Brahman is one of the most important terms in the Vedic tradition, with a rich variety of meanings. It derives from the root brih, which means to “swell” or “grow,” and evidently first referred to the swell-ing or growing power of the sacrifice and its MAN-TRAS that expand out and create efficacy.The most common early meaning of brahman was simply “prayer.” It is from this term that the word BRAHMIN, “one who prays,” or “priest,” is derived. Certain Vedic text collections are called BRAHMANAS; they are said to contain the secret of prayer.
   Eventually, the term brahman was developed in the Upanishads to mean “the All” or “Ultimate Reality.” An understanding developed that the individual self, or AT M A N, was identical to the brahman. These understandings developed in later VEDANTA into both theistic views, in which the brahman was tantamount to a god or goddess, and nontheistic views, in which the brahman was seen as an uncharacterized reality that constituted or underlay everything.
   Often brahman is spelled as brahma, in part depending on grammatical context. Both forms are commonly used in transliterating Sanskrit. In the latter spelling the word must be carefully dis-tinguished from BRAHMA, the creator god, whose name is pronounced with a long final a.
   Further reading: Jan Gonda, Notes on Brahman (Utre-cht: J. L. Beyers, 1950); Stephen H. Phillips, Aurobindo’s Philosophy of Brahman (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1986.) G. Sundara Ramaiah, Brahman: A Comparative Study of the Philosophies of Sankara and Ramanuja (Waltair: Andhra University 1974).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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