A FINITE PERSONAL GOD OR THE UNCONDITIONED ABSTRACT ALL?
“A truly religious Theosophist considers it blasphemous and sacrilegious to invest with personality the incomprehensible, eternal Divine Principle – which act, in his opinion, is nothing short of an attempt to drag down the Infinite to the level of the finite.”
– Damodar K. Mavalankar, “Theosophy and Christianity”
Since Theosophy believes that there is no valid reason or legitimate excuse whatsoever for divine truth or spiritual philosophy to be illogical, irrational, self-contradictory, or foolish, it is only right that some of the many illogical beliefs and self-contradictory assertions of popular religion and spirituality be exposed, questioned, and challenged. To point out such things in no way constitutes an “attack” against any particular form of religion or spirituality but it does constitute something of a necessary attack against undeniable foolishness, ignorance, and unphilosophical sentimentalism . . . it is these particular traits – and not Theosophists – which are the true and painfully inherent enemies of religions.
The most important of all of these revolves around the ageless question of the nature of God. All religions – whether monotheistic, polytheistic, pantheistic, or nontheistic – are alike in saying that the ultimate Cause and Source of this Universe must be someone or something absolute, infinite, and unlimited. They of course differ greatly from one another in their own particular ways of viewing, defining, and describing the Absolute. Even many agnostics and atheists – or at least those who actually stop to think about things – would agree that everything finite, which would include our Universe and its contents, must have come forth from something not finite, i.e. infinite.
The teachings of Theosophy maintain that there is nothing more illogical, irrational, or self-contradictory, than the belief that the ABSOLUTE and INFINITE has any type of form, personality, name, characteristics, emotions, will, desire, gender, or changeability.
Yet what do we see in many different religions and forms of spirituality? In Christianity, for one, we find an extremely human and anthropomorphic God, in possession of all of the above: form, personality, name, characteristics, emotions (often very bitter and turbulent ones, worse even than many human beings, if we are to take the Bible literally), will, desire (including the desire to kill, slaughter, and exercise formidable wrath on certain occasions), gender, and changeability (in spite of the claim that “I am the Lord, I change not!”).
Turning from the Abrahamic religions to the Indic religions, in some forms of Hinduism we find much of the same, albeit significantly less murderous, judgmental, and aggressive. There are, for example, the Vaishnavas, – worshippers and devotees of Vishnu, particularly in his form of Krishna – some of whom insistently maintain that the Absolute, the Infinite, the One Supreme Ultimate Reality, is literally a big blue Man up in the sky!
Christians may laugh at this and condemn it as ridiculous, nonsensical, or superstitious, yet it is no more of that than their own Jehovah. Extremely anthropomorphic as both systems are, H. P. Blavatsky pointed out that the Vishishtadvaita Vaishnavas at least have a detailed and explanatory form of philosophy and metaphysics, which is far more than can be said for the Christian Bible.
But leaving such disputations aside, let us take a brief glance elsewhere. We find some New Agers referring to “The Absolute” and yet speaking of it as “She” . . . we find members of the New Thought movement insisting upon the impersonal, formless, and infinite nature of God and yet nevertheless talking about that same God “watching over things” and having a special will and plan for their lives . . . we find many self-proclaimed Kabbalists, Gnostics, and “Rosicrucians” (as if any genuine Rosicrucian would ever break the sacred secrecy of the Order by admitting to being one!) of the present day unwittingly degrading and desecrating the philosophies they purport to represent by personalising and anthropomorphising the Divine to various degrees . . . almost everywhere we might choose to look, we find “nothing short of an attempt to drag down the Infinite to level of the finite” and often a “giving of a sex to that, to anthropomorphize which is blasphemy,” (H. P. Blavatsky, “What is Theosophy?”)
Now it may be asked what exactly our issue is with the things we have just referred to. The answer is a simple one: The Infinite can have nothing finite about Itself! The Absolute can have nothing relative about Itself! The Unlimited and Limitless can have nothing limited, conditioned, or differentiated about Itself!
These are not simply philosophical maxims but are obvious facts. The word “infinite” means “not finite.” The word “absolute” literally means something which is not relative in any way, in other words something which is beyond the possibility of relations and interrelations with anything in manifestation and surpassing any similarity of any kind with manifested and objective being. The word “unlimited” means “something which is not restricted, constricted, or confined in any way.” We therefore have to consider the following points very seriously . . .
* A name is unquestionably something finite and relative and needed only by beings in a particularly finite and objective state of manifestation. Why then would the Divine, if infinite and absolute, require any name of Its own? There are some who seem to truly believe that God is literally named Jehovah or Allah or Krishna or Shiva. Did God name Himself? Why would He need to? How could He wish to do so or even be able to do such a profoundly finite, relative, human, and self-limiting thing?
* Gender is also something finite, relative, and limited, as opposed to infinite, absolute, and unlimited. Again we ask, why would the Divine, if infinite and absolute, require either a male or a female gender? Even to refer to God as “He-She,” as some more open-minded people do, is still limiting the Limitless. It’s simply not necessary, let alone possible, for something which is infinite to be in possession of any finite characteristics or attributes whatsoever.
* A body or form of any kind is something undeniably finite and relative, limited and limiting. The idea that God has a form or some sort of physical-type body is both absurd and grotesque. Why would the Infinite need to limit or constrict Himself in such a way in the first place? Where did the body come from? What is it made of? What does it look like? Why does it need to look like anything or anyone? If it doesn’t, then what is the need for such a body in the first place? Does the body have organs inside, like a human body? If so, why would it need them? If not, what is the necessity for such a body in the first place?
Does the body contain a brain? If so, is this the organ through which God thinks and is He really so profoundly finite that He has to use a physical-type brain within a physical-type head on top of a physical-type body? If the body does not contain a brain and does not contain anything, then what is the point of it? If the body does contain a brain, then how did God manage to create the body, let alone the brain, if He was brainless before? Even more important is the fact that no body can be infinite. An infinite body would not be a body at all, since infinity and infinitude can only equate and correspond to bodilessness and boundlessness. To put it simply, a God with a body cannot be considered to be an infinite God, nor omnipresent, since the latter word literally means “present absolutely everywhere” and if something is present absolutely everywhere then there can be nothing except that.
* Personality, characteristics, emotion, will, and desire, are all finite and relative things. How anyone with any degree of intelligence can consider a God “who repented in anger that he had ever made the world and determined therefore to destroy it by flood” to be infinite, perfect, all-wise, omniscient, omnipresent, and supreme, is an unfathomable mystery. The God portrayed in the Bible shows less forethought, foresight, knowledge, wisdom, decency, and kindness, than many human beings here on Earth, who are nevertheless branded as “lost, hellbound sinners” and “children of the devil” simply because they refuse to believe in or worship such a ridiculously imperfect, bumbling, and often violent character as Jehovah . . . the very epitome of finiteness. And yet these primitive Jewish concepts (quite different, by the way, from the Jewish Kabbalistic teachings about the Divine) have been forced upon the world as “the only true religion,” the origin and authorship of all the others being attributed to Jehovah’s personal enemy, Satan. “God” help us, indeed!
But even many people who have a more loving and impersonal conception of the Divine are prone to investing it with emotion, sentiment, and desire. To say that “God must be sad and disappointed at how humanity behaves today,” “God wants you to be happy in life,” “God has a plan for you,” “God answers the right kind of prayer,” “The universe exists because God wanted it to,” or even “God loves you,” are all as irreversibly unsound and incompatible with the idea of Absoluteness and Infiniteness as the Christian God.
To repeat our main point, the Infinite can have nothing finite about Itself and the Absolute can have nothing relative about Itself. It is only a Being or Entity of some description which could possess the traits of personality, characteristics, emotions, will, desire, and so forth, and it is obvious that no individual being or entity could possibly be absolute or infinite. The Absolute-Infinite could not do something as finite and man-like as selecting one ethnic race as a “chosen people.”
The concept and term of non-duality is very popular nowadays but seems to be seriously misunderstood, by many people here in the West at least. People say, “I believe in non-duality and that God is all there is” and at the same time add “God is good, loving, and merciful.” To such people we may reasonably ask, “So in that case you don’t really believe that God is beyond all duality at all? You are investing God with finite qualities which only have any existence and possibility when contrasted with their dualistic opposites. Goodness is a finite quality, the opposite of evil, and cannot exist without the existence of evil, for if evil did not exist, good could not exist, since without the existence of its natural opposite, good would not be good but would be something else entirely. The same is true for love, mercy, and all the rest. To endow the Infinite with any qualities is to automatically de-infinitise the Infinite in your conceptions. This is why Theosophy, just like the original non-duality (Advaita) teachings of Hinduism, says that all the “pairs of opposites” – called the “dvandvas” in Sanskrit – relate to the manifested universe alone and that the Absolute completely transcends all such things – love, goodness, mercy, grace, and desire included – since otherwise It would not be the Absolute at all.”
