Image of God

One Hindu asked me, “You have mentioned that GOD or YAWEH is nirgun, but his manifestation called Mukthinath (Jesus) is sagun. How can a sagun manifestation come from a nirgun origin? The main purpose of Muktinath was to reveal his father. If this is so then Muktinath should have revealed his father as “being” in your terms.

I told him that in a sense, he was correct. That is why I always insist that when we use Indian terms, we have to qualify it bit giving our own (imagined) exegesis and hermeneutics.  Brahmabandab upadyyaya also in his famous song Vande Sachidanamdam says:

Pirtu svarupa chin maya rupa Sumukundam
(The Substance of the Father, Form of knowledge, our saving Friend.–Lipner’s translation)

As the Lord is the ‘icon’ (image) of the Father, not a mere reflection but sharing the co-essence with God, then a Saguna Lord cannot reflect a Nirguna God. But my understanding of Incarnation is that God, in order to communicate His divine Being (essence), has to limit Himself by taking birth through a physical body, in a particular time and place. And all our attempt to understand and experience God
through our Lord is possible through that act of Grace from God. However, I cannot claim that I can understand the Lord in His Fullness even as a Saguna point of view.

The saguna aspect of the Lord is from my (human) point of view and not what He is as Being (essence). If God can create everything out of nothing, He can, for my sake reveal Himself in Saguna form through the Lord. For me creation, God’s action in history, and Incarnation can be explained, experienced and communicated from our human point of view. Anything and everything that we talk about God is only from our human point of view. So even these two categories ‘nirguna’ and ‘saguna’ are irrelevant for God for what He IS. We use them to express our thoughts in human terms to communicate to others. Beyond that they are irrelevant to describe God.

A shishya approached his guru and requested him to explain about God. But the guru remained silence. The shishya repeated the question for the second and third time.  Then the guru said, ‘all these time I was explaining about God to you.  But you were not listening.’ (Sankara on Vedanta Sutra III.2.17). That is why in explaining about Brahman Upanishads use the word ‘neti, neti’ (not this, not this).

Tirunavkkarasar says, ‘one cannot be described as having this color, this form or even this is God’.


இவனிறைவன்என்றெழுதிக்காட்டொணாதே’—திருநாவுக்கரசர்—quoted by G. Varadarajan, Tiruvasagam, Chennai, Palaniappa Bros. Fourth Impression (1971), 1995, p. 14

1. The following points from Coomaraswamy will help us to understand further:

..It must be premised that the Supreme Identity (tad ekam) is not merely in itself ‘without duality’ (advaita), but when considered from another and external point of view is an identity of many different things. By this we do not mean only that a first unitary principle transcends the reciprocally related pairs of opposites (dvandvau) that can be distinguished on any level of reference as contraries or known as contradictories; but rather that the Supreme Identity, undetermined even by a first assumption of unity, subsumes in its infinity the whole of what can be implied or represented by the notions of the infinite and the finite, of which the former includes the latter, without reciprocity.  On the other hand, the finite cannot be excluded or isolated from or denied the infinite by hypothesis.  The Supreme Identity is, therefore, inevitably represented in our thought under two aspects, both of which are essential to the formation of any concept of totality secundum rem…..—“The Vedic Doctrine of ‘Silence’”, in Ananda K. Coomaraswamy Perception of The Vedas, edited by Vidya Nivas Misra, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the arts, New Delhi, Manohar, 2000. pp. 225-234, p. 225,