PART I: THE FOUNDATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY
Chapter 8: Brahman
The Story of the Atom
Commonsense perception makes one believe that the ultimate stuff of the world is matter. The senses give us the intimations of the existence of physical bodies outside our own. We, generally speaking, live in a world presented by the senses, and the senses happen to come in contact only with material bodies, for they are gross even as matter is. In the beginning, human attempt to understand the nature of the world ended in the discovery that some physical element must be the reality. Some thought that water is the primal substance. Certain others felt it is fire, some air, and so on. This is the natural consequence of the most primitive form of perception. Matter was taken to be what it was observed to be. There are the five gross elements, and everything seems to be composed of them. Some ancient speculators, no doubt, felt a need to accept the presence of a mind, in addition to these elements. But its position in the scheme of things was so weak that it was superseded by the feeling that the elements are, somehow, the ultimate realities of the world.
But this state of affairs could not continue for long. Matter became one of the two realities making up the world, the other being mind or thought. Matter is mere extension, it is the material of all bodies, animal and human alike, though the human being has a thinking and understanding faculty, this distinguishing him from the lower animals which are said to be, more or less, automatons moved by instinct. There were also others to whom matter appeared as the symbol of imperfection, the dark qualityless basis of the world, and could be designated as non-being. Only the mind contemplating it can be real. These thinkers took little interest in the constitution of matter, for, to them, it had little significance in the realm of realities. Matter was also believed to be the potential state of what is more real, the latency of the form, a stage in the process of development. The world of matter was held to be not a static being, but a movement, a march towards the actualisation of pure form. Matter, again, was thought to consist of sleeping centres of energy or force. Minds are such centres risen to consciousness, while matter is their unevolved state. Others felt that matter is an attribute of reality which appears as matter from one viewpoint and as thought from another.
It is interesting to note that present-day science has slowly risen from the perception of solid matter, by a gradual improvement of the instruments of its knowledge. The world which was supposed to be consisting of the gross elements and various kinds of objects was reduced to a few simple chemical elements which were thought to be incapable of further simplification. But these elements were again analysed, and, with Dalton, came the theory that these consisted of minute granular substances or atoms. The number of the atoms was supposed to correspond to that of the chemical elements, of which the former are the constituents. But then came, again, the wonderful researches of a group of eminent pioneers of a revolution in science, which revealed the electrical nature of the atom and the possibility of breaking it into further minute elements. The cause of the difference in the various kinds of atoms was found to be something startlingly new. The difference was discovered to be not in the quality of the constituents of the atom, but in their number, arrangement and manner of movement. The constituents themselves are identical in nature in all the atoms of the different chemical elements. The atoms are made up of positive and negative charges of electricity, called protons and electrons. Later, several other phases, such as neutrons that have no charges in them, and positrons which are positive electrons, were discovered. The atom is described as something similar to a solar system. The central nucleus of the atom is comparable to the sun, with the electrons revolving round it as the planets. There is an immensity of space between these revolving particles and the central nucleus, as well as between the particles themselves. These electrical constituents of the atom are supposed to be the irreducible minimum reality in the world.
From Physics to Metaphysics
Scientists, however, have not been able to come to the last element in the analysis of matter. They have reached only organisms after organisms and their mysterious functions, and nothing else. Even the nature of these organisms is not known, only their behaviour is observed. One cannot say what electricity is, but only how it behaves. Electric energy is a name given to the farthest process discovered in the world by instruments available to the methods of science. Energy is not being but becoming, and its activity is the same as its existence. Modern physics has given a quietus to the age-old materialistic theory of the world, and has landed in the realm of a dynamic process of organisms acting symmetrically on one another. Being has given way to becoming. Science, however, has remained blind to the fact that even a process cannot be, unless it is observed by an intelligence. The highest reality cannot be any object, though it be a cosmic object, like energy, which is distinguished from the consciousness that knows it. The error in the scientist’s way of knowing comes into high relief when he faces insurmountable difficulties in his search for reality. To him, electric energy and light appear to have the character of waves as well as of discrete corpuscles. All phenomena are now supposed to be a continuous process of particles. It is not difficult to note that isolated particles cannot form a process. And yet this appears, to the eye of the scientist, to be the juggling activity of the ultimate constituents of matter and light. He forgets that there are certain restricting conditions imposed upon his knowledge by the very nature of the instruments he uses in his researches as well as by the structure of his mind and sense-organs. One cannot know truth by remaining as an observer outside it, for the limitations on individual knowledge are removed only when the distinction between the knower and the known is abolished in a self-identical awareness.
The dilemma in which the scientist is landed by his defective means of knowing becomes clear from another problem raised in science which goes by the name of the Principle of Indeterminacy. This is the outcome of the inability of the scientific method of observation to fix the track of the movement of electrons in an atom. The laws of mechanics fail here, and the electron does not seem to obey any law known to man. It is seen to make jumps from one point of space to another in a manner that cannot be determined by any scientific law. This predicament has led many to think that there is no freedom in the universe, that there is no choice, and that indeterminacy reigns supreme everywhere. This conclusion is evidently exaggerated, for the principle only means that the ways of tracing the movements of the electron are not known to scientists yet, and that their present instruments of research are not as subtle as the force with which the electrons move. This cannot be taken to amount to a denial of the causal law and the system with which the universe appears to be governed.
The present trend of science has been towards an idealistic monism, affirming finally a mental or spiritual principle as the ultimate stuff of the universe. Newton’s physics and Euclid’s geometry have given rise to the theory of relativity and the geometry of the four-dimensional manifold. The mechanistic laws of Newtonian physics and the theorems and deductions of Euclid hold good in our world, with our space-time, but are proclaimed to be inapplicable to the inconceivably small realm of microphysics, as also to the inconceivably great universe envisaged in astrophysics. Modern physics gives, thus, not a material world in the old sense of the term, but a relative structure to be equated, in the end, with the functions of a cosmic mind or consciousness. Behind the man of commonsense perception is the chemist. Behind chemist is physicist. Behind the physicist is the mathematician. Symbols and equations have taken the place of physical bodies. But these, however, are contained in the mind of the mathematician. And behind the activity of the mathematical mind is the searching analysis of the philosopher.
Pluralism and Dualism
Philosophers have endeavoured to know reality in the most comprehensive way, but have not come to any uniform conclusion in regard to it. There are pluralists, dualists, materialistic monists, idealistic monists and neutral monists. The differences among these theories are attributable to the varying points of view from which speculators tried to comprehend reality. In essence, pluralism forms the beginning of philosophical speculation. It does not require much effort to become a pluralist, for it is a cluster of diversified elements that is naturally presented to man through the senses with their variegated capacities. The Nyaya posits the reality of substances like earth, water, fire, air, ether, space, time, mind and soul—all held to be equally real and coeternal. The God of this system has obviously to be an extra-cosmic creator, or, more strictly, a fashioner, of the structure of the universe. Such a pluralistic theory as this seems to be agreeable to commonsense, for it can be readily accepted without the exercise of much thought. But commonsense is often confined to the manner in which the world is known by the senses, and is blind to the deeper implications of experience. How does the pluralist explain the relation among the different ultimate entities which he has established? It is imperative that a knowledge of diversity should be rooted in some kind of unity of perception. Plurality is impossible unless there is a witnessing consciousness, different from the pluralistic entities, and connecting them all in a relation of coherence. An extra-cosmic God cannot have any relation to the world, and cannot even fashion it, not even be aware of it. A conscious subject, absolutely independent of its objects, cannot know them, for no relation is possible between differing self-existent principles. All questions ultimately hinge upon the problems of knowledge. The structure of consciousness is the crux of philosophical enquiries. With its understanding, all problems get solved, naturally. A thorough-going pluralist cannot defend himself against the charge that even he could not be aware of a plurality of ultimate entities without the aid of a unitary consciousness comprehending them all. His reality hangs loosely in some indeterminable emptiness, call it space or any other thing. The pluralist tries to dovetail artificially several realities into his system, forgetting, however, that in the act of bringing them together to form a consistent whole, he has unconsciously introduced into it a universal synthesising principle made manifest in his own mind. The great defect in all objectivist approaches is that the subject neglects to count itself as an essential element that goes to determine the character of its concept of reality.
The dualist, no doubt, makes an advance upon the commonsense perception of the pluralist. He observes that all things can be reduced, somehow, to a conscious knower and an unconscious known. The material universe is always the known and never the knower. The knower is always conscious as distinguished from the known which is unconscious. In the West, dualists like Descartes thought that there are two ultimate realities—thought and extension, mind and matter. In India, dualists like the Sankhya philosophers reduced the universe to Purusha and Prakriti, an infinite knowing consciousness, and an infinite unconscious primordial stuff with a possibility of all things. The habit of the pluralists to pack realities in different parcels was found to be gravely mistaken, and the theory of an ultimate duality of consciousness and matter appeared to be most reasonable and appealing to the human mind. But even those among the dualists who thought that consciousness is infinite held that there is a plurality of consciousness. Evidently, they came to this conclusion by drawing an analogy from the perception of a diversity of knowing subjects in the world. This belief, however, could not carry them far, for the impossibility of asserting many infinities did not take much time to force itself into the minds of more deeply thinking philosophers. Moreover, the relation of consciousness to matter became a problem difficult to solve.
We create a division between the knower and the known, because it suits our practical needs and conveniences. It is the nature of reality to appear in a duality of the seer and the seen when it is made the object of individual perception. The dualist hypothesis would give strong support to the pragmatist theory that the notion of reality is relative to human interest. We are born in a world of duality, and the very fibre of our make-up is saturated with a consciousness of its tremendous significance. We think in terms of duality, feel and act in accordance with it. It is natural, therefore, that truth, to us, should be relative to our dualistic interests. The pragmatist attitude is the immediate result of our attachment to sense-perception. In its view, what is known is not the real as such, but our purposes objectified. We seem to abstract from the real what we need at the present state of our minds, and identify our needs with reality. We appear to be concerned with the meaning that things have for us in our day-to-day affairs, and not with the things themselves. The pragmatic method consoles us by returning to us our own desires in the form of truth, but not truth in itself. It is true that, for psychology, the subject is sharply distinguished from the object, but philosophy cannot be content with such a superficial attitude to knowledge. Psychology is concerned with mind and its behaviour on a dualistic basis, but it cannot validate the notion that there is a real distinction between the knower and the known, even if our surface-life may seem to demand it. An unquestioning clinging to the immediate sense-percepts is the cause of our blind belief in the ultimate division of things. There cannot be knowledge of truth or a correspondence between knowledge and fact, if the object is outside the jurisdiction of consciousness.
The relation of matter to consciousness can be explained only if an organic intimacy of the one with the other is accepted. A completely detached object cannot become a content of consciousness. The mind cannot know even the existence of matter, if they are ultimately different from each other. There can be relation between two terms only when they possess some qualities, at least, common to both. Matter and consciousness are, to the dualist, elements which are supposed to possess characters which have no relation of similarity. But, then, the existence of the object cannot become a content of the mind. Man cannot know that there is a world outside, if it is true that he is not a member in its constitution. Knowledge-relation always presupposes a third element which makes the connection between the subject and the object possible. Entities possessing dissimilar natures cannot come in contact with, or even know the presence of, each other. The acceptance of a principle relating the subject and the object in perception, and yet different from them both, takes us to the great truth of a consciousness that cannot be restricted by factors either external or internal. It appears to have an instantaneous existence, unconditioned, and at once timeless. When we accept such a principle, we come, perhaps, to the realisation of the highest end of all philosophical quest. Pure consciousness should naturally be omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. It gets identified with the ideal pointed out by the concept of God. God is the infinite. He is neither a knower nor a known, but transcendent being.
In the Vedanta, reality is conceived of in the various degrees of the manifestation of consciousness. However, all concepts of God accept the universality of His existence. The grossest manifestation of God is termed Virat, which is an appellation used to denote the divine consciousness animating the whole physical universe. The physical objects become the body of Virat, and the relation between the physical universe and Virat is one of body and soul. The cosmic physical body is the aggregate of all individual physical bodies. All states of the waking consciousness are included in Virat. The individual, in its contemplation of Virat, identifies the waking consciousness with it. The subtle universe, which is comparable to the subtle body of the individual, consisting of the vital energy, the senses and the psychological organs, is said to be animated by a subtler and higher consciousness, more pervasive than Virat. This is Hiranyagarbha, Sutratma or Mahaprana, the Soul of the invisible universe. The individual contemplating on it identifies the subtle body with its essence. The subtlest manifestation of the universe, however, is in its causal state, wherein distinctions of creation are not clearly expressed in space and time, but exist in a latent form. This is comparable to the causal body of the individual. The consciousness animating the causal universe is Isvara or the supreme Lord. The individual contemplating on Isvara identifies the causal body with His existence. In this process of self-identification, the individual transcends itself and becomes a cosmic person, as it were, above the trammels and turmoils of empirical life. “Virat, under the orders of Isvara, having entered this microcosmic body, and having the Buddhi (intellect) as His vehicle, reaches the state of Visva. Then He goes by the general names of Vijnanatma, Chidabhasa, Visva, Vyavaharika, as the one presiding over the gross body and one generated by Karma. Sutratma or Hiranyagarbha, under the orders of Isvara, having entered microcosmic subtle body, and having the Manas (mind) as His vehicle, reaches the Taijasa state. Then He goes by the names of Taijasa, Pratibhasika and Svapnakalpita. Then, Isvara, assuming His Power as Avyakta, the vehicle of Maya, having entered the microcosmic causal body, reaches the state of Prajna. He goes, then, by the names of Prajna, Avichhinna and Sushupti-Abhimani” (Jnana-Yoga: p. 116). “Vaisvanara is one with Virat on the physical plane. Taijasa is one with Hiranyagarbha on the astral or the subtle plane. Prajna is one with Isvara on the causal plane” (Principal Upanishads: Vol. I, p. 423). Unrelated to the universe in all the three manifestations of it, is Brahman.
The admission of an ultimate reality of a universal nature has appeared in different phases and forms in different philosophies. To the Nyaya philosophers, the omniscient God is not omnipresent, for He is extra-cosmic. Naturally, He cannot be omnipotent, too. God becomes, in the hands of the Naiyayikas and Vaiseshikas, a mechanical device invented to ward off the charge of atheism on their schools, but having no intrinsic significance in it. The same is the case with the God of Yoga. He is neither the creator of the universe nor the goal of the aspirations of the individual. He hangs loosely in the scheme worked out by this system. The introduction of such a God does not alter the position of Yoga from that of the non-theistic Sankhya. To the theistic Vedanta schools, the world is as much real as God. But they do not care to reflect on the impossibility of perfection on the part of God when there is an externally existing matter contending with Him as His rival. We cannot have two eternals, nor two infinities. If the world is eternal, God is not; and if God is eternal, the world cannot be so. If, at all, there is any such thing as perfection, it should be in a secondless Absolute, and such a one cannot be if there are real souls and a real world clamouring for being real, each in its own place.