* An Infinite that changes at any time and in any way cannot be the Infinite at all. In one sense, change and changeability is the very definition of finiteness. That which is absolute and infinite must of necessity also be immutable. If so, then It cannot think, choose, plan, desire, be happy, be angry, see anything, say anything, or even do anything in any way, let alone hear and answer prayer. Hence Buddha’s statement, as related in “The Light of Asia”: “Pray not! The Silence can neither hear nor speak.” The absolute, infinite, and eternal, must also be changeless and unchangeable.
Q. “Do you believe in God?”
A. “That depends what you mean by the term.”
Q. “I mean the God of the Christians, the Father of Jesus, and the Creator: the Biblical God of Moses, in short.”
A. “In such a God we do not believe. We reject the idea of a personal, or an extra-cosmic and anthropomorphic God, who is but the gigantic shadow of man, and not of man at his best, either. The God of theology, we say – and prove it – is a bundle of contradictions and a logical impossibility. Therefore, we will have nothing to do with him.”
Q. “State your reasons, if you please.”
A. “They are many, and cannot all receive attention. But here are a few. This God is called by his devotees infinite and absolute, is he not?”
Q. “I believe he is.”
A. “Then, if infinite – i.e., limitless – and especially if absolute, how can he have a form, and be a creator of anything? Form implies limitation, and a beginning as well as an end; and, in order to create, a Being must think and plan. How can the ABSOLUTE be supposed to think – i.e., to have any relation whatever to that which is limited, finite, and conditioned? This is a philosophical, and a logical absurdity. Even the Hebrew Kabala rejects such an idea, and therefore, makes of the one and the Absolute Deific Principle an infinite Unity called Ain-Soph.* In order to create, the Creator has to become active; and as this is impossible for ABSOLUTENESS, the infinite principle had to be shown becoming the cause of evolution (not creation) in an indirect way – i.e., through the emanation from itself (another absurdity, due this time to the translation of the Kabala)** of the Sephiroth.” …
Q. “Then you are Atheists?”
A. “Not that we know of, and not unless the epithet of “Atheist” is to be applied to those who disbelieve in an anthropomorphic God. We believe in a Universal Divine Principle, the root of ALL, from which all proceeds, and within which all shall be absorbed at the end of the great cycle of Being.” …
Q. “I once heard one of your members remarking that Universal Deity, being everywhere, was in vessels of dishonour, as in those of honour, and, therefore, was present in every atom of my cigar ash! Is this not rank blasphemy?”
A. “I do not think so, as simple logic can hardly be regarded as blasphemy. Were we to exclude the Omnipresent Principle from one single mathematical point of the universe, or from a particle of matter occupying any conceivable space, could we still regard it as infinite?”
* “Ain-Soph, the endless, or boundless, in and with Nature, the non-existent which IS, but is not a Being.”
** “How can the non-active eternal principle emanate or emit? The Parabrahm of the Vedantins does nothing of the kind; nor does the Ain-Soph of the Chaldean Kabala. It is an eternal and periodical law which causes an active and creative force (the logos) to emanate from the ever-concealed and incomprehensible one principle at the beginning of every maha-manvantara, or new cycle of life.”
– H.P. Blavatsky, “The Key to Theosophy” p. 61-62, 63, 66
“Each people has a God of its own; so many peoples, so many Supreme Beings corresponding to the mental ideas of the people. And so with individuals – as the ideas of men differ widely – so many individuals, so many Gods. All these Gods or Supreme Beings are the creations of men, and not facts in themselves. But back of all those ideas does lie a Reality. The very power that resides in man to create images and endow them with virtues which he does not possess points to something greater than the things created. The creatures cannot be greater than the creators. That which in man creates ideas is greater than any idea he may at any time have held or now holds. We have, then, to get back of all ideas to find the true “God” – the true religion. … Behind everything that exists is the Sustainer of all that exists, of all that ever was, is, or shall be. Nothing exists without It. It is omnipresent, and It is infinite. But, if we take that idea and endeavor to confine it to the form of any Being whatever, we shall find we have attempted the impossible. We cannot hold the idea of being with that which is omnipresent and infinite. No being can exist outside of Space which itself is, whether there is void or finiteness, whether there are planets, gods or men, or none; which itself is not altered in any way by objects occupying it; which is illimitable – without beginning and without end. A Being must exist in Space, and so must be less than Space. We can then call the Highest Power any name we choose – the Supreme, the Self – so long as we do not limit It, or give It attributes. We may not say It is pleased, nor angry, nor rewards, nor punishes; doing so, we limit It. If Space itself cannot be measured or limited, how can we limit the Supreme? The Highest Power cannot be less than Space. Even to name It is to limit It; yet It must be the One Reality, the One Sustainer, the One Cause of all existences, the One Knower, the One Experiencer, in all directions and in every thing.”
