Category Archives: Brahman

Gaudapada (and Advaita Vedanta)

Legendary Life

Of the many philosophers in the history of Hinduism, Gaudapada is one of whom little is known, although he had a large effect on the tradition as a whole. His origin is the most prominent feature in legends concerning him; however, due to liberties taken in the oral tradition, they are rarely a strong source of factual information (Pande 96). For example, some legends state that Patanjali himself taught Gaudapada, and due to his disobedience, had cursed him until Gaudapada could find a suitable student (Pande 96). Of course, there is great scepticism surrounding this story, as the timelines in which Patanjali and Gaudapada are proposed to have lived are separated by hundreds of years (Pande 96). Other sources seem to believe that he was, at some point, the student of a sage named Suka. However not much is known about Suka, other than he was believed to be the son of the legendary Vyasa (Comans 2). As such, Gaudapada emerges as more of a pseudo-legendary person, than a concrete historical figure. There is virtually no indication of his existence other than his works, or reference to him by his students later in history (Comans 1).

The estimated periods when Gaudapada lived varies greatly, according to different sources. Generally, it is calculated in relation to the dates of his distant student Sankara, who was believed to live around 780-820 CE. This placed Gaudapada at around 680 CE, although it shifts based on estimation of Sankara’s life time (Isayeva 15). Scholars also examine motifs used by Gaudapada in his works, which seem to reflect particular Buddhist values. They thus propose that Gaudapada had lived during the time when certain Buddhist philosophies flourished (Isayeva 15).

Similarly, we are uncertain as to where Gaudapada came from or lived. Some propose that he lived in northern Bengal, near the Hiraravati River, where a tribe known as the Gaudas resided. As such, some propose Gaudapada lived as a master, taking his name from the tribe of which he was a part of (Isayeva 15).

Although we know little about how, when, or where he lived, we know more about whom he influenced via his philosophical ideas. The most well-known of these is the great thinker Sankara, whos strong influence from Gaudapada is evident in his own work (Isayeva 14). The time gap between Sankara and Gaudapada leads scholars to generally agree that Gaudapada perhaps taught a man named Govinda, who went on to teach Sankara (Isayeva 14).

 

Philosophy

Gaudapada is most well-known for his commentary on the Mandukya Upanisad. Of the ten Upanisads, the Mandukya is the shortest, and deals with cosmology as well as absolute truth known as brahman (Isayeva 16). His works, known as the Mandukya-Karika, is made up of four chapters: “treatise concerning the scriptural text”, “treatise concerning unreality”, “treatise on non-duality”, and “treatise on the quelling of the fire brand” (Comans 2). Of the four chapters, only the first is tied to a text, which Gaudapada discusses, namely the Mandukya Upanisad. The other three chapters are not involved directly with any other text, but expand on the ideas developed in the first chapter (Comans 2).

The basis of Gaudapada’s philosophy, which makes up Advaita Vedanta, is concerned with the illusory nature of things. In particular, this stem of Hindu philosophy focuses on absolute reality, brahman, the inner self, atman, and maya, which is the illusion that holds us in the cycle of samsara, rebirth (Rodrigues 94). Gaudapada explains four stages, or steps, that one would go through in order to achieve the state of absolute reality. As well, he holds that the concept of absolute truth or reality is already in each individual (Isayeva 23).

The first stage, called vaisvanara, means waking self or waking state (Comans 3). This stage pertains to the self as it lives within the illusion of maya, unaware of its illusory nature (Isayeva 21). In essence, it is the spiritual ignorance of the self that this stage speaks of. The Mandukya Upanisad describes atman here as having “seven limbs, nineteen mouths, and who experiences gross objects” (Comans 3). Gaudapada explains that it is these extremities that the atman uses to experience illusory existence. In this waking state, the atman is unaware and so it thrashes about, attempting to experience everything it can. In this way, the consciousness of the atman is seen as external here (Comans 3).

