Feeling God’s presence

By Vraja Bihari Das- 28.6 2022

“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.”
– C.S. Lewis (1898-1963, British novelist and theologian)

“I want to feel God is present here, not just intellectually know that he exists. I want to be loved by God, not simply be aware that I need to love him.” If these thoughts ever came to your mind then read on…

Daksha was a sincere devotee of God who approached the Vindhya mountains and performed severe austerities and offered heart-felt prayers to God. His prayers-known as the Hamsa Guhya prayers (found in Srimad Bhagavatam 6.4.23-54) – and the Lord’s response to his petitions, reveals how we too could perceive God’s presence in our own lives.

Humility is the foundation

Daksha first expressed his inability to figure out God by his own powers. He begins with an honest confession that God is above the evidence of experimental knowledge, and we on the other hand are conditioned to accept this material world as everything.
In simple words, this means God is beyond our vision because our vision is material, and He is beyond matter.

It’s like using vernier calipers to test the chemical acidity or alkalinity, or using a microscope to read the dimension of an object. Each branch of knowledge has its own measuring instruments. Similarly to know God who is by definition spiritual or above matter, we need to seek spiritual instruments, and not merely our own material mind and intelligence. If someone diligently uses the microscope for hours, he still can’t figure out the acidity or measure the dimensions. Likewise we may speculate for years and still come nowhere near God. We could understand all the atoms of this universe; still God could remain inaccessible to us. We may travel at the speed of light or even the mind, yet come nowhere near God. And the reason is simple; He is not of the material dimension, while we seek His presence through our limited material abilities.

Daksha recognizes this inherent limitation in our attempts to know God and offers a graphic example to explain the point. One’s nose can perceive the fragrance of a flower but the flower cannot understand how the nose perceives it. In the same manner, God being the Supreme spiritual personality can control us but we can’t capture him with our tiny brains.

Matter cannot perceive spirit, but spirit can understand matter. For example a table cannot know its own nature or that of other tables, not to mention the nature of hand that perceives the table. We, the living entities are spiritual in nature and can know our body, life airs, senses and sense objects. Still we can’t perceive the omniscient and unlimited God by our senses because He is by definition situated above us, just as we are placed superior to our own hands and a table.

Does this mean our situation is hopeless and we can’t perceive Him at all? On the contrary this is a perfect platform to realize God. In recognizing our limitations we are setting the stage for Lord to descend to our hearts. Humility makes the heart soft, and if the soil is fertile, a seed can grow luxuriantly. Similarly the seed of love grows in a heart that accepts God’s supremacy and one’s own insignificance.

Paradoxically, it’s when humility becomes our second nature that we realize God is the closest person we have in our life. The Upanishads, through an analogy of two birds on the same branch, describe that the soul and God live together in the same heart. While one bird- the living entity- is busy eating the sweet and bitter fruits of this tree, the other bird- God- is witnessing its ordeal and waiting for the suffering bird to turn to him.

Even if your lover intimately embraces you in the privacy of your room, he or she isn’t as close to you as the Lord who’s right in your heart, witnessing everything you do, say and think. He’s just a moment’s thought away. But that thought is not material; it’s imbued with humility and sincere petition. It’s founded on an awareness of one’s insignificance in this cosmos. That ‘smallness’ is our strength; it helps us grow in our relationship with God.

Feeling ‘small’ helps us tune into God as He reveals Himself through a variety of ways. For example in a heart that’s humble and grateful, witnessing an act of kindness would instantly fill our consciousness with rich emotions. Or if you are on a sea shore and watching the sunset, it could mean nothing to you. But for one who’s ‘tuned in’ he’d see God’s presence, as the orange ebb envelops the sky. This is the beginning of God realization, also referred to as brahman realization in Vedic scriptures.

At this stage one learns to see God in his or her daily activities, and God becomes inseparable from one’s life. A humble devotee wouldn’t seek a life without God. Aiden Tozer said, “Trying to be happy without a sense of God’s presence is like trying to have a bright day without the sun”
Being ‘small’ sets the stage for the second key- receiving God’s love

‘Present’ to receive God’s love

Daksha further reveals that to receive God’s presence in our consciousness we need to dis identify with the mind. Presently for most people, the identity of the self is so intertwined with the mind that they are unable to see their existence as separate from the mind.
God’s complete realization happens when we go beyond the three stages of the mind.

The first level of mind’s existence is when we are awake and active. At this stage we perceive the world through our experience and remembrance. In Sanskrit this stage is called, ‘Jagruta’. The second stage is called ‘Svapna’ or dream condition where vision and remembrance exists in a subtle form, and the mind remains active. Our myriad experiences during the waking stage combine at night to give us a subtle experience. For example if one sees a mountain and gold when he’s awake, then at night, when he’s asleep, he could see a golden mountain in his dream. This is how the mind is active even during sleep.

However there is a third stage of the mind called ‘Susupti’ or deep sleep when the mind is inactive. That’s when one gives up the activities of thinking, feeling and willing. All mental speculation stops at this stage, and a person who achieves trance like state in his meditation practices is said to be in ‘Susupti’.
Realization of God in His formless, all pervading aspect or seeing Him in one’s own heart happens when one steadily evolves to a platform beyond the mind to the stage of Susupti, deep trance. Yet to fully realize God’s personal form and to have a loving reciprocation with Him we need to rise even beyond Susupti, to a stage called Vishuddha-sattva or Vasudeva-sattva, the stage of spiritual trance.

At this stage the senses and the mind have transcended matter completely, and have become spiritualized. This is when we connect to God. We reach this stage when we engage our senses in the service of the Lord and the senses and mind get purified by the contact with the Lord. This calls for being connected to God as well as putting our sincere efforts to connect to the Lord.

The best way to purify and spiritualize the senses is by chanting the holy names of God, Krishna.

Chanting the holy names of God
Daksha gives the example of extracting fire by chanting mantras. In the Vedic age, certain chants called the samidheni mantras when uttered by qualified priests, would invoke fire within wood. Similarly, he says if we chant the holy names of God, which are non-different from God, the love that lies dormant within our heart would awaken. The key element here is the attitude of service. In a proper mood when we chant the holy names we access God and receive His grace.

Therefore although the stage of spiritual trance seems a far distant away, the Lord has kindly made it easily accessible to us. In the Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna says that by practicing devotional service, where one engages his senses in the service of the Lord, he could attain full consciousness of God (18.65). Ordinarily whatever we think, act or do is material, but when we add the element of God’s holy names and remembrance of His activities, we enter a spiritual realm, and this purifies our material senses and helps us awaken to the platform of receiving God in our hearts.

Daksha further clarifies that God doesn’t have any material names but only spiritual. Material names cannot give us a spiritual experience but if some sounds do bring supra mundane experiences, then the spiritual veracity of these sounds is confirmed. For example Ajamila when faced with the agents of death chanted the name ‘Narayana’ and he attained spiritual vision and was liberated from his suffering condition. This means ‘Narayana’ is not an ordinary material name; rather it’s purely spiritual and has the potency to guarantee spiritual benefits to the chanter.

Despite chanting and worshipping the Lord’s deity form, one may still not experience a loving relationship with God. Then what?
That brings us to determination, the fourth principle of spiritual practice.

Daksha then reveals an important quality that every spiritual seeker must internalize, and that’s a determined effort to access Lord’s grace.
Determination assumes importance because the distractions on the path to God are many. As Thomas Merton put it beautifully, “Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him requires a lot of courage.”

Ironically, although God is closest to us, because we have disconnected ourselves from Him, we go far away from Him. For example God resides in the heart of all living entities, yet due to our aversion, we propagate various theories disputing His existence. It’s the same Lord in the heart who inspires people to agree and disagree with each other and come to a conclusion that He doesn’t have a form or He doesn’t exist in the first place. And interestingly all this happens under the watchful eye of the Lord in our heart.

He explains how different people imagine various forms of God. But just as air carries the aroma of a flower or dust, God too appears in various forms and imaginations of his worshipper. But Daksha fervently wishes to rise beyond these speculations, and he humbly seeks to access the personal form of the Lord. Thus he teaches us how we should be unwavering on the path and with determination seek the Lord’s personal audience. The famous American Christian preacher Aiden Tozer said, “The importance of coming into God’s presence is worth overcoming all obstacles along the way”

The results of offering these prayers are hope-giving. Daksha not only received a personal audience with the Lord, he also got a special recognition. Lord Vishnu who appeared before Daksha in His transcendental form said that He is very pleased with him and his prayers and activities are as pleasing to the Lord as the activities of Brahma, Shiva and Manus.

It’s important to note here that Daksha was not on the same level as Brahma, Shiva etc, yet the Lord reveals here that if someone is sincere, He doesn’t make any distinction amongst His devotees. An insignificant squirrel or a spider is as equal to the Lord as a powerful personality like Lord Brahma. As Guru Nanak said in the revered Sri Guru Granth Sahib, “Even kings and emperors with heaps of wealth and vast dominion cannot compare with an ant filled with the love of God”

Therefore these prayers reveal how with the right principles in place, we could access God’s grace and develop a personal relationship with Him.