Aksharbrahman’s Four Functions
Looking carefully at this entire description of Aksharbrahman we can see four distinct functions. One being the all-pervasive, all-supporting cause of all. Bhagwan Swaminarayan has used the word ‘chidãkãsh’ for this (Vachanamrut Gadhada I-46). The second, being the support of Paramãtmã and the countless muktas as an abode. For this, Bhagwan Swaminarayan uses words such as ‘Akshardhãm’, ‘Brahmadhãm’, ‘Brahmapur’ (Vachanamruts Sarangpur 1, Gadhada I-63, Kariyani 8, etc.). Thirdly, being in the service of Paramãtmã within that Akshardhãm with a human-like form. Bhagwan Swaminarayan talks about this in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-21, ‘In its other form, that Akshar remains in the service of Purushottam Narayan.’ The fourth form is, by the wish of Paramãtmã, to incarnate in human form to rid aspirants of their ignorance, to make them brahmarup, to develop the highest level of nirvikalp faith in them, and to let them experience the manifest form of Paramãtmã. Bhagwan Swaminarayan mentions this in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-71, ‘When God incarnates for the purpose of granting liberation to the jivas, he is always accompanied by his Akshardhãm, his attendants – who are formed of chaitanya – and all of his divine powers. Thus, although Aksharbrahman is only one entity the shastras have described its four forms based on its different functions.
That is why Maharshi Angirã sings the glory of all four forms of Aksharbrahman in a single mantra. He says, त्व्आविः सन्निहितं गुहाचरं नाम महत्पदम् अत्रैतत् समíपतम्। एजत् प्राणन्निमिषत्व्च’ – ‘Ãvihi sannihitam guhãcharam nãma mahatpadam atraitat samarpitam, ejat prãnnimishachcha’, i.e. O Shaunak! This Aksharbrahman can avihi – manifest, i.e. incarnate. Furthermore, the same Aksharbrahman is ‘sannihitam guhãcharam’, i.e. stays near all in their hearts. Moreover, that Aksharbrahman is ‘mahat padam’ is a specific paramount place. Not only that, but it is ‘atraitat samarpitam’, which means: ‘atra’ in that Akshardhãm, ‘etat’ that very Aksharbrahman, ‘samarpitam’ is devoted in the service of Purushottam Narayan. Furthermore, O Shaunak! Aksharbrahman, who is engrossed in the supreme service of Paramãtmã, moves, walks and blinks his eyes. In other words, it is not formless without organs but eternally has a form with divine hands, feet and all other organs. Moreover, the words ‘move’, ‘walk’, ‘breath’, etc. also show the importance of the manifest Brahmaswarup guru.
In this way, of the two divine entities that must be known in brahmavidyã, namely Akshar and Purushottam, we have extensively seen the form of Akshar.
Then the form of Purushottam Narayan, who is above all and beyond this world, is explained.
Purushottam Above Even Akshar
Seeing how the Mundaka Upanishad has explained Aksharbrahman, one starts to think how it would be possible to sing the glory of Parabrahman! This is nothing but natural, since Aksharbrahman has been described as the cause of creation, all-pervasive and the support of all. Now what can be said for Parabrahman? Therefore, someone may be deluded that this entity for which the word Akshar or Brahman has been used is in fact Parabrahman! It is this that Angirã now explains. He is clearly conscious of what he is saying. This is the word of the Vedas. It is impossible to sing the glory of Parabrahman as he is, त्व्यतो वाचो निवर्तन्ते। अप्राप्य मनसा सह’ – ‘Yato vacho nivartante, aprãpya manasã saha’ (Taittiriya Upanishad Ãnandvalli: 4).
Moreover, whatever glory is sung it is encompassed in Aksharbrahman. That is why Angirã Muni shows a unique way of saying the true glory of Parabrahman. He said, for Paramãtmã we can say, त्व्अक्षरात् परतः परः’ – ‘Aksharãt parataha paraha’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 2/1/2). Paramãtmã is above even Aksharbrahman who is above all. That is to say he is also the controller of Akshar, pervades Akshar, supports Akshar and is worthy of worship by Akshar. Just as after describing someone as a millionaire and a person of great authority, you say that he is the servant of someone else, then imagine how great the other person must be. Paramãtmã governs Akshar, Aksharbrahman is Paramãtmã’s servant.
Saying the glory of Paramãtmã, Angirã Muni says, त्व्एतस्माज्जायते प्राणो मनः सर्वेन्द्रियाणि च। सं वायुर्ज्योतिरापः पृथिवी विश्वस्य घरिणी।’ – ‘Etasmãjjãyate prãno manaha sarvendriyãni cha, sam vãyurjyotirãpaha pruthivee vishvasya dharanee’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 2/1/3). Meaning, it is from this Paramãtmã that the vital breath, mind, eyes, ears and other organs, earth, water, fire, wind, space etc. are produced. Thus, informing us about the causative aspect of Paramãtmã he finally says, त्व्पुरुष एवेदं विश्वं कर्म तपो ब्रह्म परामृतम्।’ – ‘Purusha evedam vishvam karma tapo brahma parãmrutam’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 2/1/10). It means that Purushottam is the ãtmã of this whole world, of all karmas and of even Aksharbrahman itself. Thus showing Paramãtmã’s supreme control and pervasiveness. There are many mantras in this Upanishad which sing the extraordinary glory of Paramãtmã, but when it says, 'अक्षरात् परतः परः' – ‘Aksharãt parataha paraha’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 2/1/2), all this glory is encompassed within that. This means that whatever characteristics Aksharbrahman has, like being the cause of creation, pervasive and the supporter of all, etc., they are all subject to the wish of Parabrahman, who is above Aksharbrahman.
Thus the glory of Paramãtmã has been sung in a unique way. Hence, to understand Purushottam’s true greatness it is necessary to know Aksharbrahman. So, the purpose of this Upanishad can be understood clearly.
Along with this let us also understand another fact. In this Upanishad the glory of Paramãtmã has been sung as ‘Aksharãt parataha paraha’, i.e. superior with respect to Akshar. Therefore it is also clear that the entity referred to as Akshar in this Upanishad is not Paramãtmã.
Truly, the three words, ‘Aksharãt parataha paraha’ contain everything. The glory of Akshar, the glory of Purushottam and the eternal difference between the forms of these two entities, Akshar and Purushottam.
Thus, in this Upanishad, Angirã Muni, clearly explains the forms and divine characteristics of the two divine entities, Akshar and Purushottam. This is brahmavidyã, this is parãvidya, this is adhyãtmavidyã, and this is the principle of Akshar-Purushottam. For this very reason, the Akshar-Purushottam principle echoes in the mantra त्व्येनाऽक्षरं पुरुषं वेद सत्यं प्रोवाच तां तत्त्वतो ब्रह्मविद्याम्’ – ‘Yenã’ksharam purusham veda satyam provãcha tãm tattvato brahmavidyãm’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 1/2/13). Or, at the very least, one cannot but feel as though this mantra resonates as a synonym to the Akshar-Purushottam principle.
How can we imbibe this brahmavidyã? Who is Parabrahman? Who is Aksharbrahman? What is the place of Aksharbrahman and of Parabrahman in our spiritual endeavours? If we attain this brahmavidyã completely, what fruits will be achieved? Many other subtle secrets still fill this Upanishad. We will explore these in the next issue.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas