Introduction: Brahmanism as the Predecessor of Hinduism: Back to the Roots
Historical Vedic religion is one of the beliefs which are extremely hard to question and even harder to judge. Despite the fact that the Indian culture is becoming increasingly popular with the majority of the world population, there are still a lot of unknown facts about it; as a rule, it is a snowball’s chance that one will dig deeper than the elementary surface information.
However, being actually the historical predecessor of Hinduism, one of the world’s oldest religions, Brahmanism actually offers an extremely complex idea of a human being – or, to be more exact, the spiritual part of any human being.
Offering a theory of three main components which the human soul is composed of and which have a lot in common, Brahmanism creates an extremely complex theory of human soul, with three elements whose difference is barely noticeable yet crucial for the Brahmanism understanding of human nature.
Brahmanism in Details: The Anatomy of Self. A Lesson in Dissection
The ambiguity of the Brahmanism ideas and the numerous ways in which these ideas can be interpreted becomes obvious at the very point when the three elements which make the human being are defined. At certain moments each of these elements seems the continuation of the other.
However, if taking a close look at each of them, one will be able to realize that they are quite independent and represent the ideas which do not even cross. Analyzing their specifics, one can possibly see the way these elements interact.
Jiva: Feeling the Breath of Life
One of the most complicated concepts of Brahmanism, Jiva is the first issue to consider. Although, generally speaking, one can call Jiva the general definition of a living creature, there is more to it than meets the eye.
For instance, according to the interpretation offered by Blavatsky, the author of the secret doctrine, “The Jiva (Soul) goes with Sukshma Sarifat from the heart of the body, to the Brahmarandra in the crown of the head, traversing Sushumna, a nerve connecting the heart with the Brahmarandra”1.
As it can be seen from the extract above, Blavatsky refers to a part of a human body, namely, the heart, which means that Jiva is supposed to be closer to the physical element of human existence rather than the spiritual one. However, when it comes to another look at the numerous aspects of Jiva, it appears that there are more of spiritual elements to it than it seems:
Siddheswarananda emphasizes that in Brahmanism, the philanthropic act of “serving Jiva (creature) as Shiva (the Absolute)”2. Hence, it can be observed that Jiva is interpreted as an obvious definition of a creature, the “empirical individual,”3 as Capriles called it.
All in all, it seems that Jiva is the link that makes the transition from the humane to the spiritual within a human body possible. To be more precise, Jiva is the embodiment of a living being that is given birth, lives and finally dies, leading to another stage of spiritual development.
Atman: The One and Only True Self
The definition of another element which the whole idea of Brahmanism revolves around, Atman is just as hard to pin down as the one of Jiva. Despite the fact that Atman does not concern the bodily aspect of a human being as closely as Jiva does, there are still certain confusing issues.
To start with, Atman still concerns a particular human being, which brings it close to Jiva and distinguishes it from Brahman. According to the definition offered by Sathaye, Atman is the “inner self”4, meaning not the features of character or the personality type, but rather the spiritual element that makes a part of people’s subconscious, according to Sathaye.
On the other hand, it can be assumed that Atman and Brahman are parallel in their meaning, yet Atman applies only to a human being, while Brahman is a part of the entire universe. Indeed, as Gulati explains, “Atman in man and Brahman in the universe are completely identical”5.
Therefore, while Atman embraces the notion of human spirit and the human subconscious, Brahman concerns not people, but rather the universe and the Enlightenment. As Gulati claims, “We live because we share the universal life; we think because we share the universal thought.
Our experience is possible because of the universal Atman in us.”6 Moreover, Siddheswarananda at certain moment admits that the tow can become an entity: “this atman is Brahman” (13), which means that the connection between the universe and a human being is really tight.
Thus, it can be considered that Atman is actually the continuation of Jiva and at the same time the point at which Brahman starts.
Stretching into the realm of the human subconsciousness, Atman not only signifies that its owner is a human being, but also presupposes that the given human being possesses certain individual spiritual qualities. Therefore, it can be suggested that Atman is the stage that leads from acquiring Jiva to cognizing Brahman.
Brahman: The Supreme Spirit Comes
The last, but definitely not the least, the third component that makes the core of the Brahmanism concept, Brahman makes one shift from the analysis of a human self and human mind to the spheres of the universal cognition and universal self. However, it will be a mistake to consider Brahman another synonym for the world in general:
- Brahman is perfect;
- the world is imperfect; therefore,
- the world is not Brahman7.
In addition, if taking a closer look at the essence of Brahman, one can see distinctly that it possesses distinctive elements of Atman. At this point, it becomes obvious that Brahmanism presupposes a reconcile between a human being and nature.
As Siddheswarananda says, “The key to understand the whole Upanishad is in the second mantra and the commentaries of Sankara. This contains one of the great Mahavakya—‘ayam atma Brahma’—“this atman is Brahman” (13).
However, Brahman is still to be considered as the ultimate state of cognition. According to Tola and Dragonetti,
Brahman is the Absolute, the Truth of the Truth, the Being, Unique and without a second, the Substance of privileged status, which exists in se et per se, as the ens realissimum, as the deepest fundament of reality, beyond reason and word, and which can be reached during an extra-ordinary Yogic experience, i.e. in the course of a mystical trance.8
Therefore, Brahman not only relates to the two previously described components as the finite form, the universal truth and the perfect state of being. It can also be viewed as the element that is extremely remote from the humane and belongs solely to the sphere of the spiritual.