The Idea of the Good contemplated by Plato is either to be understood in the sense of the Absolute of the Advaita or, if we accept Aristotle’s interpretation of Plato’s idealism as positing two realities—a temporal world and an intelligible order of eternal Ideas,—Plato’s Idea becomes analogous to the God of dualistic theism. The God of Descartes and, perhaps, even that of Hegel, is in no better plight. Spinoza makes thought and extension the necessary attributes of God and thus seems to take space, time and mental activity to God Himself. God ought to be non-spatial and non-temporal, and His thought cannot be an activity but luminous intelligence. Plotinus among Western mystics, and Bradley among Western philosophers, approximate to the Advaita-Vedanta. But Plotinus hesitates, at times, to merge the individual in God, though his inclination seems to be to do so. The defect of Bradley is that he makes the Absolute a system of relations. It is not indivisible and so loses the character of eternality. Whoever asserts the ultimate reality of the world has to limit his God to that extent. When the world is interpreted in terms of God, we have no God and world, but God as world. Even here, an independent reality is not ascribed to names and forms; only their essential existence is identified with God’s being.
The Underlying Essence
An analysis of the nature of the world discloses its dependence on a reality higher than its own. It is subject to a teleological direction of its movements towards an end beyond itself. Dissatisfaction with the superficial experiences which one has in life is a tacit admission of a higher standard of reality. As Bradley puts it: “To think is to judge, and to judge is to criticize, and to criticize is to use a criterion of reality.” Acharya Sankara holds that, when we deny something as inadequate, we do so with reference to some norm which is adequate. Every want, every wish and ambition, every type of wonder, surprise or mystery, every sense of a ‘beyond oneself’ suggests the existence of something outside the limitations which it indicates. ‘Something is wanting’ means that what is wanted exists. That we are miserable shows that there is an ideal of happiness. The consciousness of imperfection implies the possibility of perfection. To recognise the finitude of oneself is to step at once into the realm of the infinite. When finitude is known, the fact of the contingency of the knower’s transcending it is implied in it. The finite has no significance except in contradistinction to the infinite. The moral argument based on the aspirations of man points to a reality in which they can be fulfilled. There is an urge in everyone to break the boundaries of imperfection and reach out to an unlimited existence, wherein is a promise of the satisfaction of all the sides of one’s nature. Man is never contented with anything that he possesses, for he feels, in spite of his possessions, an inherent sense of a serious lack of something which does not seem to be included in anything that he is blessed with in this world. Even the rulership over all things will leave behind a want of something higher and a yearning to obtain one knows not what. There is a longing for eternal life, for boundless knowledge, for unrestricted happiness, for light, freedom and immortality. This restless aspiration refuses to be cajoled by the poor presentation of earthly glory. The world seems to be busy, changing and moving, adjusting and adapting itself to conditions beyond itself, pointing to the weird vision of some wondrous essence at which it is aiming as its long desired destination. Union and separation, birth and death, struggle and aspiration, do not have any significance unless they imply a being which is beyond change and transformation. The contingent character of things seems to oppose one state of finitude to another, suggesting a self-expansion of the finite in an experience wider than its own, in which it includes the properties of the other finites, and by which it overcomes the lower oppositions in a higher harmony. Every perception is an ardent effort to attain a greater unity, in which the essences of all percepts are transmuted and absorbed. All created elements tend to find their solace in a fulfilment of their nature by an attempt to overcome all cramping situations that stand in the way of such development. The relational character of finite objects is determined by the action of other finite objects on them, which fact leads us to the discovery of the universe being an organism presided over by a supreme Intelligence. The existence of the finite as the finite is dependent on the conditions determining finitude as a whole, and so it has to rise from its lower conditioned state to more and more inclusive ones which reveal greater and greater coherence and harmony. Our life in the world can be accounted for only by the existence of the Absolute.
“Life is of two kinds,—life in matter and life in the Atman, Spirit or Pure Consciousness. Biologists, physiologists and psychologists hold that life consists of thinking, feeling, knowing, willing, digestion, excretion, circulation, respiration, etc. This kind of life is not everlasting” (Sure Ways for Success in Life: p. xxxvii). The scientists’ view of the universe is not without the grave defects common to sense-perception in general. “After commonsense has attained sufficient growth, scientific reason or scientific understanding awakes in a thinking few. The world, which appeared to commonsense as a series of events coming one after another without any essential connection among themselves, now comes to be regarded as a constant series of different phenomena linked together by the law of causation. Nothing is free; everything is bound up in necessity. Give the necessary causes, the desired effect will follow. Scientists hold that the human mind cannot go beyond these phenomena and their unifying laws. What is the noumenon, the life-giving principle of those laws, is a point where the scientific understanding halts. Anything beyond these fleeting shows is terra incognita. Viveka, or the philosophical sense, then comes to the rescue of the scientific despair consequent upon the thinking ego being tied down to the shackles of necessity. The reflecting ego, the subject, has an inner conviction that it is free, although it moves in a circle of external objects bound, as it were, by the law of necessity. The want of freedom under which it seems to labour is imposed upon it by an external principle called mind, which, as a rule, makes no discrimination between the subject and the object. The philosophical sense or reason tries to investigate the principle of unity, which is the point of reference of all different existences, and which transcends the apparent diversity of things. All differences derive their meaning, their very existence, from the truth of the identity of the subject and the object which have been held as antagonistic principles” (Practice of Yoga: pp. 105-6).
“The sages, the great seers, have been again and again declaring from direct experience that the perishable is not the real, and that the real is the unseen. The aim of life here does not lie here itself, the goal is not to be sought in the means, the ideal is different from the process. The individual’s existence on earth is not a true existence, but only a process of becoming, now and again, something else. No one here can say that he is a real being, for being is what does not change or die, whereas everyone experiences such violent and constant changes in himself that he cannot but feel that he dies to himself incessantly. Hence, one has to realise the transient character of one’s phenomenal existence as an entity separated from the life of the universe. The world is the field of training for eternal life, the purgatory for the sin-hardened individual, the deserter of truth, the killer of the self, the wanderer among phantasms. Worldly life is not perfection, even as hell is not heaven, purgatory is not salvation. The world and the body are ladders and steps to the lofty realisation of God Who is called the Self, Atman, Brahman, etc.” (Light Divine: p. xii). “The world of time in which one lives is the visible face of the timeless Light of the invisible Glory that throbs at the heart of all things. The unrest and struggle of human life dimly foreshadow the feeble response which man makes to the call of the higher Life. The call is eternal, and the intensity and quality of the response to it from man’s side depend on the depth of his awareness of the fact that his state is one of a severe want which cannot be fulfilled completely by anything on earth. The welfare of society, of the different nations, is directly proportional to the extent in which the laws regulating the same accord with this deeper spiritual presence in man, which refuses to be ignored in the daily affairs of his life. When man knows that the light which glimmers within him is the light which descends from above him, he becomes fit for abundance and joy in all directions. His conceit gets melted in the willing surrender of the self to the Divine” (The Divine Life: Vol. XVIII, p. 363).
“The Atman alone exists. It appears as the objects which we cognise, just as a rope appears as a serpent. The Atman puts on the appearance of these phenomenal objects. That is Brahman which is the Self of all beings. That Brahman is without cause and without effect, without anything inside or outside, without defect or impurity, without length and breadth, without colour, shape or form. That Brahman is without limbs, parts, name or caste, without hands and legs. That Brahman is an embodiment of wisdom, peace and bliss. It shines by itself. It is self-luminous. All the objects that you cognise outside really exist in the highest Self. All objects shine after It, i.e., they borrow their light from the self-effulgent Atman. The whole world exists within Brahman. It appears as external through the force of Maya, just as your body appears in a mirror.” “An infinite Vastu (substance) must be Nirakara (formless) and Vyapaka (all-pervading). It must be beyond time, space and causation. It must be unchanging and beginningless. It must be causeless, too. A thing that is beyond time, space and causation must be immortal. This infinite Vastu (substance), having no sound, etc., does not decay or suffer diminution. Therefore, it is eternal, for what decays is ephemeral.” What is an effect is not eternal but is absorbed into its cause, as earth, etc. But this Being, the cause of all, is not an effect; and not being an effect, it is eternal. It has no cause into which it could be absorbed. It is endless; therefore, it is eternal” (Philosophy and Teachings: pp. 28, 36).
