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Conceptions of God

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Main article: God

Conceptions of God can vary widely, despite the use of the same term for them all.

The God of monotheism, pantheism or panentheism, or the supreme deity of henotheistic religions, may be conceived of in various degrees of abstraction:

  • as a powerful, human-like, supernatural being, or as the deification of an esoteric, mystical or philosophical category;
  • the Ultimate, the summum bonum, the Absolute Infinite, the Transcendent, or Existence or Being itself;
  • the ground of being, the monistic substrate, that which we cannot understand, etc.

Monotheist conceptions of God appear in the Hellenistic period, out of predecessor concepts of monism (mostly in Eastern religions) and henotheism.

GENTA conceptions of God

GENTA believe in a universal spirit called GENTA and therefore GENTA offers no specific dogma. The nature of the Supreme Being is revealed personally through each individual as s/he becomes more conscious and spiritually aware. There exists a life energy or force (GENTA) beyond and within all.

Religion and Theology

Abrahamic conceptions of God

Judaism, Christianity and Islam see God as a being who created the world and who rules over the universe. God is usually held to have the following properties: holiness, justice, sovereignty, omnipotence, omniscience, benevolence, omnipresence, and immortality. It is also believed to be transcendent, meaning that God is outside space and time. Therefore, God is eternal and unable to be changed by earthly forces or anything else within its creation.

In the Abrahamic traditions there are many differences in how these properties are expressed. The importance placed upon those properties is often debated by each group. In the past, as well as modern times people have suggested each group is speaking of a different god.

God in Judaism

Mainstream Orthodox Judaism teaches that God is neither matter nor spirit. They teach that God is the creator of both, but is himself neither. They believe that there are two aspects of God: God himself, who in the end is unknowable, and the revealed aspect of God, his "light", which created the universe, preserves the universe, and interacts with mankind in a personal way. Over time, this view evolved into the belief that all of creation and all of existence was in fact God itself, and that we as humanity are unaware of our own inherent godliness and are grappling to come to terms with it. The standing view in Hasidism, currently, is that there is nothing in existence other than God - all being is God.[citation needed] Thus, it has become understood that God used God's self to form the universe. Rather than a contraction and the creation of something "other" in the void which God created, it is as though God punched a doughnut-hole in God's self and used the remaining "munchkin" to form all of creation

Kabbalistic definition of God

Mainstream Orthodox Judaism teaches that God is neither matter nor spirit. They teach that God is the creator of both, but is himself neither. But if God is so different from his creation, how can there be any interaction between the Creator and the created? This question prompted early Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) to envision two aspects of God, (a) God himself, who in the end is unknowable, and (b) the revealed aspect of God, His "light," which created the universe, preserves the universe, and interacts with mankind in a personal way. Kabbalists believe that these two aspects are not contradictory but complement one another, similar to a creation inside a person's mind.

This view has been developed further in Hasidic and anti-nomian circles, however. Kabbalah teaches that in order to create the physical universe, God "withdrew" His light, and created the universe within the space from which "He" contracted ("Zimzum"). It is taught in the Zohar that God, at the beginning of creation, shattered the כלים ("kaylim" or "vessels") of the ספירות ("sephiroth") scattering their fragments throughout the universe. (Controversial physicist-theologian Gerald Schroeder makes a correlation between this view and Big Bang theory in Genesis & The Big Bang.) The sephiroth — represented by the so-called עץ חיים ("Etz Hayim" or "Tree of Life") — are different vessels embodying various emanations of God's being. God shattered the vessels to hide His unity, allowing creation to seem separate.

With this in mind, the Kabbalist Isaac Luria, explained that all creation contained ניצוץ ("nitzutz" or "holy sparks") — the remnants and shards of the sephiroth/kaylim which God had shattered — and offered a theological purpose known as תיקון עולם ("Tikkun Olam" or "rectifying the world") which states that humanity's duty is to recognize the holy sparks inherent in all creation and to elevate them by performing מצוות ("mitzvot"), otherwise regarded as the fulfilment of Biblical obligations. Ultimately, this will reveal God's unity once again, but this time through our efforts. This work to perfect the world is the ultimate good that God bestows on mankind. This view gave rise to the concept of panentheism in Judaism: The notion that God is inherent in all things, and is corroborated by the Jewish principle בצלם אלוהים ("b'tzelem Elohim" or "in the image of God"), inferring that all humanity is created with God inherent. The concept derives from Genesis 9:6 (serving as a Biblical proof-text for the position), "For in the image of God He made man." Thus, suggested Luria, by doing mitzvoth directed towards our fellow human being, we recognize the nitzutz within them, and thus sanctify and elevate their inherent Godliness.

This notion is exemplified rather well by a Jewish nursery school song

Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere. Up, up, down, down, right, left, and all around. Here, there, and everywhere, is where He can be found.

Over time, this view evolved into the belief that all of creation and all of existence was in fact God itself, and that we as humanity are unaware of our own inherent Godliness and are grappling to come to terms with it. The standing view in neo-Hasidism, currently, is that there is nothing in existence other than God. I.e., all being is God. As it is stated in the ancient Kabbalistic incantation, אין עוד מילבדו ("Ain od milvado") — "There is nothing but God." Thus, it has become understood that God used God's self to form the universe. Rather than a contraction and the creation of something "other" in the void which God created, it is as though God punched a doughnut-hole in God's self and used the remaining "munchkin" to form all of creation.

This paradigm shift is well documented by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a Lubavitch Hasidic rabbi and founder of Jewish Renewal and its neo-Hasidic progeny, in his book Wrapped In A Holy Flame:[citation needed]

I'd like to say we are in the shift to the place where everything is God, pantheism. The understanding that has come from mysticism and from people on the cusp of periods moving from past to present, people talking about primary experience, is that the body and the soul cannot be separated. It shouldn't be that they should be fighting one another, that you have too get rid of one in order to get the other. We want Wholeness, a holistic understanding, now. I believe that people are moving from theism to pantheism. There are some who don't like the word pantheism, the idea that God is everything. They prefer the word panentheism, which means that God is in everything. I, however, don't think that the distinction is real. What was the objection that people had to pantheism, God is everything? "Are you going to tell me that the excrement of a dog is also God?" And the answer to this would be —"Yes." What is wrong with that? It is only from the human perspective that we see a difference between that and challah. On the sub molecular level, on the atomic level, they all look the same. And if you look from a galactic perspective, what difference is there between one and the other? So if "God is everything," why are you and I here? Because we are the appearance of God in this particular form. And God likes to appear in countless forms and experience countless lives. If you would have mentioned this point of view when theism was dominant, you might have been killed. The theists would complain, "What you are saying is that there are no differences anymore? Does that mean that everything is right, everything is kosher? Where are the differences?" And those are good questions. We are not so far advanced yet that we can explain all these things, but deep down, the deepest level of the pattern is that God is everything. So it's not that God created the world but that God became the world.

Another progenitor of neo-Hasidism, Rabbi Arthur Green, further describes the evolution of pantheistic thought in the Hasidic world, as well, in his book Seek My Face: A Jewish Mystical Theology. It is important to note that as in all Jewish Mysticism the refrain "those who know don't tell, and those who tell don't know is" is one of the foundations.

