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Para Brahman (Sanskrit:परब्रह्मन्) (IAST: Para Brahman) is the "Highest Brahman" that which is beyond all descriptions and conceptualisations. In Advaita Vedanta Nirguna Brahman (Brahman without qualities) is Para Brahman. In Vaishnavism and Shaivism Vishnu and Shiva, respectively, are Para Brahman.
Brahman connotes the Highest Universal Principle in Hinduism, the Ultimate Reality in the universe. In major schools of Hindu philosophy it is the material, efficient, formal and final cause of all that exists. Brahman is a key concept found in Vedas, and extensively discussed in the early Upanishads.
Advaita Vedanta - Nirguna Brahman
Nirguna Brahman (Devanagari निर्गुण ब्रह्मन्, Nirguṇa Brahman), Brahman without form or qualities, is Para Brahman, the highest Brahman. According to Adi Shankara, Nirguna Brahman is Para Brahman, and is a state of complete knowledge of self as being identical with the transcendental Brahman, a state of mental-spiritual enlightenment (Jnana yoga). It contrasts with Saguna Brahman which is a state of loving awareness (Bhakti yoga). Advaita Vedanta non-dualistically holds that Brahman is divine, the Divine is Brahman, and this is identical to that which is Atman (one's soul, innermost self) and nirguna (attribute-less), infinite, love, truth, knowledge, "being-consciousness-bliss".
According to Eliot Deutsch, Nirguna Brahman is a "state of being" in which all dualistic distinctions between one's own soul and Brahman are obliterated and are overcome. In contrast, Saguna Brahman is where the distinctions are harmonized after duality between one's own soul and Brahman has been accepted.
Advaita describes the features of a nondualistic experience, in which a subjective experience also becomes an "object" of knowledge and a phenomenal reality. The Absolute Truth is both subject and object, so there is no qualitative difference:
- "Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramātmā or Bhagavān." (Bhagavata Purana 1.2.11)
- "Whoever realizes the Supreme Brahma attains to supreme felicity. That Supreme Brahma is Eternal Truth (satyam), Omniscient (jnanam), Infinite (anantam)." (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1.1)
The Upanishads state that the Supreme Brahma is Eternal, Conscious, and Blissful sat-chit-ânanda. The realisation of this truth is the same as being this truth:
- "The One is Bliss. Whoever perceives the Blissful One, the reservoir of pleasure, becomes blissful forever." (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.7.1-2)
- "Verily know the Supreme One to be Bliss." (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.9.28)
Vaishnavism - Narayana Vishnu, Krishna
In Vaishnavism it is Narayana, Vishnu or Krishna who is para-Brahman or the Supreme personality of Godhead. A wide range of Vedic scriptures is quoted by Vaishnavas as pointing to Narayana as the Supreme Being:
- "He is the prime eternal among all eternals. He is the supreme living entity of all living entities, and He alone is maintaining all life." (Katha Upanishad 2.2.13)
- "All of the above-mentioned incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the plenary portions of the Lord, but Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the original Personality of Godhead. All of them appear on planets whenever there is a disturbance created by the atheists. The Lord incarnates to protect the theists." (Bhagavata Purana 1.3.28)
- "Lord Krishna is the supreme absolute controller, whose form comprises immortality, omniscience, and bliss. He is without beginning, the origin of all, the cause of all causes and the source of the Vedas." (Brahma Samhita 5.1)
- "There is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread." (Bhagavad Gita 7.7)
- "Arjuna said: You are the Supreme Brahma, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original Person, the unborn, the greatest." (Bhagavad Gita 10.12)
- Krishna says in Bhagavad-Gita: "And I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness, and which is immortal, imperishable and eternal." (Bg 14.27)
- "Narayana is, Para Jyoti, the greatest light, Para Atma, the super soul (Paramatman), Para Tatvam, the best of essences, Para Dhyata, the greatest meditator, Para Dhyanam, the best of meditations." (Narayana verse 4)
Shiva and Shakti philosophy
In Shaivism, Shiva is para-Brahman, Parameshvara (Param + Isha + Vara, the Transcendent Lord), and Satchitananda. Shiva itself is changeless, but his female consort Shakti is that Power of the formless and static Param Brahma that is necessary for creation. Shakti is the first desire (Kama) of Shiva, the Primordial Will to be that pervades all manifestation. The cosmos enables the Supreme Self to know, see, and live the Supreme Consciousness through its own self-willed limitation. The penultimate purpose of the cosmos is mergence of the created drop with the ocean that is its Mother.
