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In Hinduism, Brahman (ब्रह्मन् brahman) is "the unchanging reality amidst and beyond the world", which "cannot be exactly defined". It has been described in Sanskrit as Sat-cit-ānanda (being-consciousness-bliss) and as the highest reality.[note 1][note 2]
The Isha Upanishad says:
Auṃ – That supreme Brahman is infinite, and this conditioned Brahman is infinite. The infinite proceeds from infinite. If you subtract the infinite from the infinite, the infinite remains alone.
Sanskrit Brahman (an n-stem, nominative bráhmā) from a root bṛh " to swell, expand, grow, enlarge" is a neutral noun to be distinguished from the masculine brahmán—denoting a person associated with Brahman, and from Brahmā, the creator God of the Hindu Trinity, the Trimurti. Brahman is thus a gender-neutral concept that implies greater impersonality than masculine or feminine conceptions of the deity. Brahman is referred to as the supreme self.
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In Vedic Sanskrit:-
In later Sanskrit usage:-
One must not confuse these with:
In the early Vedic religion Brahman was the name given to the power that made the sacrifice effective, namely the spiritual power of the sacred utterances pronounced by the vedic priests who were by virtue of this known as brahmins. Connected with the Vedantic Hinduism, Brahman signified the power to grow, the expansive and self-altering process of ritual and sacrifice, often visually realized in the sputtering of flames as they received the all important ghee (clarified butter) and rose in concert with the mantras of the Vedas.
The Vedas say that by Brahman, the initial manifestation of the material universe and all therein arose:
The later Vedic religion produced the Upanisads, a series of profound philosophical reflections in which Brahman is now considered to be the one Absolute Reality behind changing appearances. It is the universal substrate from which material things originate and to which they return after their dissolution.
The sages of the Upanishads made their pronouncements on the basis of meditative experience and direct knowledge. The earlier Upanishads were written during a time of intensely fertile philosophical and religious revival in which the old dogmas were being questioned while experiential knowledge and logic were being emphasised. It is at this point that the polytheism that characterises the vedic hymns gives way to a search for what is common in the seemingly pluralistic universe. The unitive concepts that arise from this tendency are those of dharma and brahman.
The Upanishads recount the teachings of gurus to pupils (Brahmacaryas) who are seeking knowledge of Brahman. This knowledge of brahman is not mere epistemic knowledge (knowing about something) but a direct, unambiguous knowing that is liberating in its experience. This culture of acquiring personal knowledge and its concomitant liberation, separate from direct Vedic influence, is now referred to as sramanic culture and has constituted an important influence on the development of mainstream Hinduism.
The description of Brahman from Mandukya Upanishad:
सर्वं ह्येतद् ब्रह्मायमात्मा ब्रह्म सोयमात्मा चतुष्पात्
sarvam hyetad brahmāyamātmā brahma soyamātmā chatushpāt – Mandukya Upanishad, verse-2
sarvam (सर्वम्)- whole/all/everything; hi (हि)- really/surely/indeed; etad (एतद्)- this here/this; brahma (ब्रह्म)- Brahma/Brahman; ayam (अयम्)- this/here; ātmā(आत्मा)- atma/atman; sah(सः)- he; ayam (अयम्)- this/here; chatus(चतुस्)- four/quadruple; pāt(पात्)- step/foot/quarter
सर्वम् हि एतद् ब्रह्म अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म सः अयम् आत्मा चतुस पात्
sarvam hi etad brahma ayam ātmā brahm sah ayam ātmā chatus paat
All indeed is this Brahman; He is Atman; He has four quarters.
Several mahā-vākyas or "Great Sayings" from the Upanisads indicate what the principle of Brahman is:
|text||source||literal translation||Vaishnava Interpretation[according to whom?]|
|brahma satyam jagan mithya||||"Brahman is real, the world is unreal"|
|ekam evadvitiyam brahma||Chandogya Upanishad 6.2.1||"Brahman is one, without a second"|
|prajnānam brahma||Aitareya Upanishad 3.3||"Brahman is knowledge"||Brahman knows everything|
|ayam ātmā brahma||Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5||"The Self is Brahman"||The soul is of the same eternal, spiritual and transcendental nature as Brahman|
|aham brahmāsmi||Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10||"I am Brahman"||I am as eternal as Brahman|
|tat tvam asi||Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 et seq.||"Thou art that" ("You are Brahman")||"You are the servant of the Supreme"|
|sarvam khalvidam brahma||Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1||"All is truly Brahman"||Brahman is everything, and all we see are His different energies — material or spiritual|
|sachchidānanda brahma||||"Brahman or Brahma is existence, consciousness, and bliss".||Brahman, has sat-cit-ananda-vigraha — eternal spiritual body which is full of bliss, and He is Supreme Person (conscious Absolute Person/Truth)|
Some Upanishadic statements identify the Atma, the Self, with Brahman. While Advaita philosophy considers Brahman to be without form, qualities, or attributes, Visishtadvaita and Dvaita philosophies understand Brahman as one with infinite auspicious qualities. In Advaita, the ultimate reality is expressed as Nirguna Brahman. Nirguna means formless, attribute-less and indescribable. Advaita explains all personal forms of God including Vishnu and Shiva with a metaphor: The personal God is impersonal reality reflected upon the mirror of ignorance and illusion. In Visishtadvaita and Dvaita, God is Saguna Brahman with infinite attributes and is the source of the impersonal Nirguna Brahman, and God's energy is regarded as Maya.
While Brahman lies behind the sum total of the objective universe, the human mind boggles at any attempt to explain it with only the tools provided by reason. Gital explains the concept of (Bhagavad Gita 5.21) "beyond the senses, beyond the mind, beyond intelligence, beyond imagination."
Yajur Veda Mundakopanishad 3.2.4 reads: This Self is not attained by one devoid of strength, nor through delusion, nor through knowledge unassociated with monasticism. But the Self of that knower, who strives through these means, enters into the abode that is Brahman.
Yajur Veda Mundakopanishad 3.2.6 reads: Those to whom the entity presented by the Vedantic knowledge has become fully ascertained, and who endeavour assiduously with the help of the Yoga of monasticism, become pure in mind. At the supreme moment of final departure all of them become identified with the supreme Immortality in the worlds that are Brahman, and they become freed from the cycle of Birth and Death.
The later Vedantic philosophers teach that the liberated being, upon realizing his or her true nature, reaches the state of existence, awareness and bliss; as such, when asked to describe Brahman anthropomorphically, philosophers use the term saccidananda even though Brahman is beyond the grasps of words. The term saccidānanda is regarded as the only possible, yet inadequate and inaccurate, term which can be used to explain Brahman.
It is said that Brahman cannot be known by empirical means — that is to say, as an object within our consciousness — because Brahman is our very consciousness. Therefore it may be said that moksha, yoga, samādhi, nirvana, etc. do not merely mean to know Brahman, but rather to realise one's "brahman-hood", to actually realise that one is and always was Brahman. Indeed, closely related to the Self-concept of Brahman is the idea that it is synonymous with jiva-atma, or individual selves, our atman (or Self) being readily identifiable with the greater reality (paramatma) of Brahman.
Generally, Vedanta rejects the notion of an evolving Brahman since Brahman contains within it the potentiality and archetypes behind all possible manifest phenomenal forms. The Vedas, though they are in some respects historically conditioned, are considered by Hindus to convey a knowledge[note 7] eternal, timeless and always contemporaneous with Brahman. This knowledge is considered to have been handed down by realised yogins to students many generations before the Vedas were committed to writing. Written texts of the Vedas are a relatively recent phenomenon.
