There is a nice story in the book “Hindu Symbology and Other Essays” by Swami Swahanandaji of the Ramakrishna Order. There was a devotee of Divine Mother, who lived in Ramanathapuram in Tamilnadu in South India. His name was Veerai Kavi Rajendra. Once he decided to go alone on a pilgrimage to Kashi. His daughter also wanted to come. He and his wife persuaded her to stay back as the journey was long and difficult. He bid adieu to family and friends and started walking. When he had gone a mile, he saw his daughter running to him from the direction of his town. She told him that she insisted to her mother that she wanted to accompany her father, and finally her mother agreed. He too accepted. The father and daughter visited several places of pilgrimage on the way to Kashi. The daughter served her father in various ways like washing clothes, cooking food, fetching water, making bed, etc. After visiting various places of pilgrimage near Kasi, they started back. About one year from the day when they started, they were back at the outskirts of their town. The girl told the father that she will run ahead of him and tell the family that they were back. The father agreed. She ran ahead. When he reached the village, he was received with warmth by his family and friends. He enquired about everyone of his family and friends, except his daughter as she had accompanied him. In the evening his wife rebuked him, “Have you forgotten that we have a daughter? Having enquired about or talked to everyone you knew, you never even asked about our daughter from whom you were away for so long. The poor girl is feeling left out and is weeping.” He protested that she was with him all the year. This was a shock to the family. The daughter had been at home throughout the year. The devotee was moved to tears as he came to realize that the Divine Mother had accompanied and served him for a whole year in the form of his daughter.
There are numerous such incidents recorded in the lives of various saints and devotees. We can never ignore the possibility that the stranger travelling with us in a bus, or our mother who has come to serve tea, or the servant maid who has come to work in our house today, or the person making the unsolicited marketing call to our phone, or whoever, is actually God who is playing with us in the form of the actual person. We cannot ignore or despise any person with whom we interact in our day-to-day life. We need to treat everyone with dignity and behave as appropriate.
This does not mean that we should pamper everyone. As Sri Ramakrishna says, “Tiger is also God. But that does not mean you should go and hug it.” Give everyone and everything its due respect. Holy Mother says, “Even a broom cannot be thrown away carelessly. It has its role in the household. We have used it and we will need it later. It should be given its due respect.”
Going one step further, it is really God who has become everything and everyone. Even the “actual” person with whom we interact with, is in reality, God. It is God who appears to our mind and sense organs as the world. There are two ways in which this happens. If I ask a biologist what all living and dead things are made of, he would say “cells”. If I ask a chemist what the world of living and non-living things is made of, he would say “atoms and molecules”. If I ask a physicist what the world is made of, he would say “quarks and leptons” or something like that. Science is searching for that ultimate “one thing” out of which everything in the world is made of. Advaita Vedanta says that “one thing” is “God”, defined as “Existence, Consciousness, Bliss”. Thus “God” is the material cause of the world, as gold is the material cause of different ornaments. Also, God is the goldsmith, who is the conscious intelligence behind the world. Thus, we can safely say, “God came to my house today morning in the form of my servant maid and cleaned the floor.” We can say, “I drank God in the form of water.” We can say, “I slipped on God in the form of a banana peel and fell down.”
The world is God. God is not limited by the world. God appears as the world. He is infinitely more than the world. God is the only thing that exists, devoid of any features, changeless, eternal, homogeneous, partless, conscious and infinite. The world appears on God as the substratum, as in the dark, a rope appears as a snake. The apparent snake does not affect the rope, though there would be no appearance of the snake without the rope. As God is both the material and conscious cause, the appearance of world in God has much more role of God than in the case of the rope, where the conscious seer is different.
The first name of the Lord in the Vishnu Sahasranaama is “vishwa” – “world”. The first mantra of the Isha Upanisad starts with “ishaa vaasyam idam sarvam” – “God resides in everything in the world.” The second sutra of the Brahma Sutra says “janmaadi asya yatah” – “From, in and into (also by) whom the world has its origin, existence and dissolution”. The Bhagavad Gita has innumerable verses where the world is given as an appearance of God. Almost the entire chapters 7, 9, 10, 11, 12 are dedicated to this idea. Several verses in other chapters also convey this idea.
Thus, to the question, “Does God exist?”, we reply, “God alone exists.” To the question, “Can I see God?”, we reply, “Everything that you see is God only. It is only understanding and recognition that you need.”
Then what about the prophets, saints, incarnations, etc.? Though it is God who appears as everything, the manifestation is different in different objects and people. A saint manifests the divinity within him more than others. Knowing the real nature of God, the saint manifests the divinity by emotional non-dependence on any particular person, object or situation. Peacefulness, righteousness, compassion, humility, selflessness, gratefulness, etc. become natural traits of the person. All differences are only in the manifestation of the inherent divinity.
Conventional concepts of God as compassionate, omnipotent, etc. help us to start on the spiritual path by forming a personal relationship with God with a “personality”. As the devotee develops, his concept of God will evolve to a more impersonal one. Swami Vivekananda says, “It is good to be born in a church, but it is the worst possible fate to die in a church. It is good to be born in a sect, and the worst possible thing to die in a sect with sectarian ideas.” Finally everyone has to come to the idea, “God alone exists. Every thing is a transient appearance of God in that form.”