Nature of Brahman
The supreme reality
There have been and there can be a lot of difference of opinions among various subjects in the religions and philosophies. But one thing regarding which all religions and philosophies arrive at agreement to great extent is the doctrine that there is some power or some sort of element which is the root of the whole creation and as a result of this belief, it has to be accepted as omnipresent, omnipotent, the creator, the cause of all, the god of all, the bestower of all the results, all bliss and residue of all as well.
The proper word to address such elements is – “The supreme reality” or “Paratattva” or "Brahman"
The nature of Brahman, as disclosed in śrutis is Pure Existence(sat), Pure Consciousness(cit), and Pure Bliss(ānanda). He(/thy) is perfect, omniscient, omnipotent and eternal and is the repository of the unlimited divine qualities. He(/thy) is the material and efficient cause of the whole stupendous universe. He(/thy) is the real doer(kartṛ) and enjoyer(bhoktṛ).
Multiple Facets of the Supreme Reality
The supreme reality is addressed with multiple names contextually in vedic scriptures i.e. Brahman, Paramātmā, Bhagavān, etc. These three names are the phases of a single personality. Let us now try to understand the form of these facets:
- Brahman: One integral power which is present as a cause (upādāna) of all in all the names, forms and actions, that are being experienced or are beyond our experience, has been addressed as Brahman in Veda and Upaniṣadas.
- Paramātmā: Corresponding to the individual being, the supreme reality or Brahman is also known as Paramātmā – the supreme being. He is the soul of all and is excellent among all souls. He is the indwelling soul, dearest of all, residing in all beings, so he is called Paramātmā – the supreme soul. Narration of the phases of being- the supreme soul of the supreme reality is done in gītā.
- Bhagavān: The historical (aitihāsika) - paurāṇika works like mahābhārata, harivaṃśa purāṇa, viṣṇu–purāṇa, bhāgavata etc address the supreme reality as Bhagavān, when he manifests sṛṣṭi līlā (the līlā of creation) and his divine attributes like Aiśvarya, Vīrya, Yaśa, Śrī, Jñāna, Vairāgya etc.
- Śrī Kṛṣṇa: When that Bhagavān manifests on the earth with his countless divine powers, to bestow upon his devotees, the bliss of his svarūpa, he has been named as Śrī Kṛṣṇa in Śrīmad Bhāgavata.
- Manifestations (avatāra): Manifestations in context to the three attributes of sātvika guṇa, rājasa guṇa and tāmasa guṇa of Śrī Kṛṣṇa as shown in scriptures are viṣṇu, Brahmā, and śiva respectively for managing the duties of creation, organization, and destruction, respectively. Innumerable are the manifestations in context to the līlā of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. However, in purāṇa, like Bhāgavata etc., his 24 avatāras are particularly shown. Out of them, 10 are shown as predominant manifestations and Śrī narasiṃha, vāmana, rāma, and Balarāma are shown as 4 puṣṭi manifestations.
As we have seen above, the narration of the Brahman as Paramātmā and Bhagavān has been made keeping in view the individual beings, the creations and līlā’s of the manifestations. Hence, all these narrations are made according to the process of relative narration. When the supreme reality is narrated from the non-relative point of view, or philosophical point of view, it is termed as Brahman. Hence, it can be said that Brahman is the non-relative term (nirapekṣa saṃjñā). The supreme reality has been narrated as Brahman in Veda and upaniṣada. To be Saccidānanda is the distinct svarūpa of Brahman: Veda and upaniṣada narrate Brahman as the form of Saccidānanda
i.e. Sat + Cit + Ānanda = Saccidānanda.
The term Saccidānanda is the characteristic of the svarūpa of Brahman.
- Sat: Sat means existence, power, or to-be-ness. The existence of Brahman is immeasurable and endless. Brahman remains pervading in all the places, in all times and in all forms. Brahman has such endless, immeasurable, and limitless existence and so Brahman is called Sat i.e. one who is having the attribute of Sat.
- Cit: Cit means caitanya – consciousness. Knowledge is the prime attribute of consciousness, described as such cit narrates all-effulgence of Brahman.
- Ānanda: Ānanda – unlimitedness is the chief characteristic of the svarūpa of Brahman. Brahma’s aprākṛta - unworldly divine (alaukika), endless powers and attributes that remain untouched by worldly attributes are considered as Ānanda - The bliss.
Brahman as sarjaka - pālaka - saṃhāraka of the universe
The term Brahman has been narrated in Veda’s also from the viewpoint of its actions. Thus, Veda say – the supreme reality that is the nimittopādāna – cause of all the origins – sustenance and destruction of the universe; by whom this universe is created; who sustains the existence of this universe and in whom at the end this universe merges, has been called as The Brahman. Brahman is endless, and its attributes are endless too. Even Veda consider themselves as incapable to narrate the whole svarūpa of Brahman. If it is so, how can an ordinary being describe the svarūpa and the attributes of Brahman! However, it is quite necessary to know some of the attributes of Brahman as stated in Veda in order to understand the svarūpa of Brahman and to dispel some misunderstandings propagated regarding Brahman.
