Establishing God's Eternal Form by Bhaktivinoda Thakura

last updated 13th September 2007

[Thakura Bhaktivinoda composed this book review in English for publication in a European jounal He came across the book entitled "Nitya-rupa-samsthapanarn" (Establishing God's Eternal Form), and he liked it very much due to the way it presented the facts about the Lord's existence in a logical, straightforward way. His purpose in writing this review was to interest his educated Western readers (who also knew Sanskrit) in reading the book and receiving its benefits.]

Pandit Upendra Mohan Goswami Nyayaratna, a well-known descendant of Prabhu Nityananda, has given to the public a new work, entitled the Nitya-rupa-samsthapanam. The object of the book is to prove the eternal spiritual form of the Deity. The subject is certainly not a new one, but in the latter part of the nineteenth century, when science is so deeply engaged in its warfare with popular belief, it looks like a new subject inviting the attention of the public. Amongst the scientific beliefs that have come to India along with the British rule, the metaphysical inference that the Deify has no form has been accepted as one of the most philosophical acquisitions that man has ever obtained. The current of the abstruse idea of a formless Brahma, which has invaded thought and worship in India since the time of Pandit Sankaracarya has, with the existence of the European idea of a formless God, become so much extended, especially in the minds of the youngsters of the country, that if an attempt is made to establish the fact that God has an external form, it is hooted down as an act of stupidity. We are exceedingly glad to see that Pandit Upendra Mohan Goswami has had the courage to advance his arguments in opposition to the current belief of the prejudiced people.

The work Is not a big one. It contains 69 pages, (octavo) of Sanskrit composition and a Bengali translation of the same. From a study of the Sandarbha Tika, the Bhagavat Sandarbha, the Vedanta Sutras (Madhva bhasya, Ramanuja bhasya, Dravida bhasya, and Govinda bhasya), the Srutis and Smrtis, the author has proved the spiritual form of the Deity. Reason, subservient to the sastras, is also not wanting. Wherever we read, we read with the deep learning of the Goswami Prabhu. Not only reasoning of a healthy kind, there Is enough of that superior sentiment which is called affection, for things beyond the region of the senses. The slokas of which the following are translations have created a sort of thrilling sensation in our heart, which we feel unable to express in writing:

"Let crowded sins repeat my trial scenes!
and lead me on from woe to woe! Care I for that? If love of God alone,
would bless my heart where'er I go.
The Holy seat of Love is Vrindavan,
where matter's laws have no domain Ah!
when my panting soul shall find its rest
in that Eternal realm again!"

There are several of such spiritual effusions which the materialist and the so-called positivist will scarcely understand. The book under review is replete with unprejudiced discussions about the sastras and considerations of points of pure Bhakti or the spiritual sentiment to God. We fear, however, that the young people and European thinkers will scarcely comprehend the object of the book. They may put it off to a distant corner of the almirah for happy enjoyment of white ants and other insects with the expressions that the book is nothing but a repetition of some old rejected arguments of idolatrous nature. The reason why even thoughtful men might be induced to believe Is, that with the change of time phraseology, process of reasoning and the manner of using evidence also change, and the work before us has not been composed in accordance with the manner of writing which is now in vogue. The old Sanskrit style has been adopted. We, for ourselves, do not attribute this to want of ability in the author, but to his dislike of the modern form of writing. Be that as it may, we shall review the book arranging the arguments in a purely modem style. Let our readers know it for certain that we shall simply reproduce in the modern style the arguments of Prabhu Upendra Mohan Goswami. We now proceed with our review.

The word Vastu includes in Sanskrit Philosophy everything that actually exists, whether spiritual, mental or material. We must use the word in Its literal form throughout instead of endeavoring to find out its synonym in the English language. In order to admit the existence of a Vasta, we must have its cognition. Cognition is of four classes: viz., cognition of form, cognition of name, cognition of property or energy, and cognition of action. As soon as a Vastu is in direct cognition of some person, the first impression that proceeds out of it is the impression of cognition of form. A formless Vasta in fact has no existence. So that we safely infer that a formless Vasta is a contradiction in terms. It may be that there are Vastas in the Universe which are not subject to cognition, because there are no corresponding organs of perception in man. Had there been such organs, man would have obtained an impression of the forms of such unknown Vastas. Here ends the dispute, and we must admit that every Vastu. must have a form.

