By Abhijit J Toley
Understanding the greatness of God as a step towards understanding His personal form resolving apparent contradictions and exposing the futility of word-juggleryLast Saturday, on the Walking Plaza book stall, two young, nice, and learned Islamic gentlemen came and were curious about the Krishna Conscious philosophy. They were well-armed with their logic and arguments against the form of the Lord. They were trying todefend the Islamic position of “no idol worship”. They were very polite and it was a very gentlemanly discussion. As is often the case, less informed people call us “Hindus”. On top of that, since the Vedic knowledge is so vast, there are innumerable different categories of Vedic followers. Therefore, no one really understands what they refer to as “Hindu”ism. However, one unfortunate by-product of the so-called “Hindu”ism is the atheistic philosophy of Mayavada, which says that the Supreme has no form and further that every living being is the same Supreme, without any difference at all. And this unfortunate by-product of so-called “Hindu”ism is quite popular amongst the unfortunate people of the Kali Yuga.The Islam asserts that there is God and that not everyone is God. But they have difficulty in understanding the form of God. The Quran makes fleeting references to the form of God, but does not describe His form in any detail at all. On the contrary, the Quran says that the form of the Lord is not like this, not like that, not like this, not like that, and so on. This is not really any positive information about the form of the Lord. As a corollary, the Quran also strongly condemns worshipping material forms as God. And thus, the Islamic followers find it extremely difficult to accept deity worship, which is one of the most prominent features of the Vedic way of life. They cannot understand the difference between a deity and an idol. A deity is not a whimsical form of the Lord, but an authorized one. An idol, on the other hand, is a whimsical creation of sentimentalists, which is condemnedeven by knowledgeable deity worshippers.

Now, to defend their principle of “no idol worship” (which they equate with “no deity worship” for lack of understanding about the difference between the two), the two gentlemen I met that day used the following arguments. Let us analyze them closely.

(1)They quoted a verse from some Vedic literature that emphasizes the impersonal aspect of the Supreme. As is generally the case, they, or their guides, have resorted to taking only that part of the Vedic knowledge that matches their preset conclusion of “no idol worship”. But the Upanishads (very much part of the Vedas) point to the Puranas and the Itihasas (histories like the Mahabharata and Ramayana) as the fifth Veda and therefore assert their authority. And the Puranas and Itihasas are full of detailed descriptions of the form and pastimes of the Lord.

In short, taking shelter of the Vedas cannot prove that the Lord’s form is un-knowable. It is not revealed in the Quran, but it is very much revealed in the Vedic literature.

(2)They also told me that they know some “Arya Samaj” followers who claim that the Lord does not have a form, and that the Arya Samaj followers are the only true followers of the Vedic path! Quite an audacious statement. Anyways, as we have already noted, there are a lot of groups who come under the Vedic umbrella and who follow the Vedas to different extents. No one can deny that there are strong Vedic followers who accept the personal aspect of the Lord as the Supreme realization. Then, who is right? The Vedic literature talks about both the impersonal as well as the personal aspects of the Supreme and also states that the personal aspect is the highest realization of the Supreme. We will not go into that discussion in this article. For details, one can refer Srila Prabhupada’s books.

(3)When I had responses for first two arguments, they now started using logic. “If the Lord is supremely powerful, why does He have to descend to this world? Cant He delegate someone else to execute His will?” The undertone of the question was, I thought, that the Lord cannot descend in this world in a human-like form. By saying that He comes in a human-like form, are we not limiting Him? How can the unlimited have a limited form? Well, this is the classic question by those who do not understand the inconceivable potencies of the Lord.

The Lord descends to this world, not as if forced, but of His own sweet will. He comes for the pleasure of His devotees and also to annihilate the miscreants. Sometimes He sends His representatives, and some times He Himself comes.

How the unlimited Lord can have a “seemingly” limited form can be understood when we understand how the Lord is unlimited in the first place. Why not try to understand this first and then argue that He can not have a form, or that even if He has, He cannot come down in a human-like form? Srila Prabhupada emphasizes in a lot of places that most people know that “God is Great” but very few know “how great?”. In other places Srila Prabhupada says that it is important to have a very solid conceptionof God to be able to love Him and serve Him. For example, the conception of God as great, not like this, not like that, unlimited, all-merciful, etc. is not as solid as the conception of God having a beautiful all-spiritual form holding a flute, crowned by apeacock feather, amidst His devotees on the banks of the Yamuna. But even the conception of the unlimited-ness and all-pervasive-ness of the Lord needs to be more refined to really understand the personal form of the Lord.