Definition of Brahman
- Essential Nature: The Second-less Complex Homogeneous Infinite Conscious Being. Ref: सत्यं ज्ञानं अनन्तं ब्रह्म (तैत्ति. उप. 2|1)
- Efficient Nature: The one from which every other thing has proceeded from it at the time of creation and is non-different from it during creation, sustained within it and merges into it at the time of dissolution. Ref: यतो वा इमानि भूतानि जायन्ते ...तद ब्रह्म (तैत्ति. उप. 3|1)
Nature of Brahman
The differentiating character of the brahman from other existents like an individual soul(jīva) or inconscient matter is his(/thy) character as possessing eternal and infinite bliss which is veiled both in soul and nature(prakr̥ti). It is Brahman who propels the individual soul to act in a particular way and enjoys its fruits.Though not getting open to the charge of practicing cruelty and creating inequality because he(/thy) created the world out of himself by the way of mere sport(lilā). By the process of manifestation (āvirbhāva) and concealment (tirōbhāva). He manifests and dissolves world order out of his own self like a spider’s web. But despite this transformation, his own essential and real nature remains immutable and is never subject to modification whatsoever; this special feature of the Philosophy of Śrīmad Vallabhācārya is known as the doctrine of avikṛtapariṇāmavāda. This whole world is His eternal sport (lilā).
The nature of brahman in Vallabha vedānta is determinate(saviśeṣa) and replete with infinite divine and transcendental attributes, there is no intra-genus(sajātīya bheda), extra-genus (vijātīya bheda) or internal (svagata bheda) kind of differences and the ultimate nature which transcends all distinction and differences in itself innumerable and transcendental attributes, like Pure Existence (sat), Pure Consciousness (cit), and Pure Bliss (ānanda) which form its very nature. The ultimate reality is neither organic nor structural but rather is determinate homogeneity containing infinite attributes and powers born out of its essential nature, the character of being the substratum of contradictory affirmations(virrudhdharmaśrayatv).
- Determinate and attributive
In Vidvanmaṇḍanaṃ Śrīmad Viṭṭhalanātha raises a question: are two concepts of saguṇa and nirguṇa brahman different or identical? If they are different is the difference real or unreal? In the case this difference be contemplated it would directly contradict with the sūtra ‘sarvatra prasiddhopadeśāt’(1,2,1) where in Chāndogya mantra” All this is Brahman, as it originates, becomes absorbed and lives in It; one should meditate upon it calmly”, is interpreted as referring to Brahman. The significance being that the whole cosmos has to be contemplated as really Brahman on the ground that is the source of its origination, sustenance and absorption. This identity of Brahman and the cosmos is not imaginary; instead, it is real and the result of the contemplation of truth is purification of the heart (āntaḥkaraṇa). Thus proving this particular section of Brahmasūtra clearly indicates Brahman as the cause of origination, etc. of the world, is the real and pāramārthika brahman
- Brahman fulfilled with all the divine attributes
sākāra - Though it is all-pervading, Brahman is sākāra, too – it is having the form. The sound waves that pervade in all countries, in all space and at all the places are not audible in their pervading form. But the same sound-waves become sākāra in the form of words in the radio like the sound-waves, the vision-waves are also spread in all places, but we can’t see them in their pervading form, however in the television-set the same pervading waves become visible scenes. Similarly, Brahman is all pervading too and yet sākāra too. In its pervading form Brahman is invisible, in its sākāra form it is visible – realizable.
avyaya - Brahman has neither the origin nor the destruction. It is an eternal – indestructible reality . During the creation though it holds various forms of the insentient and the sentient, no change takes place in the Brahman. For this reason, the Brahman is considered as ‘avyaya’. Like the Brahman, Brahma’s aprākṛtatā, divine endless attributes, too, are void of any Changes, indestructible and eternal. To be void of changes is the ‘vīrya’ power of the Brahman. ‘vīrya’ means power. To be indestructible is to be ‘vīryavāna’ – powers and potential.
sarvasamartha - The Brahman is affluent (rich) with all kinds of divine powers. Being omnipotent, Brahman is termed as ‘kartuṃ-akartum-anyathākartum sāmarthya’, this means that the Brahman is capable to do, to undo, to do otherwise: -
kartuṃ sāmarthya (capable of doing everything) - The Brahman is capable to make the bestowal of the excellent fruit to those who are not having any scriptural means of ‘Japa’ (reciting), austerity, sacrifice, meditation, control, and regulation, etc. This is the evidence of Brahman being capable to do all. The Vraja – devotees were utterly void of the above said means. Yet Bhagavān śrī kṛṣṇa graciously bestowed upon them the supreme fruit which was rare and difficult to be obtained even by yogīs and wise men of knowledge.
akartuṃ sāmarthya (capable to not perform any of the action): A person may be equipped (rich) with how so many scriptural means, but if the Brahman does not wish to bestow upon him any fruit, it is capable not to bestow upon him any kind of fruit. This is just an example of capability of undoing (not performing any function) of the Brahman.
