Brahman: 16 definitions


Brahman means something in Buddhism, Pali, Hinduism, Sanskrit, the history of ancient India. If you want to know the exact meaning, history, etymology or English translation of this term then check out the descriptions on this page. Add your comment or reference to a book if you want to contribute to this summary article.

In Hinduism

Purana and Itihasa (epic history)

Source: Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: The Purana Index

Brahman (ब्रह्मन्).—The nature of, explained;1 Praṇava form; three-fold nature of ṛk, sāma and yajus;2 with or without form and also para and apara; three-fold bhāvana of Brahman—Brahmā, Karmasamjña and of both;3 worshipped by Sakarmaka-karman in Puṣkaradvīpa.4

  • 1) Vāyu-purāṇa 61. 107-12.
  • 2) Viṣṇu-purāṇa III. 3. 23-30.
  • 3) Ib. VI. 7. 47-8.
  • 4) Bhāgavata-purāṇa V. 20. 32-3.
Purana book cover
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The Purana (पुराण, purāṇas) refers to Sanskrit literature preserving ancient India’s vast cultural history, including historical legends, religious ceremonies, various arts and sciences. The eighteen mahapuranas total over 400,000 shlokas (metrical couplets) and date to at least several centuries BCE.

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Pancaratra (worship of Nārāyaṇa)

Source: SriMatham: Vaiṣṇava Iconology based on Pañcarātra Āgama

The word ‘Brahman’used in the Upaṇiṣads is derived from the root bṛh which means ‘to expand’ or ‘to grow’ and as such indicates that Immensity which includes everything which is conceivable.

The Vedas declare—

sarvam khalvidam brahma

‘all this is Brahman’.

This Immensity Brahman is beyond the comprehension of any being.Out of this transcendental Being there issues forth the first form of Godhead known as the Para-Vāsudeva in a subtle form with twoarms, crystal in complexion and clad in yellow garments. This form is identified also as Nārāyaṇa (which means “the ground of all being”). In the Pañcarātra, Paramātman, Nārāyaṇa, Viṣṇu, Bhagavān and Vāsudeva are the various names by which Brahman the Supreme is known.

Pancaratra book cover
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Pancaratra (पाञ्चरात्र, pāñcarātra) represents a tradition of Hinduism where Narayana is revered and worshipped. Closeley related to Vaishnavism, the Pancaratra literature includes various Agamas and tantras incorporating many Vaishnava philosophies.

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Mīmāṃsā (school of philosophy)

Source: Srimatham: Mīmāṃsa: The Study of Hindu Exegesis

Brahman (ब्रह्मन्).—Brahman, derived from bṛḥ “the expansive” (bṛhatvam = greatness) can be defined as the Absolute, whence all existence arises, by which everything is sustained and into which everything ultimately dissolves. Brahman or the Absolute is by definition super-sensuous, it is beyond comprehension or cognition. It cannot even be understood inferentially, for every inferential dynamic depends upon a repeatedly perceived concomitance (connection) between that which is to be proved and its characteristic (eg., between fire and smoke).

But we do not have any such knowledge in the case of Brahman. So, the Vedantin maintains that the Upanishad portion of the Veda—which is also eternal and infallible—is the unique source of knowledge regarding Brahman. In fact Brahman also means “sacred wisdom”—it is both the knowledge, the knower and the thing to be known.

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Mimamsa (मीमांसा, mīmāṃsā) refers to one of the six orthodox Hindu schools of philosophy, emphasizing the nature of dharma and the philosophy of language. The literature in this school is also known for its in-depth study of ritual actions and social duties.

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Ayurveda (science of life)

Source: Shodhganga: Dietetics and culinary art in ancient and medieval India

Brahman (ब्रह्मन्) is the name of a deity to be meditated upon at the commencement of a meal, according to the 17th century Bhojanakutūhala (dravyaguṇāguṇa-kathana), which deals with the topics of dietetics and culinary art, also known as Pākaśāstra or Pākakalā.—Accordingly, Raghunātha states that one should meditate Brahman with this prayer at the commencement of a meal:—“Food is Lord Brahman, water is Lord Viṣṇu and the consumer is Lord Śiva. If one consumes food with this thought in mind he shall be freed from the effects of evil-eye)” (cf. Bhojanakutūhala I.1475).

Ayurveda book cover
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Āyurveda (आयुर्वेद, ayurveda) is a branch of Indian science dealing with medicine, herbalism, taxology, anatomy, surgery, alchemy and related topics. Traditional practice of Āyurveda in ancient India dates back to at least the first millenium BC. Literature is commonly written in Sanskrit using various poetic metres.

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General definition (in Hinduism)

Source: Apam Napat: Indian Mythology

The fundamental goal of a Hindu may be said to be the realization of Brahman, the ultimate truth. It is said that Brahman is all things and all things are Brahman. The Trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma are said to be various aspects of Brahman. They are parts of it, but Brahman is greater than their sum, as it includes all things in the universe, both animate and inanimate.

Source: WikiPedia: Hinduism

1) In Hinduism, Brahman is "the unchanging reality amidst and beyond the world", which "cannot be exactly defined". It has been described in Sanskrit as Sat-cit-ānanda (being-consciousness-bliss) and as the highest reality. Brahman is conceived as Atman, personal, impersonal or Para Brahman, or in various combinations of these qualities depending on the philosophical school. According to Advaita, a liberated human being (jivanmukta) has realised Brahman as his or her own true self.

etymology: Sanskrit Brahman (an n-stem, nominative bráhmā) from a root bṛh- "to swell, expand, grow, enlarge" is a neutral noun to be distinguished from the masculine brahmán—denoting a person associated with Brahman, and from Brahmā.

The later Vedic religion produced the Upanisads, a series of profound philosophical reflections in which Brahman is now considered to be the one Absolute Reality behind changing appearances. It is the universal substrate from which material things originate and to which they return after their dissolution.

2) Title of a priest in Vedic rituals. The brahman is the superintendent of the entire performance, and is responsible for correcting mistakes by means of supplementary verses invoking the visvedevas(pantheon of celestials or devas). In the Brihadaranyaka, the pantheon of visvedevas are held to be a creation of an infinite mind assuming infinite forms. Therefore, the only god that protects the yajna and with which the brahman has to identify himself with is the deity of the mind - Moon or Chandra.

Source: Red Zambala: On the Salvific Activities of God

Brahman is the Absolute in Vedanta philosophy. It means “the Immensity” or the “Expansiveness”. This Unitary Absolute splits into male and female — Nārāyaṇa and Lakṣmī for the process of manifestation of the universe. Hence Brahman is said to be “non-dual”.

Source: Institute of Sri Ramchandra Consciousness: A Handbook of Hindu Religion: Literature

Brahman (ब्रह्मन्) is that by knowing which everything is known and so the portion of the Veda which treats of Brahman is the most important portion. It is called the Vedānta or the Upaniṣad.

In Buddhism

General definition (in Buddhism)

Source: Buddhist Door: GlossaryThe highest of the Four Castes in ancient India at the time of Shakyamuni. They served Brahma, with offerings; the keepers of the Vedas, i.e. priestly caste. Name used in the present text for the priestly caste of Hindus.

India history and geogprahy

Source: Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: Indian Epigraphical Glossary

Brahman.—(IE 7-1-2), ‘nine’. Note: brahman is defined in the “Indian epigraphical glossary” as it can be found on ancient inscriptions commonly written in Sanskrit, Prakrit or Dravidian languages.

India history book cover
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The history of India traces the identification of countries, villages, towns and other regions of India, as well as royal dynasties, rulers, tribes, local festivities and traditions and regional languages. Ancient India enjoyed religious freedom and encourages the path of Dharma, a concept common to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.

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Languages of India and abroad

Sanskrit-English dictionary

Source: DDSA: The practical Sanskrit-English dictionary

Brahman (ब्रह्मन्).—n. [bṛṃh-manin nakārasyākāre ṛto ratvam; cf. Uṇ.4.145.]

1) The Supreme Being, regarded as impersonal and divested of all quality and action; (according to the Vedāntins, Brahman is both the efficient and the material cause of the visible universe, the all-pervading soul and spirit of the universe, the essence from which all created things are produced and into which they are absorbed; asti tāvannityaśuddhabuddhamuktasvabhāvaṃ sarvajñaṃ sarvaśaktisamanvitaṃ brahma Ś. B.); ... यत्प्रयन्त्यभिसंविशन्ति । तद् विजिज्ञा- सस्व । तद् ब्रह्मेति (yatprayantyabhisaṃviśanti | tad vijijñā- sasva | tad brahmeti) Tai. Up.3.1; समीभूता दृष्टिस्त्रिभुवनमपि ब्रह्म मनुते (samībhūtā dṛṣṭistribhuvanamapi brahma manute) Bh.3.84; Ku.3.15; दर्शनं तस्य लाभः स्यात् त्वं हि ब्रह्ममयो निधिः (darśanaṃ tasya lābhaḥ syāt tvaṃ hi brahmamayo nidhiḥ) Mb.

2) A hymn of praise.

3) A sacred text; मैवं स्याद् ब्रह्मविक्रिया (maivaṃ syād brahmavikriyā) Bhāg.9.1.17.

4) The Vedas; ब्रह्मणः प्रणवं कुर्यात् (brahmaṇaḥ praṇavaṃ kuryāt) Ms.2.74; यद् ब्रह्म सम्यगाम्नातम् (yad brahma samyagāmnātam) Ku.6.16; U.1.15; समस्तवदनोद्गीतब्रह्मणे ब्रह्मणे नमः (samastavadanodgītabrahmaṇe brahmaṇe namaḥ) Bm.1.1; Bg.3.15.

5) The sacred and mystic syllable om; एकाक्षरं परं ब्रह्म (ekākṣaraṃ paraṃ brahma) Ms.2.83.

6) The priestly of Brahmanical class (collectively); तदेतद् ब्रह्म क्षत्रं विट् शूद्रः (tadetad brahma kṣatraṃ viṭ śūdraḥ) Bṛ. Up.1.4.15; ब्रह्मैव संनियन्तृ स्यात् क्षत्रं हि ब्रह्मसंभवम् (brahmaiva saṃniyantṛ syāt kṣatraṃ hi brahmasaṃbhavam) Ms.9.32.

7) The power or energy of a Brāhmaṇa; पवनाग्निसमागमो ह्ययं सहितं ब्रह्म यदस्त्रतेजसा (pavanāgnisamāgamo hyayaṃ sahitaṃ brahma yadastratejasā) R.8.4.

8) Religious penance or austerities.

9) Celibacy, chastity; शाश्वते ब्रह्मणि वर्तते (śāśvate brahmaṇi vartate) Ś.1.

1) Final emancipation or beatitude.

11) Theology, sacred learning, religious knowledge.

12) The Brāhmaṇa portion of the Veda.

13) Wealth.

14) Food.

15) A Brāhmaṇa.

16) Truth.

17) The Brāhmaṇahood (brāhmaṇatva); येन विप्लावितं ब्रह्म वृषल्यां जायतात्मना (yena viplāvitaṃ brahma vṛṣalyāṃ jāyatātmanā) Bhāg.6.2.26.

18) The soul (ātmā); एतदेषां ब्रह्म (etadeṣāṃ brahma) Bṛ. Up.1.6.1-3.

19) See ब्रह्मास्त्र (brahmāstra). अब्राह्मणे न हि ब्रह्म ध्रुवं तिष्ठेत् कदाचन (abrāhmaṇe na hi brahma dhruvaṃ tiṣṭhet kadācana) Mb.12.3.31.

2) The गायत्री (gāyatrī) mantra; उभे सन्ध्ये च यतवाग्जपन् ब्रह्म समाहितः (ubhe sandhye ca yatavāgjapan brahma samāhitaḥ) Bhāg.7. 12.2. -m.

1) The Supreme Being, the Creator, the first deity of the sacred Hindu Trinity, to whom is entrusted the work of creating the world. [The accounts of the creation of the world differ in many respects; but, according to Manu Smṛti, the universe was enveloped in darkness, and the self-existent Lord manifested himself dispelling the gloom. He first created the waters and deposited in them a seed. This seed became a golden egg, in which he himself was born as Brahmā-the progenitor of all the worlds. Then the Lord divided the egg into two parts, with which he constructed heaven and earth. He then created the ten Prajāpatis or mind-born sons who completed the work of creation. According to another account (Rāmāyaṇa) Brahmā sprang from ether; from him was descended marīchi, and his son was Kaśyapa. From Kaśyapa sprang Vivasvata, and Manu sprang from him. Thus Manu was the procreator of all human beings. According to a third account, the Supreme deity, after dividing the golden egg, separated himself into two parts, male and female, from which sprang Virāj and from him Manu; cf. Ku.2.7. and Ms.1.32 et seq. Mythologically Brahman is represented as being born in a lotus which sprang from the navel of Viṣṇu, and as creating the world by an illicit connection with his own daughter Sarasvatī. Brahman had originally five heads, but one of them was cut down by Śiva with the ring-finger or burnt down by the fire from his third eye. His vehicle is a swan. He has numerous epithets, most of which have reference to his birth, in a lotus.]

2) A Brāhmaṇa; Ś.4.4.

3) A devout man.

4) One of the four Ritvijas or priests employed at a Soma sacrifice.

5) One conversant with sacred knowledge.

6) The sun.

7) Intellect.

8) An epithet of the seven Prajāpatis :-मरीचि, अत्रि, अङ्गिरस्, पुलस्त्य, पुलह, क्रतु (marīci, atri, aṅgiras, pulastya, pulaha, kratu) and वसिष्ठ (vasiṣṭha).

9) An epithet of Bṛhaspati; ब्रह्मन्नध्ययनस्य नैष समयस्तूष्णीं बहिः स्थीयताम् (brahmannadhyayanasya naiṣa samayastūṣṇīṃ bahiḥ sthīyatām) Hanumannāṭaka.

1) The planet Jupiter; ब्रह्मराशिं समावृत्य लोहिताङ्गो व्यवस्थितः (brahmarāśiṃ samāvṛtya lohitāṅgo vyavasthitaḥ) Mb. 3.6.18.

11) The world of Brahmā (brahmaloka); दमस्त्यागो- ऽप्रमादश्च ते त्रयो ब्रह्मणो हयाः (damastyāgo- 'pramādaśca te trayo brahmaṇo hayāḥ) Mb.11.7.23.

1) Of Śiva.

Source: Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: Edgerton Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary

Brahman (ब्रह्मन्).—(1) n. of two former Buddhas: Av i.69.5 ff.: Śikṣ 169.10; (2) n. of a nāga king: Māy 246.14.

Source: Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: Shabda-Sagara Sanskrit-English Dictionary

Brahman (ब्रह्मन्).—m.

(-hmā) 1. Brahma, the first deity of the Hindu triad, and the operative creator of the world. 2. A Brahman. 3. The superintending or presiding priest at the sacrifice. 4. One of the astronomical Yogas. 5. One of the principal servants of the Jinas. n. (-hma) 1. The divine cause and essence of the world, from which all created things are supposed to emanate and to which they return; the unknown God. 2. The practice of austere devotion. 3. The Vedas or scripture. 4. Holy knowledge. E. vṛh to increase, (mankind) aff. manin and the initial letter changed to ba .

context information

Sanskrit, also spelled संस्कृतम् (saṃskṛtam), is an ancient language of India commonly seen as the grandmother of the Indo-European language family. Closely allied with Prakrit and Pali, Sanskrit is more exhaustive in both grammar and terms and has the most extensive collection of literature in the world, greatly surpassing its sister-languages Greek and Latin.

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