Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 27 : World-Mind > Chapter 1 : What Is God?

What Is God?

Differing views of God

We must differentiate between the invented God of religion and the imagined God of mysticism, on the one hand, and the real God of philosophical truth, on the other. The creator-God of religion is a more erroneous conception than the immanent God of mysticism, but both are alien to truth. Both have failed to fathom the Unconditioned, Nondual, and Illimitable God.

There is a universal principle of Eternal Intelligence behind all existence. If the follies of superstition and the bigotries of religion caricature it, the verities of philosophy and the insights of wisdom restore a true picture.

We are not atheists. We do hold that a reality higher than the crudely material one exists. If the name of God is given to this reality, then we accept God; but we do not and will not accept the erroneous and degrading notion of God which most men have.

This higher concept of God is much more respectful and much more reverential than the old traditional one.

Most of the current ideas about God are hazy, uncertain, unsettled, and even absurd. The Wisdom of the Overself represented an attempt at clear exposition of that truth about God which philosophy has found out.

The conception of God held by traditional established religions is not the same as the philosophical conception of the World-Mind except in some points. There are noteworthy differences.

If by God you mean something higher than mere material existence, then we do not deny God. It is the false notions of God that we deny, the grotesque caricatures that appear in churches and temples and sermons and books. We look on this higher Reality as something not afar off from the essence of our own selves. We have discovered that the common everyday life does not exhaust the alphabet of existence, that there is something sublime beyond it and yet akin to us. We do honour and revere such a God, if you wish to call It such, because we believe It to be the true God.

God--a term which signifies a certain mathematical formula to some moderns and a certain mental figure to some primitives--exists all the same.

There is some truth in the claim of both Japanese Buddhists and Western materialists that human beings created the idea of God and later believed in their creation to the point that they found it necessary to worship God. But this is not the whole truth and, left by itself, it may become misleading. It must be properly inserted in its place within the whole truth, whose first and basic tenet is that there is something real behind the idea of God, although the idea itself may be a product of imagination.

Mixed up with different theologies, dressed up with different rituals, God remains identic and does not change.

Men of inferior intelligence quite naturally want a God who will be attentive to their requirements, interested in their personal lives, and helpful during times of distress. That is to say, they want a human God. Men of superior intelligence come in time to consider God as an impersonal essence that is everywhere present, and consequently embodied in themselves and to be communed with interiorly too. That is to say, they recognize only a mystical God. Men of the highest intelligence perceive that the "I" is illusory, that it is only ignorance of this fact that causes man to regard himself as a separate embodiment of the divine essence, and that in reality there is only this nondual nameless being. How impossible it is to get men of inferior intelligence to worship or even to credit such an Existence which has no shape, no individuality, no thinking even! Hence such men are given a figure after their own image as God, a deity that is a personal, human, five-sensed being.

World-Mind, Lord and Creator, Maker and Ruler of all things, is not a glorified aggrandized human being.

We are not to believe that the World-Mind deliberately directs the universe and consciously attends to every detail of its operation. That would be to turn it into a Big Man--and to minimize the powers of Mind.

According to the simpler unintellectual religious views, the universe requires a Being to create it, then to maintain it, and lastly to guide it along a certain orderly way.

This is the mistake all too often made by those who ask the age-old questions: they see that every creature's life has a beginning, so they assume God must have had one too. But the Life-Force which appears anew in every babe comes from God; it has always existed, taking on countless outward forms. God, its source, has always been and never began. Any other assumption makes Him like the creatures--finite--and is a false one that contradicts the very idea of God--the Infinite.

Man gets no such treatment from life that he could believe it takes heed of his personal feelings. It treats him quite impersonally, as if it were itself quite impersonal. Thus the test of experience contradicts the belief in a personal governor of the universe.

If you discuss the concept of God as a creator, you discuss a personality. But such must have a beginning and an end. If you discuss the concept of God as Impersonal, however, these limits are no longer a necessary part of it.

We arrogantly superimpose our merely human ideas upon the Universal Mind and impertinently expect it to display anthropomorphic attributes, under the delusion that they are divine ones merely because they are displayed on a gigantic scale.

It is inevitable that we believe that the Infinite Power works as we humans work but it is also fallacious.

To think of God as a person is to think of a finite and imperfect being. God is a principle of being.

The Deity cannot be limited like a finite human being, using a personal will to achieve a particular end, or thinking in a series of successive ideas that move through time. A less erroneous picture is that of the electronic computing machine, which performs millions of different operations in a single second.