The next stage pertains to the dream like state, taijasa, where the atman notices the illusory nature of everything (Comans 4). In this state, Gaudapada would maintain that consciousness begins to move inward as it starts to realize the nature of itself (Comans 4). It is essentially at this stage that one could say the atman, previously external and ignorant, begins its journey inward towards truth, as it begins to see the existence of maya (Isayeva 21).

Prajna, stage three, speaks of deep sleep, or slumber (Comans 4). In this stage, Gaudapada holds that one is saved from illusion, though not truly liberated (Isayeva 22). In contrast to the previous two states, in which the self is separated due to its interaction with illusion, self, illusion, and consciousness all become one here; just one “lump of consciousness” (Isayeva 22). Instead, he cautions about this stage because those on their way to truth may get caught up in the bliss of freedom from maya, thinking they are liberated just because they have become aware that they were ignorant before. He says that although it is a wonderful state to be in, even greater bliss comes from full understanding of the nature of the atman, which cannot be obtained whilst in this stage (Isayeva 22).

Finally, the last stage is where the main concept of advaita emerges. Advaita means non-dualism, and refers to absolute truth, or brahman (Isayeva 23). In essence, brahman is seen as the only thing, rather than multiple aspects of reality, as described in more dualistic philosophies of Hinduism like Sankhya (Rodrigues 199). This stage is called turiya, although Gaudapada would argue that even giving this state a name undermines the very idea of it (Comans 5). Examples such as, “brahman is neither here nor there”, “living nor dead”, “waking or asleep”, are all given by Gaudapada to illustrate this view. As an absolute truth, there is nothing but it, which in turn means it is all, and it is nothing (Comans 5). This is the essence of what advaita means as well, which conflicts with the general dualistic orthodox view of brahman and atman (Absolute Reality, and Self) being two different things (Rodrigues 71).

 

Later Influences

Hundreds of years after his time, Gaudapada’s philosophies live on through his students. The most noted of these distant students was Sankara, whose teacher was taught by Gaudapada. Within Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta, we see many parallels between the two philosophers. A major similarity is that Sankara proposed that the only absolutely real thing is brahman, which is the only thing in existence (Rodrigues 374). Although this may seem completely identical to Gaudapada’s belief, the emphasis Gaudapada put on the paradoxical nature of brahman varies slightly with Sankara’s viewpoint. Instead Gaudapada held that brahman neither exists, or exists, among other examples of his extreme non-dualistic viewpoint or darsana (Comans 5). Sankara still held many other core values that were quite similar to Gaudapada’s viewpoint. The concept of neti-neti­, meaning not one or the other, in regards to absolute truth (Rodrigues 374). This is more aligned with the idea that Gaudapada seems to be conveying in regards to brahman, as well as the abstract concept of understanding brahman. It is in this unification of brahman that causes Advaita Vedanta to be considered so radical. Many other philosophies, such as Sankhya, propose that brahman is made up of many aspects that make up our reality. In the particular example of Sankya, prakrti and purusa, the creator and observer (Rodrigues 199). Although Advaita Vedanta seems to undermine philosophies such as this, the Vedas themselves are not openly criticized, and as such Advaita Vedanta is accepted within the Hindu orthodoxy (Rodrigues 376).

 

References

Comans, Michael (2000) The Method of Early Advaita Vedanta: A Study of Gaudapada, Sankara, Suresvara and Padmapada. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Isayeva, Natalia (1995) From Early Vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism: Gaudapada, Bhartrhari, and Abhinavagupta. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Pande, Govind (1994) Life and Thought of Sankaracarya. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: the EBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books Ltd.

Tenzin, Kencho (2006) Shankara: A Hindu Revivalist or a Crypto-Buddhist? Atlanta: Georgia State University.

 

Related Topics

Atman

Avaita

Brahman

Govinda

Mandukya-Karika

Maya

Prajna

Sankara

Suka

Upanisads

Vedanta

Vedas

 

Noteworthy Websites / Additional Readings

Banerji, Sures (1989) A Companion to Sanskrit Literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Dvivedi, Manilal (trans.) (1894) Mandukya-karika. Boimbay: Tatva-vivechaka Press.

Karmarkar, Raghunath (trans.) (1953) Mandukya-karika. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

Lochetfeld, James (2002) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism. The Rosen Publishing Group.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2011) Studying Hinduism in Practice. Abingdon: Routledge.

Wilson, Horace (trans.) (1837) Samkhya-karika. London: Valpy.

http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=rs_theses

http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/sanskrit-texts-3/sanskrit-hindu-texts/

 

Article written by: Jordan Wingfield (February 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Nirguna and Saguna Brahman

The concept of Absolute Reality, or Brahman, is a central concept in Hinduism. The idea of Brahman is that once an individual understands Brahman, they will be considered a Self-realized being, or “liberated while alive” (Rodrigues 96). Most Hindu’s spend their lives trying to attain this liberation. There are two qualities or gunas of Brahman which are typically discussed by Hindu philosophers: Nirguna, meaning without qualities, and Saguna, meaning with qualities. Nirguna and Saguna “are used to describe the brahman or the ultimate reality, referring to its transcendent as well as immanent character, and as such, involve neither negation nor exclusion of each other” (“Nirguna and Saguna” Brill Online); however, there are different interpretations on whether Brahman is intrinsically Nirguna or Saguna. Two key individuals who strive to explain these notions are the Hindu philosophers Sankara, and Ramanuja.

In Hinduism, the concept of Brahman and Atman (Self) go hand in hand. Brahman “seems to be to stand for some ultimate wholeness, which can integrate all existence” (“Brahman” Brill Online); however, there are two different ways to view Brahman. One way to describe Brahman would be that it is the source of all things, and that all things will eventually go back to this source. Another way to describe Brahman is as “a principle of experience, as that which is the essence of the seeker’s being, that onto which the self of the seeker can be mapped” (“Brahman” Brill Online). The Upanisads are texts which somewhat ambiguously describe Brahman; Brahman is sometimes the cause, sometimes the creator and there are both personal and impersonal explanations of Brahman. As a result, it is important to understand all concepts of Brahman to fully grasp its true nature.

Another important concept of Brahman is Atman (the individual self) and the relationship between the two. Some individuals consider Brahman and Atman to be one and the same, whereas others “regard it as distinct from the self” (“Brahman and God” BBC Religions). The Upanisad texts further describe Brahman as a kind of creator as well as supporter of all things in the universe (“Brahman” Brill Online). Once an individual understands the connection between Brahman and the Self (Atman), the individual then experiences moksa. Moksa is the “liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth” (Rodrigues 555). Haridas Chaudhuri describes the realization of the true nature of Brahman as “infinite being-consciousness-joy” (Chaudhuri 48). There are no words to accurately describe Brahman, but the sacred utterance Aum is said to be both a symbol of Brahman, and a manifestation of Brahman in sound (Rodrigues 181). Although there are hundreds of gods that individuals worship in Hinduism, Brahman encompasses everything.

One figure that is pivotal in exploring the notion of Brahman, and its qualities or lack thereof, is Sankara. Born in Kerala around the 8th century, Sankara was a leader of one of four mathas groups, the Sankaracaryas. Sankara is considered one of the most important Hindu philosophers, known especially for his interpretations of the Upanisads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutra. He created the Advaita Vedanta (radical non-dualism) philosophy, which claims, like other aspects of Hinduism, that the only thing in existence is Brahman. The difference however, is that the concept of Brahman in Advaita Vedanta is that Brahman is not made up of parts, therefore Atman is Brahman, and Brahman is Atman: not two different attributes like other schools of thought maintain. Atman couldn’t be a quality/attribute of Brahman, because Brahman is not made up of separate parts. This notion suggests that Brahman is Nirguna, “beyond, or without attributes” (Rodrigues 507). A part of Sankara’s philosophy describes Nirguna Brahman as being an “unqualified reality, [and] is the origin of the world of experience” (Carr 425), and can also be described as silence; this is a state of Brahman in which the individual is at peace, and still. There is not anything that needs to be changed. The difficulty with assigning Brahman as Nirguna is that even trying to describe Brahman is saying that Brahman has qualities that can be described, and therefore one is describing a Saguna Brahman. The qualities, or gunas, that appear to make up Brahman are attributed to maya, the creative side of Brahman. Maya is “the creative power through which Brahman, like a great magician, conjures up the world of seeming multiplicity and separate selves” (Rodrigues 374). An illustration that Sankara uses to explain this philosophy is the analogy of a rope and a snake. Walking along, one might think that they see a snake in their path. By seeing this snake, many emotions can overcome the individual, but “once the illusion is penetrated, the illusory snake vanishes, revealing the substrate upon which it was superimposed” (Rodrigues 374); therefore, maya is superimposed on Brahman. Since Brahman is everything, maya deludes everything one sees until moksa, or liberation, is attained. At this point, the individual becomes one with Brahman, and the individual is not fooled by maya any longer. Until this occurs, “the world…even including Isvara (the Lord), is not ultimately true or real, but that ultimate reality belongs only to the infinite, eternal, unchanging, pure bliss consciousness that is Brahman…all that we see with our senses, even our private thoughts, Advaita claims, are not ultimately real” (Betty 216).

The second aspect of Brahman is the concept of Saguna Brahman. Although it is an equal part of understanding Brahman, it is drastically different from Nirguna Brahman. Saguna Brahman is “Ultimate Reality assigned with attributes” (Rodrigues 508). Chaudhuri describes Saguna Brahman as “the Supreme Spirit conceived as the universal principle endowed with such cosmic functions as creation, maintenance, and dissolution” (47). As stated above, Chaudhuri describes Brahman as being a concept of creative joy, and in that case, Saguna Brahman would be the “supreme artist of the world” (50). Sankara takes his views on how maya is superimposed onto Brahman, and says that since maya is superimposed onto everything, the things one sees through maya have qualities, and therefore those qualities mean that Brahman is Saguna. Sankara also explains that the understanding of the world that one sees through maya is called Isvara (The Lord). The three qualities of Saguna Brahman that are most prevalent are sat, cit, and ananda. Sat is the being or existence of Brahman, cit is the consciousness Brahman, and ananda is bliss. These qualities of Brahman are viewed through maya’s illusions and once these qualities are stripped away, Sankara’s theory is that one is left with the pure essence of Brahman, which is Nirguna, or without attributes. Anantanand Rambachan explains this complex relationship by simply stating that “Isvara is related to the world and defined through that relationship, whereas nirguna brahman is brahman-in-itself and beyond all definitions” (Rambachan 14).

Another important Hindu philosopher is Ramanuja. Ramanuja was born in the 11th or 12th century in Chennai. Before he created his own philosophy, he studied Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta philosophy. Ramanuja would go on to join the Sri-Vaisnava tradition, which focused on the influences of the Alvars, who were very influenced by bhakti which is defined as “devotional worship through action” (Rodrigues 543). His own philosophy, however, is called Visistadvaita (qualified non-dualism). Ramanuja’s philosophy is similar to Sankara’s philosophy of Advaita Vedanta in that they both believe that Brahman is the Ultimate Reality, and that Brahman encompasses everything. Unlike Sankara, Ramanuja also believes that it has gunas, or qualities, and therefore is Saguna. He believes this upon the understanding that one can’t talk about, or try to understand a Nirguna Brahman – even attempting to discuss Nirguna Brahman is giving it qualities, and is therefore Saguna. The Visistadvaita tradition “rejects all talk of maya, or illusion” (Betty 217). Followers of the tradition believe that everything in the universe, and everything one sees within is Brahman itself. Brahman is part of everything in the universe, but is also a distinct being apart from the universe. Ramanuja assigns the name Isvara (The Lord) to his idea of Saguna Brahman. In the Sri-Vaisnava tradition, Atman is not equal, or the same as Brahman, it is a “[mode] or [aspect] of Brahman, wholly dependent upon the Lord” (Rodrigues 377). When a being is liberated through moksa, the individual is able to connect with Isvara. In this stage, the individual is no longer hindered or distracted by maya, which stated above, is the power of illusion. Unlike Sankara’s philosophy, Ramanuja believes that it is the power of the Lord, not the individual that liberates an individual; however, the Lord cannot liberate a being, the liberating is done through the “descent of his grace, the goddess Sri” (Rodrigues 377).

