The word brahman has a few different meanings or usages. Brahman means spirit – throughout the Vedic yoga scriptures there is often found a verse: aham brahmasmi, which means I am spirit. Aham means “I am” and brahmasmi means “spirit.” So, we are all spirit souls, eternal spiritual beings. And one who understands that he is a spirit soul and dedicates his life to teaching this truth is called a brahmana. When we speak of the Supreme Brahman, we are referring to an aspect of God – His dazzling bodily rays. All people have an aura or bodily effulgence which can sometimes be seen by certain people. A saintly person’s aura is very bright and clear, and this is sometimes portrayed in art as a “halo.”
The Supreme Person, Krishna, has an aura or halo which is so vast and limitless that it surrounds the entire spiritual world. It is sometimes called the ocean of light, and some yogis who are not aware of God’s personality and personal form, see the goal of life as merging into this ocean of light. But a devotee of God, one who wants to know and love the Supreme Person, is not very interested in this impersonal aspect of God. They think it is amazing because it springs from Krishna, but they don’t want to go there because when one is merged in the ocean of light they cannot know or remember Krishna. Therefore, devotees sometimes pray to the Lord to remove this dazzling effulgence so that they can see Krishna’s beautiful personal form:
O my Lord, O primeval philosopher, maintainer of the universe, O regulating principle, destination of the pure devotees, well-wisher of the progenitors of mankind – please remove the effulgence of Your transcendental rays so that I can see Your form of bliss. You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, like unto the sun (luminous), as am I.
[Sri Isopanisad mantra 16]
In the Vedic yoga texts, the Absolute Truth, or God, is described as having three distinct features, which may be realised by transcendentalists with different degrees of spiritual realisation:
Those who are actually knowers of the Absolute Truth know that the [Supreme] Self is realised in three different phases as Brahman, Paramatma and Bhagavan.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 1:2:11]
What the Upanishads describe as the impersonal Brahman is but the effulgence of His body, and the Lord known as the Supersoul is but His localised plenary portion. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna Himself, full with six opulences. He is the Absolute Truth, and no other truth is greater than or equal to Him.
[Caitanya-caritamrta Adi 1:4]
In the above picture, the impersonalist yogi on the left is meditating in the attempt to merge with Krishna’s bodily effulgence. The yogi on the right is meditating on the Paramatma or Lord in the heart. And above them is the Supreme Person, who is the source of Brahman and Paramatma, and who enjoys loving pastimes in His spiritual abode. So, the Vedic yoga texts describe the Absolute Truth, or God, as having these three distinct features, which may be realized by transcendentalists with different degrees of spiritual realization. The six opulences of the Supreme Person are all knowledge, all beauty, all strength, all wealth, all fame and all renunciation. People in this world are attractive to us because they may have some beauty, some wealth, some fame, some knowledge, some strength or some renunciation or humility. It is these qualities which make a person attractive. But only God, has all of these qualities in perfect fullness. Therefore, He is called Krishna, which means The All-attractive One. The greatest transcendentalists know all three features of the Absolute Truth, but their attraction and love is for Lord Krishna’s personal feature, for He is the reservoir of all attractive qualities.
Brahman refers to the impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth, the effulgent light rays or aura emanating from the body of the Supreme Person. Sometimes we may hear people talking of the aura or subtle glowing effulgence or halo that some people see emanating from other people. And though we do not place importance on seeing people’s auras, everyone has an aura. But God’s aura is a vast and limitless ocean of spiritual light, a dazzling effulgence.
This divine effulgence is also known as the ocean of light; nirvana; the void; the clear light etc. When a yogi is successful in kundalini yoga, he may temporarily merge into the Brahman effulgence and lose all awareness of his individuality and personality, experiencing only “oneness.” Such a person, if he comes back down to the material world, may wrongly conclude that he is “God descended.”
Many yogis, swamis and yoga teachers are saying that we are all God. They have an incomplete understanding of the Absolute Truth, and believe that God is an impersonal force. They have some understanding of the difference between material energy and spiritual energy: they understand that the living entities in the material world are limited, inhabiting temporary material forms which are subject to various miseries. They therefore surmise that God, who is transcendental to the material universes and unlimited, cannot have a form. And so they wrongly conclude that He is impersonal, lacking in qualities and attributes.
Such impersonalists say God is pure undifferentiated spiritual consciousness, without material or spiritual form. They say that “the formless spirit” takes shape as the many forms of the material world. Their conclusion is that each of us is a form of God – we are all God in His differentiated formed condition. This erroneous conclusion is called “I am God” philosophy. The Vedic scriptures describe God as being simultaneously impersonal and personal. But His impersonal feature is always subordinate to and springing from His personal form. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita:
And I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness, and which is immortal, imperishable and eternal.
That the impersonal formless Brahman effulgence springs from the transcendental form of Krishna, the Supreme Person, is stated repeatedly throughout the Vedic scriptures.
I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord Whose transcendental bodily effulgence is known as the impersonal Brahman, which is unlimited, unfathomed and all-pervasive.
[Brahma samhita 5:14]
In the Upanishads it is said:
O my Lord, sustainer of all that lives, Your real face is covered by Your dazzling effulgence. Please remove that covering and exhibit Yourself to Your pure devotee.
[Sri Isopanisad mantra15]
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur has said of the impersonal Brahman:
The impersonal Brahman is Lord Krishna’s bodily effulgence. As fireflies seem brilliant when the sun does not shine, so the impersonal Brahman is glorious only when Lord Krishna’s form remains unseen.
Paramatma refers to the localised aspect of the Supreme Lord, dwelling within the heart of all living entities and within every atom. Lord Paramatma is also known as the Supersoul or the Lord in the Heart. How does God show us what is true and pleasing to Him, what is His will? This gift of transcendental knowledge comes through both scripture and the great saintly teachers. And for the sincere seeker, the Supreme Spirit confirms the truth by His partial expansion, transcendentally situated within the heart of all living creatures. In the Bhagavad-gita and the Holy Bible, the Supreme Person describes His presence within the heart of all living entities as the Supersoul or the Holy Spirit.
I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness.
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
[1 Corinthians 6:19]
In Christianity, the Lord in the Heart is also referred to as the “still small voice” of God within, the Holy Ghost and “the Comforter.”
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
Of course, we should not make the mistake of thinking that because the Supreme Spirit lives within us, that we are God. The Bhagavad-gita and great saintly teachers make it very clear that the individual soul and the Supersoul both dwell within the region of the heart:
The living entity in material nature thus follows the ways of life, enjoying the three modes of nature. … Yet in this body there is another, a transcendental enjoyer who is the Lord, the supreme proprietor, who exists as the overseer and permitter, and who is known as the Supersoul.
One who sees the Supersoul accompanying the individual soul in all bodies and who understands that neither the soul nor the Supersoul is ever destroyed, actually sees.
The great sage Narada Muni describes seeing the Lord in the heart to Vyasadeva, the author of the Vedic scriptures, as recorded in the Srimad Bhagavatam:
As soon as I began to meditate upon the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead with my mind transformed with transcendental love, tears rolled down my eyes, and without delay the Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, appeared on the lotus of my heart. O Vyasadeva, at that time, being exceedingly overpowered by feelings of happiness, every part of my body became separately enlivened. Being absorbed in an ocean of ecstasy, I could not see both myself and the Lord.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 1:6:16-17]
Bhagavan is a name for the Supreme Person. Bhagavan means the possessor of all opulences: all wealth, all strength, all fame, all beauty, all knowledge and all renunciation. Krishna is described in the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad Bhagavatam and throughout the Vedic literatures as Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is clearly described that He possesses an eternal transcendental form and is always a person.
One should meditate upon the Supreme Person as the one who knows everything, as He who is the oldest, who is the controller, who is smaller than the smallest, who is the maintainer of everything, who is beyond all material conception, who is inconceivable and who is always a person. He is luminous like the sun and, being transcendental, is beyond this material nature.
My transcendental body (sac-cid-ananda vigraha) looks exactly like a human form, but it is not a material human body. It is inconceivable. I am not forced by nature to accept a particular type of body; I take on a body by My own sweet will. My heart is also spiritual, and I always think of the welfare of My devotees. …
[Srimad Bhagavatam 5:5:19]
In the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament, we get a description of the beauty of God’s form, with His skin described as being “a work of ivory covered with sapphires” – his form is described as being bluish like sapphires:
Let Him kiss me with kisses of His mouth! More delightful is Your love than wine. Bring me, O King, to Your chambers. O My Lover, here He comes across the mountains, across the hills. My lover is radiant and ruddy; He stands out among thousands. His head is golden, His locks are like palm fronds, black as a raven. His eyes are like doves beside running waters. His teeth would seem bathed in milk, and are set like jewels. His lips are red blossoms. His arms are rods of gold adorned with chrysolites. His body is a work of ivory covered with sapphires. His legs are columns of marble. His mouth is all sweetness itself; He is all delight. Such is My Lover, and such is My Friend.
[Old Testament: Song of Solomon]
Prayers of Lord Brahma
I worship Govinda, the Primeval Lord, Who is adept in playing on His flute, with blooming eyes like lotus petals, with head bedecked with peacock’s feather, with the figure of beauty tinged with the hue of blue clouds, and His unique loveliness charming millions of cupids.
I worship Govinda, the Primeval Lord, round Whose neck is swinging a garland of flowers, beautified by the moon locket; Whose two hands are adorned with the flute and jewelled ornaments, Who always revels in pastimes of love. His graceful three-fold-bending form of Shyamasundara is eternally manifest.
I worship Govinda the Primeval Lord, Whose transcendental form is full of bliss, truth and substantiality and is thus full of the most dazzling splendour. Each of the limbs of that transcendental figure possess in Himself the full-fledged functions of all the organs and eternally sees, maintains and manifests the infinite universes, both spiritual and mundane.
I worship Govinda, the Primeval Lord, Who is the original person – absolute, infallible, without beginning, although expanded into unlimited forms, still the same original, the oldest, and the person always appearing as a fresh youth. Such eternal, blissful, all-knowing forms of the Lord are usually understood by the best Vedic scholars, but they are always manifest to pure unalloyed devotees.
[Brahma Samhita 5:30-33]