The concept of Brahman is one of the most important in Hindu philosophy and, although it can be a bit complex to explain and understand, in this article we will try to approach it in the simplest possible way.
Imagine an infinite and eternal ocean. Everything that exists, what has existed and what will exist is in that ocean. The waves, the drops, the currents, everything is part of the ocean itself and cannot exist without it. In the same way, in Hinduism, Brahman is that infinite ocean and everything that exists in the universe is part of it.
Brahman is the ultimate reality, the eternal and unchanging principle behind all that exists. It is the origin and the end of everything. It is formless, infinite, immortal and immutable. It is the very essence of existence.
Within this concept, everything in the universe, from a mountain to a butterfly to a human being, is believed to be a manifestation of Brahman. Everything is connected by that divine and ultimate essence. There is no separation between you, me and nature, we are all reflections of the same reality.
The Atman and Brahman
A related idea is the Atman, which can be understood as the individual soul or spirit. According to Hindu philosophy, every being has an Atman. But here comes the interesting part: the Atman and Brahman are essentially the same. Your individual soul is simply an expression or reflection of the universal soul, Brahman.
Imagine that the vast ocean is Brahman and every drop of that ocean is an Atman. Although each drop appears separate, in reality, they all come from the same ocean and are essentially water. Similarly, each being, though appearing separate, is in essence Brahman.
Many spiritual practices and teachings in India are focused on understanding and experiencing this connection between Atman and Brahman.
Brahman and the gods
It is possible to ask, if Brahman is the ultimate reality, where do the gods and goddesses of Hinduism fit in? In Hinduism, there are innumerable deities, each with their own stories, personalities and powers. However, all these deities are seen as manifestations or expressions of Brahman. They are ways through which human beings can connect to and understand the vast reality of Brahman.
For example, if Brahman is like a huge diamond with many faces, each god or goddess would be like one of those faces. Worshipping one of them is a way to connect with that larger reality.
The importance of the Brahman concept
Recognizing and understanding Brahman is not only essential from a spiritual perspective, but also to become aware that we are part of a greater whole, a truth that challenges the illusion that we are separate from the world around us.
Our misperception often leads us to feel like isolated individuals, like entities separate from the outside world and from others. We live in bubbles, constructed by our own experiences, beliefs and perceptions. But the idea of Brahman challenges this notion. To recognize Brahman is to become aware not only that we are connected to each other, but also to the universe as a whole.
This deep understanding has the power to radically change how we interact with the world. When we realize that every person, animal, plant and even the very air we breathe are manifestations of Brahman, we realize that to harm another or the environment is, in essence, to harm ourselves.
One of the main obstacles to recognizing our oneness with all that exists is the ego. It keeps us trapped in a constant cycle of desire, attachment and self-affirmation. It pushes us to compete rather than collaborate, to accumulate rather than share, and to elevate ourselves at the expense of others.
By understanding Brahman, we begin to see beyond this ego illusion. We recognize that our individual aspirations and concerns, though important, are ephemeral in comparison to the vastness and eternity of Brahman. This perspective can free us from the self-imposed limitations of the ego and enable us to live in a more authentic and compassionate way.
A path to inner peace
When we constantly see ourselves as separate individuals, we struggle to find our place in the world. This search often leads to anxiety, dissatisfaction and conflict. But by recognizing Brahman and our inherent connection to all that exists, we find an undeniable sense of belonging. There is no need to fight for a place in the world when we understand that the world and we are one.
This understanding can be a source of deep peace and serenity, knowing that we are intrinsically part of something greater and that we are not alone in our journeys through life.
Experiencing reality in its essence leads naturally to an attitude of compassion and empathy. If everything is an extension of the same ultimate reality, then another’s suffering is our own suffering, and their joy is our joy. This perspective can inspire us to act with greater kindness and consideration toward others and the world at large.