Many people at present see similarities between Abrahamic monotheism and Vedic personalism and contrast these two philosophies to impersonalism and voidism. Personalism is similar to monotheism in some superficial ways but different from it in essential ways. Likewise, personalism is different from impersonalism in one way—accepting or rejecting an eternal personality of a person—but in many other ways, personalism is similar to impersonalism. The differences between monotheism and personalism are bigger but those between personalism and impersonalism are smaller. In this post, I will discuss many nuances to help clarify the respective positions of these philosophies.
Table of Contents
- 1 A Brief Survey of Comparisons
- 2 Dualistic and Non-Dualistic Philosophies
- 3 The Theory of Smaller and Bigger Minds
- 4 Person vs. Personality Distinctions
- 5 Personalism is Rooted in Choice
A Brief Survey of Comparisons
Personalism vs. Impersonalism
Vedānta Sutra begins with athātho brahma jigyāysa or “now, therefore, let us inquire into brahman”. All Vedānta interpretations accept that brahman is the whole truth, including the material and spiritual worlds. All interpretations accept that some part of brahman is “I am” while other parts of brahman are “I am X”. The debate is about whether “X” is eternal or temporary. The “I am” is a person and “X” is a personality. All personalities are ideas, meanings, or qualities. Hence, even the material world is an idea, meaning, or quality. The question boils down to the debate between whether some idea, meaning, or quality is an eternal personality or whether they are always temporary.
Shankaracharya summarized impersonalism in four sentences: (a) brahman is truth, (b) the world is false, (c) the soul is brahman, and (d) there is nothing beyond. Personalists agree with the first three claims and disagree with the fourth. Personalism is thus 3/4th impersonalism. The difference is that the “X” of “I am” can also spring out of “I am” in personalism and it is always an external addition to “I am” in impersonalism. Impersonalists say that we must negate the choice of X, and personalists insist on making a good choice.
We can describe this difference by two words—color and shade. All shades—white, black, yellow, red, and blue—are colors. Brahman is color. When color becomes a shade, then we get “color is yellow” kinds of statements. Of these, “color is white” is a complete shade, because it includes all other shades, while “color is yellow” is incomplete. The distinction between God and soul, in personalism, is the distinction between “color is white” and “color is yellow”. The impersonalist says that we must drop all “X” to just have instances of color—which are still individual things—but without the shades attached to these instances, we would not be able to tell the difference between them. This is the essence of Shankaracharya’s third statement above—”the soul is Brahman”.
The souls do not merge into one Brahman even in Shankaracharya’s philosophy. They just become indistinguishable from one another. This is the meaning of Advaita—non-dual or non-different, rather than “oneness”. These are not the same. Non-duality, in this case, refers to the epistemic indistinguishability of persons. Oneness would instead refer to the ontological identity of all persons.
In personalism, each person is like a fountain that can spout dirty water, pure water, or no water. When it spouts a different colored water, then we can tell the difference between fountains. If it stops spouting water, then we cannot say which fountain is better or worse. Without the ability to distinguish fountains, we cannot order or sequence them. Indistinguishable fountains cannot be called first, second, or third fountains. And yet, they are individual fountains. Similarly, impersonalism is the indistinguishability of distinct persons.
Personalism vs. Monotheism
The superficial similarity between personalism and monotheism is that there is one Supreme Person. The fundamental dissimilarity between them is that this Supreme Person has infinite personalities in personalism, that are ranked from highest to lowest, and named differently, but this Supreme Person has only one personality in monotheism. The highest personality of the Supreme Person is called Śyāmasundar in personalism because the Supreme Person identifies with this personality the most. Other personalities, including Viṣṇu, Shiva, or Durga, are lower, in the view of the Supreme Person (not due to our belief). The Supreme Person loves to think that “I am Śyāmasundar” the most. He likes to think that “I am Viṣṇu”, “I am Shiva”, and “I am Durga” progressively lesser.
The Supreme Person is Kṛṣṇa, or all-attractive. Even if one is attracted to Viṣṇu, Shiva, or Durga, the reasons for their attraction are a subset of reasons for attraction to Kṛṣṇa. Even if one is attracted to a house, country, man, or woman, the reasons for their attraction are a subset of the reasons that one can be attracted to Kṛṣṇa. As this attraction grows, one is progressively more attracted to Śyāmasundar. But Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Person, and Śyāmasundar is the Supreme Personality. Since Kṛṣṇa most identifies with the Śyāmasundar personality, therefore, He is Śyāmasundar the most. But it doesn’t mean that He is not Viṣṇu, Shiva, Durga, or others, with a subset of attractions in Kṛṣṇa.
Under monotheism, the Supreme Person has only one personality and all others are false. Monotheism universalizes one personality, while personalism accepts infinite personalities, that are seen by different individuals with compatible personalities. Seeing one personality of a person is about compatibility between the seer and the seen personalities. Before we equate monotheism to personalism, we should try to understand how one person can have many personalities, but all personalities are not revealed unless the seer is a compatible personality. The universalism of personality is a false idea even in the case of ordinary humans. Nobody reveals the same personality to everyone. The number of personality types revealed to different individuals must increase with the Supreme Person. Instead, monotheism reduces those personalities to one, just next to impersonalism which removes all personalities from God.
Equating monotheism to personalism, while contrasting monotheism against impersonalism, is seeing a lot of similarity between one and infinity while seeing a lot of difference between one and zero. The fact is that monotheism is almost completely impersonalism in contrast to personalism. Monochromatic universalism destroys all variety and diversity is therefore designated nirviśesa.
One vs. Many Philosophical Problem
The Katha Upaniśad states: ekam satyam vipra bahudha vadanti, which means “there is one truth, spoken of by the sages in many ways”. That speaking is calling the Supreme Person by many non-synonymous names. Each person can have a different name for the Supreme Person that describes the personality and refers to the Supreme Person. The description and reference are not identical. We can say “this is a tree” where “this” is a reference and “tree” is its description. If there are no other trees in the current context, then we can replace “this” with “tree”. But that substitution is not universal. Someone else can say “this is a mango tree” and substitute “this” with “mango tree”. Similarly, the Supreme Person is called by many names but described differently in those calls.
The Chāndogya Upaniśad states: sarvam idam khalu brahma, which means “all this (world) is certainly brahman”. The debate is about whether brahman has an eternal personality. In both personalism and impersonalism, the soul is a part of the whole truth, although that whole truth has a personality in personalism but not in impersonalism. Impersonalists have to accept the distinction between brahman and Param Brahman, as noted in the Upaniśads. And yet, they liken Param Brahman to an ocean in which the soul is a drop.
The ocean supposedly has no personality (which is also ultimately a false idea). Once all personalities are stripped, it is impossible to tell the difference between the supreme and non-supreme persons. The personalists make that difference clear by describing the non-supreme personality as an aspect of the complete personality of the Supreme Person. For instance, personalists would describe Param Brahman as white color rather than an ocean because the white color is also an ocean of partial shades although it has a specific form, just as all partial shades have a form and are yet color. There is nothing wrong is calling both white and yellow colors, without equating them. Thus, in both personalism and impersonalism, the material world is modeled as a person and an idea-like personality. The debate is only about whether the personality is eternal or not. The impersonalist says that matter is not an eternal personality, whereas the personalist says that even matter is an eternal personality called Durga.
If we combine the statements from Katha and Chāndogya Upaniśad, we get the following (a) there is one truth, (b) which is described in many ways, (c) even the material world is one description of the same truth, and (d) the material description of the truth is erroneous and temporary. This is just like a fountain spouting dirty water, or one of the shades of color being black. We think that the fountain is dirty, or the color is black, but that description of the fountain or color is erroneous, as indicated by the fact that this equivalence of fountain and water, or color and shade, is temporary. However, that equivalence is not universally temporary. In some cases, the equivalence is eternal.
This is the resolution of the one-vs.-many philosophical paradox (how the same thing is one and many): The one is like the sun, and the many are the rays of the sun. Each ray describes the sun—even if the description is blue, its reference is the sun. When we say “this is a tree”, the term “this” refers to a soul, but it is being called a “tree”. That designation is temporary, but the reference is eternal. Similarly, even if someone says that the sun is blue, the description of the sun is false, but the reference to the sun is true. Each soul is a ray of the Kṛṣṇa-sun. When that ray becomes blue, it also becomes a false description of the reference; however, if it becomes yellow, then it becomes true. Since it can still become truthful, hence, the falsehood is temporary, and eternity is the truth.
