Evolution of Gods
by J. Ajithkumar
The truth of evolution is absolute and it is universal. Evolutionary process is an uninterrupted phenomenon applicable to everything. Evolution is taking place every second in all living beings and because of that in the associated non-living environment too. Though God is everywhere at everytime, the concept of God is man-made and it has also undergone evolution. It is very interesting to analyse the different concepts of God and see how it has evolved over the ages into the level of Ishvar – the omnipresent and omnipotent energy that is devoid of any characteristics (nirguna) and hence beyond any man-made definition. In India the various community, caste and sectarian Gods have evolved over ages, sometimes even vying with one another and have eventually surrendered before the ultimate version of Ishvar. It is definitely difficult to think of something that is present in everything, but that is (and only that can be) what can answer all our questions convincingly and provide the much needed rational support for our faith of Hindu Sanatana Dharma (HSD).
Knowingly or unknowingly we all recognize the presence of God much before we begin to explore, study and attempt to define it. The same must be true among all living species. But we do not know how other species do it and what is the final outcome of their explorations? Man is just another living species (though many among us have lofty pretensions about our uniqueness and greatness) and our exploratory efforts about God also follow the same evolutionary path. From a mere individual feeling it develops into a collective feeling and continues to acquire the form and name of a community or tribal God. As the individuals evolve, their concepts too evolve and the community or tribal God(s) must also evolve into the perfectly logical concept of a universal God. And if it does not happen in any community or tribe, it is either due to the spiritual deficiency inherent in their pursuits or due to the take over of such spiritual pursuits by extraneous considerations.
Be it Asia, Africa or Europe, the early civilizations have always displayed their zealous enthusiasm for projecting a God or a set of Gods as part of their cultural symbols. The mighty Greek did it and almost all the numerous tribes in Arabia and Africa did this without fail. In India we had our own Gods for almost all communities and castes. This is part of a natural evolution process that concerns the need and definition of God. As individuals we need a God for our worship and we always tend to reach a consensus within a community. And once some collective Gods are established, it becomes rivalry between different Gods that signifies the victory of one tribe or community over others. This process has continued across continents and now we see many such tribal Gods dominating the world scene thanks to the economic and political strength of its supporters (or worshippers). This process will continue without any end until humanity exists.
While most of the civilizations content themselves with the sight of their God or Gods gaining primacy over others, a significant minority of humans have gone further and realized the ultimate truth in this process of Godly evolution. In India we have seen bitter rivalry between Shaivism Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism giving way to Advaitism, Dwaitism and Visishta-Advaitism first and finally accepting the ultimate truth as enunciated by Advaitism. It can be easily stated without an iota of doubt that the realization and recognition of Ishvar in every tangible and intangible part of this universe signifies the height of spiritual evolution that humans have achieved so far. And that remains the best realization that any human belonging to any community or tribe or caste or religion can ever achieve in his or her spiritual pursuits. Most of our inter-personal problems will disappear if this objective gains acceptance as our common target.
The lofty principle of Advaita is complex to comprehend for many and much more difficult to be put into practice. For most of us it will take years and years of effort to reach the level of raised divinity when we begin to see over the wall and start recognizing the divine presence in everything. It is widely believed that a Guru, someone who has already been on the other side of the wall, can guide us in easier ways to achieve the same. But this may not be a necessary condition to reach over the wall. There have been many born and self-made humans who have accomplished the feat. Ramana Maharshi and presently Mata Amritanandamayi are just two examples of the same. Having complete faith and close associations with such realized souls can definitely increase our chances of climbing the wall successfully. In short, climbing the wall is a must but it can be done in many ways. A ladder may not always be required to accomplish the feat.
It is quite interesting and baffling to note that the concept of Ishta Devata (personal god) underlines one of the easier methods of arriving at Advaita. Idol worship forms an integral part of this. In Hindu Sanatana Dharma (HSD) we often hear of the 330 million Gods that make up its pantheon. It is almost certain that this particular figure had come up when we had about 330 million humans in the entire world. The underlying principle is to have a personal god for each of us in the name and form we want. Each and every individual born (reborn and yet to be born) in this world is unique and so his or her method to search for the truth. The concept of personal gods gives such an ultimate liberty for each and every one of us to worship our own form for the one and only Ishvar which is present in all of us. And instead of worshipping one another we have the option to design (and define) our own version of God that symbolizes the ultimate reality ie. Ishvar.
Evolution of Gods must take place in all religious communities to usher in the new era of super humans as Swami Aurobindo had once envisaged. Only the realization that there is only one Ishvar and that it is present in everything can take us individually and collectively into a higher realm. Uncompromising fundamentalism and parochial religious beliefs can lead us only to our mutually assured destruction. Our current situation is akin to a semi lighted room with several individuals, several pieces of rope lying around and a single serpent let loose. We are all sighting the serpent in the piece of rope near to us and claiming it to be the real serpent. Seeing serpents in all the ropes and respecting each of them is not at all bad, provided it is with the full knowledge that there is only one serpent. But realizing the ultimate truth that both the concepts & realty of serpent & ropes are made up of the same Ishvar is Advaita that can give us the ultimate deliverance.