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Vaishnava Philosophy
The Absolute Truth
In three phases

The Non-dual Absolute Truth

Contrary to most modern-age, relativistic philosophies, the Vedic philosophy says that there is an Absolute Truth.

Although we daily perceive that the objects and activities around us are not absolute, it does not logically follow that everything, everywhere is relative. As they say, "One man's food is another man's poison." This is valid for almost everything within the phenomenal, material world. Still, it would be false to conclude from this observation that absolutely nothing is absolute.

Absolute means "free" or "independent" (from the Latin absolvere, "to make free"). Its philosophical meaning is that something absolute has to be free from and untouched by any influence of the transient, relative world. In this sense, absolute is synonymous with transcendental (from Latin transcendere, "going beyond the limits of matter").

But what is absolute? What is transcendental? Certainly not us. We are at the moment completely under the influence of flickering material things, such as thoughts, feelings, and desires. We cannot even claim to be independent of matter, for we are fully dependent on air, water, sunlight, and food to maintain our bodies. Whatever we do, say, or want is under the dominion of the matter that surrounds us. The absolute, on the other hand, must be something outside the influence of material time and space -- something eternal, omnipotent, and omnipresent.

Usually, when we hear of these qualities, we immediately think of God or "the Divine." If anyone or anything is transcendental, absolutely true, and fully independent, it is God.

Vedic philosophy discusses three phases, or aspects, of the Absolute Truth, in Sanskrit: brahman, paramatma, and bhagavan.

It is important to understand that these three aspects are actually one. They are the same substance, non-dual Absolute Truth, seen from different angles of vision and according to different grades of spiritual realization. The Bhagavata Purana states:

vadanti tat tattva-vidas
tattvam yaj jnanam advayam
brahmeti paramatmeti
bhagavan iti sabdyate

"Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this non-dual substance brahman, paramatma, or bhagavan."

In other words, the very same substance we call the Absolute Truth can be realized as the impersonal Brahman light, the localized Paramatma, or the Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan.


Brahman refers to the impersonal, all-pervasive aspect of the Absolute Truth. The multifarious manifestations of the cosmos, moving and nonmoving -- matter, atoms, bodies, planets, space -- are not ultimate causes, nor are they eternal. They come from the eternal Brahman, the origin of everything within the material world of duality.

Brahman is mainly realized by the students of the Vedic Upanisads. The Upanisads describe it as the brilliant light of lights, the shining effulgence of the divine. Modern, New-Age philosophies also refer to this aspect of the Absolute Truth. They claim that everyone and everything is ultimately "one," and after realizing the truth we all "merge" into that divine oneness, leaving all qualities and individuality behind.

In the sparkling light of the divine Brahman effulgence, everything seems to be "one." No visible distinctions between the individual souls nor any personal emotions, qualities, or activities manifest. But we should not forget that this is only one aspect of the Absolute Truth.


Vedic philosophy distinguishes the atma from both the gross (physical) and subtle (mental) bodies. Atma is the eternal, individual inner self, and it is not destroyed when the body is destroyed. But this atma is distinct also from the Paramatma.

Paramatma means "the Supreme Self" or "the Supreme Soul," (atma means "self or soul," and parama means "transcendental, absolute or supreme"). Usually, paramatma is translated as "the Supersoul."

In the Upanisads, the Paramatma and the individual atma are compared to two friendly birds sitting in the same tree (the material body). One bird (the individual soul) is eating the sweet and sour fruits of the tree (the pleasures and pains of material life), and the other bird (the Supersoul) is watching His friend. Although these two birds are the same in quality, one is captivated by the fruits of the material tree, and the other is witnessing the activities of His friend.

The Supersoul is the localized aspect of the Absolute Truth. In other words, God dwells within our hearts and accompanies us throughout our journeys from one material body to another. He gives us good advice and fulfills our desires by awarding us the karmic results of our actions. Therefore the Supersoul is our unknown friend, our best friend.

The ultimate goal of the yogis' mystic meditation is to realize this Paramatma, the Personality of Godhead within their hearts.


Bhagavan refers to the Personality of Godhead. According to Vedic philosophy, God is not only impersonal light or all-pervasive divine consciousness but also a person. Yet He is not a person like us, for He is free from vice and bad qualities, neither influenced by illusion nor fettered by a material body. Nonetheless, He is a person, possessing individual consciousness, intelligence, and personal qualities. The Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan, is the absolute, transcendental, perfect, original, and supreme person. How could we be persons unless our origin, God, is also a person?

The word Bhagavan means "the person who possesses all the divine attributes or opulences (bhaga)," all wealth, all power, all fame, all beauty, all knowledge, and all renunciation.

Bhagavan is thus the personal God aspired to and worshiped by the devotees of monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Vedic theology ascribes to God unlimited personal qualities and therefore unlimited personal names, and each name describes one of His qualities or activities. The most prominent Sanskrit names of God are Krishna, Rama, Govinda, Vishnu, Narayana, and Hari, and they all refer to the same Supreme Person.

Bhagavan is the highest feature of the Absolute Truth, the source of both Brahman and Paramatma. Therefore, when the religious inquirer realizes Bhagavan by personal devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, simultaneously he realizes Brahman, the glowing effulgence of the Personality of Godhead, and Paramatma, the partial representation of the Personality of Godhead. Realized sages have seen that the three phases or aspects of the Absolute Truth are all present within Bhagavan, the source of all existence.


The three divine aspects of Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan can be understood by the example of the sun, which also has three different aspects: the all-pervasive, effulgent sunshine; the localized surface of the sun planet; and the personality of the sun, the sun-god. Experienced transcendentalists know well that these three features of the Absolute Truth are nothing but different perspectives seen from different angles of vision.

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