God – Insubstantial and formless?

When I was a young boy, I looked up to the sky to see where God may be. I was then taught that God is unknowable; and so we pray to various deities. The deities are manifestations of God. Each deity represents one or more attributes of God or realms of human existence, eg. Pilleyar (Ganesha) as the God of Learning.

Each evening, before dinner, bathed and freshly dressed, we prayed to the deities hanging as pictures in a corner of a room curtained off as a prayer space. We went to the Ganesha temple regularly. We hoped for heavenly intervention with our studies, health, and survival in a foreign country. We accepted that there is only one God, the Creator of all that is. Our approach to God was through rituals performed by priests. Our priesthood does not control us.

From age 24, when I began to read about religion (and religions), I became aware of: religious belief as an innate human drive; the diversity of origins and the resulting religious institutions, some of which are unduly competitive and incomprehensively intolerant; but also of the two shared core beliefs of our great religious teachers (the rest of theology being dogma).

While hoping for a universal acceptance that we humans are co-created, and thereby bonded to one another morally (a vain hope, yet), I find that Hinduism, the only religion offering me an understanding of the place of humanity within a very complex cosmology, posits God as Consciousness – ever-existing and all –pervasive; and lacking both form and substance, while participating within all humans. All existence is also posited as cyclical (with cycles wrapping around smaller cycles), the largest cycle measuring 3.11trillion years!

Birth, growth and destruction apply to the Cosmos. (Sound familiar?) What is the meaning of all this? As I understand it, we arise from the Ocean of Consciousness (God?), and after many lifetimes of being polished morally, to return to that Ocean (God). This gives me meaning in existence, and an acceptance of the perturbations and sufferings that life on Earth inevitably entails – as we learn from significant experiences.

Life is indeed for learning, as said by Dr. Radhakrishnan, a former President of India.