God in Christianity

Within Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity states that God is a single being that exists, simultaneously and eternally, as a perichoresis of three persons (personae, prosopa): Father (the Source, the Eternal Majesty); the Son (the eternal Logos or Word, human as Jesus of Nazareth); and the Holy Spirit (the Paraclete or advocate). Some people have illustrated this concept by saying that the Father, Son and Spirit are one yet distinct, in the same way that ice, steam and water are one, yet distinctly different from each other. Since the 4th Century AD, in both Eastern and Western Christianity, this doctrine has been stated as "One God in Three Persons", all three of whom, as distinct and co-eternal "persons" or "hypostases", share a single divine essence, being, or nature. Following Thomas Aquinas and others, the Son is described as eternally begotten by the Father. This generation does not imply a beginning for the Son or an inferior relationship with the Father. The Son is the perfect image of his Father, and is consubstantial with him. The Son returns that love, and that union between the two is the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Again, the Holy Spirit is consubstantial and co-equal with the Father and the Son. Thus God contemplates and loves himself, enjoying infinite and perfect beatitude within himself. This relationship between the other two persons is called procession. It should be noted that although the theology of the Trinity is accepted in most churches, there are theological differences, notably between Catholic and Orthodox thought on the procession of the Holy Spirit (see filioque). Many Christian communions do not accept the Trinitarian doctrine, at least not in its traditional form. Notable dissenting groups include the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christadelphians, Unitarians, Arians, and Adoptionists.

Islamic concept

Allah (Arabic: الله‎ allāh) is the Arabic word for "God", and is used by Arabic-speaking Muslims, Christians and Jews and Mizrahi Jews alike. Muslims consider God to be perfect, unique, eternal, self-sufficient, omnipotent and omniscient. He is said not to resemble any of his creations in any way. The Qur'an describes God as being fully aware of everything that happens in the universe, including private thoughts and feelings.

Muslims are not iconodules and this extends to all religious aspects (including any iconographic depiction other than in writing) so that it does not lead to idolatry. Instead, they focus on his 99 "names" that are stated in the Qur'an, the holy book of the Muslims. Nearly one third of the book is used describing God's attributes and actions. Also, "hadith qudsi" are special recorded sayings of Muhammad to Muslims where he quotes what God has taught him.


In Islam, God is the only real supreme being, the transcendent, all-powerful and all knowing Creator, Sustainer, Ordainer, and Judge of the universe[1][2] Islam puts a heavy emphasis on the conceptualization of God as strictly singular (tawhid).[3] He is unique (wahid) and inherently one (ahad), all-merciful and omnipotent.[4] According to the tradition of Islam there are 99 Names of God (al-asma al-husna lit. meaning: "The best names") each of which evoke a distinct characteristic of God.[5][6] All these names refer to Allah, the supreme and all-comprehensive divine name.[7] Among the 99 names of God, the most famous and most frequent of these names are "the Merciful" (al-rahman) and "the Compassionate" (al-rahim).[5][6]

The Qur'an teaches that God is merciful and just. Creation and ordering of the universe is seen as an act of prime mercy for which all creatures sing his glories and bear witness to his unity and lordship. According to the Islamic teachings, God is present everywhere without having incarnated in anything.[8] According to the Qur'an, "No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision. He is above all comprehension, yet is acquainted with all things" (Qur'an 6:103)[2]

God in Islam is not only majestic and sovereign, but also a personal God: According to the Qur'an, he is nearer to man than man's jugular vein. He responds to those in need or distress whenever they call him. Above all, he guides humanity to the right way, “the straight path.”[8]

Islam teaches that its God is the same god worshiped by the members of other Abrahamic religions such as Christianity and Judaism (29:46).[9]

Oneness of God

Oneness of God or Tawḥīd is the act of believing and affirming that God (Arabic: Allah) is one and unique (wāḥid). The Qur'an asserts the existence of a single and absolute truth that transcends the world; a unique and indivisible being who is independent of the entire creation.[10] According to the Qur'an:[10] "Say: He is God the Only; God the Indivisible; He gives not birth, nor is He begotten, and He is, in Himself, not dependent on anything" (Sura 112:1-4) Your Lord is utterly independent, All-Engineering. If he wills, he can expel you and replace you with others, just as he multiplied you from the seed of others" (Sura 5:133)

According to Vincent J. Cornell, the Qur'an also provides a monist image of God by describing the reality as a unified whole, with God being a single concept that would describe or ascribe all existing things:"He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward; He is the Knower of everything (Sura 57:3)"[10] Some Muslims have however vigorously criticized interpretations that would lead to a monist view of God for what they see as blurring the distinction between the creator and the creature, and its incompatibility with the radical monotheism of Islam. [11]

The indivisibility of God implies the indivisibility of God's sovereignty which in turn leads to the conception of universe as a just and coherent moral universe rather than an existential and moral chaos (as in polytheism). Similarly the Qur'an rejects the binary modes of thinking such as the idea of duality of God by arguing that both good and evil generate from God's creative act and that the evil forces have no power to create anything. God in Islam is a universal god rather than a local, tribal or parochial one; an absolute who integrates all affirmative values and brooks no evil. [12]

Tawhid constitutes the foremost article of the Muslim profession. [13] To attribute divinity to a created entity is the only unpardonable sin mentioned in the Qur'an. [12] Muslims believe that the entirety of the Islamic teaching rests on the principle of Tawhid. [14]

God's attributes

The Qur'an refers to the attributes of God as God's “most beautiful names” (see 7:180, 17:110, 20:8, 59:24). According to Gerhard Böwering, "They are traditionally enumerated as 99 in number to which is added as the highest name (al-ism al-aʿẓam), the supreme name of God, Allāh. The locus classicus for listing the divine names in the literature of qurʾānic commentary is 17:110, “Call upon God, or call upon the merciful; whichsoever you call upon, to him belong the most beautiful names,” and also 59:22-24, which includes a cluster of more than a dozen divine epithets." The "most beautiful names" of God include:

  • The Most Gracious
  • The Most Merciful
  • The Ever Forgiving
  • The Ever Providing
  • The Lord and Cherisher of the Worlds
  • The Self Subsisting (upon whom all creatures depend for sustenance)
  • The Eternal Lord (who never dies)
  • The Supremely Wise

Islamic theology makes a distinction between the attributes of God and the divine essence.

God's omniscience

The Qur'an describes God as being fully aware of everything that happens in the universe, including private thoughts and feelings, and asserts that nothing can be hidden from Allah:

In whatever business thou mayest be, and whatever portion thou mayest be reciting from the Qur'an,- and whatever deed ye (mankind) may be doing,- We are witnesses thereof when ye are deeply engrossed therein. Nor is hidden from thy Lord (so much as) the weight of an atom on the earth or in heaven. And not the least and not the greatest of these things but are recorded in a clear record.


Cross-religion comparison

Some western scholars have suggested that Muhammad used the term Allah in addressing both pagan Arabs and Jews or Christians in order to establish a common ground for the understanding of the name for God, a claim Gerhard Böwering says is doubtful. [15]

God in Islam vs God in pre-Islamic Arabian conceptions

In contrast with Pre-Islamic Arabian polytheism, God in Islam does not have associates and companions nor is there any kinship between God and jinn. [15] Pre-Islamic pagan Arabs believed in a blind, powerful, inexorable and insensible fate over which man had no control. This was replaced with the Islamic notion of a powerful but provident and merciful God.[16]

God in Islam vs God in Judaism

According to Francis Edwards Peters, "The Qur'an insists, Muslims believe, and historians affirm that Muhammad and his followers worship the same God as the Jews [see Qur'an 29:46]. The Quran's Allah is the same Creator God who covenanted with Abraham". Peters states that the Qur'an portrays Allah as both more powerful and more remote than Yahweh, and as a universal deity, unlike Yahweh who closely follows Israelites.[9] According to Encyclopedia Britannica (see also the following section for comparison between God's love in Islam and Christianity) [4]:

God, says the Qur'an, “loves those who do good,” and two passages in the Qur'an express a mutual love between God and man, but the Judeo-Christian precept to “love God with all thy heart” is nowhere formulated in Islam. The emphasis is rather on God's inscrutable sovereignty, to which one must abandon oneself. In essence, the “surrender to Allah” (Islam) is the religion itself.

