[Advaita-l] Is Brahman saguNa or nirguNa or aguNa?

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Wed Apr 27 13:50:25 CDT 2011


On 8th Nov.2010 Shri Krishna Koundinya, a member of this forum, wrote:
//5) With my very limited knowledge  I was talking to some Madhva followers,
they told me that " NIrguna"="Nir" + Guna", which does not mean that without
attributes or gunas,  but it is something beyond comprehension but
attributes do stay. It could have been stated as "Aguna" instead of
nirguna.Now I am not good in sanskrit so I am at a loss.
Now  I want to know is there a difference between "nirguna" & "aguna". If so
what is it?? and does nirguna actually means without attributes. or is there
anything else? like for eg" Nirvikara or Nirvikalpa etc. //

*to which I had replied:*

// Here, as a sample, is given passages from the Madhva school for two words
from the Bhagavad gita:
'बाह्यस्पर्शेष्व*सक्तात्मा*' इत्यस्यार्थः काम*रहित* इति। 5.21
For the word 'asaktAtmA' Sri Jayatirtha comments: kAma-rahitaH (one who is *
devoid* of desire/infatuation/longing, etc.)
For the words 'nirahankAraH, nirmamaH' of the Gita, Sri Madhva comments:
भक्षयामीत्यहङ्कारममकार*वर्जितश्च*   2.71
'ahankAra-mamakAra-varjitaH' (who is *devoid* of ahankara (egoism) and
mamakara (ownership or feeling of 'this is mine')
परमात्मलाभेन निराशीराशा*रहित *इत्युक्तं भवति।  3.30
For the word 'nirAshIH' of the Gita, Sri Jayatirtha comments: AshArahitaH (*
devoid* of desire/longing, etc)
So, you can see there is not any difference between the prefix 'a' and 'niH'
according to Sri Jayatirtha, in the examples shown above. //
End of my reply to Sri Krishna.

Now here is some more material on the topic:

In his 'Tattvodyota' Sri Madhwacharya has quoted eight verses from a
Buddhist work to show that the tenets of advaita vedanta are not any
different from Buddhism.  One verse is:
नास्य सत्वं न वा सत्वं *न दोषो गुण एव वा* ।
हेयोपादेयरहितं तच्छून्यं पदमक्षयम् ॥ ६
[There is neither existence nor non-existence, neither defects nor any
positive attributes to It.  It is neither rejectable nor acceptable.  That
is 'shUnyam' that is the state which is immutable.]
The above verse is quoted in the footnote by Dr.BNK Sharma on p.146 of his
book 'The History of Dvaita Vedanta and its literature.'  ( *
http://tinyurl.com/42vhs3d )*

From the information Sri Krishna Koundinya gives and from the above quoted
verse we conclude that for the Dvaitins:
1. The Advaitic concept of 'nirguNa' could perhaps be conveyed by the word
2.  When the Absolute Reality is said to be 'na guNa' as the Buddhists say,
advaitins too hold it the same way.

Shri Paramashivendra Saraswati (16-17th Century AD), the Preceptor of the
great jivan-mukta Yogi Shri Sadashivendra Saraswati of Nerur, had compiled a
work titled: ‘VedAnta-nAma-ratna-sahasram’ (A collection of a thousand
name-gems from the Vedanta (Upaishads) on Atman/Brahman).  This work is
published by Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Shankara Mandir, Secunderabad, India, in
1969 under the editorial guidance of Brahmasri S.R.Krishnamurti Sastrigal.
In this book, the name 'अगुणम्’ is listed as one of the shruti-names of
Brahman.  On page 95, the revered author says:
अगुणम् - जुणसामान्यरहितम् - ’अवक्तव्यमनादातव्यम्’ इत्यादि: श्रुतिः।
('aguNam' - that which is devoid of any guNa whatsoever. This word appears
in a Vedic passage: 'avaktavyam.....')  The name of the Upanishad is,
however, not given either by the author or the editor.)
The word 'निर्गुणः’ is also listed in the above book.
निर्गुणः - गुणरहितः
शिवपुराणे (६१ तम अध्याये) शक्रं प्रति उपमन्युः -
स एव निर्गुणस्सर्वे सगुणाश्च सुरासुराः ।
देहिनो निष्कलः शम्भुः कथं स गुणवान् भवेत् ॥
[He, Shiva, alone is nirguNaH.  All the devas and asuras are saguNa-s, being
endowed with body.  How indeed can Shiva be a 'guNavAn' (endowed with any
ईश्वरगीतायाम् -
अव्यक्तं कारणं यत्तदक्षरं परमं पदम् ।
निर्गुणं शुद्धविज्ञानं सदा पश्यन्ति सूरयः ॥
साक्षी चेता केवलो निर्गुणश्च इति श्रुतिः ।
[An aside note: Sri VaadirAja TIrtha, a renowned AchArya of the Madhva
school, in his 'Yuktimallikaa'  is reported to have suggested another
reading: साक्षी चेता केवलोऽनिर्गुणश्च  perhaps to prevent anyone from giving
an advaita-friendly meaning!!.]

In the ViShNusahasranAma BhAShyam of Shankaracharya for the names
’गुणभृन्निर्गुणॊ महान्’ it is said:
सत्त्वरजस्तमसां सृष्टिस्थितिलयकर्मसु अधिष्ठातृत्वात् गुणभृत् ।
Being the presiding power of sattva, rajas and tamas while engaged in
creation, sustenance and dissolution of the world, Brahman/ViShNu is called
[ I think the purANa-s describe the above three functions are the products
of sattva, rajas and tamas.]
वस्तुतो गुणाभावात् निर्गुणः
In truth being devoid of guNa-s He is nirguNaH.

For the next word 'mahAn', the commentary says:
Being devoid of all attributes like sound, being unsurpassedly subtle and
being ever pure and all-pervading it is impossible to think of limiting
attributes even logically, He is mahAn.

In the SrImadbhAgavatam 1.2.30 we have this verse which contains the word
'aguNaH' -
स एवेदं ससर्जाग्रे भगवानात्ममायया ।
सदसद्रूपया चासौ *गुणमय्यागुणो* विभुः ॥  (guNamayyaa (tRteeyA) + aguNo)

*That Lord Vasudeva Himself **who is omnipresent **and though beyond the
three gunas first created the universe with His inherent power of Maya which
is constituted of the three guNas and which is both the cause and effect.*
We have in the SrImadbhAgavatam (uddhavagItA) Chapter 23 verse 11:
Uddhava asked:
आत्मा अव्ययो*ऽगुणः* शुद्धः स्वयंज्योतिरनावृतः ।
अग्निवद्दारुवदचिद्देहः कस्येह संसृतिः ॥
[The Atman is changeless,transcends all guNas, pure, Self-effulgent,
ever-manifest, and like fire while the body is non-intelligent, like wood.
So which of these has relative existence (samsara)?]
From the above we conclude that:

   - Brahman/Atman is beyond all guNa-s.
   - whatever meaning is given to guNa-s (sattva, etc. or attributes/
   positive qualities - 'guNa' as the opposite of 'doSha') it is to be known
   beyond doubt that they can be only products of prakRti.  There are no
   'aprAkRta' sattva, etc. nor any guNa-s that can be beyond the domain of
   prakRti. Brahman gets any guNas only due to prakRti sambandha.
   - By negating prakRti-constituent sattva, etc. in Brahman/Atman, all the
   other shades of meaning/senses of 'guNa' stand negated.
   - Sri Appayya DikShita is said to have pointed out: if the opposite of
   kalyANaguNa-s is what is intended by the term 'nirguNa' in the scripture,
   then that is not the appropriate word to indicate that; it has to have been
   'nirdoSha' which alone will be the word to indicate the absence of the
   opposites of all 'guNas'.
   - Even the word 'aguNa', which we have seen above to have been used in
   the Shruti and smRti, both with reference to Brahman and Atman (individual
   self), can be seen to have no special connotation other than 'nirguNa'.  We
   have pointed out that the Madhva school has commented upon the prefixes 'a'
   and 'niH', both without differentiating, in the 'rAhityaartha' alone.
   - guNaraahitya is the meaning we get from both the words 'nirguNa' and

Om Tat Sat

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