Saturday, June 6, 2020
Home Indian History & Culture Upanishads unfold mystery of Brahman

Upanishads unfold mystery of Brahman

By Nithin Sridhar

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 11


In the last segment, the questions regarding God were taken up and the following three questions were listed:

  • What is God?
  • Where is God?
  • How to perceive/reach/realize God?

But, only the second question: Where is God? was taken up for analysis. The scriptures were quoted to show how God was not some super human being sitting in heaven, but he was present everywhere and in all objects as their innermost Self. It was further added that God can be realized in one’s own Hrdaya (Heart or center of existence).

In this installment, let’s take up the first question regarding God: What is God? Before proceeding further, it must be clarified that the term “God” is basically an English terminology that is rooted in western philosophical conception of the Supreme reality.

The Hindu scriptures refer to the supreme reality as Brahman and by various other names like Atman, Ishwara, Bhagavan etc. depending upon the context and meaning that is intended to be conveyed. The Upanishads in particular use the term Brahman when it intends to speak about the God in its entirety, as existence itself. Therefore let’s look into how Hindu scriptures define Brahman.

The Hindu scriptures over and over again stress on the fact that the Brahman is beyond description. The Brahman is beyond the senses and the mind. It cannot be perceived by the eyes, ears, nose or even the mind; yet it is Brahman that makes all these faculties of mind and the senses to function (Kena Upanishad: 1.5-9).

Kena Upanishad (2.3), in fact, says that if a person believes that he can know Brahman as an objective reality, then such a person has not realized Brahman. On the other hand, a person who realizes that Brahman is beyond objective perception and is beyond the grasp of words or thoughts is an enlightened person.

Consequently, no count of words or gauge of logical analysis can actually define the Brahman. They, at best, can act as pointers in the direction of the ultimate goal. It is in acting as “pointers” lie the utility of such verbal or logical definitions. For example, the North Star, even though it did not reveal the destination as such, guided the sailors in the olden days towards their destination.

Similarly, the Upanishads give various definitions of Brahman to help different seekers of ultimate Reality who are at different levels of spiritual and intellectual competence.

Mandukya Upanishad (Verse 7), which is the shortest among all Upanishads, describes Brahman from the standpoint of Brahman. Consequently from that absolute standpoint, it describes the Brahman as beyond empirical dealings, beyond the grasp, unthinkable, indescribable, wherein all phenomenon of world as separate entity ceases to exist and wherein non-duality alone exists.

These descriptions may not make sense to many because most people are still in the realm of the objective universe bound by the Avidya (ignorance) that prevents an individual from rising above duality.

From the standpoint of Brahman, this universe as a separate and independent entity does not exist. Brahman which is non-dual (without a second entity) alone exists. This does not mean that the objective universe has no meaning. It simply means that, from the standpoint of Brahman, whatever we perceive as world, objects, names and forms are all Brahman alone.

As people find it hard to understand this and harder to digest this, the Upanishads also offer other definitions that can be understood from the standpoint of the universe which is rooted in duality.

Taittiriya Upanishad (3.1) defines Brahman as:




tadvijigyasasva tad brahmeti ||

Translation: From which all the creatures are born, being born by which they sustain and into which they merge back, is known as Brahman.

The definition given in this mantra (hymn) of the Upanishad gives three points:

  • Brahman is the source of the Universe.
  • Brahman sustains the Universe.
  • Brahman absorbs back the Universe into its Self.

This is significant. The Upanishad is invariably saying that Brahman is both the material as well as the instrumental cause of the Universe. Moreover, Brahman exists as the support or sub-stratum of the Universe. It is for this reason that the Brahman is called as Atman, the innermost Self. It exists in the Hrdaya, the center of individual existence, and It supports the individuality and multiplicity of the Universe.

Let us ponder over some more about the terms “material cause” and “instrumental cause”. For the manufacture of any object, both causes are necessary. For example, for creating a pot, there must be a potter who makes the pot (the instrumental cause) and the mud from which the pot is created (the material cause).