(Krishna expanded Himself into hundreds of Vishnu Forms when Lord Brahma stole His cowherd friends)
Srila Prabhupada explains in so many places with the analogy of the Sun and the sunlight how the Lord can be in one place and can still have His influence all over. In “Teachings of Pralhad Maharaja”, Srila Prabhupada explains that the Lord is all-pervasive and all-knowing due to His expansions and consciousness.A plenary (full in all respects) expansion of the Lord is residing inside each and every atom of the material creation. If this is so, is it any surprise at all that the Lord is all-pervasive and all-knowing? And clearly, taking a form smaller than an atom is not impossible for the Lord. In fact, that is one of inconceivable potencies. Thus, the Lord can be simultaneously present everywhere. So, what’s the big deal if He comes to the earth for enjoying pastimes with His devotees? In the same book, Srila Prabhupada also explains that just like the consciousness of the soul is pervading the whole body, similarly the consciousness of God is pervading all that exists. So, we have the example of our own body to understand how a localized soul can be conscious of a wider field of activities. If it is possible for the minute soul, then why not for the Supersoul – God?Thus, the Lord can have a form and at the same time be unlimited by His expansions and consciousness. His coming to His material creation in a human-like form (or in any other form) is not really so difficult to understand.(4)Now coming to the word-jugglery. This is a trick that Mayavadis use a lot. But word jugglery does not alter the truth. Those two gentlemen showed me a couple of their tricks last Saturday. I told them in the answer to how God can come in a human like form that God can do anything He likes. By saying that He cannot do something means we are limiting Him. In response, they asked, “Can God lie? Can God do injustice?”. And they were taken aback when I said “Yes, He can lie!” They were shocked. They have no such information! H. G. Jai Narsimha Prabhu jumped in the conversation and said “Yes, God can lie and still do justice!” All this was quite visibly beyond their realms of understanding. They would have never dreamt that someone may say that the Lord can lie. Well, we know that the Lord can not only lie, but He can steal, He can run away from a battlefield, and He can perform so many other transcendental activities. And yet, His activities are always perfect, though sometimes quite inconceivable.

When this piece of word-jugglery backfired on them, they went on to another one. What I gleaned out of these attempts was that they first wanted to establish that though the Lord can do anything, there are still some activities that He cannot. And once that is established, they would have come to the point that coming to the earth in a human-like form was also one such activity. For them, God lying is a contradiction, and similarly the unlimited Lord coming in a human-like form is also a contradiction. And contradictions don’t exist. In this way, I thought, they wanted to lead me to the conclusion of “no idol worship”, or that we cannot know the form of the Lord and therefore we must not worship a form as God. Anyway, that God can lie was certainly a big blow to their logic sequence. Agreed that contradictions don’t exist, but just because someone thinks something is a contradiction doesn’t necessarily mean that it is indeed a contradiction. It can also mean the lack of correct understanding. We have already described how the unlimited Lord coming in a human like form is not a contradiction.

Their next trick question was “Can God die?” And pat came the reply from me “Yes!” And then they were even more shocked. Ofcourse, I added “His birth and activities are all transcendental”. But they were still a bit bewildered. Actually there is no meaning to the question “Can God die?” One can’t really expect a simple answer to such a question. But Krishna inspired me from within to say “Even we cannot die, then where is the question of God dying!”.

On this answer, they were still a bit flummoxed. They then went on to the question “Do you believe in heaven and hell?” I said “Yes”. The discussion went on for some time and then they left. But I was left with a deep stream of thoughts after this discussion. So far I had had to contend with Mayavadis, but this time I was contending with the Islamic conception of God, which according to the Vedic wisdom is not quite complete.

A little bit more about trick questions. “Can God die?” Ofcourse He can’t. But is that a limitation of God? Ofcourse not! That is part of the definition of God. But since God cannot die, does it mean that He cannot descend into His creation? If yes, then that is surely a limitation of God. But the Lord does not have any limitations. Thus, the word jugglery might sometimes be very catchy, but its nothing more than what it is – word jugglery. Another trick question is “Can God create something that He cannot lift?” Well, again, since the Lord has created something, He is in total control of His creation in all respects at all times. How does His not being not-in-control of His creation be a sign of His limitation? That is, how is His Supreme control over His creation a sign of limitation? No person with a little common-sense will fall for these childish tricks.

Ofcourse, Prabhupada, the genius that he is, replies even to trick questions like “Can God create something that He cannot lift?” affirmatively. And then he explains how the Lord in His childhood pastimes struggles to life the footware of His father Nanda, but then effortlessly lifts the Govardhan! I guess that’s why I replied to both questions “Can God lie?” and “Can God die?” affirmatively, just like Srila Prabhupada. Because our understanding is that God can do anything. Period. Word jugglery does not take away anything from the unlimited and inconceivable potency of the Supreme Personality of Godhead – Krishna.

This article originally appeared in the appeared in the ISKCON magazine Back to Godhead.

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