anyathākartuṃ sāmarthya (capable of performing any of function out of the route) - By going through the characters of the devotees it has been seen that Bhagavān has uplifted even ‘kūbjā’, ‘pūtanā’, ‘kaṃsa’ ‘śiśupāla’ etc. Who held passion, avarice (greed) and infatuation towards Bhagavān which are the evil sentiments and means forbidden by scriptures. This is Brahma’s power to do otherwise. To be powerful is to have ‘yaśa’. The Brahman is all-powerful, so only Brahma’s attribute of yaśa pervades. Who will sing the yaśa of one who is void of attributes? Who will like to obtain and know one who is powerless? And what benefit is there to approach one who is having no power? Hence, those who consider Brahman as nirguṇa and nirdharmaka make Brahman as non-worshipable, unobtainable, unknowable and unbestower of fruit. In reality the Brahman is not nirguṇa and nirdharmaka but it is endowed with all unworldly, divine attributes. This shows that the Brahman is worshipable, obtainable and bestower of fruit for all. This is the yaśa attribute of the Brahman.
svatantra - Brahman is independent as it holds the immeasurable power of knowledge and unlimited power of action. A man may have power of knowledge but if he lacks in power of action, he is going to become dependent. Don’t we see many educated, wise, learned men serving others? The reason is that there is an urge of the power of action in them. Similarly, a man may possess the power of action, but he may not have knowledge, this makes him a parasite who hangs upon others. A laborer may have much more power than his master has. But for want of power of knowledge, he becomes dependent and till the very end of his life he works as a laborer. And this as a laborer the man who has both the powers in him – the power of knowledge and the power of action, can win freedom from dependence. The Brahman is independent as it is endowed with the powers of knowledge and action. The very independence of the Brahman is it, śrī and śobhā – the wealth and splendor. How ever strong a tiger may be, but if it is placed in a cage, all its luster and power will come to an end, similarly, how much learned a man may be, but if he serves somebody, he will lose his luster and wisdom. Hence, the man who is independent maintains his luster and power, hence Brahma’s independence has been extolled as it ‘śrī - śobhā’.
sarveśvara - Because the Brahman is independent, māyā cannot have her impact upon it. Nobody is empowered to have the upper hand on the Brahman. On the contrary it is the Brahman who keeps all in its subjection. Hence, the Brahman is called ‘sarveśvara’ – lord and Bhagavān of all.
sarvajña - If the Brahman pervades in all the places, at all the times and in all the objects what matter can be there which the Brahman is unaware of! Hence, the Brahman is omniscient. Omniscience is the Brahma’s attribute of Knowledge.
nirguṇa - Though the Brahman is endowed with unworldly, divine, endless attributes; it is void of all earthly, worldly characterize. For this reason, the Brahman is termed as ‘nirguṇa’ and ‘nirdharmaka’ to be void of worldly attributes is the Brahma’s attribute of ‘vairāgya’.
In this way we have narrated six divine attributes of the Brahman – (1) vyāpakatā - aiśvarya, (2) avyayatā - vīrya, (3) sarvaśaktimāna - yaśa, (4) svātantrya - śrī, (5) sarvajña - jñāna and (6) prākṛtaguṇavarjitatā - vairāgya. In addition to these six divine attributes, many other attributes of the Brahman have been narrated in the scriptures.
sarvādhāra - The Brahman has created the universe and has become its prop. So, the Brahman has been described as ‘sarvādhāra’ - the support of all.
sarva vilakṣaṇa - The sea manifests in the form of its waves and yet it is not terminated in the waves, as it is perfect. Similarly, though the Brahman manifests as innumerable insentient objects and sentient beings, it does not come to an end in the insentient and the sentient. It does not diminish at all. As the svarupa of independence of the sea remain intact even if it forms the waves, similarly, though the Brahman is the form of all, it is also supremely independent and distinct. Its reason is worth knowing:-
The qualities of the father enter into the son, and not the qualities of the son into the father, the attributes of the sea are there in the waves, but the attributes of the waves are not there in the sea. From this the principle can be established. The attributes of the cause always enter into the effect, but the attributes of the effect do not enter into the cause. So, when the Brahman holds the forms of the insentient and the sentient, the Brahman does not become unconscious like the insentient and does not become an atom or does not become scattered like the being for this reason, the Brahman is called ‘sarvavilakṣaṇa’ – distinct from all.
abhinna-nimittopādāna - The Brahman is both the nimitta cause and the upādāna cause of the creation.
tarkāgocara - The Svarupa of the Brahman cannot be rasped by the narrow intellectual power of logic. Because of Brahma’s attributes of all pervading, power and resort of contradictory attributes, the rules of logic have to accept their defects before Brahman. For this reason, the Brahman has been called ‘yuktyāgocara’ or ‘tarkāgocara’ – not approachable by any desire or logic.
adraśya - The svarupa of the Brahman being unearthly and divine, a man cannot behold it by his earthly-worldly senses. In the same way the beings who are unqualified and unworthy cannot have the darśana of the Brahman, hence, the Brahman is termed as ‘adraśya’ - ‘invisible’.
