What is ‘brahman’ like?

We all know that ‘brahman‘ being ‘avAngmanasagocara‘ (अवाङ्ग्मनसगोचर – 1, vedAntasAra), is ‘beyond the reach of words and thought.’ It is NOT available for perceptual knowledge either through the five senses or the mind within this time-space-causational world we live in and interact with. Hence, there is no way to show brahman, “It is like this” by pointing with a finger.

The kena Upanishad admits this fact openly; it says, “We don’t know how to teach It.” – (1.3).

The mANDUkya Upanishad speaks about It in apophatic terms for a little while, but hastens to declare that “It is inexpressible” and even adds, “It is unthinkable” – (mantra 7) !

However, the brihadAraNyaka sticks its neck out and gives not one or two, but three illustrations to show how brahman is like.

i) As a hawk or a falcon flying in the sky becomes tired, and stretching its wings, is bound for its nest, so does the Being run for this state, where falling asleep It craves no desires and sees no dreams (4.3.19, BU).
ii) As a man, fully embraced by his beloved wife, does not know anything at all, either external or internal, so does the Being (Self), fully embraced by the Supreme Self, not know anything at all, either external or internal. That is his form in which all objects of desire have been attained and thus is free from desires and is devoid of grief (4.3.21, BU).
[Shankara uses this illustration of “close embrace” at about half a dozen places in the sUtra bhAShya.]
iii) In the state [of Deep sleep] where there is no ignorance, a father is no father, mother no mother, the worlds no worlds, the gods no gods, the Vedas no Vedas. (This form of It) is untouched by good work and untouched by evil work, for It is then beyond all the woes of heart (intellect) (4.3.22, BU).
Shankara makes it much clearer a bit later on (toward the end of his commentary at 4.4.6 BUB) what “the state” in (iii) refers to. He writes, “The man who does not desire (never transmigrates (4.4.6, BU), liberation consisting in the identity with all, which is the thing that was sought to be explained by the example of the state of profound sleep, has been described. And the cause of liberation has been stated to be the attainment of all objects of desire through their becoming the Self. But since this state is unattainable without Self-knowledge, the cause of liberation has by implication been stated to be the knowledge of brahman.
Therefore, although desire has been said to. be the root of bondage, it is ignorance that, being the opposite of what leads to liberation (Knowledge), has virtually been stated to be the cause of bondage.
While Shri SSSS and Shri Atmananda Krishna Menon used the illustration of Deep sleep in their teaching, Shri Rajaneesh exploited the “close embrace” of ‘man and woman’ in his teaching.
Rajaneesh’s approach proved to be a disaster in the lives of many as the reports go.
What is “Merger” or “Union” between the separate ‘self’ (individual) and the Supreme Self (brahman)?
The “concept” of “Union or Merger” between the separate ‘self’ and the “Supreme Self” is very vividly explained by Shankara at 1.1.9, BSB. He writes:

“It assumes the name of mind while seeing dreams under the influence of the impressions of the experiences of the waking state. And when these two conditioning factors become inactive in the state of sleep, it appears to be merged, as it were, in the Self, owing to the absence of particularization created by limiting adjuncts; and hence it is said to have become merged in its own Self.” (Trans: Swami Gambhirananda).

Sw-G explains in a foot note: “Merger really means freedom from limiting adjuncts and not becoming something else.”

3 thoughts on “What is ‘brahman’ like?

  1. Ramesam
    You gave an example of Osho’ followers using “close embrace” prakriya .
    Well, regarding deep sleep, Kumbhkarna the brother of Ravana was in deep sleep for six months and upon waking, forget liberation, was sent to hell by Lord Rama.
    So Brahman cannot be seen, heard, touched , pointed at or experienced as an object. It has to be Intuitively recognized. So, your next post should be on “intution vs intellect”.

  2. It is clearly true that Osho-Rajneesh was a contentious teacher, maybe even guilty of some dubious practices. But it is also the case that he is often unjustly maligned. Here is some of what he said on this topic (from ‘Krishna: the Man and his Philsophy’):

    “No matter how close and intimate he is with his loved one, he remains discontented and unhappy. His problem is that unless he becomes one with his beloved, not only physically but spiritually. at the level of love, of being — there is no way for him to be satisfied and happy. And this is really, really difficult. To be one at the level of love and being is one of the hardest things to achieve.

    “This is not going to happen even if two lovers remain tied to each other like faggots for the fire. And the irony is, the nearer they are to each other, the greater their disillusionment and misery. When there was a distance between them they had hoped for the heavenly happiness and joy that would come when they became close to each other. But when they are really close, even Closest to each other, they feel disillusioned, almost cheated by their own hopes…

    “For this reason I say the lovers of today are devotees of tomorrow; they have no way but to turn to devotion. When they know for themselves that it is impossible to be one with an embodied person, they will turn to God, who is bodiless, because it is quite possible to be really one with him. So sooner or later every lover is going to turn into a devotee, and every word of love is going to turn into a prayer. This is how it should be. Otherwise there is no escape from the torture and misery of love.

    “A lover who refuses to be a devotee is bound to be in everlasting anguish. Ironically, while his longings are those of a devotee, he is trying to fulfill them through ordinary love. His aspirations are running in one direction and his efforts in another, and so frustration is inevitable. He so longs to be one with another that nothing should come in between them, not even the thought of “I” and “thou”. But he has chosen a wrong medium for the fulfillment of his longings.”

  3. Re: Osho/Rajaneesh:

    Sitara, a former Blogger at this site, was a follower of Rajaneesh. She had some observations/comments wrt his philosophy – but one has to search for those.

    Almost about 7 years ago, there was a post “In defence of Osho” in these columns. One may take a look, if interested. The Link is:


    Re: Vijay’s suggestion about “Intellect vs. Intuition”:

    We find the Swamis of the Advaita Ashrama giving the meaning intution (or its variants – intutit; intuitive; intuitively etc.) for a range of Sanskrit words used by Shankara in his bhAShya-s – in Vednata sUtra-s; Upanishads and the BG. For Shri SSS, anubhava (like in AtmAnubhava) refers to “intuition.”

    A few years ago, Swami Prakasanandendra explained what “intuition” is in a 30 min Video.

    Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNi9-9cZoPY

    As Shanakara asserts several times in his commentaries, the Ultimate Truth of Advaita has to be “intuited” only.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.