HINDUISM: “Thou Before Whom All Words Recoil”

Reference: Hinduism
Reference: The World’s Religions by Huston Smith

[NOTE: In color are Vinaire’s comments.]

God is the ultimate stable datum. It is Sat, Chit, Ananda—the oneness of existence, the consciousness of things as they are, and the bliss of total comprehension.

The first principle of Japanese ikebana flower arrangement is to learn what to leave out. This is also the first principle to be learned in speaking of God, the Hindus insist. People are forever trying to lay hold of Reality with words, only in the end to find mystery rebuking their speech and their syllables swallowed by silence. The problem is not that our minds are not bright enough. The problem lies deeper. Minds, taken in their ordinary, surface sense, are the wrong kind of instrument for the undertaking. The effect, as a result, is like trying to ladle the ocean with a net, or lasso the wind with a rope. The awe-inspiring prayer of Shankara, the Thomas Aquinas of Hinduism, begins with the invocation, “Oh Thou, before whom all words recoil.”

The first principle to be learned in speaking of God is what to leave out. Words cannot describe the ultimate reality of God.

The human mind has evolved to facilitate survival in the natural world. It is adapted to deal with finite objects. God, on the contrary, is infinite and of a completely different order of being from what our minds can grasp. To expect our minds to corner the infinite is like asking a dog to understand Einstein’s equation with its nose. This analogy becomes misleading if, pressed in a different direction, it suggests that we can never know the Abysmal God. The yogas, we have seen, are roads to precisely such realization. But the knowledge to which they lead transcends the knowledge of the rational mind; it rises to the deep yet dazzling darkness of the mystical consciousness. The only literally accurate description of the Unsearchable of which the ordinary mind is capable is neti…neti, not this…not this. If you traverse the length and breadth of the universe saying of everything you can see and conceive, “not this…not this,” what remains will be God.

Our minds can grasp only those things that can be considered. God cannot even be considered. The process of “neti, net” (not this, not this) tells us that God is not an outcome of some consideration.

And yet words and concepts cannot be avoided. Being the only equipment at our mind’s disposal, any conscious progress toward God must be made with their aid. Though concepts can never carry the mind to its destination, they can point in the right direction. 

In other words, God cannot be postulated. Yet we must postulate the direction that may lead to God. [That direction is the concept of ONENESS.]

We may begin simply with a name to hang our thoughts on. The name the Hindus give to the supreme reality is Brahman, which has a dual etymology, deriving as it does from both br, to breathe, and brih, to be great. The chief attributes to be linked with the name are sat, chit, and ananda; God is being, awareness, and bliss. Utter reality, utter consciousness, and utterly beyond all possibility of frustration—this is the basic Hindu view of God. Even these words cannot claim to describe God literally, however, for the meanings they carry for us are radically unlike the senses in which they apply to God. What pure being would be like, being infinite with absolutely nothing excluded, of this we have scarcely an inkling. Similarly with awareness and joy. In Spinoza’s formulation God’s nature resembles our words about as much as the dog star resembles a dog. The most that can be said for these words is that they are pointers; our minds do better to move in their direction than in the opposite. God lies on the further side of being as we understand it, not nothingness; beyond minds as we know them, not mindless clay; beyond ecstasy, not agony. 

God is the ultimate stable datum. It is Sat, Chit, Ananda—the oneness of existence, the consciousness of things as they are, and the bliss of total comprehension.

This is as far as some minds need go in their vision of God: infinite being, infinite consciousness, infinite bliss—all else is at best commentary, at worst retraction. There are sages who can live in this austere, conceptually thin atmosphere of the spirit and find it invigorating; they can understand with Shankara that “the sun shines even without objects to shine upon.” Most people, however, cannot be gripped by such high-order abstractions. That C. S. Lewis is among their number is proof that their minds are not inferior, only different. Professor Lewis tells us that while he was a child his parents kept admonishing him not to think of God in terms of any form, for these could only limit his infinity. He tried his best to heed their instructions, but the closest he could come to the idea of a formless God was an infinite sea of grey tapioca. 

Abstracting God as “infinite” is too general and incomprehensible.

This anecdote, the Hindus would say, points up perfectly the circumstance of the man or woman whose mind must bite into something concrete and representational if it is to find life-sustaining meaning. Most people find it impossible to conceive, much less be motivated by, anything that is removed very far from direct experience. Hinduism advises such people not to try to think of God as the supreme instance of abstractions like being or consciousness, and instead to think of God as the archetype of the noblest reality they encounter in the natural world. This means thinking of God as the supreme person (Ishvara or Bhagavan), for people are nature’s noblest crown. Our discussion of bhakti yoga, the path to God through love and devotion, has already introduced us to God conceived in this way. This, in Pascal’s Western idiom, is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the God of the philosophers. It is God as parent, lovingly merciful, omniscient, almighty, our eternal contemporary, the companion who understands.

God is generally experienced as the archetype of the noblest reality they encounter in the natural world. 

God so conceived is called Saguna Brahman, or God-with-attributes as distinct from the philosophers’ more abstract Nirguna Brahman, or God-without-attributes. Nirguna Brahman is the ocean without a ripple; Saguna Brahman the same ocean alive with swells and waves. In the language of theology, the distinction is between personal and transpersonal conceptions of God. Hinduism has included superb champions of each view, notably Shankara for the transpersonal and Ramanuja for the personal; but the conclusion that does most justice to Hinduism as a whole and has its own explicit champions like Sri Ramakrishna is that both are equally correct. At first blush this may look like a glaring violation of the law of the excluded middle. God may be either personal or not, we are likely to insist, but not both. But is this so? What the disjunction forgets, India argues, is the distance our rational minds are from God in the first place. Intrinsically, God may not be capable of being two contradictory things—we say may not because logic itself may melt in the full blaze of the divine incandescence. But concepts of God contain so much alloy to begin with that two contradictory ones may be true, each from a different angle, as both wave and particles may be equally accurate heuristic devices for describing the nature of light. On the whole India has been content to encourage the devotee to conceive of Brahman as either personal or transpersonal, depending on which carries the most exalted meaning for the mind in question.

On the whole India has been content to encourage the devotee to conceive of Brahman as either personal or transpersonal, depending on which carries the most exalted meaning for the mind in question.

God’s relation to the world likewise varies according to the symbolism that is embraced. Conceived in personal terms, God will stand in relation to the world as an artist to his or her handiwork. God will be Creator (Brahma), Preserver (Vishnu), and Destroyer (Shiva), who in the end resolves all finite forms back into the primordial nature from which they sprang. On the other hand, conceived transpersonally, God stands above the struggle, aloof from the finite in every respect. “As the sun does not tremble, although its image trembles when you shake the cup filled with water in which the sun’s light is reflected; thus the Lord also is not affected by pain, although pain be felt by that part of him which is called the individual soul.” The world will still be God-dependent. It will have emerged in some unfathomable way from the divine plenitude and be sustained by its power. “He shining, the sun, the moon and the stars shine after Him; by His light all is lighted. He is the Ear of the ear, the Mind of the mind, the Speech of the speech, the Life of life, the Eye of the eye.” But God will not have intentionally willed the world, nor be affected by its inherent ambiguity, imperfections, and finitude.

The postulate of God may be held differently by different minds, but then everything else proceeds from this postulate as a consistent whole.

The personalist will see little religious availability in this idea of a God who is so far removed from our predicaments as to be unaware of our very existence. Is it not religion’s death to despoil the human heart of its final treasure, the diamond of God’s love? The answer is that God serves an entirely different function for the transpersonalist, one that is equally religious, but different all the same. If one is struggling against a current it is comforting to have a master swimmer by one’s side. It is equally important that there be a shore, solid and serene, that lies beyond the struggle as the terminus of all one’s splashings. The transpersonalist has become so possessed by the goal as to forget all else, even the encouragement of supporting companions.

But all beginning postulates—even the personalist and transpersonalist views—must be continuous, consistent and harmonious with each other to be meaningful.


Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Chris Thompson  On December 22, 2022 at 11:32 AM

    “The first principle of Japanese ikebana flower arrangement is to learn what to leave out.”

    What a clever statement! I do not know about flower arranging theory or practice. I do believe that in order to spot so-called outpoints (things to leave out) in an “ideal scene,” one needs to grasp what that scene must contain. Possibly Huston Smith did not coin this phrase but rather possibly borrowed the idea from another. Therefore, though it is called the First Principle, possibly it does not mean, ” the first action” of flower arrangement.

    When attempting to know or to discover God, it would seem to make sense that one must say what god-is and what god-is-not. Overarching this one must be aware that one is creating these definitions or one is taking these creative definitions from another. Either way, one is postulating God and then straining to define God and then doubly straining to discover God. It is circular.

    I think this is the cosmic joke of our existence. Even so, I am no longer an atheist. I am feeling as though I am the cosmic butt of God’s joke. Or possibly I am the perfect creation of the punch line of God’s joke! 😀


    • vinaire  On December 22, 2022 at 3:52 PM

      Before one postulates God, one is faced with the whole universe. One then postulates God to explain the existence of that universe.

      But was God there before one postulated it?


      • Chris Thompson  On December 22, 2022 at 10:11 PM

        That is a ripe question with only the neti-neti way to harvest the answer.

        Self arises from a great long line of selves and ripens and falls from the family tree of an overarching tree of selves. The individual self is extinguished but the tree of selves endures (iterates) longer (consecutively) until that too ceases. That does seem to be occurring.

        Our ascriptions to meaning seem god-like, or just plain God.


        • vinaire  On December 23, 2022 at 5:01 AM

          “Neti neti” is a Vedic process to locate THAT which is not an outcome of our postulate or consideration.

          The same question may be asked regarding self: Was self there before one postulated it.


      • Chris Thompson  On December 22, 2022 at 10:22 PM

        My own postulate is not an entity – God. But rather that there is an overarching and nearly infinite amount of understanding – yet to be understood. I think terms like higher power cover that to my satisfaction.

        I view my own abstractions on this subject to be puny and truncated. When I am mindful of this statement, I can remain in wonder and awe of the universe. Yes, I try to understand, yet I also try to allow my understandings to remain fluid (or is that gas-sy? :D) – without ossification. When I am in this state, I am able to live happily and approach death joyfully.


        • vinaire  On December 23, 2022 at 5:11 AM

          Whether its God or “I” or even the universe–do they exist beyond postulation or consideration?

          What is there when we take away all postulates and considerations?


  • Chris Thompson  On December 22, 2022 at 11:37 AM

    I think that it seems reasonable to use the universe as we understand it as a model for God’s thinking. By this, I mean that if we wanted a model for flower arranging, and if we wanted it to follow God’s model for assembly, and if we admire God’s work and hold it up as a standard to follow, then it seems we shouldn’t leave out the weeds from the flower arrangement. Just sayin’.

    On the other hand, to me, the universe looks wonderfully like God’s messy workshop. God seems to be experimenting and / or joking around on a continual basis. 🙂


    • vinaire  On December 22, 2022 at 3:53 PM

      Now we are looking through the filter of God postulate.


      • Chris Thompson  On December 22, 2022 at 10:13 PM

        We are forever looking through the filter of world view. We cannot do otherwise.


        • vinaire  On December 23, 2022 at 5:13 AM

          Yes, the “world view” is a system of postulates and considerations.


  • Chris Thompson  On December 22, 2022 at 9:59 PM

    If life is suffering, then what can this tell us about God’s Nature?

    Possibly, it is not God that we need to understand, but rather suffering.


    • vinaire  On December 23, 2022 at 5:17 AM

      That is correct. To me suffering is made up of anomalies. Here is my definition:

      1. Origin: “irregular.” Anomaly is an odd, peculiar, or strange condition, situation, quality, etc.; an incongruity or inconsistency.

      2. An anomaly is any violation of the integrity of reality, such as, discontinuity (missing data), inconsistency (contradictory data), or disharmony (arbitrary data).

      3. An anomaly flags the presence of an impression on the mind, which is hidden under an assumption. When one spots the assumption, and becomes aware of the underlying impression, the anomaly resolves by producing a realization.


  • Chris Thompson  On December 22, 2022 at 10:32 PM

    As a child, in our church liturgy we sang a piece that went like this:

    “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
    Praise Him all creatures here below.
    Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts.
    Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” -Amen.

    The reason that I like this is that it helps stop the hellish free-wheeling of thoughts, reasoning, predictions and considerations from thermal runaway. This was the hell in which Hubbard seems to have perished. Like Simon Bolivar before him, Hubbard died in exile.

    Sometimes, I just have to stop and appreciate, and stop.


    • vinaire  On December 23, 2022 at 5:22 AM

      Yes, the postulate of God acts as a stable datum. Without it one is condemned to eternal confusion.

      “God” and “I” are two very basic postulates.


  • vinaire  On December 23, 2022 at 5:38 AM

    “God” and “I” are two postulates that we need to refine until they are totally consistent with the rest of the universe.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: