THE NATURE OF REALITY By Swami Nikhilananda

anony17's picture

No votes yet

By Swami Nikhilananda, Sri Ramakrishna Centre, New York, USA.

As early as the Vedic times, the Rishis investigated the nature
of reality from two levels of experience, one of which may be
called the absolute, acosmic or transcendental level and the
other relative, cosmic or phenomenal level. At the phenomenal
level one perceives the universe of diversity and is aware of
one's own individual ego, whereas at the transcendental level,
the differences merge into an inexplicable non dual
consciousness. Both of these levels of experience are real
from their respective standpoints, though what is perceived at
one level may be negated at the other.

Reality experienced at the transcendental level is called
BRAHMAN. This term denotes the non-dual PURE
CONSCIOUSNESS which pervades the universe yet remains
outside it.(Just as the sun pervades all life on earth yet
remains outside it). Brahman is described as the first principle;
from it all things are derived, by it all are supported, and into
it all finally disappear. In Brahman alone the apparent
differences of the phenomenal world are unified. Brahman is
identical with the self of man, known as atman.

The word ATMAN signifies the consciousness in man which
experiences gross objects during the waking state, subtle
objects during the dream state, and the bliss arising from
absence of the duality of subject and object in dreamless sleep.

The Upanishads speak of the transcendental Brahman as
devoid of qualifying attributes or indicative marks, and of the
phenomenal Brahman as endowed with them. The attributeless
Brahman is called the supreme or unconditioned Brahman, and
the other the inferior or conditioned Brahman.

When the sense perceived world is regarded as real, Brahman
is spoken of as its omnipotent and omniscient Creator, Preserver
and Destroyer. But when the world is not perceived to exist, as for
instance in a deep meditation, then one experiences Brahman
as the unconditioned Absolute; the idea of a Creator, omnipotent
and omniscient, becomes irrelevant. The transcendental Brahman
appears as the cause of the universe in association with maya,
and becomes known as the conditioned Brahman or Brahman
with attributes, or by such other epithets as the Lord and the
personal God.

The unconditioned Brahman is free from the limiting adjuncts of
space, time and causation.

In describing Brahman as infinitely great and infinitely small, the
Upanishads only point out that it is absolutely spaceless. It is 'one
and infinite: infinite in the east, infinite in the south......The
SupremeBrahman is not to be fixed; it is unlimited, unborn, not
to be reasoned about, not to be conceived.'

The Rishis often describe the unconditioned Brahman
as existence-Knowledge-Bliss pure and absolute. Existence,
Knowledge and Bliss are not attributes of Reality, they are its
very stuff. Brahman is Knowledge or intelligence. The identity
of Brahman and Atman or the Self , has been expressed in
the well known Vedic dictum 'THAT THOU ART'. The very
conception of Atman(Self) in the Upanishads implies that it
is the knowing subject within us. It is the inner Consciousness
and the real agent of perception, the senses being
instruments. The Upanishads repeatedly say the
realisation of the unconditioned Brahman is the supreme
purpose of life, because it bestows immortality.

From the relative standpoint, however, the Vedas concede
the reality of the phenomenal universe with all its limitations,
and of finite living beings, who need an object of prayer and
worship. A phenomenal creature needs a liberator, a saviour
to whom he can pray, a personal God, benign and
compassionate, to whom he can stretch out his hand for
succour in the hour of stress and trial. By means of its
inscrutable power called MAYA, the unconditioned Brahman
becomes the conditioned Brahman endowed with attributes
(eg. has four hands holding mace and discus, conch shell
and lotus etc.)- the personal God, always ready to bestow
His grace upon all who pray to Him in distress.

It is the conditioned Brahman (called ISHWAR), by whom the
universe has been created, and by whom, after being created,
it is sustained and into whom in the end, it is absorbed. Creation,
preservation and destruction are the activities of the conditioned
Brahman or the personal God which can never affect His
transcendental nature; they are mere waves on the surface of
the ocean which cannot touch the serenity of its immeasurable

According to the non-dualistic Vedanta, this conditioning of
Brahman is not real, but only apparent. The conditioned
Brahman is a part of the phenomenal world and appears to
be real as long as the universe is regarded as real. In the
infinite ocean of pure consciousness, He is the biggest wave.
But the unconditioned Brahman and the conditioned Brahman
are not two realities. The wave is not essentially different from
the ocean; the sea is the same sea, whether it is peaceful or

The conditioned Brahman is called ISHWAR (the Lord), because
He is the all powerful Lord of all, the ruler of the universe. He, the
Lord, is the bestower of blessings, the adorable God.

Vedanta philosophy often uses the word MAYA to describe
the creation. Maya, which is not essentially different from
Brahman, is the material cause, and Brahman, as pure
intelligence, is the efficient cause of the universe. After
projecting all material forms, Brahman enters into them as
life and consciousness and animates them. Thus Brahman,
which is transcendental, becomes immanent in the universe.

A unique manifestation of the conditioned Brahman is
the AVATAR or incarnation of God, to fulfil a cosmic
need whenever such a need arises.

easy-self's picture


Good article by sri nikhilananda. you could have used the word self-experience instead of levels of expereince.

Be in the remembrance of Easiness.

easy-self | Mon, 05/11/2009 - 13:53