Religious texts have often been questioned by many for their authenticity and their true application to our modern lives. Few others have followed the texts blindly and literally. However everyone agrees that the core definition of God, whether a believer or non-believer, is that God is above human, and God is the source, substratum and suspender of this universe. Everyone agrees that definition of God is one of purity, humility, modesty, equality, just, forgiving, peace loving, equilibrium, love, patience, and not vengeful, omnipresent, omniscient, omnportent. Although there is vast consensus among all humans about the definition of God, belief in God varies on a continuum.
There is first a non-believer or the atheist. They make no efforts to gain knowledge in understanding God. Any explanation given to them about God’s existence is met with resistance, argument, and debate. They ardently and passionately argue that all phenomena just exists and perishes spontaneously. That there is no Cosmic Power that is responsible for the existence of this entire universe and creation. Their debate is based from the perspective of denying God.
Second there are God-Fearing people who believe in God to avoid God’s wrath and punishment, if they deny his existence. These people will ardently defend their religious scripts by interpreting them literally. They will blindly follow all traditions and rituals without questioning it. As in some cultures where shoplifting may lead to losing the hand that stole the item, or public stoning of women who may have been found to be unfaithful to her husband. The consequences of their actions in those societies could be dire based on the literal meaning of religious scripts. They do not take the time to see the paradox of their actions where they believe in a just, kind, and peaceful God, yet they would believe that the same God would ask for such heinous crimes to be committed.
The third set are those who are God-Skeptics or the agnostic who want to believe but are so pressured by their egos to look for proof of the existence of God that they fail to see all the wonders of God around them. They discount every phenomenon using scientific cause-effect knowledge. They can explain the “how” of nature, but never cannot explain the “why” of nature. They also fall prey to their own thoughts where they question the religious scripts through literal interpretation and are ever ready to criticize the religious texts based on the atrocities committed by ignorant humans. They very eagerly question the existence of God. In their opinion God could not exist if he allowed for such atrocities to occur. If there was a God then religious texts would not purport such heinous actions. Their fallacy of thoughts could lead them to an approach-avoid conflict based on guilt, because of overt religious or spiritual heritage. They follow traditions through rote practice, but find it hard to believe in the existence of God. They are constantly questioning religious scripts from a critical perspective. They criticize rather than try to gain true knowledge.
Then there are those who are God-submitters. They are the very enlightened souls who inquire into the knowledge of God by trusting that God exists inherently in all creation. Those are the great saints, prophets, messiahs, spiritual gurus, etc. They use religion with the only purpose of aspiring to unite with God eventually. Whether one believes in 1 birth or reincarnation; hell or heaven; Jesus, Bhagvan, or Allah is not really important to them in the pursuit of God. These debates seem frivolous to them resulting in distraction from the real goal. They question religion to gain greater depth of true knowledge of God. Their Inherent Trust in God (In-Trust), leads them on a path of calmness, complete faith, and complete surrender to God’s will. They see God everywhere, in everything, and in everyone. There is no room for confusion or conflict. All that happens to them and around them is one of God’s will. In complete surrender they unite with God and acquire the same traits that define the word God.Following a path of total surrender is the only way to recognize true spiritual leaders who are non-egoistic and are completely self-absorbed in the Cosmic presence within and without.
When one surrenders completely to God all questions about religion by default centers around inquiry to gain true knowledge and not to doubt or to criticize. There is a true account of Saibaba, one of India’s great spiritual gurus, who tried to emphasize the importance of questioning for inquiry into deeper knowledge.
Nanasaheb Chandorkar was a good student of Vedanta. He had read Gita with commentaries and prided himself on his knowledge of all that. He fancied that Baba knew nothing of all this or of Sanskrit. So, Baba one day pricked the bubble. These were the days before crowds flocked to Baba, when Baba had solitary talks at the Mosque with such devotees. Nana was sitting near Baba and massaging His Legs and muttering something.
Baba – Nana, what are you mumbling yourself?
Nana – I am reciting a shloka (verse) from Sanskrit.
