Sherab Namgyal / September 20, 2012

God is Truth – The role of Brahman in Advaita Vedanta


This article conveys the Advaita Vedanta view of God as truth and is based on Swami Bhaskarananda’s “Journey from Many into One”. Advaita Vedanta means “beyond knowledge” and was taught by the famous yogi adi Shankara and is regarded by many as the highest school of Vedic (hindu) philosophy. The final part includes a Buddhist critique of the view on Brahman presented.

Brahman the all-pervading one

According to vedic thought Brahman is all-pervading and the word Brahman itself is often translated from Sanskrit as “pervading”.  Unlike common believes this does not mean that Brahman presides everywhere or anywhere. Brahman transcends time, space and karma (causation). A metaphor for this would be a lucid dreamer that transcends the dream world, however, Brahman transcends both dreams as well as the dreamer. Generally we experience the world in dualities such as man/woman and light/dark or yin and yang. It is impossible to know light without knowing dark as they are opposites of the same coin. However, Brahman is non-dual and transcends all of these and even transcends the transcending itself as it is merely a philosophical explanation made up for our human minds. Hence Brahman cannot be defined by any adjectives like e.g. cosmic, eternal or supreme.

Furthermore, Brahman does not have a personality because that would imply duality. The technical term is that Brahman is Nirguna:

“Nirguna means “without attributes”. The term “Nirguna Brahman” implies that God as the Absolute has nono name and no form or no attributes.” –

Brahman alone is real

The founder of Advaita Vedanta, Shankara is most famously known for this teaching:

The world is an illusion, Brahman alone is real, Brahman is the world” – Adi Shankara

One could argue that what is experienced right now is real but this experience is changing constantly. Brahman, however, is transcending time and causation.

Form and gender can only exist in time and space, and so Brahman is considered to have neither of these. Brahman is considered to be “that” (skt. Tat). Likewise, Brahman cannot be divided into lesser parts; this includes distinction between objects of the same kind, different kinds and different parts of the same object. Although Brahman is nirguna, the following is thought to be Brahman:

  1. Brahman is consciousness itself and so every living being is only conscious by “borrowing” this quality from Brahman.
  2. Brahman is infinite bliss and is the transcendence of the duality of suffering and bliss.
  3. Brahman is absolute truth or prama. This is divided into six so called pramanas which are (according to Wikipedia):
    • Pratyakṣa (perception), the knowledge gained by means of the senses;
    • Anumāṇa (inference), the knowledge gained by means of inference;
    • Śabda (verbal testimony), the knowledge gained by verbal testimony;
    • Upamāṇa (comparison), the knowledge gained by means of analogy;
    • Arthāpatti (postulation), the knowledge gained by superimposing the known knowledge upon an appearing knowledge that does not concur with the known knowledge;
    • Anupalabdi (non-cognition), non-apprehension and scepticism in face of non-apprehension.

A Buddhist critique of the vedic view of Brahman

India Temple Bells
(cc) by babasteve

 “What would you think of a man who claims to be in love with a women, but does not know where she lives, how she looks, her name or from what family she has descended?” – The Buddha

That a causal system (universe) could be created by a cause (god) completely different from the universe itself in time as well as space is faulty reasoning and so:

“Were something to be created based on something other than itself, you could have deep darkness arising from a flame. Anything could arise from anything, As anything [that is] not the creating agent would be equally other.” – Madhyamakavatara, Chandrakirti

Fire and darkness have no causal relation and it is well known, to everyone, that darkness does not arise from flames. If things could arise from other things, the result could arise from any cause whether in accordance or not. By observations this is known not to be true.

However, it is clear to sentient beings that the universe does in fact exist and it is commonly known that an effect (universe) must have a cause (god, in the creator model). However, god and universe does not exist in the same continuum:

“Barley, lotus, the kimshuka flower, and so forth, are neither regarded as creators of the rice sprout, nor as having that  potential, nor being of the same continuum, nor as being similar –  In that same [fourfold] manner, a rice seed too is other.”  – Madhyamakavatara, Chandrakirti

It is clear to all that corn seeds do not have the potential to produce rice and so they are separate from each other just as god and universe.

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