It is impossible for a rational mind to believe that the Infinite and Eternal Deity is subject to momentary changes of mind or suffers occasional lapses from continuance of the cosmic laws.

The Greek conception of the world being directed by Intelligence is surely higher than the Hebrew belief in a capricious, jealous, and angry despot of a personal God.

God is Love and Justice, Wisdom and Truth and Law, attributes which have been worshipped by man from ancient times.

The God who magically creates and personally manages the world, as separate from him, is the first simple concept of simple men. The God out of whose being the world beginningly and endlessly comes into birth is the next developed concept of more cultured men.

The notions of Deity which popular religion provides for its followers are well suited to the early stages of mental development but not to the more advanced ones. A child needs the comfort of living with its father and mother, but an adult becomes self-reliant enough to live on his own. The popular notions of God as a Father or as a Mother belong to the early stage and objectify God as some kind of glorified human being. They are human ideas picturing a human Deity. To this stage, too, belong not only the notions of a jealous, wrathful, or capricious God, but even those of a sentimental, kindly, emotional, elderly gentleman who is constantly hovering around to listen to the prayers of his devotees--and then running off to fulfil their wishes or, according to his mood, refusing to do so. The maturer notion provided by philosophy will naturally seem cold, and cheerless to those who need the popular one.

Is God good, conscious?

If, when we say that God is good, we really mean it in the circumscribed sense of the word, we would thereby imply that God could be better also--in which case God would no longer be God, being a changeable being, an improvable being. It was Spinoza's defect that he failed to perceive that the ultimate principle baffles such positive description and transcends such nameable attributes as "good." He fell into it through allowing his overly mathematical intellect to unduly tip the balance against his mystical intuition. His God had different qualities, even though their number was infinite. This made it a limited God. There is no way of describing the mysterious principle behind all existence that will be a correct way. Words drawn from the language of finite human creatures are inapplicable to the infinite principle that transcends those creatures. If we do use them here, it is only for the sake of literary convenience and with a presupposed understanding of their relativity, not for their literalness.

Since we see so many forms in Nature which are gloriously beautiful, and yet at the same time so many which are repulsively ugly, we may rightly conclude that both beauty and ugliness, the opposites, are present in the World-Idea and hence in the World-Mind. The same may be said of loving-kindness and merciless cruelty. For these attributes are merely human conceptions. The Infinite Mind is infinitely larger and more impersonal in outlook than is the human mind.

It will be found by experience that preoccupation with such questions as "Why does God allow evil in the world?" will fall away under the influence of the Witness Self. The question is relative to and relevant only in the sphere of the personal self in interaction with other personal selves, and in that sphere it has no answer. In the sphere of the Overself the question does not exist. "Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest" is still as true as when spoken by the Christ nearly two thousand years ago.

It is the outward appearance of their environment and the inward reality of their egoism which make so many thinkers doubt whether God is perfectly good.

"I am indifferent to all generated beings; there is none whom I hate, none whom I love," declares Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.

The statement in the book Mahatma Letters which denies the existence of conscious God is nonsense if it means that God has no mind. However, what it probably means is that God has not the kind of limited five-sense consciousness to which human beings are limited. One trouble is that it is ordinarily believed that a God who is not a Person is no God at all because He will not be a thinking, intelligent being. It is so customary to associate consciousness with individual consciousness that it seems almost impossible to grasp the concept of omnipresent, everywhere-diffused, all-inclusive Mind which is not a mind.

When the book Mahatma Letters tries to turn God into blind law, it is again likely to fall into nonsense if it denies real Being to God. What it probably denies is the limited kind of being which is the only kind our human faculties can imagine.

The Real, as the ultimate source of all knowing and feeling beings, cannot itself be unknowing and unfeeling. We could not deny consciousness to It without denying consciousness to man. But being absolute and infinite it does not know and feel in the same limited way which confines the knowledge and feelings of finite humans.

It is more correct to speak of Mind as the All-Conscious than as the unconscious. What we may rightly say is that, viewed from the side which alone is known to us, a certain phase of it appears to be unconscious. The higher teachings state that all the phases of Mind are conscious ones.

There is a curious and mysterious statement in more than one ancient Hindu philosophical text to the effect that God cannot know himself. What does it mean? The sun's light is needed to end the world's darkness but not needed at any moment by the sun itself since it is all-light: therefore the sun could not shine upon itself, could not light up itself. In the same way, God can gain nothing more by making himself known to himself, since he is already all-knowledge. In this sense only--and not in the sense of inability to know--is the Hindu statement to be interpreted.

