Dialogue About God

In 2013 I was asked to write a chapter for a book, which later failed to be included, but I'll provide it here for your enjoyment.  It summarized my understanding of God at that time, using a fictitious dialogue as a literary method.  It's certainly not perfect, but it I am surprised at how well it has held up over time.  I hope that others will derive some benefit from this inquiry.


Who am I ? How is this created ? Who is its creator ? Of what material is this made ? This is the way of inquiry.

~ Aparokshanubhuti verse 12 

by Adi Shankaracharya

Teacher:  It’s a good thing to know what you want.  As the Cheshire cat explained to Alice, if you don’t care where you are going “it doesn't matter which way you go.”  But if a person knows what they are aiming for, they can choose the most direct method of arriving there.  So what brings you here today?

Student:  I want to directly experience God.

T:  To the point, I like that.  Tell me how you would describe God?

S:  Well, God is absolute truth and absolute love.  He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient.  He is perfect; he is just, and he is the source of all creation.  Also, God is pure spirit, being immaterial.  I might be missing something, but those qualities seem to be generally accepted as belonging to God alone.

T:  Yes, those are consistent with most concepts of God I am familiar with.  Why do you want to experience God?  What do you hope to gain from such an experience?

S:  There is this nagging sense that something is missing.  By most standards I am successful enough.  I have a good career and a beautiful family.  I am not lacking for any material necessity, and in fact, I have a great many luxuries.  I feel loved by those around me, and even my health is good.  What else could be causing a feeling of incompleteness if not the absence of God-realization?  

T:  I understand, and I agree.  Happiness is elusive for most people, at least any that is lasting.  Allow me to ask you more about God.  Why do you believe God is the source of all there is?

S:  Life is basically cause and effect, but there must have been an original cause, an uncaused cause.  It seems reasonable that the prime mover that set the wheel in motion is God.

T:  Yes, that does seem reasonable.  If God is responsible for the universe as we know it, what did he use to produce it?  Let me ask that in a slightly different way.  If God created the world, what material did he use to create it?

S:  I’ve never really given that any thought.  I suppose God created the physical matter that constitutes everything?

T:  But didn’t you say that God was omnipresent?  

“...Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."

~ Gospel of Thomas

If God created something that is fundamentally other than himself, he could not be where it is.  If God is displaced even an inch, then he cannot be everywhere.

S:  I think I see what you are saying.  No two objects can occupy the same space, but I don’t know if this qualifies if God occupies a different plane outside of space.

T:  Perhaps God does transcend matter, but if God does not also occupy the same space as matter, he would still lack omnipresence.

S:  I suppose you are right.  Well, if God did not create something separate from himself, what does that leave?  Hmmm.  I would have to say the only possibility left is that God created the universe from himself.

T:  That does solve our problem.  If everything is created from God, then God would be everywhere.  Does it also answer the question of God’s omnipotence?

S:  If everything is God, then that would include all power, so whatever power is seen in the world or in people, that would be God as well.

T:  Is your understanding of God beginning to clarify?  If God is all there is, then his immanence explains his omnipresence and his omnipotence.  It would also explain other qualities you attributed to God such as omniscience, truth, love, justice, and perfection, as well as other unmentioned qualities such as aseity, holiness, providence, etc.  God is all knowing because he is all knowledge; he is truth because he is things just as they are; he is love because he accepts all things without exception; he is justice because all things follow his order; he is perfect because there is no other way for things to be.  All of this and more is quickly resolved in this light.  

S:  That is really beautiful and poetic, and it does bring some clarity.  However, it also raises even more questions, so maybe things aren’t that clear after all.  If rocks and trees and planets and stars are all God, then how is this really different from the view of an atheist?  Couldn’t we just substitute the word “God” for “Cosmos” and retain the same understanding of the world?

T:  You could say “God” is all there is or you could say the “universe” is all there is.  The only difference is vocabulary.  What is important is how you relate to that totality of experience.

S:  What do you mean exactly?  Are you talking about love or devotion?

