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  1. How can God be unimaginable when He can be known through scripture, inference and experience? When God is known from inference and scripture, God cannot be said to be unknowable or unimaginable. It is also said that God is known by experience alone (Anubhvaikavedyaṃ Brahma). Experience is possible only in the case of known or knowable items. In view of this, how can we say that God is unimaginable? Swami replied: You have referred to ‘knowing’ God through inference, scripture or experience. But such ‘knowledge’ of God is only confined to knowing the existence of God. It does not mean knowing the nature of God. We experience the shock given by an electrified wire. With the shock, we have only experienced the existence of electricity and not the nature of electricity. Electricity is a stream of flowing electrons, which we have not experienced. From the shock that we experienced, we can infer that electricity must exist in the wire. We have not inferred the nature of the electricity. The testimony or ‘word’ of reliable persons, in the form of a written book also stands as an authority for knowing the existence of electricity. In the book, those reliable persons state that they too have inferred the existence of electricity by experiencing the shock. Again, they too have not experienced the nature of electricity. In this example, electricity stands for God and the shock is the miraculous knowledge which is experienced. Thus, scripture only expresses whatever can be known through inference. So, in the context of knowing God, there is no difference in the two authorities namely, scripture and inference. The Veda, which is the most ancient and most well-preserved scripture, says that only the existence of God can be experienced through inference (Astītyeva upalabdhavyaḥ). It further says that the one who says that he knows God, does not know anything about God while the one who says that he is unable to know anything about God except His existence, is the knower of God. The latter, at least, has that much correct information about God, that nothing other than His existence can be known (Yasyāmataṃ tasya matam, mataṃ yasya na veda saḥ). The Veda also says that we must remember that God is always unknown and unknowable and that we must forget the idea that God is known or knowable (Avijñātaṃ...). There are several Vedic statements which say that God is beyond words, beyond the mind, beyond intelligence and beyond logic. In short, we can conclude that God is unimaginable (Yato vāco..., Yo buddheḥ..., Naiṣā tarkeṇa..., Na medhayā..., Aśabdaṃ..., Atarkyaḥ...). He is said to be smaller than the smallest and bigger than the biggest simultaneously, which means that He is beyond the concept of volume or space (Aṇoraṇīyān...—Veda). He is the generator of space and hence, He is beyond space since space cannot exist in its generator before its generation. Any entity which is beyond space, must be unimaginable since we cannot even imagine such an entity. All these scriptural statements make it very clear that getting any knowledge of His nature is impossible and that it is only possible to get the knowledge of His existence. Let us consider the example of inferring the existence of the unseen fire on the mountain upon seeing smoke. Observe the following five statements: There must be fire on this mountain (Agnimānayaṃ parvataḥ). This statement is the final inference, which depends on the following statements. The reason is that I can see smoke rising from the mountain (Dhūmatvāt). This is the observation of smoke, which is the effect. Wherever one sees smoke, there must be fire. This statement is a generalization (Yatra yatra dhumaḥ tatra tatra vahniḥ iti vyāptiḥ). I have observed the link between smoke and fire in the kitchen (Yathā mahānase). The above generalization is based on this observation. Here, both the cause (fire) and the effect (smoke) are observed together. Fog looks like smoke but is not caused by fire. This is a case where the generalization given by Statement 3 fails (Bāṣpāmbudhūme avyāptiḥ). This example of inferring the existence of fire upon observing smoke is being compared to inferring God upon observing a miracle. In an inference, the unseen cause is inferred upon observing the effect (Liṅga parāmarśo anumānam). Here, it is important to note that, as per the fourth statement, it was possible to perceive fire, which is the cause. But in the case of God, it is impossible to perceive Him. When we perceive a miracle, which is an unimaginable event, we infer the existence of its unimaginable Cause (God). Here too, only the existence of the unimaginable Cause is known and not the nature of the Cause. If you say that the knowledge of the existence of the unimaginable nature itself is the knowledge of the nature of the unimaginable Cause, it is meaningless. Nothing of the nature of that Cause is even imagined by you since it is unimaginable. The existence of the cause of an unimaginable action can be inferred. But the nature of that Cause must also be unimaginable. An imaginable event is caused by an imaginable cause whereas an unimaginable event must be caused by an unimaginable Cause alone. Thus, analyzing the inference-authority from various angles, we conclude that only the existence of the unimaginable God can be known and not His nature. Opponent: You mentioned above that an unimaginable source is inferred to be the cause of an unimaginable effect while an imaginable source is inferred to be the