What is Brahman? How Can Formless Consciousness Be Known? (109)


Lesson 109 gives definitions of technical words revealing nature of Brahman (formless consciousness). Sessions is specifically about jnana-yoga.

Source: Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12, Verse 3, 4.


  • Title of CH12 is Bhakti-Yoga (Topic of Devotion).
    • What is devotion?
      • Mayi Āveśya Manaḥ (12.2):
        • Mind focused on/in Me. Not 99%, but every inhale/exhale is a reminder of purpose of being born.
        • EG: Water’s dharma is to remain horizontal. Any disturbance, causes water to seek it’s level.
        • Proportion to which we are NOT seeking level of dharma, is proportion of likes/dislikes overshadowing. Thus mind wonders/hankers in worldly affairs.
          • How to manage likes/dislikes? Take time to look into the nature of the object/experience. Realize whatever happiness it gives you, is not in object, but comes from yourself.
            • And to know the nature of self (atma), is to discover the inexhaustible source of fulfillment.
      • Parayā Śraddhayā (12.2):
        • Unflinching faith in authority of śruti pramāṇam, ācāryaḥ, your capacity to succeed.
        • Story of Ganesha was seen in last session.
  • In CH12, Arjuna asks which is most superior (efficient/effective) for attaining the ultimate goal: saguna or nirguna bhakti.
    • Saguna-bhakti: Mind / senses hold onto Īśvara with form/qualities, using methods as: Remembrance, meditation, service, rituals.
      • All methods produce punya-karma, which makes Bhagavan’s orders obligated to pull the devotee out of ocean of samsara. (12.7).
        • EG 1: In Bhāgavatam, Krishna responded to Rukmiṇi’s frantic call, to save her from marrying cruel Śiśupāla. He came by Himself, taking her away just in time.
        • EG 2: Gajendra (elephant king) was caught in jaws of crocodile (attachment). He prayed for help to be pulled out of the river (of samsara). When Lord appeared, Gajendra asked to be released from grip of māyā. This is shining example of a  jijñāsu / niṣkāma-bhakta (both mean: one lives for sake of knowing God, despite attending to house hold duties)
    • Nirguṇa-bhakti: Relates to infinite Īśvara as one’s own Self, while honouring relative limitations.
  • Krishna answered, there’s no choice between the two paths. Must go through them both in grading.
    • EG: School prepares/qualifies mind for university.
  • In Verse 3-5, Krishna starts with the highest sadhana; Jnana-Yoga.
    • It involves:
      • Śravaṇam: gaining knowledge in a systematic fashion through pramāṇa of śāstra/ācāryaḥ.
      • Mananam: Converting knowledge to conviction (aparokṣa-jñānam), by addressing each thought lacking 100% confidence. Cultivates unshakable confidence in the knowledge.
      • Nididhyāsanam: Continuing to address relative self, so that jñānam shines in all it’s glory.
        • Polishing the mirror reflecting the light of ātmā (consciousness).
  • Since jnana-yoga is also a bhakti worship, it too involves offering something. Offering what? Your ignorance into fire of self-knowledge.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12, Verse 3 & 4 (Combined):

ye tu akṣaram anirdeśyam avyaktam paryupāsate ।
sarvatragam acintyam ca kūṭastham acalam dhruvam || 12. 3

sanniyamya indriya-grāmam sarvatra sama-buddhayaḥ ।
te prāpnuvanti mām eva sarva-bhūta-hite ratāḥ ॥ 12.4

(VERSE 4) Having restrained the sense organs, being even-minded towards all, and being interested in the welfare of all beings — (VERSE 3) some (devotees) meditate upon the imperishable (Brahman) which is indefinable, unmanifest, all-pervading, incomprehensible, immutable, immovable, and eternal. They attain Me alone.

  • Krishna says, the others (nirguna-bhakta’s) follow jnana-yoga, contemplating on nirguna-brahman, by process of shravana, manana, nididhyasana.
  • Then Krishna describes Brahman using technical words..
    • Avyakta:
      • Not perceptible to any of the 5 sense organs, nor the mind.
      • EG:
        • GROSS: Our 5 senses individually perceive: sound, sight, taste, touch, smell.
        • SUBTLE: And mind perceives memories, pain, pleasure, emotions (closeness, injustice), thoughts, intuition.
        • Both cases are perceptible (pin-point-able). Not so with Avyakta. Can’t be turned into an individual object of knowledge.
    • Acintayam:
      • Brahman can’t be conceived by thought, because it can’t be made into an object within the mind.
      • Rather Brahman (I AM) is the content of every thought. Just as Gold is the content of every ornament.
        • In the same way, in the presence of I AM, the mind can conceive thoughts.
      • If it can’t be thought of, then how am I supposed to know Brahman?
        • As self-evident existence (I AM, the one who is never not present to my life).
          • Meaning your existence alone needs NO proof. While every other object needs to become evident to you, for it’s existence to be proven.
          • Suppose you do need proof that you exist? Then to whom will the proof be offered? Who can be more authority of your existence then yourself.
        • This means, Brahman is not an object to be thought-of, but understood as the very Subject (who is being mistaken for something else).
      • SUMMARY: Even though Brahman (Consciousness) can’t be conceived by thought, only thought (opposed to ignorance) has power to reveal Brahman. Thus we have śravaṇam (listening to words which produce ignorance-opposing thoughts).
        • Brahman can’t remove ignorance, else it would’ve done it by now, since it’s eternal.
    • Anirdeśyam:
      • Not directly describable by words because Brahman is the very nature of all experiences and objects, including “I” right now.
        • Then how do the scriptures reveal, since they are words? By implied meaning.
          • EG: You need to make more space in the garage. Can you put this suncream on my back?
          • EG 2: tat tvam asi: You are That.
            • Direct: I am “That” which is being talked about.
            • Implied: I am “That” because of which I’m capable of listening now.
      • What does this mean in reference to “I” (wishing to know myself as Final Reality)?
        • It means, because Brahman is everything (in past, present and future), the “I” in stage of ignorance, HAS to be the same “I” in stage of moksha.
          • Therefore the very “I” that is obtaining now, HAS to be owned up to as Final Reality.
          • If don’t understand this, then will try to experience higher states (thinking they are more Brahman-worthy).
    • Akṣaram:
      • Never undergoes any changes in quality/quantity.
    • Acalam:
      • Brahman doesn’t move because it is already all-pervading/everywhere. Only a limited form needs to move from place A to place B.
    • Sarvatrāgam:
      • Like Space, Final Reality is all-pervading. Obtains everywhere.
        • OBJECTION: If Brahman is everywhere all-the-time, then how do we explains the presence of objects which come-and-go? Mithya.
      • Notice how this is different from Lord we invoke through puja, prayer, meditation… subject to arrival-departure.
    • Kūtastham: (Nirvikaram)
      • 2 Meanings:
        • Free from modifications.
          • EG: All objects go through 6 fold-modification process:
            • Existence, birth, growth, change, decay, death.
          • Logical flaw of Final Reality being subject to change:
            • If Brahman changed from Birth to Growth, then what would accommodate Growth?
        • Anvil used by blacksmith.
          • Anvil is support onto which blacksmith strikes hot iron and sculpts it. Anvil underneath supports all the powerful strikes, remaining changeless.
          • In same way, for any change to take place… there must be a changeless substratum.
            • EG 1: Person observes own body-mind/family/world going through changes. Something must survive all changes to confidently say “Things are changing”.
            • EG 2: Suppose employer says morning employees are different from evening employees. Only possible because the SAME employer remained. If employer was different, then couldn’t make that observation.
          • Hence, the changeless illuminating witness is compared to kūṭastha.
  • SUMMARY SO FAR: Brahman is Imperceptible, inconceivable, indescribable. Because only within time, one can say perceptible, conceivable, describable (now it’s here, now it’s not).
  • QUESTION: Then how can one meditate upon an Imperceptible, inconceivable, indescribable Reality?
    • Krishna states, one needs a prepared mind.
    • What is a prepared mind? Answered in Verse 4…

