What is Brahman? (Part 4)

(Read Part 3)

Leo Hartong also uses the metaphor of clouds, as thoughts, in the blue sky of ‘I am’ awareness:

“Ramana Maharshi recommended that one investigates by asking the question ‘ Who am I?’ When asked who you are, there might be a hesitation as to what to answer; but when asked if you exist, there is no such doubt. The answer is a resounding, ‘ Yes, of course I exist.’ When the answer to the first question is as clear as the answer to the second question, there is understanding.

“The realization is that both questions have in fact the same answer. That which is sure of its existence –the innermost certainty of I Am- is what you essentially are. In other words: I Am this knowing that knows that I Am. The Hindus say Tat Tvam Asi (Thou Art That). In the Old Testament, God says, ‘ I Am that I Am.’ This undeniable ‘ I Am’ is not you in the personal sense, but the universal Self. Ramana Maharshi called the fundamental oneness of ‘ I Am’ and the universal Self ‘ I-I.’ Continue reading

A Comparison of Bhagavad Gita Versions

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are very many versions of the Bhagavad Gita in print, although you will have to look to Indian bookstores to obtain most of these. This can be very worthwhile. Not only are they a lot cheaper there but it is not necessarily the case that the best versions are those which are most popular and are therefore available through Amazon.

You really need to look at each of them yourself to decide which ones appeal most. I can make a few general observations but only you know what your priorities are. (It goes without saying, of course, that the Bhagavad Gita is a ‘must read’ for anyone seriously interested in Advaita!) If you want to see original Devanagari, you are restricted in choice. If you want Romanised transliteration, again not all will provide this.

If you want word-by-word translations, only a few give this (see Refs. 1 – 3 below). If you are interested in the Sanskrit – parts of speech and which verses contain which words, you want Ref. 16 (but this contains neither the text nor a commentary).

If you want the most comprehensive, understandable commentary and expense and time are no hindrance, then Ref. 15 is a no-brainer!

Finally, there is the all-Devanagari version with Shankara’s bhAshya (Ref. 18). This is a huge, hardback book, beautifully produced but, of course, totally useless unless you can read Sanskrit very well indeed. I have a spare copy of this and hereby offer to send it to anyone in the UK free of charge (or anyone elsewhere in the world if they pay the postage) in exchange for the following: you agree to be available to provide a literal translation of any (short) text by email from time to time if I need this for my writing. Email me if you are interested in this offer. Continue reading

What is Brahman? (Part 3)

(Read Part 2)

The superficially contradictory ‘descriptions’ of Brahman as ‘neti, neti’ and ‘sarvaM khalvidaM brahma’ [all this is verily Brahman] are brought out in adjacent verses of the Atma bodha, attributed to Shankara (Swami Chinmayananda translation):


  1. Brahman is other than this, the universe. There exists nothing that is not Brahman. If any object other than Brahman appears to exist, it is unreal like the mirage.
  2. All that is perceived, or heard, is Brahman and nothing else. Attaining the knowledge of the Reality, one sees the Universe as the non-dual Brahman, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss-Absolute.

Here, it is first stated that the universe is not Brahman. But it is also said that any other appearance will be unreal, like a mirage. The mirage is a powerful metaphor because the water that appears is in reality only the sand upon which the appearance takes place. I.e. sand is the substratum of the water appearance, just as Brahman is the substratum of the world appearance. It is then stated that all appearances are, in fact, nothing other than Brahman. But this is realized, of course only upon enlightenment. Until then, the world remains very real. Similarly, to the seeker after water in the desert, the mirage is very real. Continue reading

That thou art

Brahman is Satyam (Reality), Jnanam (Knowledge), Anantam (Infinity).
– Taittiriya Upanishad, 2.1.3

There is no second thing separate from It which It can see.
– Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, 4.3.23

Through the mind alone is It to be realised. There is no differentiation whatsoever in Brahman.
– Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, 4.4.19

In me, the limitless ocean, let the wave of the world rise or vanish of itself. I neither increase nor decrease thereby.
In me, the boundless ocean, is the imagination of the universe. I am quite tranquil and formless. In this alone do I abide.
– Astavakra Samhita, 7.2, 7.3

Review of article on Shankara – part 6, and final.

