Brahman is the highest universal principle and the ultimate reality in Hinduism. It is the unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality, which is the divine ground of all things in the universe. It is the pervasive, infinite, eternal truth, consciousness, and bliss that does not change, yet is the cause of all changes. Brahman is the immaterial, efficient, formal, and final cause of all that exists.
Meaning and Interpretation
The word “Brahman” is derived from the Sanskrit root “brh,” which means “to grow” or “to expand.” It is conceptualized in Hinduism as the creative principle that lies realized in the whole world. The Vedas, the oldest sacred texts in Hinduism, conceptualize Brahman as the cosmic principle.
In the Upanishads, a series of philosophical texts, Brahman is described as Sat-cit-ānanda (truth-consciousness-bliss) and as the unchanging, permanent, highest reality.
The Upanishads present various important concepts and doctrines, including the nature of the self, which is described as having three parts: a material body, a subtle body constituting thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and the Atman, the inmost soul or breath of life. The Upanishads teach that Atman is also Brahman, the transcendent being/reality.
Different schools of Hindu philosophy have various interpretations of Brahman. According to the Advaita (Nondualist) school of Vedanta, Brahman is categorically different from anything phenomenal, and human perceptions of differentiation are illusively projected on this reality. The Bhedabheda (Dualist-Nondualist) school maintains that Brahman is nondifferent from the world, which is its product, but different in that phenomenality imposes certain adventitious conditions (upadhis) on Brahman.
Brahman is the supreme, absolute, impersonal reality in Hinduism. It is present everywhere as the absolute reality, like salt dissolved in water, which remains the same throughout, even though its appearance does not change. The concept of Brahman is central to the practical dimension of ancient Hinduism and is the subject of many schools of Hindu philosophy.
It is the ultimate reality and the source of all existence, transcending the limitations of the material world. By realizing one’s true self (Atman) and its identity with Brahman, an individual can attain liberation and union with the divine.
What is the relationship between Brahman and Atman?
The relationship between Brahman and Atman is central to the Hindu understanding of human beings and their connection to ultimate reality. Brahman is the ultimate divine reality, the eternal essence of the universe, and the life source of all that has been, is, and will be throughout the cosmos. Atman, on the other hand, refers to the essence of each individual living thing, its soul or primary living energy.
The Upanishads, the “wisdom literature” of the Vedas, teach that Atman (a person’s inmost soul) is also Brahman (the transcendent being/reality). This profound realization is captured in the phrase “Atman is Brahman,” which is the primary view of the Vedanta school of Hindu thought. Essentially, this means that the individual soul (Atman) is the same as the universal soul (Brahman).
The relationship between Atman and Brahman is often described metaphorically in the Upanishads. For example, in the Chandogya Upanishad, Uddalaka enlightens his son Shvetaketu by explaining that just as salt dissolves in water and remains the same throughout, even though its appearance does not change, so too is the Atman present everywhere as the absolute reality.
By realizing the true nature of one’s Atman and its identity with Brahman, an individual can attain liberation (moksha) and union with the divine. This understanding of the relationship between Atman and Brahman forms the foundation of Hindu spirituality and the pursuit of self-realization.