“As the director of different kinds of clouds, Indra called for the samvartaka. This cloud is invited when there is a need to devastate the whole cosmic manifestation. The samvartaka was ordered by Indra to go over Vrindavana and inundate the whole area with an extensive flood.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 25)
Friend1: I know the debate between personalism and impersonalism when it comes to understanding the origin of everything, the Almighty, the Absolute Truth, God, if you will.
Friend2: Dvaita and advaita. Dualism and non-dualism. In some traditions that are rooted in the Vedas the terms are saguna and nirguna.
Friend1: With attributes and without attributes.
Friend2: Right. Basically, the version of God that you can see and the one that you can’t. Which one do you think is the original? That determines your ultimate conclusion, or vada. That’s why impersonalism is often referred to as Mayavada.
Friend1: Because the ultimate conclusion is that everything is maya.
Friend2: Including the saguna forms, i.e. the incarnations that appear in this world and others.
Friend1: I see. It’s not the main topic for today, but I’ve always wondered why there is so much confusion.
Friend2: As in why is there disagreement between the different schools?
Friend1: Exactly. Krishna explains everything pretty clearly in the Bhagavad-gita. Arjuna directly asks the question, which path of worship is better. Krishna doesn’t discount either one. He says the nirguna form is much harder to concentrate on. Saguna is better. Moreover, since a person is speaking the Bhagavad-gita, namely Shri Krishna, God is obviously not impersonal.
Friend2: I completely agree with you. There are some great comparisons to help explain. One is that illusion or shadows can only exist when there is some object that is real. If everything is maya, then something real must exist. The impersonal has to be based on the personal.
Friend1: I love that.
Friend2: Another comparison is to check-writing. You put down the monetary value in numeral form in one section. Just to prevent cheating, you also write out the word version of the same value. It’s much more difficult to alter that value.
Friend1: So nirguna is like the numeral? You can draw a simple line and turn a one into a seven or a zero into an eight.
Friend2: Yeah and the saguna is there to remove any doubt. Mayavada is popular because it’s so easy to cheat. You can just tell yourself that you are God and that everyone else is God.
Friend1: The old, “I’m okay, you’re okay,” philosophy.
Friend2: Yeah. Saguna is more difficult to accept, since there must be an acknowledged supreme being who is then to be worshiped.
Friend1: Okay, so there is personalism in God, but my question today relates to the world that we live in.
Friend2: Alright. What about it?
Friend1: Okay, I get that the spirit soul is different from the body. The difference between matter and spirit is consciousness. Even the tree has some consciousness, though it is greatly covered up due to the material elements that constitute the body.
Friend2: And you want to know if these elements are truly lacking life?
Friend1: I know that various deities are in charge of different aspects of the material creation. Even the earth is a goddess, Bhumi Devi. I think the best example to use for today’s discussion is Indra Deva.
Friend2: The king of the devas, or demigods.
Friend1: Yes. He is known for controlling the rain. He uses the thunderbolt as his weapon.
Friend2: And you want to know if he is real or just part of some mythological story meant to help people understand higher concepts?
Friend1: More or less. Listen, man has flown above the clouds. They didn’t find any demigods there. So much progress has been made in studying lightning. The famous Benjamin Franklin proposed the kite experiment to test whether lightning was indeed just electricity. The results were positive.
Friend2: Don’t forget that many religious people were upset at the ensuing invention: the lightning rod. There were leaders who said that God’s creation shouldn’t be messed with and that trying to control lightning was going against His wishes.
Friend1: One of the most ridiculous arguments ever proposed, I must say. I loved Franklin’s response. If the lightning rod were sinful, then so are the roof and the umbrella. After all, rain comes from God just like lightning does. Is it going against God’s wishes to seek shelter from the rain?
Friend2: Exactly. So let me guess. Your argument is that because of scientific research, we can say with certainty that the concept of demigods is a myth.
Friend1: You’re taking it to the extreme. I just want to know how there is personalism to the material elements. How do we know that there is a Vayu who controls the wind? How do we know that there is indeed a sun-god?
Friend2: Just because you discover something doesn’t mean you know its origins or the reason behind its properties.
Friend1: What do you mean?
Friend2: We’ve discovered that lightning is electricity. Great. But why does it strike? Okay, so there are certain parameters, other events in nature that combine to create the conditions where lightning may appear. But why do those events coordinate in such a way? Lightning is not randomly created, so why would it be randomly dispersed?
Friend1: So the basis of the counterargument is the lack of randomness with objects that have intelligence?
Friend2: Which objects of nature don’t have intelligence? We know that in a particular time of year there will be thunderstorms. That cannot be denied.
Friend1: Yes. There is one going on right now, as we speak. In a few hours it will be bright and sunny again.
Friend2: We know the science to these different events, but we don’t know anything about things pertaining to intelligence. You don’t have to necessarily believe in the concept of demigods fully, but you can’t deny that there is intelligence in the universe. That’s what an Indra is. He is the intelligent being behind a certain aspect of nature.
Friend1: But why can’t we see him?
Friend2: There are reasons for that. The lack of direct vision doesn’t invalidate the concept. The same Krishna who spoke the spotless wisdom that is the Bhagavad-gita saw Indra one time in Vrindavana. That incident is recorded in the Bhagavata Purana for future generations to consult.
Friend1: You mean the time he sent that devastating rainstorm to wipe out the residents of Vrindavana?
Friend2: Yes. The people didn’t think that it was a random occurrence. They were simple villagers, but they weren’t foolish enough to think that there is no meaning to the workings of nature. The other lesson is that as powerful as the demigods are, they can’t overcome those who are protected directly by the Supreme Lord. Krishna used a hill of all things to make an umbrella. That saved the people. Indra then apologized. We may not be able to see him today, but the effects are there all the same. Such miseries fall in the adhidaivika category. Even insurance policies mention these: acts of God.
Friend1: They are really acts of demigods.
Friend2: Exactly. And so the personal God, the Supreme Lord, Bhagavan – He can offer protection against even a great collection of material elements attacking at one time. All the more reason to take up devotional service through always chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Flying in sky the clouds behind,
Man there no demigods to find.
Indra and others then a myth,
Symbolic concept for spirits to lift?
Seen or not, intelligence in rainfall,
Through randomness never to fall.
Indra’s wrath Vrindavana saw directly,
Krishna thwarted with hill lifted deftly.