svecchayā-draśya - Though invisible, the Brahman manifests its svarupa before the person whom he wishes to have his darśana. Hence, the Brahman sometimes becomes visible by its own sweet will. It is quite well-known in the purāṇas and in the world that many beings beheld Bhagavān during the time of this manifestation and in the time of his non-manifestation. It depends upon the independent will of the Brahman whether to give darśana or not, again, all people do not behold Bhagavān equally in the same way. The svarupa of Bhagavān becomes visible before the beings, such as and so much as Bhagavān wishes to manifest this svarupa before them. There is one famous example which shows that when Bhagavān entered the assembly of kaṃsa, devotees with different sentiments beheld Bhagavān in different forms – women saw him as the very manifestation of the God of love, people who had friendly feelings saw him as a friend, to old people he appeared as a child, while the wrestlers of kaṃsa beheld Bhagavān as the death. Thus, Bhagavān gave all these people his darśana in the form in which a person wishes to see him in accordance with the sentiment of his heart. From this incident we can understand a principle that even in the time of manifestation, Bhagavān does not offer the darśana of his saccidānanda - divine svarupa to all the beings. This does not mean that the different forms in which Bhagavān gives this darśana are material and worldly. Bhagavān may be visible as a worldly, child, or a youth or as an enemy or a great man, yet from the reality point of view Bhagavān is always divine, saccidānanda form. To those people who have not got such high eligibility that they may have the darśana of the divine, saccidānanda svarupa, Bhagavān offers them his darśana according to their worth with the justification. “like vision like creation”. The ignorant people can experience Bhagavān’s manifested form as an ordinary person and so will be blind to the saccidānanda form of Bhagavān , man of dry knowledge will feel the attribute of saccidānanda of Brahman but Bhagavān in ordinary human form will be felt wonderful and astonishing. The men of knowledge and devotion will behold Bhagavān’s manifested human form as well on this saccidānanda form Bhagavān will appear to them such as they expect to experience in their devotion of Bhagavān or in the līlā of Bhagavān. They can, know, believe, and enjoy the quality of Bhagavān being the resort of contradictory attributes.
karmaphala dātā - The person who performs good actions, obtains good fruit. While the doer of bad action obtains bad fruit. Having seen such two-five-ten examples, a few people assume that man can get fruit by his deeds. However, if that assumption means that without any will or control of Bhagavān, the action itself yields fruit to a man independently or relatively, then this belief is quite false. No man can produce any fruit by his own efforts and when a man is not able to do any action without the will of Bhagavān, how can he be free to produce the fruit of the action! It is Bhagavān who offers the fruits of all good or bad deeds by his own independent will. It is not necessary for Bhagavān that he may offer the fruit by seeing the action of men. If Bhagavān wishes, he may take action into consideration and if he wishes, he may not take actions into consideration. All rules of the law of actions are applicable to beings. Bhagavān who is beyond all rules and scriptures is independent. Sometimes Bhagavān manifests līlā to be bound by rules of actions. But that is subject to his will and not to the rules of actions. This līlā same as the people who wear the belt around their belly as they wish to do so! In addition to the above stated attributes, various other attributes of the Brahman are narrated in smṛti-purāṇa. śrīmad bhāgavata specifies some attributes of the
Brahman - Righteousness, holiness, compassion, pardon, renouncement, satisfaction, politeness, penance, contiry, austerely, equipoise, forbearance, in difference, valor, luster, remembrance, adeptness, beauty, patience, softness, wisdom, prasraya, character, power, depth, stability, honor, lack of pride etc. etc.
- Substratum of contradictory attributes
As both the saguṇa and nirguṇa śruti are accepted equally while acknowledging the real character of brahman has posed a serious problem. Brahman is described in this śrutis as both indeterminate, and as the creator and sustainer of the universe as both infinite and manifesting Itself as finite as atomic and all-pervasive and as One who notwithstanding his Omnipresence resides in the hearts of all individual souls. The Vedānta-Sūtra, also assert in uncertain terms that Brahman is substratum of contradictory attributes. Brahman is both Passive and Active, as one who is indeterminate and yet is the source of the origin, sustenance, and dissolution of the world-order, one who is transcendent and immanent, as one from the evolution of changing world order starts and yet suffers no mutation, as one being all-pervasive and omnipotent and the indweller (antaryāmi) in the hearts of millions of creatures. Such contradictory assertions for the same Brahman are baffling to the human mind and is the greatest paradox of Upaniṣada philosophy. They seem to violate laws of logic and Law of the Excluded Middle and any rational justification to human intellect. One may naturally ask: how can we assert contradictory attributes in substratum? Can we assert both the negation and its counter positive on the same ground? In Vidvanmaṇḍanaṃ Śrīmad Viṭṭhalanātha asserts that the standards of our empirical judgement are absolutely incapable of disclosing the truth about the transcendent and essential nature of Brahman. We deny the co-existence of contradictory attributes in one and the same substratum. The basis of our judgement is always our empirical perception for we never perceive such a phenomenon in ordinary human life. Like the indeterminate nature of Brahman can’t be experienced the contradictory attributes in Brahman could only through Śruti and not through empirical means or cognition (pramāṇa). Brahman being the substrate of these contradictory attributes is not a defect but rather an ornament and a sign of his infinite greatness which is executed through his māyā, power or capacity. (Aṇubhāṣya. p121). The inefficacy of the analytic and a-priori laws of logic, such as the Law of Contradiction and Law of Excluded logic, that stem forth directly from our limited and partial mental consciousness, in arriving at a true and essential nature of Reality.
In Śruti we generally come across a two-fold description of Brahman:
- Śrutis that describe the real and ultimate nature of Brahman (Svarupa-lakṣaṇa)
- Śrutis that explain him to be the ultimate cause and ground of cosmic manifestation, the origination, the sustenance, and the destruction of the world-order (kārya-lakṣaṇa).
