An old Sannyasi and his half a dozen disciples lived in an ashram at the foot of a hill in a village.
The villagers, mostly farmers and labourers would pay occasional visits to the ashram and sit there, listening attentively to the recital of prayers and stotras. They would carry with them some fruits, food grains, vegetables, edible oils and pulses to the ashram as their offerings. The villagers found this to be a useful break from their humdrum life. They believed this ashram in the village brought them some divine favour for their prosperity and well-being.
A young man from the village, scion of a comparatively richer family, had returned after finishing his graduation at a college in a faraway city. He found the whole thing very silly and meaningless. He saw the ashram inmates as a bunch of people who spread superstition and lived on what the villagers doled out to them. A bunch of uninformed, lazy people. He couldn't let it pass.
The youngster, one day, went to the ashram and met the senior-most Sannyasi whom everyone called Swami. He tried to speak to the Swami in the local language with difficulty, as he had lost fluency in his own mother tongue due to his urban life of a few years. Seeing the young man fumble, the Swami told him, "You can speak to me in English, if you like". The youngster was surprised that this rustic looking old man could speak fluent English.
He told the Sannyasi, "Mr Swami, you say that God exists. But as an educated man I don't believe that God exists. Can you prove to me that God exists?"
The Swami asked, "What do you mean by God?"
The young man exclaimed. "What a question! You want me to define God?"
"No", said the Swami. "Since you say God doesn't exist, you must be having your own idea of a God whose existence you are emphatically denying. So I would like to know what you mean by God".
The youngster wasn't expecting this. So, with some consternation, he said: " God, after all is just God. I am speaking of the same thing which everyone calls God".
A few villagers happened to be in close vicinity at that time. The Swami called one of them and asked him. "Which god do you worship?" He said "Ramji". He asked another the same question. "Shivji", came the answer. The third one said, "Hanumanji". The fourth one said, "Kali ma".
The Sannyasi turned to the educated young man and asked: "Which of these, do you think, is God?"
"None of them", said he, haughtily.
"Then tell me which God you are talking about. You saw just now that the four people I asked named four different Gods. So, unless I know which God you are denying, how can I say whether he or she exists or not."
"There is only one God. Not many Gods. So I am denying that God without any name as well as all gods with names"
"Oh, that's wonderful. You just said God can be with name --any name-- , or without name. Right?
The young man was confused now. He told the Sannyasi with some irritation. "You are confusing me with word play. I am denying the existence of any God as such."
The Sannyasi said patiently: "Look, young man, when you ask me to prove something, you must tell me exactly what you want me to prove. You saw here that different people have different ideas about 'God'.
So, how will I know what is your idea of God? How can I prove or disprove it, unless you give me an exact description of it. So, my advice to you is, try to first find out what you are denying. It is foolish to deny something about which you know little or nothing."
The young man went away. After many days of contemplating on this conversation he had with the Swami, he decided to learn something about God before he went to the Swami again to deny it.