Random Musings-Part 24-Brahman is both Transcendent and Immanent
It is often held against Advaita that it concentrates only on the transcendent aspect of God completely ignoring the Immanent aspect of God. We shall see how such a allegation is due to improper understanding of Advaita.
We must first understand what does Transcendent and Immanent mean? When it is said God is transcendent it means it is beyond the limitations of the world, it is beyond the grasping of the body and mind. Hence, it is variously described as eye of eye, mind of mind (Kena Upanishad) or as being outside of everything, being above everything (Isha Upanishad). Similarly, when it is said God is Immanent, it means that God is present within the Universe itself. He inhabits the Universe. One can perceive God beneath any name and form. God is the Self/Atman of all objects. Hence, it is described as being present inside everything or as pervading everything or inhabiting everything (Isha Upanishad). The former is described as Para-Brahman and the later as Apara-Brahman in the Upanishads. The former is called as “Nirguna” Brahman and the latter as “Saguna Brahman”.
On one hand, Advaita is accused of raking up duality of Nirguna-Saguna and on the other hand it is accused of concentrating only on Transcendent/Nirguna while completely ignoring the Saguna. Actually both such assertions does not hold.
The distinction between Transcendent and Immanent is present, this duality is present only in a person who is inside the Universe bound by Avidya/Ignorance. A man of Knowledge/Jnani perceives Oneness alone (Isha Upanishad). Hence, it is important that this distinction between Transcendent and Immanent, Para and Apara or Nirguna and Saguna is made only for the sake of proper understanding of a student, for the sake of Instruction. Mandukya explains how Brahman exist as the Vishwanara- the Self of Gross Universe, Taijasa- the Self of Gross and Subtle Universe and as Praajna-the Self of Gross, Subtle and Causal existence. In each of this case, Brahman is associated with a Upaadhi/Limitation. The existence of Brahman as Vishwa,Taijasa and Praajna denotes the Immanent aspect of Brahman associated with various aspects of Jagat. It is this Brahman as associated with Upadis,existing as Self of Jagat is called as Saguna Brahman/Apara Brahman. But, above them is Purusha in unconditioned state called Turiya beyond the worldy limitations. This Brahman in state of Turiya, the transcendent state is called as “Nirguna Brahman”. Hence, for a seeker, the instruction is imparted thus that Brahman exist as Self of Universe associated with various Upaadhis (and called as Saguna Brahman) and also exist beyond the limitations of Universe in unconditioned state of Turiya (and called as Nirguna Brahman).
Mandukya Upanishad further establishes how the Vaishwanara, Taijasa and Praajna and Turiya can be considered as four quarters of a circle. By attaining Vaishwanara one attains Identification with Gross Universe. By attaining Taijasa, one attains Identification with both Gross and subtle Universe. By attaining Praajna, one attains the state of Mula-Prakriti, the Causal state. One attains first quarter-90 degrees at Vaishwanara. One attains 180 degree when Vaishwanara merges with Taijasa and one attains 270 degree (all three quarters) when taijasa further merges in Prajna. Hence, by the worship of Brahman in his conditioned aspect, in his Immanent aspect alone one attains only particular aspect of Brahman. Only when one attains the Turiya, one becomes complete, the circle is complete, 360 degrees is achieved. In other words, as long as one worships only the Immanent aspect of Brahman, there exist the distinction of Transcendent and Immanent, Saguna and Nirguna. But, the moment, one attains Turiya, one attains the Transcendent everything becomes achieved, the distinction of transcendent and Immanent ceases to exist as one becomes everything. Hence, the Isha Upanishad says, for a Jnani in whom all objects as become his own self, Oneness alone remains.
Hence, the assertion that concentrating on the Transcendent- the Nirguna Brahman will result in Non-attainment of Immanent and hence will be incomplete does not hold. The Mandukya clearly shows how at the state of Turiya, what had previously perceived as Transcendent, becomes on attaining Turiya both Transcendent and Immanent i.e. becomes the Whole. Hence, the distinction of Nirguna Brahman and Saguna Brahman exist only as long one is in the world bound by Avidya. The moment one attains Nirguna Brahman, one attains everything- both Transcendent and Immanant and the distinctions ceases to exist.