The difference between Brahman and Bhagavān

There are differing views on Brahman and Bhagavān. There is one camp, particularly among some Vaiṣṇava sects, which tends to interpret all verses involving Brahman in the Purāṇas as Bhagavān. The camp of the Advaita-vadis considers Bhagavān as material, and only Brahman as the absolute reality. Sri Jiva Goswami rejects both these extremes, and accepts both Brahman and Bhagavān. In this article, we examine the concept of Brahman and Bhagavān as explained by Śrī Jīva in the Bhagavat-sandarbha.

Determinate and indeterminate perception

To understand Śrī Jīva’s explanation of Brahman and Bhagavān, we have to first understand some concepts from nyāya. In nyāya, the perception or cognition of a real object (dravya) occurs in two steps. In the first step, the object is perceived separately from its attributes, and in the second step, the object is cognized or understood as possessing the attributes. The first perception is called nirvikalpa pratyakṣa or indeterminate perception. It is only when both steps are completed that one arrives at determinate perception of the object.

Sri Jiva uses specific terminology to express the above concepts. viśeṣya is an object without its attributes, or the object which is to be qualified. viśeṣaṇa is the qualifier or modifier of an object. viśiṣṭa is the qualified object.

In the example of a ‘red rose’, the rose is the object, while ‘red’ is its qualifier. The word ‘red’ separates or distinguishes the rose from the class of all roses. This is one main function of the qualifier – to separate an object from others, and is therefore an essential aspect of definitions (although not all qualifiers perform this function; sometimes they are used to inform us of the attributes of the object). The rose is the viśeṣya, red is the viśeṣaṇa, and ‘red rose’ is the viśiṣṭa.

Brahman is indeterminate perception and Bhagavān is determinate perception of Absolute Reality

In the theology propounded by Sri Jiva, which he supports with copious references to scripture, Bhagavān is the viśiṣṭa, or qualified absolute reality. The viśeṣaṇas of Bhagavān are His svarūpa śaktis. If one insisted on separating Bhagavān from His viśeṣaṇas, then what is cognized is the viśeṣya, which is Brahman. In other words, Brahman is Bhagavān without attributes.

In the perception of everyday objects, the initial indeterminate perception of the object must inevitably give way to a determinate perception. When we see a red rose, the first perception is not “this is a red rose”, but “this is something”. In that first moment, we haven’t related the object with the class of objects possessing “redness” and “roseness” to arrive at the conclusion “this object is a red rose”. In the next moment, however, we relate these qualifiers to the object, and cognize that the object is a red rose.

Curiously, it is possible to have indeterminate perception of Bhagavān, and for this perception to persist eternally. It is also possible to cognize Bhagavān, the viśiṣṭa. Naturally, the perception of Bhagavān includes the perception of Brahman, just as indeterminate perception of an object precedes determinate perception.

According to Sri Jiva, descriptions in scripture of absolute reality as “formless”, “without bodily limbs”, etc. denote the indeterminate perception of the perceiver; words such as “knowledge”, “beauty” and so on identify the qualities of Bhagavān; and terms like “supreme”, “nourisher” and so on denote the qualified Lord.

We will examine Sri Jiva’ definition of both Brahman and Bhagavān in an upcoming article.

Categories: Bhagavān, Brahman, concepts

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14 replies »

  1. Namaste!
    How can the body remain after the pratyakSha anubhavam of Brahman/Bhagavan? Srivaishnava sampradaya says that after pratyakSha anubhavam of the svarupa of Brahman(not his body but svarupa-as they differentiate between the two), there is instantaneous death and mukti since there is cessation of all karmas.
    What is the Gaudiya view regarding this?

    • How do they explain what happened with Sri Dhruva then, who got pratyaksa anubhava of Bhagavan, but continued in this world. Likewise with Sri Narada muni, and others.
      In our view, the body of Bhagavan is His svarupa. My understanding was that Sri Vaisnavas also believe the same thing.
      There is something called ‘jivan-mukta’- which means all karmas are finished, but the person continues on in the body. That state can happen. Sri Sukadev is an example of this.

      • According to SV the vigraha of Bhagavan doesnot have “I-ness” or chaitanya. OTOH Gaudiyas agree with the Madhwas on the body itself being the swarupa of Bhagavan. This is the point regarding their belief that “Bhagavan’s body is not identical to his Self” which has been criticized by Baladeva in his Siddhanta Ratna. The bhashya on it by Vedantavagisha says that the “tridaNDis” are being criticized there.

  2. Sri Vaishnavas give the reasoning that many people see Bhagavan’s vigraha during his avatara, and also as archavigraha but they donot get mukti at that instant. It is rather the experience of Brahmaswarupa-Sat-chit-anandatva that gives direct instantaneous mukti. In their concept Bhagavan’s body is divya and nitya but jada(They consider shuddhasattva to be a kind of transcendental Prakriti which Bhagavan accepts to give pleasure to his bhaktas )

    • I vaguely remember studying all this from Babaji when he taught us Yatindra-mata-dipika. Our pramana is the Bhagavata purana which presents things differently. Radhe Radhe

      • Thank you. Also I want to ask when and how does a jivanmukta qualify for atyantika mukti? Why does such a jivanmukta jiva want to retain his bhautika body after he has realised his svarupa and Brahman? What purpose does such a body serve him when he is oblivious of material pain and pleasure

      • A jivanmukta is already qualified for atyantika mukti. He or she just waits for the body to fall off, as in the case of Narada muni. The jivanmukta does not want to retain the bhautika body, but he/she does not also want to end it (which would be committing suicide). When the body reaches its appointment with death, the jivanmukta is released. There is no purpose in having a body for a Brahmavadi. For a bhakta, there is a purpose – continuing to serve Krsna.

  3. /When the body reaches its appointment with death, the jivanmukta is released/
    So the body remains due to some prArabdha? Or does it remain due to some special purpose of Bhagavan(like giving Bhagavan realisation to the Kumaras)? Or a mixture of the two?
    So there is no instant falling of the body due to direct aparOkSha anubhUti then according to GV?
    Thank you!

    • The body falls when Bhagavan wishes it to fall. Not because of prarabdha karma because all karmas are destroyed.
      There is no instant falling. We do not accept the cit-acit category that Sri Vaisnavas posit (I am assuming that’s what Bhagavan’s body is made out of according to them). Bhagavatam also describes nirbija samadhi, where one withdraws the mind from the form of Bhagavan, but that we understand to mean meditation on Brahman. Bhagavatam considers such meditation inferior to direct perception of Bhagavan. What is this ‘svarupa’ which is ‘satcitananda’ in addition to Bhagavan’s body? Does it have form? Qualities?

      Bhagavan’s body is transcendental- there are many statements like this in the Bhagavatam, and they must be in Visnu purana also.

      • /What is this ‘svarupa’ which is ‘satcitananda’ in addition to Bhagavan’s body?/
        It is the Brahma swarupa. Its formless but has attributes like sattA, chaitanya, Ananda, Anantatva, amalatva in vibhu proportions. It has infinite expansion of dharmabhutajnana as well as svarupa vyakti. In short like a super ‘mukta jiva’ with the difference of having svarupavyapti(instead of being anu chaitanya)
        You can go through this thread to understand their concepts:

      • Thank you. I dont see the difference between Brahma-svarupa and Brahman.

        Brahman (according to Advaita vadis, and also Jiva Goswami, i.e. Bhagavata purana) also has satta. It is not jada. It is ananta. (satyam jnanam anantam Brahma). It is sarva vyapi. It has no form.

        I did try to see the twitter thread, but it is not clear or convincing. Maybe I should read yatindra mata dipika or some other book again to see the difference.

  4. In any case, in SV concept the realisation of Brahma’s svarupa, without his body and his auspicious gunas, is called nirAlambana yoga by them and is described in the Vishnu Purana in its penultimate chapter in the story of Keshidhwaja and Khandikya. The process there described seems to be an expanded version of the “nirbija samadhi” as described in the Bhagavatam that Gaudiyas take to be meditation on Brahman

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