot tell a lie. The ruthless Dury, by contrast, connives at Yudi's destruction. After efforts to kill Yudi and his brothers have failed, Dury, who knows how to cheat, challenges Yudi to a game of dice. Yudi feels honor bound to accept the challenge.  Round after round, Yudi bets all and loses all--his wealth, his kingdom, even his brothers, himself, and finally his exquisite wife, Draupadi.

In a shocking scene, the wicked Dury has the now-enslaved queen brought before the gathered throng and orders her to be disrobed in public view. Krishna, who is both a character in the story and, unbeknownst to others, the god of the universe, intervenes. As Dury's henchman unwraps her sari to reveal her naked body, more sari appears without end. Anguished by the scene, Dury's father, the interim king, cancels the results of the gambling.

To make peace, Yudi offers to share the kingdom. Dury, unyielding, refuses to give the rightful heir even a token domain, "not the land equal to the head of pin." The matter must be settled on the battlefield.

Thus begins the Great Bharata war, which gives its name to the epic. It is a battle between good and evil, as the world spirals downward in the cycle of time. The eve of the first battle is the occasion for the most famous part of the epic, the Bhagavad-Gita, which Gandhi called "an infallible guide of conduct."

Yudi's younger brother Arjuna is the most dazzling warrior on his side. Arjuna's friend Krishna declines to fight but agrees to steer his chariot. Both sides draw up for battle. The fate of the cosmos hangs in the balance. At that critical moment, Arjuna becomes paralyzed with doubt. Isn't it a violation of dharma to fight against his own relatives and teachers?

All is lost unless Krishna can persuade Arjuna to fight. Drawing on every facet of Hindu thought, he presents one argument after another, to no avail. Finally, he plays his final card. Transforming himself before our very eyes, he shows himself as the awesome god of the universe. That does it. Arjuna fights.

That scene is typical of the tension in the epic. Good characters like Bhishma and Yudi are said over and over to be the perfect embodiment of dharma. Yet it is just this obsessive fidelity that results in calamity. It is Bhishma's stubborn vow of celibacy that breaks the legitimate line of succession and causes the war. It is Yudi's punctilious sense of honor that leads to his gambling everything away, including his wife. Having served at the court of the blind interim king, Bhishma feels obliged to fight for the side he knows to be in the wrong. It is Arjuna's reluctance to fight against his "grandsire," the esteemed Bhishma, that causes his failure of will.

The great battle is waged day after day and, finally, is on the verge of being lost. The only way for good to prevail is to deceive an indestructible warrior on the other side. The truthful Yudi is the only one the warrior will believe. But Yudi refuses to lie! Once again, Krishna himself intervenes, persuades Yudi, and saves the day.

There is, however, a cost. Before the lie, Yudi's chariot glides over the earth, its wheels never quite touching.

Now they sink to the ground.

JERRY

Lord, was there something You were trying to get across with the Mahabharata?

GOD

I am trying to shake people out of their moral sloth--taking the easy answers of piety or penance or caste duties. I am trying to problematize not only dharma but "spiritual liberation" as well, but they are resistant. 

JLM

Spiritual liberation (moksha) is considered the aim of meditation and other yogic practices.

GOD

Their common sense tells them that "dharma is subtle," that transcendence of worldly concerns is not a practical or realistic answer, but they want to flee to those easy pieties.

JLM

In fact, Yudi, who loves to converse with the Brahmins, is chastised for trying to be a saint instead of a king, of wandering off into the spiritual instead of attending to his real-life duties.

GOD

The point of life on the material plane is to "engage the demons"--to confront the real challenge of "sin," adverse forces, material difficulties, mortality, suffering, and so forth--not escape (through yoga) or conventional conformism (dharma). These can be elements of a spiritually fulfilled life, but are not the whole story.

JERRY

That is how the epic has been striking me.

GOD

Yes, but you are not emphasizing My side. The Hindus got the main drift, the nub (as in the Upanishads), the deep spiritual connection to Me, but they went off the deep end and there are serious dangers there. Dharma devolves into caste rigidity and mindless, meaningless conformity, like the problem with all ritual. Spiritual liberation devolves into escapism, lack of responsibility, an addlepated mindlessness and disregard of life's duties and challenges. It even tries to denigrate suffering, as though it didn't matter. It matters greatly and that is why it is central. It is not sufficient to say, "Oh well, another fine ascetism notched in my belt."

JERRY

So Your voice is one of hectoring, agitating?

GOD

Yes, and one of the authors heard Me well, and repeatedly puts in the dilemmas, the reprimand of Yudi not to "wander off" and such, but as you have observed, this counterpoint has little resonance in Hindu official theology or ethics.

JERRY

Am I right, Lord, about the trap of dharma?

GOD

The moral life is ambiguous. That is because you live on the material plane. Arrangements of matter cannot be made perfect, cannot be put into perfect conformity with pure moral rules. Matter is by its very nature resistant.

JERRY

That seems too abstract, Lord. I know we can't make a frictionless plane. But that doesn't explain why, for example, Yudi has to lie.

GOD

Yes, it does. Yudi has to deal with people who are themselves embodiments of particular desires. Among these desires are evil purposes. And they can be defeated only by using their set of embodied beliefs and desires. This is what Yudi does. It is the only way to prevent evil in this case. So what is morally imperfect is morally required.

The point is not to refute or subvert dharma. Dharma is essential. When you commit a moral imperfection, it is important that you know it. You are left somewhat compromised, and it is important to know that also. But you also need to understand the necessity of this morally imperfect act.

JERRY

How does all this relate to being material?

GOD

By that I mean the whole person--the Self--is embodied in the world, with a physiology, a psychology, ego, and such. And, as you know, in a sense that is the only way to be. Otherwise, you are only the "idea" of a person.

JERRY

But the Self behind the self would still be there.

GOD

Yes, but as we have discussed, it would be a Self without a life--without a full life and all that entails. It would be the permanent possibility of a life. Life is lived on the material plane. That is where it is all enacted. And the material plane involves these ambiguities that lead to morally imperfect decisions in situations that call for them.

JERRY

What should I understand about the epic's message?

GOD

I have already told you--the corrective to the high-flying tendencies of Hindu thought, the tendency to lose contact with the ground through yoga or asceticism or various doctrines (such as monistic idealism).

The discovery of the Atman and the Brahman was so heady that it was natural of them to skip a beat and try to leap right into the Brahman. But, while the discoveries of Atman and Brahman are valid, that escape is not the purpose of life.