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BRAHMAN AND ATMAN

BRAHMAN AND ATMAN

BRAHMAN AND ATMAN: We have seen that the reality is called from the subjective side as ‘Atman’ and from the objective side as ‘Brahman’. The two terms are used as synonyms.

The Absolute of the Upanisads manifests itself as the subjective as well as the object and transcends them both. The Absolute is as certain as the Atman and also as infinite as the Brahman. This blending of the subject and the object in a transcendental principle, this synthesis of the self and the non – self in the  not – self in the Absolute, this dialectical march of pure self – consciousness from the subject through the object to its own synthetic nature was arrived at by the Upanisadic sages centuries before Hegel, and many many years before Plato was born. To quote Deussen : ‘It was here that for the first time the original thinkers of the Upanisads, to their immortal honour,  found it when they recognized our Atman, our inmost individual being, as the Brahman, the inmost being of universal nature and of all her phenomena’. ‘That thou art’ ( tat tvam asi ) is the great saying      (mahavakya ) of the Upanisads. ‘I am Brahman’. ‘Atman is Brahman’.  ‘I am that’. ‘I am non-dual bliss’. The subject lacked infinitude and the object lacked certitude.

BRAHMAN AND ATMAN

The absolute has both infinitude and certitude. The self and the non – self are equally manifestations of the absolute and are at bottom one. The individual self is , in fact, no longer individual, but universal. Microcosm and the macrocosm are blended together. In microcosm we find the three states of waking, dreaming and sound sleep and we find the self as the fourth, the immanent yet transcendent reality. In macrocosm waking ( jagrat ) corresponds to virat, dreaming (svapna ) to Hiranyagarbha, deep sleep ( susupti ) to Ishvara, and the fourth ( Turiya ) to Brahman. In macrocosm, body corresponds to Virat, life and mind corresponds to Hiranyagarbha, self – consciousness corresponds to Ishvara and bliss corresponds to Brahman. The Absolute is pure Existence, pure knowledge, and pure bliss – all in one. It is called Sachhidananda. It is Satyam ( truth ), Jnanam ( knowledge ) and Anantam ( infinite ). It is truth, Goodness and beauty —- satyam –shivam – sundaram. By knowing it the unseen becomes the seen, the unknown becomes the known, the unthought-of of becomes the thought of.

BRAHMAN AND ATMAN

                All this is beautifully described in the Chhandogya in a dialogue between Uddalaka and Shvetaketu. The father teaches his son Shvetaketu thus: ‘In the beginning sat alone was, without a second. It thought “May I be many”.’ Then it evolved itself into this manifold world. Thou, O Shvetaketu! Art that – ‘Tat tvam asi Shvetaketu!’  This teaching blends the subject with the object, the indubitable with the infinite, the microcosm with the macrocosm, the self with the not – self. None of them can be taken as independent and separate. Both are relative terms and like the two sides of the same coin, both are manifestations of the same sat. The Sat runs through them ( tadevanupravishat ) and constitutes their being. Yet the sat cannot be confined to them. In its own nature it transcends them both. The individual self of Shvetaketu of which he is immediately conscious and absolutely certain is identified with the  infinite objective reality which is the cause of this universe including the individual selves and the world of matter. But how can a portion of the effect be identified with the whole cause? How can the self of Shvetaketu which is itself an effect alone with others ( i.e., other selves and matter ) be one with the cause, the Brahman ? How  can the private and the limited self of  Shvetaketu be the cause of this entire universe? The answer is that both the self and the non – self are mere manifestations of the absolute. The Absolute is immanent in them all and constitutes their being. The self of   Shvetaketu is one with the Universal Self which is immanent in it. ‘I live, yet not I, but God liveth in me.’

BRAHMAN AND ATMAN

                        This Brahman is described in two ways in the Upanisads. It is called cosmic, all – comprehensive, full of all good qualities – Saprapancha, Saguna and Savishesa.  And it is also called acosmic, qualityless, indeterminate, indescribable – Nisprapancha, Nirguna, Nirvishesa and Anirvachaniya. This distinction is the root of the celebrated distinction made by Shankaracharya between god and the absolute. The former is called lower Brahman ( apara Brahman) or Ishvara, and the letter higher Brahman ( para Brahman ) or the absolute. God is the personal aspect of the Absolute and the Absolute is the impersonal aspect of God. Matter self and God are only manifestations of the Absolute. But Ramanujacharya has challenged this distinction. To him, the absolute is the personal and the immanent God, and matter and selves alike form His real body, He, being the soul of nature and the soul of souls. Ramanuja interprets the Upanisads in the sense of Brahma – parinama – vada; Brahman unreally appears, through ignorance, as the world of matter and of souls. Shankara does not deny the existence, of a personal God. He is the highest appearance admitted by Advaitism.