God in Islam vs God in Christianity

Islam vigorously rejects the Christian belief that God is three persons in one substance (see Trinity). In Islamic conception of God, no intermediaries between God and the creation exists and God's presence is believed to be everywhere, and yet he is not incarnated in anything.[16]

The Christian West perceived Islam as a heathen religion during the first and second Crusade. Muhammad was viewed as a kind of demon or false god worshipped with Apollyon and Termangant in an unholy trinity.[17][18] The traditional view of Christianity however was that Muhammad's God is the same as the true God. Ludovico Marracci (1734), the confessor of Pope Innocent XI, states:[19]

That both Mohammed and those among his followers who are reckoned orthodox, had and continue to have just and true notions of God and his attributes (always excepting their obstinate and impious rejection of the Trinity), appears so plain from the Koran itself and all the Mohammaedan divines, that it would be loss of time to refute those who suppose the God of Mohammed to be different from the true God.

Numerous passages in the Old testament refer to God's love. A central theme in the New Testament is God's love in sending of Jesus. In Islam, God's love is shown through his signs and the creation of the earth where humans can live in moderate comfort. The standard Muslim invocation of God is 'the Compassionate, the Merciful'. Two of the "beautiful names" of God are 'the very loving' (wadud) and 'the constant Giver'(wahhāb). William Montgomery Watt holds that Christianity has however much more emphasis on God's active role as a shepherd who goes out to look for the lost sheep and rescuing it. On the other hand, Islam retains some hope for those who have gone astray. In Islam, Watt says, God has provided the opportunity for each community to attain the great success (i.e. the life in Heaven) by sending messengers or prophets to them. Islam has also developed a doctrine of intercession of Muhammad on the Last Day that would be received favorably, though the sinners might be punished for their sins either in this life or for a limited time in hell.[20]

Bahá'í concept

SEE ALSO: God in the Bahá'í Faith

Bahá'ís believe in a single, imperishable God, the creator of all things, including all the creatures and forces in the universe. [1] God is described as "a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty." [2] Though inaccessible directly, God is nevertheless seen as conscious of the events in this world, with a mind, will and purpose. Bahá'ís believe that God expresses this will at all times and in many ways, including through a series of divine messengers referred to as Manifestations of God or sometimes divine educators.[3] In expressing God's intent, these manifestations are seen to establish religion in the world. Bahá'í teachings state that God is too great for humans to fully comprehend, nor to create a complete and accurate image.[4] Bahá'u'lláh often refers to God by titles (e.g. the All-Powerful, or the All-Loving). Bahá'ís believe that this anthropomorphic description of God amounts to Bahá'u'lláh, in his capacity as God's manifestation, abstracting him in language that human beings can comprehend, since direct knowledge of the essence of God is believed impossible.[4]

Although human cultures and religions have different concepts of God and His nature, Bahá'ís believe that such varying views nevertheless refer to a single being. The differences between these religions are attributed to the varying cultural and developmental contexts in which the messages were propagated.[1] Bahá'ís regard the world's major (and many minor) religions as one single faith, revealed by God's manifestations progressively and in stages. No one message, and therefore no one religion can be, according to Bahá'í belief, considered essentially superior to another, though a more recent message may be considered more relevant to humanity's current spiritual, social, and developmental context. Bahá'ís regard most other religions as divinely inspired, though see them as having been superseded by Bahá'u'lláh's more recent revelation; Bahá'u'lláh in many places states that denying the validity of any of the previous legitimate religious founders is equivalent to denying all of them (including himself) and to denying God.

The oneness of God

Bahá'ís believe that there is one supernatural being, God, who has created all the creatures and forces in the universe;[1]God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfect; and that although people have different concepts of God and His nature, and call Him by different names, everyone is speaking of the same one Being. Bahá'u'lláh writes on this subject:

   All-praise to the unity of God, and all-honour to Him, the sovereign Lord, the incomparable and all-glorious Ruler of the universe, Who, out of utter nothingness, hath created the reality of all things, Who, from naught, hath brought into being the most refined and subtle elements of His creation, and Who, rescuing His creatures from the abasement of remoteness and the perils of ultimate extinction, hath received them into His kingdom of incorruptible glory. Nothing short of His all-encompassing grace, His all-pervading mercy, could have possibly achieved it.[5]

The Bahá'í teachings state that God is too great for humans to fully understand Him or to create an image of Him.[1] Even the attributes that Bahá'ís attribute to Him such as the All-Powerful, and the All-Loving are derived from limited human experiences of power, love, or justice. Bahá'u'lláh teaches that knowledge of God is limited to those attributes and qualities which are perceptible to us, and thus direct knowledge of God is not possible. Furthermore Bahá'u'lláh states that the knowledge of the attributes of God is revealed to humanity through the messengers he sends to humanity.[1]

   So perfect and comprehensive is His creation that no mind or heart, however keen or pure, can ever grasp the nature of the most insignificant of His creatures; much less fathom the mystery of Him Who is the Day Star of Truth, Who is the invisible and unknowable Essence...[6]
   As our knowledge of things, even of created and limited things, is knowledge of their qualities and not of their essence, how is it possible to comprehend in its essence the Divine Reality, which is unlimited? ... Knowing God, therefore, means the comprehension and the knowledge of His attributes, and not of His Reality. This knowledge of the attributes is also proportioned to the capacity and power of man; it is not absolute.[7]

At the same time the Bahá'í teachings talk about a personal God who is a personal being with a personality, including the capacity to reason and feel love; the Bahá'í teachings note that the idea of a personal God does not mean that God has a human or physical form. Shoghi Effendi writes:

   What is meant by personal God is a God Who is conscious of His creation, Who has a Mind, a Will, a Purpose, and not, as many scientists and materialists believe, an unconscious and determined force operating in the universe. Such conception of the Divine Being, as the Supreme and ever present Reality in the world, is not anthropomorphic, for it transcends all human limitations and forms, and does by no means attempt to define the essence of Divinity which is obviously beyond any human comprehension. To say that God is a personal Reality does not mean that He has a physical form, or does in any way resemble a human being. To entertain such belief would be sheer blasphemy.[8]

The Bahá'í teachings state that one can get closer to God through prayer, meditation, study of the holy writings, and service.[1] `Abdu'l-Bahá writes

Therefore, we learn that nearness to God is possible through devotion to Him, through entrance into the Kingdom and service to humanity; it is attained by unity with mankind and through loving-kindness to all; it is dependent upon investigation of truth, acquisition of praiseworthy virtues, service in the cause of universal peace and personal sanctification.[9]

Negative theology

Negative theology - also known as the Via Negativa (Latin for "Negative Way") and Apophatic theology - is a theology that attempts to describe God by negation, to speak of God only in terms of what may not be said about God.

In brief, the attempt is to gain and express knowledge of God by describing what God is not (apophasis), rather than by describing what God is. The apophatic tradition is often, though not always, allied with the approach of mysticism, which focuses on a spontaneous or cultivated individual experience of the divine reality beyond the realm of ordinary perception, an experience often unmediated by the structures of traditional organized religion or learned thought and behavior.