There are various philosophies within Hinduism that give different and sometimes opposing viewpoints regarding the status of Brahman with respect to the universe. But, the Upanishad itself is clear that Brahman is both the instrumental and the material cause.

Hence, unlike the western religions and philosophies that define God as being separate from His creation, Brahman is not separate from the universe. The universe instead is considered as an extension or the body of Brahman and hence inseparable from Brahman. In fact at highest level it is realized that the universe is non-different from Brahman.

Without going into the details, it is suffice to say that, from the standpoint of the universe, the universe is the effect and the Brahman is the cause (both material and instrumental). And in order to realize the Brahman/God, one must dive deep into one’s own Self- into the Hrdaya- and travel from the effect to the cause and from duality to non-duality.

More in this segment:
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 1
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 2
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 3
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 4
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 5
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 6
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 7
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 8
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 9

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 10

Nithin Sridhar
Staff-Writer at NewsGram. With a degree in civil engineering, and having worked in construction field, Nithin Sridhar passionately writes about various issues from development, politics, and social issues, to religion, spirituality and ecology. He is based in Mysore, India.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Education Protects Women Against Memory Loss: Researchers

Education appears to protect older adults, especially women, against memory loss, say researchers, suggesting that children, especially girls, who attend school for longer will...

Severe Vision Loss Can Lead to Less Accurate Judgement of Distance of Nearby Sounds: Researchers

Researchers, including one of Indian-origin, have revealed that people with severe vision loss can less accurately judge the distance of nearby sounds, potentially putting...

Here Is The Essence of The Pious Bhagavad Gita

For those who do not know what happens in one of the greatest epic the Mahabharata, Here is a brief backdrop of that and...

Tourists Return to Venice as Italy Reopens Borders

International tourists have started to return to Venice after Italy reopened its borders as the once worst-hit country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic as...

Recent Comments

Annie Anderson Smith on Information on Wismar massacre
Annie Anderson Smith on Information on Wismar massacre
Ajith Fredjeev Dinakarlal on Vikram Lander Spotted On Moon
Dr. P. L. Salinkar on Vikram Lander Spotted On Moon
GMAT-Testpreppractice on All You Want to Know about GMAT Exam
Gillian ScottO'Connor on The Indian Diaspora in Jamaica
Faisal Ansari on NewsGram is hiring!
AryanBrahmin Dalit Rapists Inc on Can Devanagari script scale Indian linguistic wall?
Pendaftaran CPNS Kemenkumham on Jobs
Mrs India 2017 Mamta Trivedi on Kargil Divas - Mrs India 2018 on Major Padmapani Acharya: A portrait of valour
URL on 2
Winslow Padmore on Information on Wismar massacre
ಅಶೋಕ ಭ ಕಲ್ಗುಡ್ಡೆ on Siya Ke Ram: Distortions, lies, and mockery of Ramayana
ಅಶೋಕ ಭ ಕಲ್ಗುಡ್ಡೆ on Siya Ke Ram: Distortions, lies, and mockery of Ramayana
ಅಶೋಕ ಭ ಕಲ್ಗುಡ್ಡೆ on Siya Ke Ram: Distortions, lies, and mockery of Ramayana
चाणक्य my teacher on Tracing the Indian Diaspora in Suriname
Anubhuti Gupta on
Shubhi Mangla on Indian Diaspora in Holland
Jagpreet Kaur Sandhu on Dhanvantari: The father of Ayurveda
Jagpreet Kaur Sandhu on Are Indian Techies safe abroad?
Jagpreet Kaur Sandhu on Satyam: Speak truth, speak useful
கே மோகன் ஹைதராபாத் on Siya Ke Ram: Distortions, lies, and mockery of Ramayana
Linden Sinclair on Information on Wismar massacre
Linden Sinclair on Information on Wismar massacre
Vrushali Mahajan on Climate Change: Earth in Danger
Paras Vashisth on