T:  That is a part of it.  Think of all the random moments that were necessary for us to be talking here today.  If seemingly unimportant trivial events would have happened differently, your life could be completely different.  You might not be here in this room; you might not be in this city, you might not even be in this country.  You can look even further back to your parents or grandparents, to all the events in their lives.  Keep looking back to the rise and fall of nations.  Don’t stop there; look back to the formation of stars and planets.  If any of those events, which have nothing to do with you or your choices, would have been any different, we might not be talking right now.  If everything in this current moment is the result of millions of years of events that were beyond your control, then who is responsible for what is appearing to you right now?

S:  You are saying that everything that I experience comes to me from God?

T:  You could also say that the universe is delivering this very moment to you.  I like to think of it as God.  This is what I mean when I said that what is important is how you relate to it.  If you see that everything comes to you from God, you can know that it comes from a place of love, a place of perfection and order.  Accept the coming of each moment. 

S:  Don’t I have any choice whatsoever?  

T:  What comes to you is beyond your control, but how you respond to the present moment is your decision.  Choose wisely.  Once your choice has been made, know that the results are also beyond your control.

S:  I see, so I do have some say in the matter.

T:  I don’t want to mislead you.  As long as you feel some sense of volition, you must act as best you can, but if you keep inquiring, you will discover that not even this is the absolute truth.

S:  You really know how to pull the rug out, don’t you?  Why stop now?  Do I have the ability to choose or not?

T:  If everything is God, what is your body?

S:  If I extend this logic, that would mean my body is also God?

T:  And your mind?

S:  Also God.

T:  If both your body and mind are God, then who is doing the choosing and acting?

S:  The answer obviously seems to be God, but things do not feel that way.

T:  I can empathize with that.  Let’s revisit my first question.  I asked what you wanted, and you said “to directly experience God.”  If God is absolutely everything sensed and perceived, if God is actually that which does the sensing and perceiving, and if God is responsible for all action and the results of those actions, then how is it that you are not directly experiencing God all the time?

S:  Wow.  It feels like my concepts about God are both collapsing and expanded at the same time.  If this is true, then I am surrounded and immersed in love.  There would be no way to escape it.  Nothing would be as it seems.  This is a lovely thought, but I still don’t feel like it is my experience.  Also, if someone really believed this, why would they ever leave the couch?  It seems like you would never move a muscle since it’s all up to God.  

T:  I can see why you would ask these questions, but the fact that you have them only tells me that you still don’t fully understand.  Don’t be discouraged though; this is not always easy to see.  Now, if you wonder why someone who knows these things would continue to do anything other than eat potato chips and watch TV, I suggest you go home and try to just sit in one spot.  It may be easy at first, but over time, sitting will start to feel like work.  As more time passes, it will require more and more effort to be still.

S:  Yeah, I don’t have to try this to know what you are saying.  After doing anything long enough, you naturally want to do something else.

T:  It’s like we have already discussed.  It is not you that is acting.  It is God.  That is why you will not lose all motivation in life.  After seeing this, some people do lose motivation for a while, but it usually returns.  Motivation is a part of life, so it is a part of God.  Some have more than others, but we all have it to a degree.  

S:  Okay, but what about murder or theft?  Should we just watch injustice and hope God will tend to it?

T:  The appropriate thing to do is to surrender to God.

S:  Forgive me for saying so, but that sounds a bit like a spiritual cliche.  How do I even do that, and how does it help?

T:  It’s the only thing you can do, and even that is not your doing.  To surrender to God means to allow everything to be just as it is.

S:  You’re saying that if someone is trying to mug me, I should just let them?

T:  Maybe; it depends.

S:  Don’t start being cryptic with me now.

T:  Surrendering to God does not mean you just accept the negative aspects of life.  Remember, I said that God is the totality of experience.  That is what you must allow.  If you see someone being attacked, that is only part of the experience.  The other part might be your desire to help them.  You don’t accept one and reject the other.  You allow it all.  

S:  So I can still try to make the world a better place to live because that desire is also God, and the right attitude is to accept it.

T:  Yes.

S:  But what if my desire is to be the one hurting others.

T:  You can do that of course, but the desire of someone else will be to imprison you, or worse.  Even if you have such a desire, it might not be the only desire in your heart.  You may desire to strike someone, and at the same time, you may have a desire to turn the other cheek.  If you try to embrace one and refuse the other, it will only increase your suffering.  Accept them both; that is surrender.

S:  I still think I should resist things that are morally wrong.

T:  Fair enough, and I don’t disagree.  The desire to resist things must also be accepted.  Consider this; what are you actually resisting?

S:  I would be resisting things that are wrong, things that cause pain and suffering in others.

T:  Can you stop suffering that has already happened?

S:  No.

T:  Can you stop suffering that has not happened yet?

S:  You might prevent it, but you can not stop something that hasn’t happened.

T:  Right.  Now, can you stop suffering that is right here in this moment?

S:  I would think so; yes.

T:  How can you stop what is already here?  

S:  Oh, I see what you are driving at.  I can’t stop what is already here, but can’t I stop it from continuing?

T:  Perhaps, but what I want you to understand right now is that you cannot reject the present moment, at least not with any success.  When you surrender to God, you are allowing everything to be just as it is.  What other option is there?  This is not an action; it is an attitude.

S:  Yes, yes; this makes perfect sense.  It is only possible to reject the thought of past or future suffering, but I can not resist the present.  It is here whether I approve of it or not.  

T:  You are getting it.  Let’s take a moment to recap.  There is only God, and there is nothing that is not God.  This includes your body and mind, which means that God is the doer of all action.  This also means you are experiencing God at every moment.  Everything that comes to you is God and from God, both now and in the future.  We’ve come a long way, but something is still missing.

S:  It seems like this includes everything there is.  What could be missing?

T:  Before I answer that, let me clarify one other issue.  You said that God is immaterial, so how can a material world be created from an immaterial substance?

S:  That is true; God is spirit, and if the world is the same substance as God, then it too must be spirit.  Is that correct?

T:  The world is not as it seems.  It appears to be made of many distinct objects, but it is actually an inseparable whole.  What appears to be solid is actually no more dense than a daydream, even less so.

S:  If there is no separation, then why do I feel distinct and isolated from most everything else?

T:  Everything that has been said up to this point has been leading to this question.  The thing I alluded to earlier, the thing that is missing, is you.  

S:  Me?  I thought we addressed that with the body and mind also being God.

T:  You are not the body and mind; you are that to which the body and mind appears.  You are the subject that can never be the object.

I feel certain that you have been seeking for some time now; where have you looked for God up to this point?

S:  I first looked to religion.  I read sacred texts, prayed, and visited churches.  I really enjoyed all those things, but I still wasn’t completely satisfied.  I wanted to know God directly, and all that seemed very indirect.  That’s why I took up meditation.  I remember reading that the kingdom of God is within, so it only made sense that the king was there too.  I began to turn my attention inward, and it did provide me with a great sense of peace and connectedness.  However, no matter how wonderful the experience in meditation, it always ended.  I feel like I have been steadily moving in the right direction, but I don’t feel like I have arrived at the destination.

T:  So first you looked without, and then you looked within, a very natural progression.  This is the right direction.  If God is all there is, including your body and mind, and God is inside of you, then what are you?  What is this missing piece to which I have been referring?

S:  I feel like I’m facing a riddle of the Sphinx.  What is it that contains all things?  It’s consciousness; everything is within the scope of my awareness!

T:  Yes.  Your body and mind, along with all sensations and thoughts, appear to awareness.  Everything in the world that your senses report are known only by awareness.  All of this is inside of you because you are awareness.  Even God, which everything is, is inside of you.  Are the implications beginning to dawn?

S:  Yes, slowly, but yes.  It’s all falling into place.

T:  As you understand things now, tell me who and what you are.

S:  I am awareness.  God is everything I witness, and all that is in me.  Physicality is a myth, a make-believe.  Awareness, God, and all of creation are of the same essence, which is non-physical, just like a dream is immaterial and all the objects in the dream share the same substance.  This means there is no space, for dreams do not occupy space, nor does the apparent space within a dream exist.  There is nothing to create separation.  There is nothing that is not what I am.  You are right; I see it now.  There has never been any separation between myself and God, no separation at all!

T:  As you tug this string, the whole fabric falls apart.  The structure you once believed in crumbles, and what you are left with is just you as you are.  There is one last question.  If you are awareness, and everything is within you and nothing outside of you, does it even make sense to say everything is inside of you?

S:  What a clever question.  No, if there is no outside it doesn’t make sense to say there is an inside.  There is only awareness.  It doesn’t even make sense to say there is only awareness, if there is nothing else besides it.  I am only left with a sense of “I.”

T:  And that is enough.

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson