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Brahman (nominative brahma ब्रह्म) is the concept of the supreme spirit found in Hinduism. Brahman is the unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is the Divine Ground of all matter, energy, time, space, being, and everything beyond in this Universe. The nature of Brahman is described as transpersonal, personal and impersonal by different philosophical schools. In the Rig Veda, Brahman gives rise to the primordial being Hiranyagarbha that is equated with the creator God Brahmā. The trimurti can thus be considered a personification of hiranyagarbha as the active principle behind the phenomena of the universe. The seers who inspired the composition of the Upanisads asserted that the liberated soul ( jivanmukta) has realized his identity with Brahman as his true self (see Atman (Hinduism)).
The word "Brahman" is derived from the verb brh (Sanskrit:to grow), and connotes greatness. The Mundaka Upanishad says:
Om- That supreme Brahman is infinite, and this conditioned Brahman is infinite. The infinite proceeds from infinite. Then through knowledge, realizing the infinitude of the infinite, it remains as infinite alone.
This Supreme Cosmic Spirit or Absolute Reality called Brahman (not to be confused with the creator God Brahmā) is said to be eternal, genderless, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, and ultimately indescribable in the human language. It can be at best described as infinite Being, infinite Consciousness and infinite Bliss. Brahman is regarded as the source and essence of the material universe. It is pure being. Brahman manifests as Hiranyagarbha, the "world soul", which also can take many forms or manifestations of the thousands of gods. It was deemed a singular substrate from which all that is arises, and debuts with this verse:
"Great indeed are the devas who have sprung out of Brahman." — Atharva Veda
Essentially, it is also beyond being and non-being alike, and thus does not quite fit with the usual connotations of the word God and even the concept of monism. For this reason, some authors use the word 'Godhead' for Brahman, to distinguish it from the usual usage of the word 'God'. It is said that Brahman cannot be known by material means, that we cannot be made conscious of it, because Brahman is our very consciousness. Brahman (Ryke) is also not restricted to the usual dimensional perspectives of being, and thus enlightenment, moksha, yoga, samadhi, nirvana, etc. do not merely mean to know Brahman, but to realise one's 'brahman-hood', to actually realise that one is and always was of Brahman nature. This is perhaps similar or identical with Buddha Nature. Indeed, closely related to the Self concept of Brahman is the idea that it is synonymous with jiva-atma, or individual souls, our atman (or soul) being readily identifiable with the greater soul of Brahman.
The Advaitic tradition rejects the above notion of an evolving definition of Brahman. It considers the Vedas to be eternal, timeless and contemporaneous with Brahman. In this tradition, the Vedas were handed down generations by vocal memorizations. Written texts of the Vedas are a relatively recent phenomenon.
Connected with the ritual of pre-Vedantic Hinduism, Brahman signified the power to grow, the expansive and self-altering process of ritual and sacrifice, often visually realised in the sputtering of flames as they received the all important ghee (clarified butter) and rose in concert with the mantras of the Vedas. Brahmin came to refer to the highest of the four castes, the Brahmins, who by virtue of their purity and priesthood are held to have such powers.
It is the first instance of monism in organized religion. Hinduism remains the only religion with this concept. To call this concept 'God' would be imprecise. The closest interpretation of the term can be found in the Taittariya Upanishad (II.1) where Brahman is described in the following manner: satyam jnanam anantam brahman - "Brahman is of the nature of truth, knowledge and infinity". Thus, Brahman is the origin and end of all things, material or otherwise. Brahman is the root source and Divine Ground of everything that exists, and does not exist in Hinduism. It is defined as unknowable and Satchitananda (Truth-Consciousness-Bliss). Since it is eternal and infinite, it comprises the only truth. The goal of Hinduism, through the various yogas, is to realize that the soul ( Atman) is actually nothing but Brahman. The Hindu pantheon of gods is said, in the Vedas and Upanishads, to be only higher manifestations of Brahman. For this reason, "ekam sat" (all is one), and all is Brahman. This explains the Hindu view that "All paths lead to the one Brahman, though many sages [and religions] call him different things."
