Skip to main content


From the Sanskrit root bṛh, which means “expand,” “increase,” or “grow.” In the principal Upaniṣads, brahman is the term used to refer to the ultimate reality of the universe. The concept appears first in the Vedas in which it seems to mean “swelling of the spirit or soul,” “pious utterance,” or “outpouring of the heart in worshiping the gods.” It also was applied to one of the four principal priests at Vedic sacrificial rites (the others being the Hotṛ, Adhvaryu, and Udgītṛ). The brahman was the one who was supposed to be the most learned and who supervised the others. He was especially connected with the Atharva Veda. Later, the possessive of brahman, i.e., brāhmaṇa, was used to refer to someone who, presumably, possessed this “swelling of the soul.” Then it was applied to liturgical appendages to the Vedic hymns, called collectively Brāhmaṇas. It then became applied to the entire priestly class, now usually written brahmin to distinguish it from other uses of the term.

Its metaphysical, not sociological, use is the one found in theosophical literature, though that usage differs somewhat from the usages found in Hinduism. The principal Upaniṣads make a distinction between a “higher” Brahman or Parabrahman which is devoid of any attributes or qualities (nirguṇa), even consciousness, and a “lower” Brahman or aparabrahman which is endowed with qualities (saguṇa), such as consciousness, creativity, etc. Sometimes this “lower” Brahman is identified with God or Īśvara, who is defined in Advaita Vedānta philosophy as Brahman plus MĀYĀ. Of course, these “two Brahmans” are just the same Reality perceived from two different points of view: the transcendental (paramārtika) and the phenomenal or worldly (vyavahārika), the latter of which — our ordinary conceptual view — is dominated by illusion or māyā. In The Secret Doctrine, however, the term Brahman is used for the Primordial Reality or “Be-ness” when it is in relation to Being, the “unchanging, pure, free, undecaying supreme Root,” or “true Existence” (that which “stands forth” or ex-ists), “the absolute . . . consciousness” (SDI:6). It is still noumenal, but not quite as abstract as is Parabrahman. It, in turn, manifests as the creative God BRAHMĀ. Note the linguistic relation between these three terms — Parabrahman, Brahman, and Brahmā — which is intended to show that there is a profound metaphysical association between them.




© Copyright by the Theosophical Publishing House, Manila