Impossibility of the Dualist Hypothesis
“The world is a stage where is enacted a grand play of the twin principles of consciousness and force. The world is a manifestation of Sakti, the Power of the Eternal, whose being is consciousness. It is Chit-Sakti (Consciousness-Force) that displays itself as this majestic reality of the universe. Para-Sakti (Supreme Power) moves everywhere as Brahma-Sakti (Creative Power), Vishnu-Sakti (Preservative Power) and Siva-Sakti (Transforming Power). Reason and intuition establish the truth of the existence of the Divya-Prakriti that sustains and works this vast panorama of experiential contents. Matter is reducible to energy. The Prasnopanishad says that Rayi and Prana, matter and energy, constitute the whole of creation. Matter is the outward index of the inner Power that is expressed by God. The Power that originates and sustains the universe is not Jada-Sakti or the electrical energy which is the reality of the scientists, but Chaitanya-Sakti, the Power of the immutable consciousness of Brahman. In fact, it is not a power which is of Brahman, but a Power which is Brahman” (The Divine Life: vol. XVIII, p. 349). The play of creation is not external to Reality. “The world does not exist apart from Brahman. Isvara, Jiva and the world are three different aspects of Brahman” (Practice of Yoga, p. 19). The entire visible mass is the supra-essential essence of Brahman appearing in that form. “Isvara is not something separate from the world. Sankara has refuted the theory of the Naiyayikas who admit an extra-cosmic creator.” “Isvara does not exert from outside to create the worlds. He does not want any instruments or materials to work with, as a potter requires them to make a pot. He is omnipotent. He wills, and everything comes into being. He is the internal ruler. He resides or dwells within all beings and controls everything. He is the material cause as well as the instrumental and efficient cause” (Principal Upanishads, Vol. I, pp. 431-32).
“The universe, then, is the visible representation of the highest Ideal of human realisation. In both its lower and higher aspects, Prakriti presents itself as the moving body of the Lord. The Srimad Bhagavata admonishes man to the effect that each and every visible thing in the universe is an object of adoration and worship, for God resides in the temple of all things. The worship of God means at once an adjustment of oneself with the super-individual law of the universe. There cannot be spiritual devotion and worship without an inward adaptation of consciousness to the scheme of the universe, which is God envisaged in the framework of space and time. The God outside and above is the same as the God within and below. The Upasana (worship) of the highest Deity has to be in terms of the supreme Sakti that is the eternal Mother of all beings” (The Divine Life, Vol. XVIII, p. 349). The dualism of the Sankhya and other empiricist schools is, therefore, not tenable. The human mind is dissatisfied as much with the theory of an ultimate duality of things as with the dogma of the chances of an eternal damnation of certain creatures. Swami Sivananda teaches the wholesome doctrine of the unity of creation. “There is a coconut made of sugar only. It has marks, lines, an external shell, ridges, eyes, and everything. But you have the internal feeling in the mind that it is only sugar. Similarly, though you see the different objects of the universe, you must have a feeling and determination of the Atman that is at the bottom of all these objects, which is the ultimate reality and essence of everything.” “Why do you look into the leaves, twigs, flowers and fruits of the mango tree? Look into the source, the seed. The cloth is only cotton and thread. Take the cloth as cotton only. Take the world as Atman or Brahman” (Mind and Its Mysteries, p. 352). “When you see a mango tree, it is external to you. There is externality. The mango tree is a mental percept. It is a mental concept, also. There is no mango tree apart from the mind. There is a mental image in the mind. The image in the mind, plus an external something is the mango tree. Even if you close your eyes, you can get at the image through memory. The green colour of the leaves is due to a certain rate of light vibrations. These light vibrations strike at the retina and are taken to the vision-centre at the back of the brain. The mango leaves have the power to split the white rays and absorb the green colour only. So says science. Your body, also, is as much external to you as the yonder mango tree. It is also a mental percept or concept. The mango tree is external to you with reference to your body. The mango tree itself is a mere appearance that floats in the Absolute, the one Reality. As the mango tree is external to you from the standpoint of your body, and as the body itself is external to you, the idea of the externality of the mango tree, or even this external universe, is blown up. The term ‘internality’, also, has only a false existence. There is internality only with reference to externality. If externality goes away, where is internality? Both the terms, internality and externality, are mere illusions, creations of the mind. There is only the solid existence, the one reality, the Absolute, behind the so-called internality and externality” (Ibid, pp. 253-54).
Duality is the repository of change. If change is an appearance, what is behind it must be reality. General existence is common to all objects. The meaning of a quality is in the form of the substance in which it inheres, and the being of the form is in the reality of which it is an appearance. All substances in the world, being made up of the five great elements—earth, water, fire, air and ether—which are subject to change, can be reduced to their cause which does not change. The world constituted of these elements is an expression of the manifesting energy of Brahman, and is ultimately non-different from it. The existence of the world of objects is in the changeless power of Brahman. The nature of this existence is revealed in the innermost recesses of our being. We observe by outward and inward analysis that the irreducible minimum of existence, which underlies the perception of the world of matter, motion and change, is a consciousness which is aware of all these as not belonging to its essence. The highest existence is that of pure consciousness, a consciousness that does not admit of division or separation of any kind. As the link that brings about a relation between objects outside and mental states inside, it is the sum of all their signification. All division has a divisionless substance behind it, the notion of separation is based on a unity underlying it, and the fear of death proves the immortality of the soul. Life in outright duality is inconceivable.
Consciousness is Above Relation
The world is known to exist by an interaction of the knower and the known in a relation of knowledge. The self is the subject set in opposition to the object or the not-self. The subject, in the very recognition of itself as an isolated existence, implies an object outside it. There is no meaning in subjectness without an object that it can know. Likewise, the supposition of the existence of the object implies a subject by which it is known. There is a mutual determination of the two in an act of knowledge. The self knows itself as an individual existence by a knowledge which is also aware of an object outside it. The knowledge-relation, therefore, is what establishes and gives value to the interdependent existence of the subject and the object. We have to assume that knowledge is prior to the notion of the knower and the known, for the distinction which obtains between these two has no significance outside the knowledge-situation underlying and determining them both. The internal meaning manifested in the experience of a subject bears a simultaneous relation to an external meaning that has its significance in a spatial object. The mutual reference of the two terms in the relation of consciousness can be possible only if consciousness is not merely an external relation between them, but a principle that includes and transcends them at once. What we call the knower and the known seem to be merely two poles bound and held together by a consciousness which is neither of these. It is consciousness that gives the value of existence to the subject, and also makes the awareness of the object possible. There seems to be, then, a common current flowing beneath both the knower and the known, relating all things together in a single comprehension. It is the knower, not merely of the object, but even the subject, for both the subject and the object are external to pure consciousness. Consciousness which knows things in space and time and in a relation must be beyond space, time and relation. As it transcends space, it must be infinite; and as it oversteps time, it must be eternal. Space, time, causation, relation, are all values that are objects of consciousness and incapable of identification with it. This Consciousness is Brahman, on account of whose existence others exist, by whose light others shine, and by whose freedom others are in joy.
“This entire universe is pervaded by Brahman. All beings have their roots in it, but it is not rooted in them. This is the sovereign Yoga. Gold is in the earrings, bracelets, etc., but the earrings etc. are not in gold... Brahman is the Adhara or Adhisthana (support) for all beings” (Light Divine, p. 5). But, if Brahman is universal existence, how can it be reached or attained by any one? “It may be argued that Brahman is present in all, it is omnipresent and omniscient, it is the Atman in all; so it is not one to be reached. We generally speak of one thing being reached by another, one limited object by another limited object. As Brahman is limitless, as it is the Atman, or the Self of all, it is not proper to speak of an attainment of it, as if it were limited and distinct from one’s own self. Attainment is always associated with duality, with limitations of time, space, etc. But there is no inconsistency here. How? Because the attainment or non-attainment of Brahman depends on the perception or non-perception of it. The Jiva or the individual soul is really one with Brahman.” “That is infinite which is not limited by anything else, which cannot be divided from anything else. If Brahman were the knower, it would be marked off from what is known, and from the act of knowing, from knowledge and the knowable, and could not, therefore, be infinite. As the Sruti says: ‘Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, and knows nothing else (but the Self), that is the Infinite (Bhuma); but where one sees anything else, hears anything else, and knows anything else, that is the finite.’” “One sees an object only when it exists distinct from oneself. The Bhuma or the Infinite is that where no object exists.” “If it is said that the Self can be both the knower and the knowable, we say it cannot be, because it is indivisible; for, as devoid of parts, the one Self cannot be both the knower and the knowable or the known simultaneously” (Principal Upanishads, Vol. II, pp. 66, 71, 72). If Brahman be the knower alone, it cannot be pure existence. But pure existence alone can be real, for it is the only unchanging principle. Hence Brahman is beyond all relation.
Brahman is Existence and Consciousness
All things exist. We cannot conceive of non-existence as different from existence, for even non-existence, in order that it may convey any sense, must become a content of consciousness. And consciousness must be. Existence is the minimum to which things can be reduced, without which even thought is impossible. Everything relates to existence of some kind, and there is no thought of non-existence.
To argue along the lines of Parmenides, existence is that which does not admit of any change. We cannot think what is not, for what is not cannot come into being, either from what is or from what is not. If what is comes from what is, we would be stating something which we ourselves do not understand, for what is includes all things, and there is no such thing as the production of what is from what is. What is, again, cannot come from what is not, for what is not has no meaningful value. To posit the relation of what is to what is by way of causation involves a tautology, and to conceive of the coming into being of what is from what is not, is absurd. There cannot be something other than what is, for what is, is the all. Even supposing that there is such a thing as the coming into being of one thing from another thing, we would have to admit that nothing other than what is can come into being, for we cannot add anything to what is, and anything added must itself be a part of what is. There cannot be anything exceeding what is, and what is not, again, cannot come into being. That which is cannot increase, and cannot also decrease, for it is always. If something is to be removed from what is, so that the latter may be lessened, what is removed should be either what is or what is not. What is cannot be removed from what is, and what is not cannot, again, be removed from what is, for it means nothing at all. The concept of dimension, again, is possible only when there is spatial separation of one thing from another. But even space is included in what is. So what is cannot be diminished in any way. And it cannot be increased, because we cannot add anything to it other than itself. Existence is the whole reality. It does not admit of either addition or subtraction, production or change of any kind. In order that it may move or change, there should be space; but space is not outside it. True being has no origination, no change, and so no end. This being must be equally present everywhere, with no less or more of it anywhere. It is that which is. As being is indivisible, it cannot conceive of a real distinction of things in it. All things are being. If there are things other than being, they must be non-being. Even becoming has meaning only when it has being. If being is to be divided, we may have to introduce some other distinguishable and distinguishing element in it, which would be nothing but non-being. Being is reality.
The Upanishad speaks of Brahman as that which is full, from which the full proceeds, and which remains full even when the full is removed from it. Swami Sivananda, while commenting on this Mantra, in his Dialogues from the Upanishads, points out that the infinite, invisible Brahman is That which is full, and the visible Hiranyagarbha or the manifested Brahman, or Brahman as this perceptible universe, is this which is full. From That unmanifest does proceed this manifest or the visible. When the whole universe, with Hiranyagarbha, is absorbed into the whole Brahman, the whole Brahman alone remains as unchanging existence.
It is impossible that such Brahman should not exist. “Why should there be any suspicion at all of the non-existence of Brahman? We reply: It arises from the fact that Brahman is beyond sense-experience, beyond human speech. One has belief in the existence of that which falls within the range of speech. It is right, therefore, to believe that what is beyond the reach of speech is non-existent. People understand that a pot exists when it is within the range of speech. Similarly, here, one may believe that Brahman does not exist.” “Because that which exists, such as a pot, is seen in actual experience, and that which does not exist, such as the horn of a hare, is not seen. Similarly Brahman also is not seen. As Brahman is not seen in actual experience, it does not exist. This argument is unsound and untenable, because Brahman is the cause of ether, etc. It cannot be said that Brahman does not exist, for ether, etc., of which the cause is Brahman, are perceived by the senses.” “We do not perceive in this world, by our senses, anything born out of nothing. If the objects of this world be the products of nothing, they could not be perceived by the senses. But they are perceived, as such. Therefore, Brahman exists. The Sruti declares: ‘How can existence be born of non-existence?’” (Principal Upanishads, Vol. II, pp. 106-108).
Now, this existence must be identical with consciousness; else there would not be even existence, considering the infinitude of consciousness. All existence is consciousness, and all consciousness is existence. If consciousness were different from existence, it would be non-existent, which would be the negation of consciousness itself. If existence is different from consciousness, then, again, consciousness would be non-existent. Further, the very value of existence would thereby be cancelled, due to the impossibility of the admission of anything as existing devoid of any relation to consciousness. Referring to our own selves we find that we can never separate our consciousness from our existence, or our existence from our consciousness. The moment we think, we know we are, and to grant that we are is to imply that we know we are. That the world is, means that it is known, and its knowledge, again, should be what exists. Existence and consciousness do not determine each other, but mean one and the same thing. The two must be inseparable in order that either of them may be possible. The existence of the object as well as of the subject is what is known immediately to consciousness. An external object may be capable of an empirical distinction from the subject that knows it, but pure existence which is common to both is apprehended by a general consciousness. Pure existence is the highest of universals, it comprehends all the generals known to us, and its essence cannot be distinguished from the universal consciousness. This consciousness cannot even be called self-consciousness, for the latter suggests empirical existence limited to space and opposed to an object outside. Absolute existence is absolute consciousness. This is Brahman.
Brahman-consciousness has no internal or external change, for change has a significance in relation to a witness of change. Change involves different conditions in a series or succession of what we call events. This succession of distinctions has no validity except on the acceptance of a consciousness that observes the distinctions but does not itself get involved in them. Change itself cannot be real, nor can the elements constituting change go anywhere near reality. Change is external to consciousness, for, if it were a part of the constitution of consciousness, it could not be known even as a possibility. Change is a condition of something that does not change. That the world changes and evolves, that there is succession, extension, modification, union and separation, is known to a consciousness which is none of these, and which is different from the very idea of relation. Consciousness never becomes an object. It is universal. “Brahman is not an object of knowledge. It has no relation of any kind. It is not nothing, but is everything. It cannot come within the limits of mind and thinking. If it comes, it becomes a finite object” (Light Divine, p. 6). “Of everything that may become an object of knowledge, a perfect or definite knowledge is possible; but not so of a thing which cannot become such an object. This is Brahman, for it is the knower. And the knower may well know the other things, but not make himself the object of his knowledge... The ‘I who knows’ can never become an object; for, having become an object, it ceases to have the nature of the subject. Fire can burn other things but not itself. Nor can it be said that Brahman may be made the object of the knowledge of another; for, besides it, none that knows exists” (Principal Upanishads, Vol. I, p. 49). “If it is further said that the nature of everything is that by which it is defined, we say Brahman is especially defined by consciousness, which does neither refer to the external senses, nor to the internal sense, but merely refers to Brahman. Therefore, Brahman is consciousness. There is no knower other than that” (Philosophy and Teachings, p. 19).
