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) andexplain what they mean. (For a guide to proper pronunciation, please see page 1.)
Brahma—After Lord Sri Krsna, in His form as Visnu, creates the innumerable material universes, in each universe He brings forth a highly exalted living being known as Brahma, who then engineers the further details of creation. As there are countless universes, there are also countless Brahmas. (The post of Brahma is one the Supreme Lord bestows upon the living being in each universe who has lived his former life with the greatest piety.)
According to Vedic literature, Brahma lives from the time of creation until the time the universe is destroyed—more than 311 trillion years. When the universe is destroyed, Brahma dies and attains liberation.
Bhagavad-gita informs us that since Brahma himself is mortal, even if one attains the abode of Brahma one is still within the material world. Thus one must still undergo the material miseries of the cycle of birth and death. In contrast, the pure devotees who attain the abode of Krsna, the eternal Personality of Godhead, never need take birth again. It is because Brahma devotes himself entirely to Lord Krsna that his own liberation is assured.
Did you learn in school about the “Hindu Trinity”? Well, forget it. Though Brahma may be regarded as “the creator,” Visnu as “the preserver,” and Siva as “the destroyer,” Visnu is the source and sustainer of both Brahma and Siva. The Brahma-samhita tells us that Brahma’s great power reflects the unlimitedly greater .power of the Supreme Lord, Visnu (Krsna), just as a jewel reflects the light of the sun. There is only one Supreme Lord—Visnu—and all other living beings are His servants. Brahma and Siva depend entirely on Lord Visnu, to whom they are entirely devoted. Even the greatest of the demigods always look toward the lotus feet of Lord Visnu as the supreme destination. This is confirmed in the Rg-veda (om tad visnoh paramam padam sada pasyanti surayah). The things we learn in school are often wrong.
The word Brahma (with a short a) may denote either the imperishable soul or the Supreme Absolute Truth. But the meaning of the word Brahma (with a long a) is completely different, as described above. To help keep things straight, the publications of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust render the word with the short a as Brahman.
Brahma-bandhu—A brahmana is an intellectual, and a brahma-bandhu (literally, “friend of a brahmana”) is a person born in a brahmana family but lacking brahminical qualifications. The unreasonable notion that anyone born in a brahmana family is automatically a brahmana enjoys no support from Vedic literature. The son of a doctor may become a doctor, but only when he acquires the necessary skills and knowledge. One who accepts a person as a doctor or a brahmana merely because of that person’s birth commits a most regrettable blunder.
Brahmacari—A celibate student living under the guidance of a spiritual master. In the Vedic system of social and spiritual progress, a man proceeds through four stages of spiritual development—student life, married life, retired life, and renounced life. The first stage, the life of a student, is known as brahmacarya.
According to the Vedic system, a boy at five years goes to live with a spiritual master and receive training from him in self-control and spiritual understanding. Such a student, even if the son of a king, humbly surrenders to the spiritual master in the role of a menial servant. And the spiritual master enlightens the student with the spiritual wisdom of the Vedas.
Essential to Vedic student life is the strict observance of celibacy. The Vedic sages teach that sexual attraction is the basic principle of materialistic entanglement. One cannot properly advance in spiritual realization or become a properly cultured human being if he is preoccupied with thinking about, trying for, or taking part in sex. And mastery over the urge for sex helps one advance swiftly in spiritual realization.
The student who fully realizes the advantages of abstaining from sex may continue his vow of celibacy throughout his life. Otherwise, upon attaining adulthood, with the permission of the spiritual master the student may leave behind the life of brahmacarya to marry and raise a family. His brahmacari training, however, will guide him in a married life of self-control, evenmindedness, and spiritual enlightenment and responsibility.