Here, we are primarily considered with the texts that reveal the real nature of Brahman or svarupa.
In the Upaniṣadas, the essential nature of Brahman is generally described as the tri-une reality of Pure Existence, Pure Knowledge, and Pure Bliss, the saccidānanda.
All systems of vedānta almost equivocally accept this nature of Brahman. Śrīmad Vallabhācārya also has full faith in this svarupa-lakṣaṇa and emphasises with full vigour this essential nature of Puruṣottama wherein Bliss constitutes the innermost depth and secret of Divine Existence.
In the Bṛhadāraṇyaka we have such descriptions as ”This endless infinite Reality is but Pure Intelligence., Knowledge, Bliss, Brahman, the Supreme Goal of the dispenser of wealth”, “It is Truth of truth”. In the Taittirīyopaniṣada, the Brahman is empathetically asserted as ‘Truth, Knowledge and Infinity’ and subsequently it is disclosed that the real nature of Brahman is Bliss. “He is Bliss. Having attained the Bliss this one becomes happy…, that alone makes one blissful”.
This Existence, Consciousness, and Bliss of Brahman are also passed into the cause due to the relation of causality, but then are they same in Brahman and the phenomenon? Śrīmad Vallabhācārya like other interpreters of vedānta is quite unambiguous that the phenomenal appearances of these three characters are only limited, transfigured and mutated aspects, in their transcendental essential status they are quite different.
In the words of Śri Aurobindo:
Pure Being (sat): It is timeless, spaceless stability(sthāṇu), which is immutable, inexhaustible, and unexpected, not acting, though containing all its action, not energy but Pure Existence; it is the fundamental foundational reality forming the background of all that appears as existent.
Pure consciousness (cit): A transcendental foundational consciousness, the Prius of all conscious manifestation- inaccurately represented in the phenomenon. Unlike our mental waking consciousness, generally associated with the vrittis of antaḥkaraṇa the divine consciousness is all-pervading, infinite and unbounded.
Pure Delight (ānanda): Likewise universal consciousness, it is also universal and is essentially also different from the sensational pleasure of human beings; it is illimitable self-existent, not dependent on any particular causes, the background of all backgrounds from which pleasure, pain and more mental experiences emerge.
The real love or Bliss according to Śrīmad Vallabhācārya is as described in Maitreyī Brāhmaṇam of the Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣada- pertains to Ātman which is all pervasive and is not different from all that phenomenally exists. This essentially eternal, infinite and unconditioned (nirupadhika) Delight of Ātman or Brahman, as per Brahman’s own wish, is subjected to Spatio-temporal limitations and manifests itself in innumerable mundane forms and aspects
In Phenomenon, the sat or existence is revealed in Matter, consciousness is revealed in souls and Bliss is manifested in the antaryāmi, the full and unlimited manifestation of Delight being possible only after the supreme realisation of Puruṣottama.
Though Pure Existence, Pure Consciousness, and Pure Bliss form the essential nature of Ultimate reality, to Śrīmad Vallabhācārya following the footprints of Śrīmad Bhagavata it is Pure Bliss that constitutes and demonstrates the Its innermost kernel and realisation of Supreme Bliss should be final aim and purpose of all life on this earth.
- Brahman as Personal, Individual and Concrete
Brahman is Pure Existence, Pure Consciousness, and Pure Delight and has countless other divine attributes, it is always wise to think of Him as an Individual and a Personality. The Vedas and the Upaniṣada have such passages in abundance that are suggestive of the personal character of Brahman. The Puruṣa Suktam describes Him as one having infinite Heads, infinite Eyes, and infinite legs, the Taittirīyopaniṣada is repeatedly assertive of His being of the form of the Puruṣa, The II and XI canto of Śrīmad Bhagvata narrates in detail of His Universal Form.
Brahman is both Sākāra (possessing form) and not only nirākāra(formless) as contended by some. Nirākāra in the sense of the denial of phenomenality and sākāra-in the sense of possessing infinite and unlimited attributes by which He reveals Himself to His devotees with different forms and appearances at the same time. It is obvious to ask the question that how can Brahman be both Formless and with Form at the same time. To answer this Bādarāyaṇa in his Brahmasūtra gives the analogy of the serpent, just as a serpent, as per its own wish, may at one moment rest in a coiled state and very next moment can be elongated, Brahman may also in one of His poises be formless while other and even simultaneously be a substrate of infinite divine virtues and qualities. The difference between the analogy of the serpent and Brahman lies in the fact that the serpent cannot be coiled and straight at the same moment while Brahman is capable of doing so.
