ONE GOD IN MANY MANIFESTATIONS?
The Truth about
Hinduism and Christianity
Prakash was walking out of the college gate when Satish caught up with him.
"Listen Prakash, last night I has a long letter and interesting conversation with my elder brother Ramesh. We kept on talking late until it was nearly 12 o'clock."
"What were you talking about?"
"We were talking mainly about relation between the teachings of the Vedanta and the Bible."
"Were you able to come to any conclusion?"
"We finally came to the conclusion that there is only one God and that there are many manifestations of that one God. People of different religions call that one God by different names. Some people approach God through one manifestation like Rama or Krishna and others like Buddha or Christ. But after all we are all seeking through various ways to approach the one God."
"That sounds very convincing, satish. Come on, let us get into this restaurant and have a cup of tea."
They quietly took their seats and ordered two cups of tea.
"Satish, I want you to help me understand this statement of yours. You see, the Bible also teaches that there is only one God. But I am not sure what the Bible teaches about God and what Vedanta and other schools of Hinduism teach about God is the same."
"Prakash, tell me, does it really matter if there are some slight variations in the teaching about God in these two religions?"
Prakash was silent for a while.
"Yes, Satish, I think it matters alot. Because it is one thing to know God as He really is. And it is quite another to invent ideas about God by our own intelligence. The one is God who is our Creator, and the other is a god who is really only a creation of our own minds. So the one God you may be refering to could be either the Creator of your mind or the creation of your mind. And the difference between the two is very great."
It was Satish's turn to be quiet. He was lost in thought for a while. As the waiter brought the tea and placed it upon the small table before them he was startled.
"I see that this is a very real possibility, Prakash. But is there any way to be sure that the one God of whom we are thinking of is really our Creator and not merely the creation of our minds?"
Prakish sipped his tea.
"That is where I want your co-operation, Satish. The only way to sort out this problem is by placing our thoughts about God side by side. When we see a false coin and want to make sure that it is really false the best way is to compare it with a genuine one."
"Yes, that's right, but how can I help solve the problems?"
"I want you to tell me what you think of the one God you are talking about."
"I generally think of the one God as Paramatma or Brahman. But occasionally when I am facing an acute problem I also think of God as Bhagwan or Ishwar."
"Will you first tell me what is in your mind when you think about God as Paramatma?"
"Paramatma is the supreme power, the only think that is real in the universe. The very universe is a manifestation of Paramatma. All living creatures are a manifestation of Paramatma. In other words, all "jiv" or life, is a part of Paramatma. Human beings are perhaps nearer to Paramatma than other living creatures. We are all part of the Divine.
"Tell me, Satish, is Paramatma the Creator of the Universe?"
"Yes, of course, Paramatma is the first cause of the universe."
"How did Paramatma create the universe?"
"We cannot know that for certain. But the Upanishads and the pandits who interpret them say that the universe has come forth or emanated from Brahman like the web comes from the spider that weaves it. The material that the spider uses to weave its web is really an integral part of the spider."
"Then the Creator and the creature are really one."
"Of course they are one."
"In that case, the Creator has become the creation."
"It sounds funny the way you put it, Prakash, but I cannot deny it."
"If the Creator has become the creation, then the creation and creatures in it can become the Creator."
"I wouldn't put it in those words, Prakash. But the final goal of Moksa is to realise that we or the 'atma' in us is really Brahman or Paramatma and thus be absorbed in the Infinite."
"Did you know Satish, that according to the Bible, for any human being who is but a creature, to say, "I am God" is the greatest sin imaginable?"
Satish looked puzzled.
"Why, what is so sinful about such a claim?"
"According to the teaching of the Bible God created the universe by His authoritative, creative command. The universe as taught in the Bible is not an emanation from God. It is not like the web that a spider weaves. It is not a part of God. Neither is man or any part of man a part of God. Man, his body, soul and spirit are the creayion of God. Thus there is a clear difference between God and man. God is Creator and man is creature. Nothing can bridge this gap."
Satish gulped the last sip of tea.
"And can nothing equate the concept of the Creator-God that you are talking about, with Paramatma as taught in the Hindu scriptures?"
"No, to my mind there is an unbridgeable gap between what the Bible teaches about God and what is inherent in the idea of Paramatma. But there is one more important matter. When you think of God as Paramatma, can you say that Paramatma is a person?"
"Of course not, Prakash. Don't you think you are limiting God when you say that God is a person?"
"Not at all. The Bible reveals that God is a supreme person. The reason why you think that the idea of a person is limited is because when you think of a person you are only thinking of human beings or created persons. But the one who created human beings or persons could surely not be less than a person."
"That means that you are thinking of God as Saguna (with attributes) as against the Vedanta teaching that Paramatma or Brahman is Nirguna (without qualities or attributes).
"That is right, Satish, if you think of God as nirguna you reduce God to an abstract power, without even those lofty qualities that are found in a creature like man - the qualities of love, mercy and goodness. In so doing, you make God even less than His creatures. Don't you think that such a concept of God is more likely to be the creation of the human mind, rather than its Creator?"
"But Prakash, there are good and bad qualities in persona."
