Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest and largest religions. Its teachings are based on the premise that the human mind is incapable of fully conceiving the being that is Brahman, who is the representation of absolute reality. The religious doctrines provide two conceptions of the deity. The first is Nirguna, which refers to the formless and intangible nature of the deity and the second is Saguna, which refers to the qualities and form of Brahman (“Nirguna and Saguna Brahman”). Nirguna and Saguna highlight Brahman’s transcendent nature, and while both conceptions are mutually inclusive, there is a philosophical argument about whether Brahman is primarily Saguna or Nirguna.
Saguna and Nirguna
Saguna Brahman refers to specific attributes that are assigned to the Ultimate Reality. The school of thought that supports the aforementioned view argues that Brahman is a Supreme Spirit blessed with cosmic powers for the completion of tasks such as the creation and maintenance of reality. The deity is perceived as a concept of creative joy that birthed the world and all it contains. Hindu philosophers have long believed that Saguna Brahman has three primary qualities namely sat, which refers to the deity’s existence, cit referring to consciousness and ananda, which highlights bliss (“Nirguna and Saguna Brahman”). It is vital to note that the aforementioned features are essential in the Hindu belief in salvation.
Nirguna Brahman is the conception that the Hindu deity lacks attributes and, therefore, defies description. Hindu philosophers such as Sankara believed that the Hindu deity was best described as silence or the state of peace that an individual achieves when they are in Brahman’s presence. This perception of Brahman is problematic given the fact that the lack of attributes makes it difficult to describe the deity. An apparent solution to the aforementioned problem is the use of Maya, Brahman’s creative side, to assign specific attributes that characterize and define the deity. Maya is seen as the creative power that Brahman uses to conjure reality from nothing. The superimposition of Maya over Brahman as a way of assigning qualities to the latter makes the premise of Saguna Brahman the more advantageous conception when considering soteriological implications.
The Four Pathways of Liberation
The quest for liberation is perhaps the most important teaching in Hinduism. The four ways in which the goal is achieved are through devotion to a personal God, meditation, action or ritual, and knowledge (Saha 173). On the one hand, Nirguna Brahman, as described in religious texts, is the essence of absolute reality. The four pathways of liberation are the means through which Maya, Brahman’s creative side, interacts with individuals. Therefore, liberation is achieved when a believer penetrates Maya’s illusion and experiences the featureless and formless oneness that is Brahman. On the other hand, Saguna Brahman is the embodiment of the Hindu quest for liberation. Believers can experience Brahman’s existence, consciousness, and bliss when they meditate, engage in rituals, seek knowledge, and devote themselves to a personal God.
The concept of Brahman, which is also termed Absolute Reality, is integral to understanding the teachings of Hinduism. The quest for liberation involves understanding the Nirguna and Saguna conceptions of Brahman. While vastly different, the aforementioned views of Absolute Reality are mutually inclusive. After considering all the facts, the premise of Saguna Brahman is the more advantageous conception when considering soteriological implication, given the fact that it defines attributes that followers can aspire to achieve.
“Nirguna and Saguna Brahman.” Radha, 2018, Web.
Saha, Niranjan. “Saguna and Nirguna-Bhakti, Advaita Vedanta and Madhusudana Sarasvati.” Journal of Vaishnava Studies, vol. 28, no. 1, 2019, pp. 172–81, Web.