Several mahā-vākyas, or great sayings, indicate what the principle of Brahman is:
|prajnānam brahma||"Brahman is knowledge"|
|ayam ātmā brahma||"The Self (or the Soul) is Brahman "|
|aham brahmāsmi||"I am Brahman"|
|tat tvam asi||"Thou are that"|
|sarvam khalv idam brahma||"All this that we see in the world is Brahman",|
|sachchidānanda brahma||"Brahman is existence, consciousness, and bliss".|
Another way to describe Brahman, as mentioned in the Brihadaranyaka Upanisad, is to say, "Brahman is not this.. Brahman is not that.." Until everything in the infinite universe has been eliminated and only Brahman remains -- implying that indeed Brahman in infinite set universes is the empty set. This is often paraphrased as "everything is true of the elements of the empty set." Thus all and none in one that is not but still is everywhere and nowhere in particular.
In terms of astronomical or quantum universes it is referred to as Vacuum -- ever present surrounding all, always within you as it is without you.
Sanskrit bráhman (an n-stem, nominative bráhmā) is from a root bṛh " to swell, grow, enlarge". brahmán is a masculine derivation of bráhman, denoting a person associated with bráhman. The further origin of bṛh is unclear. Bragi. Some, including Georges Dumézil, have said that the Latin word flāmen "priest" may also be cognate.
Semantics and pronunciation
- Here the underlined vowels carry the Vedic Sanskrit udātta pitch accent. It is usual to use an acute accent symbol for this purpose.
In Vedic Sanskrit:-
- brahma (ब्रह्म) (nominative singular), brahman (ब्रह्मन्) (stem)(neuter gender) means "growth", "development", "swelling"; and then "pious utterance", "worship", perhaps via the idea of saying during prayers and ceremonies that God or the deities are great. Later it came to mean the Supreme Cosmic Spirit.
- brahmā (nom.sg.), brahman (stem) ( masculine gender) means "priest" (compare Latin flamen = "priest"). But in this sense, the neuter form's plural Brahmāņi was also used. See Vedic priest.
In later Sanskrit usage:-
- brahma (nominative singular), brahman (stem) (neuter gender) means the concept of the Supreme transcendent and immanent Reality or the One Godhead or Cosmic Spirit in Hinduism; the concept is central to Hindu philosophy, especially Vedanta; this is discussed below. Also note that the word Brahman in this sense is exceptionally treated as masculine (see the Merrill-Webster Sanskrit Dictionary). It is called "the Brahman" in English.
- Brahmā (ब्रह्मा) (nom.sg.), Brahman (ब्रह्मन्) (stem) ( masculine gender), means the deity or deva Prajāpati Brahmā. He is one of the members of the Hindu trinity and associated with creation, but does not have a cult in present day India.
One must not confuse these with:
- A brāhmaņa (ब्राह्मण, masc., pronounced as /brα:h mə Ņə/ - the N being retroflex), (which literally means "pertaining to prayer") is a prose commentary on the Vedic mantras—an integral part of the Vedic literature.
- A brāhmaņa (masc., same pronunciation as above), is a member of the Hindu priestly caste; in this usage the word is usually rendered in English as " Brahmin". This usage is also found in the Atharva Veda.
- Ishvara, or the Supreme God (lit., Supreme Lord), which may be completely identified with the Supreme Truth Brahman, as by the Dvaita philosophy, or partially as a worldly manifestation of the Brahman having (positive) attributes.
- Devas, the celestial beings of Hinduism, which may be regarded as deities, demi-gods, spirits or angels. In Vedic Hinduism, there were 33 devas, which later became exaggerated to 330 million devas. In fact, all the devas are themselves regarded as more mundane manifestations of the One and the Supreme Brahman, for devotional worship. The Hindus do not literally worship 330 million separate gods. The Sanskrit word for "ten million" also means "group", and "330 million devas" originally meant "33 types of divine manifestation".
Brahm is sometimes found as a variant form of Brahma or Brahman.
