Brahman

The mechanism of Brahman realization

We now discuss the process of realizing Brahman. This discussion is based on Śrī Babaji’s commentary and lectures on Anuchheda 6 of the Bhagavat Sandarbha, where Śrī Jīva Goswami brilliantly analyzes word-for-word, a verse spoken by Śrī Brahmā to Śrī Kṛṣṇa (10.14.6):

tathāpi bhūman mahimāguṇasya te

viboddhum arhaty amalāntar-ātmabhiḥ

avikriyāt svānubhavād arūpato hy

ananya-bodhyātmatayā na cānyathā

O Unlimited Lord! You have no attributes (aguṇa), and so your glory (mahimā) deserves to be perceived by pure-hearted selves. This perception arises from the immutable (avikriyāt) experience of, or establishment in, the self (svānubhavāt). Being formless (arūpataḥ), this glory [Brahman] can be known through awareness of non-distinction from it (ananya-bodhyātmatayā) and not otherwise.

Step 1: Self realization precedes Brahman realization.

Śrī Jīva derives a wealth of meaning from the above verse. The three words, avikriyāt svānubhavāt arūpataḥ, describe the process of self-realization. In the mind devoid of modifications (avikriyāt), the pure self, which has no form (arūpataḥ), manifests itself (svānubhavāt).

According to Śrī Jīva, the words ananya-bodhyātmatayā na cānyathā: awareness of non-distinction from Brahman — describe the subsequent process of realizing Brahman. Self-realization, which we discussed previously, is a pre-requisite for realizing Brahman. This is because Brahman realization occurs through total identification of the self with Brahman. To be able to identify one’s pure self with Brahman, one needs to first experience one’s pure self as separate from the mind, senses and body; otherwise identifying that pure self with Brahman is not possible.

Step 2: Brahman identification occurs through identification with it.

As the pure self or ātman appears in the mind only when the mind is completely free from all transformations, once the self is realized, there is no scope for any thought in that state. It is not possible for the self to perceive anything. Brahman now self-manifests itself in the mind, and the pure self identifies with it. At this stage, there is no sense of “I” or “you”, as the pure self considers itself to be Brahman. There is no concept of ‘experience’, ‘experiencer’ and ‘experienced’ – everything is fudged into one existence. The ātman who has realized Brahman experiences the joy of Brahman, but cannot verbalize anything about the experience. As there is no subject-object duality, nothing can be said about what was experienced nor who experienced it. This is similar to indeterminate perception of an object.

Brahman realization can only occur by the strength of bhakti

Brahman realization cannot occur by one’s own efforts; rather it is the mercy of Bhagavān alone that allows Brahman realization to happen. Bhagavān moves to fulfill the aspiration for Brahman realization because He responds to the devotion of the aspirant. Thus, the person desiring Brahman realization has to perform bhakti, even if only as a secondary component of their sadhanā. Bhagavān awards the result of the bhakti which was performed in the sadhanā by enabling Brahman realization. This point is underscored in a verse from the third canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam spoken by Śrī Kapiladeva (SB 3.28.34-35):

evaṁ harau bhagavati pratilabdha-bhāvo

bhaktyā dravad-dhṛdaya utpulakaḥ

pramodāt autkaṇṭhya-bāṣpa-kalayā muhur

ardyamānas tac cāpi citta-baḍiśaṁ śanakair viyuṅkte

By practicing meditation, the yogī gradually develops love for Śrī Hari. His heart melts due to love and the hairs of his body stand erect due to excessive joy. He is constantly bathed in a stream of tears caused by eagerness. At this stage, the yogī withdraws his mind, which he used to attract God just as a hook is used to catch fish, from the object of meditation.

This verse outlines the process or sadhanā for realizing Brahman. First, the yogī mediates on the form of Bhagavān, although his goal is realizing Brahman. When he realizes the form of Bhagavān, he empties the mind of that form also. By the strength of his devotion to Bhagavān, Brahman then manifests.

