The Bhagavadgita on Brahman and Liberaion


by Jayaram V

Chapter 13 Sloka 13

jñeyam yat tat pravaksyāmi yaj jñātvāmrtam aśnute
anādimat param brahma na sat tan nāsad ucyate 13.13

jneyam = what is to be known, knowable; yat = that; tat = which; pravaksyami = I shall now speak; yat = which; jnatva = knowing; amrtam = immortatlity; asnute = tastes, attains; anadi = without beginning; mat= considered, thought of, believed; param = Supreme; brahma = Brahman; na = not; sat = being; tat = that; na = nor; asat = non-being; ucyate = is said.


"That which is to be known I shall now speak to you, knowing which immortality is attained. The Supreme Brahman believed to be without beginning is said to be neither Being nor Non-Being.


What is to be known is Brahman because only by knowing Brahman one can gain liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. With liberation an embodied Self returns to its original state of pure consciousness, which is immortal, blissful, indestructible and all knowing. In an embodied state, knowing the Self is the same as knowing Brahman because in their essential nature they are the same. However, the Universal Self is more expansive, pervasive and completely independent, while the individual Self is dependent upon Him.

Now, who is this Brahman, by knowing whom we transcend our limitations and gain immortality? How do we know what we experience in a transcendental and non-dualistic state is the Supreme Brahman? Krishna Himself, who was an incarnation of Brahman, was not definitive about Him in this discourse because He did not want to draw boundaries around a Reality that cannot be limited or defined or explained. Although He was the all knowing Isvara Himself, He avoided being specific about the Ultimate Realtiy and used an indirect reference saying that Brahman was ‘believed’ to be neither Being nor non-Being. If Brahman is neither, then what is He?

Sat means existence, truth, reality, beingness, goodness, purity and virtue. Asat means non-existence, falsehood, unreality, non-beingness, impurity and vice. Brahman is said to be neither of these because He is above objectivity, relativity and duality with which we are familiar. We know things only in certain ways relying upon the knowledge that we already have. Brahman cannot be known this way. Absolute reality cannot be known relatively, but only absolutely, in which awareness is not a process but a state, not a movement but a pervasive, holistic and all encompassing presence. We cannot really know Brahman by means of negation or affirmation, although the Upanishads suggest the former approach.

Brahman is indefinable because definition denotes time, limitation, specificity and conclusivity about the truths we define, while Brahman extends into them and goes beyond them at the same time. He is both knowable and unknowable, real and unreal. We cannot say conclusively that He is this and that or not this and not that. He is greater that the sum total of things and also less than the whole. He exists and also does not exist in the same space and time continuum. He is both the center and circumference of things. He is light and darkness, truth and falsehood, smaller than the smallest and greater than the greatest. At the same time, He is none of these.

Beingness implies individuality, form and specificity. Non-Beingness surpasses all known states of existence, boundaries of awareness and formative consciousness. While with some difficulty we may draw a few conclusions about the Being, the Non-Being state is simply unknowable in a knowable state of duality. The Reality of Brahman is neither emptiness nor fullness, neither existence nor non-existence, and neither consciousness nor unconsciousness. It is neither definitive nor indeterminate and neither completely transcendental nor completely immanent. It is all and also nothing.

Entering into Its state, one becomes nothing and at the same time everything. One ceases to exist as an individual but begins to exist in an indescribably holistic and absolute state, without the awareness of it or the experience of it. Since it is so difficult to grasp the essential Nature of Brahman or intellectualize it with the known interpretations and definitions of our conditioned knowledge, the Kena Upanishad declares that Brahman is other than the known and also above the unknown. If you think that you have understood Brahman, you have known Him but little. If you think you do not know Him, probably you know Him. Brahman is all, encompassing both reality and unreality, and existence and non-existence. He is everything and also nothing, emptiness and fullness, existence and non-existence, and also that which is not any of these.

People do quarrel a lot about their understanding of God. It is sheer ignorance to be definitive about an absolute Reality that cannot be grasped fully by the mind or the intellect. Even God cannot be definitive about Himself and this is the truth we learn from this verse. We must have the humility and the tolerance to admit that whatever we think we know about Him is perhaps part of our ignorance and delusion; or part of that vast intelligence to which we have a right.

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