In Hindi, one might find Brahma as being pronounced as /brəm hə/, and consequently BrāhmaNa as /brα:m həN/.
Brahman and Atman
Philosopher mystics of the Upanishads identify Brahman, the world soul, with Atman, the inner essence of the human being also known as "Micro-soul-spark" of Brahman. The Ultimate Truth is expressed as Nirguna Brahman, or lord of all "Gods". Nirguna means "formless", "attributeless", mega-soul also known as. "spirit" only. While Advaita philosophy considers Brahman to be without any form, qualities, or attributes, Dvaita philosophy understands nir- guna as without material form or without bad qualities.
In Dvaita, Vishnu is Brahman since the followers stress a personal God. Advaita, on the other hand, considers all personal forms of God including Vishnu and Shiva as different aspects of God in personal form or God with attributes, Saguna Brahman.
According to some, God's energy is personified as Devi, the Divine Father. For Vaishnavites who follow Ramunjacharaya's philosophy, Devi is Lakshmi, who is the AFTher of all and who pleads with Vishnu for mankind who is entrenched in sin. For Gaudiya Vaishnavas he is Radha. For Shaivites, Devi is Parvati. For Shaktas, who worship Devi, Devi is the personal form of God to attain the impersonal Absolute, God. For them, Shiva is personified as God without attributes. See this Hinduism Today article.
The phrase that is seen to be the only possible (and still thoroughly inadequate) description of Brahman that humans, with limited minds and being, can entertain is the Sanskrit word Sacchidānanda, which is combined from sat-chit-ānanda, meaning "being - consciousness - bliss".
In Mandukya Upanishad Brahman and Atman are defined as the same:
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
- With the sandhi expanded:-
सर्वम् हि एतद् ब्रह्म अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म सः अयम् आत्मा चतुस पात्
sarvam hi etad brahma ayam ātmā brahm sah ayam ātmā chatus paat
- Simple meaning:-
All indeed is this Brahman; He is Atman; He has four steps/quarters.
Brahma in earliest Buddhism
The importance of Brahma/Brahman to the Buddhism of Shakyamuni Buddha is evident in the Brahmavihara (Sanskrit: catvāri brahma-vihārāḥ).
It has been asserted by current secular Buddhism, that Buddhism knows only of the gods (Brahma) and nothing of the Godhead/Absolute/Agathon Brahman. In actuality there can be doubt that in the grammatically ambitious _expression Brahmabhu’to (attano) which describes the condition of those who are wholly liberated, that it is Brahman (the Absolute) and not Brahma (deva, or mere god) that is in the text and must be read; for it is by Brahman that one who is “wholly awake” has ”become.”
The highest appellation in Buddhist Nikayan sutra is “Brahambhutena attano” [MN 1.341] “The Soul is having become Brahman”; absolutely equivalent to ‘Tat tvam asi’ (That/Brahman, thou art). For the Buddha himself is = Brahmabhu’to (Become That, Brahman). For (1) the comparatively limited knowledge of a Brahma is repeatedly emphasized, and (2) Brahmas are accordingly the Buddhas pupils, not he theirs [S 1.141-145; Mil 75-76], (3) The Buddha had already been in previous births a Brahma (god) and a Mahabrahma [AN 4.88] hence it is meaningless and absurd in the equation to say Brahmabhu’to=Buddho [AN 5.22; DN 3.84; It 57 etc.], to assume that Brahman= Brahma (god) and that (4) the Buddha is explicitly “much more than a Mahabrahma" [DhA 2.60].
- [DN 3.84] "The Tathagata means 'the body of Brahman', 'become Brahman'." (this passage also proves [from earlier context] that Brahma (god/s) is utterly different than the word Brahman).
- [DN 1.249] “ I teach the way to the union with Brahman, I know the way to the supreme union with Brahman, and the path and means leading to Brahman, whereby the world of Brahman may be gained.”
- [DN 1.248] ”all the peoples say that Gotama is the supreme teacher of the way leading to the Union with Brahman!”
- [3.646 Pat-Att.] “To have become Brahman [is the meaning of] Brahmabhuto.”