What is form? It is no other than that constitution of a Vastu which fixes that Vastu in its proper position without allowing it to be confounded with another Vastu. Man has certain organs of perception. That impression of a Vastu, which an organ that has the power to perceive it brings under its cognition, is the form (or rupa) of that Vastu. In the constitution of man, apparently to all, there are five external organs of perception viz., the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, and the touch, and one internal organ, the mind. Now the eye sees the form of color, extension, and figure of a Vasta. the ear perceives the form of intonations, pronunciations and other expressions of sound proceeding from a Vasta. The nose finds the distinctions of smells in a Vastu. The tongue perceives sweets and bitters in a Vastu. The touch discovers the forms of softness, hardness, heat and cold. The distant relation of one Vastu with another, In fact, all relations in the Vastu itself and all consequences are perceived by that internal organ which we call the mind. In human knowledge the forms thus acquired through the different organs create a full perception or cognition of a Vastu. After the form is settled, a name naturally occurs for recording the distinctions between the several Vastus that constitute the universe. This is the second cognition of a Vastu. Every Vasta has its properties or energies. The more we come to an intimate acquaintance with a Vastu, the more we have its guna-paricaya or cognition of property. This is the third cognition of a Vasta. When a Vastu displays its energy in connection with other Vastus, we have before us the fourth cognition of a Vasta, or its cognition of action. It would make a volume, if we were to make a detailed examination of the rules. Be it enough to say that every Vastu must necessarily have these four classes of cognition.

The Most Supreme Being, although He is the creator of all Vastus, is a Vastu Himself. If we do not admit Him as a Vastu, we simply support the blind atheist. Nothing exists which is not a Vasta. If God be not a Vastu, His existence is virtually denied. Hence all Deists and Theists must, as a matter of course, declare that the Almighty Being is a Vasta.

Admitting that God is a Vasta, we must apply the four great rules of cognition to Him also. These rules of cognition are eternal in the principle of existence. They rule both the worlds; i.e., the Material and the Spiritual. They do therefore apply alike to God, soul and matter. We have shown above that the various cognitions acquired through the various organs of human knowledge concentrate into a general cognition, i.e., the cognition of the entire form to which all other cognitions are subordinate. Hence the fact, that God has a form of His own is established in the sastras and believed by all holy men of a cool understanding.

That the form of God is not material but fully spiritual, there is no denying of the fact. In Sanskrit, that form of the Deity is called Sri-Vigraha. Sri-Vigraha is therefore the personality or individuality of the Deity. It may also be styled as the grand particularity of God. The property of a thing which distinguishes it from another thing is called In Sanskrit the Visesa, or its peculiarity. Sri-Vigraha is therefore the Visesa of the Almighty. The person of the Deity exhibits six great attributes which constitute the principle of Bhaga, and He who owns it is styled Bhagavan. These attributes are: 1. Majesty (aisvarya); 2. Might (virya); 3. Glory (yasa); 4. Beauty (sri); 5. Intelligence (jnana); and 6. Liberty (vairagya). These attributes, beautifully reconciled to each other under the rule of one of them, i.e. Beauty, constitute the form or the Sri-Vigraha of Bhagavan. Don't admit the eternal form of God and you will lay the foundation of atheism. God without a form or personality is nothing but a rule or law which creates and keeps the universe In order. Such an entity is at once reduced to non-entity, if placed on the test of Reason. God in the form of law is another name for the law of nature. Hence a personal Deity is necessary to keep up Theism.

Our object is not to argue with the atheist, but to establish that the eternal spiritual form of the Deity is an essential element in the science of Theology. If we admit a formless Deity, we must in the end believe that everything is God and that there is no distinction between Godhead and the creature. The Sunyavada of the Buddhists, the nonentity of Godhead of the atheist, and the identity of Brahma and the soul of the Advaita-vadis are admitted as the truth. Hence great men with a strong sentiment to God have all along accepted the truth advanced by Smrti, Sruti, and healthy reasoning that the form of the Deity is subject, of His own free-will, to the four cognitions mentioned above.

