Does Brahman always refer to the Lord’s effulgence?
Transcriber: Sharan Shetty
Edited by: Keshavgopal Das
Question: Does brahman always refer to the Lord’s effulgence?
Answer: There are words which have multiple meanings, and, in some context, certain words are given specific meanings. For example, Srila Jiva Goswami, in his analysis, uses the word bhagavan very specifically to refer to that Absolute Truth who has six opulences in full and beyond comparison – strength, wealth, knowledge, fame, beauty and renunciation. However, in the Srimad Bhagavatam, the word bhagavan is also used to refer to great sages – Bhagavan Narada, Bhagavan Vyasa although these personalities do not have six opulences. Thus, the word bhagavan has different meanings in different context.
In a particular analytical framework, brahman may have a precise technical meaning but generally speaking, if we look at the Vedic literature, the word brahman is used to refer to the Absolute Truth and not necessarily just the impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth. It is said that Lord Rama when he completed his past-times, he entered into the effulgence (atma jyotir agata). But that does not mean Lord Rama merged, it is a way to refer to the spiritual world in general. Broadly speaking, the Absolute Truth is referred to by the name brahman and in
the Bhagavad-gita 10.12,
param brahma param dhama
pavitram paramam bhavan
Arjuna also addresses Krishna as brahma.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has explained the features of the Absolute Truth and within that context, he uses the word brahman to refer to a particular understanding of the Absolute Truth. That means, the word itself has two different meanings. It cannot be said that in all scriptural references, brahman will refer only to the effulgence. Within a particular analytical framework, the word brahman refers to the effulgence which is the analysis of the Absolute Truth but many times in the scriptures, the word brahman is used to refer to the Absolute Truth in general. To understand with another example, consider the word father which in general refers to one’s own biological father but in Christianity, the word father also refers to the priest of the Church. Both the words are true, and the same word has two different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. Likewise, the word brahman generally refers to the Absolute Truth but specifically and within a particular analytical framework, it also refers to the impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu gave the philosophy of achintya bhedabheda (inconceivable oneness and difference of the Absolute Truth and His energies) and when we consider the word brahman referring to the impersonal aspect, we are focusing more on the bheda (difference) where brahman is the impersonal aspect, paramatma is the witness and bhagavan is the personal aspect. But there is also abheda (oneness) which means that actually these three are non-different and they are all one Absolute Truth.
In terms of analysis, we can say that there is an impersonal effulgence and some spiritual seekers focus only on the impersonal effulgence. The impersonal effulgence referred to as brahmajyoti is also spirit, it is not material light. It is beyond the material world, and is not matter. Just like atma (spirit soul) is sat-cit-ananda (full of eternity, knowledge and bliss), the brahman effulgence is also part of the Absolute Truth. As we are the separated energy, brahman is the integrated energy and integral part of the Absolute Truth. In that sense, for analysis, we can separate but we should not have so much emphasis of bheda that we forget the abheda aspect. Both exist simultaneously.
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