The concept of Brahman is so important in Hinduism that it is not difficult to imagine the different forms of opinions surrounding the two notions of Nirguna and Saguna Brahman. Two important Hindu philosophers, Sankara and Ramanuja, both had different opinions and philosophies on these two notions. Sankara believed that Brahman is Nirguna, or having no qualities or attributes, and that everything one sees is not Brahman, but maya, or the power of illusion. Ramanuja believes that Brahman is Saguna, or with qualities, due to the fact that even trying to describe the notion of a Nirguna Brahman is assigning attributes, making Brahman Saguna. There are many other philosophers who attempt to explain the two different notions of Brahman, but Sankara and Ramanuja’s philosophies are the primary philosophies.

 

 

 References

 

Betty, Stafford (2010) “Dvaita, Advaita, and Visistadvaita: Contrasting Views of Moksa.” Asian Philosophy, Vol. 20, No. 2: 215-224.

Carr, Brian (1999) “Sankara and the principle of material causation.” Religious Studies, Vol. 35,    No. 4: 425-439.

Chakravarthi, Ram-Prasad “Brahman.” Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Online: http://0    referenceworks.brillonline.com.darius.uleth.ca/entries/brill-s-encyclopedia-of          hinduism/brahman-COM_2050070.

Chaudhuri, Haridas (1954) “The Concept of Brahman in Hindu Philosophy.” Philosophy East      and West, Vol. 4, No. 1: 47-66.

Flood, Gavin (2009) “Brahman and God.” BBC Religions. Online: http://www.bbc.co.uk   /religion/religions/hinduism/concepts/concepts_1.shtml#section_6

Purushottam, Agrawal (2013) “Nirguna and Saguna.” Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Online:       http://0-referenceworks.brillonline.com.darius.uleth.ca/entries/brill-s-encyclopedia-of          hinduism/nirguna-and-saguna-COM_2050210.

Rambachan, Anantanand (2001) “Hierarchies in the Nature of God? Questioning The “Saguna      Nirguna” Distinction in Advaita Vedanta.” Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies, Vol. 14,       No. 7: 1-7.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism -The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Schomer, Karine, McLeod, W.H. (1987) “The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India.”

Shrivastava, S. N. L (1958) “Samkara on God, Religion, and Morality.” Philosophy East and         West, Vol. 7, No. 3: 91-106.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Advaita Vedanta

Ajnana

Atman

Avaidya

Bhakti

Isvara

Maya

Moksa

Ramanuja

Sankara

The Upanisads

Visistadvaita

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bhakti

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_difference_between_Nirguna_and_Saguna_Brahman_in_Hinduism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahman

 

Article written by: Alex Williams (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Concept of Brahman

The concept of Brahman is said to be one of the foundational features of the Hindu philosophical understanding of existence (Chaudhuri 47). The root of the word Brahman is the Sanskrit brh, which translates as “to grow, increase, expand, swell” (Bernard 123). The word “Brahman” itself translates into “the Great, the Supreme” (Chaudhuri 47). The essence of Brahman is said to be in everything, despite the apparent disparity between the perfection of Brahman and the deficiencies and variances of the material (Bernard 125). In Advaita Vedanta, though Brahman pervades all of material existence, it is not correct to describe Brahman as manifest reality, because manifest reality does not in turn pervade Brahman (Chaudhuri 53). Brahman is not only the source of everything in the universe (Prabhupada 204), but also upholds the creation (Singh 261). In the Upanisads, Brahman is described as “truth and knowledge besides infinity” (Singh 63). Though Brahman is considered to be responsible for the creation, maintenance and destruction of existence, it is not considered a god or goddess to be worshipped, but instead is a concept to be meditated upon in an individual’s quest for understanding the nature of reality (Bernard 163-164).

