In india, god is alive and omnipresent. he is not different from you and me. in fact, he is our inner self
Don�t forget about God,� Rajesh, a photographer in Delhi, said to me out of the blue while I was taking leave. I was surprised to hear a young, successful man talk about God in such a natural and matter-of-fact way, and I wondered what he meant by God. At that time � some 25 years ago � I was new to India, and did not know that God was alive in this country. Later, after I had met Devaraha Baba and Anandamayi Ma, I discovered how alive God is, and that He (the use of �He� does not imply that God is male) generally plays a big role in the daily life of Hindus, who form the majority of Indians. In contrast, God seems rather dead in the West. Of course, many people still go to church there on Sundays, but in daily life, God is almost non-existent � except if one is in trouble.
A different God I got the impression that India has a God different from the West. The concept of God refers here not to a great being separated from humans. The concept rather refers to the whole, to the oneness, to the base of everything, to our very own being, to that, which really is or should I say �not is�, because it cannot be touched or looked at, and ultimately not even thought of. It refers as it were to a scientific God, to an analysis of truth, and therefore, it is acceptable for everyone with an open mind.
However, that does not mean that a Hindu doesn�t think of a personal god, when he or she calls out �Hey, Bhagavan!� He may turn to Rama, Krishna, Shiva, Ganesha, Devi, depending on who his ishta devata is. But basically he knows that all those gods are aspects of the One. Therefore, he has no objection if someone reveres Jesus, or calls out to Allah, and he has no intention of converting anyone to Hinduism.
Ever since Rajesh advised me �not to forget about God�, I wanted to find out for myself what is meant by God, without referring to books. Several months later, I took time out for it. I sat on a roof terrace in Dehradun at night under the stars, the Himalayas behind me, and asked pointed questions. My thoughts often took me astray to other subjects, but when I noticed it, I brought them back to the question. I simply waited, sometimes for a long time, till answers came. Of course, I had already read a lot about Indian wisdom, yet the answers were my own. And I was not surprised that they were in tune with Indian wisdom: What do I mean by God? That which really exists, the basis of everything, eternal, independent, formless, conscious and mighty.
God must definitely be here. Why don�t I see him? Because He is not separate from me. That is why I can�t see Him with my eyes. He rather is that which makes looking out from my eyes possible.
How can I get close to Him? I am close, so close, that closer is not possible.
But I don�t feel it. Why? Because thoughts, feelings and imaginations fully absorb my awareness, and these conceal that which makes thoughts, feelings and imaginations possible in the first place.
What can I do to get thoughts and feelings out of the way? Become conscious that they are just thoughts and feelings, simply observe them non-judgementally, not take them so seriously, not identify with them.
Who am I actually? Deep inside one with God.
What does it mean? I cannot be localised, cannot be an object, cannot be changed. I am without form � pure, still, peaceful, conscious. I am. The fact that �I am� is stupendous.
What will happen to my life, if I focus on God? It will run by itself. I don�t need to worry about it, if indeed I focus fully and sincerely on God who is my inner Self.�
I was grateful to Indian wisdom, and devoured books of the sages of ancient and modern India. During my initial years in India, I often had more books on my table than during my student days at Hamburg University. I read not only about philosophy, but also about the life stories of those great sages, and their lives touched me. I could feel their compassion, and also their freedom. Slowly, my attitude to life changed. It became clearer what it meant to live a meaningful life, and it became clear that I wanted to live a meaningful life: If there was only one essence responsible for all appearances of this world (and it seemed sensible to me), then I wanted to make this essence the focus of my life. And I prayed deeply: Please help me. Let me see the truth.
On the path of wisdom Daily darshans of Anandamayi Ma, who resided at that time in Dehradun, helped me to keep in contact with the Divine, and made me aware that this contact is always present. The entries into my diary turned into a conversation with God.
One day, I was invited for tea by a family who were friends of my landlord. My landlord was a Christian, and his friend was a Protestant priest. I soon discovered the reason for the invitation. They had observed me going for darshan of Anandamayi Ma every evening, and wanted to bring me back to the �right path�.
What benefit do you get from going to this woman? What can she offer you? Jesus is your saviour. He died for you on the cross. Don�t you know that you were born into the best of all religions? Hinduism is no equal for Christianity. God has revealed himself in Christianity. Hinduism is only a nature religion. They worship all kinds of things,� he went on.
It was a strange situation: an Indian missionary trying to make me a faithful Christian over tea. I replied that only in India had I found my way back to God � to a god who made sense to me � and I asked him whether he was not happy about it. I do believe that Jesus was an extraordinary, enlightened being, and I consider his sayings precious. But I cannot accept the Church�s interpretation of Jesus, and the way it uses him. And I also cannot accept the Church�s view that God is eternally separated from us humans, and that man is a sinner. I also don�t believe in eternal damnation. It makes more sense to me that everyone is permeated by God, and finally will consciously merge with him. And being German and naturally more argumentative than Indians, I also told him that I felt it was very wrong to try to convert Hindus to Christianity, as Indian wisdom comes much closer to truth, and the Hindu concept of God is far more solid, and won�t collapse if one intelligently and intensely enquires into it. While taking leave, I gave him a booklet of Anandamayi Ma�s sayings.
