Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Things even God can't do!

Since the time of medieval Christian scholasticism there is a theological paradox known as the omnipotence paradox. The omnipotence paradox is usually phrased as follows: Can God create a stone so heavy that He cannot lift it?

The question stems from the medieval habit of thinking of infinite power as the ability to do anything. One finds this idea persisting today. Look up the expression, "God can do anything," (with quotes) in Google, and you will see over ten million hits.

Baba agrees that God is omnipotent — all powerful. Thus, it is only natural that some Baba lovers, if they were raised in the West, have mistakenly assumed that Baba means omnipotence in this thirteenth century medieval sense, the anthropomorphic ability to do anything. As I said, a Google search for this phrase yields ten million hits. "God can do anything." Yet, one will never find a single instance where Baba said it.

Why not?

First of all, let us back up. Consider the question of whether God can create a rock he can't lift. What kind of a question is this? What kind of a God might this refer to? I get a vision of some kind of alchemical backhoe — something that creates things out of thin air and then heaves them into the air. It is based on a very limited conception of God, even assuming that God and the rock are two different things. Impossible to discuss such a conception in Baba's terms.

It is a God who is "limited" to a single state of being, with specific static (thus limited) characteristics, that must be made consistent with characteristics that are unlimited and unstatic. The notion of God winds up producing paradoxes that can't be resolved. This will be clearer when it is explained what Baba says that resolves this problem by never producing the problem in the first place.

Baba describes God in terms of ten states — not one. If one studies the chapter "The Ten States of God" in Baba's book God Speaks, and then returns to his other words throughout that book and elsewhere, things begin to make a whole new kind of sense.

What does Baba mean by states? Baba here is referring most fundamentally to states of awareness. Baba tells us to consider a man who slowly wakes from sleep. He begins in a fully unconscious state of deep sleep (entirely unaware), passes slowly upward through a dream-state where he is semiconscious (partially aware), and finally wakes into full waking consciousness (fully aware). Yet all the while, in all three states, the man remains the same man. Similarly God passes through many states of consciousness in His process of evolution and realization, thus He is in stone consciousness (taking himself to be a stone, with almost nil consciousness), then bird consciousness (taking himself as a bird, with partial consciousness), then with full consciousness as a man or a woman, and finally this full consciousness turns towards Self — in Realization. Yet it is God who is the protagonist in all of these states.

God in His state of stone consciousness,
a phase of State Five in God Speaks 
Now, when Baba says that God is infinite, he defines this "infinite" as 'without limit' — not finite. Therefore, as God is without any limit of any kind, God cannot be limited to one state of existence and not another. For as God is, by definition, without limit, nothing can, by definition, displace God.

God's states thus encompass all. So when we discuss God's capability, we must consider all Ten States, not imagine Him in one. For God is not capable in His ant state (a sub-state of State Five) of what he is in his man state (State Six), and so on.

Thus can God, in Baba's full meaning, create a rock that he cannot lift? Most certainly God can do so, and, as paradoxical as it might at first seem, this does not violate his omnipotence in any way. For in State Three (as Creator, Preserver, Destroyer) God can create any sized rock or planet, but in State Five or Six (as an ant or a man) he cannot lift it.

For though God is limitless, there are states of God that are almost infinitely limited.

Baba says that God always was, always is, and always will be. He also says that nothing exists that is not God — meaning there literally is nothing that is beyond or apart from God. Even that which isn't (does not really exist), only takes on its apparent existence in the imagination of God, and thus is not "independent" of God. God alone is "independent," meaning God alone relies on nothing for His existence (God Speaks, 1997 ed. p. 264).

According to Baba, in God's original vacuum state, the very prospect of an original Whim is "inconceivable" (God Speaks, 1997 ed. pp. 162-63). In the state of stone, God is not capable of locomotion — or thought of any kind or even instinct. In the state of a man there is some power. And in the state of a sadguru, there is no limit to power. It is infinite power. He can create or destroy Universes, or God-realize every soul in Creation in the blink of an eye. Thus God is both limited and unlimited, and thus not limited even to his limitlessness, thus truly limitless. 

When a Perfect Master drops his gross, subtle, and mental bodies, he experiences Self (nirvakalpa samadhi), but without a gross physical form, there can be no experience of the Universe. He does not see the Nothing, but only the Everything. Note the word "cannot." There are profound metaphysical reasons for it.

However, if we add up all the ten states, there is almost nothing that God cannot do, and absolutely nothing that God is not. The emphasis is on the word "almost," although in the few exceptions we will now speak of, these are truly speaking only illusory limitations, caused by semantics  —  and give only the appearance of limit.

There are at least two things that God (in any State) can never ever possibly do — that if one preferred to speak of as such, could call a limit.
  1. God cannot not exist. 
  2. God cannot create another God. 
As explained, these are really not actual limitations, but statements that give the appearance of such. Let's explore each case, and see why.