Though transcendental matters are generally beyond the scope of human understanding(Bernard 118), Brahman can be understood as a logical necessity (Chaudhuri 60). The Vedanta indicates that Brahman, as a logical necessity, is the underlying principle which is attained from a careful examination of knowledge brought about by experience (Chadhauri 60). The Chandogya Upanisad claims that nothing that exists can have been brought about by something non-existent, and, by extension, the denial of Brahman is the denial of the self, an obvious contradiction (Singh 260).

While Brahman is an indivisible whole (Chaudhuri 61), it has two conditions. These conditions are Sat and Asat, which translate into “being” and “non-being” respectively (Bernard 124). To describe Brahman as Asat is to refer to the state of the universe during the period of Pralaya, which refers to the period between manifestations of the cosmos (Bernard 124). When referring to Brahman as Sat, one refers to Brahman as the most fundamental aspect of existence, upon which existence is contingent (Bernard 124). While Brahman defies attributive definitions, if one were to attempt to describe it rationally, one would be inclined to define it as pure being/consciousness/joy, or sat-cit-ananda (Chaudhuri 48). Brahman is pure being in the sense that it is beyond life and death (Chaudhuri 48). As pure consciousness, Brahman is all-knowing, though not in the Western sense of knowing all facts, but rather, Brahman is the source of consciousness and knowledge, or that which makes consciousness possible (Chaudhuri 49). When referred to as pure joy, Brahman is not the bringer of joy, but rather is exempt from subjugation to both pain and pleasure (Chaudhuri 49). However, one would be remiss to think of these terms, Sat and Asat, as defining Brahman. Indeed, “to call it a ‘being’ is to call it a definite ‘being,’ which it is not, and to call it ‘non-being’ is to deny it, which is not true” (Seksena 19-20). Yajnavalkya indicates in the Brhadaranyakopanisad that Brahman can only be described negatively, as “neti, neti – not this, not this” (Isayeva 116).

Brahman is the embodiment of all fundamental polarities, but these polarities are inseparable aspects of the same Ultimate Reality. For instance, Brahman is said to constitute both the masculine and feminine archetypes (Chaudhuri 50). Brahman is thought to exist in two inextricable forms or modes (Chaudhuri 47), which again represent a polarity. One of these modes is devoid of qualities and is hence known as Nirguna. The other, with qualities, is known as Saguna (Bernard 125). Nirguna Brahman is “the great Silence” which defies logic and attributive description (Chaudhuri 48). In some descriptions, Nirguna Brahman is the greater of the two because it is eternally singular and of the same character (Isayeva 114). Saguna Brahman is the agent that “performs” the creation, maintenance and destruction of existence. Indeed, Saguna Brahman can be described as the great universal artist, who creates not for any purpose other than lila; “the self-expansive urge of delight, the outflow of creative joy, the spirit of playful self-expression” (Chaudhuri 49-50). While it is counterintuitive to regard these polarities as part of the same indivisible whole, it is essential to keep in mind that Brahman is infinite and can therefore exist in several forms at the same time (Chaudhuri 51).

The earliest Hindu inquiries into the nature of the universe were outgoing, that is to say, concerned with the material world and not directly with consciousness (Seksena 13-14). In this regard, the Rgvedic period is characterized by the realization that all plants, animals and materials are part of a singular all-encompassing cosmic whole (Seksena 13-14). The Rgveda itself contains little metaphysical inquiry apart from the establishment of the notion of an inherent and universal reality which is the fundamental principle of the cosmos. This concept would act as a seed for later Upanisadic inquiries. Indeed, the Rgvedic hymn of creation indicates only that the universe manifests itself out of a compulsion towards possibility (Seksena 17-18). A second stage of Hindu inquiry followed, in which the concept of Rta, or a cosmic “principle of law,” was established. This period made no special distinction between the essence of man and that of the other animals, though there were indications that the role of man with regards to Rta was knowledge (Seksena 15-16).

