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Originally meaning "sacred utterance," Brahman came to signify the "sacred power" believed to reside in the ancient Vedic sacrifice in Hinduism, and then by a natural transition of thought the sacred power that sustains the universe. In the Upanishads and in all later Hindu thought, the word is used to signify the Supreme Being or the Absolute. The Brahman is conceived as pervading the universe in such a way that it can be said, "All this [world] is Brahman." Again, it is said, "As a spider comes out with its thread or as small sparks come forth from a fire," so all this world comes forth from the Brahman. At the same time, lest this be taken in a material sense, it is said, "Brahman is not this, not this" (neti, neti ); it is beyond all material forms. It is described as "consisting of nothing but knowledge," and again, as "knowledge and bliss." Hence, in later philosophy it came to be defined as "being-knowledge-bliss" (saccidānanda ). Conceived as knowledge and bliss, Brahman is not the object of thought, but the subject; it is "that by which all things are known"; it is the "Knower," the "Ruler within," the "immortal Person" (purua ). Thus, Hindu philosophy was led to its great affirmation: "The Brahman is the Atman," or Self. That is, the ultimate ground of the soul or self is identical with the ultimate ground of the universe. This, in one form or other, is the basic doctrine of Hindu philosophy.

See Also: indian philosophy; hinduism.

[b. griffiths]

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