Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century


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Definition - Professor V. Krishnamurthy

(The word 'brahman' is a noun in Sanskrit, in the neuter gender, not to be confused with the masculine noun 'brahmA' which is the name of the first of the triad of personal Gods: brahmA, viShNu and shiva. Nor to be confused with bhrama, meaning complexity, error or mistake. 'brahman' originates from the root verb 'bRRih' to grow or enlarge.)

Nothing that exists is without a name and a form. But all that exists has a common factor that subsists as a substratum in all. Just as all gold ornaments have gold as their commonality of content, just as all clay toys, though distinguishable by their name and form, are not distinguishable as clay, just as the movie screen is the base for all the drama that is superimposed on it while the screen itself is unsullied by any of the turmoil that 'takes place' 'on' it - so also a substratum, subtler than space, permeates everything in the universe and everything 'takes place' 'in' it, without itself being affected. That, being the common content of all that have name and form, has no name or form for itself. The Vedas speak of it as 'That' or also as 'brahman'. This is the supreme ultimate Reality, the reality that never changes. (To emphasize the supremeness, it is also called 'para-brahman', 'para' meaning 'supreme').

All our knowledge of brahman comes from the scriptures and so is indirect (Sanskrit: 'parokSha'). It is however known, as direct (Sanskrit: 'aparokSha') knowledge by realisation and insight, once everything that is transient is transcended. It is not known otherwise; it is that which makes known what is known. By itself it is not an object of knowledge to be known. It is the very Consciousness (Sanskrit: 'cit', also 'caitanyaM') that cognises knowledge. There is no higher Reality outside that. Knowledge of absence of Consciousness implies the existence of Consciousness. While everything is presented to Consciousness, the nature of Consciousness is to be its own light. A lighted lamp needs no other light to illumine it.

brahman is only one of its kind. Also, It is 'one only' and so is bereft of parts. There is 'no second' to brahman; it is non-dual. Any presence or awareness of duality makes the awareness finite. It does not possess any quality. For, to differentiate between brahman as a bearer of a quality and the quality which is attributed to it, is to introduce a difference in the absoluteness of non-duality. Hence it is impersonal (Sanskrit: nirguNa). It cannot be classified by category or species, action or function, quality or relation. It cannot be indicated as this or that. When the epithets 'Supreme Person' (Sanskrit: puruShottama) or 'Supreme Self' (Sanskrit: paramAtmA) are used for brahman, the supremeness only indicates that everything is transcended, like time, space, causation and personification. It cannot be conceived of even by the intellect which functions only in the duality of subject and object and so it cannot be described as either. If human intellect has however to contend with one such, it can only do so with what then should be renamed, 'brahman with attributes' (Sanskrit: saguNa brahman). One then descends from Absolute Consciousness to consciousness of the Absolute. For meditation, the silence that follows the three syllables in the pronunciation of the word 'aum' ( OM) has been uniquely recommended as representing brahman with or without attributes.

The only thing that can be predicated about brahman is that It exists. The Vedas choose only to declare this existence and call it, Existing Entity

(Sanskrit: 'sat'). It is therefore the being of every being. The conclusion of advaita is that the universe of plurality is not a manifestation of brahman, but only its appearance. Plurality is a matter of words only; it has no existence independent of brahman. If plurality were absolutely real, then the enlightened, whose experience of unity is deliverance from the 'cycle of births and deaths' (Sanskrit: saMsAra), would have had a beginning of that deliverance which then must inevitably have also an end!

Nothing that the human mind can think of can be affirmed of brahman. It transcends all that can be described in finite terms and words. Its essential incomprehensibility forces us to either use all superlatives as in 'Most revered Light of lights'; 'Truth of truths'; 'It is smaller than the smallest, bigger than the biggest'; 'It is that which is supreme, than which there is nothing higher, nothing more minute, nothing more comprehensive'; or to use all negations, like 'Neither gross, nor minute, neither short, nor long, in short, neither this, nor that'. All such statements of brahman have to be combined and still the description would not be complete.

The statement that brahman rises above thought and word does not mean that it is empty and/or non-existent. The negation of predicates affects only the 'whatness' of the judgement and leaves the 'thatness' untouched. It only means that finite expressions can do no justice to the infinite that is brahman. And since it is infinite, it is Bliss (Sanskrit: 'Ananda') itself; because absence of bliss would imply imperfection and incompleteness. It is actionless, because action is intended to fulfil a desire; but brahman is a homogeneous whole and so has no deficiency.

And, the most important fact, according to advaita, is that this transcendental reality, brahman, and the reality immanent as the innermost core of all the living, the Atman, are both the same! In other words, Atman is the Self as the immanent principle and brahman is the same Self as the transcendent. That is why the existence of brahman the Self, from which everything emanates, can never be questioned, though that of a super-Designer can be. The Consciousness 'I am' cannot be denied. This essential identity is the apex message of advaita.

[Abstract of Definition: . Immanence . Consciousness . Impersonal Absolute . Existence . Transcendence . Bliss . Apex message ]


Sources of some scriptural statements imbedded in
the definition 'Brahman' (Post #34699)

By knowing a lump of gold all the things made of gold become known.
*ekena loha-maNinA sarvaM lohamayaM vijnAtaM syAt* Ch.U. VI-1-5
By knowing a lump of earth, all things made of earth become known.
*ekena mRtpiNDena sarvaM mRNmayaM vijnAtaM syAt* Ch.U. VI - 1 - 4
Attachmentless, it does not stick to anything.
*asango na hi sajyate* Br.U. 3-9-26
It is not tainted by the sorrows of the world, it being transcendental.
*na lipyate loka-dukhena bAhyaH* Katha U. 5-11
This is spoken of as the changeless:
*avikAryo'yam ucyate* B.G. II -25

Know brahman by askesis ('tapas').
*tapasA brahma vijijnAsasva* Tait.U. 3-2.
By its luminiscence, all this is illumined.
*tasya bhAsA sarvam-idaM vibhAti* Katha U. 5-15; Svet. U. 6-14
Mun.U.2-2-10 Ch. U.VI-2-1
To present the Self as one would a jar, etc. is impossible. Owing to the
very nature of the thing, namely it being the witness of vision, etc.
*yat uktaM taM AtmAnaM ghaTAdivat viShayI-kuru iti, tadashakyatvAt na
kriyate / vastu-svAbhAvyAt / dRShTyAdi draShTRtvaM* Br. U. Shankara Bhashya
Through what should one know That owing to which all this is known.
*yenedaM sarvaM vijAnAti taM kena vijAnIyAt* Br. U. 2-4-14
We can never imagine the absence of consciousness.
*na hi vijnAtuH vijnAteH viparilopo vidyate. Br.U. 4 -3-30.
Consciousness is Brahman.
*prajnAnaM brahma* Ai. U. 5-3
This one is unchangingly permanent in an absolute sense, all-pervasive like
space, devoid of all modifications,ever content, partless and self-effulgent
by nature. *idaM tu pAramArthikaM, kUTastha-nityaM, vyomavat sarvavyApi,
sarva-vikriyArahitaM, nitya-tRptaM, niravayavaM,svayamjyotis-svabhAvaM* Br.
S. Shankara Bhashya I - 1 - 4.

One, one only, without a second
*ekam eva advitIyaM * Ch. U. VI-2-2
Where one sees something else, hears something else and understands
something else, that is finite.
*yatra anyat pashyati, anyat shRNoti, anyad-vijAnAti, tad-alpaM* Ch. U. VII
- 24 - 1.
Time, Space and Causation are presented to our imagination by mAyA.
*mAyA-kalpita-desha-kAla-kalanA vaichitrya-chitrI-kRtaM* Shankara's
Dakshinamurti ashtakam. Verse no.2
You cannot know that which is the knower of knowledge.
*na vijnAter vijnAtAraM vijAnIyAH* Br. U. 3-4-2

All transformation has speech as its basis and it is name only.
*vAcArambhaNaM vikAro nAmadheyaM* Ch.U. VI-1-4.
There is no separateness or diversity in It.
*neha nAnAsti kimcana* Br. U.4-4-19

Most revered Light
*vareNyaM bhargaH* from the Gayatri mantra.
Light of Lights
*jyotiShAm api tajjyotiH* B.G. XIII - 15
Truth of Truths.
*satyasya satyaM* Br.U. II-1-20
Smaller than the smallest, bigger than the biggest.
*aNoraNIyAn mahato mahIyAn* Mahanarayanopanishad. Sec.12
That which is supreme, than which there is nothing higher, nothing more
minute, nothing more comprehensive
*yasmAt paraM nAparamasti kimcit yasmAn-nANIyo na jyAyo'sti kimcit *
Mahanarayanopanishad. Sec.12
neither gross, nor minute, neither short, nor long:
*asthUlam anaNu ahrasvaM adIrghaM * Br. U. 3-8-8
not thus, not thus.
*neti neti* Br.U 2-3-6
All such statements have to be combined: Bliss and other characteristics
of Brahman are to be combined.
*AnandAdayaH pradhAnasya* Br. Su. III-3-11.

And That is beyond the intellect.
*yo buddheH paratastu saH* B.G. III-43
That which indeed is the Infinite, that is joy.
*yo vai bhUmA tat sukhaM* Ch.U.VII-23-1

From Which everything emanates.
*yato vA imAni bhUtAni jAyante* Tait. U. 3-1
I am Brahman
*ahaM brahma asmi* Br.U. 1-4-10 .


Here are a few words which involve 'Atman' and/or 'Brahman'.

'Atman', the Self, is the generic stem word.
'AtmA' is the nominative singular.
In compound words where another word follows it within the compound, it
generally appears as 'Atma'-.

'Atma-jnAnaM' : Knowledge of the Self
'Atma-sAkShAtkAraM' : Realisation of the Self.
'Atma-vicAraM' : Enquiry about the Self
'Atma-vidyA': Education towards knowledge of the Atman
'Sarv-Atma-bhAvanA' : 'All-Self-attitude', that is, the attitude of
considering everything as the Self.
'Atma-anAtma-vivekaH': Discrimination between Self and non-Self.

'Brahman', the Supreme Reality, is the generic stem word.
'Brahma' is the nominative singular. (Important note: It is not 'BrahmA')
In compound words where it is followed by another word within the compound,
it generally appears as 'Brahma'-.

'Brahma-jnAnaM' : Knowledge of the Supreme Reality.
'Brahma-nirvAnaM': State of absorption or extinction in Brahman
'Brahma-samsparshaM' : Bliss of contact with Brahman
'Brahma-jnAni' : One who has obtained Brahman-enlightenment
'Brahma-sUtra': The aphorism on Brahman
'Brahma-vidyA': Education that leads to enlightenment about Brahman
'Brahma-vit' One who has known Brahman
'Brahma-bhAvaM' : Attitude of oneness in Brahman
'Brahma-niShTA' : the state of absorption in Brahman
'Brahma-AnandaM', pronounced as 'BrahmAnandaM': The bliss of Brahman
'shabda-brahman' : The Vedas identified with the Supreme.

The point to note is that the other word 'BrahmA' (meaning the first God of
the divine triad, the Creator) also appears as 'Brahma'- in compound words
where it is followed by another word. Examples:
'Brahma-loka': The world of BrahmA the Creator
'Brahma-kalpa': The era (day) of BrahmA the Creator
'Brahma-sRShTi': The Creation of BrahmA the Creator

Other than these there are words which are derived from 'brahman' but now in
its other meanings :
'Brahma-yajnaM' : The ritual in propitiation of the vedas (brahman also
means Vedas)
'Brahma-cAri' : One who leads an unmarried religious student life, studying
the Vedas.
'Brahma-bandhu': A brahmin only in name.

Return to the Contents page for the Terms and Definition.

Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012