Jul 03

Johannine Ontotheology and Vedanta
Bhakti Madhava Puri, Ph.D.

excerpt —
In the King James version (KJV) of the Bible the apostle John writes:

John 1.1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Commentary: The meaning appears to be that the Word and God are different, yet identical also. Ordinary understanding doesn’t like contradictions so it tries to ignore the contradiction and simply accept the sameness of Word and God without the difference. However, that is not what John is saying here. He distinguishes the Word from God by stating the Word first, and then using the preposition “with” to connect the Word with God. Finally John then identifies the Word with God. What John is actually saying therefore is that Word and God are different and identical at the same time – a contradiction!

Western philosophy since Aristotle avoids contradiction like the plague. But this identity-in-difference is a very important concept in Vedantic philosophy called bedha-abedha in Sanskrit. So it is not to be swept under the rug without taking it seriously. It forms the basis of a very important conception of the Absolute Reality of Chaitanya Vaisnavism and other similar vaisnava traditions, and even in the Roman Catholic tradition it is the basis of what is known as the Holy Trinity – the Oneness and Difference of God in His three distinct individualities/Persons.

‘In the beginning” means that we must not identify the Word with Jesus Christ right away, as many do. Actually the identity of the Word with Christ will come in John 1.14, so we don’t want to skip over the significance that the other verses play in arriving at that identity. So sticking to John 1.1 we can recognize that the Word [in the original Greek it is Logos and that is translated as Word in the KJV] is related to thought or thinking. Words are used to express or utter [meaning outer or objectify] thoughts [which are internal or subjective]. So we can interpret John 1.1. as saying the thoughts of God are with God, certainly, and they are also God, because a person is only what his/her thoughts make them. Thinking reflected upon itself is what is meant by “I.” Descartes; first indubitability was “I think, thus I am.” He identifies thinking with his being as an ego or I. At the same time thinking and being an “I” are different – we naturally distinguish the two. We naturally presume that “I” am the agent who produces thinking. In the case of John 1.1 the Word [thinking] is conjoined with the Supreme “I” or God. Thus God expresses His thinking as the Word, which makes the Word the offspring or Son of God. So the idea of the Son as produced from God the original “I” is contained in John 1,1.

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