Contrast this to monotheism where each individual is a separate person. They are like many suns rather than one sun and many rays of the sun. Even the material world is not a ray of the sun, but a sun. Hence, if you study matter, you don’t know God under monotheism, because matter is a thing-in-itself separate from God. This leads to many kinds of dualisms—God vs. the soul, God vs. the world, and the soul vs. the world. Monotheism is fundamentally dualistic, while both personalism and impersonalism are non-dualistic. These dualities are bound together in monotheism via contracts, covenants, and laws, which are negotiable, modifiable, and upgradeable precisely because there is nothing eternally connecting or binding two fundamentally different dualities. In contrast, in personalism, every part is eternally bound to the whole in some unchangeable manner whether or not the part recognizes that connection.
This difference appears when people “convert” to a monotheistic religion by accepting a covenant. There is no “conversion” in personalism since the connection between the whole and the part is eternal. It has been forgotten and by spiritual practice, it is remembered. It is like a son who forgot his father. The father-son relationship is fixed at birth and cannot be created or revoked by our agreement or disagreement. However, the son can forget about the father, or he can remember the father. Conversion and deconversion in monotheistic religions create and revoke a connection because that connection is not eternal due to the soul-God dualism. In personalism, the whole and the part are eternally connected. Personalism rejects conversion due to non-dualism.
In all personalist philosophies, people can keep calling themselves Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, or even Hindu. It doesn’t matter what you call yourself because that is not an eternal thing. After you die and are reborn, that sectarian identity may change. So, why hurry to change it? Let it be whatever it is. It doesn’t matter. Just try to revive the eternal connection to the Supreme Lord. This non-sectarian philosophy has been given the sectarian name of “Hinduism” by sectarian people. But that is not the name that this philosophy calls itself. It calls itself knowledge and truth, not yet another sect.
The Problem of Comparisons
One of the problems of comparisons is that two things that look similar are often drastically dissimilar. We can illustrate this problem through the discussion of the four qualities of sattva, rajas, tamas, and transcendence. A person in tamas is lazy, a person in rajas is ambitious, and a person in sattva is dutiful. To the ambitious person, the dutiful person seems lazy. To the lazy person, the dutiful person seems ambitious. Thus, the person in rajas thinks that the person in sattva is in tamas whereas the person in tamas thinks that the person in sattva is in rajas. This is the first problem of misdiagnosing one type of quality as another—we call sattva either rajas or tamas, not sattva.
Similarly, people under three qualities do not understand the transcendent person because he is like all three qualities and not like any of them. Since a transcendent person is lazy in their materialistic life, hence, we can liken him to a person in tamas. Since he is ambitious in the Lord’s service, therefore, we can liken him to a person in rajas. Since he is dutiful, consequently, we can liken him to a person in sattva. And yet, the transcendent person is in neither sattva, nor rajas, nor tamas. Those in sattva, rajas, and tamas see one aspect of his personality and compare it to themselves to conclude that he is like them.
Misperception and mischaracterization are the norms rather than the exceptions because we are used to thinking in terms of binary opposites and mutual exclusions and not in terms of three qualities that are similar to other qualities in one way and dissimilar to other qualities in another way. Those things that look similar in some way, but are dissimilar in other ways, can belong to completely different classes. If we don’t understand the fundamental distinction and rely on similarity, then we get erroneous conclusions.
Direct and Inverted Reflections
Everything in Vedic philosophy is constructed from qualities. The material world is the conflictual state of qualities, voidism is the separated state of qualities, impersonalism is the merged state of qualities, and the spiritual world is the cooperative state of qualities. But all these are qualities of a person. This is the magic of qualities—they can be conflictual, separated, merged, and cooperative. The same thing can enter a different state, and it becomes completely different from the previous state. But it is always a person entering a different state. Some state of a person is better than other states of the person.
The material world is a direct bodily reflection of the spiritual world. But the material world is an inverted mental reflection of the spiritual world. Due to direct and inverted reflections, the topmost tip of reality looks very similar to the bottommost tip of the reflection from a bodily view. Thus, Śyāmasundar, the topmost reality, is blue, which is also the color of tamas, the bottommost reality. Tamas is frivolity, hedonism, and immorality along with disregard for industry, ambition, duty, and responsibility. These traits of tamas are similar to those in Śyāmasundar—He looks immoral, hedonistic, and frivolous, and He looks not ambitious, dutiful, responsible, and industrious. But this similarity is only with regard to the body. Mentally speaking, tamas is ignorance, arrogance, and selfishness, but Śyāmasundar has none of these mentally toxic traits. Quite in contrast, He is fully knowledgeable, most humble, and utterly selfless.
If we see bodily similarities and the mental differences, we might say: The two are similar in some ways and dissimilar in other ways. That would not be partially true. It would be completely false because they are dissimilar in all essential ways, like an apple and its plastic replica. We cannot get partial nutrition by chewing a plastic apple. Instead of gaining health, we will get sick by chewing on a plastic apple. Similarly, the topmost reality looks like the bottommost reflection, but the latter is also most different from the former.
Śyāmasundar is beautifully and desirably twisted in three ways (tribhanga lalitam), just as tamas is disagreeably and hideously twisted in three ways. The twisting in tamas is ignorance, immorality, and laziness. The twisting in Śyāmasundar is rejection of knowledge, morality, and endeavor. Rejection of knowledge is not ignorance; rejection of morality is not immorality; rejection of endeavor is not laziness. Śyāmasundar doesn’t think science and philosophy, but He is not ignorant. Śyāmasundar doesn’t honor social norms or boundaries, but He is not immoral. Śyāmasundar doesn’t work, but He is not lazy.
For many centuries, ignorant and unscrupulous people in India have called Śyāmasundar an immoral, irresponsible, selfish, hedonistic, ignorant, and naïve villager, because they see His body and behavior, but not His mind and emotions. When the best can be compared to the worst, because the best looks just like the worst, we should not shy away from asking: Are we inadvertently equating the best to the worst? We have to always keep the inversion of the mind and the imitation of the body in our view. The similarity between bodies is irrelevant. The difference in mentality is of the greatest consequence.
The equivalence between monotheism and personalism is based on a body count—God is one. That is a negative idea of God—God is not many, He is not absent, and He is not silent. Materialism is about many bodies. Voidism is about emptiness. Impersonalism is about silence. Saying that God is not many bodies, not absent, and not silent is not saying what God is. An infinite number of possibilities about what God is, remain possible after we have said what God is not. Among these possibilities are those that have a bodily semblance but a mental difference. Additionally, saying that God is not many, God is not absent, and God is not silent, is a false claim because He is also those things. A person can go to sleep to become absent; He can enter a waking thoughtless state to become impersonal; He can relate to many people where He shows different personalities to each one of them while still being just one person.
Thus, making a monotheistic claim is not sufficient—because infinite alternatives are still open after that claim has been made. Similarly, making a monotheistic claim is not necessary—because all that has been claimed to not exist factually exists in God. Monotheism, polytheism, monism, henotheism, pantheism, panentheism, unitarianism, impersonalism, and voidism are all true in some respect and false in other respects. We have to make that claim which makes all claims true while not universalizing any of these. If our claim rejects other claims implicitly, then it must be considered false. If something is not so nuanced and broadly encompassing, then it is necessarily false.
Dualistic and Non-Dualistic Philosophies
Four Doctrines of Cosmic Origins
God appears in every religion through a doctrine of creation. Given that the universe is infinite (or extremely large, close to infinite, as far as we can tell), and we want to talk about the creation of this universe (because whatever exists must have had an origin), religious differences appear through different creation doctrines—the source of the universe can be finite, infinite, or nothing. Each of these three doctrines has an origin in the Vedic philosophical idea that the world comprises duality, or opposites like hot and cold, bitter and sweet, heavy and light, black and white, big and small, so the origin of the world must reconcile these opposites and the result of reconciliation will be non-duality.
The proponent of nothingness says that when opposites combine, they cancel each other. Hence, the infinite must emerge from nothingness where neither opposite exists, but because language always uses mutually opposed words, therefore, nothingness cannot be spoken of. Nothingness can only be known through silence. This idea is called Pratītyasamutpāda or co-dependent arising of opposites. The opposites are also appearances (rather than reality) while their combination cancels the opposites, so reality is ultimately nothing.
The impersonalist rejoinder to this conclusion is that something cannot come out of nothing. But the thing that causes an infinite universe also cannot be finite. The cause of the universe must itself be infinite. There are at least two fundamental ways in which the infinite universe can emerge out of an infinite cause, which can be modeled as “infinite body” and “infinite mind”. In the “infinite body” case, there is an infinite energy that takes a form to become worldly objects and their dynamics. But when the form becomes formless, then the energy exists but is unperceivable. In the “infinite mind” case, the world is like a thought in the mind, and when the thought subsides, the mind remains thoughtless. Present-day impersonalists lean toward the “infinite mind” case while present-day scientists lean toward the “infinite body” case. While both are impersonalism, for the sake of our present discussion, I will call the “infinite mind” case impersonalism and the “infinite body” case materialism. I have earlier called materialism depersonalization in the sense that the body is fundamental and the mind is emergent. Impersonalists, instead say that the mind is fundamental whereas the body is emergent. By restricting impersonalism to “infinite mind” and materialism to “infinite body” we can make things clearer.