Thus, Brahman can be represented as the third and ultimate element that makes the idea of Brahmanism complete9. Embracing not only the essence of the human being, but also universe.
On the surface, the given comparison of a human and the entire cosmos presupposes that Brahman allows to contrast the magnificence of the world and the nullity of people. However, Brahman rather specifies the place that people take in the universe and serves as the lighthouse for those who are seeking for guidance.
The Three Elements Combined: A Complete Human Being. Analysis
As it has been mentioned previously, there are certain links between the three above-mentioned elements; however, it cannot be claimed that Atman is the next stage of Jiva, and Brahman is its logical continuation. However, there is still certain connection between these three concepts.
It can be suggested that they complement each other, and that, when combined together, they make the essence of Brahmanism, the universe with its every single element placed where it belongs.
It is clear that Jiva can be referred to as the first stage, the element which the whole teaching of Brahmanism starts with. Focusing on a human being, it allows people to approach the sacral knowledge from the perspective of a human being, thus, understanding it and perceiving the newly obtained information.
Atman, representing the next stage of self-perfection, leads the adepts of Brahmanism to the depth of spiritual growth, leading them to the depth of their subconscious and making them see the flaws and imperfections of a human being.
Reaching the last stage, the one of a Brahman, seems practically impossible; presupposing fusion with the entire world and letting the latter through one’s self, one reaches the ultimate cognition, which is the wisdom of Brahman.
Nevertheless, the three notions denote quite different issues, even though they cross at times. While Brahman concerns rather the universe in general, the world at least, Atman relates to the universe within a single man, the spiritual aspect of any human being; thus, it can be alleged that Atman is the Brahman within every single person.
Hence, according to the given interpretation, Brahmanism teaches that every person is a small-scale universe.
However, the three elements can also be viewed as the three stages of spiritual development which focus at different aspects. While Jiva concerns the bodily perfection, Atman aims at developing one’s soul, and Brahman represents the ultimate spiritual excellence. Therefore, it can be concluded that the three elements mentioned above are the pieces of a single entity than the three independent ideas.
Conclusion: Diving The Religious Mixed with the Subconscious
Therefore, the three above-mentioned components bear sufficient distinction and can be differentiated once certain effort is made. Despite the fact that the three parts of a human soul, according to Brahmanism, are supposed to differ considerably and complete each other, they are extremely hard to tell apart.
Nevertheless, there is a certain distinction between Jiva, Atman and Brahman; moreover, it is clear that each of the above-mentioned elements can be considered as a specific layer – the outer, i.e., Jiva, the one which is the closest to the image of a live human being, followed by Atman, the human self, the focus of a human ego, and the final layer which makes the core of a man – the supreme spirit that makes the difference between a human being and an animal.
Blavatsky, E, The secret doctrine, vol. 1, The Theosophical Publishing Company, Ltd., New York City, NY, 2010.
Capriles, E, ‘Further steps to a metatranspersonal philosophy and psychology’, The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, no. 1, 2006, pp. 1-44.
Gulati, M N, Comparative religions and philosophers: anthropomorphism and divinity, Atlantic, New Delhi, 2008.
Kothari, M I, ‘Refutation of Samkhara’s doctrine of Brahman’, Indian Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 1, 1981, pp. 77-96.
Montier-Williams, M, Brahmanism and Hinduism, or Religious Thought and life in India as based on the Veda and other sacred books of the Hindus, Kessinger Publishing, 2005.
Sathaye, A, ‘How to become a Brahman: the construction of varna as social place in the Mahabharata’s legends of Visvamitra’, vol. 8, no. 1, 2007, pp. 41-67.
Siddheswarananda, ‘Seeing Brahma with open eyes’, VEDANTA KESARI, vol. XLI, 1995, pp. 289-301.
Tola, F, & C Dragonetti, Brahmanism and Buddhism: two antithetic conceptions of society in Ancient India, Institute of Buddhist Studies Foundation, Argentina, 2009.
1. E Blavatsky, The secret doctrine, vol. 1, The Theosophical Publishing Company, Ltd., New York City, NY, 2010, p. 128.
2. Siddheswarananda, ‘Seeing Brahma with open eyes’, VEDANTA KESARI, vol. XLI, 1995, pp. 289.
3. Capriles, E, Further steps to a metatranspersonal philosophy and psychology, The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, no. 1, 2006, p. 14.
4. Sathaye, A, How to become a Brahman: the construction of varna as social place in the Mahabharata’s legends of Visvamitra, vol. 8, no. 1, 2007, p. 53.
5. Gulati, M N, Comparative religions and philosophers: anthropomorphism and divinity, Atlantic, New Delhi, 2008, 33.
6. Gulati, M N, Comparative religions and philosophers: anthropomorphism and divinity, Atlantic, New Delhi, 2008.
7. Kothari, M I, Refutation of Samkhara’s doctrine of Brahman, Indian Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 1, 1981, p. 77.
8. Tola, F, & C Dragonetti, Brahmanism and Buddhism: two antithetic conceptions of society in Ancient India, Institute of Buddhist Studies Foundation, Argentina, 2009, pp. 3-4.
9. Montier-Williams, M, Brahmanism and Hinduism, or Religious Thought and life in India as based on the Veda and other sacred books of the Hindus, Kessinger Publishing, 2005.
Brahmanism Religion and the Three Key Elements of a Human Soul