Certain puerile arguments have repeatedly been advanced against the spiritual form of the Deity. It would take much space and time to repeat them all one by one. We must therefore simply meet some of the principle arguments on the subject. It has been argued that the Omni-presence, Omniscience, and the Omnipotence of the Deity can hardly be maintained if a form can be ascribed to Him. Asserting, as we have done, that the form of the Deity is spiritual and the ideas of magnitude have been derived from matter, space, and time, there is no difficulty to believe that the Divine form is Omni-present in all fullness of beauty, Omniscient while engaged in associations of affections in relations to others, and Omnipotent while existing in a serene and cool appearance. The attribute of Omnipotence must allow in Him a beautiful harmony of all discordant principles. In material forms, this is impossible. In the idea of Divine formlessness, we find a good deal of material attributes somewhat enlarged by the imagination for the sake of the Deity. The idea of space is one of endless length, breadth and width, and If God's attribute is no better than that of space, we fail to see anything divine in such an idea. The idea of Sri-Vigraha, on the contrary, gives to the Deity the supernatural power to be eternally distinct in His own transcendental beauty, and at the same time existing in all space in all the fullness of His glory and power. The writers of the sastras, after applying to God the names of light, gold, etc., have decided that the form of God is spiritual and is above the opposite properties of matter.

People labouring under the pressure of dry Rationalism would go sometimes to assert that the admission of a Sri-Vigraha would necessarily subject the Divine Being to the conditions of matter, time and space. These thinkers, we fear, are so much lost in gross thoughts of matter, that they can hardly separate the spiritual from a material entity. The conditions of matter, space and time have no domain in the spiritual world. Ah! they cannot go there even. Spirit has its own conditions, which are far above the rule of nature. In spirit, conditions and freedom from condition are beautifully allied into a harmony. Hence it is that Sri-Vigraha with all its relations to others and conditions in itself, is Liberty personified in its pure nature. Rationally we cannot conceive it, for Reason born and fostered on the lap of matter has not the privilege to enter the region of spirit.

Rationally conceived, God is unconditioned, because the conditions of matter, space and time cannot put Him to subjection. Reason, then, is an inferior organ in the construction of man. It has sovereignty over matter, but it is far below the realm of spirit. Man has a higher constitution, and he has higher facilities in his spiritual make, a make which is Intended to last with him even after his salvation from the nether world. That spiritual make of man is the inner man or the ego in the human constitution. We should go so far as to assert that the make is the true man and the present constitution is nothing but the true man encased in two other coils, namely the Sthula and the Suksma. The first coil is strictly mortal, and death removes it in no time. It is the corporeal system of man. The second coil is the coil of the mind. It is mortal, but lasts so long as the wish of the Almighty does not interfere. Mind, in fact, is a temporary creation between the soul and the body, and acts by the will of God as the cementing Influence between the two. From its vicinity to the soul on one side, it bears the character of a cognitive agency, and from its vicinity to matter on the other side, its cognitive powers are Inseparably constrained to the material world. But the true and immortal man is above and inside these two mortal coils. His illusive identification with the other two coils has suppressed his true nature and has led him to believe the external world more than the Internal. The more the man leans toward the external world, the greater is his doubt about the internal and about the true constitution of the self. When by some higher influence, either from the Fountainhead of all spiritual influence, or from any other holy and spiritual being, the man is disposed towards his inward construction, he cultivates the subject and gradually finds his own spiritual make, his relation to the Deity and his present awkward position. It is then that the spiritual organs of the man are opened and the spiritual form of the Deity is seen direct by the spiritual eye. It Is therefore manifest that neither the corporeal eye, nor the mental eye can see the form of God. In the book under review, Prabhu Upendra Mohan has beautifully quoted a text from the Katha Upanishad, of which the following is a translation:

"The mind can ne'er perceive His heav'nly form,
The eye could ne'er decry it e'en! Whom God has owned to be His friend in love
To him His form Divine is giv'n!"

It would now appear that all the arguments brought against the eternal Sri-Vigraha are advanced from a material point of view. When a man obtains the true spiritual position in the exercise of that high spiritual sentiment in him which passes by the name of Bhakti (spiritual affection for the Deity), he fully enjoys the felicity of seeing the beautiful form of the Deity.

There is one more argument of the rationalist which we shall take time to consider. He naturally questions the possibility of the manifestation in nature of that Supernatural form. We have read in the Hindu scriptures and in the lives of the holy men such as Prahlad and Dhruva, that God made His appearance in nature in His form of spirit and acted with men as one of their friends. We are not prepared, in consideration of our short time and space, to prove that the statements made in the sastras were all historically true, but we must show that the principle taught in those statements is philosophically safe. God is spiritually Almighty and has the power to overcome all conditions of matter, space, and time. It is certainly His power and privilege to be aloof from matter in the position of His Sri-Vigraha, and at the same time to exist in the universe as its soul. In the exercise of His liberty and sovereignty over matter and space, it is not hard to believe that He may now and then, or at all times, be pleased to make a manifestation in nature, sometimes accepting her rules and sometimes rejecting them at His pleasure. The conclusion is that the universe in general and man in particular can never by a rule enjoy a sight of the All-beautiful in the scene of matter, but God of His own freedom can exhibit Himself in supersession of all rules and prove His dominion over all He created. Man sees Him when he regains his pure spiritual nature, but God shows Himself out of kindness to man whenever He is pleased to do so. Holy men to whom God has been pleased to show His spiritual form have often attempted to picture it to their fellow brethren. The picture, whether it be by pencil, chisel, or pen, Is always made through the medium of matter, and hence a degree of grossness has all along attended the representations. This emblematic exhibition of spiritual Impressions is far from being open to charge of idolatry. Those who rationally conceive the idea of God, and by the assistance of the imagination create an image, are certainly open to the charge. There is one absolute truth at the bottom of this important question.

It is this: Nature has indeed a relation to the spirit. What is that relation? As far as we have been instructed by the inner Tutor, we may safely say, that spirit is the perfect model and nature is the copy which is full of imperfections. Draw inferences from the side of nature and press them upon the Deity, they will ever remain gross and imperfect. Draw from the spirit inside and push your impressions at first to the mind and then to the body, you simply spiritualize them both. Here is the advent of God on the scene of nature. It is then that the model is to be found represented by the corresponding copy in nature. God's transcendental form also finds its corresponding reflection in nature, and when we worship the Deity, in pure love, in the reflected scenes of Vrindavan. Here the imagination has no play. It is the soul which sees and makes a description in the corresponding phenomena in nature. The spiritual form thus conveyed to us is none but the eternal form of God. The grossness is simply apparent, but all the actions and consequences are fully spiritual. The man who weeps and dances in felicity 'when he spiritually sees the beauty of God is certainly translated to the region of spirits for the time and the gross action of his body is but a concomitant manifestation caused by a current of spiritual electricity. Here we find the absolute in the relative, the positive in the negative, and spirit in matter. The spiritual form of God is therefore an eternal truth and with all its contradiction to reason is nothing but the rule of spirit. And the greatest surprise arises when we see full harmony in all these contradictions.

Pandit Upendra Mohan has done us a very acceptable service by quoting and explaining the philosophical differences and gradations of the ideas of God manifested in men of different capabilities or adhikara. He shows, quoting from the Visnu Purana and the Sandarbha of Sri Jiva Goswami, that four ideas of Godhead have been conceived by man. one of which is the absolute idea and the rest relative. We prepare a formula showing the four different ideas in the shape of steps to each other. We hope our readers will deeply study this form. They will find that man in his progression from gross nature to pure spirit has to pass these stages. There may be men of an extraordinary spiritual genius obtained by higher spiritual influence, who would directly go from the lowest step to the highest without troubling themselves about the intermediate ones. But gradation is the rule, and exceptions merely prove the same.

We conclude our review of the book by recommending the same as a work worth the trouble of a deep study. We say, glory to our sacred author Pandit Upendra Mohan Goswami.

(This article was written in 1883 by Sri Thakur Bhaktivinoda)

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