cause of an imaginable effect. The world we see around us is knowable or, at least, imaginable. Based on the above logic, the cause or creator of this imaginable world (effect) must be an imaginable item. In other words, God must be imaginable. Swami: If your logic is to be accepted, the imaginable soul should be able to create at least an imaginable atom, if not the whole imaginable world. The imaginable pot-maker does produce the imaginable pot, but he creates it using the already-existing clay material and the rotating potter’s wheel, which is a tool. God-in-human form can miraculously create the same imaginable pot without either the clay or the wheel! This is the difference between an ordinary soul and the Human Incarnation of God. The Incarnation’s creation of the pot is unimaginable and the God present in the Incarnation is also unimaginable. The imaginable human form in the Incarnation is not the creator of the pot, which is created in this unimaginable way. A human being, whether it is an ordinary human being or the human being-component in an Incarnation, can only make the imaginable pot in the usual imaginable way using pre-existing clay and the potter’s wheel. But before the creation of the world, no part of the world existed. Hence, it is obvious that the world must have been created in an unimaginable way alone and not in an imaginable way. Therefore, the Source of the unimaginable miracle as well as the Creator of this imaginable world is one and the same unimaginable God. The imaginable inert energy is not that unimaginable Creator who created this imaginable world in an unimaginable way. The energy is inert. It is not intelligent to be able to design and plan this wonderful world. From the angle of planning and designing, we say that the unimaginable Creator who produced this imaginable world in an unimaginable way, is Unimaginable Awareness. Unimaginable Awareness does not mean the imaginable awareness that is produced in the course of the creation of the world. The awareness produced in the course of the evolution of the world is not unimaginable. It is completely imaginable. It is produced from the imaginable food, which, in turn, comes from imaginable plants (Oṣadhībhyo annaṃ annāt puruṣaḥ—Veda). This imaginable awareness is nothing but the imaginable inert energy functioning in a working nervous system. It is a work-form of the energy. The ‘work’, in this case, is the work of transmitting information from the senses to the brain. The inert energy is the essential ‘material’ that constitutes awareness. When both the ‘material’ which constitutes this awareness and its work, which is the process of knowing, are known, the awareness is altogether imaginable. But the energy gets converted into awareness only in a physical nervous system and not anywhere else. So, the pre-existence of both matter and energy are essential for the production of the imaginable awareness. Due to absence of both energy and matter before the creation of this world, we cannot have any knowledge at all about the ‘material’ which constitutes the Unimaginable Awareness. Even the process of knowing (work) is unknown in the case of Unimaginable Awareness. The only common point is that both the Unimaginable Awareness and the imaginable awareness are able to know. The final result of being able to know is qualitatively common between the two. But even in that result of being able to know, there is a lot of quantitative difference. The Unimaginable Awareness knows everything whereas the imaginable awareness knows very little. The commonality, which is the quality of knowing, is as thin as a hair, at best. The difference between the two is vast as well as fundamental. Apart from the huge quantitative difference between their abilities to know, the constituent material of one is imaginable whereas that of the other is unimaginable. This means that the imaginable and the unimaginable awarenesses are inherently or fundamentally different. The negligible hairline commonality between the two in that both are able to know, is only an associated quality and not an inherent quality. In terms of the inherent constituent materials of the two, there is not even this hairline-commonality. It is as if each of the two items has a small dust particle associated with them. Those two negligible dust particles are all that the two items have in common, while both items are inherently different. Those negligible dust particles, which they have in common, can never bring even a trace of monism between the two. The Gita says that the original unimaginable God (Parabrahman) is neither existent (Sat) nor non-existent (Asat). This statement is not mutually contradictory (Anādimat parambrahma, na sat tat nāsaducyate). It means that the unimaginable God is not existent in the same way as an imaginable item such as a pot is existent. The reason for the difference is that God is unimaginable whereas the pot is imaginable. God is not existent because, in God, the relative existence does not exist. At the same time, God is also not non-existent because His existence can be inferred through the experience of His miracles and miraculous knowledge. The absolute existence of God negates the idea that God is non-existent. On one hand, the Veda says that God is exisent because of His absolute existence (Sadeva somya...). On the other hand, the Veda also says that God is non-existent because the relative existence does not exist in Him (Asadvā idaṃ...).
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