The understanding of God in Sanatana dharma is very unique. The understanding of God differs with the different levels of knowledge a person possesses. In sanatana dharma, the worship of forms with attributes is considered as preliminary, though a majority of the people follow this method. Worshiping of forms is a preliminary step through which a person attains one pointed concentration which helps his mind to evolve to the higher level of Consciousness. Worshiping forms, chanting mantras, slokas everything helps a person to evolve to the higher level of understanding God. Sanatana dharma encourages the method of meditation and understanding the highest principle. The pure Consciousness revels itself in deep meditation. There is nothing else in this creation other than the pure Consciousness, which in common terms is said as God. The differences in forms and names are due to maya, which is the power of the pure Consciousness.
There are four levels of understanding the concept of God from the Vedantic point of view.
In the beginning there was only shudda chit (pure Consciousness). It is otherwise said as Brahman. Creation didn’t take place at that time and there were no forms or names, not even a thought of creation. The concept of shuddha chit is very unique to sanatana dharma.
In the shuddha chit a thought arose. That thought was, “Let me become MANY”. The thought manifested due to the inherent power of Brahman called maya. Maya is said as the shakti (power) of Brahman. This thought is otherwise termed as the iccha shakti, the power of desire. Brahman along with the manifested shakti is said as Antaryami. The maya shakti is not different from Brahman, but at the same time it is not as same as Brahman. In shuddha chit, maya shakti existed, but it did not manifest. When shuddha chit or Brahman decided to become many, it manifested out.
Maya shakti designed the entire blue print for this creation and it slowly manifested out as many, many ideas as different thoughts. This knowledge about creation is said as jnana shakti. The whole idea of creation was there in a very subtle form and it is said as Hiranyagharba. Every minute detail of the creation was present in Hiranyagharba in a very subtle thought form. Hiranyagharbha is said as the womb of the universe.
From Hiranyagharbha the entire creation of forms and names unfolded. The totality of forms is said as virat. At this stage the kriya shakti manifested out. From this the different levels of creation unfolded. One must notice here that everything is the manifestation of Brahman using its power maya. That is why sanatana dharma says there is nothing in this creation other than Brahman or in common terms said as God. This is explaining the concept of God from one angle.
Another angle of seeing the concept of God is
Brahman is Nirguna nirakara – that is, He is without attributes, form or qualities
He becomes Saguna nirakara – that is, He is formless, but with attributes. These attributes are the manifestation of maya shakti. At this stage, that is, Brahman with basic attributes is called Ishwara. Ishwara has the power to create, sustain, to destroy, to conceal, and to merge back: it is commonly said in Sanskrit as shrishti, stiti, laya, thirodhana and anugraha. The concept of Ishwara is the root for incarnations (avatara).
He then becomes Saguna sakara – that is, He has attributes and form. At this stage He is said as Baghavan. From this stage He manifests in different levels with different levels of consciousness. The entire creation is His manifestation with different levels of Consciousness. These levels of Consciousness are decided by the subjective karma of the jivas. However, each individual has the power to rise from his level of Consciousness and can reach the pure Conscious state.
Like this the concept of God can be explained from different angles according to the individual’s knowledge of God. However, in this article I have explained only two views as explained in the scriptures.