While I was studying Indian wisdom, I discovered that Jesus basically says the same thing Indian sages do. A Canadian had gifted me a small pocket Bible. He had a whole box of them to distribute, and was a missionary who tried to get people interested in talks about the Bible. �Even sadhus come to our talks in Rishikesh,� he proudly told me. �Do you offer anything to eat?� I asked. �Only tea and biscuits,� he answered. �This is good enough,� I thought to myself.
Alternatives to the orthodox Even though I have no sympathy for Christian missionaries, the pocket Bible was welcome. Now I could compare it with Indian wisdom, and discovered several quotes in the Gospel which were fully in tune with it. For example: �The kingdom of God is within you.� Or �I and my father are one.� �First look for the kingdom of God. Everything else will be given unto you.� �Don�t worry about the morrow.� And so on.
Unfortunately, those sayings are not given much weight in official Christianity, because the Church stresses on other aspects. The opinion of St Paul, which he propounded in his letters, carries a lot of weight. He claimed that Jesus was the only indigenous Son of God, and that through his death and resurrection, he saved mankind. It is impossible to know whether St Paul is right. In fact, common sense says that he may not be right. Yet whoever does not believe those dogmas is damned according to the Church. Belief is demanded. An intense, subjective enquiry into truth is unwelcome.
Not every Christian agrees with the view of the Church. I once heard the sermon of an Indian priest who treated his listeners to an imaginary encounter between Jesus Christ and a theologian. �How do you like what has been written about you in the Bible?� the theologian asks him. Jesus answers, �Most of it can be thrown out.� Doubtless, the priest hoped that his sermon would not reach the ears of the bishop.
There are exceptions, but generally Christian theologians don�t look for the truth, as Hindu sages do. They are not concerned with the welfare of all people, but foremost with the welfare of the Church, and then maybe with the welfare of Christians. One�s own, subjective experience of truth is not accepted as touchstone, and mystics like Meister Eckhart who experienced truth, and openly talked about it, were excommunicated, or they were burnt to death during the Inquisition. Even today, the Pope can order members of the Church not to speak out.
Christian theologians try to justify dogmas in hair-splitting ways, and jealously guard the boundaries to other religions. The Church lives on boundaries, in contrast to the Indian tradition, which reveres not only Ram and Krishna, but also Buddha as an avatara and surely would incorporate Jesus without reservation as well. Yet the Church will not allow it.
A few years ago, in a small Christian ashram in South India, I met the head of all Benedictine monasteries worldwide, who was stationed in the Vatican. I could not help asking, �Do you think that one day the Church will agree that Christianity and Hinduism are equal?� I asked the representative of the Vatican. �But this would go against the self-image of the church,� he answered. I was not surprised.
Regrettably, the Church suffers from a superiority complex, which she also injects into the members, which she gains or � as is claimed � buys in India. In the West, the superiority complex is not so obvious, because Christianity is the dominant religion, and nobody questions its status. But here, on the Asian side of the earth, the claim that Christianity is better seems preposterous. Indians, however, rarely get into an argument.
I once asked a young village teacher, himself a Christian, how Christians and Hindus get along in the village. �Good,� he said. And added after some reflection, �The Christians think they have the better god, and the Hindus let them think so.�
In Christianity and Islam, the concept of God means the one true, personal God, who seems to have clear preferences and dislikes. He sends those who don�t believe in him to hell, and rewards his followers with heaven. And he wants everyone to believe in him, and sends his followers out to convert. The Christian god has only one indigenous son, and the path to God leads exclusively via his son. And the Islamic god has a last prophet.
This type of god is a matter of belief, and depends on the human mind, in the same way as Krishna and Rama depend on the human mind. This type of god is not universal. He is a symbol for the formless truth. Yet the representatives of the Christian and Muslim god seemingly don�t realise that the symbol stands for the one, invisible and indescribable basis of everything, that God permeates Christians, Muslims and Hindus all the same, even animals and so-called dead matter, and nothing would exist without Him. They don�t realise that He is the one essence in everything in creation.
Keeping the faith I talked recently to a caring Indian nun who has been working for many years in a hospital in Paraguay. She came to India for her holiday. She told me that religion no longer plays a role in the life of the people of Paraguay. �They have no faith in God, and have no support in life. They only celebrate the festivals with great gusto. Those are all that is left of religion,� she said.
She made me afraid. Christian missionaries are extremely active in India, and I became afraid that even Indians, who have so much faith and trust in God, and who include him so much in their daily life, could lose their faith if they converted to Christianity. Those targetted by missionaries are mainly from lower classes, and convert due to inducements which have nothing to do with religion. And they will have to recite the �confession of belief�, which in all likelihood, will not make any sense to them. And if belief is enforced, and not comprehensible, how can it be a source of joy, and give strength of character in daily life?
I once asked an American Jesuit how the Church justifies this exclusive Son-of-God position of Jesus. He answered that there are attempts by theologists to adapt the interpretations of the Church to modern times. However, the motivation for such attempts to adapt may not be so pure. In all likelihood, the main objective is to stop people in the West from leaving the Church, and yet keep its borders to other religions intact.
Note: This is Maria Wirth�s English translation of her article published in Yoga Aktuell, a German monthly magazine. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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