The personalist rejoinder to these two forms of impersonalism is that it does not provide a method by which the formless becomes form, and vice versa. We cannot call these transformations accidents. Personalists also disagree with the idea that the infinite cannot come out of the finite; that restriction applies to the body but not to the mind which can produce infinite ideas. To produce any idea, the mind must choose, which necessitates a personality. That personality makes a mind finite because it excludes other personalities. But the capacity of the mind to produce ideas even under a personality is infinite. Since the mind can produce mutually opposite ideas, hence, opposites do not cancel each other.
We may not (and we do not) experience the opposites simultaneously. But because they can be created successively, hence, they must coexist in the mind even when one or none of them is experienced. The arguments for materialism, nothingness, and impersonalism are rejected by personalists for different reasons—(a) the finite can produce the infinite, (b) the opposites don’t cancel each other, (c) the finite that produces the infinite is like the mind that creates thought and not smaller and bigger bodies, and (d) the mind has a personality.
The Monotheistic Doctrine of Creation
Monotheism speaks of ex nihilo creation, which is something out of nothing. There is also a rejection of the existence of opposites in God evidenced by the famous problem of evil in which if God is good, then evil must not exist in God, begging the question: If it was not present in God, then where did it come from? Finally, it treats the material world as inert stuff—that we can liken to the body—rather than as thoughts (which we liken to the mind) to solve all of the above problems. Monotheism doesn’t address basic questions: (a) How does the infinite come out of the finite? (b) Why opposites don’t cancel each other? The existence of opposites is rejected and the problem of infinity is ignored.
The ex nihilo doctrine of creation led to the Big Bang, proposed by Georges Lemaître—a Catholic priest—consistent with the ex nihilo thesis. God solves the problem of materialism, namely, how formless energy takes forms of subatomic particles, atoms, molecules, planets, cells, living bodies, societies, and so on, through the Intelligent Design Argument under which God injects form into energy. This takes us back to the Greek substance-form dualism in which energy is substance and form comes from God, and the combination of the two produces a world. This is just another formulation of the mind-body problem. Neither substance-form nor mind-body dualism is a solvable problem.
The equivalence between personalism with monotheism hides all the fundamental and essential tenets of personalism—(a) the world is idea-like, (b) it emerged out of a mind, (c) it disappears into a mind, (d) the ideas are eternal, (e) but they are not always seen, (f) the mind creates both true and false ideas, (g) false ideas are dreaming fantasies, (h) true ideas are wakeful knowledge, (i) truth and falsity coexist as the ability for dreaming and waking (j) the mind that enters dreaming or waking knows the state it is in, (j) hence, dreaming is known to be false speculation, imagination, or fantasy, rather than truth, (k) there is no substance because one form produces many forms, (l) the form appears to be finite but it produces infinite forms, and (m) hence, the infinite comes out of the finite because both the infinite and the finite are forms.
The Four Stages of Experience
Personalism is dangerously close to impersonalism because the material world is like thought in the mind, and when the thought subsides, the mind remains thoughtless. The difference is that the mind has a persona in personalism while it doesn’t have a persona in impersonalism. The thoughtful state of the mind is dreaming and the thoughtless state of the mind is deep sleep. Quite apart from these, is the waking state of the mind, which is neither dreaming nor deep sleep. The impersonalist who postulates “infinite mind” as the cause of the material world is correct in the sense that his theories of worldly illusion and freedom from that worldly illusion pertain to dreaming and waking thoughtless states of the mind. He is incorrect only in the sense that the same mind could also be thoughtfully awake, just as it could be thoughtlessly asleep.
The mind is capable of three things—(a) truthful thoughts, (b) fantasy thoughts, and (c) thoughtlessness. Thoughtlessness is better than fantasy, but truthful thought is better than thoughtlessness. Therefore, the personalist schools do not reject thoughtless states, but don’t consider it the final destination. They are different from impersonalists who claim that “infinite mind” implies the absence of form because impersonalists cannot explain how the mind produces thought except by postulating the existence of will; the existence of will necessitates the existence of personhood—due to which the will leans one way or another—which then necessitates a form. The mind always has a form. A mind with form, though finite, can produce infinite thoughts. They do not include all possible thoughts, but they can be infinite. The same mind can dream, or be thoughtlessly asleep, just as it is can be thoughtfully awake.
Personalism, impersonalism, voidism, and materialism are all non-dualistic because they postulate only one category—(a) mind with choice in personalism, (b) mind without choice in impersonalism, (c) choice without mind in materialism, and (d) no mind and no choice in voidism. Dualisms—such as mind vs. body, form vs. substance, spirit vs. matter, and God vs. soul—are unique to Western philosophy. They have never existed in Indian philosophy.
Philosophies that arose in India were always non-dualistic, a point that eludes many people today. The debate was only about which type of non-dualism is correct, and the personalist conclusion is that all forms of non-dualism are correct as the self that can be waking thought (spiritual world), thoughtless waking (impersonalism), thoughtless sleeping (voidism), and dreaming thought (material world). After recognizing all the states as different states of a person, personalists conclude that waking thought is the best. The preference is based on better and worse states, rather than existent and non-existent states.
Mind-Based Reality is Not Solipsism
It is thus inappropriate to equate or limit the philosophy of personalism to the spiritual world because it is also a philosophy of the material world in which the world is the dreaming thought of the Supreme Person. When people hear about the description of the material world as a dream reality, they think not in terms of the dream of the Supreme Person but in terms of their dream, to conclude that we must be talking about solipsism. We are not talking about solipsism, because the world is not our dream. Realism only means that there is something that I cannot control, and I call that the “world”. If we extend this idea to God, then realism from God’s perspective would mean that the world is out of God’s control. Thus, when we talk about the material world as God’s dream we are implictly implying: The material world is completely in God’s control.
Confusions about realism and solipsism arise because the correct definition of realism (as something that I cannot control) is replaced by numerous false definitions of realism (an extended substance, the stuff that exists even when nobody knows about it, something that is known by everyone, quantifiable through measurements, etc.). It will take us a long time to refute all these false conceptions of realism, so I won’t get into it. I can only summarize the problem: There are numerous false conceptions of realism that have never been substantiated, and yet, they remain popular in the common imagination.
These false notions arose in Western thinking due to the monotheistic idea that God created the world, relinquished control over the world, and gave man dominion over the world. The correct definition of realism under which the world is different from I because I don’t have control over the world is rejected by monotheistic doctrines. Alternate definitions of realism are postulated to maintain the idea that man has dominion over the world. In contrast, the personalist concept of realism is that God has control over the world and we do not. Thereby, the world is a part of God, however, the world is not our part.
Conflict with false ideas of realism is not a problem that I can solve. I can only say that there is one correct definition of realism—as something that I cannot control—and matter is real by that definition. And yet, matter is a dream for God because He can control matter. Hence, we model the material world from God’s perspective as ideas and adapt our realism to idea-like reality. Idealism is true for God, but realism is true for us. However, when idealism is true for God, then the realism true for us is not substance, objectivity, or numbers. It is like ideas and pictures in a dream. The quantitative, objective, mathematical, exploitative, inertial, and substantive modeling of material reality is hence a falsehood.
Epistemic vs. Ontological Dualism
The term “dualism” is also used in personalism, although restricted to the perception of duality without an objective duality. This perceived duality—when there is no duality—is an illusion. Even as we perceive opposites like hot vs. cold, bitter vs. sweet, black vs. white, or heavy vs. light, in an idea-like world, neither side can be defined without the other. Opposites are like two sides of a coin, which requires a third entity—akin to a coin—that reconciles these opposites.
The definition of a coin head necessitates the existence of a coin and a coin tail. And yet, the head is not the tail and not equal to the coin. In some cases, when we see the head, we can say “it is a coin”, which is just like saying that “yellow is a color”. That doesn’t equate yellow to color, because color includes other shades too. This problem is easily demonstrated by saying that even as yellow is a color, color is not yellow. Color is now akin to a mind in which shades are different thoughts. While thinking, the mind becomes the thought, and yet, the thought is not the mind because the mind can think other thoughts—including thoughts contradictory to previous thoughts. Thus, the duality of head and tail is perceived by the mutual exclusion of opposites even as opposites are mutually defined and factually co-existent. Duality is the perceived mutual exclusion.
