It is said that Brahman (pronounced as /brəh-mən/) is supreme but Parabrahman is not the supreme.
So every time you pray to God, you communicate with the Brahman, to get something with the help of Brahman but not Parabrahman.
So who is that God, which is called Brahman that you always worship or pray to? And who is that Parabrahman that you don’t worship or pray to?
These two concepts are quite confuzzling as well as very hard to comprehend.
But in this article, I’m gonna explain these two intricate concepts of the Hindu philosophy in the simplest terms as possible with suitable metaphors & examples.
Let’s first take the concept, Brahman…
What is Brahman?
Brahman is a formless (bodiless, genderless) supreme spirit or consciousness which pervades through the entire universe or existence. It is the substratum (lies underneath) of all the manifestations. Hence it is the sustainer of the Universe or the existence.
I know this concept is quite hard to grasp…
Let me give you an example:
To comprehend it better think of Brahman as the root of a tree and the trunk, branches, twigs, and leaves as the Universe or the existence.
Since the root is the cause of a tree’s existence, Brahman is also called the cause or root of this existence or the cause of all causes of the existence.
But the picture of the root doesn’t come to our mind when we see a tree because it is hidden deep down.
The same thing applies to Brahman. As it is just a root of the existence we cannot see it, perceive it or conceptualize it. It just penetrates all living & non-living things.
The penetration is exactly just like how water permeates through dry soil. Where the water is the Brahman and the soil is the material existence.
It is the source of everything and the root of everything.
This concept concludes that all the animate (living things) & inanimate (non-living things) objects are emanated from it and finally dissolve into it upon destruction.
So if your mind is still wandering and searching for a form of this formless or imagining what it might be like…
Then it is not a thing like air, gas or not even like a vacuum space. It is beyond all of the things that exist around us.
The Brahman is nothing but consciousness
The Brahman is nothing but consciousness or awareness. This consciousness is not an ordinary consciousness like us. In fact, it is about multiple or infinite numbers of consciousness.
We can only concentrate our consciousness to get aware of something since we can only think or observe at one thing a time. But in the case of Brahman, it doesn’t need to concentrate because it has multiple consciousnesses.
This is how God listens to prayers of billions of people simultaneously!
So… Brahman is all about consciousness and infinite intelligence.
By going back to the point of formless nature of Brahman, it is said that it can be both Sat (with form) & Asat (without form).
By taking these two concepts into account Brahman is divided into:
- Saguna Brahman and
- Nirguna Brahman
Now, I’m gonna pen down about Saguna Brahman as I’ve already discussed the Nirguna Brahman.
Meaning of Saguna Brahman
As Nirguna Brahman means Brahman without qualities or attributes, Saguna Brahman means Brahman with qualities and attributes. Simply put, we call it Saguna Brahman when it takes a form.
Now you might think:
Who’s that Saguna Brahman?
Well, it’s the personified aspect of the Nirguna Brahman.
Now, Nirguna Brahman can be varied according to various Hindu sects.
Vishnu is the Saguna Brahman (because they believe Vishnu is the Brahman).
Shiva is the Saguna Brahman (because they believe Shiva is the Brahman).
Adi Shakti is the Saguna Brahman (because they believe she is the Brahman).
And there are various other sects which have their own belief system of Brahman.
So whatever form Brahman takes (or manifest itself) is the Saguna Brahman.
Even the inanimate objects are also considered as the saguna aspect of Brahman.
But in the Brahman terminology, the term Para Brahman might confuse you…
What is Para Brahman?
The term Para Brahman (aka Param Brahman, Para Brahma) means the greatest Brahman or the absolute or supreme-self.
The word Para is a Sanskrit word, which means highest or supreme and could mean many different meanings contextually, including (but not limited to) another, other, parent, different from, next, last, previous, etc.
You might think:
If Brahman is already supreme why there is such another term as Para Brahman?
Well, this is quite contradictory…
Some people say Brahman & Para Brahman means essentially the same thing. And they are being used interchangeably to convey different contextual meanings.
According to Adi Shankaracharya, when Brahman remains nirguna it is called Para Brahman and said that an individual or person who is getting mental-spiritual enlightenment is Brahman.
According to my understanding…
This is what Shankaracharya’s statement actually means:
The word Brahman is derived from a Sanskrit root word Brrh or Brah, which means to expand.
So, when a person becomes enlightened or self-realized, his consciousness begins to expand or begins to Brah through the mind or mann (pronounced as /mən/). Hence that person is called Brah-man. An expanded mind, an expanded consciousness.
This is how he explained the difference between Brahman and Para Brahman.
But this is somewhat more confuzzling!
Well, while I was researching on Brahman & Para Brahman before writing this article, I came across a thesis which was written by Gottfried de Purucker.
According to him, Para Brahman is a collective consciousness of all the brahmans, since we are all brahmans or gods (each and every soul is a Brahman).
