In Unit 15, we started with the understanding of Brahman; we reviewed the vishEShaNa , vishEShya relationship.

In Unit 16, we reviewed the lakShaNas that help us understand Brahman.

In Unit 17, We looked at some of the scriptural statements describing Brahman.

In this Unit, we will understand that Brahman is nirguNa and why so.

Brahman is nirguNa.

We identified Brahman by the markers of vishEShaNa and lakShaNa. jIva's first encounter with Brahman is through vishEShaNa in the form of worship. The next step is the identification of Brahman with lakShaNas. This is more difficult, since Brahman has to be separated from everything else. This takes the jIva one step closer to understanding the identity of Brahman. At this closer distance, the jIva identifies Brahman through dhyAna or meditation. dhyAna is more difficult compared to worship. So the shAstra says that one has to begin with worship and graduate to dhyAna over a period of time. However, identifying Brahman by the markers of lakShaNa will not help us understand the svarUpa or inherent characteristic of Brahman. What the lakShaNa tells us is that it is different from jIva, but does not really tell what it is (knowing so and so is one's father does not let us know who he is). So we need to understand Brahman directly without reference to any entity. This is an impossible task even for the scriptures ( "yatO vAchO nivartantE aprApya manasA saha" - the speech returns empty handed without an understanding of Brahman and so does the mind). However the scriptures try in many ways to convey Brahman through speech only. Though Brahman is described by lakShaNas - satya, jnyAna and ananta -, one should not try to understand Brahman by these lakShaNas only. To show the small arundhatI star, attention is drawn to a bigger star in the vicinity and to look for the arundhatI star beyond that (sthUlArundhatI nyAya). Likewise one has to go beyond the lakShaNas in understanding Brahman. Brahman is not an entity to be understood by debate or mental logic. The shruti offers many tactics to help remove this misnomer.

Shruti describes Brahman with distinctive characteristics (savishESha) as well as without distinctive characteristics (nirvishESha). For example, "asthUlam anaNvam ahrasvam adIrgham" - It is not big, it is not atomic, it is not short, it is not long; "ashabdam asparsham arUpam avyayam tathArasam nityam agandhavacca" - It is soundless, untouchable, formless, immutable or imperishable, tasteless, always existing, and without smell; "apUrvam anaparam anantaram abAhyam" - Not having existed before, not to exist in the future, not inside and not outside etc.

If shruti describes Brahman both with and without distinctive markers, what should be followed and why?

It depends on the spiritual progress of the seeker. A beginner must follow the savishESha Brahman through worship and karma. An advanced seeker will then be able to give up karma and focus on the nirvishESha (or nirguNa) Brahman through meditation.

Is Brahman saguNa (with guNa or characteristics) or nirguNa (without guNas)? Brahman in its svarUpa is nirguNa. It is saguNa in association with upAdhi.

Brahman is only describable by "nEti, neti" - not this, not this. Any description of Brahman is in association of an upAdhi. Then is it shUnya (nihil)? Definitely not. All that we see and feel, is emanating from Brahman. So how can it be nihil? Brahman exists, but it is so nirguNa that it can not be described.

To highlight that Brahman is nirguNa, the shruti describes Brahman by a pair of opposites. For example,

"anEjadEkam manasO javIyO tat dhAvatah anyAn atyEti tiShTati"

- It does not quiver, it is only one, faster than mind, it overtakes others running while standing in a location (IsAvAsya -4);

"tadEhjati tannaijati taddUrE tadvantikE "

- It quivers, it does not quiver, it is far away, it is very near (IsAvAsya -5);

" dUrAtsudUrE tat ihAntikE cha"

- It is farther than the farthest and is right here (MunDaka 3.1.7);

"apANipAdO javanO grahItA pashyati achakShuh sa shruNOti akarNah"

- He walks very fast without hands and legs, will see without eyes and will hear without ears (svEtAsvatara 3.19);

"Brahma tEjOmayO atEjamayah kAmamayO akAmamayah krOdhamayO akrOdhamayah dharmamayO adharmamayah"

- Brahman is splendid and is not splendid, He is desirous, He is not desirous, He is wrathful, He is not wrathful, He follows dharma, He does not follow dharma (BrihadAraNya -4.4.5).

These descriptions of Brahman should drive home the point that Brahman is NirguNa, for the same glass cannot be red or blue, unless associated with a red or blue upAdhi; the glass itself is colorless. Brahman without upAdhi is one and only one - does not quiver, is there and is here(if it is one and only one occupying the entire space, where is the question of movement?-there is no space for movement!). As a kArya with upAdhi, moves fast or slow, is far away (for the ignorant), is close by (for the jnyAni). Is angry with an angry upAdhi and is peaceful with a peaceful upAdhi etc. We may wonder how can Brahman be so nirguNa? This is the characteristic of all kAraNas. For example, in the world we see solid, liquid and gaseous entities; at the molecule level we don't see solid, liquid gas etc. Though we see the guNas of the entity at the molecule level, at the atom level, even this disappears. The same phenomena is with Brahman. The jagat, being a composition of all guNas, is a kArya of Brahman. If all guNas have to come from the kAraNa, the kAraNa must be nirguNa (light being colorless, has all colors in it; clay being formless, creates all forms etc.). Similarly, Brahman being distinction-less stems from the fact that attributes arise out of association with and dependent on upAdhi - Brahman is omnipotent etc. Jagat is different from Brahman at the kArya level, but the same as Brahman at the kAraNa level. So everything is Brahman at the svarUpa. So if everything is Brahman, where is the scope for upAdhi? At the kAraNa level, even the upAdhi is of the svarUpa of Brahman and so at the svarUpa level, it cannot even sustain as an upAdhi ( imagine a crystal beside another crystal; the second crystal has no impact on the first crystal - so at the kAraNa level, everything is nirguNa). There is only Brahman. So if there is no upAdhi, there are no attributes; So Brahman is distinction-less. As much as it is distinction-less, it is Real, because we have known that Brahman is the kAraNa for jagat.

Om shAntih, shAntih, shAntih ( Om peace, peace, peace).

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