We can call the perceived duality epistemic dualism while reality is ontological non-dualism. Since perception is dualistic while reality is non-dualistic, hence, perception is an illusion. This illusion of dualism is the dreaming state of the mind in which when we see something, we do not see the opposite thing. This perceptual dualism can be corrected if we mentally imagine a head and coin while seeing the tail, a tail and a head while seeing the coin, and a head and a coin while seeing a tail. We don’t have to see only with our five senses; we can also see with our mind. That mental perception involves “seeing” two other things (e.g., head and a coin) when we see only one thing (e.g., a tail).
When we can “see” things that we are not seeing with five senses, epistemic dualism disappears and ontological non-dualism is reinstated as the correct notion of reality. That epistemic non-duality is the waking state of the mind in which the mind can see everything that the senses cannot. Finally, if duality and non-duality disappear to dissolve the head, tail, and the coin, then the thoughtless state of the mind is its deep sleep state, which is also called non-duality because the perception of duality (i.e., the mutual exclusion of head and tail in sense perception) has disappeared by dissolving thought. Since there are four different kinds of non-dualisms—personalism, impersonalism, voidism, and materialism—hence, we don’t need to (a) equate one non-dualism to another, (b) reject a non-dualism, or (c) universalize one non-dualism.
The Theory of Smaller and Bigger Minds
Clean and Unclean Mirror Analogies
The term non-duality in personalism means that we can see everything within everything else because everything is like a mirror that can reflect everything else. But when it reflects only itself and excludes everything else, then we are compelled to say that one thing is separate from another thing. This separated state is likened to a mirror covered with dirt which blocks every other reflection, and when we look at such a mirror, we cannot see anything other than the mirror covered with dirt. A mirror capable of reflecting everything, but covered by dirt, becomes a thing-in-itself. If the same mirror is cleaned, then it starts reflecting everything and becomes a thing-for-everything-else.
The thing-in-itself is an illusion produced by covering the mirror with dirt. Duality—or the separateness of things—appears as the result of dirt covering the mirror, and is called māyā, which means “that which is not true”, which is also called an illusion. Thus, many terms are used to describe the same situation—dualism, illusion, dirt, falsehood, and separation. This is epistemic dualism rather than ontological dualism. Ontological dualism would be true if there was no mirror, and dirt was the only reality. Ontological dualism is false because the mirror is the primary reality, the dirt is a temporary covering of that reality, and by removing the covering, ontological non-dualism as well as epistemic non-dualism are established as the ability to see everything reflected in the mirror.
Nuanced Acceptance of Dualism
The dirt covering the mirror is sometimes considered different from the mirror—because it covers and obscures the mirror—but even that dirt is a mind that absorbs information about other things. If dirt was transparent and did not absorb the light incident on the mirror, or reflected by the mirror, then we would be able to see everything reflected in the mirror. The dirt is problematic only because it absorbs the light incident on the mirror and/or reflected by the mirror. That absorption converts a mirror into a thing-in-itself.
There is a sense in which there is mind-matter dualism, likened to a mirror and dirt. And yet, that dirt is also a mirror that absorbs information about other things, rather than passing it transparently. This requires us to understand the nature of the dirt—i.e., matter—covering the mirror more deeply.
Matter is a medium of communication between minds, but that medium can be likened to a post office that deletes or redacts the letters between the minds. Due to this deletion or redaction, each mind becomes a thing-in-itself because everything that is in one mind is not transparently reflected in another mind. The further problem is that each mind prefers message redaction and deletion to create a “private” world separate from a “public” world because each mind wants to separate itself from other minds and focus exclusively on itself.
People have conjured a “right to privacy” to hide what they truly are from other minds. They are not interested in knowing other minds. Their preference to hide from others and to remain disinterested in others is the desire to separate themselves from everyone else. Separation is not just because material nature deletes and redacts messages between minds but also what each mind wants. The material nature deletes and redacts messages between different minds only to fulfill the desire in each mind to separate itself from other minds.
Individualism Causes Dualism
The desire for privacy is individualism, by which each mind is separated from other minds. It is a desire in the mind, but it is fulfilled by matter when it redacts and deletes messages. If that desire ends, then individualism disappears, and we can see a person transparently, provided the seer mind is interested in seeing the seen mind and willing to communicate transparently. Thus, the dirt that covers the mirror is called egotism in each mind. It makes the mind individualistic and creates a “right to privacy”, which is fulfilled by the material nature obscuring all other minds. What we called dualism, illusion, dirt, falsehood, separation, and māyā earlier, is thus also called egotism.
The ability of matter to redact and delete messages between minds is the reason that matter covering the mind is considered separate from the mind. But matter covers the mind only if the mind wants privacy, prefers individualism, and is disinterested in knowing other minds. Obsessed with itself and disinterested in everyone else, the mind takes shelter of the material energy to redact and delete what is in the mind. Thus, the mind, which was not originally a private entity, becomes private due to individualism. Then we cannot see the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of other minds although we can see the redacted and deleted version of the meaning in the mind which we call the body.
Now, people start doubting the existence of the mind because they can only see the body. They can only see the body because the mind is imbued with egotism and has become disinterested in knowing other minds. An egotistic mind cannot see other minds. A humble mind easily perceives all other minds.
The distinction between matter and spirit is that between two media of communication—in the former, the meaning in the mind is redacted and deleted while in the latter the meaning is transmitted without redaction or deletion. Both are meant for communication. But matter is meant for communication between selfish minds while spirit is meant for communication between selfless minds. Each mind can also be selfish or selfless. Hence, this distinction is simplified into a binary difference between spirit and matter, selfish and selfless, individualistic and personalistic, mind and body, and so on. This binary difference looks like dualism but it is only because the medium of communication is also a mind that selectively transmits and receives some messages while it redacts and deletes other messages. Spirit vs. matter dualism is not about two kinds of substances, but about two kinds of minds.
Smaller vs. Bigger Mind Distinction
The distinction between sender, receiver, and medium is not hard and fast, because they are all minds. And yet, a distinction between the three is drawn because they are distinct minds. The sender and receiver are smaller minds compared to the medium which is a bigger mind. The sender is called ādibhautika, the receiver is called ādiatmika, and the medium is called ādidaivika. Since the medium is capable of redacting and deleting messages, just as it is capable of transmitting and receiving messages transparently, hence, the medium becomes the “controller” of the sender-receiver communication.
When the material medium is treated as an inert substance, a false notion of “objective science” is constructed under which if a message was sent, it must be received without redaction or deletion. Under this “objective science”, everyone must see the world in the same way, and because humans cannot see the world in the same way, therefore, the world must be measured by instruments. Scientists don’t understand that measurement is a transmit-receive process of information exchange—akin to sending emails or letters—which cannot be objective if the mail server or post office can redact or delete the emails or letters, making even the instrument measurement a subjective process.
The material medium of communication is ādidaivika controller of communication in which letters pass through a hierarchy of post office officers—called demigods—who can redact, delete, enhance, or alter the messages. Thus, someone can see what others cannot see and someone cannot see what others can see. What one sees is not just a function of what they are capable of seeing, or of the properties the thing they are seeing, but also of the post office system of controlling the message exchange between a sender and a receiver. If the post office burns the letters, then we cannot communicate with other minds. We might insist that what we are not perceiving must not exist, when factually the post office is burning the letters intended for us.
The medium of communication we call “matter” is not impersonal. It is rather a “bigger mind” which controls the “smaller minds” just like we control thoughts in our mind. Due to this control, each individualistic sender and receiver is to varying degrees under material control. What they can perceive and do, how much happiness or distress they can or cannot get, and what goals they can accomplish or not, are all finely controlled simply by intercepting all messages and redacting, deleting, enhancing, or modifying them while in transit.
Matter is like the German Stasi or the Russian KGB which snooped on all communications and had the power to modify messages in transit. Frontline soldiers would get redacted letters from their families during wartime if the secret police deemed them inappropriate. If they found that the letters were emotional, they would just burn the letter or delay its transmission to its intended recipients. The secret police hid the minds from each other. The material energy controls individualistic minds in the same way.
However, unlike the secret police, the material medium is not evil. She controls everything to improve the senders and receivers—to make them give up their individualism and selfishness and transform them into selfless personalistic minds that have no hidden agendas, no desire for mental privacy, and no desire to cheat and exploit others. They are like clean mirrors which transparently reflect, understand, and accept all other mirrors. They don’t think that they are separate from others, although they are still distinct individuals.