Some Jewish, Christian and Muslim Medieval philosophers, including Moses Maimonides and Pseudo-Dionysius, as well as many sages of other religions, developed what is termed as Apophatic Theology or the Via Negativa, the idea that one cannot posit attributes to God and can only be discussed by what God is not. For example, we cannot say that God "exists" in the usual sense of the term, because that term is human defined and God's qualities such as existence may not be accurately characterized by it. What we can safely say is that it cannot be proven empirically or otherwise that God is existent, therefore God is not non-existent. Likewise God's "wisdom" is of a fundamentally different kind from limited human perception. So we cannot use the word "wise" to describe God, because this implies he is wise in the way we usually describe humans being wise. However we can safely say that God is not ignorant. We should not say that God is One, because we may not truly understand his nature, but we can state that there is no multiplicity in God's being.

The reason that this theology was developed was because it was felt that ascribing positive characteristics to God would imply that God could be accurately described with terms that were used to describe human qualities and perceptions. As humans cannot truly comprehend what kind of wisdom an eternal transcendent being might have, or what infinity might be like, we cannot in fact know or characterize his true nature. It is beyond human ability and would only mislead people. The proponents of this theory often experienced meditation, which they viewed as the only effective way of having a personal relationship with God. It involved trying to reach beyond the words commonly used to describe him and his more ineffable characteristics, and to comprehend in a mystical manner the truths about him which could not be achieved through religious language. Thus many sages and saints of both monotheistic and other traditions described mystical trances, or raptures and stated they were unable to describe God or their visions fully.

Apophatic description of God

In negative theology, it is accepted that the Divine is ineffable, an abstract experience that can only be recognized - that is, human beings cannot describe the essence of God, and therefore all descriptions if attempted will be ultimately false and conceptualization should be avoided:

  • Neither existence nor nonexistence as we understand it applies to God, i.e., God is beyond existing or not existing. (One cannot say that God exists in the usual sense of the term; nor can we say that God is nonexistent.)
   * God is divinely simple. (One should not claim that God is one, or three, or any type of being. All that can be said is, whatever God is, divinity is not multiple independent beings.)
   * God is not ignorant. (One should not say that God is wise since that word arrogantly implies we know what "wisdom" means on a divine scale, whereas we only know what wisdom means to man.)
  • Likewise, God is not evil. (To say that God can be described by the word 'good' limits God to what good means to human beings.)
  • God is not a creation (but beyond this we do not know how God exists).
  • God is not conceptually definable in terms of space and location.
  • God is not conceptually confinable to assumptions based on time.

Even though the via negativa essentially rejects theological understanding as a path to God, some have sought to make it into an intellectual exercise, by describing God only in terms of what God is not. One problem noted with this approach, is that there seems to be no fixed basis on deciding what God is not.


Plato and Aristotle both have various references to the 'One' (Greek: To Hen), the ineffable God. Hesiod has in his creation ontology (see Theogony) that Chaos begot the Protogenoi: Eros, Gaia (Earth) and Tartarus, who begot Erebus (Darkness) and Nyx (Night). Chaos is also akin to anarchos. Plato repeats this ontology in Timaeus 40e, 41e. Plotinus advocated negative theology in his strand of Neoplatonism. From the Enneads: "Our thought cannot grasp the One as long as any other image remains active in the soul…To this end, you must set free your soul from all outward things and turn wholly within yourself, with no more leaning to what lies outside, and lay your mind bare of ideal forms, as before of the objects of sense, and forget even yourself, and so come within sight of that One."

In Islam

The Arabic term for "negative theology" is Lahoot Salbi, which is a "system of theology" or Nizaam Al Lahoot in Arabic. Different traditions/doctrine schools in Islam called Kalam schools (see Divisions of Islam) use different theological approaches or Nizaam Al Lahoot in approaching God or the ultimate reality. The Lahoot Salbi or "negative theology" involves the use of ta'til, which means "negation", and the followers of the Jahmiyyah school of Kalam, founded by Imam Jahm bin Safwan, are often called the Mu'attil, because they are frequent users of the ta'til methodology.

Most Salafi/Athari adherents reject this methodology because they believe in a literal anthropomorphic image of God, but the majority of orthodox Muslims, who are Ashari by Kalam use ta'til to some extent, if not completely. The Mu'tazili, which is another school of Kalam and puts great emphasis on the use of logic and rationality, borrowed their use of ta'til from the Jahmiyyah. The Sufis greatly depend on the use of ta'til in their spirituality, though they often also use cataphatic theology.

In Hinduism

Perhaps the most widespread use of Negative theology occurs in the Hindu scriptures, mainly the Upanishads, where Vedantic theologians speak of the nature of Brahman - Supreme Cosmic Spirit as beyond human comprehension. “Whenever we deny something unreal, is it in reference to something real”[Br. Sutra III.2.22].

The Taittiriya hymn speak of Brahman as 'one where the mind does not reach'. Yet the scriptures themselves speak of Brahman's positive aspect also such as - "Brahman is Bliss". The idea of using these contradictory descriptions is to show that the attributes of Brahman is "similar" to one experienced by mortals but not exactly the "same" in quality or quantity.

Negative theology figures in the Buddhist and Hindu polemics. The arguments go something like this - Is Brahman an object of experience? If so, how do you convey this experience to others who have not had a similar experience? The only way possible is to relate this "unique" experience to common experiences but explicitly negating their sameness.

The most famous expression of Negative theology in Upanishads is found in the chant, neti neti, meaning "not this, not this", or "neither this, nor that" . In Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, Yajnavalkya is questioned by his students on the nature of God. He states, "It is not this and it is not that" (neti, neti). Thus, God is not real as we are real, nor is He unreal. He is not living in the sense humans live, nor is he dead. He is not compassionate (as we use the term), nor is he uncompassionate. And so on. We can never truly define the Divine in words. In this sense, neti-neti is not a denial. Rather, it is an assertion that whatever the Divine may be, universally or personally, when we attempt to conceptualize or describe it, we limit our transcendent experience of "it."

In Buddhism

Most schools do admit negative definitions of nirvana, which is unconfined to time, space, or even existence and non-existence. In the Nikayas, the Buddhist canon of scriptures, Gautama Buddha is recorded as describing Nirvana in terms of what it is not: "There is, monks, an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated." (Udana VIII.3).

Anatta, understood as "not-Soul," is the core adjective that forms the basis for most of Buddhist negative dialectics, wherein the core message to point to the Absolute and the soul in Buddhism is to deny Subjectivity and spiritual reality to any and all phenomena. Such as: "Form is anatta (not-Soul,) feelings are anatta, so too are perceptions, experiences, and empirical consciousness." [SN 3.196].

Anatta as a nihilistic dogma is a relatively modern secular conception only, of what was in earliest Buddhism, the methodology of negating (neti neti) all objective attributes falsely seen as Self/Soul, but which were in fact not the Soul (anatta). “None of these (aggregates) are my Soul indeed,” the most common passage in Buddhism. No place in Sutta does the context of anatta forward or imply the negation, the denial of the Soul "most dear, the light, the only refuge" [SN 2.100, AN 4.97], but rather, instructs and illuminates to the unlearned what the Soul was not.

The anatta taught in the Nikayas has merely relative value, it is not an absolute one. It does not say simply that the Soul (atta, Atman) has no reality at all, but that ego-conceptions (the 5 aggregates), with which the unlearned man identifies himself, are not the Soul (anatta) and that is why one should grow beyond them, become detached from them and be liberated. Yet becoming attached to "detachment" continues to turn the wheel of samsara. Since this kind of anatta does not negate the Soul as such, but rather, ensnares it more deeply into the ego's attachment to desire, the root of all suffering. The concept of annata, then, denies cognitive reality to those ego-conceptions that constitute the non-self (anatta), yet at the same time sets up another conception of "self" based on the delusional pursuit of "non-self." In this way, both the conception of "self" and the pursuit of "non-self" reveal themselves to be of no ultimate value. Instead of nullifying the atta doctrine--the pursuit of the "non-self," by negation as it were, the doctrine of the "non-self" proves itself to be a Way illuminated by the darkness that results from all mental conceptions about "soul" and "non-soul" leading to Nothing, or to sunyata, the concept of the Void which "is" beyond conceptionns of presence and absence, beyond categorical thought, yet, like the Tao, remains inexhaustible and ever-present.