Purucker said that Parabrahman is not God since it is not a being. But Brahman is God since it is a being.
To him, Parabrahman is a be-ness but definitely not a being. His statement implies that Parabrahman is beyond God and he is not in the existence as a creator or a protector. It is beyond (Parabrahman) of the beyond (Brahman).
Purucker also stated that Brahman is the cause or root of the universe whereas the Parabrahman is the causeless cause or the rootless root of the universe.
Hence to conclude his thesis according to my understanding:
Brahman is the substratum (lies beneath) of the entire universe whereas the Parabrahman permeates through the universe as well as whatever is beyond.
That’s why I’d said at the beginning of this article that Parabrahman is not God. God means, a Brahman or consciousness is being something to serve a platform (universe) for other beings (Atman) to perform their duties (life purpose).
Being means who is continuously active in such a field or domain whereas Be-ness means the purest of the purest consciousness. It is a macrocosmic collective consciousness which has no business in the existence.
It is worth mentioning:
In Hindu scriptures, the Parabrahman is called Tat (that) and the existence is called Idam (this).
For Purucker, in “that” or “tat” there is no subject of cognition since it is a collective entity. Hence, only a subject can cognize, create and permeates the universe (which is both subject & object and can be called “this” or “idam”).
I’ve mentioned Purucker’s statement because it is quite fascinating to me though his statement is against all the ancient descriptions of the neuter (neither male nor female) word Brahman.
Are Brahman & Para Brahman the Same?
As per Adi Shankaracharya, they are basically the same.
The word Brahman is also used to mean both God & non-God items. Since both words are used to mean two different things, hence all these confusions.
But if Para means supreme, absolute or greatest…
…Then Parabrahman is the greatest GOD or GOD of gods. And when the neuter word Brahman is not prefixed by the word Para, it may mean great God.
But neither anyone has nor can give you the perfect definition of Brahman & Parabrahman.
The knower of God is God or Brahmavit Brahmaiva Bhavati, which can be found in verse 8 of Advaita Vedanta as well as in many Upanishads.
So to conclude…
Who is supreme among them?
Is no one supreme?
Are they different from each other? or
Are they really the same thing?
All these things are quite difficult to say and also very argumentative.
If you want to comply with the ancient definition of Brahman as per what Hindu scriptures say then Brahman & Parabrahman are essentially the same entity.
If you want to go with the definition of Purucker then Para Brahman is the biggest Brahman (relatively speaking) among the small Brahmans.
Do keep in mind that, our language is very limited to express the nature of Parabrahman.
And the truth is that:
To know the real meaning of Brahman or Para Brahman, one must sit in deep meditation by realizing the self. This is the only way to realize the true nature of Brahman and Parabrahman.
What do you think about Brahman & Para Brahman?
The term Parabrahman denotes the supreme-being or God, which is formless and pervades the entire universe or existence.
The term Nirguna Brahman denotes the formless God or spirit, which cannot be perceived through biological senses or human intellect.
The term Saguna Brahman (aka Apara Brahman) denotes the personified aspect of the formless God or spirit. The term also signifies the manifested things around us including living & non-living things.
Simply put, the word Brahman means formless supreme spirit or consciousness which is all-pervading and all-permeating the entire universe whereas Parabrahman means only the formless aspect of the formless. But Brahman means both formless and form aspects of the formless.
Shad Ali says
nice self contained description , could totally relate !
Khurram 🌞 says
FantasticOM thank you for this excellent article.🙏🌞
Jaap Verhage says
in your article you write “The term Para Brahman (aka Param Brahman, Para Brahma) means the greatest Brahman or the absolute or supreme-self”. Although I am close to a complete nitwit on all matters concerning Hinduism, I thought I *did* know that “Brahman” and “Brahma” are to different concepts, and should *not* be confused. Am I missing something?
Raktim Dutta says
Brahman and Brahma are not the same in a general sense (although they came from the same root). Generally, Brahman means the person who got enlightened (like Gautam Buddha) as well as the entity pervading all over the universe and whatever is beyond. The enlightened persons are called “Brahman” because he is uniting with the all-pervading supreme energy and consciousness “Brahman”.
On the other hand, the word “Brahma” usually is used to refer to the Hindu Trinity God “Brahma”. He is called Brahma because he pervades (his energy and consciousness) all over the universe (as per the belief system of Hinduism).
Also, the word “Brahma” is used in the place of “Brahman” when referring to the concept “Para Brahman” as “Para Brahma” since their root meaning is almost the same so its usage can be.
I hope this helps. 🙂
Jaap Verhage says
thanks for replying!
It’s because of what you write in your first two paragraphs that I submitted my comment: “Brahman” refers to “the entity pervading all over the universe and whatever is beyond”, while “Brahma” refers to “the Hindu Trinity God “Brahma””. What I didn’t know is what you write in your third paragraph, concerning “Para Brahman”. Thanks for enlightening me! For an outsider, Hinduism can be pretty confusing 🙂 .