THE ESSENCE OF RELIGION

Kitaro Nishida

Religion is the relationship between God and human beings. We can think about God in various ways, but it is perhaps most appropriate to view God as the foundation of the universe; and by "human beings" I am referring to our individual consciousness. Various religions come into being in accordance with different ways of thinking about the relationship between God and humans. But what sort of relationship is the true religious relationship?

If we assume that the essences of God and humans differ fundamentally and that God is merely some sort of great power above and beyond us, then there is no true religious motive in our response to God. We might fear God and therefore follow God's commands, or we might curry favor with God and thereby seek happiness and benefit. These approaches are rooted in selfishness, and a mutual relationship between those with different natures cannot be established without an element of selfishness. William Robertson Smith stated that religion does not emerge from fear of an unknowable power but from loving reverence for a God who has a blood relationship with oneself. Religion is not an individual's optional relation with a supernatural power, but a communal relationship between members of a society and the power that maintains the peace and order of the society. At the base of all religions must be a relationship between God and humans in which they share the same nature-that is, a relationship like that between father and child. But for God and the human to share the same losses and gains and for God to save and protect us is not yet true religion. God must be the foundation of the universe and our own foundation as well. To take refuge in God is to take refuge in that foundation. God must also be the goal of the myriad things in the universe and therefore the goal of humans as well. Each person finds in God his or her own true goal. Just as the hands and feet are parts of the human, the human is a part of God. Our taking refuge in God seems in a certain -respect to be a loss of the self, but in another respect it is the way we find the self. Christ said, "He who finds his life shall lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it,"' (Matthew 10:39) and this is the purest form of religion.

The relationship between God and the human in true religion must be of this sort. We pray and offer thanks to God not for the sake of the self's existence, but for our return to God as the source of the self-and we are grateful for our retum to God. Moreover, God loves people not to give worldly happiness but to retum them to God. God is the source of life, and we live only in God. In this respect alone is religion filled with life and does the feeling of true piety arise. If we merely resign and entrust ourselves to God, then we have yet to rid ourselves of the scent of the self and to realize the heart of true piety. That one finds the true self in God might be seen as emphasizing the self, but this is actually the reason for abandoning the self and praising God.

I think it is a fundamental idea of all religions that God and humans have the same nature, that in God humans return to their origin, and that only what is based on these two points can be called true religion. Beginning with this idea, however, we can conceptualize various kinds of relationships between God and humans. We can conceive of God as a transcendent entity apart from the universe who controls the world-including people-from the outside. Or we can think of God as immanent and functioning within people, who are all parts of God. The former is theism, the latter is pantheism. It might be rational to think along the lines of pantheism, but many religious figures oppose that view, for to see God and nature as identical is to eliminate God's personal character. When the myriad things in the universe are regarded as variant forms of God, not only is the transcendence of God lost and God's majesty marred, but the objectionable problem of having to attribute the origin of evil to God also arises. Thinking about this carefully, however, we see that pantheistic thought does not necessarily have such flaws and that theistic thought is not necessarily without them. If we view God and the essential nature of reality as identical while also viewing the foundation of reality as spiritual, then we will not necessarily lose God's personal character. Additionally, no form of pantheism holds that individual things are God just as they are. In Spinoza's philosophy, for example, the myriad things in this world are modes of God.* Moreover, even in theism God's omniscience and omnipotence are not easily reconcilable with the existence of evil in the world; in fact, this problem plagued many medieval philosophers.

The idea of a transcendent God who controls the world from without not only conflicts with our reason but also falls short of the most profound religiosity. The only thing we can know to be the will of God is the laws of nature, and apart from these laws there is no divine revelation; of course, because God is unfathomable, what we know is perhaps only one part of God. Though we might assume a revelation apart from the laws of nature, we cannot know it; and if we assume that revelation opposes the laws of nature, then God involves a contradiction. People believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ because his life exhibits the deepest truth of human life. Our God must be the internal unifying power of the universe, which orders heaven and earth and nurtures the myriad things in them; apart from this power there is no God. If we say that God is personal, then at the base of reality we ascertain significance that involves personality. Otherwise, what we speak of as supernatural is either based on a historical legend or our own subjective fancy. It is moreover by directly seeing God at the base of nature and at the base of the self that we can feel God's infinite warmth and attain to the essence of religion, which is to live in God. The sense of true reverence and love for God can emerge only from living in God. Love means that two personalities have merged and become one, and reverence arises when a partial personality faces a perfect one. Reverence and love must be based on a unity of personality.

