Sunday, July 4, 2010

God Construct – Neti-Neti

“When we know that something is, it remains to enquire in what way it is, so that we may know what it is. But since concerning God we cannot know what he is but only what he is not, we cannot consider in what way God is but only in what way he is not. So first we must ask in what way he is not, secondly how he may be known to us and thirdly how we may speak of him”………… ‘Summa Theologica’ - Thomas Aquinas

In her book “A case for God” Karen Armstrong says; “Having made this crucial apophatic proviso, Thomas briefly- indeed, somewhat perfunctorily-sets forth his five “ways” of arguing from creatures to ‘what people call God’. These five arguments are not original. The first is based on Aristotle's proof of the Prime Mover: all around us, we see things changing, and because every change is caused by something else, the chain of cause and effect must stop somewhere. We thus arrive at the First Cause, itself unchanged by anything. The second proof, closely allied to the first, is based on the nature of causation: we never observe anything causing itself, so there must be an initial Cause, “to which everyone gives the name God.” The third “way” is based on Ibn Sina's argument for a Necessary Being, which must of itself exist, owes its being “to nothing outside itself,” and is “the cause that other things must be.” The fourth via is a moral argument derived from Aristotle: some things are better, truer, and more exalted than others, and this hierarchy of excellence presupposes an unseen perfection that is best of all. The fifth proof is drawn from Aristotle's belief that everything in the universe has a “Final Cause” that is the “form” of its being. Everything obeys natural laws to attain its proper end and purpose, and the regularity of these laws cannot be accidental. They must be directed “by someone with awareness and understanding,” just as the flight of an arrow presupposes an archer-and that “someone is what we call God.”

For me all five arguments are interconnected and apply to only the space-time domain. The main reason for this conundrum is that the mental exercise that we undertake to understand a ‘Divine Being’ resides within an effect of a cause, as all creatures including humans are the effect of a cause. This is the reason that we restrict the enquiry to a cause and cannot move beyond a so called ‘primary cause’. In today’s scientific cosmology we are well aware that reality, including all manifestations, as perceived by the human senses through the instrument of the human mind is only 4% of all that exists in this universe, leave alone the possibility of a multiverse. Hence Aristotle’s Prime mover, the initial cause, a self existent being, moral and ethical perfection and the primary agent of creation are all in the anthropomorphic perception operating in a very limited domain and hence cannot comprehend an absolute reality that lies beyond and inclusive of this reality in which we exist.

The Dialog between Maitreyi and Yajnavalkya exploring the nature of Bhrahman as non-dual, all-inclusive and absolute, is an inspiring episode from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and probably can give us a glimpse of the way we can try to comprehend 'the absolute'.
Yajnavalkya says: “For when there is duality, as it were, then one sees another, one smells another, one tastes another, one speaks to another, one hears another, one thinks of another, one touches another, one knows another. But when to the knower of Brahman everything has become the Self, then what should he see and through what, what should he smell and through what, what should he taste and through what, what should he speak and through what, what should he hear and through what, what should he think and through what, what should he touch and through what, what should he know and through what? Through what should one know That Owing to which all this is known?

“This Self is That which has been described as ‘Not this, not this (neti, neti).’ It is imperceptible, for It is never perceived; undecaying, for It never decays; unattached, for It never attaches Itself; unfettered, for It never feels pain and never suffers injury.

The only way we can comprehend absolute reality of the Divine realm is through understanding the limitation of the mind and a path of detachment through ‘Not this, not this (neti, neti).’

Love to you all

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