Baba – What shloka?
Nana – From Bhagawad-Gita
Baba – Utter it loudly.
Nana then recited Bhagvat Gita Chapter IV-34 which is as follows :-
‘Tadviddhi Pranipatena Pariprashnena Sevaya,
Upadekshyanti Te Jnanam Jnaninastattwadarshinah’
Baba – Nana, do you understand it?
Nana – Yes.
Baba – If you do, then tell me.
Nana – It means this – Sashtanga Namaskar, i.e., prostration, questioning the guru, serving him, learn what this Jnana is. Then, those Jnanis that have attained the real knowledge of the Sad-Vastu (Brahma) will give you upadesha (instruction) of Jnana.”
Baba – Nana, I do not want this sort of collected purport of the whole stanza. Give me each word, its grammatical force and meaning.
Then Nana explained it word by word.
Baba – Nana, is it enough to make prostration merely ?
Nana – I do not know any other meaning for the word ‘pranipata’ than ‘making prostration’.
Baba – What is ‘pariprashna’?
Nana – Asking questions.
baba – What does ‘Prashna’ mean?
Nana – The same (questioning).
Baba – If ‘pariprashna’ means the same as prashna (question), why did Vyasa add the prefix ‘pari’? Was Vyasa off his head?
Nana – I do not know of any other meaning for the word ‘pariprashna’.
Baba – ‘Seva’, what sort of ‘seva’ is meant?
Nana – Just what we are doing always
Baba – Is it enough to render such service?
Nana – I do not know what more is signified by the word ‘seva’.
Baba – In the next line shyanti te jnanam you so read it as to read any other word in lieu of Jnanam?
Nana – Yes.
Baba – What word?
Nana – Ajnanam.
Baba – Taking that word (instead of Jnana) is any meaning made out of the verse?
Nana – No, Shankara Bhashya gives no such construction.
Baba – Never mind if it does not. Is there any objection to using the word gives a better sense?
Nana – I do not understand how to construe by placing .
Baba – Why does Krishna refer Arjuna to Jnanis or Tattwadarshis to do his prostration, interrogation and service? Was not Krishna a Tattwadarshi, in fact Jnana himself.
Nana – Yes He was. But I do not make out why he referred Arjuna to Jnanis?
Baba – Have you not understood this?
Nana was humiliated. His pride was knocked on the head. Then Baba began to explain –
(1) It is not enough merely to prostrate before the Jnanis. We must make Sarvaswa Sharangati (complete surrender) to the Sad-guru.
(2) Mere questioning is not enough. The question must not be made with any improper motive or attitude or to trap the Guru and catch at mistakes in the answer, or out of idle curiosity. It must be serious and with a view to achieve moksha or spiritual progress.
(3) Seva is not rendering service, retaining still the feeling that one is free to offer or refuse service. One must feel that he is not the master of the body, that the body is Guru’s and exists merely to render service to him.
If this is done, the Sad-guru will show you what the Janna referred to in the previous stanza is.
Nana did not understand what is meant by saying that a guru teaches ajnana.
Baba – How is Jnana Upadesh, i.e., imparting of realization to be effected? Destroying ignorance is Jnana. (cf. Verse-Ovi-1396 of Jnaneshwari commenting on Gita 18-66 says – l of ignorance is like this, Oh Arjuna, If dream and sleep disappear, you are yourself. It is like that. Ovi 83 on Gita V-16 says – re anything different or independent in Jnana besides the destruction of ignorance? dispelling darkness means light. Destroying duality (dwaita) means non-duality (adwaita). Whenever we speak of destroying Dwaita, we speak of Adwaita. Whenever we talk of destroying darkness, we talk of light. If we have to realize the Adwaita state, the feeling of Dwaita in ourselves has to be removed. That is the realization of the Adwaita state. Who can speak of Adwaita while remaining in Dwaita? If one did, unless one gets into that state, how can one know it and realize it?
