Brahman: Meaning and How Krishna Reveals His Form

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Bhagavad Gita" by Eknath Easwaran. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the Brahman meaning? How does Brahma’s true form help Arjuna understand his connection with god in The Bhagavad Gita?

In The Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna begs Krishna to show him the true form of Brahma. But the Brahman meaning suggests that Brahma is all things, and all existence all at once.

Read more about the Brahman meaning and how it relates to a spiritual journey.

Brahman Meaning

Remember that, along with understanding himself, Arjuna must learn to understand Vishnu in order to escape from karma. To that end, Krishna—who is an incarnation of Vishnu—begins talking about himself and his true nature.

He says that his prakriti—his physical form—is made of eight elements: earth, water, air, fire, akasha (“sky” or “space”), mind, intelligence, and ego. However, beyond his prakriti is another, higher form. This other form created and supports everything that exists, and destroys it when the time comes. Though he has created many mortal bodies, Vishnu’s true self was never born and will never die. He is beyond such things; his true nature is eternal and changeless. 

This higher nature is present in all things, from the taste of water to the light of the sun. Vishnu is people’s intelligence, strength, and honor. He is also the source of desire, as long as such desires are in tune with dharma and Brahman and the Brahman meaaning. He claims that the entire universe hangs from him like a necklace. 

The three gunas—sattva, rajas, and tamas—also come from Vishnu, but he is not found in them. They make up his maya, his illusion that deceives the world. Vishnu’s maya is difficult to pass through, but those who seek him through selfless action and self-knowledge are able to cross his maya and rejoin his true self. He says that, while anyone who follows a spiritual path will be blessed, those who seek true union with Vishnu will have it and be considered as part of him. 

Krishna explains that Brahman, the ultimate force and truth of the universe, is Vishnu’s highest nature. Part of the Brahman meaning is that part of the Brahman is in every living thing, called adhyatma. Adhibhuta is the mortal body, while adhidaiva is the intangible spirit (also called Purusha, like the physical body is also called prakriti). Finally, adhiyajna is sacrifice; both the offering itself and the force that compels people to offer it. Recognizing that all of these are from Vishnu and that Vishnu is in all of them is key to understanding his true nature. 

Finally, Krishna talks about Brahma, another of his forms that is known to mortals as the creator deity. He says that a Day of Brahma, during which time the universe is created and exists, lasts for a thousand yugas, or eons. It is followed by a Night of Brahma lasting for an equal amount of time, wherein the universe is consumed and reduced to nothing. However, even during this time Brahma, who is Vishnu, is not destroyed. This helps him understand the Brahman meaning.

(Note: To be more specific, a Day of Brahma lasts for 4.32 billion years. A Night of Brahma lasts the same amount of time.)

Vishnu Rewards Devotion

Though the truly wise seek out Vishnu, there are many who worship other gods—what Krishna calls “lower gods.” He says that these people have been deceived, but he rewards their devotion nonetheless. 

When a person is absolutely devoted to something, Vishnu grants the person that thing. Those who want the fleeting pleasures of life will have them, while those who worship other gods will go to them in the afterlife (until they’re reborn, at least). However, those who are completely devoted to Vishnu will be reunited with him and break free of reincarnation. He promises that even the worst sinners can be quickly redeemed by meditating on and devoting their lives to Vishnu.

There are two paths the soul can take at death: Those who understand Brahman take the path of light, which leads them to the ultimate goal of freedom from the cycle of rebirth. Others follow a darker path that leads them to reincarnation. By knowing and recognizing these two paths, Arjuna can ensure that he’ll never be fooled by the darker path again.

The Name of Brahman and Brahman Meaning

Krishna ends this lesson by reciting the sacred name Om Tat Sat. While the three words together represent Brahman, each has its own powerful and important meaning. 

Om is the oldest Hindu mantram—a short phrase that is repeated many times over to focus the mind and spirit. It’s a holy syllable that represents the Brahman meaning and is meant to be the sacred sound that one can hear while deep in meditation. Those who follow scripture always use this mantra while making offerings, giving gifts, and performing other spiritual duties. 

Tat simply means “that,” but represents the ultimate reality: the truth of God and the universe that no one can possibly imagine or describe. Worshippers will add the word Tat to indicate that they’re performing these actions to free themselves from karma, rather than for any immediate personal benefit. 

Sat means, simultaneously, “what is” and “what is good.” It describes an admirable or honest deed. On the other hand, engaging in spiritual practices in bad faith would be asat, without goodness. Worshipping for selfish reasons has no value, in this life or any life to come.

Taken together, the phrase Om Tat Sat means that only good is real. Evil, like sense-objects, is temporary and false. 

Brahman: Meaning and How Krishna Reveals His Form

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Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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