Only a mirror that has cleaned itself can perfectly reflect another—clean or unclean—mirror. The clean mirror sees everything perfectly, including the unclean mirrors. The unclean mirror sees nothing clearly, including the fact that it is an unclean mirror that can be cleaned to see everything perfectly. The unclean mirror thinks that every other mirror must be unclean, feels guilty about its uncleanliness, hides its uncleanliness from others in the name of mental privacy, makes no effort to clean itself, and calls others unclean.
The Creation of Smaller Minds
The only remaining question now is how the bigger mind creates a smaller mind as its thoughts. This requires us to understand that imagination comprises three aspects—thinker, thinking, thought. The thinker may not think, and the thought would not exist. When the thinker thinks, the thought is only an expression of what was previously in the thinker. Once a thought is created, by the thinker’s power of thinking, then the thought can also become a thinker—capable of expanding into more thoughts—if the thinker’s idea of the thought is that the thought is also a thinker with its own power of thinking.
I often have mental debates with imagined opponents who have different personalities and views than me. Once an alternative persona is created in my mind, that persona challenges me, questions me, and doubts me in various ways. I respond to these challenges, questions, and doubts, but every response is met with more challenges, questions, and doubts. I wrote several books arguing with these imagined personas in which I and the imagined persona go back and forth discussing various objections. I could easily shut down these imagined personas because they are my mental creations. But I let them be the kind of person that I have created them to be in my mind and allow them to challenge, question, and doubt me because I enjoy this debate and dialogue.
In simple words, if a person thinks about other persons, who have their own personas, then those self-created personas start interacting with the person who created those personas as his thoughts in the first place. If the creator persona doesn’t want to tamper with the created persona, then these personas can argue, debate, challenge, question, and doubt each other, merely for enjoyment. They can also support, love, nourish, encourage, nurture, and fulfill each other, merely for enjoyment. Thus, one person becomes many persons.
This is the essence of the Vedic theory of creation in which God—the original mind—thought of various personas, and let them be the kind of person that He had created them to be in His mind. He could shut everyone down, and force them to comply with His will—after all, they are all thoughts in His mind—but He lets them be, merely for enjoyment. Some of these created personas challenge, question, and doubt God, while others nurture, fulfill, and love God. They are all part of God because they were created as mental personas. And yet, as created personas, they are different from the creator persona. We can say that everything is an illusion because it is all God’s creation within His mind. And yet, for God, everything is real because He is enjoying the experience.
We have to remember that there is no difference between mind and body if the mind is pure because then, whatever is in the mind is also outside the mind, and whatever is outside the mind is also inside. The mind-body difference exists due to mental impurity in which what is inside the mind is not outside, and what is outside the mind is not inside. That impurity doesn’t exist in God, and hence the mind-body distinction also doesn’t exist for Him. There is also no mental privacy in the spiritual world—we cannot hide our thoughts, feelings, intentions, and judgments from others. Everyone can see the mind as clearly as they see the face right now. Hence, a dirty mind cannot enter the spiritual world because others can see the dirty mind and they will be repulsed by it. Unless the mind has been completely purified of this dirt, and all notions of mental privacy have been completely destroyed, there is no entry to the spiritual world.
The mind-body distinction is a result of (a) thinking contrary to reality, (b) thinking contrary to other persons, and (c) hiding one’s thoughts from others. Since this is aided and abetted by matter, therefore, it becomes a fact for us, although it is not true. In Sañkhyā, we speak about three kinds of bodies—sthūla śarīra, linga śarīra, and sūkshma śarīra—or gross body, gendered body, and subtle body. In each body, everything is three things—knower, known, and knowing. Knowing is a power, knower is a sense, and the known is a type of meaning. The linga śarīra is mind, intellect, ego, and morality, and each of these is a sense with a power of knowing, along with the known meanings called thoughts, judgments, intentions, and values. If these senses are working, and matter is not redacting or deleting messages, then we construct a composite picture of reality that includes both mind and body, in which the mind is the deeper and broader reality that explains the shallower and narrower reality of the body. For instance, if you hear a person speaking—a narrower and shallower reality—then you can perceive their mind, as the explanation of why they are saying what they are saying. If the mind is perceived along with the speech, then we get behavior and its explanation, without mind-body duality.
I often meet toxic people while trying to teach. They give innocuous explanations of their actions because they assume that we can only see their words and not their minds—after all, the words, in their estimation, are the public realities and the minds are private realities. They don’t know that the mind is also public for one who can see. Mind is yet another body, which can be seen just like the body most people can see. There is no mental privacy. That privacy is an illusion of egotism and individualism aided by material energy.
Since antiquity, Western philosophy has assumed that there is a reality behind the phenomena—which is true. But they have also incorrectly assumed that we can never see the reality behind the phenomena. This is the essence of the Socratic “dancing men in the cave” problem where you see shadows on the wall (phenomena) but you can never see what is causing those shadows (reality). The conclusion is: To know the “hidden” reality, we must speculate. No speculation can ever be proven because nobody can see. Hence, all knowledge is guesswork that may sometimes work, but it can always be falsified. This is the genesis of all problems in Western thinking—go on speculating, or accept some reality on blind faith, or forcibly assert your ideas on others, or become nihilistic due to the impossibility of knowledge. Not a single philosopher, theologian, scientist, or thinker has ever talked about the possibility of developing our perception.
All the struggles that people have between solipsism and realism are merely the result of the mind-body divide when factually there is no divide. God can see our mind. It is not hidden from Him. So, for God, there is no mind-body divide because there is no mental privacy. The mind is also a public reality for Him. Hence, the mind is not a private reality per se. It is not equally private for everyone because some people with mental acuity can read other minds. It is a private reality because it is obscured by material covering. It is obscured because of individualism and egotism. Otherwise, it is also a public reality.
Egotism narrows the mind into selfishness. When this ego is dissolved, then the mind becomes broad and selfless. It is just like unshackling an animal by cutting all the ropes that are binding it and letting it roam freely. An unshackled mind can see everything, including other minds. Therefore, anyone can develop their mind to perceive all the hidden realities by giving up selfishness. If we become unalloyed devotees of the Lord, then we become most selfless. Then we can also see all hidden realities. The mind connects to other minds when it gives up individualism. Otherwise, there is the illusion of mental privacy.
The infinite world we see is a movie within God’s mind. God is also within that same movie as His self-image. Since the world is within God’s mind, therefore, the world is a part of God. Since His self-persona is part of the created world, therefore, God is a part of the world. There is no contradiction in saying that God is a part of the world and the world is a part of God, just as there is no contradiction in saying that yellow is within color and color is within yellow. These contradictions result from thinking about object separations, the inability to reconcile the mind-body duality, and rejecting the mind to model everything as objects. When many falsehoods are accepted as truths, then we think that there is a contradiction between God in the world and the world in God. If we peel away these falsehoods one-by-one, then there is no contradiction.
Person vs. Personality Distinctions
Spiritual and Material Personas
The distinction between material and spiritual realities now arises due to two kinds of personas—selfish and selfless. God has egotism in Him, so when He creates personas, they have the capacity for egotism. But they have the capacity for selflessness too, just like God. All these capacities are simply potentials in a persona, and they can be prioritized and combined by choice. When selfishness is prioritized over selflessness, then a person makes a show of selflessness to fulfill his selfishness—akin to a capitalist who makes a show of philanthropy and charity with ulterior motives to enhance his power and profit. When selflessness is prioritized over selfishness, then a person makes a show of selfishness to fulfill his selflessness—akin to a mother who pretends to not hear the crying and wailing of a child who has been behaving badly.
Selfishness and selflessness never disappear, but they can be combined and prioritized in different orders. Choice is about combination and prioritization. By creating different priorities—akin to the sequencing of elements in a set—infinite different experiences can be created from the same potentiality. All these experiences are choices of sequences. Hence, there is no fundamental distinction between a spiritual and material persona, because a persona is a set of potentialities that are prioritized differently by a person’s choices.
This is important to answer the question: Did God make some souls evil, only to condemn them to suffer in the material world, while He made other souls good to have them enjoy in the spiritual world? The question assumes a dualism between good and evil—if one of them exists then the other must not. The question is asked because we don’t understand how good and evil are created from the same personal traits by prioritizing them through choice. A mother who pretends to be selfish and a capitalist who pretends to be selfless are not necessarily different personas. They can be the same persona—i.e., a set of personal traits—being prioritized in different orders by choice.
Therefore, what we mean by a “persona” is a set of traits, and a “personality” is a combination and prioritization of these traits by choice. God creates personas with different sets of personal traits, but not their personality. Each person can shape their personality using a finite set of personal traits by combination and prioritization. Personal traits are not good or evil, but the personality created from these traits by choice is good or evil. Thus, a person enters a spiritual or material realm based on choice, not because God made them good or evil.
