According to the Upanishads the essence of the universe and the ultimate reality is Brahman!
Brahman is infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient and self-consciousness. It is the self of all.
Brahman is existence. It is the subtle essence and substratum of all the things in the universe. In the words of the Chandogya Upanishad, it is by Him that the world has a beginning, sustenance and end.
The powers of Nature are only parts of Brahman. It is the power of Brahman which works through them.
In the words of the Taittiriya Upanishad, all the elements are born in Him, in Him all of them live and in Him they culminate. In the Chandogya Upanishad this truth has been explained with the help of a parable. The teacher asked the disciple to bring a fruit of the Nyagrodh tree. When the disciple brought the fruit, the teacher asked him to break it.
When the disciple broke the fruit, the teacher asked ‘what was there in it’. The disciple saw innumerable small seeds in the fruit. Now the teacher asked him to break one of those seeds and enquired as to what was there in the seed. The disciple broke one of those seeds and replied that there was nothing in it.
Now the teacher told the disciple that this “nothing” is the subtle essence out of which the Nyagrodh tree is born. This parable explains how Brahman is the subtle essence of the whole universe.
Brahman is knowledge. It has been explained earlier as to how the Upanishad seers, after the psychological analysis of the waking, dreaming and sleeping stages arrived at the truth that self-consciousness is the ultimate reality. Self-consciousness is the directing power of the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mind and everything else. It is beyond mind and intellect. In the great sentences of, “That Thou Art”. “I am Brahman”, “All is Brahman”, etc., the fact is explained that self-consciousness is the essence of the whole universe. It is the self and also the Brahman.
The Brahman is infinite. It is transcendent as well as immanent. The world is made out of all parts of his essence. According to Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, the three worlds have been created out of one foot of Brahman, the three types of knowledge of the Vedas came out of the second foot, the third foot includes the three vital breaths, while the fourth shines in the form of the sun beyond the earth. The living beings and the universe are born out of the Brahman.
The self has come out of him. The self is full, but there is no deficiency in Brahman even when the self came out of him. This puzzle has been explained by the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad as follows: “That is full, this is also full, and the full comes out of full. But whatever remains after taking the full out of full is also full.” Thus, the finite comes out of infinite and to reach infinite is its goal.
To call Brahman infinite does not imply that he is unknowable as well. There are passage in the Upanishads where Brahman has been referred to as the knower. It is the subject, hence, it cannot be the object of knowledge. In the words of Brahdaranyaka Upanishad, “That through which everything else is known, how can it be known?”
The Taittiriya Upanishad says about Brahman, “That from which the mind returns along with speech and cannot attain it, that is the ultimate reality.” But this does not mean that Brahman cannot be known. The aim of the seers of the Upanishads was the realisation of Brahman. In the words of Yajnavalkya, “If self consciousness is not possible then nothing is possible at all.”
It is true that the Brahman cannot be known by the senses, mind or intellect, and yet it is the object of immediate experience. It is the knower’s knowledge. Just as the perception of anything also proves the existence of the eye, similarly, the knowledge of any type also proves the existence of the self, the knower. According to the Mundaka Upanishad, “Om is the bow, self is the arrow and Brahman is its aim. We should pierce the aim with concentration so that the arrow and aim may become one.”
5. Two Forms of Brahman:
The Upanishads have described two forms of Brahman, Para and Apara. Para Brahman is higher while the Apara Brahman is lower. Para Brahman is infinite, attribute less, unconditioned, without names and forms and transcendent. The Apara Brahman is limited, attributed, conditioned, with name and form and immanent. The first is beyond space, time, causality and the world. The second is the master of the universe and entangled in cause-effect relation. The first is existence, consciousness and bliss.
The second is eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, the master of actions, the creator, the sustainer and the destroyer of the universe, and immanent. It is God. The first is the aim of Para-Vidya, while the second is the object of the Apara-Vidya. Para Brahman and Apara Brahman, both are two aspects of the same one Brahman. Apara Brahman has been described through ‘Neti-Neti’. Para Brahman has been described through, ‘Iti-Iti’.
(i) Para Brahman:
The Para Brahman is one, impersonal, beyond time, inactive, calm, without pain, untouched, without form, beyond earth, air, water, fire and ether, without speech, mind, ears, tongue, etc., eternal, infinite, all-pervading, multiple, indescribable and the self of all. In the words of the Kathopanisad, it is without beginning, eternal, permanent and ancient.
In the words of Mundaka Upanishad, “It is eternal, omnipresent, moving everywhere and subtle.” The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad has described it as, “Neither gross nor subtle, neither small nor big.” Para Brahman is not affected by changes. It has no distinctions, dualism or multiplicity. In it, there is no distinction of the subject and object. It is Existence, Consciousness and Bliss. It is the witness, the knower and the seer. It is known through self-consciousness.
(ii) Apara Brahman:
The God is the creator of all beings, elements and everything else in the universe. The Chandogya Upanishad has called Him “Tajjalan”. The natural powers act by His order. He is the inner dweller and the self of all beings. He is the cause of differences and that of the whole universe. He is, ‘Bhamni’, i.e., one which enlightens everything. He is perfect and the controller of actions, though himself beyond merit and demerit. He is one who gives rewards and punishments according to merits and demerits. He is infinite, eternal, immutable, moving everywhere, omniscient, omnipotent, beyond all sins, pure and perfect.
Maya is His power. He is the creator of the Vedas. He is the ultimate destiny. Thus the Upanishads have regarded Brahman both as attributed and without attributes. In their commentaries on the Upanishads, Samkara and Ramanuja have emphasized the second and the first respectively. As a matter of fact, according to the Upanishads, both are two forms of the same Brahman.