The feelings of love and reverence arise not only between people but also in one's own consciousness. Because our mutually divergent consciousness of today and yesterday possess the same center of consciousness, they are filled with feelings of self-reverence and self-love; likewise, the reason we revere and love God must be that we possess the same foundation as God and that our spirit is a part of God's consciousness. Even though God and humans have the same foundation of spirit, they can of course be regarded as independent in the same way that the minds of two people with the same thought are independent. This approach, however, makes temporal and spatial distinctions in spirit just as we do between physical bodies. In the case of spirit, whatever has the same foundation is the same spirit. We can view our consciousness, which changes from day to day, as always being the same spirit because it always possesses the same unity; in the same way, our spirit must be identical to God. The statement that we live in God is, then, not simply a metaphor but a fact. (In a commentary on John 17:21, even Bishop Wescott stated that the unity of believers is not merely a moral unity in terms of such factors as goal-emotion but a vital unity in the sense of life unity.)

The most profound religion is thus established upon the unity of God and humans, and the true meaning of religion is found in grasping the significance of this unity, in breaking beyond one's own consciousness and experiencing the lofty universal spirit that functions at the base of consciousness. Faith should not be bestowed from without by a legend or theory-it should be cultivated from within. As Jakob Boehme said, we arrive at God through the deepest internal birth.* In this internal rebirth we see God directly and believe in God, and at the same time we find our true life and feel infinite power. Faith is not mere knowledge, but an intuition and a vital force in the above sense. One unifying power functions at the base of all our mental activity, and we call it our self or personality. Subjective things such as desires as well as highly objective things such as knowledge take on the color of this unifying force, the personality of each person. Both knowledge and desire are established by this power.

Faith is thus a unifying power that transcends knowledge. It is not that faith is supported by knowledge and the will, but that knowledge and the will are supported by faith. In this sense, faith is mystical. But to say that faith is mystical does not mean that it is contrary to knowledge, for faith that conflicts with knowledge cannot become the basis of life. If we exhaust our intellect and will, then we will acquire from within a faith we cannot lose.

I have argued that nature and spirit are not two completely different kinds of reality. The distinction between them results from differing ways of looking at one and the same reality. Anyone who deeply comprehends nature discerns a spiritual unity at its base. Moreover, complete, true spirit is united with nature; only one reality exists in the universe. And, as I said before, this sole reality is both infinite opposition and conflict and infinite unity. It is an independent, self-fulfilled, infinite activity. We call the base of this infinite activity God. God is not something that transcends reality, God is the base of reality. God is that which dissolves the distinction between subjectivity and objectivity and unites spirit and nature.

Regardless of the historical age or the cultural group, everyone has a word for "God." Due to differences in the level of knowledge and the diversity of demands, the word is interpreted in a variety of ways. Most people of religion conceive of God as something like a great human who stands outside the universe and controls it. This notion of God is extremely infantile, and it not only conflicts with present-day learning and knowledge but in the religious sphere falls short of being something with which we humans can achieve intimate unity in our

hearts. At the same time, however, I cannot follow the lead of hard-core scientists these days and argue that matter is the only reality and that material force is the basis of the universe. As previously stated, there is a fundamental spiritual principle at the base of reality, and this principle is God. This idea accords with the fundamental truth of Indian religion: Atman and Brahman are identical.* God is the great spirit of the universe.

Since long ago, there have been many attempts to prove the existence of God. Some people argue that because this world could not have begun from nothing it must have been created by something, namely, God. Thus relying on the law of causality, such people consider -God to be the cause of the world. Others hold that this world does not exist by accident, that it is in all respects something with meaning, organized with a certain fixed goal; they then infer that something gave this organization to the world and conclude by claiming that the organizing guide is God. They view the relation between the world and God like that between an artistic work and the artist. Both of these arguments attempt to prove the existence of God from the standpoint of knowledge and to determine God's qualities. There are others who try to prove God's existence by referring to moral demands totally divorced from knowledge. They argue that humans have moral demands, that is, consciences, and that if there were no great supervisor in the world to encourage good and admonish evil, then our morality would be meaningless. It is for this reason, they say, that we must acknowledge the existence of God as the upholder of morality. Kant is one who advanced this proof.