"Yes, human beings as they are today, have good and bad qualities. But when God created us, He greated us good and holy. That is why the Bible says that God created man in His own image. That does not mean that man is essentially Divine. It simply means that God created human beings with the capacity to know and love their Creator.
The Bible teaches that God is a supreme person. Therefore He is kind, loving, merciful, and good. If we think of God only as a great power, a power may have laws or rules by which it works. But mere power is incapable of exercising love of mercy."
"There I must agree with you, Prakash. Together with the teaching of God as Paramatma in the Hindu scriptures, we have linked with it the teaching of Karma. Karma is the supreme law of the universe. It holds every living creature under its firm grip. No one can escape thsi law. All that we experience in this life whether of good fortune or misfortune is the result of deeds in some previous birth or births. And the deeds that we are doing in this life we will reap in some future life or lives. This law of Karma also determines into which caste a person is born."
"For those who follow this system, is there any hope or promise for receiving pardon for sins or mercy from Paramatma?
"as you said, Prakash, since Paramatma is Nirguna and since karma is the supreme law of the universe, there is no provision for mercy or pardon from Paramatma. The law of Karma cannot be relaxed. What a man sows he must reap in some future lives and what he is reaping today is what he has sown in his past lives."
"That means, satish, that if God is really just a power then we have to resign ourselves to be ruled by the blind heartless law of Karma. In our own lives we know that even a human father is not as heartless to his own son as Paramatma is said to be with creatures ruled by Karma. If a son falls into some bad habit like drinking, a human father does not treat him on the basis of strict Karma. Normally a father is loving and merciful even to a bad and disobedient son. He may scold him or correct him. But he is also patient and forgiving and suffers all the sorrow and pain that his son causes, with the earnest desire of winning him back to a good life.
"Can God deal with us with less love, mercy and patience? If God is not merciful then He is not a person. But if He is merciful then he is a person. So you see, Satish, although you say that God is one, thus implying that while some may call God Paramatma and others call Him Creator and Father, they are thinking of One God, this is not true. The Brahman and Paramatma of the Upanishads and God our Creator and Father as He has revealed Himself in the Bible are really not the same."
"Wait a minute, Prakash. Don't be so hasty in drawing your conclusion. The Nirguna concept of God is not the only concept of God in Hinduism. There were times when I too have felt that the Nirguna concept of God did not satisfy the innermost needs of my life. It does give an intellectual satisfaction but fails to give any comfort when we are faced with grief, sorrow, defeat or the temptations we face in daily life.
"The personal manifestations of God known as Bhagwan or Ishwar, are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and there is Shakti which represents the feminine aspect of deity, also known as Devi. The Vishnavites also admit the possibility of Bhagwan becoming incarnate and coming into the world of men as an avatar. Bhagwan Krishna states in the Bhagwat-gita, chapter 4 and verses 7-8:
"So you see even if the Nirguna concept of God is unsatisfactory there are millions in India who accept the Saguna concept of God and worship him as Ishwar, Bhagwan or person. Of course they worship the one God in different manifestations and by addressing him by different names. But what does that matter. It is the one and only God that they all worship."
"Arjuna, whenever there is decline of righteousness, and unrighteousness is on the ascendant, then I body myself forth. For the protection of the virtuous, for the destruction of evil-doers. and for establishing Dharma on a firm footing. I am born from age to age."
"How can you be sure, Satish, that each one of the different manifestations or avatars are really a manifestation of the one true Creator-God and Father?"
"Well, I cannot think of any test to make sure that each of these manifestations are a manifestation of God. can you suggest a means of making sure?"
"In order that we may not be deceived by any false manifestation, it is necessary to know something of Satan and his ways. Satish, did you ever notice that in none of the Hindu scriptures is there any mention of Satan?"
"There is no mention of any one like Satan, but there is mention of Rakshasas like Ravan."
"Yesm but the Hindu scriptures do not mention any organised force of evil like Satan who stands in direct opposition and rebellion against God. Neither does holiness and purity of conduct have a place in the character of the gods mentioned."
"That, Prakash, is because the gods are said to be above the moral laws."
"The Bible reveals God as the Holy One. Holiness and purity are an essential part of His character and being. It further reveals that one of the leaders of the spiritual beings known as angels, whom God created, was lifted up with pride. As a result he was banished from the presence and service of God. When he, satan, was banished, those under his leadership also followed him. They are known as demons or evil spirits.
"Satan and his company are constantly scheming against God. When God made the first man and woman, Satan tempted them to disobey God with the result that human beings too have come under Satan's influence and are now plagued by the terrible disease of sin.
"The one desire in the heart of Satan and his company is to take the place of God. because of this desire they are constantly seeking to parade their power and draw men into offering them worship and service that is due to the Creator alone. The Bible reveals that Satan and his followers are engaged in showing themselves as manifestations of God and are thus deceiving and enslaving men."
"Tell me, Prakash, if this is true how can we distinguish between a manifestation of Satan as God and a true manifestation of God?"