Of note is the point that love for Bhagavān mentioned in the above verse is not the love of uttamā-bhakti, but rather an ābhāsa or semblance of such love, because it harbors the desire for mukti, which is excluded from uttamā-bhakti. This is evident from Śrī Rūpa Goswami’s kārikā (BRS 1.3.41):

If symptoms of rati, such as softening of the heart, are observed in people who have desires [such as that for liberation] other than devotion in love, then these symptoms do not indicate real rati [but only its semblance or shadow].

That Brahman realization is only possible by bhakti is confirmed in different verses in the Bhagavad Gītā and in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. For example, in the Gītā,

māṁ cayo ’vyabhicāreṇa bhakti-yogena sevate

sa guṇān samatītyaitān brahma-bhūyāya kalpate

A person who serves Me alone through unswerving devotion, completely transcends these guṇas of nature and becomes qualified to realize Brahman (Gītā 14.26)

And, in the Bhāgavatam:

tac chraddadhānā munayo jñāna-vairāgya-yuktayā

paśyanty ātmani cātmānaṁ bhaktyā śruta-gṛhītayā

Therefore, the wise, faithful sages see the Absolute Truth [as Brahman, Paramātmā or Bhagavān] within the self through devotion coupled with knowledge and detachment, acquired through the faculty of hearing. (SB 1.2.12)


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6 replies »

  1. Thank you for these articles…very helpful. I appreciate the paragraph about the pure self/atman, in Step 2. I could ask, then, how does one become self-realized, prior to attainment of Brahman or Bhagavan realization? I thought that it was simultaneous, when you realized the self, you then realized Brahman or Bhagavan.

    On a related subject, I am taking sanskrit with the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. We are now in our fifth semester. The instructor, an ashtanga yoga teacher and PhD candidate with a background in advaita-vada, had us translate Bhagavad-gita 6.5. I translated “atman” as “the mind”, as our Gaudiya Vaisnava commentators have done. She did not agree, preferring to translate the verse as “One should uplift the self by the self…the self is the friend as well as the enemy of the self.” Her comments are below. Is our difference of opinion due to her literal translation or is there a theological difference behind our translations? Does her Advaita-vada stance inform her translation?

    Her comments:

    “I don’t think you can translate ātman as “mind” here. I know the dictionary gives that as a possible definition, especially at the end of a compound, but note that that meaning is much further down the list. Ātman does generally mean self/soul and better to be consistent in your translation, I’ve always seen it done that way – One should uplift the self by the self… If mind was what was intended I think manas would be used, as it is throughout the rest of the text.

    I have to say though that while the translation of “mind” makes perfect sense in English, I still find it hard to believe that ātman could be used to mean that here. In the Upaniṣads, it is often used to refer to the “body” and at the end of a compound it can sometimes have the sense of “nature” or “mind” or more “self” as opposed to “Self” but to me based on the many uses of ātman throughout the Gītā to mean the “self/soul”, I find it hard to believe that that’s what is happening here, especially since manas is used so frequently for “mind”.

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    • You wrote: how does one become self-realized, prior to attainment of Brahman or Bhagavan realization? I thought that it was simultaneous, when you realized the self, you then realized Brahman or Bhagavan.

      A: It is not simultaneous. The self can reveal itself to itself. It has that sakti as explained in the Paramatma Sandarbha. But it does not have the sakti to realize Brahman. For that, it needs Bhagavan’s mercy.

      The translation of atman as the ‘mind’ is not only by Gaudiya Vaisnavas, but Ramanujacharya gives the same meaning. See page 276 of the Gita translation by Winthrop Sergeant. If your teacher insists that it is not the mind, then ask her to explain what it means to ‘uplift the atman by the atman’, given that the atman cannot do any information processing; it does not store any information or thought. The atman cannot be the enemy of the atman. The atman is always pure, it is Brahman in the Advaita view, so the idea that the pure atman or Brahman is an enemy of itself goes against advaitavada also.

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  2. At the end of this article, you cited BRS:

    “If symptoms of rati, such as softening of the heart, are observed in people who have desires [such as that for liberation] other than devotion in love, then these symptoms do not indicate real rati [but only its semblance or shadow].”

    Does this include sadhakas performing mixed bhakti? Their symptoms of rati may be an abhasa or semblance of pure rati only? Thank you.

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