God beyond finite knowing

Any mental picture of God is just as much, in its own way, an idol as any carved stone or wood figure may be. Those who worship the one are violating the second Commandment as much as those who worship the other.

Everything, be it person or idea, that you set up in place of the true God is an idol. In every act of such worship you commit idolatry.

If divinity cannot be represented by any idol, any graven image, neither can it be described by any word. All verbal descriptions are non-descriptions.

What Jesus called "the only true God" is the ultimate formless reality, not the thoughts about it or the pictures of it created in human imaginations. It is an object of insight, not of sense or thought.

Try as much as you can, but in the end you will find God is not something imaginable.

Nobody can tell us what God looks like, for God has no form at all.

God must be found as He is in reality, not as He has been in human imagination.

We feel the presence of a divine power, but we are baffled by its motives.

Neither thinking nor any other kind of human activity can grasp the full truth about the World-Mind. Not even at the height reached by sage or adept is this possible.

If God were not a mystery He would not be God. Men who claim to know Him need semantic correction; this said, their experience may yet be exceptional, elevating, and immaterialistic. But let God remain God, incomprehensible and untouchable.

God is a mystery which no man can truly understand, no language can really express, and no idea can fully embody.

The one infinite life-power which reveals itself in the cosmos and manifests itself through time and space, cannot be named. It is something that is. For a name would falsely separate it from other things when the truth is that it is those things, all things. Nor would we know what to call it, since we know nothing about its real nature.

The consciousness and nature of the World-Mind is utterly beyond the capacity and power of any human being to understand, much less to explain.

The universe's first principle, be it called God with the religionists or energy with the scientists, is beyond the power of human understanding. At its very best it can know only its own reaction to that Principle.

The Biblical announcement "I Am That I Am" is easier understood as "I Am As I Am." It can have no other meaning than the uniqueness and incomprehensibility of God. For every attempt to bring God within the range of the intellect always fails, and every attempt to bring God within the range of the imagination merely symbolizes. If, then, the original sentence is to be understood still more easily, let us read it as: "I am THAT which knows all and sees all, but can be known and seen by none."

The atheist says, "God is nowhere!" The mystic says, "God is now here!" The philosopher says, "God is!"

Man's mental apparatus being so limited, the truths he conceives through it must be limited too. He cannot possibly know what God is like but only that God--some sort of higher power--is.

The Bible's phrase wherein God is self-described to Moses as "I am that I am" is more philosophically correct and more linguistically right, in the original Hebrew sense, if Englished as "I am what I shall be."

It was his consciousness of being united with this timeless pre-existent as well as ever-existent Life that enabled Jesus to announce: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was I am." "I am that I am," was the revelation of God to the Hebrew Master, Moses. "That I am," was the revelation of God to the anonymous Hindu Master of the Upanishads.

All verbal definitions of the World-Mind are inevitably limited and inadequate. If the statements here made seem to be of the nature of dogmatic concepts it is because of the inadequacy of language to convey more subtle meaning. They who read these lines with intuitive insight allied to clear thinking will see that the concepts are flexible verbal frames for holding thought steady in that borderland of human consciousness where thinking verges on wordless knowing.

The active God we worship

The first great truth is that a Supreme Mind minds the universe.

All scientific evidence indicates that there is a single power which presides over the entire universe, and all religious mystic experience and philosophic insight confirms it. Not only is this so, but this power also maintains the universe; its intelligence is unique, matchless, incredible. This power is what I call the World-Mind.

What is in itself and at once assembled as the highest concept of human beings, the greatest power ruling existence, the supreme Mind before which all other minds must bow, the primal consciousness which outlives every form of existence because IT alone is, was, and shall be? There is no name attached to it, this ineffable silent mystery of mysteries. Yet it is there. Everything tells us so, from the vast universe itself to those seers and sages of ancient Greece, India, and China who have broken through and away from human limitations. Can we wonder that with one God there came one energy and one substance?

That being whom the ancient Japanese called "The Master of the Universe" was the same as what the ancient Hindus called Ishvara. Mind, Life, and Power are in that being. It holds the universe in its Mind: therefore we creatures of the universe are held too. We would not live for a moment if this incomparable being were not here too.