Advaita Vedanta espouses nondualism. Thus, Brahman is the origin and end of all things, material or otherwise. Brahman is the root source of everything that exists, and is the only thing that exists according to Shankara. He states that Brahman is unknowable (as an object of knowledge), indescribable and, all inclusively, non-dual. The goal of Vedanta is to realize that one's Self (Atman) is a product of our ego and false-identification; in reality, Brahman is all that exists. This leads to the statement that we are ultimately Brahman. Depending upon the interpretation, the Hindu pantheon of gods is said, in the Vedas and Upanishads, to be only higher manifestations or metaphors, of Brahman. For this reason, "ekam sat" ("Truth is one"), and all is Brahman. This explains the Hindu view that "Truth is one, though the sages give it different names."
The universe does not simply come from Brahman, it is Brahman. According to Adi Shankara, a proponent of Advaita Vedanta, knowledge of brahman springs from inquiry into the real word as well as the world of the Upanishads. Adi Shankaracharya is also of the view that the knowledge of brahman that shruti provides cannot be obtained in any other means besides inquiry.
In Advaita Vedanta, Brahman is without attributes and strictly impersonal. According to Advaita Vedanta, consciousness is not a property of Brahman but its very nature. In this respect Advaita Vedanta differs from other Vedanta schools.
Since the Advaitins regard Brahman to be the ultimate reality, in comparison to it, the distinctness and dualism/pluralism of the material universe are products of illusion and ignorance. Nonetheless, individual Advaitins have slightly differing views regarding the existence of God in relation to Brahman. Some believe that there is one God however this God is transcended by the impersonal Brahman; this form of Advaita Vedanta is a transtheistic form of nondualism. Others, still, consider gods to be metaphors of the different aspects of the universe, which is ultimately Brahman; in this sense, Advaita Vedanta is a nondualistic form of atheistic pantheism.
Following are relevant verses from Bhagavad-Gita which establish the Advaita position:
Similar to a person who is not attached to external pleasures but enjoys happiness in the Atman (soul), the person who perceives Brahman in everything feels everlasting joy. (Bhagavad Gita 5.21)
The act of offering is Brahman; that which is offered is Brahman; the sacred fire is Brahman; the one who makes the offering is Brahman; Brahman is thus attained by those who, in their actions, are absorbed in contemplation of Brahman.(Bhagavad Gita 4.24)
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Brahman of Visishtadvaita is synonymous with Narayana, who is the transcendent and immanent reality. Brahman or Narayana is Saguna Brahman with infinite auspicious qualities, and not the Advaita concept of attributeless Nirguna Brahman. "Sarvam khalvidam brahma, tajjalaniti santa upasita": According to Ramanuja, considering the appearance of the word "tajjalan iti" (Roots: tat + ja = born + la = dissolved), this statement from the Chandogya Upanishad does not simply mean that the universe is Brahman, but that it is pervaded by, born from and dissolves into Brahman. An analogy: fish is born in water, lives in water, and is ultimately dissolved into water; yet the fish is not water.
The concept of Brahman in Visishtadvaita is explained as an inseparable triad of Ishwara-Chit-Achit. Ishvara, the Supreme Self (Paramatman) is the indwelling spirit (Antaryami) in all. Both the Chit (sentient) and Achit (insentient) entities are pervaded and permeated by Ishvara. Brahman is the material and efficient cause of the universe. The concept of Brahman in Visishtadvaita can be seen as a hybrid of Advaita and Dvaita positions. Like all other Vaishnava schools of thought, Visishtadvaita is also panentheistic unlike the pantheism of Advaita. It also proposes a qualified attributive monism approach as opposed to the absolute monism of Advaita.
Brahman is, Antaryami, the real self of all beings. Everything other than Brahman form the Sarira (body) of Brahman. The inseparable relation between the body and the soul is similar to that of substance and attribute which are inseparable. So Brahman is the prakari and the universe is the prakara, mode of Brahman. Hence anything that describes a sentient or insentient being has its connotation only with Brahman, the real and ultimate self.
