Vandana talks about her life as a Hindu

In Hindu scriptures and tradition, there are thousands of gods and goddesses. These are all understood as aspects of the ‘Divine One’. Brahman is this ‘Divine One’, also known as the Ultimate Reality. Hindus believe that Brahman is eternal and everywhere at once. Hindus may say that Everything is Brahman, and Brahman is everything.

Brahman is the one present everywhere and is the great one who is above all.Katha Upanishad 5.2

Hindus believe that Brahman is greater than any one human can understand. They believe in the idea that Brahman is beyond the material universe, or ‘above all’. Brahman is in every single particle of everything that lives but also beyond the universe:

This whole universe is Brahman. In tranquillity, let one worship it, as that from which he came forth, as that into which he will be dissolved, as that in which he breathes.Chandogya Upanishad 3.13.1

Does Brahman have a form or shape?

Hindus believe that human minds cannot fully understand Brahman. The Hindu scriptures have two ways of thinking that help with this understanding. The first of these is nirguna, which means ‘without form’ and ‘without qualities’. The second way of thinking of Brahman is saguna, which means ‘with form’ and ‘with qualities’.

Nirguna Brahman

One way in which Hindus think of Brahman is as Nirguna Brahman. This is the idea that Ultimate Reality (God) has no shape or form. People find this a difficult idea to imagine, so Nirguna Brahman is represented in different ways. One of the ways Nirguna Brahman is represented is by the Hindu aum or om symbol, which is used in meditation. Hindus believe that aum is the sound that began the universe.

The aum symbol is widely used in Hinduism to represent Brahman

Saguna Brahman

A second way in which Hindus think of Brahman is as Saguna Brahman. In this idea, Brahman has a form and qualities that can be understood. In this representation of Brahman, the thousands of gods and goddesses worshipped by Hindus across the world are seen as manifestations of Brahman. According to this idea, there is no god or goddess that is wholly Brahman. In this way, Hindus can begin to understand Brahman and gain spiritual insight into the nature of Ultimate Reality.

But you cannot see me [Brahman] with your present eyes, therefore I will give you divine eyes. Behold My mystic opulence!Bhagavad Gita 11.8

Murtis are images or states that Hindus worship as representations of Saguna Brahman. Devotion to the image enables the worshipper to see Ultimate Reality more clearly.

Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance

Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance, is an example of a murti. In one hand he carries a drum to beat out the rhythm of time. It is a reminder that Brahman is in charge of time.

Since humans cannot understand Brahman completely, Hindus find it helpful to think of God as formless (nirguna) in some ways but having form (saguna) in other ways.

What are three key Hindu ideas about Brahman?

Your answer could include the following:

  1. Ultimate Reality is beyond any human mind.
  2. Brahman is in everything that lives and is beyond all of us.
  3. Brahman is seen in the many gods and goddesses of Hindu worship.