But can these arguments really prove the existence of God? Although some contend that because there has to be a cause of the world we must acknowledge the existence of God, if we base our argument on the law of causality can we not proceed another step and ask about the cause of God? And if we were to say that God is beginningless and endless and hence exists without a cause, is there any reason why we cannot say the same thing about the world? Also, to infer an omniscient controller from the fact that the world is organized favorably according to a certain goal, one must prove that the myriad things in the universe are in fact created purposefully, but this is extremely difficult to do. If the proof of God's existence hinges on this, then the existence of God becomes quite uncertain. Some might believe it, while others might not. Even supposing that this fact is proven, we can still think of the world as coming into being by chance and yet having a goal.

The attempt to prove the existence of God from moral demands is even weaker. If there is an omniscient, omnipotent God who upholds our morality, we do gain great strength in the moral realm; but though the belief that God exists has a valuable impact on our behavior, it does not prove that God does indeed exist. We can even view this belief as simply an expediency.

The aforementioned theories attempt to prove the existence of God indirectly from without and thus have not proven God immediately in the direct experience of the self. How can we verify the existence of God in facts of our direct experience? An infinite power is hidden even in our small chests that are restricted by time and space; the infinite unifying power of reality is latent in us. Possessing this power, we can search for the truth of the universe in learning, we can express the true meaning of reality in art, and we can know the foundation of reality that forms the universe in the depths of our hearts-we can grasp the true face of God. The infinitely free activity of the human heart proves God directly. As Jakob Boehme said, we see God with a "reversed eye".

If we seek God in the facts of the external world, God must inescapably be a hypothetical God. Further, a God set up outside the universe as a creator or overseer of the universe cannot be deemed a true, absolutely infinite God. The religion of India of the distant past and the mysticism that flourished in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries sought God in intuition realized in the inner soul, and this I consider to be the deepest knowledge of God.

In what form does God exist? From one perspective, taken by such thinkers as Nicholas of Cusa,* God is all negation, whereas that which can be affirmed or grasped is not God; if there is some entity that can be grasped, it is already finite and cannot perform the infinite activity of unifying the universe. From this standpoint, God is absolute nothingness. God is not, however, mere nothingness. An immovable unifying activity clearly functions at the base of the establishment of reality, and it is by means of this activity that reality is established. For example, where is the law that the sum of the three angles in a triangle is equal to the sum of two right angles? We can neither see nor hear this law, yet does there not exist an indisputable law? Further, in response to a great painting, we see that something in its entirety strikes sensitive people as enlivened by a superb spirit; but if we try to determine how each object or scene in the painting is enlivened by this spirit, we inevitably fail. God is in these senses the unifier of the universe, the base of reality; and because God is no-thing, there is no place where God is not, and no place where God does not function.

In the same way that profound mathematics gives no knowledge to those who cannot understand mathematical principles and that a sublime painting does not move those who have no feel for beauty, the existence of God is considered a fancy or felt to be meaningless and therefore ignored by mediocre and shallow humans. Those who desire to know the true God must discipline themselves and provide themselves with eyes that can know God. To such people, the power of God is active in the universe just as a painter's spirit is active in a great painting; God's power is felt as a fact of direct experience. This is the fact of seeing God.

Given what I have said so far, God might be felt to be a cold philosophical existence-the base of the unity of the universe-totally unrelated to the activity of our warm feelings, but this is hardly the case. As stated, since our desires arise in the search for a greater unity, we experience joy when we attain to this unity. The so-called self-love of an individual is ultimately nothing more than this demand for unity. Because our infinite spirit is never fundamentally satisfied by the unity constituted by an individual self, it inevitably seeks a larger unity, a great self that envelops both oneself and others. We come to express sympathy toward others and seek congruence and unity between oneself and others. Our love for others is the demand for such a supraindividual unity with them. Accordingly, we feel greater peace and joy in love for others than in love for ourselves. God, the unity of the universe, is the base of this unifying activity, the foundation of our love, the source of our joy. God is infinite love, infinite joy, and peace.

Notes

* Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) was a Dutch philosopher who used the mathematical method of axioms and theorems to develop a metaphysical and ethical system. Through this method he attempted to demonstrate the unity of thought and matter, mind and body, God and Nature.

*Amman and Brahman: Amman is a Sanskrit term signifying the True Self Brahman is a term used in the Upanishads to designate God in the deeper sense of the Godhead. It has also been variously translated as the Ground of Being, the Ultimate Reality, and the World-Soul. If the Atman and Brahman are identical, then the True Self is one with God, or the Ultimate Reality.

* Jakob Boehme (1575-1624) was a German cobbler who wrote a systematic treatise expressing a mystical view of the universe.

*Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) was a bishop and a cardinal in the Catholic Church who developed a philosophy which utilized elements of medieval, early Renaissance, and German mystical thought.

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