It is of course true that the Buddha denied the existence of the mere empirical “self” in the very meaning of “my-self” (this person so-and-so, namo-rupa, an-atta), one might say in accordance the Buddha frequently speaks of this Self, or Spirit (mahapurisha), and nowhere more clearly than in the too often repeated formula 'na me so atta’, “This/these are not my Soul” (na me so atta’= anatta/anatman), excluding body (rupa) and the components of empirical consciousness (vinnana/nama), a statement to which the words of Sankhara are peculiarly apposite.

The apophatic, or via negativa philosophical methodology is extremely common in earliest existing buddhist doctrine, the Nikayas.

In other Eastern traditions

Many other East Asian traditions present something very similar to the apophatic approach: for example, the Tao Te Ching, the source book of the Chinese Taoist tradition, asserts in its first statement: the Tao ("way" or "truth") that can be described is not the constant/true Tao.

In the Christian tradition

Both Judaism and Christianity are traditionally believed by their adherents to be based upon revelation. That is to say, that God positively inspired the writing of scripture, thus revealing something of Himself to mankind. This is especially important in Christianity, which teaches that the Logos (the Second Person of the Trinity) became incarnate. As a result, Christian theology tends toward positive statements about God, known as cataphatic theology.

At the same time, there are portions of scripture which are believed to articulate apophatic theology. For instance, God's appearance to Moses in the Burning Bush, and the ineffable Name of God (יהוה) which was revealed at that time. Another example is the theophany to Elijah, where God reveals Himself in a "still, small voice" (1 Kings 19:11-13). St. Paul's reference to the "Unknown God" in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 17:23) is sometimes pointed to as an apophatic statement. However, others will point to Paul's further explanation that he is going to make the unknown god known (Acts 17:23) as an instance of Paul's use of positive theology. Paul then goes on to describe God as Lord of heaven and earth, the one who made all nations and who is not far from each of us. Paul also used negative definitions to say that God is not served by human hands although this may be seen as a specific response to the human tendency to create psychological idols or shrines for the gods. In his First Epistle to Timothy, Paul argues that God is incomprehensible in His essence, "dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see" (1 Timothy 6:16). These and other such mystical examples in scripture underly apophatic theology.

Tertullian says, “That which is infinite is known only to itself. This it is which gives some notion of God, while yet beyond all our conceptions—our very incapacity of fully grasping Him affords us the idea of what He really is. He is presented to our minds in His transcendent greatness, as at once known and unknown.”[1]

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catechetical Homilies says: "For we explain not what God is but candidly confess that we have not exact knowledge concerning Him. For in what concerns God to confess our ignorance is the best knowledge."[2]

The Cappadocian Fathers of the 4th century said that they believed in God, but they did not believe that God exists in the same sense that everything else exists. That is to say, everything else that exists was created, but the Creator transcends even existence. The essence of God is completely unknowable; mankind can only know God through His energies.

Apophatic theology found its most influential expression in works such as those of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and Maximus the Confessor (Pseudo-Dionysius is quoted by Thomas Aquinas 1,760 times in his Summa Theologica).[3]

In contrast, making positive statements about the nature of God, which occurs in most Western forms of Christian theology, is sometimes called cataphatic theology. Eastern Christianity makes use of both apophatic and cataphatic theology. Adherents of the apophatic tradition in Christianity hold that, outside of directly-revealed knowledge through Scripture and Sacred Tradition (such as the Trinitarian nature of God), God in His essence is beyond the limits of what human beings (or even angels) can understand; He is transcendent in essence (ousia). Further knowledge must be sought in a direct experience of God or His indestructible energies through theoria (vision of God).[4][5] In Eastern Christianity, God is immanent in his hypostasis or existences.[6].

Negative theology played an important role early in the history of Christianity, for example, in the works of Clement of Alexandria. Three more theologians who emphasized the importance of negative theology to an orthodox understanding of God were Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, and Basil the Great. John of Damascus employed it when he wrote that positive statements about God reveal "not the nature, but the things around the nature." It continues to be prominent in Eastern Christianity (see Gregory Palamas). Apophatic statements are crucial to much modern theologians in Orthodox Christianity (see Vladimir Lossky, John Meyendorff, John S. Romanides and Georges Florovsky).

In Orthodox theology, apophatic theology is taught as superior to cataphatic theology.[7] This is expressed in the idea that mysticism is the expression of dogmatic theology par excellence.[8]

Negative theology has a place in the Western Christian tradition as well, although it is definitely much more of a counter-current to the prevailing positive or cataphatic traditions central to Western Christianity. For example, theologians like Meister Eckhart and St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz), mentioned above, exemplify some aspects of or tendencies towards the apophatic tradition in the West. The medieval work, The Cloud of Unknowing and St John's Dark Night of the Soul are particularly well-known in the West.

Mother Theresa's own spiritual struggles have correspondences in the apophatic tradition.

C. S. Lewis, in his book Miracles, advocates the use of negative theology when first thinking about God, in order to cleanse our minds of misconceptions. He goes on to say we must then refill our minds with the truth about God, untainted by mythology, bad analogies or false mind-pictures.

It should be noted that while negative theology is used in Christianity as a means of dispelling misconceptions about God, and of approaching Him beyond the limits of human reasoning, an uninformed or extreme negative theology can lead one outside the pale of Christianity. The Bible teaches emphatically that God exists, and speaks of God as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit. The Christian God has certain positive attributes, and Christians believe that these are knowable to men in some measure, if only in a limited way. Thus, Christians believe God is indeed good, but that His goodness is above and beyond our understanding of goodness and is thus only partially comprehensible to us.


In Gnosticism, the supreme being is thought of as lacking specific gender, qualities, or desire. See the Apocryphon of John.

In the Jewish tradition

In Jewish belief, God is defined as the Creator of the universe: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1:1); similarly, "I am God, I make all things" (Isaiah 44:24). God, as Creator, is by definition separate from the physical universe and thus exists outside of space and time. God is therefore absolutely different from anything else, and, as above, is in consequence held to be totally unknowable. It is for this reason that we cannot make any direct statements about God. (See Tzimtzum (צמצום): the notion that God "contracted" his infinite and indescribable essence in order to allow for a "conceptual space" in which a finite, independent world could exist.)

Alternatively, the construct of God incorporating all of reality is also offered in some schools of Jewish mysticism. Notably, in the Tanya (the Chabad Lubavitch book of wisdom), it is stated that to consider anything outside of God is tantamount to idolatry. [1] The paradox that this introduces is noted by Chabad thinkers (how can an entity be a creator of itself), but the resolution is considered outside of the potential realm of human understanding.

Bahya ibn Paquda shows that our inability to describe God is similarly related to the fact of His absolute unity. God, as the entity which is "truly One" (האחד האמת), must be free of properties and is thus unlike anything else and indescribable; see Divine simplicity. This idea is developed fully in later Jewish philosophy, especially in the thought of the medieval rationalists such as Maimonides and Samuel ibn Tibbon.