Since the idea of ‘form’ is always relative to the idea of ‘body’, the philosopher of the divine form must also agree with the existence of Divine Body, a conclusion detrimental to the fundamental belief that Ultimate Reality or God is eternal. If the Brahman has a body, is it aprakṛta (celestial), prakṛta (consisting of guṇas) or is mayika? Śrīmad Vallabhācārya discards the very conception of Brahman’s possessing body either physical (prakṛta) or celestial (aprakṛta) on the ground that this would ultimately equate Him with the jīva or Individual Soul. Śri Puruṣottama has discussed this point in his Prakāśa commentary on Aṇubhāṣya. The idea of Brahman possessing an aprakṛta body is irrelevant because Brahman is also an agent and is not in need of any accessory condition; He Himself is capable of creating out of Himself, according to His own Will. Moreover, if this body is eternal it would contradict the Śruti ‘that there was only sat or Brahman’. If one were to imagine that Brahman’s body exists of Pure Sattva then it would be difficult to deny the existence of ego in Him for ‘ego’ is always related to the body be it any form; the very fact of being in relation to the guṇas of Prakr̥ti constitutes the ego or abhimāna. Thus, the conclusion is inevitable that if Brahman possesses a body He is the same as jīva. This demonstrates the inconsistency of the idea of ‘body’ with the philosophy of Saccidānanda Brahman. He transcends all the contacts with the guṇas of Prakr̥ti, and is always independent and cramped up with all mysterious divine powers. Brahman is therefore aśariri (without a body) is his mūlarūpa (original poise).As stated above too, Brahman though being Nirākāra can be sākāra too, so how can we understand the concept of His sākāra rupa? To this Śrīmad Vallabhācārya answers, Brahman manifests in the form of whatever His devotee meditates upon Him. The concept of the Lord’s body, wherever employed in scripture is indicative only of His svarupa (essence) or of His divine attributes, for there is no difference between Brahman and His attributes. In spite of the denunciation of the Lord’s body in His mūlarūpa, it is repeatedly asserted that Brahman always has a form (ākāra).
The form of Śri Viṣṇu stands for possessing Consciousness and Delight. ‘Nārada-Pañcarātra’ describes “His hand, feet, face, and belly are comprised of only Bliss. ”, asserting the form and the body of the Lord in fact that Both He and His body are Pure Delight. This ānandamaya form of Brahman is the source of all formal appearances in phenomena just as He is the Only source and ground of their manifestation. Asserting Bliss is productive of the form.
- Brahman - The cause of the world
The majority of the inheritors of Upaniṣada thought and vision including the exponents of Uttara Mīmāṃsā are almost unanimous in their conviction that Brahman is both the efficient and imminent cause of the world order. The Brahmasūtra is quite unambiguous when it defines Brahman by the sūtra ‘Janmādyasya Yataḥ’(Brahmasūtra 1-1-2) that the whole cosmos originates from Brahman, sustains in Him, it is to Him which it ultimately returns. The kārya-lakṣaṇa-śruti is descriptive of the real attributes and functions of Brahman as the svarupa-lakṣaṇa-śruti such as “Brahman is Truth, Consciousness and Infinity'', a contention drawing its support from Śrīmad Bhagvata also. The causality of Brahman is real and so is the world creation which is explained as manifestation or deployment at His will out of His Nirguṇa-Self – a doctrine of evolution based on theories of manifestation (āvirbhāva) and concealment (tirōbhāva) and Immutable-transformation (avikṛtpariṇāmavāda).
The Nirguṇa aspect of Brahman is thus both the instrumental and the inherent cause of the world order (abhinnanimittopādana).
- Brahman as the KARTĀ (agent)
The assertion of the instrumental-causality of Brahman is the agent or the creator (kartā) of this magnificent universe, inconceivable in every respect to the human mind, naturally raises many doubts: Does this instrumental causality refer to the ultimate trans-relational and transcendental aspect of Brahman whose nature is described in the nirguṇa-śrutis or the saguṇa-aspect?
It is the Nirguṇa-Brahman or Nirguṇa aspect of Brahman who is really the instrumental and the inherent cause of the world creation and is described in the śrutis as the creator, the ruler and the antaryāmi. On the authority of Brahmasūtra, Śrīmad Vallabhācārya in his Aṇubhāṣya emphatically demonstrates that while speaking about the agency of Brahman the śrutis have always in the mind the nirguṇa and not the saguṇa Brahman for the reason saguṇa being always contaminated by the guṇas of Prakr̥ti is not at all independent. The concept of kartṛtva or agency has ‘independence’ as its important term which is altogether absent in all the forms and modes of Saguṇatva, Nirguṇa Brahman which transcends all the attributes of Prakr̥ti and has the rightful claim to independence as well as kartṛtva. Though it has to be noted very carefully that Nirguṇa-Brahman is also sometimes referred to as Saguṇa-Brahman in the sense that, when the Upaniṣadas describe the nature of Nirguṇa-Brahman as imperceptible, as without body, ‘not-this’, ‘not-this’ they intend not a total denial or negation of all kind of attributes but only of phenomenal attributes or prapañcika-dharmas, thus Saguṇatva in the sense of Divine Attributes but not the guṇas of prakr̥ti.
The concept of kartṛtva is always relative to the concept of activity (kriyā) and its object (karma) implying thereby that any association of this idea with Brahman would negate its monoistic character disregarding the verdict of śruti that Brahman is non-dual (Advaita). This objection is due to the grave misunderstanding which equates ‘phenomenal agency’ with the transcendental and trans-empirical (alaukika) agency of Brahman. The argument that kartṛtva is an after-effect of the superimposition of the body etc. may be justifiable in the case of phenomena but it is absolutely irrelevant so far as the Divine Agency is concerned. The alaukika-kartṛtva of Brahman is ascertainable only on the basis of śruti and not through empirical pramāṇa whatsoever. The attributes of kartṛtva and bhoktṛtva (enjoyer-ship) persist in Brahman just as ‘Existence, Knowledge and Bliss’ and are sustained in Him without any contradiction to His Svarupa-Lakṣaṇa or essential definition.