"Most people are convinced by any manifestation of power. Satan does exercise alot of power and can even work miracles. A manifestation of Satan as God is usually centred in the worship of some visible object before which the worshipper bows and pays homage. In the Bible we are taught that God is spirit and His true worshipers must worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Worship before some visible object amounts to giving to God's creation the worship that is due to the Creator alone.
"Besides, a manifestation of satan as God can do harm but not good. The worship of many gods and idols by people is compelled not by love but out of fear that the devta or devi may bring some evil upon them if they do not offer service or woship.
"Some of these devils or devtas may sometimes exercise their power to obtain some temporal favour for their worshippers, like healing some disease. But they are totally powerless to obtain for men the supreme blessing of salvation, of pardon for sins and reconcilliation with God. These lesser powers are only interested in taking the place of God in the lives of those who are deceived into worshipping them. Their one desire is to keep men from obtaining pardon for sin and reconciliation with God our Creator."
"Prakash, that sounds very terrible. I was not even aware that satan is such a treacherous enemy and that he is busy deceiving men and keeping them from knowing God the Creator. Now I am all the more eager to know some sure means of recognising the difference between a false and a true manifestation of God."
"The best test of a manifestation of God I know of is this. A genuine doctor has two basic qualifications. he is able to rightly diagnose the disease his patient is suffering from. He is able to prescribe the right remedy. A false doctor or a deceiver is unable to diagnose the disease and has no remedy or cure. Apply this to those who claim to be the manifestations of the one true God. If they fail to give the right diagnosis of the root disease and problem of human life, they are false. Besides, they will have no remedy for the real disease and problem in our lives. They usually deny that sin and rebellion against God our Creator is the real problem in our lives. They will give a wrong diagnosis and will even encourage us to believe that we are oruselves God. In fact, they will strive to keep their worshipper ignorant of their real spiritual disease."
"As far as I know, Prakash, the only diagnosis of the disease and problem in human lives given by the avatars, devtas, and devis of Hinduism is that we men are caught in 'Maya-Jal' and are therefore under the control of Karma and punarjanma or samsara. They say they we need to escape from 'agyana' or ignorance of our essential identity with God. The ways of escape or Moksha are said to be by Gyan-marg, Karma-marg and Bhakti-marg."
"Tell me, Satish, are you convinced that the real problem in human life is maya-jal, samsara and ignorance of our supposed identity with Paramatma?"
"I cannot give you an immediate answer to that, Prakash. I am not sure, that is the root the problem and disease in human lives. The disease must be some thing more serious than that. Will you please tell me what diagnosis the Lord Jesus gives regarding the spiritual disease?"
"The Lord Jesus Christ taught that the root spiritual disease that has affected human beings is the disease of sin or rebellion against God. Because of sin qe have lost the deep sweet fellowship with God our Creator and Father, for which we were made. For those who are willing to humbly confess their sins and plead for God's mercy and pardon, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself provides the cure for the disease.
"The Lord Jesus Christ said, 'I have come to seek and save the lost. I have come to call sinners to repentance. I have come to give My life a ransom for many'. The Lord Jesus who is Himself sinless and holy, the Nishkalank-avatar, chose to suffer the penalty for our sins when He died that cruel death of the cross. It is because God loves us like a father that He, through the Lord Jesus Christ, has offered one full and perfect sacrifice by which all who turn from their sins can be pardoned. Because the Lord Jesus has suffered the penalty for your sins you can receive pardon for sins and be reconciled with God. The Lord Jesus said: 'The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I am come that they might have life and have it abundantly. I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick. I am come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance'. The Bible teaches that Christ is the only incarnation of God. This is further confirmed by the fact that no one else of the gods and incarnations that men have chosen to worship have either rightly diagnosed our spiritual disease not offered the cure for that disease."
"You mean to say, Prakash, that is it wrong to say that there are several manifestations of God? And that Jesus Christ is the only true incarnation and Saviour from sin?"
"Well, Satish, if there is another, I have not yet heard of him. None of the gods and incarnations that I have heard of has diagnosed the root human disease as sin, disobedience and rebellion against God. And none of them have done anything to obtain for men pardon for sins and reconciliation with God. Have you heard of any such person, Satish?"
"Not yet, Prakash," Satish said, as they got up to leave. "But I would be interested to read and study the Bible more closely. I would be interested to know how Jesus Christ has obtained for us pardon for sins and how He reconciles us to God."
Other excellent pamphlets in the same series:
- Are All Religions the Same? by G.D.Yesudas. A discussion with an intelligent young Hindu inquirer on an important topic.
- The True Way of Salvation by M. Vamanan. The setting forth of that salvation from the Scriptures.
- Why I am a Christian by M. Vamanan. The story of a thoughtful Hindu young man who found salvation.
- How I got Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory by Bakht Singh. The thrilling story of a bigotted Sikh who tore up a Bible and ten years later met the Author and became the most ardent lover of both.
This and the pamphlets above may be ordered from:
Gospel Literature Service
Udyog Bhavan, 250-D, Worli,
MUMBAI/BOMBAY-400 025, India
c/o Ballynahinch Road
Carryduff, Belfast BY8 8DN
First created on 26 May 1999
Last updated on 26 May 1999
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