– Robert Crosbie, “The Friendly Philosopher” p. 211-212
“How can we imagine a being as omnipresent, and at the same time separate from us or from anything? If Deity is infinite and omnipresent, there is not a grain of sand nor a point of vacant space anywhere where Deity is not. And how again can we give to the idea of Deity, attributes – such as being angry or pleased, rewarding or punishing, since every attribute that we give is a limitation and precludes the idea of omnipresence? No being could be the origin, the sustainer, the source of all that was, is or ever shall be. Any being, however great, is contained and limited in space; no being can be omnipresent … The people who lived down the course of those centuries knew far more than we. They knew, as we may know, that there is no such thing as creation. No being ever created the earth, or its conditions. This planet, or any other planet, was never created by any being. This solar system and other solar systems were not created by any being. Something produced them. Yes, and it is possible to understand how that production was brought about! By evolution – always an unfolding from within outward – from the very root of every being, from the Deity, the Soul of all, the Spirit of all. Spirit is the root, the sustainer, the energy-producing force for all the evolution that has gone on. Every being in the universe is a product of evolution – all from the same identical root of being, all drawing their powers of expression from the one Source. All are rays from and one with that Absolute Principle, which is our very Self – the Self of all creatures.”
– Robert Crosbie, “The Friendly Philosopher” p. 216, 217-218
This, in brief, sums up the Theosophical view of the matter. Theosophy’s teaching about the Divine mirrors that of the Upanishads and the Advaita Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism, in which the term Brahman or Parabrahman is used to refer to That which is “One without a second,” “That from which all words turn back and which thought can never reach.”
HPB says in “The Key to Theosophy” (p. 222) that “The Parabrahm of the Vedantins is the Deity we accept and believe in.” In “The Secret Doctrine Dialogues” she says that the Vedantins “are certainly the greatest philosophers in the world” (p. 271), “Take the Vedanta. I don’t know of any philosophy in the world higher than that philosophy” (p. 74), “If you want to have it in a philosophical way, you have to take the Vedantin way of seeing things, but if you come to the theologians of the West, you are lost” (p. 395), and adds regarding the Vishishtadvaita Vaishnavas, “Now, do you know what a Visishtadvaita is? They believe in a personal, in a personal God, and they are dualists. They are Vedantins, but they have got no right to the name of Vedantins.”
It should be understood, however, that what esoteric Hinduism has to say about the Absolute is exactly the same as what any form of genuine esotericism has to say about It, whether it be esoteric Buddhism, esoteric Judaism in the form of the Kabbalah, esoteric Christianity, or the doctrines of Pythagoras, Plato, the Neo-Platonists, and the Hermetic tradition. Theosophy is not Hinduism, nor is it Buddhism, although in one respect it could be described as the perfect blend of both. It is in fact a presentation for the New Age of the Ancient and Ageless Wisdom which underlies, transcends, and predates all religions, Hinduism – the world’s oldest surviving religion – included. Theosophy maintains that all religions are the same in their esoteric essence and that there is actually no need to belong to any particular religion, for “There is no religion higher than Truth,” as the famous Theosophical motto declares.
It is because Theosophy has true honour, reverence, and respect for the Absolute Infinite Divine Reality – the Causeless Cause and Rootless Root, the Supreme Pure Divine Consciousness which is everything and in everything – that . . .
* It does not endorse, or believe in the efficacy, of prayer or worship, except in the forms of meditation and a worshipful reverence and honour for all life and all beings.
* It does not refer to the Absolute as He or Him or She or Her, preferring instead the term THAT or IT, which, as HPB points out in “The Secret Doctrine,” is infinitely more respectful than to make of the Deity a “gigantic male” or gigantic female.
* It does not believe that there is any separation in the Universe but rather proclaims that everything is an expression of, and pervaded by, the ONE Absolute Infinite Omnipresent Eternal Divine Principle.
* It describes It not as an Entity but as a Principle; not as a Being but as Be-ness; not as something which exists but as Absolute Infinite EXISTENCE Itself, or “Sat,” to use the Sanskrit equivalent for this expression.
