When I was in my teens, I recall once sitting in my family’s living room where the telly was tuned into MTV, and Joan Osborne’s song “One of Us” was playing. I recall telling my mom that I liked the sound of Osborne’s voice. She asked me why, because she thought it sounded rather drab. Looking back, I can kind of see what she meant, and I don’t really know why I said I liked it. In the bridge of the song, Osborne sounds particularly lethargic, when she sings “Yeah…Yeah…God is Good/Yeah…Yeah…God is Great.” I couldn’t even tell if she was being sarcastic. Kind of like “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum. To this day I cannot say whether that song is sarcastic or not. I don’t know why.
Back to Joan Osborne. In her song she presents us with a question: “If God had a Face, what would He look like?”
Whenever I try to explain Brahman, the comparison always comes up between what Brahman is, the Formless Reality, and the “Man in the Clouds With a Long White Beard” version of God that I grew up on. Hinduism tends to make that idea seem prehistoric. But at the same time, that image is just another ishta-devata of sorts. And it cannot be ignored that as a Vaishnav, my idea of God involves a multitude of faces! Not only does Vishnu have 10 Avatars (or maybe 24, depending on whose side you’re on), but Vishnu has a multitude of celestial forms, which I will soon explore on this weblog.
This recognition has been humbling.
We all need a face to look upon to reflect back to us our Selves with the veil of Maya lifted. So maybe the image of Vishnu looks different to every devotee who gazes upon him. Maybe the same is true of Shiva, Ganesha, or Durga. Maybe the same is true of your own Gurudev when you or any other devotee gaze upon him or her. Because God’s face is hidden beneath the physical veil of all devotees.
Jai Hari Aum!