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Journal of Indian Philosophy

, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 507–526 | Cite as

Is Brahman a Person or a Self? Competing Theories in the Early Upaniṣads

  • Dimitry ShevchenkoEmail author
Article

Abstract

In this article, I study the concept of brahman—the exhaustive formulation of truth about the world—in the early Upaniṣads. Based on close reading of two stories appearing in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka, the Kauṣītaki and the Chāndogya Upaniṣads, I reconstruct two competing theories about brahman, namely the “theory of puruṣa (person)” and the “theory of ātman (self).” While the theory of puruṣa refers to the creation of human and divine beings as a result of duplication of the anthropomorphic form of the universe, the theory of ātman traces the phenomenal reality in its various forms to the inner, formless self “made of consciousness” capable of creating and projecting forms out of itself. These two theories are discussed in the dialogue between Gārgya Bālāki and Ajātaśatru, the king of Kāśi appearing in two versions in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and the Kauṣītaki Upaniṣads. Bālāki’s theory of puruṣa is further revised and modified in the light of Ajātaśatru’s criticism in the story from the Chāndogya Upaniṣads, in which the god Prajāpati teaches Indra and Virocana about the self.

Keywords

Upaniṣads brahman puruṣa ātman Bālāki and Ajātaśatru Indra and Virocana 

Abbreviations

ChU

Chāndogya Upaniṣad

ChUBh

Chāndogya Upaniṣad Bhāṣya

BSBh

Brahma Sūtra Bhāṣya

BU

Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad

BUBh

Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad Bhāṣya

KṣU

Kauṣītaki Upaniṣad

RV

Ṛgveda

ŚB

Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa

ŚU

Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad

VS

Vājasaneyi Saṃhitā

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Notes

Acknowledgements

I am very grateful to John Taber and Sthaneshwar Timalsina for reading the manuscript and for their valuable suggestions.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Asian StudiesThe Hebrew University of JerusalemHaifaIsrael

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