shankaracharya with students image
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How do we find God

Question: Swamiji, how can we find God? To discover Bhagavan, the supreme Lord, seems too difficult for ordinary people like us.

Answer: It is certainly difficult to find what we seek when we look in the wrong place. Did you ever lose your keys or pocketbook and spend hours looking in so many wrong places? To discover anything, we must know where to look.

Where shall we look to discover God? The ancient rishis taught us that the Lord is everywhere, pervading the universe. Bhagavan is sarva-vyapaka, all-pervasive like space. There is no place where space is absent, and in the same way, there is no place where Bhagavan is absent.

Even though the Lord pervades the universe, He cannot be discovered simply by gazing into the heavens with a telescope. The rishis taught that the Lord of the cosmos can only be discovered by looking within. With the famous dictum, “Tat-tvam-asi, you are that,” the rishis revealed the fact that the Lord is already present within you, here and now, as your own Self, atma. In an odd way, the seeker is the sought.

This strange situation is illustrated by the traditional story of ten boys who lived and studied with their teacher in a gurukulam. One day, their guru sent them out on a journey, instructing the oldest boy to look after the safety of the others. They traveled through forests and fields, crossing several shallow streams. One stream was too deep to wade across. One by one, they each swam to the other side.

On the far side, the oldest boy wanted to be certain that all had crossed safely. He asked the others to stand in a line so he could count them. He counted out loud, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine…” He paused, and then in confusion he exclaimed, “There were ten of us! Where is the tenth boy?” Having failed to count himself, the oldest boy set out to find the missing classmate. He looked in the forests and fields on both sides of the river. He looked upstream and downstream, but nowhere could he find the lost boy.

Obviously, he would never find his missing classmate because he was looking in the wrong place. He was looking for himself! His search was based upon the wrong conclusion that the missing boy was out there somewhere. But the lost boy would be found only when he recognized that he himself was the one for whom he searched.

In the same way, our search for God will never be successful as long as we keep looking in all the wrong places. But when we seek within ourselves, using the teachings of the ancient rishis to guide us, then the Lord’s already existent presence as the divine nature within us all can indeed be discovered, just as the rishis had discovered so long ago.