Nirguna Brahman and Sagun Brahman : Law of Rita in Hinduism


Nirguna Brahman

 An attribute or quality is a factor of separation. For example, the power of burning is a quality (guna) of fire.It separates fire from water, which lacks that quality. As Brahman is indivisible, it cannot accommodate any factor of separation, or quality, within itself. Therefore, Brahman must be free from qualities. As mentioned earlier, the Sanskrit word "nir­guna" means "without quality." That's why the expression "Nirguna Brahman" is used to denote the transcendental Brahman.

 Since Nirguna Brahman is beyond time, space and causation, it is a non-doer. It does not act. Action is only possible in space and time. Nirguna Brahman is transcendental and thus actionless (akarta). It is also a non-enjoyer ( abhokta). Nirguna Brahman, being the only Reality without a second , cannot enjoy anything. For enjoyment, both the enjoyer and the object of enjoyment are needed. In the oneness of Nirguna Brahman there are no ob­jects of enjoyment.



Saguna Brahman

When we try to think of the infinite Nirguna Brahman with our finite minds, we unknowingly project the limitations of our finite minds on Nir­guna Brahman. As a result, Nirguna Brahman ap­pears to be finite to us. The human mind can never think other than in human terms. It unknowingly projects human characteristics or qualities on Nirguna Brahman. Thus impersonal Nirguna Brahman seems to ac­ quire a personality resembling a human personality, however glorified.

Impersonal Nirguna Brahman appears to become personal Brahman, or Saguna Brahman (saguna = with quality). Saguna Brahman is also called in Sanskrit ishvara (Personal God). In reality Nirguna Brahman does not undergo any change or modi­ fication whatsoever. Saguna Brahman is Nirguna Brahman experienced through the veil of time, space and causation.

It is like a person looking at the blue sky through two pairs of glasses, red and green. When red glasses are used, the sky looks reddish. When green glasses are worn, the sky looks greenish. In reality it is only the viewer's colored glasses that project those colors on the blue sky.The blue sky does not change its color at all. Similarly, the finite minds of people, like so many colored glasses, project their limitations on Nirguna Brahman. The changeless and infinite Nir­guna Brahman appears to acquire limitations like personality.

From Nirguna Brahman's standpoint Nirguna Brahman remains changeless. The idea of Saguna Brahman is therefore not the ultimate truth. It is relatively a lower truth. Nevertheless, Saguna Brahman and Nirguna Brahman are not essentially different from each other. Just as the reddish sky and the greenish sky are really the same blue sky, so also Saguna Brahman is no other than Nirguna Brahman. They are essentially one and the same. As mentioned above, the personality of Saguna Brahman is a projection of the finite human mind on Nirguna Brahman. Similarly, the human mind projects fatherhood or motherhood or other human attributes on Nirguna Brahman. Thus Sa­guna Brahman becomes a father or mother.

From the standpoint of human beings posited in the world of time, space and causation, Saguna Brahman is the creator of this world. He is om­nipotent, omniscient and all-pervading. By His mere will, He manifests Himself as this manifold universe. Although formless, by His divine mag­ical power (maya) He assumes various forms. By his maya, he has created the world with its pairs of opposites, such as good and evil. Even though the world is no other than Him, He is beyond the clutches of good and evil in the world. He is like a cobra, which is not affected by the poison in its mouth. Its poison affects only others.



3 aspects of Saguna Brahman

Saguna Brahman is not only the creator,but the preserver and destroyer as well. Creation, preser­vation and destruction go hand in hand in this world. Saguna Brahman or ishvara, therefore, has three basic aspects: (1) the creator aspect, (2) the preserver aspect and (3) the destroyer aspect. These three basic aspects of ishvara are given the names Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshvara respectively. When ishvara creates, He is called Brahma. When He preserves, He is called Vishnu; and when He de­stroys, He is called Maheshvara.

 As mentioned earlier, even though gender less, Saguna Brahman or ishvara can be looked upon as both father and mother. According to the devotees' mental attitudes they can establish other relation­ships with Saguna Brahman as well. They can look upon Saguna Brahman as friend, child, or even husband or sweetheart, for such relationships are also nothing but mental projections on Saguna Brahman. In the Hindu tradition many great women saints like Meerabai considered themselves to be spiritu­ally married to ishvara or Saguna Brahman. They looked upon Him as their Divine Husband or Divine Sweetheart. Some saints of India,both men and women, looked upon Him as their Divine Child.

Many saints of Hindu tradition such as Ka­ malakanta, Ramprasad, Sri Ramakrishna and oth­ers looked upon ishvara as the Divine Mother. Such relationships were purely mental and completely devoid of any kind of association with the physical body. According to Sri Ramakrishna, the famous 19th century saint of India, such attitudes toward ishvara can generate feelings of great closeness between ishvara and the devotees, and thus hasten the realization of Saguna Brahman.

Law of Rita

ishvara is also the originator and upholder of the eternal moral order in this world. This moral order or basic law, which is called rita in Sanskrit, main­tains and controls the regularity and orderliness of everything in this universe, including the stars and planets and all the natural forces. This basic law or rita is impartial and applies to everything that exists in creation. If a king and a beggar jump off a cliff together into a deep gorge, both will die. Gravity is part of rita and is impartial to both.

Aside from the creator, preserver and destroyer aspects, ishvara has endless powers or aspects. One or more of these aspects can be personified as a deity in Hinduism. For instance, when a Hindu thinks of ishvara as the giver of knowledge and learning, that aspect of ishvara is personified as the deity Sarasvati. In the same manner, the deity Lak­shmi personifies ishvara as the giver of wealth and prosperity.

It should be clearly understood that the deities are not so many different gods and goddesses.They are the personifications of the various aspects of one and the same ishvara.

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