The Impersonalist Confusion
Since a personality is constructed by choice operating on personal traits, therefore, both choice and personal traits are eternal. The fundamental contention of an impersonalist or voidist—that these traits are byproducts of a material covering—is false. Both the capacity for choice and the capacity to exhibit personal traits are eternal. However, since choice can be self-negating (you can choose to deny the possibility of choice), therefore, a person can enter states of thoughtless waking or thoughtless sleeping. In the former, one is aware of the ability of choice. In the latter, one is unaware of the ability of choice.
The impersonalist and voidist confusions are subtle—equating a personality to a persona, perceiving choice as a problem, and rejecting choice, personality, and persona to become thoughtless. Personalism doesn’t reject the possibility of such rejection. But it also doesn’t consider it the ultimate conclusion. Moreover, it describes a spiritual person as one who makes good choices, not merely one who rejects choice. The contrast is not between evil choice and no choice, although the no choice alternative also exists. The real contrast is between evil choice and good choice. That doesn’t make a person eternally, fundamentally, or essentially good or evil—as we find in some present religions.
Nobody is fundamentally, eternally, or essentially good or evil. Each person is capable of many personal traits, and they have the power of choice to combine and prioritize traits. All these traits are just like instruments or tools. A knife or a hammer is not fundamentally, eternally, or essentially good or evil. Choice makes a tool good or evil. Hence, any philosophy that relies on killing the patient to cure the disease is fundamentally problematic.
Multiple Incarnations of God
Impersonalists see deities in the temple, and ask: How can God be the source of the infinite universe, and yet, be a part of the universe? They read about His pastimes of childhood and ask: How can God be the Almighty and yet become a child in a mother’s lap? They read about the incarnations of God and ask: How can God be one, and yet, appear in different forms? These questions pertain to the confusion between a person and a personality. God takes on many forms just like an actor plays many characters. The impersonalists cannot digest this simple answer and conclude that all characters are illusions.
While impersonalists suffer from indigestion, monotheists—or mind-body dualists—lack the appetite for God’s personhood; they attack many forms of God as polytheism. They imagine the freedom to exhibit many alternative personalities, but they do not want to afford the same freedom to God. In their minds, eternal truth must be a fixed truth. An eternal world must be a fixed world. Eternity is therefore never about choice. Eternity is about the elimination of choice, to arrive at one final and fixed truth.
There is no reincarnation in monotheism, which means that one soul cannot take on different bodily forms. Monotheists don’t understand how the soul changes bodies in this life from childhood to youth to old age while retaining his individuality. If they knew how the soul takes on many bodily forms in this life, then they would understand how the soul takes on many other forms in other lives. Then it would be much easier to understand how God can also take on many forms—just like the many bodies of the soul. The rejection of incarnations of the soul becomes the rejection of the incarnations of God.
Monotheists don’t know that the body is shaped after the mind. If the mind changes form, then it gets a new body, without changing the person. This principle is involved in deciding the next body of the soul at the time of death. If the mind is fixed on one idea, then the body is also fixed. By fixing their mind, the yogis stop aging in present life because going from childhood to youth to old age is the change of soul’s body, but if the mind is fixed then the body is also fixed. If anyone understands reincarnation, then they understand how God takes many forms. Those who do not understand reincarnation also do not understand God’s many forms, because both are based on the same principle.
Multiple incarnations of God are different from the multiple incarnations of the soul only in the sense that multiple incarnations of the soul are mutually exclusive while the multiple incarnations of God are not. This is related to the capacity in God to make multiple choices at once, while a soul is capable of making only one choice at a time. A sequence of choices constructs a personal time. God is simultaneously in many personal times, while the soul is generally in one personal time. Thus, the sequencing of bodies in the case of the soul is not the sequencing of bodies for God. All those bodies are simultaneously possible and present, due to the capacity for multiple choices at once.
We have all heard about multitasking. Some people can do more multitasking than others. As a soul progresses in spiritual life, he is able to multitask more. Some advanced souls have talked about the ability to do up to eight things simultaneously. Musicians playing string instruments learn how to coordinate both hand movements. Drummers learn how to coordinate both hand and leg movements at once. Some drummers who also sing, learn to coordinate hands, legs, and speech at once. God has an infinite capacity for multitasking. He can be multiple personalities doing multiple things at once. God appears in many forms based on His varied ideas about Himself. He thinks “I am a lion” and He becomes Narasimha. He thinks “I am a fish” and He becomes Matsya. He thinks “I am a dwarf” and He becomes Vamana. He thinks “I am a seductive woman”, and He becomes Mohini. He thinks “I am a tortoise” and He becomes Kūrma. He thinks “I am a dutiful husband and king” and He becomes Rāma.
God has a vivid imagination and the power of multitasking. Shouldn’t these be considered a part of what we mean by God? But people without a vivid imagination and the ability for multitasking want to limit God’s imagination and multitasking. Their critique of “polytheism” is equating their weakness to God’s. According to monotheists, God must always think “I am God”. According to impersonalists, God must stop thinking. When we contrast this against the infinite thoughts that God has about Himself, then we realize how far monotheism and impersonalism are from personalism—because whether God has zero thoughts or one thought, both are infinitely fewer thoughts than all the thoughts that God has about Himself under personalism. Monotheism is also infinitely farther from personalism and infinitely closer to impersonalism because there is little difference between one thought and zero thoughts.
Incorrect Use of Logic in Religion
The Aristotelian dictum “A is A” ensures that God must always think “I am God”. God can never think that “I am a dwarf” or “I am a fish” or “I am a tortoise” or “I am a seductive woman”, let alone become a dwarf, fish, tortoise, or a seductive woman, because the moment God thinks any thought other than “I am God”, He is in violation of logic’s most fundamental principle called the Principle of Identity. We don’t want God to be illogical, do we? To preserve logic, we must limit God’s imagination. God cannot but think of Himself to be God. He must always follow the rules of logic while thinking about Himself.
We don’t realize this, but logic is contrary to multitasking. “I am running” and “I am talking” are not permitted in logic at once, because by the equivalence of two things that are equal to a third thing, we must conclude that they are equal to each other. Or that running must be synonymous with talking.
Logic makes everything a thing-in-itself. Reality can no longer be a mirror that reflects everything in itself, because a mirror is everything reflected in it, and yet, it is none of those reflected things. How can a thing be itself and not itself simultaneously? Only a mirror covered by dirt is a thing-in-itself because it reflects nothing so it is nothing other than itself. Hence, using logic is covering all mirrors with dirt and it works only for thing-in-itself mirrors.
The impersonalist realizes the problem with a mirror (i.e., that a mirror that reflects everything is simultaneously itself and not itself, breaking the principle of logical identity), and concludes: The mirror must not reflect anything. Thus, we arrive at two kinds of impersonalism—(a) the mirror is covered by dirt and has no reflection, and (b) the mirror is clean but still has no reflection. Cleaning the mirror is just as useless as leaving it dirty because in neither case can the mirror have any reflection. This is due to logic because one thing can only be one thing, and it must be a thing-in-itself, not a thing that is both itself and not itself. This is why the thing-in-itself logic becomes non-semantic and incapable of describing the mind because while knowing the world, the mind is itself and yet not itself—the picture of the world is mine, at the point of knowing the world the mind has become the picture, the picture is precisely the world, and hence the mind is precisely the world, creating an equivalence between two distinct things, which by definition is forbidden by logic. To solve this logical paradox, the impersonalist insists: To just be me, I must shut off the world, because then “I am I” would be true whereas “I am the world” would be false.
Principles of Identity and Identification
This problem is solved in Vedic texts by talking about three aspects of the soul—relation, cognition, and emotion. At the point of observing the world, the consciousness “moves out” like a tortoise stretching its limbs out of its shell, and attaching itself to the world. In some animated movies, we see the eyeballs of a character pop out of the eye sockets when they see something attractive. That is just like the tortoise putting its limbs out. The cognitive aspect of the soul then takes the form of the world to know it. Then, the emotive aspect of the soul becomes attracted to this world if the world is a source of its happiness. Finally, a person starts identifying with the world. This is also how the soul stretches outward, attaches to the body, knows the body, enjoys the body, and then identifies with the body to say that “I am the body”. Logic cannot handle this problem because something that is not the self is equated to the self because of stretching, attaching, knowing, enjoying, and identifying.
The attachment to the world and the body is destroyed only when life becomes painful. When the world or body is a source of intolerable pain and suffering, then the process of stretching, attaching, knowing, enjoying, and identifying is reversed—the consciousness withdraws from the world and the body to realize that it is not the world and not the body. Pain and suffering are methods for this withdrawal, and they are sometimes necessary to break the attachment to the world and the body. No pain no gain. Austerity is hence a prescribed method to realize that I am not the body, although I am currently attached to the body.
However, if the world and body were not painful, then we would never stop identifying with the body. That is the situation with God—He creates a form, and then stretches, attaches, knows, enjoys, and identifies with that form in the same way that we identify with our body. The difference is simply that our body gives pain and suffering, and forces a withdrawal of consciousness but God’s forms do not. We conclude that “I am not the body” only when we suffer. If we never suffer, then “I am the body” is taken to be true, although it is not true in the way that logic equates an identity to the essence of a thing.
“I am not the body” only in the sense that this body is not my essential nature. But I can identify with it. That identification establishes an equivalence between two things that are factually not identical to each other. It is true and yet it is not true. It can be temporary due to suffering. It can be eternal due to enjoyment. And despite this temporary or eternal truth, it is not true as a logical identity.
The simple thing we call “I am”, which is also called aham and om in Sanskrit (in different contexts), is a very complicated problem involving six aspects of creating, stretching, attaching, knowing, enjoying, and identifying. Descartes oversimplified this problem by saying “I think therefore I exist”, where he equated the self to thought, when the fact is that the thought is created, and over the next five steps—including the enjoyment of the thought—we identify with that thought to become thought. If that thought is painful, then we quickly withdraw from that thought and to become not that thought. Hence, “I think therefore I exist” is not always true. It is true only for pleasurable thoughts.
Thus, “I am X” is a choice. It is not a necessity. When Aristotle equated choice to a necessity—as entailed by the logical necessity of “A is A”, which must always be upheld by everything—he killed the essence of personalism and replaced it with materialism devoid of choice. When we apply choice to religious topics involving the soul and God, then we are treating them as material objects.
Impersonalism is the application of logic to consciousness to say that aham brahmāsmi or “I am soul” and therefore “I am not body”. It is true in the sense that the material body is painful so we cannot always identify with it. But then to extend it to say that there is no pleasurable body is idiocy. I can be many things, some of which are painful while others are pleasurable. When I become that which is pleasurable to me, then I have no problem saying “I am that”. “I am that” is not a logical necessity which Aristotle called “A is A”. It is merely identification with something that I find pleasurable. If I find something so pleasurable that I never want to give it up, then “I am that” is also eternally true.
Personalism is Rooted in Choice
The Depersonalization of God
Monotheism is just one step from impersonalism under which God becomes omniscient to know everything without a choice (a) to know some things and not know other things, (b) to know some things more than other things, (c) to know the same thing in different ways, and (d) to know oneself differently. Omniscience is the destruction of choice because, under its dictates, God must watch—like a sadist—traumatic occurrences, worldly catastrophes, diseases, and death. He has been deprived of choice due to His omniscience.
The fact is that there is no omniscient God because God has a choice. He has the capacity to know everything, but He doesn’t want to know everything. When He wants to know something, He uses His capacity to know and He knows that which He has chosen to know. Generally, He wants to know all that is pleasing. He is not interested in knowing that all that is displeasing. Hence, He is not omniscient. Similarly, God can do everything, but He doesn’t want to do everything. He can be kind to everyone, but He doesn’t want to be kind to everyone. When monotheism calls God omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, it deprives God of His choice. He has to know, He has to do, and He has to love. This is the mechanization and depersonalization of God.
The hallmark of personalism is choice. That means God has the choice to be what He wants to be. He is not eternally condemned to play God. He can be an irresponsible child, a seductive woman, a bird, or a fish, if He so wants. Impersonalism and monotheism take away choice from God—impersonalism by removing self-thought and monotheism by fixing the self-thought for eternity. God deprived of self-thought or fixated on one thought is infinitely not the person who has innumerable different thoughts about Himself. The choice of being whatever He wants to be, rather than being eternally fixated on just one thing, is the difference between personalism and monotheism.
Whatever monotheism calls polytheism is a mark of its depersonalization of God. The Vedic system is not polytheistic. But monotheism has depersonalized God by robbing Him of choice to an extent that His choices to define Himself in the way He wants have become a problem for monotheism. God exists to serve people in monotheism—tell them what to do, answer their prayers, solve their problems, forgive their sins, and accept someone who has accepted Him.
Does a woman automatically marry a man who wants her? Does an employer automatically employ a person who wants to be his employee? Does a country automatically give citizenship to one who wants to become a citizen? And yet, God in monotheism accepts everyone who accepts Him. Effectively, God has less choice than a man or woman, employer or employee, country or citizen.
Monotheism is the attempt to bind God using laws, contracts, covenants, and logic while giving every human a choice about whom they want to employ, whom they want to marry, whom they want to make friends with, whom they want to be close to, define themselves in their chosen way, decide if want to accept God or not, and whom they want to give citizenship to their country or kingdom. A God who is bound by laws, contracts, covenants, and logic is not God. Hence, a monotheistic God doesn’t exist. It is a sheer mental concoction.
The Host Has the Most Choices
Impersonalist and monotheist theologies are trivial because they focus on God being nothing or just one thing. Personalist theology is immensely complicated because it focuses on why God wants to be infinite different things, although He wants to be some of those more eagerly and urgently than others. The things that God wants to be occasionally are His rare incarnations. Those that He wants more are His frequently seen forms. That which He wants always over everything else is His original form. Every person is defined by their capacity for choice, so God must also have a choice. In fact, God must have infinite choices to be what He wants to be, compared to other persons whose choices can be constrained. This is then the meaning of the Supreme Person—He wants to be more things than anyone else, and His ability to be everything that He wants to be, makes Him infinitely more types of persons than everyone else.
This idea of supremacy based on choice is different from the supremacy based on power, control, and authority over others. God is of course supreme because He can control everything. But His desire for supremacy is overridden by His desire to be all other things where He is not supreme. When compared to all the ways in which He wants to be non-supreme, His desire to be supreme is infinitesimal. In effect, if we were to draw a space of all desires that God has, His desire to be supreme would be just one point. The rest of the space would constitute infinite other desires where God wants to be non-supreme.
Hence, when we talk about the Supreme Lord, we are not talking about His supremacy based on power, control, and authority over others. We are talking about His infinite other desires that far exceed anyone else’s desires to be other things, and which involve Him being non-supreme. We are small compared to God, not because of power, but because our choices or ideas about ourselves are small compared to God’s uncountable ideas about Himself. Most people in this world, for instance, just want one thing—to be supreme. They don’t have the power to be supreme, but they get that power when they ascend to the spiritual world. And yet, that idea of supremacy is just one of the infinite ideas about the self. God has been supreme for so long that He has no charm for supremacy. Supremacy is a boring idea for Him and His desires for non-supremacy are infinitely greater. So many people worship God as supreme and ask Him for something. Thereby, His desires for non-supremacy remain unfulfilled.
The Personalist Idea of Supremacy
That ocean of desires in which the desire for supremacy is just one drop, while the rest of the ocean constitutes the infinite other desires to be non-supreme, is Kṛṣṇa. His lust for supremacy is a drop in the ocean. The rest of the ocean is wanting to be non-supreme. Everyone goes to Kṛṣṇa considering Him to be the giver of benedictions, and they treat Him as supreme. He is not satisfied by that because He wants to be non-supreme. Every other form of God that displays supremacy, is a part of that one drop of desire for supremacy in Kṛṣṇa.
The monotheistic idea of God is that He is the most powerful and He is inclined to use that power. The impersonalist idea of God is that He has no idea of who He is. But the personalist idea of God is that He has infinite desires other than the desire to remain ignorant about who He is and to know Himself as supreme. Whatever people call God or infinite Brahman are just two drops in an ocean of desires in Kṛṣṇa. If we equate personalism to monotheism, then we are equating an ocean to a drop. If someone says that they can merge into the ocean called Brahman, and that would be identity with God, then they are equating the state in which Kṛṣṇa has no clue what He is, to the infinite other states where He has a different idea of Himself. Not knowing oneself or knowing oneself to be supreme are just two drops in an ocean of desires.
An impersonalist or monotheist theology is so small compared to the theology of Kṛṣṇa that we can dismiss it as almost totally irrelevant. Kṛṣṇa theology is so vast that we can never fully fathom Kṛṣṇa even in infinite lifetimes. That is because He has so many desires. To know a person is to know what they desire. Those who know a person from a distance know a fraction of their desires. Knowing God as a powerful ruler is knowing Him from a great distance. It is true that God is the supreme ruler, but only as a drop in the ocean of desires. Brahman is also knowing God from a great distance where we think that God wants nothing. It is true in the sense that God has everything so He wants nothing. But that is also true only as one of the drops in the ocean of desires. However, as we go closer and closer to God, we realize that although He controls everything, and He wants nothing, there is still so much that He wants.
