by Brother Brahmananda
What do you think of when you hear the word “God”? When many people say the word, their minds revert to what they were brought up to believe, in whatever church or synagogue or mosque or temple their parents attended. Often those concepts are surface ideas that don’t penetrate very far to the reality of what God is.
I sometimes prefer the word “Spirit.” The Hindu scriptures describe Spirit as Sat-Chit-Ananda — which Paramahansa Yogananda translated as “ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss.” Paramahansaji talks about Spirit as having created everything out of Itself, and existing beyond the created realms as well. It’s not that this universe is equivalent to God, or Spirit — it is His creation. God exists within His creation, but also apart and beyond it. Just think, there are billions and billions of stars in just our galaxy, and then hundreds of billions of galaxies. It’s really beyond what we can conceive. And yet Spirit is vitally aware of and exists in even the tiniest particles of our huge universe. So we see Spirit both on the macrocosmic and microcosmic scale in this universe, while It is simultaneously beyond and independent of it as well.
So when we talk about God or Spirit, we are talking about this incredible, self-aware, blissful Consciousness that is everywhere — including within our own selves. Many people may not have been exposed to this conception of God, but when you think of God this way — as this universally alert, all-pervading Consciousness — it makes a difference in the way you relate to the Divine.
Paramahansaji taught us to begin our prayers with the following invocation: “Father, Mother, Friend, Beloved God.” He told us that Spirit can be thought of as personal — as our Father, Mother, Friend, Beloved — or impersonal: the Divine Light, Love, pure Spirit, etc. He said that Spirit is very humble and is most willing to relate to devotees in whatever ways they might prefer.
The Problem of Suffering
Some people question the existence of God because there is so much suffering in the world. However, when you understand the broader picture, things begin to make sense. As a seer with divine realization, Paramahansaji understood the overall purpose of this world, and why suffering is a part of it. For one thing, God gave us the great gift of free will, and we can’t blame Him for suffering we have brought on ourselves! When you look at human suffering from the broadest perspective, you see that ultimately it hastens our growth, evolution, spiritual awakening.
We suffer because we have forgotten our innate divinity, and Paramahansaji said that God once told him: “Pain is a prod to remembrance.” When we do wrong, we get a karmic reaction and experience pain — and not necessarily in the same lifetime. The result is that we learn, we grow, we evolve — and hopefully we develop compassion and empathy for our fellow sufferers along the way! In the end — that is, as a culmination of incarnations of lessons learned — we fully awaken to our immortal nature, and there is oneness with Spirit, and complete Joy.
Now, I am not trying to justify why there is suffering! However, when I think of issues of this kind — the purpose of creation, the ultimate nature of God, suffering, etc. — my mind goes to Paramahansaji’s classic Autobiography of a Yogi. In the last chapter he writes, quoting his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar: “Leave a few mysteries to explore in Eternity. How could man’s limited reasoning powers comprehend the inconceivable motives of the Uncreated Absolute?”
But then, on the very last page of his book, Paramahansaji gives us what is, for me, the bottom line on the nature of creation and the greatest of all the various concepts of God:
God is Love; His plan for creation can be rooted only in love. Does not that simple thought, rather than erudite reasonings, offer solace to the human heart? Every saint who has penetrated to the core of Reality has testified that a divine universal plan exists and that it is beautiful and full of joy.