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In the Vedantic (and subsequently Yogic) schools of Hinduism, Brahman is the signifying name given to the concept of the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendant reality that is the Divine Ground of all being. It is regarded as the source and sum of the cosmos, that constricted by time, space, and causation, as pure being, to some extent a sort of "world soul." Thus, in the beginning of its history, it was deemed a sort of super-stuff from which all that is arises, and debuts with this verse:

Great indeed are the Gods who have sprung out of Brahman. Atharva Veda

However, as the centuries passed and the first Upanishads, the primary Vedantic scriptures that putatively serve as commentaries on the original liturgical books of the Vedas, are written the concept of Brahman fittingly grew in scope and complexity. Soon, the ancient writers of the Upanishads, around the 1st millennium BCE, insisted that brahman, in addition to being material, efficient, formal and final causes of the cosmos, was also utterly beyond all four senses of origin. Essentially, it is also beyond being and non-being alike, and thus does not quite fit with the usual connotations of the word God and even the concept of monism. It is said that brahman cannot be known, that we cannot be made conscious of it, because brahman is our very consciousness. Brahman is also not restricted to the usual dimensional perspectives of being, and thus enlightenment, moksha, yoga, samadhi, nirvana, etc. in the Hindu perspective is not merely coming to know brahman, but to realize one's 'brahman-hood', to actually realize that one is and always was brahman. Indeed, closely related to the Self concept of brahman is the idea that it is synonymous with jiva-atma, or individual souls, our atman (or soul) being readily identifiable with the greater soul of Brahman.

Table of contents
1 Etymology and origin of the name Brahman
2 "Sacchidananda": Truth-Consciousness-Bliss
3 Brahman and Atman
4 Enlightenment and Brahman

Etymology and origin of the name Brahman

The word Brahman is originally derived from the Vedic use of the Sanskrit word for power and burgeoning, or swelling. In pre-Vedantic Hinduism, it signified the power to grow, the expansive and self-altering process of ritual and sacrifice, often visually realized in the sputtering of flames as they received the all important ghee (clarified butter) and rose in concert with the mantras of the Vedas. Hence another term with the same root, which refers to the highest of the four castes, the Brahmins, who by virtue of their priesthood have such powers.

"Sacchidananda": Truth-Consciousness-Bliss

The traditional mystic phrase that is seen to be the only possible (and still thoroughly inadequate) description of Brahman as we, with limited minds and being, can entertain is "Sacchidananda." Broken down, it is "sat," "chitta," and "ananda" meaning "truth," "consciousness," and "bliss" respectively.

Brahman and Atman

Philosopher mystics of the Upanishads identify Brahman, the world soul, with atman, the inner essence of the human being, or the human soul. In the Hindu pantheon, Brahman should not be confused with the first of the Hindu trinity of Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer). Brahma is, like the other gods, Ishwar, or manifested Brahman, fundamentally ego-conscious, whereas Brahman is without ego, without existence and beyond form.

Enlightenment and Brahman

While Brahman lies behind the sum total of the objective universe, some human minds boggle at any attempt to explain it with only the tools provided by reason. Brahman is beyond the senses, beyond the mind, beyond intelligence, beyond imagination. Indeed, the highest idea is that Brahman is beyond both existence and non-existence, transcending and including time, causation and space, and thus cannot ever be known in the same sense as one traditionally 'understands' a given concept or object.

Hindus also regard Brahman as the all pervading consiousness which is believed to be the basis of all the animate and inanimate entities and material. It is believed that the universe is not just consious, but that universe is consiousness, and this consiousness is Brahman. Hindus believe that human consiousness has forgotten its identity, that of Brahman, as if a drop of water from a vast ocean thought itself separate, and that the only path to merge back into that Brahman or supreme consiousness is through the paths of devotion, moral living, and/or meditation, often expressed in various systems of Hindu spiritual practices known as yogas.

Early Hinduism | Hinduism | Hindu Philosophy
Primary Scriptures: Vedas | Upanishads | Bhagavad Gita | Itihasa | Tantras | Sutras
Concepts: Brahman | Dharma | Karma | Moksha | Maya | Punarjanma | Samsara
Schools & Systems: Vedanta | Yoga | Tantra | Bhakti
Rituals: Aarti | Darshan | Puja | Satsang | Thaal | Yagnya
Hindu Teachers/Gurus and Saints: Sankara | Ramakrishna | Vivekananda | Aurobindo | Ramana Maharshi | Sivananda
Denominations: Vaishnavism | Shaivism | Shaktism | Neo- and quasi-Hindu movements

See Brahman for the Indian breed of cattle, so named by the people who brought it to the United States.