1.  God cannot not exist.

The sentence fools its reader by including a double-negative (not not). We might say that a limitless entity can not not be limitless. But any logician can dispel the trick within the sentence, and show why it isn't really saying anything. In logic, as in multiplication, when there is a double-negative, the negatives cancel each other out and equal a positive. Thus restated more simply, the proposition becomes a positive one. X is not not P. After the double-negative is cancelled, this proposition reduces to X is P. Thus, to say "God can not not exist" is the same as saying "God can exist." And of course Meher Baba would not disagree with that. God does exist, thus God naturally can exist, which is proven by the fact that He does. 

2. God cannot create another God.

This second statement is equally a linguistic mirage. Again the problem is merely semantic. God is, for Meher Baba, defined in part as "without a second" (God Speaks, 1997 ed. p. 142). For Meher Baba, God is without limit, boundary, or border, i.e. without a second. Thus if there were a second God, then this second God would live beyond the bounds of the first God, and thus neither God (each being limited by a demarcation from something that It is not) would be God – by definition. Thus such a God that could create a second, that was not Itself, would not have been God in the first place, by Baba's definition. According to Baba, the very conception of a thing that can exist apart from something that is not it, is by definition not God. Thus not only would the God that was created not, by definition, be God, but the God that created it would not be either. 

Here is another reason that such a thing is not possible by Baba's definition. God is, for Baba, defined as always having existed. God always was, always is, and always will be (God Speaks, 1997 ed. p. 130). Thus if God were to create a second God, then there was an earlier time that this second God did not exist, and thus once again this would not be God by definition. The very appendage of the articles "a" and "the" to God (a god, the god), then, makes no sense in Baba's view.

Now if these two reasons were not enough why God cannot create another like Himself, we give one more. If God were to create a second God, then this second God would be dependent upon the first God for its having come into existence – and thus by Baba's definition would not be God. In fact, it is not possible for God to create anything apart from himself. For in the very act of doing so, such a creator would not be God, since, according to Meher Baba, God is all and in all (God Speaks, 1997 ed. p. 93).

Thus all such created God-notions amount to no more than abuse of speech, or, in the words of George Berkeley (for whom Berkeley Ca. was named) they are the result of people who "amuse themselves with words." ["Could men but forebear to amuse themselves with words, we should, I believe, come to an agreement on this point." A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, George Berkeley]

So, though one can concoct clever phrases that give an impression that God is not limitless, the appearance is illusory. However, to fully grasp what Baba means by God, one must be sure to understand the Ten States of God.

It is no great paradox that a conception of God that is, from its very conception, limited, bounded, and finite, cannot be shown by logic or reason to be infinite. The apparent paradox of the omnipotence paradox is actually only a mirror of the very limitation imposed on the traditional Western conception of God — as bounded and with a second, who is not all and not in all. 

Many Baba lovers have made an error, then, in reasoning that I have heard. It goes like this. If one mentions what limitations Baba said exist on Him in a particular state, the argument is:

Baba is God.
God can do anything!
Therefore, Baba can do anything.

This is not quite right. And there are two mistakes in it.

First, everyone is God. An ordinary man or a sparrow is God, yet it does not follow that (in that State) it can do anything.

Second, the Avatar, as with all Perfect Masters, according to Baba, ceases to remain in State Ten, in which both God and Illusion are experienced, when He drops His body, and enters into State VIII, where experience of only the Reality is enjoyed (God speaks, 1997 ed. p. 184).

The common error of repeating the often repeated phrase, "God can do anything," without considering the states of God as described by Meher Baba, is understandable. For, as I said, it appears 10,500,000 times in a search engine. But it is not quite true. Only in State X are all states contained, and thus God can do anything — except cease to be. This is the reason for the existence of the five Perfect Masters, in whom Baba, in a very real sense, eternally abides.
Things even God can't do

Download this essay as a free PDF file

For "The Ten States of God" by Meher Baba, see p. 159 of the 1997 print edition of God Speaks, or download Part 2 of God Speaks as a free PDF file here. The chapter comes first in the file.

See also God Speaks, 1973 print edition, pp. 3, 4:
"The soul that is conscious of Self [i.e. State 2B] is not conscious of the gross body, not conscious of the subtle body, and not conscious of the mental body. . . The soul that has experience of the Over-Soul does not experience the gross world, nor does it experience the subtle world, nor does it experience the mental world. That is, the soul that is conscious of Self and has experience of the Over-Soul is not conscious of the gross body, subtle body and mental body and does not experience the gross, subtle and mental spheres

1 comment:

  1. An analogous confusion exists concerning karma: if Baba is God (all powerful), then he can change karma (as represented in astrology, for example). But Baba has said why would he change what has been predestined as the instrument of suffering (all karma is suffering) by which one is free from suffering?

    God is indeed all powerful, but completely helpless.