A 20 metre high Buddha near Da Lat in Vietnam.

Formless in Form


God has form and again He is formless. But it is truly difficult to understand this. Naturally the doubt arises in the mind: if God is formless how then can He have form?

Ramakrishna (1885)


For theists the conundrum of god being both human and infinite is acute. In the west Christianity offers God as both the un-sayable head of the Trinity and the person of Christ. In Hinduism the dilemma is presented in the manifold of gods all having ‘form’. Ramakrishna is pointing out that these opposites seem to elude our ordinary sense of logic. The concepts of Brahmin or God must include everything whatsoever, while a human being (such as Jesus or the historic Shakyamuni) is exactly an expression of the particular: having one location in time and space. Christians and Hindus usually rest with the mystery, but could there be secular sympathy? Doesn’t the relationship between the particular and the universal have analogous problems? Although inter-twined, particulars grip their temporal-spatial location, while universals seem to partake in all things.

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This rather large Buddha sits just outside the city of Đà Lạt in southern Vietnam. While in all accounts, the Buddha is very much a human, he nevertheless here seems in need of a neon halo to hint at a less concrete dimension to his being. Ramakrishna Paramahansa (1836 -1886) was a major Hindu sage who lived and taught in Bengal. The quote is from “The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: as recorded by M.” English Translation by Swami Nikhilananda (1942) p. 858. His teaching has led to many humanitarian movements, and his ideas echo through Vivekananda’s work and the writings of Rabindranath Tagore.

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