Three Measures of Greatness
Impersonalists ask how the infinite world could spring from a finite person because they don’t know that infinite universes are created simply from the desire for supremacy, which is just one drop in the ocean of desires of Kṛṣṇa. The universe is an ocean, but the desire it fulfills in Kṛṣṇa is just a drop in the ocean of desires in Him. Brahman is created from the desire to not have any desire. Brahman is also an ocean, but the desire it fulfills in Kṛṣṇa is just a drop in the ocean. Vaikuṇṭha is created from the desire to be free, independent, and autonomous. Vaikuṇṭha is also an ocean, with free, independent, and autonomous individuals who treat God as their equal. But the desire that Vaikuṇṭha fulfills in Kṛṣṇa is a drop in the ocean. Collectively, the desires to be the master, to be self-satisfied, and to be equal to others, are drops in the ocean of desire in Kṛṣṇa. If we keep aside these trivial drops, then the rest of the ocean is about the desire to be non-master, non-self-satisfied, and non-equal.
Kṛṣṇa’s greatest desire is to be possessed, owned, and controlled by His devotees. Those devotees who don’t see Kṛṣṇa as a superior master, a self-satisfied individual, or autonomously independent, but consider Him to be helpless, hungry for their love, and totally dependent on their care, are the dearest to Kṛṣṇa. The idea that God is powerful, autonomous, or self-fulfilled is therefore very insignificant in the ultimate analysis. The idea that God is vulnerable, needy, dependent, and helpless is the most significant idea.
There are many ways to measure greatness. There is a measure of greatness based on the power one holds over others. There is a measure of greatness based on one’s knowledge and skills. And there is a measure of greatness based on bliss. Impersonalism and monotheism measure greatness by power—the impersonalist wants to be beyond anyone’s control while the monotheist imagines that God controls everything. This is the most primitive method of measuring greatness. A better measure of greatness is variegated knowledge and skill. The more types of things you know, and the more types of things you can do, make you greater than others. The knowledge and skill to control others or become free from their control is a primitive form of knowledge. Much better knowledge and skill are art, poetry, music, literature, dance, and science. The best measure of greatness is happiness. The happiness derived from controlling others or becoming free of their control is primitive. A much better type of happiness is involved in producing art, poetry, music, literature, dance, and science. The best happiness is found in intimate relationships devoid of the considerations of mastery, self-satisfaction, and autonomous equality.
Since the impersonalist measure of greatness is based on the lowest idea of greatness, and he has no idea about superior measures of greatness, he thinks that becoming free of all entanglements is the greatest achievement. It is factually greater than the state when a person is bound by the material energy. Under the inferior idea of greatness, he thinks that becoming free from entanglement is itself becoming God and he imagines that any form of God tied by relationships must be an entanglement. All these are false concoctions.
Impersonalists mount the argument about how the infinite came out of the finite because they are thinking of the body as matter and the material universe as a lot more matter than found in the body. If they could just think of the body as knowledge and skill, then there would be a much smaller problem because immense knowledge and skill can reside in a person even with a small body. Finally, if they knew that real power was willpower, and everything else works under the control of that willpower, then there would be no problem in understanding how willpower in a person controls the universe.
All these types of issues are rooted in materialism where to move a big body one needs a lot of force, so if the universe is moving, then the agency that moves it must be a bigger body and a bigger force. There is no understanding that the world is thoughts being moved by willpower. You can create infinite thoughts by willpower. You can control all these thoughts by willpower. If one has developed willpower in their life, then they will know how it is used to control the mind and channel it appropriately. Finally, if one has willpower, then he will know how it is used to acquire happiness. The thoughts can be infinitely variegated, but willpower is one. Even as willpower is one, happiness is infinitely variegated. So, one willpower can produce infinite thoughts and happiness. Many kinds of worlds that deliver different kinds of happiness can simply be created by a mind with strong willpower. The world is created by willpower. But willpower is used because it delivers happiness. The choice made by willpower that delivers the greatest happiness is the greatest measure of a person. The best person is not one who controls a universe, who is most talented and knowledgeable, or who is self-satisfied, but one who is the happiest. Calling self-satisfaction happiness is the lack of imagination about happiness.
The Meaning of Kṛṣṇa’s Greatness
If one dreams of escaping material suffering, he thinks of God as one who controls the world. If one dreams of being free of entanglement, he thinks of God as one who has no responsibility. If one dreams of leading a self-satisfied life, he thinks of God as one who is capable of knowing and creating anything. If one dreams of a happy life, he thinks of God as one who loves selflessly. The journey from the worst to the best situation in life is the journey from thinking of God as power to thinking of God as love. We cannot arbitrarily mix these ideas. We cannot claim that because God is most loving and powerful, hence, He must use His power and love for me to help me ensure my enjoyment and forgive all my misdeeds. When the idea of power applies, then the idea of love does not. Hence, if we want to see God as power, then we must obey His laws. But if we want to see God as love, then we must be fully devoted to Him.
Monotheists mix and conflate all these ideas to create many problems because they cannot recognize that God has many natures, that these natures are mutually exclusive, and the tenets of one nature cannot be applied to another nature. This is just like a person may be both a boss and a father, but he is not a father to his subordinates just as he is not a boss to his children. Similarly, the fact that God is both a boss and a father doesn’t mean we can mix both just as we please. If we want God to be a boss, then we have to be subordinate. If we want Him to be a father, then we have to be a child. Those who mix these into hodge-podge theology, probably don’t know the first thing about relationships.
The idea of God as one who has power over others is the lowest idea of God. The idea of God as one who is free of all responsibilities and entanglements is a better idea of God. The idea of God as one who can know and create everything and fulfills himself through his work is an even better idea of God. The idea of God who is loved by everyone and is constantly enjoying that relationship is the best idea of God. While greatness is measured in different ways in these four progressive conceptions of Godliness, the final measure of greatness is also the greatest. Under it, we don’t say that God is great because He has so much power, authority, knowledge, skill, or autonomy. Rather, we say that God is the greatest because He is the happiest. He is happiest because He has given up all the previous ideas of greatness rooted in power, authority, knowledge, skill, and autonomy, and become non-supreme. Before arriving at this greatest measure of greatness, we have to reject every other inferior measure of greatness that is considered great by materialists, impersonalists, voidists, or monotheists.
To understand God’s greatness, we have to conceptualize four tiers of greatness, successively reject them to progress to a better idea of greatness, to then arrive at the best measure of greatness, which would most likely seem not great to those who haven’t yet ascended this ladder. Those whose idea of greatness is control over others will naturally think that a person who is controlled is not great. Those who are obsessed with self-satisfaction will always think that those who have succumbed to amor must not be great. Those absorbed in acquiring knowledge and skill will think that those who are not pursuing knowledge and skill must not be great. And yet they will be wrong. The problem is their yardstick of greatness. They are using an inferior yardstick. But since it is better than a previous yardstick, hence, we can say that they are better than others. God’s greatness is known not by measuring against our chosen yardstick, but by progressing through a ladder of yardsticks in which the yardstick of greatness itself changes into something that seems not great to others.
People measuring God according to an inferior yardstick may say that Kṛṣṇa seems ordinary because (a) He is so small that He could not have created a gigantic universe, (b) He is so humble in front of His devotees that He could not be the all-powerful ruler of the universe, (c) that He is always hankering after love so He must not be the most self-satisfied, and (d) that He is conquered by His friends and girlfriends that He must not be knowledgeable and skilled.
Everybody measures according to their yardstick. They think that their yardstick is the best, but we can learn about the ladder of yardsticks. Kṛṣṇa can excel in all these yardsticks. But He finds excelling in the lower yardsticks boring. This is Kṛṣṇa’s greatness. He is not trying to be great according to so many other yardsticks because He finds those yardsticks boring. After rejecting all boring yardsticks, He has chosen to define Himself against the most interesting yardstick. Those who don’t know about the ladder of yardsticks think that Kṛṣṇa is not great, and that He cannot be God according to their yardstick. This is their foolishness because they don’t know that there are many superior yardsticks. Kṛṣṇa has rejected their yardstick, so it is not hard for Him to reject the measurement result based on that yardstick. The devotees of Kṛṣṇa also use Kṛṣṇa’s yardstick to measure themselves. They are not interested in becoming a king of the universe, free of the control of the imaginary self-deluding kings, self-satisfied, or knowledgeable, skilled, and independent. They are just happy talking about Him. They also want to hear others talking about Him. But if nobody is talking about Him, then they just talk about Him, listen to that sound, and forget about everything else because nothing else is comparable.