* It does not believe that the Universe comes into its periodical existence because of any divine will or desire but simply due to the automatically recurring Law which is one in essence with the Absolute Itself. Parabrahm is “the propelling but not volitional power” and although the Rig Veda may say that “Desire first arose in the bosom of IT,” Theosophy says that “The cause can by no means be a finite consciousness or desire. It is an absurdity to postulate desire or necessity of the Absolute; the striking of a clock does not suggest the desire of the clock to strike.” (H. P. Blavatsky, “Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge” p. 41, 40)
In the twelfth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that the Universe “emanates spontaneously,” whilst the Master M. in his “Cosmological Notes” states that all being comes forth from “the world of non-being, where exists the eternal mechanical motion, the uncreated cause from whence proceeds in a kind of incessant downward and upward rotation, the founts of being from non-being, the latter, the reality, the former maya, the temporary from the everlasting, the effect from its cause, the effect becoming in its turn cause ad infinitum. During the pralaya, that upward and downward motion ceases, inherent unconscious life alone remaining – all creative forces paralysed, and everything resting in the night of mind.”
* It does not believe the Absolute to have any type of form, personality, name, characteristics, emotions, will, desire, gender, or changeability whatsoever. It does not think, does not have any type of intelligence, and does not have any form of consciousness, the reason being that It IS Absolute Consciousness itself. Consciousness itself. “ . . . the eternal divine consciousness which cannot differentiate, have qualities, or act; action belongs to that which is reflected or mirrored from it. The unconditioned and infinite can have no relation with the finite and conditioned,” (H. P. Blavatsky, “Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge” p. 17). The Master K.H. wrote to an English Theosophist who was beginning to study Advaita Vedanta with a Hindu swami that “if he teaches you anything you say to me, i.e., anything save an impersonal, non-thinking and non-intelligent Principle they call Parabrahm, then he will not be teaching you the true spirit of that philosophy, not from its esoteric aspect, at any rate.”
* It readily admits that the Absolute and Infinite must remain forever Unknown and Unknowable to finite perception and intelligence, the only direct knowledge of It possible being when the individual consciousness merges or unites with the Absolute Consciousness, but even then words would not be adequate or sufficient to attempt any real definition or description of That which is actually undefinable and indescribable.
* It often does not even use the word “God” at all, since this term can be liable to mislead and can easily result in misunderstanding and misrepresentation of what Theosophy actually says and teaches in this regard. The Masters of the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood, identifying themselves as esoteric Buddhists, are particularly opposed to the “God” word (in a famous letter, the Master K.H. states, “We deny God both as philosophers and as Buddhists,” and “We know there is no such thing as God.”) and many Theosophists have chosen to more or less drop it from their vocabularies. One should not become dogmatic about it, however, for reasons explained at the start of the article What Does Theosophy Say About God?
The teachings of Theosophy could be described as monistic, nontheistic, and pantheistic, all at the same time. Whatever name one may choose to apply to them, it cannot be argued or denied that the Theosophical approach to the Divine is far grander, far more logical, reasonable, rational, reverential, self-consistent, scientific, and philosophically sound than any other. If only this teaching was more widely known and publicised there would be far less atheism, materialism, and religious bigotry in the world, and far more intelligent and practical application of spiritual living.
IMPORTANT NOTE: What has been said in this article relates to the Divine as the unmanifested Absolute or Infinite, the Causeless Cause and Rootless Root or Sourceless Source of all. In many religions, there is no conception of Deity existing in any more than one “degree” or level of manifestation. Theosophy, however, also speaks of the Logos, which can be described as the objective expression of the subjective and abstract Absolute, or the Word coming forth out of the Silence in order to produce, sustain, and eventually dissolve and regenerate, the Universe. Of course, the Logos is still subjective to us, unless we are Initiates who can directly perceive or observe it, but in comparison with the static infinitude of the Absolute, the Logos is dynamic, active, and objective. Much of what has been said in this present article applies to the Absolute and not to the Logos.
~ BlavatskyTheosophy.com ~
As this subject is a deep one we recommend the following related articles: Belief in God is Superstition, The Existence of Evil, It’s all Illusion – but how?, 12 Things Theosophy Teaches, Atman – The Higher Self, Understanding the Logos, Matter is Eternal, Akasha and the Akashic Records, Questions about Karma, The True Nature of Jehovah, Dismantling the Christian Edifice, Salvation from Christianity, Words from The Masters about H.P. Blavatsky, The Masters and Madame Blavatsky, An Invitation to The Secret Doctrine, Golden Keys to The Secret Doctrine, Gandhi on Blavatsky and Theosophy, Praise for H.P. Blavatsky and Theosophy, and How to successfully study the Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky.
Before this Universe came into being…
“The ONLY One breathed breathless by Itself; other than IT there nothing since has been.”
~ From the Rig Veda, the most ancient book and scripture known to man ~