Bādarāyaṇa has demonstrated at length in his Brahmasūtra ‘Lokavattu Līlākaivalyam (2-1-33)’ that all creation is a sport of the Lord, which is motivated not by any desire or purpose but simply out of His Wish to manifest himself and enjoy in the deployings of His inscrutable and mysterious powers. Thus any position of real kartṛtva in Brahman does not violate His immaculate nature of self-satisfaction or āptkamatva.
The philosophy of creation as a sport of Brahman also dispenses with the charge of cruelty or partiality. As the doctrine of self-creation (ātmasṛṣṭi) asserts the truth that the same Brahman evolves Himself as cause and effect. The charge of cruelty and partiality holds some ground in such theologies that conceive of God as an extra-cosmic transcendent Being but in a philosophy that regards Him as transcendental as well as immanent the objection is quite irrelevant. As God in the process of creation or manifestation, born merely out of the sport, is an indictment of the validity of this charge for no one would be cruel or partial to himself.
Enjoyment is an empirical condition, always fraught with happiness and grief, whose association with the supreme transcendent Being will be an augury of a blatantly preposterous metaphysics. Enjoyment and grief, happiness and sorrow, are always a result of good and bad deeds they can be conceived of only in an individual soul. Phenomenal and empirical enjoyment is non-attributable to Brahman for diverse reasons. There are certain qualities present in Brahman by which He is singularly different from the jīva. These qualities are His ubiquitous character, His absolute independence in activity and His nature as an all-effulgent Delight. Because the enjoyment of pleasure and pain are, by nature, relative in character they are inadequate in affecting the Personality of Brahman whose all-pervasive character, the independence of activity and illegitimacy of the contention that He can be affected by any earthly pleasure or pain. The feeling of pleasure and pain, happiness and sorrow are, therefore, associated only with the individual soul (jīva) and not Brahman. Yet this does not mean a denial of Brahman’s enjoyment. As in Him, this mighty and stupendous universe merges at the time of world-dissolution, as in Him during the state of deep sleep all the activities of the soul find rest, He is called in the Upaniṣada “the eater whose morsels are ‘death’, the Brāhmaṇa and the Kṣatriya.” He during the course of this eating certainly enjoys the manifestations of His own Bliss. The enjoyment of Brahman, therefore, is not natural and empirical (laukika) but is supernatural (alaukika) and celestial. The objection that no enjoyment in Brahman is possible has relevance with ‘phenomenal enjoyment’ and not with the divine and celestial bhoktṛtva.
Brahman is without senses (nirindriya) yet He is an agent for the śruti declares that ‘He moves and talks without any legs and hands’ (Śvetāśvataropaniṣada. 3,11), that ‘He has neither any eyes nor any ears that His ‘effects’ and instruments are unknown’. Those who contend that activity without instruments and senses is impossible, forget that in matters divine and transcendental śruti or the Word is the only means of apprehension which should be followed as literally as possible. Brahman the repository of contradictory attributes with His immense potentialities and infinite powers is quite possible of being an agent even without any indriya (sense).
- Brahman as Object
Śrutis state that the Nirguṇa Brahman by His own will and His infinite powers manifests Himself in name and form, in the appearance of the whole cosmos. It is the same Saccidānanda Brahman who is simultaneously the objective phenomena as well as the transcendental supreme who has the potentialities to subject Himself to objective manifestation. Though the Ultimate Reality is beyond the ordinary worldly means of cognition, such as perception and inference, He can be an object of cognition as per His own Wish.
Knowledge is always determinate and objective in character; as such, in order that Brahman be the object either of religious devotion or of philosophic enquiry. His real objectification is a pre-condition. One may be tempted to object that the schema of subject-object-relation pertaining to the categories of thought, is necessarily phenomenal and has no relevance in any transcendental context. This is a gross misunderstanding generated by ignorance of Brahman’s inner worth, powers and magnificence. Objectification to experience whether in the devotee’s heart (upāsya) or as an manifestation when the Lord wishes to manifest Himself in public — is purely a matter of His Divine Will and Grace in which His own Desire is only the instrument. Wherever the śruti declares that He is imperceptible to senses and not His absolute imperceptibility. As Śrī Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna after manifesting His Divine Form, “Being pleased, I have shown you, O! Arjuna, through my Yoga power, this supreme form of Mine, resplendent, universal, infinite and primaeval, which has not been seen before by anyone else than you.” The term ‘My Yoga power’ in this context means that the Lord being pleased renders Himself perceptible by imparting His own special and capability to the devotee by which along His vision is possible. Brahman when He is pleased with the devotee’s worship through his adoption of the means of śraddhā, bhakti and concentration reveals Himself to him during the course of his worship. The point on which considerable emphasis is laid is the contention that the reason for ‘perceptibility’ or ‘imperceptibility’ lies in the Divine Wish and not in the individual soul; – a thesis which is well supported by the Kaṭhopaniṣada’s mantra, ‘He is attainable by one whom He selects’ and the whole chapter XI of the Śrīmad Bhagavadgītā.