- vadanti tat tattva-vidas tattvam, yaj jnanam advayam brahmeti paramatmeti, bhagavan iti sabdyate
- brahma-vid apnoti param, tad eshabhyukta, satyam jnanam anantam brahma
- raso vai sa, rasam hy evayam labdhvanandi bhavati
- nityo nityanam chetanas chetananam eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman
- ete camsa-kalah pumsah krishnas tu bhagavan svayam indras vyakulam lokam mrdayanti yuge yuge
- isvara paramah krishna sac-cid-ananda vigrahah anadir adir govindah sarva karana karanam
- mattah parataram nanyat kincid asti dhananjaya mayi sarvam idam protam sutre mani-gana iva
- arjuna uvaca, param brahma param dhama pavitram paramam bhavan / purusham sasvatam divyam adi-devam ajam vibhum
- naaraayana paro jyotir-aatmaa naarayana para, naarayanam param brahma tatvam naarayanam para, naarayana paro dhyaata dhyaanam naaraayana para
- White 1970, p. 156.
- Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European languages, Oxford University Press, Article on Para
- James Lochtefeld, Brahman, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 1: A–M, Rosen Publishing. ISBN 978-0823931798, page 122
- PT Raju (2006), Idealistic Thought of India, Routledge, ISBN 978-1406732627, page 426 and Conclusion chapter part XII
- Mariasusai Dhavamony (2002), Hindu-Christian Dialogue: Theological Soundings and Perspectives, Rodopi Press, ISBN 978-9042015104, pages 43-44
- For dualism school of Hinduism, see: Francis X. Clooney (2010), Hindu God, Christian God: How Reason Helps Break Down the Boundaries between Religions, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199738724, pages 51-58, 111-115;
For monist school of Hinduism, see: B Martinez-Bedard (2006), Types of Causes in Aristotle and Sankara, Thesis - Department of Religious Studies (Advisors: Kathryn McClymond and Sandra Dwyer), Georgia State University, pages 18-35
- Stephen Philips (1998), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Brahman to Derrida (Editor; Edward Craig), Routledge, ISBN 978-0415187077, pages 1-4
- Michael Comans (2002), The Method of Early Advaita Vedānta, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120817227, pages 129-130, 216-231
- Sullivan 2001, p. 148.
- Fisher 2012, p. 116.
- Malkovsky 1997, p. 541.
- Deutsch 1973, p. 13.
- Deutsch 1973, pp. 9-14.
- Deutsch 1973, p. 12.
- A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda. "Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.2.11".
- Bhagavad-gītā as it is By A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, pg. 334-335
- A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda. "Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.3.28".
- A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda. "Bhagavad-gītā 14.27".
- Adi Shakti global website
- Deutsch, Eliot (1973), Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction, University of Hawaii Press
- Fisher, Mary Pat (2012), Living Religions: A Brief Introduction
- Malkovsky, B. (1997), "The Personhood of Samkara's" Para Brahma"", The Journal of Religion, 77 (4): 541, doi:10.1086/490065, JSTOR 1206747
- Sullivan, B.M. (2001), The A to Z of Hinduism, Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 8170945216
- White, C.S.J. (1970), "Krsna as Divine Child", History of Religions, 10 (2): 156, doi:10.1086/462625, JSTOR 1061907
- "VEDA - Vedas and Vedic Knowledge Online - Vedic Encyclopedia". www.veda.harekrsna.cz.