The individual subject is entangled in the changing phenomena of the world, and so empirical knowledge is not to be identified with Brahman. If the consciousness that underlies the world were merely the individual’s knowledge, there would be no world of common perception, no harmony or unity among the contents of the world, and the world would be seriously affected by the appearance or disappearance of a particular individual. Inter-subjective relation and trans-subjective reality would become a chimera on the supposition that individualistic knowledge is the support of the world. The absolute consciousness expresses itself through individual minds and also appears as objects outside. Metaphysically speaking, even the individual subject has to be classed among temporal objects, behind and beyond which there is Brahman. The world is an appearance in infinite being.
The World is Inseparable from Consciousness
To the outward vision a so-called inanimate object like a stone may appear to be dead and unconscious. But, really, nothing can be said to be dead and motionless in this universe. Even the condition of the apparent motionlessness of a thing is one of intense motion within it. Modern physical science tells us that an object cannot exist without being in a certain state of motion; the mass and the inertia of an object are due to a special type of motion in it. There is no impenetrable hard matter anywhere, everything is vibrant force, motion and power. The so-called stability of a thing is an illusion. There is no static world of localised physical entities; there is only a universe of force, where each individual enters into the constitution of the other and determines its existence and nature. The world is not a visible object. Its visibility is one of its partial conditions coming in contact with the consciousness manifested in our minds. The world is what we know in a particular space-time situation. Knowledge cannot come in contact with what is not of its nature, for knowledge of anything requires that there should be a relation of equality between knowledge and its object. Either there ought to be knowledge of what is essentially of the nature of knowledge alone, or there is no knowledge at all. Knowledge is consciousness with a content. A knowledge of objects would not be possible, had they been totally alien to the character of consciousness. Knowledge of the world, then, discloses the essentially intelligent nature of the world. Our environment is not material or physical but spiritual. It is in this sense that the world is said to be a content in the Mind of the Cosmic Being. Mac-Taggart is of the opinion that we have no reason to suppose that matter exists at all, and that to talk of matter existing without consciousness is absurd. Matter, in his view, does not partake of any reality belonging to itself. The world cannot be real if it is not real to any knowing subject. And all individual knowing consists of either sensations or a synthesised product of sensations. The existence of the world is said to be an inference from our consciousness of events that take place in the form of experiences that are given to us. Our sensations and experiences are, however, what are valid to us all, created beings, collectively.
Swami Sivananda holds a thorough-going spiritual view of life “This universe is nothing but a mode of the mind, self-evolved from Brahman, the Cause of the universe. Hence, this world is nothing but consciousness itself.” “This perishable universe exists only when the mind exists, but disappears with the absence of the latter.” “Like a dream generating another dream in it, the mind, having no visible form, will generate non-existent visibles. With the growth of a paltry Sankalpa, there will arise the universe.” “This universe is no other than the mind itself. What we call the world is the mind only. The Self-light of the Para-Brahman alone is appearing as the mind and this motley universe.” “The mind is subjectively consciousness and objectively this universe.” “All the universes with their heterogeneity, though they are really Atma-Jnana, shine as worlds only through our illusory minds, like the blueness of the sky, which is really non-existent” (Mind and Its Mysteries, pp. 89, 209-12). But this is not to say that the world is within any individual’s head. “The non-existence of the world or its destruction does not mean the annihilation of mountains, lakes, trees and rivers. When your determination that this world is unreal gets stronger and stronger, and when you are well-established in this idea,—this alone is destruction of the world” (Ibid p. 210). The negation of the world in Consciousness has a universal connotation. No other word brings out this sense so comprehensively as ‘Brahman,’ which is the appellation of the highest Reality.
Brahman is Bliss
There is no limiting adjunct in Brahman, and so no want. Brahman is, therefore, supreme bliss. This bliss is the most positive of facts, not merely a negation of pain. The bliss of Brahman is not the result of the contact of the mind with an object, but the infinite revelation of the freedom and perfection in which desires, ambitions and aspirations are finally fulfilled. The fulfilment is attained not in endless possession, but in absolute being. Freedom is bliss, and the freedom of Brahman follows from the nature of its existence and consciousness. The Taittiriya Upanishad declares that from Ananda do all beings come, having come from Ananda they live in Ananda, and in the end return to Ananda, and become one with it. The bliss of Brahman is not an emotional satisfaction or a psychological happiness, but the highest metaphysical reality and the supreme spiritual goal. It is pure spiritual experience in which thought overcomes itself. It is the Bhuma, the plenum of felicity, beyond which there is nothing. This spiritual plenitude is defined as that in which one sees nothing else, hears nothing else and understands nothing else, in which one rests in oneself, in one’s own greatness, in non-relational being. The Ananda of Brahman is not acquired by an act of knowledge or a relation of subject and object, but is realised by and in itself alone. What is acquired by an act or a process has a beginning and an end, and being perishable, it cannot be identified with eternally accomplished reality. Brahmananda is the direct realisation of the illimitable oneness of existence, consciousness and freedom. This glory is not manifest in the world of space and time,—all earthly grandeur and joy palls when a drop of this bliss is tasted. On a part of a reflection of this bliss through a mental mode do all beings in this world subsist, and their highest raptures and ravishing delights are but poor intimations of that supernal beatitude.
Commenting on the statement of the Taittiriya Upanishad that ‘Rasa (essence), indeed, is That’, Swami Sivananda remarks: “Love for Brahman cannot arise if it were not of the nature of bliss. Therefore, the word Rasa denotes that Brahman is bliss itself. All sensual pleasures are only a reflection of that one supreme bliss of Brahman. The wise Brahmanas who are devotees of Brahman, who have no external help to joy, who have no desires, who have attained knowledge, are found full of happiness, as if they had obtained the external objects of pleasure. To them, Brahman alone is Rasa (Joy).” “Brahman gives joy to the world. It makes all beings in the world happy, according to their merit or virtue (Dharma). Brahman is the bliss which is revealed only in its limited forms to living beings on account of their Avidya or ignorance” (Principal Upanishads, Vol. II, pp. 120-22). Confirming the view of Chitsukhacharya, Swami Sivananda observes: “All kinds of human activity are directed towards only one end, viz., attainment of happiness. Now, happiness is the essential nature of the Self, which is hidden by pain, the result of nescience. The absence of pain, which follows the destruction of ignorance, means the absence of that which prevents the manifestation of happiness, which forms the essence of the Self. Thus the absence of pain is coveted in so far as it leads to the manifestation of bliss. In other words, the absence of misery is subordinate to happiness, because it is desired not for itself but for the realisation of happiness.” “It should not be supposed, however, that the Vedanta sets the pleasures of the senses, either lawful or unlawful, as the chief end of human life. For it condemns even intellectual pleasures, which are finer than those of the senses, when compared with the immeasurable bliss of the Self.” “The Upanishads teem with the idea that the highest phenomenal pleasures realisable in the world of Brahma (the creator) are mere drops when compared with the ocean of Self-bliss, in which a realised soul fearlessly swims. It is with the view of raising the ideal of happiness that the Vedanta lays so much stress on the moral culture of the aspirants. The bliss of the Self is noumenal and has no bounds” (Practice of Yoga, Vol. I, pp. 15-17).