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12, Verse 4:

  • QUALIFICATION 1: sanniyamya indriya-grāmam (dama)
    • Discipline of what information enters the 5 senses. And discipline the 5 organs of action.
    • Because 5 senses contribute to noise-ness of mind.
  • QUALIFICATION 2: sarvatra sama-buddhayaḥ (śama)
    • Mastery over emotions and patterns of thinking.
      • EG: Cultivating positive values, simple life, equanimity towards all beings.
    • Maintain composure in all situations.
    • Don’t get too carried away with pleasant/unpleasant news. Because leaves trails.
  • QUALIFICATION 3: sarva-bhūta-hite ratāḥ
    • Committed to well being of all creatures. Interest in advertising harmony in your environment. Mind becomes sensitive to others difficulties/pleasures.
    • Reason for prayer “sarve-bhavantu sukinaḥ”.
    • Result: Expands/refines the mind.
  • What is benefit of having 3 qualifications, which pave way for jnana-yoga? te prāpnuvanti mām eva, such devotees surely attain Me (moksha).


Keywords: bhagavatam, jijnasu, jnanam, kutashta, maya, nirguna, nishkama-bhakta, niskama-bhakta, pramana, sama, sastra, shama, shastra, shishupala, shradda, shraddha, shruti, sisupala, sravana, sruti

Credit for help in Bhagavad Gita teaching given to Swami Dayananda (Arsha Vidya), Paramarthananda & Chinmaya Mission.

Recorded 19 Jan, 2021



  1. “ as though Isvara is always watching “.
    This makes us more mindful of our actions, as in the example of the web cam and driving.
    Is this not very similar to the Christian concept of being judged by God?
    If we adjust our actions through fear of the karma they will produce as all of our actions are known, isn’t this also analogous to ‘investing’ in our future rather than selfless pursuit of dharma?
    Where is the ‘peace of God that surpasses all understanding’ if we continually feel we have to adjust our actions through the fear of being monitored?
    I have been asking myself these questions for a long time, since well before coming to Vedanta and it brings an emotional response of rebellion in me that I am giving over my responsibility to a higher order that is outside myself.
    Help needed!?

    1. ======================
      “Where is the ‘peace of God that surpasses all understanding’ if we continually feel we have to adjust our actions through the fear of being monitored?”

      It’s one of the ways. Not the only.

      EG, Business management in recent times underwent through 3 stages to motivate employees (to follow the rules):

      1. Boss Is Authority > Tells employees authoritatively what they should do.

      2. Carrot > stick approach. (Fear/Pleasure)
      Under-performers suffers. Achievers gain most benefits.

      3. Motivating people / empowering people.
      People need to feel valued/respected to give their best.

      Is this not very similar to the Christian concept of being judged by God?

      This depends if person sees God as external to me. Or God means “self”.

      EG: If I lie, who experiences guilt in future? I do.

      Thus by “watching”, we mean: One is keeping in mind cause-effect relationship and discerning consequences of actions using their viveka.

        1. The “watching” reminds me of a metaphor of two birds that is found in ṛgveda and a few other Upanishads.

          dvā suparṇā sayujā sakhāyā samānaṃ vṛkṣam pariṣasvajāte
          tayōranyaḥ pippalaṃ svādvattyanaśnannanyō abhicākaśīti

          Two glorious birds together and intimate reside on the same tree.
          Among them, one tastes the fruits; The other looks on (or shines without eating).

          I have read a few interpretations of this. I am not well read enough to explain myself with proper technical terms. So I will leave it to you to explore 🙂

          But what I find interesting is the concept of watching. With the Christian concept, there is judgement. Does īśvara judge according to gīta? With the watching bird, I dont sense a judgement. More like, the bird eating the fruit just has to stop playing with sensory fruit, and just look up, and the two birds dissolve into one!

          1. Relevant example to further elaborate. The wise bird was watching the other through the eyes of wisdom.

            But also is cable of watching it’s own perceptions towards the other bird.

