Q. 430 Brahman=changeless, eternal?

Q: I’m aware that I’m on (very) shaky ground when I talk/think about brahman. But there’s something that’s been bugging me for a long time now about the ‘definitions’ of brahman I’ve read.

Brahman is always described as changeless and eternal.

Let’s start with ‘changeless’. When I think (conceptualize, make images) about a changeless ‘force’ (for want of a better non-object word), I envision something static and dead, without animus, without vitality. Absolute zero, utter lack of motion/vibration, fixed-ness. But I can’t put this static-ness together with brahman, the ‘mother of all existence and vitality’. How could utter stillness give rise to such a vibrant universe?

Onto ‘eternal’. Why does brahman have to be eternal? Why couldn’t it have arisen with the Source Event (Big Bang, etc.) and evolved into its ‘current’ fullness? Likewise, why couldn’t it end with the collapse of the universe back to a zero-dimensional point?

So changeless and eternal elude/confuse me. But I suspect that’s because I’m trying to image-ine them, which is an oxymoron: conceptualizing the non-conceptual.

This wording works MUCH better for me:

Brahman is not of change, and not of time … both of which are human concepts.

Is this translation accurate? Does changeless not mean un-changing (which is built on the concept of change), rather: beyond change? Does eternal not mean never-ending (which is built on the concept of time), rather: beyond time? Instead of thinking changeless and eternal, can I more accurately think: the concepts of change and time do not apply to brahman?

A: You are essentially correct. Brahman is ‘beyond’ time and space in the sense that every thing/concept exists ‘within’ brahman and is ultimately mithyA. Thus brahman is changeless because change requires time – a ‘state’ at one moment in time and a different state at some later time. ‘Eternal’ is not really a good word because it presupposes existence in time; it means ‘lasting forever’, i.e. for all time. Time and space come into existence with creation, as you suggest with the big bang; and cease to exist with the end of the universe (pralaya). The scriptures say that the entire duration of creation is but a day in the life of Brahma, And then there is another… and another…

You should not think of changeless as dead or static. Think of the axle at the center of a wheel. Everything moves around it while it remains still. As T. S. Eliot says (Four Quartets, Burnt Norton):

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

7 thoughts on “Q. 430 Brahman=changeless, eternal?

  1. I don’t get it…. when all of this can be dispensed with through “Superimposition”, why such an elaborate analogy is used, Dennis. It is after all a clear case of superimposition.

    The seeker makes a mistake here of knowing brahman through trinity. That really is the problem.

    Except, Swamiji’s school, I hardly read about superimposition elsewhere.

    • Superimposition to me works on an entirely different level… It’s hard to put it in words. The write up is good for beginners I suppose, I esp liked the parts where you’ve talked about “blueness of the sky”. But that also somehow seems to me like a LOT of spoon-feeding. Anyway, we gotta start somewhere.

      Good write up.


  2. I find the the account of adhyasa, together with the rope-snake analysis*, as givened by Sw. Paramarthananda in part 3 of the series provided by Dennis, to be cumbersome and untransparent – much simpler in Shankara himself (followed faithfully by SSSS) as Vikram suggests. Adhyasa is not just a mistake, as Sw. P avows , but a double superimposition: sat – Brahman, on a-sat – the adjuvant body-mind, and a-sat on sat. Sw. P admits this implicitly, but his explanations are not clear or complete.

    *“‘there is a snake’, there is a real part and an unreal part. The real part is ‘there is’; this is the ‘general part’. The unreal part, the snake, only appears to be there because the ‘particular part’ – the rope – is covered.”… The second definition [of adhyasa] suggests that it occurs when a previously experienced object is seen instead of the actual. This accounts for the fact that a snake could not be seen instead of the rope unless the observer knew what a snake was and had previously seen a real one (or an image of one)” (??)

  3. Hi Martin,

    I don’t think you can blame Swami Paramarthananda for any lack of clarity. The source material was provided by Acharya Sadananda on the Advaitin List many years ago. I edited it (also many years ago) to correct spellings/grammar and to change wording/rewrite any bits that were initially unclear (to me). So any criticisms should be directed at Sadananda and myself!

    Maybe any of us could now do a better job… (Why don’t you have a go?)

    Best wishes,

  4. Quite right, my apologies! I did not take enough time to verify whether it was Sw. Paramarthananda or Sw. Sadananda the author of those comments you published. However, my critical comments to them still apply – to be directed to the latter, as you indicate. A few years ago I took exception to Sw. Sadananda’s explanations on a topic under discussion and wrote it in this blog point by point. There was no reply.

  5. Thank you, amartingarcia and Dennis

    When it comes to adhyasa… it is generally regarded as a ‘misconception’.

    Shankara elaborates on three kinds of adhyasa
    1) Mis-apprehension – i.e, Mistaking the rope for a snake
    2) Non-apprehension – i.e, You know that there is an object, but not sure what that object is.
    3) Non-comprehension – i.e, you are not sure whether it is a rope or snake. If a snake comes by and you’re wondering, well, my guru told me in the class that it’s a rope and not a snake… could it be a rope ?

    Ultimately, all these things are false.

    For most people it is only negating the ‘snakeness’ of the rope. But that is not what I meant by superimposition. I guess this is one of the difficulties with intellectualising vedantic teaching. But if I start saying, there is ‘no-world’, ‘no-this’, ‘no-that’ – totally non-existent etc etc, it is felt and that is superimposition etc, people will start screaming bloody-murder. And a certain person came to me and said, “well, see, it’s not like that”…. “It means, it is not there- separate from you”… Well okay, that is not what I intended. 🙂

    But if one keeps the teaching confined to the relative how will they manage to bring a smile on anybody’s face followed by a laughter that grows to a crescendo ? oh so sweet tradition… :).

    I hope not to read someone saying “laughter and smiling is also adhyasa or that is only a vyavaharic thing and no such thing exists from the absolute standpoint” :P.

    Anyhow, the comment was not intended to criticize the write up, just to give a push to the seeker.

    Btw, what happened to Mr. Ramesam ? Haven’t read anything from him since long.

    Thanks, Regards and wishing all teachers on this website a very happy new year.


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