God is a person. He is not different from us in that regard, for He is an individual who has His own thoughts, words, and deeds. The nature of His actions are quite different and thus He is known as the great person, or maha-purusha. There are some, however, who choose to describe God in an impersonal manner. They don’t believe that God is an individual who creates everything based off His intelligence and desires. Rather, they take God to be an impersonal spirit, a sort of energy. Describing the Lord in this way is actually very difficult to do because it is the natural inclination of the living entity to believe in a personal God. Not only do impersonal descriptions fail to accurately convey the complete picture, but contemplating this form of the divine goes against the very fiber of our being.
Every person is religious, even if they don’t realize it. The only differences we see are in relation to the object of worship. The devotees of God worship the Supreme Lord at all times. They are not capable of performing a single action without seeing how it relates to the Lord. In the Vedic tradition, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, or the original form of God, is Lord Krishna. The Vedas are the oldest scriptures in existence, and when the word “Veda” is translated into English, it means knowledge. This knowledge is flawless in all respects, so it is not something that becomes nullified should a person choose not to believe in it. Facts are facts, regardless of whether we accept them or not. The law of gravity states that certain objects will fall at a certain rate depending on several factors. Whether or not we believe in this law is meaningless, for if we drop something out of a window, it will certainly fall.
The secularists even have a religion. They believe in a set of values and an ultimate aim of life. Their object of worship is matter. They want to gratify their senses to the fullest, thus they choose to associate with matter and derive pleasure from it. There are still others who don’t practice any religious faith seriously, but they still believe in God. This belief in God means that they take the Lord to be a person. Even someone who has no background in religious traditions and no education in religious philosophy has a tendency to believe in a personal God. In times of trouble, they will approach the Lord. “Oh please God, help me out. I don’t ask You for much. In fact, I never ask You for anything. If You grant me this one wish, I promise to never bother You again.” We might have prayed this way when we were children, or even as adults, while falling asleep at night.
This type of faith seems immature, but it gives us insight into the human psyche. We have an inherent connection with God which causes us to believe in Him. Whatever the method of our worship, we think of God in a personal way, a person who has a form. At this point, one may ask the question, “Where are you going with this? Of course God is a person, who would argue against that?” Well surprisingly enough, there is a large faction of transcendentalists coming out of India who believe that God is formless, that He is not a person. These philosophers refer to themselves as Vedantists because they study Vedanta. Veda means “knowledge” and anta means “end”, thus Vedanta means the end of knowledge, or the ultimate knowledge. Vedanta also refers to the famous Vedanta-sutras, which is a collection of insightful aphorisms penned by the famous sage, Vyasadeva, who was also a partial incarnation of Lord Krishna.
Devotees of God refer to the impersonalist philosophers as Mayavadis. This moniker is given because it accurately describes their belief system. Maya refers to the illusory energy which governs the material world and vada means a conclusion, hence Mayavada means that a person’s ultimate conclusion is that everything is maya, or false. The Vedas, which originated from Lord Krishna, as He so kindly points out in the Bhagavad-gita, inform us that the material world is a manifestation of God’s inferior energy. In order to understand this, we can simply look at the difference between matter and spirit. Spirit is the driving force for matter, because dull matter is incapable of doing anything on its own. Our own bodies are a great example of this. Our hands, legs, arms, etc. are all useless without a driving force within the body: the soul. Once the soul exits the body at the time of death, our hands, legs, arms, etc. all become useless. The body starts to rot and decay, thus proving the inferior nature of matter.
The entire material creation can be thought of as a larger version of our own bodies. There are seas, oceans, land masses, volcanoes, clouds, rain, etc. It appears that these things were all created on their own. They seem to operate independently, but in reality, God is the driving force behind everything in this creation. The material world is considered part of His inferior energy because everything here is temporary and destined for destruction. Spirit, on the other hand, is eternal. Even when we die, nothing happens to our soul. Nature can only harm our body, or matter, but it can never touch our soul.
Since matter is ultimately inferior, why do we associate with it? Why do we make the aim of our life the accumulation of as much material wealth, fame, and beauty as possible? The reason for this is that matter is governed by an energy known as maya. Maya is created by God and can be thought of as illusion. Since matter is inferior to spirit, the living entities would have no desire to associate with it. However, due to the influence of maya, the living entities become illusioned into thinking that matter will make them happy.
“Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and dissolution.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.6)
It is clearly stated many times in Vedic literature that God is above matter and that He is actually the creator of matter. Impersonalist philosophers, however, either don’t believe in these facts or they are unaware of them. They take everything in the material creation to be maya, even the devotional activities of living entities and the pastimes of the Supreme Lord.
“The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O son of Bharata.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.3)
The Vedas also refer to everything material and spiritual as Brahman, or an impersonal energy. Therefore the Mayavadis believe that the aim of life is to one day merge into this energy. By studying Vedanta and cancelling out all material activity, they hope to one day achieve samadhi, or perfect transcendental realization. The problem with this philosophy is that it ignores the creator of both spirit and matter: God.
The Mayavadi philosophy is dangerous for many reasons, the primary of which is that it propounds impersonalism on the authority of the Vedas. It is one thing for a person to preach atheism or some concocted religious system based on their own thoughts, but if they preach the same theories using the Vedas as evidence, it becomes very dangerous. It is never declared anywhere in the Vedas that God doesn’t exist. Even in the Vedanta-sutras, the Supreme Absolute Truth is described as having many features and performing many activities. More than anything else, the Mayavada philosophy is unnatural and very difficult to explain. For this reason, the Mayavadis make many references to scriptures of other religions.
The Vedas have, by far, the widest breadth of written philosophy and historical evidence of the existence of God. The Vedas also go into great detail about the constitutional position of the living entity and its relationship to the supreme soul, Lord Krishna. For devotees of God, these literatures are complete, or purna, in themselves because since they describe the activities of the complete person, Krishna, they thus naturally inherit His qualities. Devotees don’t need to read anything outside of the original Vedas, the Mahabharata, the major Puranas, and the Ramayana. In addition, many great saints have written their own books which expand on the teachings of the classic texts. These books expound on the same conclusions and truths as the classic Vedic texts, thus they are completely authorized. Any literary work that follows the conclusions of the Vedas can be thought of to be Vedic literature.
The Mayavadis, however, know that their philosophy is very flimsy. The only basis for their philosophy comes from the intentionally distorted interpretations of the Vedanta-sutras given by Shankaracharya. Aside from this, the Mayavada philosophy has no other authority. Due to this deficiency, its followers love to read the major Vedic texts and give bogus interpretations. They will comment on the Bhagavad-gita, Ramacharitamanasa, and Ramayana by explaining that the Supreme Absolute Truth is formless. Lord Krishna openly declares that He is God in the Bhagavad-gita, but the Mayavadis will say that Krishna is simply an elevated form of Brahman. “Krishna is not saying worship Me, but worship Brahman. We can all become as elevated as Krishna should we continue our study of Vedanta. We are all fragments of the complete impersonal whole; we just don’t realize it yet.”
The Mayavadis also love to make comparisons to other religious texts. They will comment on a particular verse found in the Gita, or some other great Vedic text, by comparing it to something from Greek mythology, the Bible, or some ordinary literary work. While other religious texts are certainly nice, the Vedic literatures don’t require this kind of interpretation. The meanings of the shlokas are quite evident to the devotees. One who learns the Vedic science from a pure devotee of Krishna certainly will never have a problem understanding anything in the Vedas, for the source of everything is Krishna, or God. If we understand everything in terms of its relationship to God, we will have perfect knowledge on all subjects.
The biggest crime committed by the impersonalists is that they rob people of the chance to have a beautiful, loving relationship with God. Krishna means one who is all-attractive, and this beauty is meant to please the devotees. Matter provides us fleeting happiness and ultimately leads to misery. Krishna is meant to be the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. Simply looking at His beautiful face is enough to grant liberation. Spiritual life means directly associating with Krishna, or one of His primary expansions, on one of the many spiritual planets.
The lesson here is that we should not try to take away God’s features. Krishna’s names, forms, and pastimes accurately describe His nature. These features help us to understand Him better, and those who understand God will never have to suffer in the material world again. Just like the Vedantists, the devotees also get liberation. Unlike those who merge into Brahman, devotees maintain their spiritual identity and get to enjoy the sweet transcendental mellows that come as a result of their service. God has always been and will always continue to be a person. Become His devotee and you will be happy.