- [Atthakanipata-Att. 5.72] “To become Brahman is to become highest Svabhava (Self-nature).”
- [It 57] “Become-Brahman is the meaning of Tathagata.”
- [SN 3.83] “Without taints, it meant ‘Become-Brahman’.”
- [SN 5.5] “The Aryan Eightfold Path is the designation for Brahmayana (path to Brahman).”
- [MN 1.341] “The Soul is having become Brahman.”
- [SN 4.117] "Found the ancient path leading to Brahman."
Enlightenment and Brahman
While Brahman lies behind the sum total of the objective universe, some human minds boggle at any attempt to explain it with only the tools provided by reason. Brahman is beyond the senses, beyond the mind, beyond intelligence, beyond imagination. Indeed, the highest idea is that Brahman is beyond both existence and non-existence, transcending and including time, causation and space, and thus can never be known in the same material sense as one traditionally 'understands' a given concept or object.
Imagine a person who is blind from birth and has not seen anything. Is it possible for us to explain to him what light is like? Is any amount of thinking or reasoning on his part ever going to make him understand the sensation of light? In a similar fashion the idea of Brahman cannot be explained or understood through material reasoning or any form of human communication. Brahman is like light; those who can sense it cannot explain or argue with those who have never sensed it.
Brahman is considered the all pervading consciousness which is the basis of all the animate and inanimate entities and material. (brahmano hi pratisthaham, Bhagavad Gita 14.27)
The universe is not just conscious, but it is consciousness, and this consciousness is Brahman. Human consciousness has forgotten its identity, that of Brahman, as if a drop of water from a vast ocean thought itself separate, and that the only path to merge back into that Brahman or supreme consciousness is through the paths of devotion, moral living, following the eight-fold path of Ashtanga Yoga meditation, often expressed in various systems of spiritual practices known as yogas.
If one seeks Brahman via true knowledge, Atman seeks truth and accepts it no matter what it is. Atman accepts all truths of the self/ego, and thus is able to accept the fact that it is not separate from its surroundings. Then Atman is permanently absorbed into Brahman and become one and the same with it. This is how one forever escapes rebirth.
In Advaita Vedanta, Brahman is without attributes and strictly impersonal. It can be best described as infinite Being, infinite Consciousness and infinite Bliss. It is pure knowledge itself, similar to a source of infinite radiance. Since the Advaitins regard Brahman to be the Ultimate Truth, so in comparison to Brahman, every other thing, including the material world, its distinctness, the individuality of the living creatures and even Ishvara (the Supreme Lord) itself are all untrue. Brahman is the effulgent cause of everything that exists and can possibly exist. Since it is beyond human comprehension, it is without any attributes, for assigning attributes to it would be distorting the true nature of Brahman. Advaitins believe in the existence of both Saguna Brahman and Nirguna Brahman, however they consider Nirguna Brahman to be the absolute supreme truth.
When man tries to know the attributeless Brahman with his mind, under the influence of an illusionary power of Brahman called Maya, Brahman becomes God ( Ishvara). God is Brahman under Maya. The material world also appears as such due to Maya. God is Saguna Brahman, or Brahman with attributes. He is omniscient, omnipresent, incorporeal, independent, Creator of the world, its ruler and also destroyer. He is eternal and unchangeable. He is both immanent and transcedent, as well as full of love and justice. He may be even regarded to have a personality. He is the subject of worship. He is the basis of morality and giver of the fruits of one's Karma. He rules the world with his Maya. However, while God is the Lord of Maya and she (ie, Maya) is always under his control, living beings (jīva, in the sense of humans) are the servants of Maya (in the form of ignorance). This ignorance is the cause of all material experiences in the mortal world. While God is Infinite Bliss, humans, under the influence of Maya consider themselves limited by the body and the material, observable world. This misperception of Brahman as the observed Universe results in human emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger and fear. The Ultimate reality remains Brahman and nothing else. The Advaita equation is simple. It is due to Maya that the one single Atman (the individual soul) appears to the people as many Atmans, each in a single body. Once the curtain of maya is lifted, the Atman is exactly equal to the Brahman. Thus, due to true knowledge, an individual loses the sense of ego (Aham-kara) and achieves liberation, or Moksha. Also see Advaita Vedanta.