Brahman is not cruel and partial
In the creation of the Brahman, some are in the form of the insentient and some are in the form of the sentient beings. Among the beings the men are able to make upliftment of their own self. While animals and birds, devoid of the ability as they are, cannot make their upliftment. Among the beings some are handsome, and some are ugly and deformed, some are capable, and some are incapable, some are happy, and some are unhappy, some are worth-liberation, and some are unworthy of liberation. Some are sinful and some virtuous etc. For this reason, some people will certainly feel that the creation of the Brahman is full of inequality, unfair discrimination, partiality, and dissimilarity. Because of this kind of misunderstanding the ignorant people very often consider inequality – dissimilarity in the Brahman. The allegations made on the Brahman to be dissimilar, partial, and cruel should be taken as baseless and actuated by ignorance. In fact, there cannot be any unequally and cruelty. The Brahman will need some person or object that is different from it, if you consider it a problem of the Brahman, and if you consider it the distinctness of the Brahman, then the problem or distinctness of the Brahman is this: wherefrom, to bring ‘someone’ that is different from its own self, in becoming dissimilar and cruel? Is there anyone else here except the Brahman? If the Brahman itself becomes the insentient and the sentient, wealthy and un-wealthy, big, and small, sinful, and virtuous etc., no charge can be made on the Brahman to be dissimilar, partial and cruel. The insentient and the sentient universe is Brahma’s own creation. Hence, the Brahman is innocent and equal to all.
The one whom the upaniṣada address as ‘Brahman’ ‘Parabrahma’ ‘ātmā’ ‘Satya’ ‘Rasa’ ‘ānanda’ ‘ananta’ ‘bhūmā’ and ‘nārāyaṇa’ is śrī kṛṣṇa only. They are multiple facets of the same personality who is the supreme one. Similarly, it is also śrī kṛṣṇa whom purāṇa call ‘Bhagavān’ and smṛti all ‘puruṣottama’ ‘paramātmā’ and ‘parameśvara’. Hence, all the above said divine attributes are the attributes of the supreme Brahman śrī kṛṣṇa.
The powers of Brahman
When there rises a desire within Brahman out of the mere sport, in His Pure, supreme and transcendental state of dissolution to manifest Himself, His mysterious and infinite power is awakened, like the opening of eyes, (unmeṣa) and the whole creative process sets in.
Māyā or Yogamāyā as termed in Śrīmad Bhagavadgītā and Śrīmad Bhagvata is the mysterious and infinite power through which manifestive evolution of Brahman in His successive deployments takes place. Māyā or the power of Brahman is nothing separate from Him, but only His potentiality of being anything and everything thus preserving the monistic character of Brahman. It is Brahman’s capacity of manifesting Himself in any name and form or sarvabhavanasāmarthya. Just as the capacity of man, to think or act in any way, is identical and, therefore, non-different from Him. Any attempt at distinguishing māyā, as power from Brahman is a misplaced idea and a denunciation of both the śrutis and such smrtis as the Gītā and Bhagvata.
Because of māyā’s inscrutable and unimaginable working in the manifestation of the cosmos and its inscrutable and unimaginable working in the manifestation of the cosmos and its instrumentality in creating delusion for individual souls it is often counted in the Scriptures among the so many powers of the Lord. In such cases, the reference is only to the ‘vyāmohikā’ or the delusional aspect of māyā and there is no intention to decry the comprehension of the term ‘māyā’ as the supreme unitary power or potentiality of Brahman.
Jñāna Śakti and Kriyā Śakti
Though the power of Brahman is unitary, for Brahman is one, yet we have generally twofold classification of this power-
- Jñāna Śakti (The power of knowledge) - The conscious Power is that power of Brahman by which He, in his nature as eternal consciousness, knows and reveals all his transcendental and phenomenal verities. All the modes and means of cognition (pramāṇa) are also included within the compass of this Conscious Force, this jñāna-śakti can be further classified as the one capable of objective presentation. Since, the Vedas are the only ultimately reliable pramāṇa they are the ones that represent the pramāṇabala aspect of Brahman’s jñāna-śakti whereas the attributes of the Lord both in His transcendental and phenomenal statuses are the real prameya. The power of Will or Icchāśakti of Brahman is also included within the jñāna śakti of because Will or Īkṣaṇa is only a type of knowledge; without knowledge there no iksana or willing is possible. So instead of acknowledging Will as a separate power in Vallabha’s School of Vedānta, it is included within the gamut of Jñāna-śakti.
- Kriyā Śakti (The power of Force or Action) - The Dynamic Force is the power through which Brahman deploys Himself into the subsequent stages of evolution and supports the dynamism of his phenomenal creation. The symbolism of the four-handed figure of the Lord could be interpreted as His four different kriyā-saktis:
a. Śaṃkha - Stands for the element of water.
b. Kamala - Symbol of the element of earth.
c. Gadā - Represents the element of air or the vital force.
d. Sudarśana - Symbolises the element of fire or Energy.
Śvetāśvatara-mantra says ‘ The śrutis tells of the diverse powers of this Brahman as inherent knowledge, strength and activity ’.