The World-Mind is unique, different from any other existing or conceivable mind in the whole cosmos. Indeed, all these others can only arise out of and within it, but can never equal or transcend it.

There is only a single absolute unconditioned entity. Yet from it there extend countless finite and conditioned entities. They are visible to the sense of sight, physical to the sense of touch; yet it is neither.

The meaning among cultured Muslims of the Islamic phrases "La Llaha" "Il-la lahu" is: first, the denial of plurality and the affirmation of Unity in the Supreme Being; second, this Being is also the only real activating Force in the cosmos.

Behind all the innumerable creatures in this universe and behind all the innumerable phenomena of the universe itself, there is a single, infinite, eternal, supreme Intelligence.

It is something that never had a beginning and can never have an end. It does not change, although the world born from it does nothing else more incessantly than change.

We talk of being, but it is not to be found in time, nor in the mind and feeling of the conditioned self. And yet all these have emerged somehow out of it. Is it, then, that God is being? In the end it must be so.

Only in such a language as Sanskrit does one find a word which covers this ample meaning, that truth and being are one. The word is Sat.

World-Mind emanates and activates the cosmos into a fresh cyclic being. This continues under its sustenance but, again cyclically, it absorbs the cosmos in the end. Thus it is the closest to the common idea of God, the Personal God to be worshipped.

The World-Mind may be worshipped by religious devotees or meditated upon by others as present in their own souls.

I know that the word "God" is a tainted one, that it has been used by hypocrites and scoundrels, by brainless idiots and selfish vested interests, and had perhaps better be bypassed. Yet it comes into my consciousness at this point in time, in this particular place, when my own preference is, as often, to use the words "The World-Mind."

No human idea can account for its own existence without testifying to the prior existence of a human mind. The world as idea can only account for its own existence by pointing to a World-Mind. And it is equally a fact that the highest kind of existence discoverable to us in the universe is mental existence. In using the name "Mind" for God, I but follow some of the highest examples from antiquity, such as Aristotle in Greece, Hermes Trismegistus in Egypt, Asvaghosha in India, and the Patriarch Hui Neng in China.

For us who are philosophically minded, the World-Mind truly exists. For us it is God, and for us there is a relationship with it--the relationship of devotion and aspiration, of communion and meditation. All the abstract talk about nonduality may go on, but in the end the talkers must humble themselves before the infinite Being until they are as nothing and until they are lost in the stillness--Its stillness.

Behind it all is the Great Silence, broken only by the projection of new worlds and the re-absorption of old ones, the unutterable and unknowable Mystery, unreachable and untouchable by man. Tiny creature that he is, with the tiny mind he has, THAT is utterly beyond him. But from the Grand Mystery, the active God of which this planet Earth is a projection has in turn projected him. Here, communication in the most attenuated intuitive form is possible, even holy communion may be attained. This is the God, the higher power, to whom men instinctively turn in despair or in aspiration, in faith or in doubt. Sometimes a mere fragment of his work is revealed to a chosen prophet in the Cosmic Vision, an awe-filled experience.

Sometimes a person is granted a glimpse of the World-Mind. This, if it happens, does so during meditation usually, but not always. It is then both a physical and a mental grace, for the sight is, says the Indonesian text, "similar to the brightness of a million suns."

We are surrounded by a world which seems both real and outside us. Nothing that we can find in this world corresponds to this idea of God. Are we to assert that it is illusory or that God exists but is remote from this world? The mystic can reply: "I know from experience that the idea is true and the existence is everywhere."

Modern man looks in all sorts of impossible places for an invisible God and will not worship the visible God which confronts him. Yet little thinking is needed to show that we are all suckled at the everlasting breast of Nature. It is easy to see that the source of all life is the sun and that its creative, protective, and destructive powers are responsible for the entire physical process of the universe. However it is not merely to the physical sun alone that the aspirant addresses himself but to the World-Mind behind it. He must look upon the sun as a veritable self-expression and self-showing of the World-Mind to all its creatures.

The sun is God's face appearing in the physical world.

Those who love to see the sun in its mystery-laden risings or witness its equally mystery-laden settings bear outward testimony to an inward relationship.

The sun seen by men is both their symbol of God's power, glory, beauty, life, and light, and also the actual indicator of God's central heart, the Presence Invisible.

We must honour the Universal Ruler of things and beings as the flower honours the sun, for it is also the Source of Life.

It is right to venerate the sun, for without it we could not keep the body alive, could not grow the food we need.