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Who Is God? The Yoga View

Who is God? Galaxy

In the Yoga Sutras the word for God is Ishwara–the Lord, Ruler, Master, or Controller possessing the powers of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. Ishwara is the Supreme Power, Parameshwara. It is toward this Ishwara that our life is to be directed if we would attain perfection in yoga.

In Yoga Sutra 1:23, Patanjali says that samadhi, the state of superconsciousness where Absoluteness is experienced, is produced by Ishwarapranidhana–the offering of one’s life to God. This is not merely dedicating our deeds and thoughts to God, but consciously merging our life in the greater Life of God and making them one. Yoga is the way to accomplish this.

Since yoga is a practical matter, we need some workable, pragmatic understanding of the nature of God. For how will we seek and recognize Him if we have no idea who He is? Patanjali supplies us with exactly the kind of definition we need: “Ishwara is a particular Spirit Who is untouched by the afflictions of life, actions [karma] and the results and impressions [conditionings] produced by these actions” (Yoga Sutras 1:24).

A particular Spirit. God is a special, unique, conscious Being–not just abstract Existence. God is a “particular Spirit” in the sense that God can be “picked out” or “singled out” from among all other things or beings.

Untouched. Though God is within all things and all things are within Him, yet He stands apart. This is stated several times in the Bhagavad Gita: “They are contained in me, but I am not in them…I stand apart from them all, supreme and deathless” (7:12, 13). “For my spirit stands apart, watching over Maya, the maker” (9:9). “Standing apart, He sustains” (13:14). “He is within and without: He lives in the live and the lifeless: subtle beyond mind’s grasp; so near us, so utterly distant” (13:15). “Although I am not within any creature, all creatures exist within me” (9:4).

One, Only, Without a Second

God is unique in the sense that He is Ekam Evam Advityam Brahman–the God Who is One, Only, Without a Second. He is not one of many, nor is He even one of two. He is One in every sense of the term. God is neither conditioned nor confined in any manner. Therefore He is not touched or tainted by the afflictions or faults of life (relative existence), in contrast to us who live within them as though they were the air we breathe and the basis of our existence. Nor is Ishwara bound or in any way conditioned by actions; therefore He is ever unchanging.

It should be noted that Ishwara is considered to be male in contradistinction to the divine creative power–Prakriti or Shakti–that is female. Consequently Ishwara is referred to as “He.” Brahman the Absolute is referred to as “It” because Brahman transcends such dualities as male and female, positive and negative. Since the English word “God” almost always implies Ishwara, it is usual to refer to God as “He.”

Omniscience and more

God is the essence and the apex of Consciousness, so Patanjali further says: “In Him is the highest limit of omniscience” (Yoga Sutras 1:25). Commenting on this, Shankara says: “The all-pervading mind of the supreme Lord is in simultaneous contact with every object.” The omniscience of God is total and absolute, for in truth God is Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence.

In this sutra Patanjali introduces a significant fact, for he does not just say that omniscience (sarvajña) is in God, but that the seed of omniscience (sarvajña bijam) is in Him. Within God is the seed or potentiality of omniscience for those who are united with Him through their practice of yoga. Omniscience is not just objective knowledge, but infinity of consciousness–the Being of God Himself.

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