The Idea of God

Whenever we look at a beautiful painting, listen to music, or marvel at a work of engineering, it’s natural to ask who made it. Similarly, when we look at the wonders and precision of this universe—planets in space, huge mountain ranges garlanded by clouds, rivers that flow thousands of miles for thousands of years, a butterfly’s precision flight across continents, the DNA in each organism—it’s just as natural to ask who created it and why.

Like other theistic traditions, bhakti yoga accepts that there is a divine intelligence behind the universe. But while many people spend their time, as the preacher once had, fighting over “which God is better,” it’s important to remember that the quality of a person’s faith isn’t measured by the apparent shortcomings in another’s. What matters is whether a particular expression of faith inspires and guides us in our evolution toward unconditional love of God. Sadly, the Supreme Being, whom most faiths exalt as the greatest, is often imagined to be petty and partial to one group to the exclusion of all others. This misunderstanding of God’s nature can manifest in every spiritual tradition, including my own.

I’ve met teachers from various faith schools whose conceptions of the Supreme contradict another’s. At times I was torn by these opposing doctrines. I couldn’t accept the common argument that these views were ultimately one when their conclusions were so clearly different. Eventually I discovered in the bhakti texts an understanding of God that helped me unravel and then reconcile these contradictions. The bhakti texts explain that God can be perceived and understood in a variety of ways. They also teach that while throughout history God comes to this world with various names and forms, he reveals himself eternally in three distinct features: as an all-pervading presence; as the inner guide in every being’s heart; and, in his fullest expression, as the all-loving, all-attractive Supreme Person.

It is not possible to describe the devotional path completely. The ocean of loving relations with the Supreme is so big that no one can estimate its length and breadth. However, just to help you taste it, I am describing but one drop.
– Sri Chaitanya – CC Madhya 19.136-137