[Advaita-l] Advaita vEdAnta - Unit (18)

Krishnamurthy Ramakrishna puttakrishna at verizon.net
Fri Mar 2 15:27:50 CST 2007

In Unit 15, we started with the understanding of Brahman; we reviewed the
vishEShaNa , vishEShya relationship.

In Unit 16, we reviewed the lakShaNas that help us understand Brahman.

In Unit 17, We looked at some of the scriptural statements describing

 In this Unit, we will understand that Brahman is nirguNa and why so.


Brahman is nirguNa.


We identified Brahman by the markers of vishEShaNa and lakShaNa. jIva's
first encounter with Brahman is through vishEShaNa in the form of worship.
The next step is the identification of Brahman with lakShaNas. This is more
difficult, since Brahman has to be separated from everything else. This
takes the jIva one step closer to understanding the identity of Brahman. At
this closer distance, the jIva identifies Brahman through dhyAna or
meditation. dhyAna is more difficult compared to worship. So the shAstra
says that one has to begin with worship and graduate to dhyAna over a period
of time. However, identifying Brahman by the markers of lakShaNa will not
help us understand the svarUpa or inherent characteristic of Brahman. What
the lakShaNa tells us is that it is different from jIva, but does not really
tell what it is (knowing so and so is one's father does not let us know who
he is). So we need to understand Brahman directly without reference to any
entity. This is an impossible task even for the scriptures ( yatO vAchO
nivartantE aprApya manasA saha  - the speech returns empty handed without an
understanding of Brahman and so does the mind). However the scriptures try
in many ways to convey Brahman through speech only. Though Brahman is
described by lakShaNas - satya, jnyAna and ananta -, one should not try to
understand Brahman by these lakShaNas only. To show the small arundhatI
star, attention is drawn to a bigger star in the vicinity and to look for
the arundhatI star beyond that (sthUlArundhatI nyAya).  Likewise one has to
go beyond the lakShaNas in understanding Brahman. Brahman is not an entity
to be understood by debate or mental logic. The shruti offers many tactics
to help remove this misnomer.

Shruti describes Brahman with distinctive characteristics (savishESha) as
well as without distinctive characteristics (nirvishESha). For example,
"asthUlam anaNvam ahrasvam adIrgham - It is not big, it is not atomic, it is
not short, it is not long"; "ashabdam asparsham arUpam avyayam tathArasam
nityam agandhavacca - It is soundless, untouchable, formless, immutable or
imperishable, tasteless, always existing, and without smell"; "apUrvam
anaparam anantaram abAhyam - Not having existed before, not to exist in the
future, not inside and not outside" etc.

If shruti describes Brahman both with and without distinctive markers, what
should be followed and why?

It depends on the spiritual progress of the seeker. A beginner must follow
the savishESha Brahman through worship and karma. An advanced seeker will
then be able to give up karma and focus on the nirvishESha (or nirguNa)
Brahman through meditation.

Is Brahman saguNa (with guNa or characteristics) or nirguNa (without guNas)?
Brahman in its svarUpa is nirguNa. It is saguNa in association with upAdi.

Brahman is only describabale by "nEti, neti - not this, not this". Any
description of Brahman is in association of an upAdi. Then is it shUnya
(nihil)? Definitely not. All that we see and feel, is emanating from
Brahman. So how can it be nihil? Brahman exists, but it is so nirguNa that
it can not be described.

To highlight that Brahman is nirguNa, the shruti describes Brahman by a pair
of opposites. For example,

" anEjadEkam manasO javIyO tat dhAvatah anyAn atyEti tiShTati - It does not
quiver, it is only one, faster than mind,  it overtakes others running while
standing in a location (IsAvAsya -4)";

tadEhjati tannaijati taddUrE tadvantikE - It quivers, it does not quiver, it
is far away, it is very near (IsAvAsya -5);

" dUrAtsudUrE tat ihAntikE cha - It is farther than the farthest and is
right here (MunDaka 3.1.7)";

" apANipAdO javanO grahItA pashyati achakShuh sa shruNOti akarNah - He walks
very fast without hands and legs, will see without eyes and will hear
without ears (svEtAsvatara 3.19)";

" Brahma tEjOmayO atEjamayah kAmamayO akAmamayah krOdhamayO akrOdhamayah
dharmamayO adharmamayah - Brahman is splendid and is not splendid, He is
desirous, He is not desirous, He is wrathful, He is not wrathful, He follows
dharma, He does not follow dharma (BrihadAraNya -4.4.5)".


These descriptions of Brahman should drive home the point that Brahman is
NirguNa, for the same glass cannot be red or blue, unless associated with a
red or blue upAdi; the glass itself is colorless. Brahman without upAdi is
one and only one - does not quiver, is there and is here(if it is one and
only one occupying the entire space, where is the question of
movement?-there is no space for movement!). As a kArya with upAdi, moves
fast or slow, is far away (for the ignorant), is close by (for the jnyAni).
Is angry with an angry upAdi and is peaceful with a peaceful upAdi etc. We
may wonder how can Brahman be so nirguNa? This is the characteristic of all
kAraNas. For example, in the world we see solid, liquid and gaseous
entities; at the molecule level we don't see solid, liquid gas etc. Though
we see the guNas of the entity at the molecule level, at the atom level,
even this disappears. The same phenomena is with Brahman. The jagat, being a
composition of all guNas, is a kArya of Brahman. If all guNas have to come
from the kAraNa, the kAraNa must be nirguNa (light being colorless, has all
colors in it; clay being formless, creates all forms etc.). Similarly,
Brahman being distinction-less stems from the fact that attributes arise out
of association with and dependent on upAdi - Brahman is omnipotent etc.
Jagat is different from Brahman at the kArya level, but the same as Brahman
at the kAraNa level. So everything is Brahman at the svarUpa. So if
everything is Brahman, where is the scope for upAdi? At the kAraNa level,
even the upAdi is of the svarUpa of Brahman and so at the svarUpa level, it
cannot even sustain as an upAdi ( imagine a crystal beside another crystal;
the second crystal has no impact on the first crystal - so at the kAraNa
level, everything is nirguNa). There is only Brahman. So if there is no
upAdi, there are no attributes; So Brahman is distinction-less. As much as
it is distinction-less, it is Real, because we have known that Brahman is
the kAraNa for jagat.


Om shAntih, shAntih, shAntih ( Om peace, peace, peace).



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