The relationship between Ishvara-Chit-Achit can be further understood as follows:
1. The Sarira-Sariri Concept
The key concept of Visishtadvaita is the Sarira-Sariri Bhaava, the body-soul relationship between the universe and Ishvara. There are three realities, namely, Ishvara (the Lord), Jiva (individual souls), and Jagat (insentient matter). They are not separate entities but together they form an organic whole. This is similar to the concept of body-soul relationship, but on a cosmic scale. Thus, Ishvara has the Chit (sentient) and Achit (insentient) entities for His body and being the Supreme Self, exercises complete control over it.
2. Substance-Attribute Concept
In Visishtadvaita, Ishvara is the original substance, of which Jiva and Prakriti are attributes. An attribute cannot have an existence independent of an underlying substance. The substance-attribute concept establishes an uninterrupted, non-reciprocal relationship between Ishvara and the two modes.
Followers of Visishtadvaita refute Advaita thought that if it is indeed true that the one undivided Brahman, whose very nature is pure spirit, is the foundation of Maya and also embodies the liberating force of knowledge, then it is illogical to say that the very same Brahman falls under the influence of the illusory power of Maya and gets covered by ignorance. Thus establishing that Jiva and Ishvara are indeed separate entities. Since both their identities and capabilities are different, the Jiva and the Lord are essentially distinct. In other words, if Brahman is indivisible, changeless, and supreme, then a force of Maya cannot appear within Brahman, modify it, and put it into ignorance.
Bhakti Yoga is the sole means of liberation in Visishtadvaita. Through Bhakti (devotion), a Jiva ascends to the realm of the Lord to serve Him. Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga are natural outcomes of Bhakti, total surrender, as the devotee acquires the knowledge that the Lord is the inner self. A devotee realizes his own state as dependent on, and supported by, and being led by the Lord, who is the Master. One is to lead a life as an instrument of the Lord, offering all his thought, word, and deed to the feet of the Lord. One is to see the Lord in everything and everything in Him. This is the unity in diversity achieved through devotion.
I (Ishvara) am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is immortal, imperishable and eternal and is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness. (Bhagavad Gita 14.27)
I (Ishvara) am transcendental, beyond both kshara (the fallible, perishable world) and akshara (the infallible). (Bhagavad Gita 15.18)
Brahman of Dvaita (substantial monism) is synonymous with Hari or Vishnu, who is the most exalted Para Brahman (Supreme Brahman), superior to liberated souls and even the impersonal Brahman. Dvaita holds that the individual soul is dependent (paratantra) on God, since it is unable to exist without the energizing support of the universal spirit, just as a tree cannot survive without its sap.
The form of Brahman is unmanifest, but even the form of Brahman becomes directly visible to one who worships devoutly (tat avyaktam aha, api samradhane pratyaksa anumanabhyam). (Vedanta Sutra 3.2.23)
Within His divine realm, devotees see other divine manifestations which appear even as physical objects in a city (antara bhuta gramavat svatmanah). (Vedanta Sutra 3.3.36)
Dvaita propounds Tattvavada which means understanding differences between Tattvas (significant properties) of entities within the universal substrate as follows:
Vishnu is traditionally derived from the root "Vish" which means to enter or pervade, and He is called Vishnu because He pervades the whole universe. Brahmanda Purana (1.4.25) says that He is called as Vishnu because He has entered into everything in the universe. The most important aspect is that the whole universe is covered by only three steps of Vishnu which is referred to several times in the Vedas (Rig Veda 1.22.17, 1.154. 3, 1.155.4, Atharva Veda 7.26.5, Yajur Veda 2.25). In His three steps rests the whole universe (Rig Veda 1.154.2, Yajur Veda 23.49). All indeed is Brahman, which can thus be identified with Vishnu, based on the Vedas.
