The Yoga Dictionary


The Sanskrit language is rich in words to communicate ideas about spiritual life, yoga, and God realization. This dictionary, appearing by installments in BACK TO GODHEAD, will focus upon the most important of these words (and, occasionally, upon relevant English terms) and explain what they mean. (For a guide to proper pronunciation, please see page 1.)

Brahmajyoti—the spiritual effulgence of God. The Vedic scriptures tell us that God’s person is effulgent. Just as the sun gives off dazzling light in all directions, so too does the personal form of God. But whereas sunlight is material and temporary, the shining glow from the body of the Supreme Lord is spiritual and eternal. Just as sunlight shines throughout our solar system, the brilliant effulgence of the Lord shines throughout the entire spiritual world. The material world is by nature dark—only the sun lights it up. But the spiritual world, because of the presence of God, is always full of light. Those who think of the Supreme as an all-pervading spiritual light are in essence thinking of the brahmajyoti. But only by going beyond the brahmajyoti can one know the Supreme Lord in His ultimate personal feature.

Brahman—the ultimate, the Supreme, the Absolute Truth. The Vedic scriptures teach that human life is meant for inquiry about the Absolute Truth, the ultimate reality. And what is that ultimate reality? It is the cause of all causes, the ultimate source of all creation, maintenance, and dissolution of everything that exists.

There are many varied ways of trying to understand this Absolute Truth, and many ideas of what it is. But in essence we may look toward the Absolute Truth in either of two ways: as impersonal or as personal.

The Upanisads stress the impersonal approach to the Absolute. The Absolute, they say, has no form, no qualities, no divisions or categories. It is beyond the power of the senses to perceive and the mind to understand. It is the supreme One, beyond the dualities of material existence.

But even beyond this undivided oneness, the Upanisads ultimately point to a personal Absolute, an eternal, all-blissful, all-knowing Godhead. This supreme personal Godhead is the ultimate spiritual substance, the ultimate abode, in whom both unity and diversity come to perfect balance. When one goes beyond the unsatisfying varieties of material illusion and the unbearable monotony of impersonal spiritual truth, one realizes this Supreme Personality of Godhead.

The Bhagavad-gita identifies this Supreme Personality of Godhead as Krsna. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu therefore taught that whenever we see the word Brahman we should understand that it means Krsna.

Every living being is a part of Krsna and shares in His spiritual qualities, just as every ray of sunshine shares in the heat and light of the sun. So the word Brahman may also sometimes refer to every living being. But Krsna is infinite, whereas all other living beings are infinitesimal. To keep this distinction clear, Krsna alone is known as param brahman—the supreme Brahman.

Brahma-samhita—a treatise on transcendental understanding composed by Lord Brahma, the first created being. It originally had one hundred chapters, of which only the fifth chapter is still extant. A copy of this book was discovered by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the south Indian temple of Adi-kesava, and He had it copied and distributed for the benefit of His followers. Lord Caitanya requested His followers to read this book regularly, since it contains the essential truths of the Krsna consciousness philosophy. The Brahma-samhita has been translated into English, with commentary, by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja.

Brahmastra—a particular kind of weapon, resembling the nuclear weapon of the modern age. It is mentioned in the Mahabharata, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and other Vedic writings, and this indicates that it was used by experts in the Vedic military arts more than five thousand years ago.

The brahmastra was more subtle and powerful than modern nuclear weapons. It was released not by complex machinery but by the vibration of a specific mantra. And it could be deployed with far greater precision, against a specific, limited target—even against only one person—without harming anything else.

The military commanders in Vedic society thousands of years ago had varied sophisticated weapons at their disposal, but the techniques necessary for unleashing them have been lost.

Brahma-Sutras—another name for the Vedanta-sutras, the philosophical aphorisms that yield the essence of Vedic wisdom.

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