The existence (Sat), consciousness (Chit) and bliss (Ananda) of Brahman are all one indivisible essence, and not three qualities or properties of Brahman. Existence in its generality does not belong to any particular object, but is the common base of all, and is infinite. And we have seen that existence cannot be dissociated from consciousness, it can be known only when it becomes identical with consciousness. Now, this existence-consciousness, being inclusive of everything, is, naturally, free from all desires. As pain is the effect of a desire felt in consciousness, Brahman which is existence-consciousness must be bliss in its nature. Consciousness which is bliss is existence. “Sat, Chit and Ananda are one. The Atman is partless and homogeneous. The three characteristics— Sat, Chit and Ananda—are not distinct from one another. A tree can be differentiated into branches, flowers, twigs, etc., for they are finite things limited to particular parts of the tree. But the Atman has no parts. ‘Sat’ is present wherever there is ‘Chit’ and ‘Ananda’. ‘Sat’ cannot be limited by another ‘Sat,’ for there are no two ‘Sats,’ nor by ‘Asat,’ for ‘Asat’ cannot exist. If it is said that ‘Chit’ is different from ‘Sat,’ then it will be ‘Asat,’ like the horn of a hare.” “‘Sat’ is ‘Chit.’ ‘Sat’ is ‘Ananda’ also” (Jnana Yoga, p. 145). “In the phenomenal universe, we find Asat (the non-existent), Jada (the unconscious) and Duhkha (pain). It is to differentiate these three negative attributes of the Anatman (not-self) that three positive attributes (or concepts) are introduced in the Atman. ‘Sat’ is ‘Chit.’ ‘Chit’ is ‘Sat,’ ‘Chit’ is ‘Ananda.’ ‘Sat’ is ‘Ananda.’ That which is ‘Chit,’ alone, can be ‘Sat,’ that which exists at all times,—in the past, present and the future,—and which has no beginning or end” (Practice of Yoga, Vol. I, p. 14).
Brahman is Not the Unknowable
Brahman is not an unknowable something, as the agnostics would hold. The truly unknowable cannot become even an object of imagination. “Brahman is consciousness. We admit that this is true; yet, thereby, no exact idea of Brahman is obtained. For what we understand by consciousness, knowledge, etc. is only accessible to us by means of the sense of intellect, and expresses, therefore, not knowledge as it is in itself, but as it is reflected by some medium. It is, therefore, true that it is different from what is known; it is also beyond what is not known.” “Brahman is not the unknown and unknowable of the agnostics, though it is said that Brahman is incomprehensible. Brahman cannot be known or seen, for it is beyond the reach of the mind, the intellect and the senses. It is more than the known, as it is realised as one’s own Atman or the Self. Brahman is always the silent, witnessing consciousness. It is the subject, knower and seer. Anything perceived by the senses and conceived by the mind cannot be Brahman. An object of the world can be perceived by the senses, and thought by the mind. The seer can never be seen. The knower can never be known. Brahman is unknowable in the objective sense; it is unknowable to the mind, the intellect and the senses. It is certainly knowable through direct intuitive perception” (Principal Upanishads, Vol. I, pp. 50, 53). “It (the Atman) is incomprehensible. This does not mean that it is a nonentity, a void, a negative concept or a metaphysical abstraction. It is a mass of knowledge or pure consciousness. Consciousness is denser than stone or platinum or gold. It is the only real living entity, the substratum for everything” (Jnana Yoga, p. 83).
The recognition of the unknowability of a being whose existence has somehow to be admitted as an inference from the nature of our own experience implies its knowability. Strictly speaking, the absolutely unknowable is a fiction, for it cannot be thought of and so cannot even be held to be the unknowable. The following statements of Herbert Spencer in his First Principles are pertinent: “Besides that definite consciousness, of which logic formulates the laws, there is also an indefinite consciousness which cannot be formulated. Besides complete thoughts, and besides the thoughts which, though incomplete, admit of completion, there are thoughts which it is impossible to complete, and yet which are still real, in the sense that they are normal affections of the intellect... To say that we cannot know the Absolute, is, by implication, to affirm that there is an Absolute. In the very denial of our power to learn what the Absolute is, there lies hidden the assumption that it is; and the making of this assumption proves that the Absolute has been present to the mind, not as a nothing, but as a something” (pp. 71-72). The Absolute is the wholly other of our thoughts, and our consciousness being limited to our thoughts, the Absolute, to us, as long as we remain individuals, is bound to lie outside the region of any definite consciousness or experience. But the Vedanta boldly proclaims that Brahman becomes the content and existence, all at once, of our essential consciousness, the moment thought exceeds itself and enjoys universal being. The Brahman that is affirmed in the Vedanta is not an existence cut off from definite and immediate knowledge,—for there can be no such thing as existence ultimately independent of knowledge.
General Nature of Reality
The following views of Swami Sivananda in regard to the nature of Brahman can be gathered from his Philosophy and Teachings (pp. 23-37):
Brahman is the ultimate Self of the universe, essentially actionless, though the cause of all actions. While being the basis of all action, even the action of thinking, reasoning, proving, etc., it ought to be evidently prior to action, prior to even thought and reason. The basis of action cannot itself be identified with action, and such is Brahman which is the motionless screen upon which appears the moving panorama of the universe. As the ultimate consciousness, Brahman is the most undeniable truth. Being the Self of all, it cannot be denied, for the denial of it would imply the denial of one’s own self. As the Taittiriya Upanishad puts it: ‘Who regards Brahman as non-existent, he is himself non-existent, and he is said to be really existent, who knows Brahman as existence.’ Brahman is the basis of all presuppositions, demonstrations and notions. The existence of Brahman is beyond doubt, for it becomes amply demonstrated in the obvious fact that to break through the circle of causes and effects in this phenomenal world, we must look for an existence which does not change or depend on another, is always the same and is the causeless cause of changeable existence. Unless there exists one continuous principle equally connected with the past, present and future, we shall be unable to account for remembrance, recognition, birth and reincarnation, for perception, cognition, and experience of a connected and a related world, whether objectively or subjectively.
Human knowledge, limited as it is, has reference to a knowledge which is not finite. Having arrived at this conclusion, if we again reflect on our own nature, we find within us a permanent element to which all the modifications of knowledge refer, and which, by its very nature, has to be infinite. It is the Absolute which grasps without hands, moves without feet, sees without eyes, hears without ears, and knows by a knowledge which does not disappear with or get involved in the different acts of knowledge, which remains unaltered in all those acts and without which they are impossible. It is, in one word, our own Self, the Soul of souls, which is free from any limits and is independent of the objects of knowledge. It is the Light of lights, the Life of lives, the Mind of minds, the hidden Love that embraces all in its oneness. As a lump of salt has neither inside nor outside, but is entirely a mass of taste throughout, so indeed has Brahman neither inside nor outside, but is entirely a mass of knowledge. Just as a lump of salt has, inside as well as outside it, one and the same taste, without difference of any kind, so is Brahman, inside as well as outside, one and the same intelligence. ‘Inside’ and ‘outside’ are, in fact, mental creations. When the mind melts in the supreme silence, the ideas of inside and outside vanish. The sage cognises the one illimitable consciousness only. Though the idea of Brahman, when judged from the viewpoint of the intellect, is an abstraction, it is really the highest of concretes and the most positive of beings for those who have the direct vision of it in their own consciousness.
The variety of experiences is not real, nay, even experience itself, as the human being is acquainted with it, is nowhere from the point of view of Brahman. To lead the life wherein the multitude of experiences do not affect either our weal or woe, is the highest practical rule of conduct in accordance with the proper aim of existence. Variety in experience creates distinctions and sets up false limits where there exists none. In Brahman no such distinctions are possible, and the highest bliss which cannot be described in words other than those employing the negation of everything positive known to us, consists in overcoming all separateness and realising the unity which is the very being and nature of the cosmos. When this dualistic sense is transcended by intense spiritual Sadhana, one becomes identified with Brahman. Brahman, being the cause of all, is not an effect, and not being an effect, it is eternal. It, however, should not be construed in the sense of being a cause which can pass over into an effect in a temporal succession, for the production of an effect involves ordinarily a modification of the cause, and Brahman being eternal cannot be said to undergo any modification. It appears to be the cause from the empirical point of view, while in itself it is neither a cause nor an effect. Brahman has no cause into which it could be absorbed. It is endless, it does not decay or suffer diminution, for what decays is ephemeral, and the ephemeral cannot be real.
