Brahma, Brahman, Brahmin, and Atman?

  • In Hinduism and Indian philosophy, what is the difference between Brahma, Brahman, Brahmin, and Atman?

    Welcome to Phil.SE! You may want to add in some detail as to why this question is interesting for you; how far have you explored Indian Philosophy, for example; or what's motivated you to ask this question ie your specific concern.

    Right now, I'm in an Asian Philosophy course; we're reading an introduction to Hinduism through Huston Smith's World Religions. He mentions all four concepts above, but he doesn't explicitly delineate the difference and commonality between the concepts above.

    there is a separate hindu stack exchange, for you to consider for future hindu question (christianity, islam, judaism, buddhism and hinduism have their own stack exchanges).

    In addition to these answers, you can get a more detailed etic answer here.

  • In his commentary on the Brahma Sutras, the Sri-Bhasya, Ramanuja says:

    The word Brahman is derived from the root 'brh' which denotes greatness, and is therefore applicable to all objects which have the quality of greatness, but more aptly to that object which by nature and qualities possesses this greatness to an infinite degree...

    Brahman is not a name, but rather a way to refer to the Absolute, the Supreme Reality of the Vedanta philosophy.

    The word Brahma can refer to two things depending upon where it is being used. First, Brahma is the first being created with every new cycle. All beings in a particular cycle are created by Brahma. A different soul becomes Brahma in every new cycle. Brahma is a god, but the gods are office holders so to speak and new souls take the stations in every new cycle. Second, Brahma is one of the three gods making up the Hindu trinity, called the Trimurti, which can be thought of as Brahman (Isvara). Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva make up the trinity and stand for the creative, sustainer, and destroyer aspects of the Godhead.

    Brahmin refers to a person who belongs to the priest caste, the highest caste in Hindu society.

    Atman is the soul of man. According to the Advaita Vedanta philosophy the soul of man is one with and the same as Brahman. When Brahman within an individual is referred to, it is referred to as the Atman. Thus Atman = Brahman. There are differences between what is meant by 'soul' in Hindu philosophy and Christian philosophy. Swami Vivekananda says (Complete Works, V6, p 85):

    One of the chief distinctions between the Vedic and Christian religion is that the Christian religion teaches that each human soul has its beginning at its birth into this world; whereas the Vedic religion asserts that the spirit of man is an emanation of the Eternal Being and had no more a beginning than God Himself.

    A person has an individual 'soul' (in Hinduism - the jiva) that survives death and is the 'soul' that passes from one birth to another. The innermost part of the soul is the atman. For a more detailed description see my answer here -

    For a good description of the the Atman see the following link. There are 2 lectures under the topic Jnana Yoga, titled The Atman and The Atman:Its Bondage and Freedom -

    In terms of what you mean by "atman", if my memory is correct, this differs pretty markedly from the commonly assumed meaning by Westerners and the idea of soul in the Christian tradition. Could you clarify that part of your definition?

    @virmaior Yes, I will add more detail.

    Just to clarify: are you saying that the innermost part of *jiva* is *atman*?

    @MoziburUllah Yes. The atman is manifested in the vijnanamayakosa which is one of three kosas that make up the subtle body or jiva.

    @MoziburUllah Let me clarify my last comment a little more. Jiva is embodied soul, whether in embodied in the gross or subtle body. Depending upon the whether you are talking monism, qualified monism, or dualism, and the commentator, the jiva can have different interpretations.

    This answer seems good but is a little misleading imo. In advaita there would be no individual soul and Brahman would be a rather more subtle idea, especially the idea of the two Brahman. Best to read an authoritative text than ask on a forum. , . .

    @PeterJ Advaita says that there is only one soul. You have misunderstood the use of the word soul. There is no 'soul' in Hinduism or Advaita. Soul is a Christian concept. There are 'jivas' which are the subtle body which holds the Atman and goes from one material existence to the next. There are not 2 Brahmans. There is only one Brahman. You are tripping over the English translation of Sanskrit. The masculine Brahma (with diacritical) is used in Sanskrit it refers to the the creator of the cycle. When the neutral Brahma (no diacritical) is used, it refers to the English Brahman.

    @SwamiVishwananda - I'd agree with your comment on the soul (I didn't mean to suggest otherwise) but not on the two Brahman. Of course they are not two,but the idea is useful and appears in literature from time to time. I would connect it loosely with the two Taos - the one we can talk about and the one we cannot. I see this as a useful conceptual device, not an ontological claim. Is this better?

    @peterj Yes I agree. In Vedanta there is what is referred to as the Nirguna Brahman (Brahman without attributes) and the Saguna Brahman (Brahman with attributes). We cannot 'sense' the Nirguna Brahman as we are limited by our own senses. We can sense the Saguna Brahman. You might like to read the section titled "Adhyasa or Superimposition" here -

    @PeterJ But 'they' are not two, 'they' are One alone.

    @SwamiVishwananda - Ha. I could even argue against the statement 'they are One' since there is no 'they'. But yes, they are One. No argument frim me.

    @SwamiVishwananda - And thanks for the excellent reference.

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