The word ‘GOD’, is perhaps the most common word in the world to refer to the Ultimate Ground of our being, but the name GOD often lends itself to cultures, nations and peoples. Universal Love on the other hand is non-local, or is universal; it is not culture bound. Besides the moment we use the word God we are inclined to look for a book, a congregation, a sacred place or a chosen people. All these variables make the real or true God difficult to pinpoint and to complicate matters more the images of God differ from place to place and when a culture talks about God they usually draw from their own experiences at the exclusion of others who may also have their own experiences. When I visited Abalama, my birthplace during the summer of 2010 to pay my last respects to Dad after being away for about 30 years my mother knelt and thanked Tamuno, the God of the Ijaw people of Nigeria for bringing me home safely. I stood there waiting for a welcome home hug but mother was busy thanking Tamuno for answering her prayers.
If mother were born in India and she were a Vaishnavite, that is a devotee of Lord Vishnu and I returned to Bombay for example after 30 years she could be thanking Lord Vishnu for safely bringing me home. If she were a Shivite, that is a devotee of Lord Shiva, on the other hand she would be thanking the Great God Shiva for hearing her prayers. If mother were born in Tibet as the mother of Milarepa, the beloved Buddhist saint and assuming that she lived to see the return of her son from his years of study with Marpa the translator, the direct disciple of the Great Naropa, she would be thanking the Buddha for bringing me home. Again if she were the The Lord is the one true God mother of Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan Muslim scholar who traveled for over 30 years through the Islamic world and assuming she were alive when he finally returned she would give thanks to Allah. And if mother were born in Tarsus as the mother of Saint Paul, a Christian missionary and theologian, and if Saint Paul returned home safely after his missionary journeys, mother would be giving thanks to Jesus. Finally if mother were the mother of a yogi, that is someone who devotes his or her life to only spiritual pursuits, searching for union with ultimate reality, and the yogi returned home after 30 years mother would be giving thanks to Universal Love, the Universal Spirit or to Brahman.
I could go on and give many instances in which the image of God differs from culture to culture and sometimes within the same culture. There is no doubt from this brief example that there is a plurality of images of God and our question is which image is the image of the true God? Is the true God Brahman, the Universal Spirit that pervades the Universe, with no ties to any culture, group of people or nation and with no particular image as revealed in the Upanishads: He is the one God, hidden in all beings, all-pervading, the Self within all beings, watching over all works, dwelling in all beings, the witness, the perceiver, the only one, free from qualities.(Svetasvatara Upanishad 6.11)? Is the true God Tamuno, the God of the Ijaw people of Nigeria who mother thanked for safely returning me home? Is the true God the Lord Vishnu who will return at the end of the age as Kalki to judge the world? Is the true God the Lord Shiva who creates and destroys the world? Is the True God Yahweh as revealed in the Tanakh who declared to the Israelites: If you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19.5-6)? Is the true God Allah as revealed in the Koran: Say, He is God, the One! God, the eternally besought of all! He neither begets nor was begotten. And there is none comparable unto Him. (Koran 112)? Is the true God the Lord Jesus as revealed in the New Testament: Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.(John: 14:6)? Is the true God Lord Krishna whose cosmic form was revealed in the Bhagavad Gita: If the light of a thousand suns were to rise in the sky at once, it would be like the light of that great spirit. (Bhagavad Gita 11:12)? Is the true God the Lord Buddha seated at the center of a basic Buddhist Mandala and radiating to the four quarters of the Universe?
From all indications it is not easy to determine the true God by just reading the texts from the different cultures. All claim to have the true God which is not surprising because no wise culture would claim to have an inferior or a false God. However the question is not a new one. Today if there is a way to know that we are worshiping the real God we would be confident and happy that we are doing the right thing. But for our ancestors having their Gods as supreme and above all other Gods was a coveted title. With it they could become the dominant culture in the region and as a dominant culture they could take others’ lands, capture slaves for menial work, manual labor and to sacrifice to their Gods. Thus when we become obsessed with the question “Who is the real or true God?” in effect we want to behave like our ancestors. We want to terrorize our neighbors. There is nothing wrong however in believing that your God is the real God but there is something really wrong when you begin to force your God on others or when you begin to judge others based on our God. The dangers of making any God the real God is the power it gives to the people who believe in the God. According to the Introduction to the Universal Holy Book “that will be the day the world will go down in darkness again. It will be slavery, holocaust, ethnic cleansing, genocide and every evil imaginable by the human mind”. We may look down on others and rejoice from the belief that we alone have the Absolute Truth and walk like Gods to terrorize our neighbors but we should never forget that we live in a changing Universe. What touches others also touches us and we should not for one minute think that it would not happen to us. So when next you think about being on top of the world and terrorizing your neighbors turn it around and be on the receiving end. You will soon realize that it does not feel good when you are the one who is victimized.
