Sri Gurubhyo Namaha.
Here is a dialogue between the 35th Sringeri AchAryA, Jagadguru Sri Abhinava VidyAteertha MahAswAmin and a disciple, on the subject of Ishwara (Lord). This is excerpted from the book “Exalting Elucidations”, which is a collection of conversations, discourses, and incidents related to the Jagadguru on various topics including Dharma, Karma, Yoga, Jnaana, etc.
Disciple: Some people get a doubt as to whether Ishwara really exists or not. This is because they are unable to see Him. Cannot Ishwara, by some means, reveal to them His existence so as to induced shraddha in them ?
AchAryA: Ishwara Himself seems to have been caught in a fix. If He were to give darshana to them, He would have to assume some form. On seeing the form, poeple may say, “You have a form. Therefore, you are not omnipresent and cannot be Ishwara”. If He does not give them darshana by assuming a form, they may say, “We do not see Ishwara. Hence there is no Ishwara.” Thus, there are some people who will not believe in Ishwara regardless of whether He takes a form or not. In this situation, what indeed can Ishwara do? Variety is the nature of the world. We have the group of atheists also. Faith in Ishwara can be induced and further developed, but there is no use in attempting to induce it by force. Arguments could be advanced and the true experiences of many devotees could be cited. Many wonderful incidents that have taken place could be narrated. What has been made known in the Shaashtras could be quoted. Still, if one does not believe that Ishwara exists, what can be done?
D: Can a devotee see Ishwara?
A: You mean with form?
A: Ishwara, though without form, can take one for the sake of His devotees. If we have limitless devotion, we can definitely see Ishwara’s form. There is no doubt at all about this.
D: Does AchAryAL mean that one can see Ishwara’s form mentally or that one can perceive Him even with the eyes?
A: Ishwara is capable of giving darshana both ways.
D: Does AchAryAL say that He can be seen, talked to and touched?
A: Yes. If there is pure devotion, Ishwara is sure to reveal Himself. When He does appear, why cannot one talk with Him?
D: Can this happen even in this kaliyuga?
A: What link is there between a devoted person seeing Ishwara and the kaliyuga?
D: Who can get Ishwara’s vision?
A: He who longs exclusively for Ishwara can see Him. Limitless devotion compels Ishwara to come to us.
D: How can one know whether the experience one had in connection with Ishwara is real or not?
A: For him, who has had a real experience, such a doubt will not arise.
D: What about the others? Can they not think that his experiences stem from hallucination or self-hypnosis?
A: What does one who has had the experience lose by others not accepting it?
The acceptance or rejection by others does not affect the experience of that person in the least. Though this is the case, I will give a more direct answer to your question.
Suppose that Ishwara, while appearing in a vision, gives a fruit or some other object to His devotee. If the fruit remains with the disciple even after Ishwara disappears, then it can be realised that the experience was real. Such an experience changes the mentality of the devotee. Though the experience may have lasted only for a short duration, its impact lasts long. Further, those who have had such experiences become capable of transforming others. If the person who has had the divine experience is quite healthy, why should he start concocting things all of a sudden? If a man is to get involved in self-hypnosis, he can do that any time. On the other hand, special experiences of the kind being considered are not had whenever one desires them. By such an analysis, a true experience can be differentiated from a hallucination.
D: Why is there so much suffering in this world? Since it is Ishwara who created this world, is He not responsible for these troubles?
A: A man experiences misery only because of his past deeds. One’s actions must bear fruit. Due to the fructification of one’s previous misdeeds, one suffers in this birth. It is wrong to say that Ishwara is the cause of these sufferings. Human beings have the freedom to follow the injunctions of the shaashtras or to transgress them. Man acquires punya or paapa as a result of his actions and Ishwara just gives the fruits of those actions. When it is said that it is the foul deed of a previous birth that causes suffering in this birth, one may ask about the cause of the suffering experienced in that previous birth. The answer is “It is the karma of the births prior to that birth.” As samsaara (cycle of birth and death) is beginning-less, it is improper to seek to identify a first birth in which we started life without any karma. While creating the universe at the commencement of each kalpa, Ishwara just brings forth what was in the previous kalpa. He does not “create” anything fresh.
D: It is said that Ishwara is aware of the past, present and future. If He knows what is going to happen, then it means that people’s future actions are completely predetermined. If that is the case, man is fully bound by the dictates of destiny and cannot be held responsible for his actions. On the other hand, if man has freedom to decide the course of events, then the future is not pre-fixed. In such a case, even Ishwara cannot know the future with certainty. Therefore, how can one say that He is omniscient?
A: This world is a play of mAyA, while Ishwara is the Controller of mAyA. In this sense, everything goes on according to His will, which appears both as the free will of people and as fate. If considered in this way, the statements that He is omniscient and that everything need not occur according to just fate can be simultaneously true.
The issue can be considered in another way too. Let us suppose that a boy does not at all prepare for an examination. Then, can we not say with certainty that he will not pass? Just because we say this, can it be said that the student does not have the freedom to read or not to read? Definitely not. In the same way, if we take it that Ishwara has understood His creation in its entirety, then also there is no difficulty in asserting that Ishwara is omniscient and that destiny alone is not the deciding factor.