Sunday, May 14, 2017

God is Perfectly Present

Svāmī Parāśara Bhaṭṭar interprets Viśvam, the first of the 1000 names of Viṣṇu, as explaining the completeness or perfection (pūrṇatva) of God. He say, pūrvaṃ sarvatomukhaṃ bhagavataḥ pūrṇatvam-āha. First, Bhagavān is revealed as perfect in every way.

He further says, svābhāvikānavadhikātiśaya-māṅgalyaikatānaiḥ svarūpa-rūpa-guṇa-vibhavaiḥ paripūrṇaḥ. He is perfect in His essential form, manifest form, attributes and glories which are natural to Him, of unsurpassing excellence and are constituted purely of auspiciousness.

How the word viśvam which generally stands for everything taken to mean perfection?

The commentator replies, kārtsnyavacanatvād-asya, ādau, anavacchedya-mahavibhūtitvasya saṅkīrtana-yogyatvācca. It is fitting that the perfectness of God is celebrated at the outset. Even, Svāmī Nammāzvār started off with uyarvara uyarnalam uḍaiyavan which celebrated the lofty perfection of God. The word connoting everything implies that God’s greatness is not limited by anything whatsoever, and is eternally expanded into completeness.

The view here appears to be that the imperfections in entities other than God are due to limiting effects. This leads to change and decay. Even the attributive consciousness (dharma-bhūta-jñāna) of the individual soul is subject to modification and limitation during the phase of bondage. However, the essential form, manifest form, attributes and glories of God are not modified or limited by anything. This is due to the fact that everything other than God depends on Him for its existence and nature.

Being thus unconstrained, God is always supremely perfect and this is explained by this name.

The next name Viṣṇu conveys the presence of God in everything.

These two names, while easy to understand separately, rise some questions from the perspective of logic. A logical opponent can question the simultaneous possibility of holding both Presence and Perfection.

Svāmī Vedānta Deśika analyses this challenge in his text, Nyāya Siddhañjanam. He addresses four different forms of opposition to the simultaneous tenability of Presence and Perfection that rest on four different definitions of ‘Perfection’.
Idea 1: To be perfect is to be complete. God should be exclusively completely present here.
Idea 2: God should be obtained as being fully available here. This is perfection.
Idea 3: Perfection lies in God’s ability to produce all effects here.
Idea 4: Perfection lies in God possessing all attributes here.
Note the word ‘here’ occurring in all the four ideas of Perfection. It comes from God’s Presence everywhere which implies that God must also be present here. Since He is perfect, He must be Present here Perfectly.

Elaboration of Idea 1
Since the first idea requires that God must be completely present here, it leads to a situation where God cannot be present elsewhere. If it is said that God is present elsewhere also, it would entail is not fully present here, but partially here and partially there.

Response to Idea 1
Idea 1 is not consistent with the understanding that the essential form of God is vibhu or unlimited. Therefore, Perfection as being completely available (contained) in one place is not intended at all in our system.

Also, in general, we might very well forego this type of Perfection for what perfection is it for God to be constrained and limited in one place!

Elaboration of Idea 2
The second idea requires that God must be obtained as being fully available. In its detail, this can take three forms of argument:
2a. God is not obtained to be fully available in His essential form.
2b. God is not obtained to be fully available in all His parts.
2c. God is not obtained to be fully available without resolution into aspects.

Response to Idea 2
The three forms of ideas 2 are addressed as follows.
2a. God is not obtained to be fully available in His essential form only because of absence of cognition-apparatus to know Him so. If such an apparatus were available, He would be obtained to be completely available in His essential form here.
2b. God is known from valid sources of knowledge to be without parts. Hence this argument from Idea 2 is fundamentally inconsistent. Even if we accept for the sake of argument that God has parts, then what kind of logical inconsistency is it for all parts to be not available here? A part of God available in a different place is not logically expected to be present here (simply because it is there). Hence, this argument has the defect of placing illogical demands of Perfection.
2c. This argument goes that if God is present everywhere, then He is associated with several entities by Presence. However, the fullness of God cannot be related to each and every entity. If God were fully related to one entity, there would be nothing left of God to be related to another entity. (Let us tolerate the glaring indiscretions in the application of language in this argument for a moment.) Therefore, if God were associated through Presence to all entities, only an aspect of God must be associated with each entity. This situation requires that God is resolved into aspects - something that is not acceptable to traditional views of God.
This argument, though the seemingly most forceful among its kind, is based on false grounds. It is not required that a substance must possess aspects in order to relate to multiple entities.
  1. For example, substances are found to associate with multiple attributes, and all attributes are equally related in the fullness of the substance - as a jasmine flower associating with color, shape and smell as it is and not only in particular aspects.
  2. ‘Class’ is fully associated with multiple objects of its kind and not through particular aspects - as cowness in all cows.
  3. ‘Absence’ (Abhāva) is associated without aspects with different entities whose lack of presence it conveys.
The same applies to ‘conjunction’ and ‘disjunction’ too which do not have to be broken into aspects to conjoin entities or separate them.
In fact, ‘relation’ or Saṃbandha is also of the same nature. It is without aspects and exists relating different entities. If an aspect-less entity could not associate with different entities, then ‘relation’ itself cannot operate. This would instantly destroy the truth of all entities since none of them would be related by relationships like cause-effect, substance-attribute etc. and we would be left invalidating all of our knowledge leading to complete nihilism where even the doors of logic have to be shut.