As stated earlier the idea of the true God is not new and many cultures have wrestled with it. A notable example is between Prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal in the Holy Tanakh. According to the story Prophet Elijah was concerned that the People of Israel were abandoning the God of their fathers and worshiping Baal and other foreign Gods. In order to prove to them about the truth in the God of their fathers he challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest at Mount Carmel. In the contest each side made a sacrifice to their God and the God that consumed the sacrifice with fire will be declared the true God. The prophets of Baal first offered their sacrifice to Baal but Baal did not respond. They prayed ‘O Baal hear us’, but still there was nothing. Then Elijah took center stage and prepared the place in such a way that it would even convince a doubting Thomas. Elijah poured barrels of water over the sacrifice and prayed to his God to consume the sacrifice with fire. It worked and the people were amazed. When the people saw the fire, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” Then Elijah commanded the people to gather the prophets of Baal and execute them. (1 Kings 18:17-40)
A similar story but not quite the same is the story of Lord Vishnu and King Bali. Lord Vishnu is the preserver of the Universe. King Bali on the other hand is an ambitious demon king. He was the ruler of the earth and wanted to claim the heavens as well and drive out all the Gods from heaven. In order to become the ruler of heaven he needed to perform a sacrifice and invited all the Brahmins in the land to attend the ceremony. A Brahmin is a priest or a holy man. As an incentive for attending the ceremony King Bali promised to grant any wish from each of his guests. In desperation and afraid that they might soon be without a home the Gods approached Lord Vishnu for help. As the preserver of the Universe Lord Vishnu accepted the challenge and prepared to visit King Bali. Meanwhile Lord Vishnu changed into a dwarf and dressed as a Brahmin for the ceremony. It was easy to notice the dwarf and King Bali was specially interested in the little boy and asked him what he wanted as a gift for attending the ceremony. The boy said all he wanted was as much land as he could get with three of his steps. King Bali was concerned if the boy really knew what he was asking? ‘How much land could a little boy possibly get with three steps? he asked. ‘I am the king of the earth and I can give you anything!’ the king assured the boy. Then the boy said I appreciate your generosity but I am only a Brahmin and I don’t need much.’ Seeing that he could not change the boy’s mind King Bali reluctantly agreed. Soon the boy began to grow in proportion to the extent that his first step covered the earth, his second step covered the heavens and there was no more space for his third step. King Bali then lowered his head in acknowledgement of Vishnu’s superiority and there was order again in the Universe.
There is a lot we can learn from these two stories more especially when we consider our history. The choices are very clear. We can execute our brothers and sisters who do not share our beliefs or we can let the Gods wrestle with their superiority. However beyond the cultural manifestations of God is a mystery that does not separate us, but unites us with one another and with the Universe. We may be doing the works of our Gods but wisdom dictates that we seek that which unites us rather than that which separates us.
Our cultural Gods separate us but the Universe unites us. If you are wondering if you are worshiping the true God or not use this test to gain more insight and be free! If you cannot feel Me within it is not I. If someone has to convince you of My existence it is not I. I AM the only Mystery that does not need an introduction. I AM one with you. I AM within you and I pervade the Universe. The Gods are outside of you. No one knows Me. The Gods are known. I AM Nameless. The Gods have names. I have no books. The Universe is my only book. The Gods have sacred texts. All people are special to Me. The Gods have chosen people. All children are special to Me. The Gods have special children. The Earth is sacred to Me. The Gods have sacred places. I unite all my creatures. The Gods divide My creatures. I take no sides in human conflicts. The Gods take sides in human conflicts. I love you unconditionally. The Gods love you with conditions. I AM Self-Existing. The Gods exist because of you. I AM all powerful. The Gods derive their power from you. I only can be traced to all creatures. The Gods can only be traced to cultures and nations. I AM the Universal Spirit. The Gods are culture bound. My creatures are not sacrificial objects. The Gods accept human and animal sacrifices. I only want your Enlightenment. The Gods crave for your worship and adoration. But at the end of it all you will come face to face with Me. The Gods will not be there! THE UNIVERSAL HOLY BOOK: Book of Love: 2:60-95
Thank you for your time and make each moment you live a moment of love, peace and happiness for yourself and for everyone you meet.