            Thus “watching” is two-way. (1) What is being perceived (2) The narrative my mind is having about what is being perceived.

            If we take #2 out, then it becomes judging the other based on personal biases.

  2. “ the source of happiness is you, Atma..”
    I understand the need to look inside rather than out towards the world of objects for happiness.
    Where my confusion exists is in this:
    If Atma is without qualities, how can it be the source of happiness?

    This lack of understanding is why moksha looks like a particularly unexciting and uneventful state.
    If ‘I never change’ , then how will I not eventually get bored with my condition?
    It seems almost embarrassing to ask these kindergarten level questions, but these are things that Robert’s mind thinks.

    1. ======================
      If Atma is without qualities, how can it be the source of happiness?

      Atma is without qualities. But what is nature of atma? Ananda.

      That’s why one needs to keep in mind, atma isn’t just consciousness. That’s unexciting.

      The very nature of this consciousness is limitless happiness.

      However from standpoint of a pure mind, this limitless happiness expresses as limited happiness.

      But it’s still happiness nevertheless.

      Therefore whatever happiness you ever enjoyed in life, that was only a glimpse of your nature (ananda).


      Also, we need to define what “happiness” means. Else mind associates it to emotion. Yes it is also a gross biological emotion, but so much more.

      Happiness means, I am whole, complete, full. I lack nothing. I don’t want things to be different.

      It’s a very different kind of happiness then food/partner/money/lifestyle happiness.

      SUMMARY: It’s not only based on emotion (gross manifestation of ananda). But mostly mind being deeply and firmly rooted in self-knowledge.

      How is Krishna so generally cheerful throughout Mahabharata? Established firmly in self. Perfect example of “happiness”.

      We don’t mean “clown happy” with a big smile, disconnected from environment.

      Any question is welcome Robert. They’re neither basic nor advanced. Just a question.

      1. Also explained Happiness in latest article where student objects, “Your explanations do not address the question of happiness, the eternal bliss we seek”.

        1. Hi Andre.
          I hadn’t made the distinction between the nature of a thing and having qualities.
          It is matter of semantics and despite the way this term is used in a derogatory way these days it is actually essential to understanding.
          It is clear to me now that sat chit ananda is the nature of Atma and that it is not only pure consciousness.
          You have been saying it all along but for some reason my mind wasn’t clear.
          This helps a lot with my desire for moksha.

  3. Hey Andre,
    after the continuous study of sruti, it seems obvious that I am Brahman and so is everything, whether the mind “gets this” or not.

    Thus, it’s quite clear to me that I can’t be all the changing, experienced mithya objects, including the mind writing this, but I do still sometimes find myself chasing pleasurable experiences and reacting emotionally to “negative” experiences.

    But does this mean the adrsta-phalam of moksha already is sure to be received (rebirth won’t happen), and now it’s just a process of continued sravanam, mananam and nidhydhiasanam to “polish” the mind for the rest of this B-M-I’s life, so I can enjoy the drsta-phalam of a mind clearly reflecting the Self in this life?

    Thank you!

    1. ==========
      I do still sometimes find myself chasing pleasurable experiences and reacting emotionally to “negative” experiences.

      To rephrase…

      Even if the Felix-buddhi somewhat understands nature of “I” is unchanging… that very SAME buddhi still continues receiving old Felix-samskaras.

      One samskara for woman.
      Another for food.
      Another for computer games.

      Those old Felix-samskaras will still manifest in the Felix-buddhi (which has somewhat understood nature of Self) in thought-form as “I desire ___”.

      Only difference is the need to PHYSICALLY ACT upon those desires will be significantly reduced and their duration, in the mind, is short-lived.

      So moksha (no rebirth) means there’s a genuine and immediate change of relationship towards desires arising in mind right now. And this is even before one continues nididhyasanam.

      Until buddhi comes to this immediate perspective and relationship change (owing to change of identity) towards body-mind’s desires and world; sincerely continue sravanam/mananam/nididhyasanam.

      As for concern of birth/rebirth; that question will end upon moksha. Because both have nothing to do with Self right now.

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