In the previous article we learnt that the supreme God head of sanātana dharma is brahman who is represented by three aspects of Existence (satyam), Awareness (jñānam) and Perpetuity (anantam). Though we often refer to brahman as He and not she, the truth is that brahman is attributeless and therefore best called as brahman. The function of God as – Generator, Organiser and Destroyer is performed by brahman and is known as sṛṣṭi (Creation), sthiti (Sustenance) and laya (Dissolution). This is cyclic and perpetual.

The idea of brahman creating, sustaining and dissolving the various aspects of this ever-changing universe is quite understandable, considering that brahman is the supreme god head of sanātana dharma. However, the question remains as to who created brahman? How did brahman come into existence? And if brahman is without name and forms, then what about various male gods and female goddesses and even stranger – ‘half animal-half human bodied gods?’ Let’s dwell upon these aspects.

Since perpetuity is brahman’s nature, there is no beginning and end to brahman. brahman was, is and will be, is the basic premise on which this idea rests. Therefore, brahman never came into existence on a particular date or time, but brahman is an eternal and intelligent existence. However, for us as humans bound by space, time and situations, it is almost impossible to imagine an existence beyond space, time and situations. Well not really, let’s take the case of a dream. It comes into existence without the rules of space and time and even causation. We dream of things which don’t even exist in the waking world, the concept of time vanishes and the place and situations too are beyond rationale. Like someone flying in the sky and travelling to unknown places at great speed, meeting never-seen-before people and so on. All these strange things can happen in a dream but in physical reality while being awake, these are impossible. Yet the dream feels so real, until one wakes up.

The scriptures like muṇḍakopaniṣad describe this idea by the example of a spider ‘ūrṇanābhi’ (the one with threads in the stomach), which brings out the web from within its stomach, lives in it and ultimately swallows it back.

Extrapolate this idea to brahman as the dreamer who is beyond the bounds of space, time and situations of the dream. Just as the dream emerged out of the dreamer, is being experienced by the dreamer and would end when the dreamer wakes up, so also the whole universe emerges out of brahman, is sustained by brahman and ultimately is dissolved by brahman who is beyond the universe and the bounds of time, space and situations. And another important point to note is that just as in the dream one builds a house and even stays in that dream house, without having deployed an architect, building material or any other efforts to construct, similarly the world is considered as created by brahman without deploying anything outside of brahman.

Scriptures like muṇḍakopaniṣad describe this idea by the example of a spider ‘ūrṇanābhi’ (the one with threads in the stomach), which brings out the web from within its stomach, lives in it and ultimately swallows it back. The creation, sustenance and dissolution may seem to be as simple as that for brahman. And brahman needs no assistance just like the spider! brahman is self-sufficient.

Take another example, that of a potter and a pot. For the clay pot to come into existence three are needed, namely, the maker or potter, the material or clay, and the instrument or potter’s wheel, but in the case of brahman and the creation, brahman is the potter, the clay, and the wheel too; this is the basic principle of God and creation in sanātana dharma.

This idea may take time to understand but there is a three-step process described in our scriptures – śravaṇa, manana and nididhyāsana– which is to listen, contemplate and assimilate. So, deploy this technique and try to understand the idea of this self-made God, and the creation which is all the universe, within and without us. As you chew more on this sugarcane of the idea, you will experience more sweet juice of the truth therein.

Going by the idea that, the maker, the material and the instrument, all are brahman only, sanātana dharma considers everything as divine or brahman. īśāvāsyopaniṣad says, ‘īśā vāsyamidaṁ sarvaṁ yatkiñca jagatyāṁ jagat, all that is seen in this world, animate and inanimate is verily divine. In the very first article we had learnt about the principle of ‘sarvaṁ khalvidaṁ brahma’, all this is Divine, a proclamation from chāndogyopaniṣad, which also echos the same idea. Therefore, one may observe that followers of sanātana dharma worship even inanimate objects like trees, rivers and mountains as they visualise the presence of divinity in all being. Isn’t it wonderful!

Going by the idea that, the maker, the material and the instrument, all are brahman only, so sanātana dharma considers everything as divine or brahman. īśopaniṣad says ‘īśā vāsyamidaṃ sarvaṃ yatkiñca jagatyāṃ jagat’, all that is seen in this world, animate and inanimate is verily divine.

So, it’s no surprise that same brahman which is nameless and formless may choose to take a name and a form, and manifest as a male God, a female Goddess or even the stranger kinds. When brahman manifests in a physical form and displays certain superpowers, such manifestations are called ‘avatāras’ or incarnations. The scriptures call these also as brahman but with attributes or guṇas, and therefore the term saguṇa brahma, whereas in the attributeless state of existence, the same brahman is called as nirguṇa brahma.

These manifestations happen time and again for special reasons and the most important of them all is to establish dharma or righteousness. dharmasaṁsthāpanārthāya saṁbhavāmi yuge yuge – Sri Krishna declares in bhagavadgītā during His sermon on the battlefield to his warrior disciple friend Arjuna. This idea of establishment of dharma is often mistaken as simply punishing the wicked and protecting the virtuous. However, it is much beyond that. Punishing the evil doers may be one of the ways to set things right in the society and maintain law and order, just as a police does. But the deeper meaning of it is to transform humanity into a better race which follows the dictates of inner conscience, that always guides one on the right and virtuous path, avoiding the pitfalls of a sinful life.

One may ask, if brahman is all that which exists, and considering that brahman is the most noble and pure, how is that the creation of brahman, especially the human race is full of faults and frailties! How is such imperfect creation come into existence out of the pure supreme divinity that brahman is, so much so that the same brahman has to manifest as avatāras, time and again, to set things right!

We shall discuss this in the next article.

When brahman manifests in a physical form, such manifestations are called ‘avatāras'

परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् ।
धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥

paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṁ vināśhāya cha duṣhkṛitām
dharmasaṁsthāpanārthāya saṁbhavāmi yuge yuge

In every age, I manifest Myself for the protection of the pious, the destruction of evil and for establishing dharma.

भगवद्गीता bhagavadgītā, 4.8

saguṇa brahma

brahman but with attributes or guṇas

nirguṇa brahma

the attributeless state of existence (brahman)