To know Brahman is to be Brahman

Vedanta says that what we truly are is Existence-Consciousness-Infinity (= Brahman).

The universe is an illusory appearance on/of this substratum of Consciousness.  It is not real.

The jiva (= mind = I-thought = ego) is part of this illusory appearance.  It is a result of the erroneous super-imposition of an I-thought arising between the insentient appearance and Consciousness.  Thereafter desire, fear and suffering, like and dislike ensues.

Dennis asserts that jnana is equivalent to having the intellectual knowledge, which must be a thought, that ‘I am Brahman’. But that is still a thought, part of the illusory appearance.

When Vedanta says a jnani becomes Brahman, it may be countered that we are always Brahman.  But the frequency of use of this terminology implies something more subtle, beyond just a knowledge-thought arising in the mind.

We are told by Vedanta that Brahman cannot be known; that the only ultimate pointer is neti, neti: the negation of all the illusory appearance; and what remains, what cannot be negated, is That.

Ramanamaharishi provides a further clue.  Whenever desire or fear or suffering arises, try to introspect, to turn within, to grab hold of the ‘I’ that is suffering.  The process of doing so turns the ‘mind’ away from its desire/fear/suffering thoughts.  He goes on to say in Nan Yar:

Only by the investigation who am I will the mind subside [become still]; the thought who am I, having destroyed all other thoughts will itself in the end be destroyed.

This final link is affirmed unequivocally by Brhad Up, Sankara and Gaudapada.

Brhad Up 2.4.12: After attaining this oneness, it has no more particular consciousness.

Sankara’s bhasya: When that individual existence of the self which is superimposed by ignorance is destroyed by knowledge, the particular consciousness is destroyed, being deprived of its cause.

Gaudapada’s Mandukyakarika:

3.31: All this that there is is perceived by the mind (and therefore all this is but the mind); for when the mind ceases to be mind, duality is no longer perceived.

3.38: There can be no acceptance or rejection where all mentation stops. Then knowledge is established in the Self and is unborn, and it becomes homogeneous.

3.46: When the mind does not become lost nor is scattered, when it is motionless and does not appear in the form of objects, then it becomes Brahman.

In conclusion then, to know Brahman is to be Brahman, and to be Brahman means no further arising of the ‘I’-thought; a motionless mind.

Ramanamaharishi in his Guru Vachaka Kovai issues this warning:

897: O my mind who is suffering by thinking ‘I am jiva’, you will again be deceived if you think ‘I am Brahman’.  Because in the supreme state nothing exists as ‘I’ but only the one Self.

Liberation from the ‘I’ is ultimately a ‘personal’ affair.  It would seem better to assume a position that may be a false negative rather than one that could involve the self-deception of a false positive.

20 thoughts on “To know Brahman is to be Brahman

  1. Venkat,

    Your title betrays a misunderstanding which is not corrected by your later reference to ‘something more subtle’. it implies that ‘not to know Brahman’ is ‘not to be Brahman’, and of course this is not the case. We are always Brahman, whether we know it or not.

    It is true that we cannot know Brahman. When ‘neti, neti’ has done its work, we know what we are not. What remains is the ‘I’ that knows this. But we also know that Brahman itself does not ‘know’ anything. So the only explanation is that the ‘I’ that knows that ‘I am Brahman’ is Consciousness reflected in the mind. I suggest you re-read my posts on ‘Who am I?’ through to ‘The MIxture of Atman and Mind’ in to

    I will address your mis-reading of Gaudapada in a new post from ‘A-U-M’ shortly.

    Best wishes,

  2. Thanks Dennis – and I have just read your new article. As ever, you dive behind “should not be taken literally”, when it suits!

    In any event, I’ve just been listening to this talk by Sw Sarvapriyananda on Gaudapada.

    At about the 1:12:00 – 1:18:00, he affirms that Gaudapada equates the waking and dream states, saying that both are vibrations of the mind. He says according to Gaudapada, there are only two states – dreaming and deep sleep. And he acknowledges that this is drsti shrsti vada.

  3. I am only echoing Shankara. He clearly says that, when a shruti statement contradicts reason, you have to take it figuratively.

    I address Gaudapada’s equating of waking and dream in the book. Shankara also supports this in the commentary on the kArikA-s (if he is the author) but differentiates them in the brahmasUtra bhAShya. I discuss this somewhere in the comments in a discussion with Ramesam. I also point this out in the book and give the reference.