It is true that even appearances are, and as such they must find a place in the Absolute. But the condition in which they can be said to exist in it has to be made clear. It should not be supposed that objects of the world, as they appear to the senses, can in any way be transferred to the Absolute, even by a different arrangement, or in a cosmic sense. It is not merely the pattern of the appearance, but their very quality and essence, that makes them different from reality or one with reality. The spatial and temporal forms have to be completely shed while taking the appearances to the Absolute. Nama and Rupa have Sat-chit-ananda in them, but Sat-chit-ananda has no Nama or Rupa. Appearances have reality in them, but reality is different from appearances. Appearances do not exist in the Absolute even as its adjectives, for it can have no adjectives other than itself. Qualities have a meaning only in the sense-world. There is no quality without relations, and all relations are empirical. A relational Absolute must be perishable, for, here, its very essence is said to include distinction, and all distinction presupposes individuality. The two terms of a relation are really separated by an unbridgeable gulf, and no stretch of imagination can intelligibly bring out their connection. If the two terms are identical, there is no relation, for there will then be no two things to be related. But if the two terms are different from each other, they can bear no relation. The Absolute has no qualities or relations, for it is beyond thought. The proof of its existence is itself.
Brahman in the Upanishads
The standard exposition of the nature of Brahman in Indian philosophy is made available to us in the Upanishads. Brahman is declared by the sage Yajnavalkya to be above all sensible contents. “That which is above the sky, that which is beneath the earth, that which is between the sky and the earth, that which people call the past and the present and the future,—across what is that woven, warp and woof?” “Across space”, replies Yajnavalkya. “Across what, then, pray, is space woven?” “That, O Gargi, Brahmanas call the Imperishable.” “Verily, O Gargi, at the command of that Imperishable, the sun and the moon stand apart. Verily, O Gargi, at the command of that Imperishable, the earth and the sky stand apart. Verily, O Gargi, at the command of that Imperishable, the moments, the hours, the days, the nights, the fortnights, the months, the seasons and the years stand apart. Verily, O Gargi, at the command of that Imperishable, some rivers flow from the snowy mountains to the east, others to the west, in whatever direction each flows.” Brahman is also referred to as being fearful like the uplifted thunderbolt, by knowing which one becomes immortal. It is for fear of Brahman that the different divinities presiding over the universe do their duties properly. Brahman is not confined to any particular part or manifestation of the universe. It is the Infinite, where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else and understands nothing else, and which is the highest consummation of bliss. Brahman is not to be observed externally, but to be realised everywhere in its perfection. The moment one realises this Being which is immortal, unrestricted, undifferenced, self-supported, unconditioned, which is below, above, behind, before, to the right, to the left, which is, in fact, the whole universe,—for such a one of true realisation everything rises from everywhere, instantaneously.
The supersensuous character of Brahman has been perspicaciously pointed out by Yajnavalkya in his instructions to Maitreyi: “Where there is duality, as it were, there one sees another, one smells another, one tastes another, one speaks to another;… but where everything has become just one’s own Self, then by what and whom would one see? Then by what and whom would one smell, by what and whom would one speak, by what and whom would one hear, by what and of whom would one think, by what and whom would one touch, by what and whom would one understand?” The whole purport of this teaching is that perception is possible only where there is duality. Brahman is metempirical and so not involved in dualistic perceptions. The different sense-functions enumerated by Yajnavalkya have a significance only when there is an object second to oneself. When the knower or the observer is the sole existence, then there can be no external perception. It is also affirmed that there is no consciousness after the death of individuality, for in non-individual experience there is no consciousness of an object other than the Absolute. Human knowledge is denied in Brahman. The Kaushitaki Upanishad also refers to the Infinite as that in which all things become one, and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad describes it as an ocean of the unity of the Self in which the limitations caused by terms and relations are transcended. There is no place in it for what man knows to be real. But it does not mean that in the Absolute the values recognised through the senses here by man are cancelled in the sense of a diminution of content. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad we read: “Verily, while one does not see there (with the eyes), he is verily seeing, though he does not see (what is usually to be seen); for there is no cessation of the seeing of the seer, because of his imperishability (as a seer). It is not, however, a second thing other than himself, and separate, that he may see.” In like manner, there is said to be no cessation of the functions of smell, taste, speech, hearing, thinking, touching, and knowing, as there is not a second thing there, other than and separate from the Self. The Upanishad seers, while trying to give the best possible images to illustrate the nature of the supreme bliss of Brahman, recognised the inadequacy of all mundane analogies in their application to the supermundane reality. It is a consciousness-unity without an object outside it, a bliss without an external content, and in trying to describe this indescribable state the seer hits upon the symbol of the union of earthly lovers as perhaps the only one that seems to approximate the ideal. Yet, the comparison is a poor apology, for the bliss of Brahman cannot be contained in the mind.
Brahman, according to the Upanishads, is not merely a sovereign of the universe, but its very material and content. “The Atman alone is all this”, declares the Chhandogya Upanishad. According to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, “This Brahmanahood, this Kshatrahood, these worlds, these gods, these Vedas, these beings, in fact, everything here is only the Atman.” “Who is this one?” asks the Aitareya Upanishad, and the reply given is: “He is Brahma, He is Indra, He is Prajapati, He is all the gods, and these five great elements, viz., the earth, air, sky, water, light; these things and those which are mingled with the subtle, as it were; origins of the one kind or the other: those born from an egg, and those born from a womb, and those born from sweat, and those born from a sprout; horses, cows, persons, elephants; whatever breathing thing here is, whether moving or flying, and what is stationary. All this has Consciousness as its light, is established in Consciousness.”
The Real is described in the Rig-Veda as the one existence—Ekam Sat—which the wise are said to speak of in diverse ways. The characteristics attributable to Brahman are merely our ways of particularising what is beyond our comprehension. Truly, Brahman cannot even be said to be one, for the idea of the one would give rise to the idea of not-one. Hence it is described as non-dual, secondless. Brahman can be best defined only negatively as ‘Neti, Neti’, negativing conceptual attributes, which means that we can only say of Brahman what it is not and not what it is. To give any positive idea of it would be to limit it to the categories of thought. It is not to be established by the ordinary proofs of knowledge,—sense-perception, inference, comparison, presumption and non-apprehension. The only means of arriving at an appreciable knowledge of Brahman is Aptavakya or the testimony of those who have immediately experienced it. For purposes of meditation, the Upanishads speak of Brahman as Satyam, Jnanam, Anantam,—Reality, knowledge, infinity; as Vijnanam and Anandam,—wisdom and bliss. But these are to be taken more as aids in Sadhana than assertions positive of the ultimate Reality. A brilliant statement of the nature of Brahman is to be found in the Bhagavad Gita: “It is that which is to be known, knowing which one attains immortality: that beginningless supreme Brahman is to be designated neither as being nor as non-being. With hands and feet everywhere, with eyes and heads and mouths everywhere, with ears everywhere, it exists enveloping everything in this world. Shining through the functions of all the senses, yet without any of the senses; unattached, yet supporting all; devoid of qualities, yet the experiencer of qualities; without and within all beings, the unmoving and also the moving; because of its subtlety, it is unknowable; and far away and near is That. And undivided, yet it exists as if divided in beings; that is to be known as the supporter of beings; it devours and generates. That, the Light even of all lights, is said to be beyond darkness; knowledge, knowable, the goal of knowledge, seated in the hearts of all.” “Neither does the sun illumine That, nor the moon nor fire; that is My supreme Abode, having gone whither, they return not” (Ch. XIII. 12-17; XV. 6). To attain it is to be blessed with Moksha.