The Acintya Bheda Abheda philosophy is similar to Dvaitadvaita (differential monism). All Vaishnava schools are panentheistic and perceive the Advaita concept of identification of Atman with the impersonal Brahman as an intermediate step of self-realization, but not Mukti, or final liberation of complete God-realization through Bhakti Yoga. Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a form of Achintya Bheda Abheda philosophy, also concludes that Brahman is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. According to them, Brahman is Lord Vishnu/Krishna; the universe and all other manifestations of the Supreme are extensions of Him.
In this philosophy, Brahman is not just impersonal, but also personal. That Brahman is Supreme Personality of Godhead, though on first stage of realization (by process called jnana) of Absolute Truth, He is realized (usually by advaita-vedantists, followers of Shankaracarya) as impersonal Brahman, then (by Vaishnavas) as personal Brahman having eternal Vaikuntha abode (also known as Brahmalokah sanatana), then as Paramatma (by process of yoga-meditation on Supersoul, Vishnu-God in heart) – Vishnu (Narayana, also in everyone's heart) who has many abodes known as Vishnulokas (Vaikunthalokas), and finally (Absolute Truth is realized by bhakti) as Bhagavan, Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is source of both Paramatma and Brahman (personal, impersonal, or both).
In Gaudiya-vaisnavism, philosophers who try to establish that everything is Brahman or Maya are called Brahmavadis (impersonalists) or Mayavadis. Thought they are still considered to be transcendentalists, but of other group (so-called followers of Shankaracarya, because he himself, as avatara of Shiva accepted Brahman to be Vishnu, not impersonal brahmajyoti as God).
The Advaita concept of a Jivanmukta is mocked as an absurd oxymoron because a person who has surmounted the realm of perception and realized the Absolute (as Advaita holds) should not continue to exist within and interact with the realm of perception that one has realized as being not real. The suggestion that such bondage to the world of perception continues for a while after the occurrence of God-realization, because of past attachments, is not tenable. Such attachments themselves are artifacts of the perceived world that has supposedly been sublated, and should not continue to besiege the consciousness of the self-realized. A Jivanmukta, or liberated person, should not even be physically present in the material universe. A person who is living in the world cannot be said to be free of sorrow born of material contact, and also cannot be said to experience the joy of liberation. The very act of being in a gross material body is not accepted in as a Jivanmukta i.e. a person liberated from the cycle of birth and death. The soul upon liberation does not lose its identity, which remains different from God, nor does one become equal to God in any respect. A mukta indeed becomes free from all suffering, but one's enjoyment is not of the same caliber as His, nor does a mukta become independent of Him. The permanent differential aspect of Atman (soul) from the Lord is established from:
Never was there a time when I (Ishvara) did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. (Bhagavad Gita 2.12)
In Dvaita, liberation (Moksha) is achieved by flawless devotion and correct understanding. Devotion to a personal form of God, Saguna Brahman, indicated here is the transcendental form of Krishna or Vishnu (see Vaishnavism). This conclusion is corroborated by the Bhagavata Purana, written by Vyasa as his commentary on Vedanta Sutra.
O my Lord, Krishna, son of Vasudeva, O all-pervading Lord, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You, the Absolute Truth and the primeval cause of all causes of the creation, sustenance and destruction of the manifested universes (om namo bhagavate vasudevaya janmady asya yatah 'nvayad itaratas cartheshv abhijnah svarat). (Bhagavata Purana 1.1.1)
Vyasa employs the words "janma-adi – creation, sustenance and destruction; asya – of the manifested universes; yatah – from whom;", in the first verse of the Bhagavata Purana to establish that Krishna is the Absolute Truth. This is clear testimony of the author's own conclusion that the ultimate goal of all Vedic knowledge is Krishna.
During the 19th century Hindu reform movements arose, creating "neo-Hinduism", a modern synthetic understanding of classical Hinduism and modern philosophy and spirituality. Representants of this Hindu modernism are Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo and Radakrishnan. An important influence is the Theosophy from Annie Besant.