    • Dennis

      I concur that Sankara seems to differentiate waking and sleep in BSB, but he also talks about rebirth, etc – so it is probably said in the development of an argument for a novice In any event, his adhyasa introduction transcends this.

      With respect to contradicting reason, I have to disagree. Gaudapada takes a number of Karika to show that the world is created by mind, and the solution is therefore dissolution of mind, through enquiry. Only a jnani can know what his state is on enlightenment – and the fact that Ramanamaharishi also talks in similar terms – means that a state of mind of a jnani is unknowable to a jiva. And reason tells us that the state of mind of another is always unknown to me.

      So one cannot jump to the conclusion that no-mind contradicts reason. You can only say that no-mind contradicts what you PERCEiVE as a body acting, which you ASSUME is caused by a mind.

      You also PERCEIVE a world, a seeker and a jnani, which ajata vada contradicts. Does that mean that reason tells you ajata vada is figurative???

      Perhaps what you need to use reason for, is to reason through how the various statements of sruti on becoming Brahman, dissolution of particular consciousness, sannyasa, ajata vada, can all be reconciled, rather than each individually being dismissed as figurative or not relevant, etc etc

  4. Dennis,

    You suggested:
    “So the only explanation is that the ‘I’ that knows that ‘I am Brahman’ is Consciousness reflected in the mind.”

    But the reflected consciousness is itself the ignorance. It is not just that the individual mind is ignorant about the nature of reality. It is that the individual mind that gives rise to duality is itself the ignorance that has been superimposed onto the nondual reality.

    Hence the other possible explanation is indeed that Gaudapada meant ’no mind’ literally. The removal of ignorance must mean the end of the superimposition, the end of the mind’s vibrations, the dissolution of particular consciousness. And thus the appearance disappears. And what remains is the rope.

    In the introduction to Part 3 of Naiskarmya Siddhi, Suresvara points out that the locus of ignorance cannot be the not-Self, since its very nature is ignorance. As he says ignorance cannot experience ignorance on its own. Therefore the Self alone is both the locus of, and object concealed by ignorance.

    Logic therefore dictates that jnana, which is defined as the removal of ignorance, entails the dissolution of the not-Self. Paraphrasing Surevara, ignorance cannot gain and coexist with knowledge – it can only be wiped out by knowledge. As darkness is removed by the onset of light.

  5. I’m sorry, Venkat, but I am not prepared to enter into any discussion on the topic of ‘ignorance’. This will be the other major part of Volume 2 of ‘Confusions’. I have already given in to investigating the topic of creation in order to cope with this ‘world disappearing’ nonsense. And that is taking 2 – 3 months out of my schedule for completion of Volume 1. If you want to discuss ‘ignorance’, you will have to wait until around 2023! (I intend to rewrite ‘Back to the Truth’ in between vols. 1 and 2.)

    Your statements on mind do not stack up. You speak about not knowing the ‘mind of a j~nAnI’ but surely we would know everything about this if he doesn’t have one! (But then with what would he ‘know his state after enlightenment’?) So tell me how ‘no mind does not contradict reason’!

    ajAta vAda is not figurative but it does not mean what you seem to think it means. There has never been any creation because the world has always existed! It exists in unmanifest name and form before and after its appearance and in manifest name and form during its appearance. (See Chandogya 6.1 and BSB 2.1.16-18)

    Reflected light is still light. Reflected Consciousness is still Consciousness. How can it be ignorance? Ignorance is the state of the mind in deep sleep. Consciousness is still there but there are no thoughts or percepts. Enlightenment is the knowledge that ‘I am Brahman’ and that can only take place in the waking-state mind.

    Logic doesn’t ‘dictate that jnana, which is defined as the removal of ignorance, entails the dissolution of the not-Self’. It dictates that the mind no longer makes the mistake of believing that what it sees is real in itself. It now knows that what is seen is name and form of Brahman.

  6. Dennis: “ajAta vAda is not figurative but it does not mean what you seem to think it means. There has never been any creation because the world has always existed! It exists in unmanifest name and form before and after its appearance and in manifest name and form during its appearance.”

    Saying that the world has always existed but in unmanifest form is just non-sensical acrobatics, and violates reason that you tout so much. It is just an appearance, not real.

    Gaudapada MK 2.31: “Just as dream and magic are seen to be unreal, or as is a city in the sky, so also is this whole universe known to be unreal from the Upanishads by the wise.”

    Dennis, I’m not sure what you think ajata vada means! Or, perhaps Gaudapada was being figurative in 2.31?