Again, the Shishya (disciple) like the Sad-guru is really embodiment of Jnana. The difference between the two lies in the attitude, high realization, marvelous super-human Sattva (being ness) and unrivalled capacity and Aishwarya Yoga (divine powers). The Sad-guru is Nirguna, Sat-Chit-Ananda. He has indeed taken human form to elevate mankind and raise the world. But his real Nirguna nature is not destroyed thereby, even a bit. His being ness (or reality), divine power and wisdom remain undiminished. The disciple also is in fact of the same swarupa. But, it is overlaid by the effect of the samaskaras of innumerable births in the shape of ignorance, which hides from his view that he is Shuddha Chaitanya (see B.G. Ch. V-15). As stated therein, he gets the impressions – va, a creature, humble and poor. Guru has to root out these offshoots of ignorance and has to give upadesh or instruction. To the disciple, held spell-bound for endless generations by the ideas of his being a creature, humble and poor, the Guru imparts in hundreds of births the teaching – you are mighty and opulent. he realizes a bit that he is God really. The perpetual delusion under which the disciple is laboring, that he is the body, that he is a creature (jiva) or ego, that God (Paramatma) and the world are different from him, is an error inherited from innumerable past births. From actions based on it, he has derived his joy, sorrows and mixtures of both. To remove this delusion, this error, this root ignorance, he must start the inquiry. How did the ignorance arise? Where is it? And to show him this is called the Guru’s upadesh. The following are the instances of Ajnana :-
1 – I am a Jiva (creature)
2 – Body is the soul (I am the body).
3 – God, world and Jiva are different.
4 – I am not God.
5 – Not knowing, that body is not the soul.
6 – Not knowing that God, world and Jiva are one.
Unless these errors are exposed to his view, the disciple cannot learn what is God, jiva, world, body; how they are inter-related and whether they are different from each other, or are one and the same. To teach him these and destroy his ignorance is this instruction in Jnana or Ajnana. Why should Jnana be imparted to the jiva, (who is) a Jnanamurti? Upadesh is merely to show him his error and destroy his ignorance.
Baba added :- (1) Pranipata implies surrender. (2) Surrender must be of body, mind and wealth; Re: (3) Why should Krishna refer Arjuna to other Jnanis? kta takes every thing to be Vasudev (B.G.VII-19 i.e., any Guru will be Krishna to the devotee) and Guru takes disciple to be Vasudev and Krishna treats both as his Prana and Atma (B.G.7-18, commentary of Jnanadev on this). As Shri Krishna knows that there are such Bhaktas and Gurus, He refers Arjuna to them so that their greatness may increase and be known.
Recently I was subject to one such debate of a controversial verse from Bhagvad Gita Chapter 9-32
When translated literally it means: O son of Paṛthā, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth — women, vaiśyas [merchants] and śūdras [workers] — can attain the supreme destination.
A God-skeptic would be quick to criticize the seemingly flawed religion. They would be quick to explain that this was written and proselytized by chauvinistic religious leaders. Its purpose being one of defamation. The predicament then would be how can a just, equal, and loving God denigrate women, merchants, and workers of the society.
A God-submitter would inquire to gain a deeper understanding to get closer to God. From a submission perspective could it be that the verse emphasizes that God is equal and just? It does not really matter what your earthly heritage is. It does not matter what form of mortal coil your soul has acquired. It does not matter if you are a man or a woman, it does not matter if you were born in a corrupted environment of evil, hatred, and violence, it does not matter if you have a job that focusses on profits and riches, it does not matter if you have a job of a menial worker earning daily wages to support bare necessities of life. Everyone has equal access to God. Everyone has equal ability to unite with God. The only caveat is that you have to have FAITH &BELIEF, you have to INTRUST, AND SURRENDER. You have to think of God at all times in every action, and everywhere.
I am very certain that every religious text has similar controversial teachings. Every controversial text can be understood in its entire beauty if read from the perspective of complete submission. With complete non-egoistic submission no religion will look foreign, no religious script will seem controversial and no one will be a lesser human than the other. With only love there can be no hate. With only light of true knowledge there can be no darkness of ignorance, skepticism, denial, and blind faith.