By Debanjan Roy
Almost all religions essentially talk about three basic entities: 1) God, 2) Individual Soul of life 3) Nature/World/Universe. There are some exceptions like Buddhism and Jainism, which are silent about God. Man has tried to correlate between these three entities : Is soul equal to or different from God? Is soul created by God? Is soul part of God? Did God create Nature? Or, is the Nature part of God Himself? However, out of all these questions, the toughest questions all theists ask – What is God? How do we define God?
A definition of anything requires two essential things – 1) properties or characteristics or attributes, and 2) the function i.e. work done by the existent being, which is guided or caused by the properties. Brahmoism is too has God and soul at the central part. However unlike other religions, it does not believe in fixed religious scriptures, hence varieties of concepts of God in Brahmoism were contributed by many eminent thinkers starting with Rammohun, then Debendranath Tagore, Kesab Chandra Sen, Sivanath Sastri, and many others. The concept of God therefore has taken different shape from time to time in Brahmosim. This article focuses on how Brahmo leaders have described God and the relationship of soul and the world with God.
Raja Rammohun Roy’s philosophy:
Rammohun never documented any specific scripture of Brahmo Dharma. However, through his various publications  he explained God and soul. Though greatly influenced by Shankaracharya’s Advaita philosophy, he however did not exactly support Advaita. Advaita philosophy, in short, believes that God is equal to individual Human soul, and all human souls are all the same; not different from each other. Rammohun proposed that soul reflects the property of God; but soul itself is not God. In his theory of reflection, soul is like water placed in various vessels on which we see reflections of sun. The reflections seem to move by the motion of water. Also, some reflections are bright because of purity of water, whereas some others are blurred owing to impurity of water. But sun remains the same. In another analogy: “We see the flame of one candle appearing differently from that of another, but as soon as its connection with the candle is over, each is absorbed into the universal heat. In like manner, the individual spirits return to the universal Supreme Spirit, as soon as the connection with matter is destroyed.” Supporting the Naya Sastra as well as Christianity, he mentions “God is one, and souls are various, but both imperishable”. “The soul during an endless period, either enjoys the beatitude procured by the acquisition of knowledge of God, or receives the consequence of works”.
Rammohun supported theory of Maya in Veda and explained that Maya is the power of God through which the world, which appears to be a snake, is actually a rope. Maya is opposed to knowledge of God. World is like a dream, as the objects seen in a dream are dependent on the motion of the mind. Existence of contingent world is dependent on God, who is the true existence.
Nature of God: Rammohun rejected idolatry and established Monotheism, “Ekamebadwitiyam”, one God without the second. “God is all-powerful”, and the sole Regulator of the Universe”, “He sees everything”, though never seen, “hears everything, though never directly heard of” “He is neither short, nor he is long”, “bears no figure nor form”, “has no feet, but extends everywhere”, “is the smallest of small, and the greatest of the great: and yet in fact, neither small nor great”. Finally God is OM, TAT & SAT. OM implies “The Being which preserves destroys and creates”. TAT implies “That only being, which is neither male nor female” and SAT implies “The true Being”.
Rammohun’s God is neither Nirguna (without quality) as prescribed by Advaita, nor Saguna (with quality) as proposed by Dualism. In response to “Is God with or without attribute?” he reasoned that if God is devoid of all attributes then there is no difference between a theist and an atheist. Also, to him, “the Vedanta does not ascribe God any power or attribute according to the human notion of properties” “such as the faculty of vision, or of wisdom, compassion, anger &c. in rational animals”. He also gave an explanation why such properties are not required for God. “Because these properties are sometimes found among the human race in full operation, and again ceasing to operate, as if they were quite extinct; because the power of one of these attributes is often impeded by the operation by another; and because the object in which they exist, depends upon special members of the body, such as the eyes, brain, heart &c, for the exercise of vision, wisdom, compassion, &c.”. Then what properties can God have which are beyond human perception? The properties are “perfection of all the attributes necessary for the creation and support of the universe, and for introducing revelation among men”. The qualities e.g. truth, mercy, justice &c. are ascribed to God only for “the understanding of beginners in the study of theology”. Vedanta “declares that all descriptions which have been used to describe the Supreme Being are imperfect, as because he (the Divine Being) by no means can be described”.
Did God create universe out of vacuum? It was interesting to note that Rammohun believed that God cannot create something out of nothing. The matter existed forever like God existed all the time. God only gave the matter a shape, like a potter. In “The Brahmunical Magazine” in 1821, he commented: “It is obvious that the material cause of the world is its most minute particles whose destruction is evidently impossible: these are called anus or atoms. The immaterial God cannot be supposed the material cause of those particles, nor can Nothing be supposed to be the cause of them: therefore these particles must be eternal, and are only brought into different forms, at different times and places, by the will of God.”
Debendranath’s philosophy of Dualism:
It was Maharshi Debendranath Tagore who for the first time introduced a written scripture of Brahmoism. In Brahmo Dharma, we see the concept of Dualism was made more explicit. “Two beautiful birds are sitting on one tree; they are always together and are friends of each other; of them eats fruits in happiness while the other looks at it without eating. The two beautiful birds are the human soul and the Supreme Soul.”(IX/1). Maharshi Devendranath in his autobiography expressed his strong aversion against Advaita “…in 1770 Saka the Brahmo religion is restricted in a book. In this, concepts like Advaita, Messenger of God and Maya are excluded”… “The relationship of Man with God is worshiper vs. worshipped – This is the life of Brahmo Dharma.”. “If the worshiper and the worshipped becomes the same, then who shall worship whom?” “When we saw an opposite view in Shankaracharya’s Vedanta, then I lost our any faith on it. I thought that quitting Vedanta and embracing Upanishad would favour Brahmoism. But when I saw “Sohahmasmi” (I am He), “Tatwamasi”(HE is you), then I got fade up with Upanishad too”.
In the beginning, nothing existed except the Supreme God, one without the second (II/10,11). Hence, unlike Rammohun, Debendranath’s God created matter out of nothing.
Nature of God: In Brahmo Dharma, 16 chapters in part-I are dedicated to description of God. In the “Creed”, he summarized God: “He is True, the Good, Infinite, Eternal, the All-Knowing, All-pervading, All-protecting, the Almighty, Formless, Changeless, Self-Contained and Perfect, One and Absolute. The absolute God is the creator, preserver and destroyer of all, is the essence and inspirer of Love, unseen, uncontained, commander (at HIS command sun and moon stands, held fast), we can not know Him though He knows all. He does not move; yet He moves swifter than mind(V/36), HE walks, yet HE does not walk. HE is far, yet HE is near (V/37).All things dwell in HIM (V/38), omnipresent, pure; sun can not reveal HIM, HE reveals Himself in the light of our soul, in our inner vision (VI/44). HE has neither body nor senses(VII/49), dwells in the soul and lives in places difficult to access(VII/52). HE is not born, HE dies neither(VII/59). HE has no eyes(VIII/67), yet HIS eyes are everywhere (VIII/64). He sees ins and outs of all. HE has no ears, yet HE hears, finer than the finest, larger than the largest (VIII/69).
To be continued…