It is understood that although we cannot describe God directly (מצד עצמו) it is possible to describe Him indirectly via His attributes (תארים). The “negative attributes” (תארים שוללים) relate to God Himself, and specify what He is not. The “attributes of action” (תארים מצד פעולותיו), on the other hand, do not describe God directly, rather His interaction with creation [2]. Maimonides was perhaps the first Jewish Thinker to explicitly articulate this doctrine (see also Tanya Shaar Hayichud Vehaemunah Ch. 8): “God's existence is absolute and it includes no composition and we comprehend only the fact that He exists, not His essence. Consequently it is a false assumption to hold that He has any positive attribute... still less has He accidents (מקרה), which could be described by an attribute. Hence it is clear that He has no positive attribute whatever. The negative attributes are necessary to direct the mind to the truths which we must believe... When we say of this being, that it exists, we mean that its non-existence is impossible; it is living — it is not dead; is the first — its existence is not due to any cause; it has power, wisdom, and will — it is not feeble or ignorant; He is One — there are not more Gods than one… Every attribute predicated of God denotes either the quality of an action, or, when the attribute is intended to convey some idea of the Divine Being itself — and not of His actions — the negation of the opposite. (Guide for the Perplexed, 1:58) ”

In line with this formulation, attributes commonly used in describing God in Rabbinic literature, in fact refer to the "negative attributes" — omniscience, for example, refers to non-ignorance; omnipotence to non-impotence; unity to non-plurality, eternity to non-temporality. Examples of the “attributes of action” are God as Creator, Revealer, Redeemer, Mighty and Merciful [3]. Similarly, God’s perfection is generally considered an attribute of action. Joseph Albo (Ikkarim 2:24) points out that there are a number of attributes that fall under both categories simultaneously. Note that the various Names of God in Judaism, generally, correspond to the “attributes of action” — in that they represent God as he is known. The exceptions are the Tetragrammaton (Y-H-W-H) and the closely related "I Am the One I Am" (אהיה אשר אהיה — Exodus 3:13-14), both of which refer to God in his "negative attributes", as absolutely independent and uncreated; see further under "Names of God in Judaism".

Since two approaches are used to speak of God, there are times when these may conflict, giving rise to paradoxes in Jewish philosophy. In these cases, two descriptions of the same phenomenon appear contradictory, whereas, in fact, the difference is merely one of perspective: one description takes the viewpoint of the "attributes of action" and the other, of the "negative attributes". See the paradoxes described under free will, Divine simplicity and Tzimtzum.

God as unity or Trinity

Muslims, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses and a small fraction of other nominal Christians are unitarian monotheists. The vast majority of Christians have been and still are Trinitarian monotheists.

  • Trinitarian monotheists believe in one God that exists as three interdependent persons who share the same substance/essence; the Christian version of this is called the Trinity. The Hindu version Trimurti, differs from Christianity in holding that God has three aspects, though shown as anthropomorphs. Trinitarians hold that the three persons of God have the same purpose, holiness, and sovereignty, and therefore each can be worshipped as God, without violating the idea that there is only truly one God to which worship belongs. The Smarta denomination of Hinduism also hold that belief and believe that worship of any aspect of God is equivalent. Although not a perfect analogy, the other denominations of Hinduism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism would be considered unitarian monotheistic faiths.
  • Unitarian monotheists hold that there is only one entity of God. Some adherents of this position consider Trinitarianism to be a form of polytheism.
  • Ayyavazhi says Ayya Vaikundar is the unity of Ekam, Narayana and a human. (See:Ayyavazhi Trinity)
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church or commonly Mormons) as well as some denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement teach that there are three separate divine personages (i.e., beings) that comprise the Godhead. One of these personages is a spirit without a body referred to as the "Holy Ghost". The other two personages are beings with perfected or glorified (often called celestial) bodies referred to as Heavenly Father (or less commonly "Elohim") and his son, Jesus Christ. They believe that through the mercy of Jesus Christ and by following their religion's teachings, humans are eligible to become gods (sometimes phrased as "become like Heavenly Father") at some point after death and resurrection; this is also called Exaltation.
  • Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie is both God the Father and God the Son, made manifest in human flesh as the reincarnation of Jesus, while the Holy Spirit is seen to dwell within all believers (of Rastafari), and within all people (believed by some).
  • Hasidic Jews hold that there are ten Sefirot (emanations) of God. Each of these are more distinct than a characteristic, but less distinct than a separate personage.
  • Monism is the metaphysical position that all is of one essential essence, substance or energy. Monism can be inclusive of other interpretations of God.
  • Dualism is the idea of two, nearly equal divine entities, one being the good God, and the other being an evil god, or Satan. All beings are under the influence of one side, or the other, if they know it or not. Zoroastrianism is an example of dualism.


A view within Christianity that there were originally two beings in the Godhead, the Father and the Word that became the Son (Jesus the Christ). Binitarians normally believe that God is a family, currently consisting of the Father and the Son. Some binitarians believe that others will ultimately be born into that divine family. Hence, binitarians are nontrinitarian, but they are also not unitarian. Binitarians, like most unitarians and trinitarians, claim their views were held by the original New Testament Church. Unlike most unitarians and trinitarians who tend to identify themselves by those terms, binitarians normally do not refer to their belief in the duality of the Godhead, with the Son subordinate to the Father; they simply teach the Godhead in a manner that has been termed as binitarianism.

"The word "binitarian" is typically used by scholars and theologians as a contrast to a trinitarian theology: a theology of "two" in God rather than a theology of "three", and although some critics prefer to use the term ditheist or dualist instead of binitarian, those terms suggests that God is not one, yet binitarians believe that God is one family. It is accurate to offer the judgment that most commonly when someone speaks of a Christian "binitarian" theology the "two" in God are the Father and the Son... A substantial amount of recent scholarship has been devoted to exploring the implications of the fact that Jesus was worshipped by those first Jewish Christians, since in Judaism "worship" was limited to the worship of God" (Barnes M. Early Christian Binitarianism: the Father and the Holy Spirit. Early Christian Binitarianism - as read at NAPS 2001). Much of this recent scholarship has been the result of the translations of the Nag Hammadi and other ancient manuscripts that were not available when older scholarly texts (such as Wilhelm Bousset's[1] Kyrios Christos, 1913) were written.

MORE INFO: [Binitarianism]

Conception of God in Sikhism

he fundamental belief of Sikhism is that God exists, not merely as an idea or concept, but as a Real Entity, indescribable yet knowable and perceivable to anyone who is prepared to dedicate the time and energy to become perceptive to His/Her persona. The Gurus never spoke about proofs of the existence of God: For them He/She is too real and obvious to need any logical proof.

Guru Arjan, Nanak V, says, "'God is beyond colour and form, yet His/Her presence is clearly visible"' (GG, 74), and again, '"Nanak's Lord transcends the world as well as the scriptures of the east and the west, and yet He/She is clearly manifest'" (GG, 397).

In any case, knowledge of the ultimate Reality is not a matter for reason; it comes by revelation of the ultimate reality through "nadir" or grace and by "anubhava" or mystical experience. Says Guru Nanak, budhi pathi na paiai bahu chaturaiai bhai milai mani bhane which translates to "He/She is not accessible through intellect, or through mere scholarship or cleverness at argument; He/She is met, when He/She pleases, through devotion" (GG, 436).

