On the Belief of the Hindus in God

Al Beruni, Reproduced below is Chapter II from the book "ALBERUNI's INDIA - An Account of the religion, philosophy, literature, geography, chronology, astronomy, customs, laws and astrology of India about AD 1030", Edited with notes & indices by Dr. Edward C. Sachau.

The nature of God

The belief of educated and uneducated people differs in every nation; for the former strive to conceive abstract ideas and to define general principles, whilst the latter do not beyond the apprehension of the senses, and are content with derived rules, without caring for details, especially in questions of religion and law, regarding which opinions and interests are divided.

The Hindus believe with regard to God that he is one, eternal, without beginning and end, acting by freewill, almighty, all-wise, living, giving life, ruling, preserving; one who in his sovereignty is unique, beyond all likeness and unlikeness, and that he does not resemble anything nor does anything resemble him. In order to illustrate this we shall produce some extracts from their literature, lest the reader should think that our account is nothing by hearsay.

Quotation from Patanjali

In the book of Patanjali the pupil asks:
"Who is the worshipped one, by the worship of whom blessing is obtained?"

The master says:
"It is he who, being eternal and unique, does not for his part stand in need of any human action for which he might give as a recompense either a blissful repose, which is hoped and longed for, or a troubled existence, which feared and dreaded. He is unattainable to thought, being sublime beyond all unlikeness which is abhorrent and all likeness which is sympathetic. He by His essence knows from all eternity. Knowledge, in the human sense of the term, has as its object that which was unknown before, while not knowing  does not at any time or in any condition apply to God."

Further the pupil speaks:
"Do you attribute to him other qualities besides those you have mentioned?"

The master says:
"He is height, absolute in the idea, not in space, for he is sublime beyond all existence in any space. He is the pure absolute good, longed for by every created being. He is the knowledge free from the defilement of forgetfulness and not-knowing."

The pupil speaks:
"Do you attribute to him speech or not?"

The master says:
"As he knows, he no doubt also speaks."

The pupil asks:
"If he speaks because he knows, what, then, is the difference between him and the knowing sages who have spoken of their knowing?"

The master says:
"The difference between them is time, for they have learned in time and spoken in time, after having been not-knowing and not-speaking. By speech they have transferred their knowledge to others. Therefore their speaking and acquiring knowledge take place in time. And as divine matters have no connection with time, God is knowing, speaking from eternity. It was he who spoke to Brahman, and to others of the first beings in different ways. On the one he bestowed a book; for the other he opened a door, a means of communicating with him; a third one he inspired so that he obtained by cogitation what God bestowed upon him."

The pupil asks:
"Whence has he this knowing?"

The master answers:
"His knowing is the same from all eternity, for ever and ever. As he has never been not-knowing, he is knowing of himself, having never acquired any knowledge which he did not possess before. He speaks in the Veda which he sent down upon Brahman:
" 'Praise and celebrate him who has spoken the Veda, and was before the Veda.' "

The pupil asks:
"How do you worship him to whom the perception of the senses cannot attain?"

The master says:
"His name proves his existence, for where there is a report there must be something to which it refers, and where there is a name there must be something which is named. He is hidden to the senses and unperceivable by them. However, the soul perceives him, and thought comprehends his qualities. This meditation is identical with worshipping him exclusively, and by practising it uninterruptedly beatitude is obtained."

In this way the Hindus express themselves in this very famous book.

Quotation from the book Gita

The following passage is taken from the book Gita, a part of the book Bharata, from the conversation between Vasudeva and Arjuna:-

"I am the universe, without a beginning by being born, or without an end by dying. I do not aim by whatever I do at any recompense. I do not specially belong to one class of beings to the exclusion of others, as if I were the friend of one and the enemy of others. I have given to each one in my creation what is sufficient for him in all his functions. Therefore whoever knows me in this capacity, and tries to become similar to me by keeping desire apart from his action, his fetters will be loosened, and he will easilt be saved and freed."

This passage reminds one of the definition of philosophy as the striving to become as much as possible similar to God.

Further, Vasudeva speaks in the same book:-
"It is desire which causes most men to take refuge with God for their wants. But if you examine their case closely, you will find that they are very far from having an accurate knowledge of him; for God is not apparent to every one, so that he might perceive him with his senses. Therefore they do not know him. Some of them do not pass beyond what their senses perceive; some pass beyond this, but stop at the knowledge of the laws of nature, without leaning that above them there is one who did not give birth nor was born, the essence of whose being has not been comprehended by the knowledge of any one, while his knowledge comprehends everything."

On the notions of the actions and the agent

The Hindus differ amongst themselves as to the definition of what is action. Some who make God the source of action consider him as the universal cause; for as the existence of the agents derives from him, he is the cause of the action, and in consequence it is his own action coming into existence through their intermediation. Others do not derive action from God, but from other sources, considering them as the particular causes which in the last instance - according to external observation - produce the action in question. 

Quotations from the book Samkhya

In the book Samkhya the devotee speaks:
"Has there been a difference of opinion about action and the agent, or not?"

The sage speaks:
"Some people say that the soul is not alive and the matter not living; that God, who is self-sufficing, is he who unites them and separates them from each other; that therefore in reality he himself is the agent. Action proceeds from him in such a way that he causes both the soul and the matter to move, like as that which is living and powerful moves that which is dead and weak.

"Others say that the union of action and the agent is effected by nature, and that such is the usual process in everything that increases and decreases.

"Others say the agent is the soul, because in the Veda it is said, 'Every being comes from Purusha.' According to others, the agent is time, for the world is tied to time as a sheep is tied to a strong cord, so that its motion depends upon whether the cord is drawn tight or slackened. Still others say that action is nothing but a recompense for something which has been done before.

"All these opinions are wrong. The truth is, that action entirely belongs to matter, for matter binds the soul, causes it to wander about in different shapes, and then sets it free. Therefore matter is the agent, all that belongs to matter helps it to accomplish action. But the soul is not an agent, because it is devoid of the different faculties."

Philosophical and vulgar notions about the nature of God

This is what educated people believe about God. They call him isvara, i.e. self-sufficing, beneficent, who gives without receiving. They consider the unity of God as absolute, but that everything beside God which may appear as a unity is really a plurality of things. The existence of God they consider as a real existence, because everything that exists exists through him. It is not impossible to think that the existing beings are not and that he is, but it is impossible to think that he is not and that they are.

If we now pass from the ideas of the educated people among the Hindus to those of the common people, we must first state that they present a great variety. Some of them are simply abominable, but similar errors also occur in other religions. Nay, even in Islam we must decidedly disapprove, e.g. of the anthropomorphic doctrines, the teachings of the Jabriyya sect, the prohibition of the discussion of religious topics, and such like. Every religious sentence destined for the people at large must be carefully worded, as the following example shows.

Some Hindu scholars calls God as a point, meaning to say thereby that the qualities of bodies do not apply to him. Now some educated man reads this and imagines, God is as small as a point, and he does not find out what the word point  in this sentence was really intended to express. He will not even stop with this offensive comparison, but will describe God as much larger, and will say, "He is twelve fingers long and ten fingers broad." Praise be to God, who is far above measure and number! Further, if an uneducated man hears what we have mentioned, that God comprehends the universe so that nothing is concealed from him, he will at once imagine that this comprehending is effected by means of eyesight; that eyesight is only possible by means of an eye, and that two eyes are better than one eye, and in consequence he will describe God as having a thousand eyes, meaning to describe his omniscience.

Similar hideous fictions are sometimes met with among the Hindus, especially among those castes who are not allowed to occupy themselves with Science, of whom we shall speak hereafter.





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