According to Radhakrishnan, The sages of the Upanishads teach that Brahman is the ultimate essence of material phenomena (including the original identity of the human self) that cannot be seen or heard, but whose nature can be known through the development of self-knowledge (atma jnana).
While Brahmā in Buddhist scripture refers to the non-eternal demigod, Brahma or Brahman is believed by scholars to refer to the eternal perfect being, and the highest stage any person can achieve is labelled as Brahma. For example Buddha's eight-fold path is not only called as Astanga Marga (eight-fold path) and Dharmayana but also as Brahmayana. As the Samyutta Nikaya says, V, 5-6, "This Ariyan eightfold Way may be spoken of as Brahmayana or as Dhammayana. Again the Buddha Dharma is equated with Brahma when "...he has become dharma, he has become brahman." It is said that the cultivation of compassion in its purest form is "called the divine life in this world (Brahman item viharam idhmahu)." In this context Brahma is interpreted to mean divine.
In the Suttanipata, 656, the Buddha says that he who has won the three-fold lore (self-denial, holy life, and control) and who will never be reborn is Brahma.
The Buddha Dharma is compared to Brahma. In the Majjhima Nikaya, I, 60 the Dharmachakra of wheel of law is also called the Brahmachakra. The Majjhima-Nikaya also says that the Buddha is 'Brahmapatta' or "one who has attained Brahman".
Of Nirvana, the ultimate happiness it is written "one who has attained Nirvana" it is said, "may justifiably employ theological terminology (dhammena so Brahma-vadam vadeyya)"
Further, Brahmajala refers to the best knowledge achieved.
Later Buddhist scholars connect the state of Nirvana with Brahman. Buddhaghosa in his Digha says that the "Tathagata (Buddha) is dhammakaya brahmakaya dhammabhuta brahmabhuta." Bhavaviveka uses the term Brahma-Abhyasa, meaning "practicing Brahma" which refers to the Buddhist trying to become one with Brahma.
"Even so have I, monks, seen an ancient way, an ancient road followed by the wholly awakened ones of olden time....Along that have I done, and the matters that I have come to know fully as I was going along it, I have told to the monks, nuns, men and women lay-followers, even monks, this Brahma-faring brahmacharya that is prosperous and flourishing, widespread and widely known become popular in short, well made manifest for gods and men."
Referring to the differentiation of the terms Brahmā and Brahman, B. R. Barua says, "The cases where the Absolute is clearly meant ought to be carefully distinguished from others where Brahma is referred".
Buddhism rejects the Upanishadic doctrine of Brahman/atman.[note 8][note 9] According to Damien Keown, "the Buddha said he could find no evidence for the existence of either the personal soul (atman) or its cosmic counterpart (brahman)". According to David Webster, the metaphysics of Buddhism entails that desire for Brahman leads to dukkha (suffering).[note 10]
According to Merv Fowler, some forms of Buddhism have incorporated concepts that resemble that of Brahman.[note 11] As an example, Fowler cites the early Sarvastivada school of Buddhism, which "had come to accept a very pantheistic religious philosophy, and are important because of the impetus they gave to the development of Mahayana Buddhism". According to William Theodore De Bary, in the doctrines of the Yogacara school of Mahayana Buddhism, "the Body of Essence, the Ultimate Buddha, who pervaded and underlay the whole universe [...] was in fact the World Soul, the Brahman of the Upanishads, in a new form". According to Fowler, some scholars have identified the Buddhist nirvana, conceived of as the Ultimate Reality, with the Hindu Brahman/atman; Fowler claims that this view "has gained little support in Buddhist circles." Fowler asserts that the authors of a number of Mahayana texts took pains to differentiate their ideas from the Upanishadic doctrine of Brahman.[note 12]
Jain Tirthankar Ajita is described as "Brahma-nistha" (engrossed in Self) and is requested to bestow "Jinasrl" on the devotee.