Sikhism as a religion is uncompromisingly monotheistic. The Gurus have described God in numerous ways in their hymns included in the Guru Granth Sahib, but the oneness of the deity is consistently emphasized throughout. Briefly, God for the Sikhs as described in the Mool Mantar, the first passage in the Guru Granth Sahib and the basic formula of the faith is: ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥

Ik oankar satinamu karta purakhu nirbhau nirvairu akal murati ajuni saibhan gurprasadi translates to One Universal Creator God,The Name Is Truth,Creative Being Personified,No Fear,No Hatred,Image Of The Timeless One,Beyond Birth,Self Existent,By Guru's Grace. (GG. Pg 1)

Oankar is a variation of the mystic monosyllable Om (also known as anahata nada, the unstruck sound) first set forth in the Upanishads as the transcendent object of profound religious meditation.

Guru Nanak prefixed the numeral one (ik) to it making it "Ik Oankar" or "Ekankar" to stress GOD's oneness. GOD is named and known only through GOD's Own immanent nature. Almost all names are attributive. The only name which can be said to truly fit GOD's transcendent state is Sat or Satnam (Sanskrit 'satya' meaning TRUTH ), the changeless and timeless Reality. GOD is transcendent and all-pervasive at the same time. Transcendence and immanence are two aspects of the same single Supreme Reality. The Reality is immanent in the entire creation, but the creation as a whole fails to contain GOD fully. As says Guru Tegh Bahadur, Nanak IX, "He/She has himself spread out His/Her Own "maya" (worldly illusion) which He/She oversees; many different forms He/She assumes in many colours, yet He/She stays independent of all" (GG, 537).

God is Karta Purakh, the Creator-Being. He/She created the spatial-temporal universe not from some pre-existing physical element, but from His/Her own Self. Universe is His own emanation. It is not "maya" or illusion but is real (sat) because, as say Guru Arjan, “True is He/She and true is His/Her creation [because] all has emanated from God Himself” (GG 294). But God is not identical with the universe. The latter exists and is contained in Him/Her and not vice versa. God is immanent in the created world, but is not limited by it. “Many times He/She expands Himself/Herself into such worlds but He/She ever remains the same One Ekankar" (GG, 276). Even at one time "there are hundreds of thousands of skies and nether regions" (GG, 5). Included in Sach Khand (Realm of Truth), the figurative abode of God, there are countless regions and universes" (GG, 8). Creation is "His/Her sport which He/She witnesses, and when He/She rolls up the sport, He/She is His/Her sole Self again" (GG, 292). He/She is the Creator, Sustainer and the Destroyer.

What is the Creator's purpose in creating the universe? It is not for man to enquire or judge the purpose of His Creator. To quote Guru Arjan again, "The created cannot have a measure of the Creator; what He wills, O Nanak, happens" (GG, 285). For the Sikhs, the Creation is His pleasure and play "When the showman beat His drum, the whole creation came out to witness the show; and when He puts aside his disguise, He rejoices in His original solitude" (GG, 174, 291, 655, 736).

Purakh added to Karta in the Mool Mantar is the Punjabi form of Sanskrit purusa, which literally means, besides man, male or person, "the primeval man as the soul and original source of the universe; the personal and animating principle; the supreme Being or Soul of the universe." Purakh in Mool Mantar is, therefore, none other than God the Creator. The term has nothing to do with the purusa of the Sankhya school of Indian philosophy where it is the spirit as a passive spectator of prakriti or creative force.

That God is "nirbhau" (without fear) and "nirvair" (without rancour or enemy) is obvious enough as He has no "sarik" (rival). But the terms have other connotations, too. Nirbhau not only indicates fearlessness but also the absence of fearfulness. It also implies sovereignty and unquestioned exercise of Will. Similarly, nirvair implies, besides absence of enmity, the positive attributes of compassion and impartiality. Together the two terms mean that God loves His handiwork and is the Dispenser of impartial justice, dharam-niau. Guru Ram Das, Nanak IV, says: "Why should we be afraid, with the True One being the judge. True is the True One's justice" (GG, 84).

God is Akal Murat, the Eternal Being. The timelessness involved in the negative epithet akal has made it popular in Sikh tradition as one of the names of God, the Timeless One, as in Akal Purakh or in the slogan Sat Sri Akal (Satya Sri Akal). One of the most sacred shrines of the Sikhs is the Akal Takhat, the Eternal Throne, at Amritsar. Murat here does not mean form, figure, image or idol. Sikhism expressly forbids idolatry or image-worship in any form. God is called "Nirankar", the Formless One, although it is true that all forms are the manifestations of Nirankar. Bhai Gurdas, the earliest expounder and the copyist of the original recension of Guru Granth Sahib, says: "Nirankar akaru hari joti sarup anup dikhaia (The Formless One having created form manifested His wondrous refulgence" (Varan, XII. 17). Murat in the Mool Mantra, therefore, signifies verity or manifestation of the Timeless and Formless One.

God is Ajuni, Un-incarnated, and Saibhan (Sanskrit svayambhu), Self-existent. The Primal Creator Himself had no creator. He simply is, has ever been and shall ever be by Himself. Ajuni also affirms the Sikh rejection of the theory of divine incarnation. Guru Arjan says: "Man misdirected by false belief indulges in falsehood; God is free from birth and death. . . May that mouth be scorched which says that God is incarnated" (GG, 1136).

The Mool Mantar ends with gurprasadi, meaning thereby that realization of God comes through Guru's grace. "Guru" in Sikh theology appears in three different but allied connotations, viz. God, the ten Sikh Gurus, the enlightened ones and enlighteners, and the gur-shabad or Guru's utterances as preserved in the Guru Granth Sahib. Of God's grace, Gurus' instruction and guidance and the scriptural Shabad (Sanskrit, sabda, literally 'Word'), the first is the most important, because, as nothing happens without God's will or pleasure, His grace is essential to making a person inclined towards a desire and search for union with Him.

God in Sikhism is thus depicted in three distinct aspects, viz. God in Himself, God in relation to creation, and God in relation to man. God by himself is the one Ultimate, Transcendent Reality, Nirguna (without attributes), Timeless, Boundless, Formless, Ever-existent, Immutable, Ineffable, All-by Himself and even Unknowable in His entirety. The only nomenclatures that can rightly be applied to Him in this state of sunn (Sanskrit, sunya or void) are Brahman and Parbrahman (Sanskrit, Parbrahman) or the pronouns He and Thou. During a discourse with Siddhas, Hindu recluses, Guru Nanak in reply to a question as to where the Transcendent God was before the stage of creation replies, "To think of the Transcendent Lord in that state is to enter the realm of wonder. Even at that stage of sunn, he permeated all that Void" (GG, 940). This is the state of God's sunn samadhi, self-absorbed trance.

When it pleases God, He becomes sarguna (Sanskrit, saguna, with attributes) and manifests Himself in creation. He becomes immanent in His created universe, which is His own emanation, an aspect of Himself. As says Guru Amar Das, Nanak III, "This (so-called) poison, the world, that you see is God's picture; it is God's outline that we see" (GG, 922). Most names of God are His attributive, action-related signifiers, kirtam nam (GG, 1083) or karam nam (Dasam Granth, Jaap Sahib). God in the Sikh Scripture has been referred to by several names, picked from Indian and semitic traditions. He is called in terms of human relations as father, mother, brother, relation, friend, lover, beloved, husband. Other names, expressive of His supremacy, are thakur, prabhu, svami, sah, patsah, sahib, sain (Lord, Master). Some traditional names are ram, narayan, govind, gopal, allah, khuda. Even the negative terms such as nirankar, niranjan et al. are as much related to attributes as are the positive terms like data, datar, karta, kartar, dayal, kripal, qadir, karim, etc. Some terms peculiar to Sikhism are naam (literally name), sabad (literally word) and Vahiguru (literally Wondrous Master). While nam and sabad are mystical terms standing for the Divine manifestation and are used as substitute terms for the Supreme Being, Vahiguru is an ejaculatory phrase expressing awe, wonder and ecstatic joy of the worshipper as he comprehends the immenseness and grandeur of the Lord and His Creation.