RB (Ramakrishna Balasubrahmanian) continues to take  SSS to task in the final two sections of his article: 5) ‘AVIDYA and MAYA’, and 6) ‘“COMPARATIVE BASHYA STUDIES” AND OTHER SUCH DISEASES’.

Under 5) RB sees an inconsistency in SSS, since the latter had previously stated that avidya and maya are not synonyms, while in another context he had stated that “To avoid confusion, we shall restrict the use of words avidy¯a and m¯ay¯a to denote ignorance and name and form respectively”. The author insists in the equivalence of both terms, as they occur in many texts: “… note that even in these passages avidy¯a is not a “subjective” ignorance, but something which transcends subjectiveness and objectiveness. Otherwise we will be placed in the absurd position of claiming that a subjective error, i.e., avidy¯a, is causing an objective reality, i.e., m¯ay¯a (name and form)”.

By ‘objective reality’ one understands, of course, phenomena, and this is nothing else than mithya, even though RB considers maya as both ontic and epistemic, unlike avidya. In this connection, SSS would agree with his statement: “While the terms are used to mean different things in some contexts, they can also mean the exactly same thing in some other contexts”. Continue reading

Brahman is undefinable

The entire visible world, including mind, intellect, actions, Iswar, etc., disappear at the final ending of the Great Period (maha kalpa), i.e. at the time of Great Dissolution (maha pralaya). Space and time also become extinct at that position. The immutable substrate Brahman only will remain. It is not time, space, the five fundamental elements or any other thing. We cannot describe or define what it is. Only Knowers of Self can understand It. The rest of the folk has to take recourse to Vedic aphorisms to talk about it.

YOGA VAASISHTA – Part Vl, Nirvana (Liberation), Book ll, transl. Dr. Vemuri Ramesam

What is Brahman? (Part 2)

brahman4(Read Part 1)

Positive ‘definitions’ of Brahman are given by such expressions as satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma, in the Taittiriya Upanishad. The words are to be understood as svarUpa lakShaNa, i.e. a definition that differentiates what is described from all other objects. The example often given for svarUpa, which literally means ‘own form or nature’ is sweetness, as being the svarUpa of sugar. But the word ‘sweet’ does not actually convey the quality of sweetness; it only works if we have had the experience of tasting something that is sweet – then there is no problem at all. In the case of Brahman, however, we cannot have the experience of Brahman because it is not an object of experience. Our understanding of Brahman comes from the shruti.

In the expression, Brahman functions as the noun with satyam, j~nAnam and anantam functioning as adjectives. But, as already noted, Brahman cannot have any attributes so that we cannot really use adjectives at all. Therefore, instead of the noun-adjective relationship [visheShya-visheShaNa], this is what is called a lakShaNa-lakShya sambandha [relationship between an indirect pointer and the thing to be defined]. anantam means eternal, limitless; satyam incorporates the ideas of truth, reality and existence, and j~nAnam means knowledge. But a simple translation will not do – this is where the guru needs to come in to ‘unfold’ the explanation step by step. satyam, for example, has to convey the meaning of absolute existence; anantam, free from all limitations of time and space; never changing; j~nAnam, pure awareness, consciousness (neither knower, known object nor means of knowledge), and again unlimited. And so on! Continue reading

Topic of the Month – Brahman

brahman3The topic for Sep 2014 is brahman.

This is, of course, THE topic of Advaita – what else is there?

I posted part 1 of the 3-part essay, which I wrote back in 2009 on the subject of Brahman, last month. I will post part 2 within the next 24 hours.

I recently started looking at Shankara’s dakShiNamUrti stotram for the first time and encountered there a way of looking at tat tvam asi that I hadn’t previously encountered. jIvAtman is treated as Consciousness (tvam – you) and paramAtman is treated as Existence (tat – brahman – every’thing’). asi is aikyam – identity. You are That. Consciousness is Existence. Maybe others have studied this text and can elaborate?

Please submit your quotes, short extracts or personal blogs on this topic!

Belief systems

[Love thoughts]… dissolve the belief systems that had created the false knowledge, in particular the arrogant belief, “I know something, I know things”. All I know is, “I am” and “There is something rather than nothing”. That’s all we know and all we can know; the rest is speculation. (p. 29)


Before its encounter with the truth, the old belief system was standing proudly on the beach, pretending to be a castle. Now it is only sand, waiting to be washed away by the wave of truth bearing down on it. (p. 98)


‘Truth Love Beauty’, Francis Lucille.