BRAHMAN AND ATMAN

               The cosmic Brahman is regarded as the cause of production, maintenance and destruction of this universe. All beings arise from Him, live in Him and are absorbed in Him. The Mandukya calls Him ‘the lord of all, the knower of all, the inner controller of all, the fons et origo of all, the final haven of all’. Like sparks arising from fire, like earthen – ware arising out of earth, like gold ornaments being made out of gold, like cob – web coming out of a spider, like hair coming out of the body, like the luster shooting out of a pearl, like the musical sound coming out of a lute, the entire certain creation arises out of Brahman. Just as when clay is known, everything made out of clay becomes known, for it is only ‘ name and form’, the reality being only clay, similarly when Brahman, the cause is known, everything, being a mere effect, becomes known, for the effects are only names and forms, the reality is Brahman alone. In the Brhadaranyaka we are told that nature is the body of God who is its soul. Earth, water, fire, air, ether, the sun, the moon, the stars, the sky, the quarters the rivers, the mountain, in fact all beings, all creatures, all life, all sense, all speech, all minds are the body of  God. God is immanent in them all and controls them from within and holds them together. He knows them all but they do not know him, for how can the body know the soul? He who knows this Antaryamin, knows the Atman, knows the Brahman, knows the Vedas, knows all the worlds, in fact he knows all, god is not only the soul of nature, he is also the soul of souls. The souls are His body; He is their soul. The souls are souls in relation to the bodies, but in relation to God, they become His body and He becomes their soul. Just as the spokes are held together in the axle and the wheel, so all the souls are held together in the Supreme Soul. Just as  sparks emanate from fire, so all the souls emanate from the Supreme Soul.

BRAHMAN AND ATMAN

                  The acosmic Brahman is the transcendental Absolute, the Turiya or the fourth, the Amatra or the measureless, the Anirvachaniya or the Indescribable. It is the foundational consciousness, the fundamental postulate of all knowledge. It holds the subjective and the objective world in a transcendental unity. It is the background of the empirical trinity of knowledge, knower and known. It is the indubitable ultimate knower which is presupposed by all affirmations and negations, all positions and doubts and denials. It is self – luminous and self – proved. The discursive intellects cannot know it for the ultimate subject cannot be made an object of knowledge. As Kant says : ‘ What I must presuppose in order to know an object, I cannot know as an object’. How can he be known by whom all this is known? How, O dear, can the knower be known? All speech together with the mind turns away unable to reach it. The eye does not go there, nor does not speech, nor does mind. We cannot know it. We cannot teach it. The Absolute can be best described only in a negative way, though it is not itself negated by it .

Yajnavalkya describes it thus : ‘ this is the imperishable, O Gargi, which wise people adore – not gross, not subtle, nor short, nor long, without shadow, without darkness, without air, without space, without attachment, without taste, without smell, without sight, without ears, without speech, without mind, without light, without breath, without mouth, and without either inside or outside. It does not eat anything nor can anything eat it.’  

BRAHMAN AND ATMAN

Lets this description  should be mistaken as mere solipsism and pure nonsense, Yajnavalkya is cautions enough to add immediately that ‘ never is the sight of the seer destroyed; never is the knowledge of the knower destroyed’, that when it is said that the Absolute does not see what is really meant is that it sees and yet does not see. There is nothing outside it which it may see. The eternal knower, the self – luminous Real shines forth by itself. Silence is the ultimate philosophy and Yajnavalkya has to tell Gargi: Gargi! Ask not too much, ask not too much, otherwise thy head will fall. In the Kena we are told: That which cannot be spoken by the speech, but by which speech is made possible; that which cannot be though by the mind, but by which, they say, the mind thinks; that which cannot be seen by the eye, but by which the eye is made to see; that which cannot be heard by the ear, but by which the  ear is made to hear; that which does not breathe, but y which breath is made possible, know that alone to be the Brahman, not this which they worship outside. Brahman is known to him who says he does not know it and it is unknown to him who says he knows it.

BRAHMAN AND ATMAN

The meaning is that he who knows the Brahman as the Indescribable really knows its nature and he who thinks that Brahman can be adequately described by the finite mind misses its nature. The empirical and negative description of the Absolute by means of neti neti  ( not this, not this )  or ‘ the neither – nor ’ necessarily presupposes the affirmation of the Absolute as all – Comprehensive and culminates in the transcendental Absolute which goes beyond both negative and affirmation. The neti neti  negates all description about the Brahman, but not the Brahman itself. In fact, the Absolute is the Existence of all existences, the Truth of all  truths, the Reality of all realities. Realizing  this, a wise person should remain merged in it and transcending all categories of the intellect, should acquire child – like innocence. There is no plurality here. Those who are engrossed in plurality go on revolving in the cycle of birth and death. Fear proceeds from diversity. Unity is fearlessness. Grief and delusion are gone for him who realizes this unity. All joys fade into insignificance before the supreme Joy of Brahman. Just as rivers, leaving their names and forms, merge in the ocean , so a wise man , arising above name and form, becomes one with the Absolute. He who knows Brahman becomes Brahman. This is secret teaching. Only by knowing it can one cross the ocean of birth – and – death ; there is no other way for liberation.