In an online poll of around two thousand American adults conducted a few years ago, ninety percent said they believe in God. Another poll revealed that more Protestants believe in God than do Catholics, followed by Jews.
While I don’t dispute the results of these polls, I suggest that the question “Do you believe in God?” is itself problematic. In other words, it’s not the issue that is in question, but it’s the question that’s at issue.
Pollsters should be asking, “Do you know God?” Belief implies something one can’t be sure of. We think or hope it exists. Knowing, on the other hand, implies a meeting of two entities. We don’t believe in the existence of our family members; we know they exist. They’re right there in front of us. There’s no question of belief when it comes to those in our midst.
Can we really know God as opposed to merely believing in Him? There are those who say we can. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is one such saintly person.
Prabhupada arrived in the U.S.A. in 1965 after traveling alone, at the age of sixty-nine, aboard a freighter from India. A couple of trunks with clothes, books, a typewriter, a few utensils, a few dollars, and a small bag of dry cereal were his sole possessions. The message he brought with him was that God doesn’t have to be some ambiguous entity totally removed from us—as if He were somewhere “out there”—but is in fact a very real eternal person whom we can know right here where we are now.
You may ask why we can’t see God if it’s true He’s right here right now. Prabhupada’s answer was that it’s a matter of qualification, and qualification is a matter of desire.
Prabhupada referred to the process of coming to know God as a science. Just as any scientific endeavor requires that a process be followed, so too with knowing God. It’s like this: When we’re very young we learned simple numbers and then arithmetic. Later we learned addition and subtraction, then multiplication and division. Later still we learned basic algebra, then intermediate algebra, then geometry and trigonometry. Only then are we able to learn calculus and other higher mathematics.
When it comes to being qualified to know God, we begin like little children. At first, our realizations are like those of a simple-minded child. But as we mature, we learn and realize higher spiritual truths; our knowledge of God progresses.
Consider this analogy: Knowledge of God is like electrical energy, and we’re like a light bulb. A twenty-five watt bulb can carry twenty-five watts of energy, and a hundred-watt bulb can carry a hundred watts. Just as each bulb is qualified to receive only a certain amount of energy, we are qualified to understand a certain amount of knowledge about God.
The most important qualification is the desire to know God. As that desire grows, so will our knowledge.
Prabhupada taught that knowledge of God includes knowledge of His personal form and of His energies. The personal form is an eternally youthful blue boy: Krishna.
Krishna displays His energies in three primary forms: the internal, the external, and the marginal. The pure spiritual nature is the internal energy, the material world is the external energy, and we spirit souls—the life within all living beings—are the marginal energy. We are referred to as marginal energy because we can exist within either the spiritual or the material world. Impersonal conceptions of God keep us within the material realm, whereas knowledge of God as a person qualifies us to return to the spiritual world.
We can know Krishna through His energies, including the material world. One who is qualified can see the personal form of God behind the impersonal material nature.
Krishna will allow us to know Him as much as we desire. We can know Him in His personal form, we can know Him as the incredibly bright effulgence emanating from His body, or we can know Him through the dull material energy that’s all around us in the form of sky, clouds, mountains, cities, and sidewalks.
We can progress to higher levels of perception. We’re on the lower rungs of a ladder. We look up and see more rungs to climb. The rungs seem to go on forever. But all we have to do is take the next step. Step up on the next rung, and then the next, and then the next.
We can be elevated to a higher spiritual level by following the process given in Prabhupada’s teachings. We’ll then become qualified to know Krishna personally. If we’re satisfied with knowing only impersonal aspects of Krishna, then that’s fine too, but then we shouldn’t complain. After all, it’s what we asked for.
—Thomas T. Klugh