Immanence or All-pervasiveness of God, however, does not limit or in any way affect His transcendence. He is Transcendent and Immanent at the same time. The Creation is His lila or cosmic play. He enjoys it, pervades it, yet Himself remains unattached. Guru Arjan describes Him in several hymns as "Unattached and Unentangled in the midst of all" (GG, 102, 294, 296); and "Amidst all, yet outside of all, free from love and hate" (GG, 784-85). Creation is His manifestation, but, being conditioned by space and time, it provides only a partial and imperfect glimpse of the Timeless and Boundless Supreme Being.

That God is both Transcendent and Immanent does not mean that these are two phases of God one following the other. God is One, and He is both nirguna and sarguna. "Nirguna sargunu hari hari mera, (God, my God is both with and without attributes)," sang Guru Arjan (GG, 98). Guru Amar Das also had said, "Nirguna sarguna ape soi (He Himself is with as well as without attributes) " (GG, 128). Transcendence and Immanence are two aspects of the same Supreme Reality.

The Creator also sustains His Creation compassionately and benevolently. "My Lord is ever Fresh and ever Bountiful" (GG, 660); "He is the eradicator of the pain and sorrow of the humble" (GG, 263-64). The universe is created, sustained and moved according to His hukam or Divine Will, and Divine purpose. "The inscrutable hukam is the source of all forms, all creatures. . . All are within the ambit of hukam; there is nothing outside of it." (GG, p. 1). Another principle that regulates the created beings is karma (actions, deeds). Simply stated, it is the law of cause and effect. The popular dictum "As one sows so shall one reap" is stressed again and again in the Guru Granth Sahib (GG, 134,176, 309, 316, 366, 706, 730).

The created world though real is not eternal. Whenever God desires, it merges back into His Timeless and Formless Self. Guru Gobind Singh calls this process of creation and dissolution udkarkh (Sanskrit, utkarsana) and akarkh (Sanskrit, akarsana), respectively: "Whenever you, O Creator, cause udkarkh (increase, expansion), the creation assumes the boundless body; whenever you effect akarkh (attraction, contraction), all corporeal existence merges in you" (Benati Chaupai). This process of creation and dissolution has been repeated God alone knows for how many times. A passage in the Sukhmani by Guru Arjan visualizes the infinite field of creation thus: Millions are the mines of life; millions the spheres;

Millions are the regions above; millions the regions below;

Millions are the species taking birth.

By diverse means does He spread Himself.

Again and again did He expand Himself thus,

But He ever remains the One Ekankar.

Countless creatures of various kinds

Come out of Him and are absorbed back.

None can know the limit of His Being;

He, the Lord, O Nanak! is all in all Himself. (GG. 275-76)

Man, although an infinitesimal part of God's creation, yet stands apart from it insofar as it is the only species blessed with reflection, moral sense and potentiality for understanding matters metaphysical. In Sikhism, human birth is both a special privilege for the soul and a rare chance for the realization of union with God. Man is lord of earth, as Guru Arjan says, "Of all the eight million and four hundred thousand species, God conferred superiority on man" (GG, 1075), and "All other species are your (man's) water-bearers; you have hegemony over this earth" (GG, 374). But Guru also reminds that "now that you (the soul) have got a human body, this is your turn to unite with God" (GG, 12, 378). Guru Nanak had warned, "Listen, listen to my advice, O my mind! only good deed shall endure, and there may not be another chance" (GG, 154). So, realization of God and a reunion of atma (soul) with paramatma (Supreme Soul, God) are the ultimate goals of human life. The achievement ultimately rests on nadar (God's grace), but man has to strive in order to deserve His grace. As a first step, he should have faith in and craving for the Lord. He should believe that God is near him, rather within his self, and not far away. He is to seek Him in his self.

Guru Nanak says: "Your beloved is close to you, O foolish bride! What are you searching outside?" (GG, 722), and Guru Amar Das reassures: "Recognize yourself, O mind! You are the light manifest. Rejoice in Guru's instruction that God is always with (in) you. If you recognize your Self, you shall know the Lord and shall get the knowledge of life and death" (GG, 441). The knowledge of the infinitesimal nature of his self when compared to the immenseness of God and His creation would instil humility in man and would rid him of his ego (a sense of I, my and mine) which is "the greatest malady man suffers from" (GG, 466, 589, 1258) and the arch-enemy of nam or path to God-Realization (GG, 560). Having surrendered his ego and having an intense desire to reach his goal (the realization of Reality), the seeker under Guru's instruction (gurmati) becomes a gurmukh or person looking guruward. He meditates upon nam or sabda, the Divine Word, while yet leading life as a householder, earning through honest labour, sharing his victuals with the needy, and performing self-abnegating deeds of service. Sikhism condemns ritualism. Worship of God in the Sikh way of life consists in reciting gurbani or holy texts and meditation on nam, solitary or in sangat or congregation, kirtan or singing of scriptural hymns in praise of God, and ardas or prayer in supplication.

Sikhism attributes to God

Below are the main qualities that Sikhism attributes to God:

  • Only God is worthy of worship and meditation at all times
  • He is the Creator,Sustainer but also the Destroyer
  • God is Compassionate and Kind
  • With His Grace, He comes to dwell within the mind and body

Blessing us with His Grace, the Kind and Compassionate All-powerful Lord comes to dwell within the mind and body. (Guru Granth Sahib Page 49)

  • He is merciful and wise

The Cherisher Lord is so very merciful and wise; He is compassionate to all. (Guru Granth Sahib Page 249)

  • He is the ultimate Protector of all beings

The Lord is kind and compassionate to all beings and creatures; His Protecting Hand is over all. (Guru Granth Sahib Page 300)

  • Only with His Will can pain, poverty, disease and hardships be removed from one's life.

O Nanak, God has been kind and compassionate; He has blessed me. Removing pain and poverty, He has blended me with Himself. ||8||5|| (Guru Granth Sahib Page 1311)

  • God is everywhere

Nanak is attuned to the Love of the Lord, whose Light pervades the entire Universe. (Guru Granth Sahib Page 49)

[edit] Bibliography

1. Sabadarth Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1959

2. Jodh Singh, Bhai, Gurmati Nirnaya. Amritsar, 1932

3. Pritam Singh, ed., Sikh Phalsaphe di Rup Rekhla. Amritsar, 1975

4. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944

5. Kapur Singh, Parasaraprasna. Amritsar, 1989

Above adapted from article By G. S. Talib

  • Concepts In Sikhism - Edited by Dr. Surinder Singh Sodhi

Conceptions of God in Hinduism

   See: Parmatma

Conceptions of God in Buddhism

   Main article: God in Buddhism

Buddhism is non-theistic; Gautama Buddha taught that there was no creator god and believed the more important issue was to bring beings out of suffering to liberation. Enlightened people are called Arhats or Buddha (e.g, the Buddha Sakyamuni), and are venerated. A bodhisattva is an altruistic being who has vowed to attain Buddhahood in order to help others reach enlightenment. Buddhism also teaches of the existence of the devas, heavenly beings who temporarily dwell in celestial states of great happiness but are not yet free from samsara, the cycle of reincarnations. Some Mahayana and Tantra Buddhist scriptures do express ideas that are extremely close to pantheism, with a cosmic Buddha (Adibuddha) being viewed as the sustaining Ground of all being - although this is very much a minority vision within Buddhism.

Esotericism and Hermeticism

Metaphysics and Philosophy

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