There can be no svarupa-lakshana of Brahman, because Brahman defies all proofs and therefore also defies definition. You define a thing which is limited in some way, but Brahman is unlimited. It is from the root “Brih” which means “unlimited” majesty. Moreover, only those things are subject to definition which function in the realm of time and space. Brahman transcends time and space; “time and space are like His vesture” says the “Upanishad” (e.g. “Mundaka Upanishad” 2.2.5). Furthermore, definitions are imposed by the mental concepts of an object. Brahman transcends the mind and cannot be an object to any mental concept. “Whom the mind cannot know, but by whose power the mind knows” (“Kena Upanishad” 1.6). Therefore Brahman cannot have a definition giving his positive nature as such. Such being the case, how shall we know of Him? There is a tatastha lakshana, an environmental definition of Brahman. That definition is “Taj jalaniti”, “He from whom the world has come forth, in whom it stays, and in whom it is finally dissolved.” (“Chandogya Upanishad” 3.14.1). It is the definition given in the “Brahma-Sutras” (1.1.2).
How is Brahman distinguished from nothingness? Nothingness is just nothingness, but Brahman is Sacchidananda. It cannot be said of nothingness that it is Sacchidananda. It cannot be said of nothingness that something is born out of it, that it sustains something else. The world is something because it is experienced. It cannot be negated as nothing, as the deluded Buddhists try to do. If you say a son is born, you assume the existence of parents. Then what is Brahman? It is “That from which the world comes forth.”
Another definition of Brahman is Sacchidananda. Is it then Existence? Do we define it positively? No. Chitsuk-acharya has said that when we say “sat”, we mean only “not asat”. Some may say that Brahman is inert; even Dr Deussen says that this Brahman is almost nothing, for example. So, we say that it is “not inert”, “not jada” . Similarly, when we say “bliss”, we do not mean positively “bliss” but that “there is no suffering in it”.
This Brahman is to be realized. A man who loved his wife dearly returned from a long journey and presented her with a string of pearls. He then went to his business. When the time came of his return in the evening, the wife wanted to receive him wearing his pearls, but she could not find them. She asked the maid, who put her hand round her neck and showed the string to her. She had forgotten she was wearing them. Such is the realization of Brahman. Each and everybody is nothing but Brahman, always Brahman. Under the impress of ajnana. Brahman is forgotten and its place is taken by the body-and-mind-consciousness. And as Brahman is forgotten, then that means forgetfulness of bliss. Therefore man is always after bliss. Some seek it in learning, in reputation, in conquest, in laziness, in alcohol.
One thing is that he must become tired of the means which he imagines can give the worldly bliss. This feeling of tiredness is vairagya and it is one of the chief qualities. Then he goes to the Guru, and the Guru says “Tat tvam asi”. Then the realization takes place. The condition is two-fold: (i) fatigue from all the means so far tried of running after bliss, and (ii) approaching a holy Guru and listening to him. Then he will say “Tat tvam asi”, bliss will be restored, and the man will be free.
In other words there are three means:
(i) The highest is jnana, a knowledge of the identity of the individual and the highest Self.
(ii) Constant – not occasional or some – but constant meditation in the form of shravana, in the form of manana, in the form of nididhyasana. It is to be done all the time and not only at one place. You need not sit in solitude for this; you need not be alone, you may be anywhere.
A Chinese girl has a baby of three or four weeks. She feeds it well, then makes it comfortable while she goes to work in the factory till lunchtime. She is in the factory talking to companions, doing her duty, but an inner part of the mind is constantly set on the baby. This is the kind of manana which is the result of shravana and which should always be followed. (iii) Not to be distressed by impediments. They will come. The relapses will come. Many acts of ajnana will be committed; there is no doubt about it. But the relapses should mean only one thing and it is “our meditation has not acquired perfection yet”. There is still some rawness in the antahkarana of kama, krodha, lobha, ahankara. Therefore the wise do not care for the impediments when they come but increase their meditations, increase devotion, increase service.
These three are the conditions, broadly speaking, which lead to realization, the conditions of sakshatkara or direct perception. Nothingness is not subject to direct perception. If Brahman were nothingness, the Acharyas would not say “Know it!” “O Maitreyi, it is to be thought of , listened to.” ( “Brihadaranyaka Upanishad” 2.4.5). Thus have they spoken.
Shravana, manana and nididhyasana are not preliminaries to jnana but means to jnana, and expressed in one word they are “meditation”. In the highest form, according to the great Acharyas, dhyana means shravana, manana and nididhyasana, and these are the only means of jnana or direct perception.
Antahkarana can function in various directions at the same time. Mind cannot have two thoughts at the same time but mind acts rapidly and its means are such that a substratum of thought can continue, and on that substratum superficially many other thoughts may come and go. A man suffering with colic pain, rolling in bed, is suddenly asked an important question about the office. He forgets the pain and thinks about this question. The pain is there, it remains, but he is thinking another thought. So manana remains, but we can do the duties in the world.
“Impediment” means “that which stands in the way of meditation”. It means something thrown into the lake of the mind to disturb its equilibrium and which precludes the reflection of the sun in the lake. So it is that object which is the impediment. So one must do shravana, manana and nididhyasana and more study, more and more, and that means a will stronger than mere visitations of the relapsing moods and thoughts. No impediment can finally prevent that which is natural to man and that on which the soul of man is set. Mazzini suffered so much and one day, without anything to eat, he sold his only pair of shoes to get some rice for his friend. But in spite of all he persisted and ultimately prevailed.