Monday 9 March 2015

A Question on How God Changes

This is a question in response to a piece I wrote about a year ago and which can be found here.

Q. You said in an earlier piece that God grows but I don't see how God can change. Surely that undermines the whole idea of divine perfection and absoluteness. Only something relative can grow. Brahman cannot change. Please explain!

A.  You are, of course, quite correct to say that in the absolute sense God is always and forever complete and perfect, and nothing can be added to or taken away from Him. But through involvement in time and through creating self-conscious beings with a degree of freedom and individuality, there is a sense in which He grows or increases. This is something that can only happen in a world of change and becoming so you might say that the reason for this whole world of creation, us included, is precisely so that God may grow through self-expression. The religions which tend to emphasise the Absolute and pure being, and consequently downgrade the personal God, such as, in their different ways, Buddhism and advaita Vedanta, don’t properly appreciate the relevance of the relative and so have only half the truth. God is not just the absolute but the absolute and the relative together, always and equally, and any spiritual approach which ignores that is, in my view, incomplete. 

For many the idea that God could grow seems almost blasphemous, but might that not be because there is confusion between the two aspects of reality, namely being and becoming? Naturally the absolute cannot grow for if it could it would not be absolute, but the absolute is not all there is and its manifesting aspect, which is perfectly real just not absolutely so, can grow or, better put, become more. And that, as I say, is the whole point of creation and what gives it its joy and abundance. 
All of which means that God doesn't grow in His essence but can do through His expression or creativity.

You might reconcile the fact of the perfection of God with the idea that He changes (or grows) by saying that changelessness is a kind of limitation. And if God is infinite and unlimited then surely he cannot be restricted to changelessness. He must include the possibility of change too. And so God manifests or creates to become more; always complete but always moving on to greater levels of completion though this only relates to Him as He is in expression or active mode, but this creativity is an essential and fundamental part of the divine nature. 

I came to this way of thinking because I had to work out why I had an intuitive rejection of the Buddhist and rigid non-dualist point of view, and disagreed with all those who believe that reality is impersonal with the personal just an illusion to be transcended by the wise. For it seemed to me that the personal is the whole point of why there is something rather than nothing, and that God fully and equally encompasses both the absolute and the relative, both the impersonal and the personal, and there is no contradiction in that inclusive approach. Rather the contradiction lies in asserting that a purely impersonal reality could ever give rise to the personal. And if the impersonal is deemed to be the sole ground of reality with the personal somehow (how?) arising from that then to say that God is love is a meaningless statement instead of the fundamental truth which the Masters affirmed it to be.
 It's not enough to say that this statement is true in the relative world. If it's not true right down to the bedrock of existence then it's not true in any meaningful way at all.

So this is where I part company with those metaphysicians who tend to put logic above intuition and consequently see the relative (or activity) as lower than the absolute (or inactivity), and the personal as hierarchically inferior to the impersonal. I think we have to put them both on the same ontological footing, both equally necessary and equally intrinsic to the whole. Different, but both essential for completeness. For the truth is not in either/or but in both/and. Thus ultimate reality is not just one but two in one or maybe three in one as where there are two there must be three as in a and b and the relationship between them. Is this the Trinity?

But, setting aside all theoretical considerations about the nature of and relationship between personal and impersonal, I have the evidence of the Masters and their description of beings beyond them whom they referred to as higher Masters. This means that enlightenment cannot be an arrival at a point beyond which there is nothing higher. The transcending of the limitations of this world and duality as we understand it do not mean the end of spiritual evolution. The realisation of being does not mean the end of becoming. This continues, albeit in a higher cycle. For the Absolute simultaneously comprises both unity and differentiation, and union with it is but the beginning of ever deeper capacity for union that knows no end.

To sum up, then, I think a mistake made in advaita Vedanta and much Eastern metaphysics* in general is that the Impersonal is hierarchically superior to the Personal. How could the latter ever arise in any true sense unless it were somehow present in the Impersonal in the first place? And that suggests that the Impersonal isn’t really impersonal at all. Which has implications both for proper spiritual practice and for the idea we are considering here, namely that God can grow. He can do so because at the most fundamental level He includes both Absolute and Relative, both Impersonal and Personal, both changelessness and capacity for change. His nature is in both being and becoming, and there is never one without the other.

In conclusion, lest some readers see a contradiction between the statement here that reality includes both the impersonal and personal and the Master's oft-quoted injunction to forget the personal self, I should say that this is just a matter of different meanings for the same words. Forget the personal self means we must forget or die to the separate self to realise or merge with the Universal Self, but this does not mean that individual identity is lost. Rather it is transformed and made divine. Thus there is differentiation but no separation, and that is the secret to existence.

* Note:
Certainly not all. Kashmir Saivism has a much more nuanced and inclusive understanding of the nature of reality, manifest and unmanifest, than Sankara’s notion of Vedanta which may seem metaphysically and logically coherent but actually misses the crucial fact that reality is not being alone but being and becoming together. Also, Kashmir Saivism stresses the critical importance of grace, another concept missing in advaita which sees Brahman as totally inactive, and therefore stresses knowledge which in my view can never be sufficient to bring the soul to true enlightenment. That is always a matter of grace which comes when the soul gives itself back to its Maker.



Robert said...

"changelessness is a kind of limitation." Yes but so is the ability to change.
Your conclusion seems right. "[God] includes both Absolute and Relative, both Impersonal and Personal, both changelessness and capacity for change." Includes is the key word there. God includes change and the changeless but goes beyond it. It must always be remembered that you can't predicate adjectives to the essence of God. Saying God is love means there is some pre-existent category love which God must fit Himself into. That is a limitation. Something God does is loving because God did it. God defines what is love and what is hateful. God defines what is change and what is changeless. But God goes beyond these so we can't really speculate much as to what this all really means.

William Wildblood said...

Very true. Anything we can say about God is necessarily false or,at any rate, only partially true. He can't be limited by anything even His absoluteness.