  7. Venkat,

    I suggest you read BSB 2.1.18 “(The pre-existence and non-difference of the effect are established) from reasoning and another Upanishadic text.”

    The universe is unreal as ‘separate universe’ because its existence derives from Brahman – sarvam khalividam brahma. It has not been created; Brahman has always existed.

  8. Dennis, my view is that much of BSB is gradually establishing the advaita based on inherent beliefs of creation, cause and effect, etc. Hence this verse. But this is not ajata vada.

    But Dennis, lets assume it is. Then we need to reconcile BSB2.1.18 and Gaudapada MK2.31 and 2.32.

    You say the world has always existed, and is Brahman, and get around the creation problem by saying that it was in an unmanifest form.

    But you would presumably agree that Brahman is Consciousness only. Not any material substance So therefore the world can only be an appearance in Consciousness, as Gaudapada says. To the extent that a dream exists in an unmanifest state during deep sleep, I guess you can speciously argue that the appearance existed in an unmanifested state prior to its appearance / creation.

    Gaudapada and Sankara are not that interested in the external world. Sankara barely mentions it in Upadesa Sahashri, They are primarily interest in the jiva, the ego.

    So, perhaps the appearance has always been there in Consciousness; but it is an appearance only, not real. So any talk of a jiva knowing it is not separate, whilst continuing to act in the world contradicts ajata vada: no jiva, no jnani.

    Let me repeat a passage from Shri YS Rao:

    When all adjuncts that we are identified with, such as body and mind, dissolve, we will experience our true nature as the Universal Self. Questions about what is creation and who created it will no longer arise. Self or Consciousness alone remains, with no notions of a separate individual (jIva) universe (jagat), and creator (Ishwara). If there is none other than Pure Consciousness, who is there to question? If we ourselves are Pure Consciousness, why would any question arise? Therefore, there is no scope for a separate entity like the world to be created. When there is Consciousness alone, there is no scope for anything else. We keep asking these questions because of ignorance. When the knowledge of the Self arises, all notions of a separate jIva, jagat, Ishwara disappear, and Consciousness alone remains. Therefore, it is due to the ignorance of our true nature that we imagine ourselves as individuals who suffer the pains and pleasures of the world created by Ishwara. Since the individual, world, and Ishwara are only notional, they have no separate existence of their own. Hence, according to Advaita, the world was never created. This point of view is known in Advaita as ajAta vAda – non-origination of the universe. If something appears even though it does not really exist, it is only an illusion. Appearances come into existence only when we perceive them. This point of view is known in Advaita as the dRiShTi sRiShTi vAda – universe exists because it is perceived.

  9. Venkat,

    There is not much that I disagree with in the above. Except that what I have been saying are Shankara’s ‘specious arguments’, not mine!

    I think the problem is essentially that you are understanding the ‘facts’ in one way, while I (and, I believe, Shankara) am understanding in a slightly different way.

    Firstly, if there is no creation, that is ajAta vAda. Scriptures and Shankara clearly say that everything that we see is Brahman. Since Brahman is changeless, this means that everything that we see has always been there (as Brahman) and always will be. It is still ajAta vAda if we resort to speaking of ‘unmanifest’ and ‘manifest’.

    Shankara comments upon kArikA 2.36: “Having known this non-dual brahman… behave with others as one not knowing the Truth; let not others know what you are and what you have become.” So he is obviously admittng that this appearance, together with its jIva-s, continues after enlightenment.

    I always admitted that it was an appearance. I never claimed that it was ‘real’. What I have always said is that it is mithyA. mithyA is NOT equivalent to the ‘son of a barren woman’! (That is prAtibhAsika.) And, if interpreted correctly, all the references confirm this view. The appearance of the world does NOT disappear on enlightenment.

    As regards your Y. S. Rao quotation, it is unfortunate that the phrasing of what he says can be taken to support your view (but, for the most part, it does not explicitly refute what I am saying). But the ways in which he expresses himself are likely to mislead (as they have clearly done in your case)! 😉

    The world does not ‘dissolve’ on enlightenment, and we do not suddenly ‘experience’ our true nature. Rather we ‘realize’ that the world is mithyA and we ‘understand or recognize’ that who-we-really-are is Brahman. The rest is ok up until the last few sentences.

    It does look as though he is saying that the world is prAtibhAsika, in which case he is WRONG (contradicting Shankara and reason). Of course, it is self-evidently true that we do not perceive anything if we don’t look, so that the world might as well be non-existent (as in deep sleep). But, since the world is name and form of Brahman, and Brahman does not disappear when we are not looking, neither does the world. What happens when we look at it is that our minds impose the form and supply the names. An aj~nAnI would do this and believe what is seen to be real. A j~nAnI will still do it (because still in a body-mind) but know that it is all mithyA.