Elaboration of Idea 3
Perfection implies that God must be possessed with the ability to produce all effects when He is present here. But, we do not see that it is the case. For example, God present in water causes only wetting and not burning which is the effect of fire, and vice versa.

Response to Idea 3
The idea goes in two ways:
  1. God should produce all the effects here.
  2. God should possess the ability to produce all the effects here.
The first case is not desirable and is not reasonable too. A Perfection of such consequence is not necessary.
The second case is correct. God does possess the ability to produce all the effects here, but only exhibits the necessary effects.
To this, it may be objected that if God possesses the ability to produce all the effects, the potential must translate into effect. Thus, it eventually leads to case 1 and leads to problems like God producing the effect of burning in water, etc.
The above objection is not sound. Mere existence of potential/ability does not require that the effect be produced unless God wills to do so. The entire universe is sustained on the will of God that dictates its dynamics and function, which are studied scientifically. For example, I do possess the ability to hammer nails into the wall. However, the existence of potential does not translate to my hammering nails into walls all the time.
We do see that different events pan out in the course of time. If God did not possess all potentiality, He would have to possess different potentialities in different instances of time. The potentialities associated with God would disappear into nothing and reappear out of nowhere, moment to moment. Such a scheme might be acceptable in principle to the Buddhists who take refuge in the idea of momentary existences. However, in our system, we find this theory to be a source of needless complexity, and contrary to experience and science.
If God had to manifest all the effects of all potentialities, then all effects from all space coordinates and time instances must occur together in one place. Not only is this false in experience and unnecessary, it is not acceptable to us satkāryavādi-s, who have established on valid evidences that entities cannot disappear into nothingness or appear out of nothingness, to accept particular effects found in all places and at all times materializing here and now, as an unexplained duplicate whose essence materializes out of nothing.
As a humble seed holds latent the potential of becoming a plant and grows into a sapling at the right time, so too the omnipotent and omniscient God who governs all the dynamics of all the beings is capable of possessing complete potential without expressing the effects all at once in one place.

Elaboration of Idea 4
Perfection requires that God fully possess all His auspicious attributes here. However, if God is elsewhere also, this would not be possible as the attributes would also become divided across places.

Response to Idea 4
Qualities like form, color, smell, etc. pervade different objects in different places but are present fully. So, there can be no principle that what pervades many becomes divided and hence, not fully available in one place. Since the existence of such a principle is denied, there is no contradiction to God fully possessing all auspicious attributes here and everywhere.

The above are logical challenges and responses to the issue of Perfection in the light of Presence.

However, it is the view of the author of Vedānta Sūtra-s that such logical tensions are not necessary since Brahman cannot be understood in terms of the logical structure which applies to other entities, but has to be understood only on the authority of Vedānta. An objection is invoked in the Sūtra-s [2-1-26] that a Brahman without parts cannot decide, ‘I shall become many’ and manifest as many. This is because if the Brahman has no parts, it has to become fully available in the manifestation of one effect and incapable of producing many effects. This objection is rejected in the next aphorism [2-1-27] that states that Brahman (God) has to be understood only on the weight of the Vedānta that records the realized spiritual truth. God cannot be determined entirely by comparison with other entities or the logical calculus in which they exist and operate. (It is for this reason that Presence and Perfection have been capitalized in this essay to distinguish them from any commonplace understanding of these terms.)

In summary, we conclude on the below points from the above discussion:
  1. God is fully available in His essential form in every place. God is Present Perfectly everywhere. The absence of cognition of this fullness is a shortcoming of cognitive apparatus only.
  2. God is Present with fullness of potential everywhere.
  3. God is Present with fullness of auspicious attributes everywhere.

In one sentence: God is Present everywhere as Perfect in His true form, fullness of potential and fullness of auspicious attributes. Therefore, He is Viśvam and Viṣṇu.

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