The Upanisads are credited with making a vital contribution to Hindu philosophy, characterized by two declarations. First, that the Ultimate Reality is a timeless consciousness made of undiluted intelligence and bliss and, second, that said ultimate reality is the same as the self, or Atman (Seksena 21-22). The Vedantasutra was composed between 500 BCE and 200 CE and is credited to Badarayana, though there is some speculation that this is a pseudonym for Vyasa (Bernard 116). The Vedanta views the world, which it deems to have been masterfully created, to have necessarily been constructed by an intelligent agent who directs the the intricate forces that govern the cosmos. This intelligent agent is Brahman, the fundamental principle of reality which can never be exceeded by the mind (Bernard 120). Brahman is differentiated from Purusa of Sankhya in the sense that Purusa lacks both power and influence, and could therefore not be the primal cause of the universe. Nor could it be Sankhya’s Prakrti, “for then it would be an effect; and and effect cannot affect itself” (Bernard 120-121). Both Purusa and Prakrti are understood in Vedanta to be alternate forms of a single reality (Tiwari 66). Vedanta is differentiated from Vaisesika on the grounds that the latter claims Adrsta, “unseen, invisible, unknown,” is the initial cause of existence, while the Vedantist argues that the initial cause of the universe cannot reside in the soul, as Adrsta does, because the souls are said to be dormant during Pralaya (Bernard 122). In this regard, the notion of Brahman is the exceptional contribution to Hindu philosophy made by Vedanta (Bernard 123).

Liberation, or moksa, is the realization of Brahman, an instantaneous awareness of the fundamental oneness of the universe (Chaudhuri 55). Indeed, the realization that Brahman and Atman are identical (Tiwari 206) offers the only path to liberation from samsara (Isayeva 114-115). Atman is not to be confused with the ego but is rather a localized aspect of Brahman, while at the same time Atman is wholly Brahman (Chaudhuri 51-52). Atman could be described as “the universal principle of subjective existence” while Brahman could be described as “the universal principle of objective existence” (Chaudhuri 52). Knowledge of Brahman can never be attained through any form of inquiry or examination, but instead can only be achieved directly through intuition (Bernard 118). However, while knowledge of Atman can never be taught directly, one can be set upon the correct path to this realization by carefully studying sruti in order to avoiding straying too far from the mental condition that is necessary for liberation (Isayeva 120). The reason Atman cannot be grasped is that consciousness can never be made its own object in exactly the same way as an physical object cannot collide with itself (Isayeva 126-127).

Atman, or the Self, is identical to the cosmic and universal (Seksena 24-25). It is helpful to think of individuals as unique microcosms of a single undivided reality (Chaudhuri 53). Some heterodox Hindu philosophical schools, including the materialist Lokayata, considered the physical body to be identical with Atman, while the orthodox schools, such as Advaita, refer to the body as nothing more than a temporary veil imposed on the unchanging Atman (Isayeva 107-108). According to Sankara, Atman is the pure consciousness that resides at the root of all souls, which is identical to Brahman (Isayeva 114).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bernard, Theos (1947) Hindu Philosophy. Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

Chaudhuri, Haridas (1954) “The Concept of Brahman in Hindu Philosophy” Philosophy East       and West. Vol.4, No.1 (April), 47-66.

Isayeva, Natalia (1993) Shankara and Indian Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York             Press.

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1972) Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is. New York: Macmillan    Publishing Co., Inc.

Seksena, S.K. (1971) Nature of Consciousness in Hindu Philosophy. Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass.

Singh, Satya Prakash (2004) History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization.      ed. D.P. Chattopadhyaya, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publisher Pvt. Ltd..

Tiwari, Satya Prakash (2009) An Insight in Hindu Philosophy – Life and Beyond. New Delhi:        Readworthy Publications (P) Ltd..

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Adrsta

Advaita

Atman

Guna

Maya

Moksa

Prakrti

Pramana

Purusa

Samsara

Sankhya

Upanisads

Vedas

Vedanta

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://hinduism.about.com/od/basics/a/brahman.htm

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/brahmanmain.asp

 

[Article written by Jason Schultchen (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.]