    The way he puts it is also likely to lead on to eka-jIva-vAda and there I would take much more of an exception!

  10. Dennis,

    Will much appreciate a couple of bhAShya quotes in support of “Scriptures and Shankara clearly say that everything that we *see* is Brahman.”

    2. When one holds that “everything that we *see* has always been there (as Brahman) and always will be,” does it not betray that scant respect is given to the difference between ‘taTastha and swarUpa laxaNa-s’?


  11. Venkat,

    1. I have already given quotations but you chose to reject them because they were stated as part of a refutation of the Buddhists. BSB 2.2.28 was the one, I think. A similar discussion takes place in Brihad. Up. Bh, 4.3.7.
    2. I don’t see the relevance of this. It is only on enlightenment that you realize sarvam khalvidam brahma. Seeing the world prior to this is hardly going to point to Brahman!

    • Dennis,
      I think that you have erroneously superimposed the unmanifest name and form of venkat onto the actual manifest name and form of Ramesam!

      • Venkat,
        You have just illustrated my point. Ramesam rejected the point I was making because it occured in a discussion with Buddhists. You are ignoring the point I was making because it occured in a discussion with Ramesam…

  12. It is not that the world exists, as an appearance or otherwise. It is not exactly that the world does not exist, either.

    It is that the world cannot be SAID to exist, cannot be THOUGHT to exist, because who would be there to assert that statement? If that question is followed, the mind necessarily stops. That is the point.

  13. Dennis,

    4.3.7, BUB is also entirely about refuting the arguments of Buddhist Idealist, vijnAnavAda and shUnyavAda etc. only.

    Nowhere could I find *Shankara quote that EXPLICITLY says,* (as per the norms established by you for citations), “that everything that we *see* is Brahman.” either at 2.2.18, BSB or 4.3.7, BUB.

    2. To my understanding, whatever is available for *seeing* (i.e. all the 5 senses of perception + mind) are only the taTastha laxaNa-s. IOW, swarUpa laxaNa is NEVER available for perception – avAngmAnasa gocaram – 1, vedanta sAra.

    On enlightenment one realizes that one is identical with swarUpa (Shankara at 1.1.6, BSB – AtmA hi nAma swarUpam).

    In contrast, “Earlier than the realization of the identity of the Self with Brahman, all activities can justly be true like the activities in dream before waking up …” – Shankara at 2.1.14, BSB.


  14. Dennis and Venkat,

    I thought that I should also bring to the attention of all here some important points that have a significant bearing on what we are discussing.

    1. As we all know, ShAnkarAdvaita proposes “The Doctrine of vivarta (changeless change)” to explain the appearance of the world. Accepting the vivarta vAda, Pundits hold that “scriptural references declaring Brahman as the source or cause of the Universe are interpreted figuratively and not literally.”

    2. Swami Gambhirananda explains the phrase “आत्यन्तिकी संसारनिवृत्तिर्ब्रह्मप्राप्तिलक्षणा” (AtyantikI samsAranivRittiH brahma prApti laxana) used by Shankara in his Intro to the commentary on kaTha Upanishad, as follows:

    “Total cessation of the world (i.e. rotation of birth and death) follows the eradication of the ignorance. And since the non-existence of a superimposed thing is identical with the thing on which the superimposition occurs, the cessation of the world is the same as attainment of brahman. Or brahmaprAptilaxaNa in the commentary may mean that the cessation (of the world) is indicative of the realization of the supreme Bliss that is brahman. ”

    3. Shankara at BSB 1.4.1:
    Since embodiedness is the result of a false perception, it is established that the enlightened man has no embodiedness even while living.

    4. Shankara at 2.3.3, BSB: the Vedic texts about creation are to be understood in a secondary (or figurative) sense.


  15. Hi,

    As myself and also Venkat pointed out several times during the earlier discussions, it is important to look at the subject end rather than the object end about the effect of realizing the Self, as observed above by

    When the finite ‘seer,’ pramAta ceases, the prameya too has to cease because the pramAta-prameya differentiation is brought about by nescience. When nescience itself ends, the pramAta-prameya-pramANa division cannot arise.

    For example, we can see that Shankara says at 2.1.14, BSB, that “Name and form which constitute the seeds of the entire expanse of phenomenal existence, and (which) are conjured up by nescience …”


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