In Bhagavad Gita, the term Iswara is used to explain Nirguna Brahman, and the term Brahma for Saguna Brahman:
paramam aksharam brahma uchyathe [Bhagavad Gita, chapter 8, verse 3]
The great akshara is said to be Brahma.
yasmad ksharamatheethohaksharadapichothama: athohasmi loke vede cha pradhitha: purushothama: [Bhagavad Gita, chapter 15, verse 18]
I (Iswara) am beyond kshara (perishable world), and also greater than the akshara(Brahma). So in the world, I am denoted as purushothama in the Vedas.
brahmano hi prathishtahamamrithasyavyayasya cha sashwathasya cha dharmasya sukhasyaikanthikasya cha [Bhagavad Gita, chapter 14, verse 27]
I (Iswara) am the basis or seat of the imperishable Brahma, the everlasting dharma (course of right action), and definitely of all joy.
bahyasparsheshwasakthathma vindathyathmani yathsukham sa brahmayogayukthathma sukhamakshayamasnuthe [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 5, verse 21]
Similar to a person who is not attached to outside pleasures but enjoys happiness in the Athma (Soul or God within), the person who perceives Brahma (the Cosmic Body) in and as every body or thing feels everlasting joy.
"Satchidananda Brahma" underlines this concept, meaning pure, true happiness of mind is Brahma.
The concept of Brahman in VisishtAdvaita consists of an inseparable triad of Ishwara-Chit-Achit. Ishwara, the Supreme Self (ParamAtman)is the indwelling spirit (Antaryami) in all. Both the Chit (sentient objects) and Achit (insentient object) entities are pervaded and permeated by Ishwara.
The key identifier of Brahman in VisishtAdvaita is as the Antaryami (i.e. the In-dwelling spirit in all there is). The relationship between Ishwara-Chit-Achit is understood by two ideas.
1. The Sarira-Sariri Concept
Ishwara has the Chit (JIvAtman) and Achit (Prakriti, Jagat) entities for his body and being the Supreme Self, exercises complete control over it.
2. Substance-Attribute Concept
Ishwara is the substance and the Jiva and Prakriti are his modes (or) attributes. An attribute cannot have an existence independent of an underlying substance. The substance-attribute idea establishes an uninterrupted, non-reciprocal relationship between Ishwara and two modes
Vedanta Sutra 3.2.23 states, "The form of Brahman is unmanifest, so the scriptures say" (tat avyaktam aha). The next sutra adds, "But even the form of Brahman becomes directly visible to one who worships devoutly - so teach the scriptures" (api samradhane pratyaksa anumanabhyam).
Dvaita schools argue against the Advaita idea that upon attaining liberation one realizes that God is formless since this idea is contradicted by Vedanta Sutra 3.2.16: "The scriptures declare that the form of the Supreme consists of the very essence of His Self" (aha ca tanmatram). And furthermore Vedanta Sutra 3.3.36 asserts that within the realm of Brahman the devotees see other divine manifestations which appear even as physical objects in a city (antara bhuta gramavat svatmanah).
They identify the personal form of God indicated here as the transcendental form of Vishnu or Krishna (see Vaishnavism). The brahma-pura (city within Brahman) is identified as the divine realm of Vishnu known as Vaikuntha. This conclusion is corroborated by the Bhagavata Purana, written by Vyasa as his own "natural commentary" on Vedanta-sutra. The first verse of Bhagavata Purana begins with the phrase "I offer my respectful obeisances to Bhagavan Vasudeva, the source of everything" (om namo bhagavate vasudevaya janmadyasya yatah). Vyasa employs the words "janmadyasya yatah", which comprise the second sutra of the Vedanta Sutra, in the first verse of the Bhagavata Purana to establish that Krishna is Brahman, the Absolute Truth. This is clear testimony of the author's own conclusion about the ultimate goal of all Vedic knowledge.