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In Hinduism and Indian philosophy, what is the difference between Brahma, Brahman, Brahmin, and Atman?

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    Welcome to Phil.SE! You may want to add in some detail as to why this question is interesting for you; how far have you explored Indian Philosophy, for example; or what's motivated you to ask this question ie your specific concern. – Mozibur Ullah Sep 19 '15 at 19:28
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    Right now, I'm in an Asian Philosophy course; we're reading an introduction to Hinduism through Huston Smith's World Religions. He mentions all four concepts above, but he doesn't explicitly delineate the difference and commonality between the concepts above. – Nate Sep 19 '15 at 19:37
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    there is a separate hindu stack exchange, for you to consider for future hindu question (christianity, islam, judaism, buddhism and hinduism have their own stack exchanges). – Cicero Sep 20 '15 at 17:12
  • In addition to these answers, you can get a more detailed etic answer here. – Rubellite Fae Aug 23 '17 at 21:25
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In his commentary on the Brahma Sutras, the Sri-Bhasya, Ramanuja says:

The word Brahman is derived from the root 'brh' which denotes greatness, and is therefore applicable to all objects which have the quality of greatness, but more aptly to that object which by nature and qualities possesses this greatness to an infinite degree...

Brahman is not a name, but rather a way to refer to the Absolute, the Supreme Reality of the Vedanta philosophy.

The word Brahma can refer to two things depending upon where it is being used. First, Brahma is the first being created with every new cycle. All beings in a particular cycle are created by Brahma. A different soul becomes Brahma in every new cycle. Brahma is a god, but the gods are office holders so to speak and new souls take the stations in every new cycle. Second, Brahma is one of the three gods making up the Hindu trinity, called the Trimurti, which can be thought of as Brahman (Isvara). Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva make up the trinity and stand for the creative, sustainer, and destroyer aspects of the Godhead.

Brahmin refers to a person who belongs to the priest caste, the highest caste in Hindu society.

Atman is the soul of man. According to the Advaita Vedanta philosophy the soul of man is one with and the same as Brahman. When Brahman within an individual is referred to, it is referred to as the Atman. Thus Atman = Brahman. There are differences between what is meant by 'soul' in Hindu philosophy and Christian philosophy. Swami Vivekananda says (Complete Works, V6, p 85):

One of the chief distinctions between the Vedic and Christian religion is that the Christian religion teaches that each human soul has its beginning at its birth into this world; whereas the Vedic religion asserts that the spirit of man is an emanation of the Eternal Being and had no more a beginning than God Himself.

A person has an individual 'soul' (in Hinduism - the jiva) that survives death and is the 'soul' that passes from one birth to another. The innermost part of the soul is the atman. For a more detailed description see my answer here - https://hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/6758/where-does-a-soul-attached-to-the-body

For a good description of the the Atman see the following link. There are 2 lectures under the topic Jnana Yoga, titled The Atman and The Atman:Its Bondage and Freedom - http://cwsv.belurmath.org/volume_2/vol_2_frame.htm

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    In terms of what you mean by "atman", if my memory is correct, this differs pretty markedly from the commonly assumed meaning by Westerners and the idea of soul in the Christian tradition. Could you clarify that part of your definition? – virmaior Sep 20 '15 at 11:15
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    @virmaior Yes, I will add more detail. – Swami Vishwananda Sep 20 '15 at 12:03
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    Just to clarify: are you saying that the innermost part of jiva is atman? – Mozibur Ullah Sep 20 '15 at 14:15
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    @MoziburUllah Yes. The atman is manifested in the vijnanamayakosa which is one of three kosas that make up the subtle body or jiva. – Swami Vishwananda Sep 20 '15 at 17:01
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    @MoziburUllah Let me clarify my last comment a little more. Jiva is embodied soul, whether in embodied in the gross or subtle body. Depending upon the whether you are talking monism, qualified monism, or dualism, and the commentator, the jiva can have different interpretations. – Swami Vishwananda Sep 21 '15 at 8:07
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  • Brahma is one of the main Hindu deities.

  • Brahman is an abstract concept with a wide meaning. One of its meaning is a hypothetical principle of the universe.

  • A Brahmin is a member of the first of the four classes.

  • Atman again has a wide meaning. One meaning is similar to soul. The main statement of the Indian upanishads is the equation "atman = brahman". That's difficult to understand. But a good metaphor for it is Indra's net, even when the latter is from Buddhism. See Gail Atkins figure and the five bullet points below at http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.de/2009/04/net-of-indra.html

  • I am sympathetic to some ideas in Hinduism and in particular those of Brahman and Atman, but that page on Indira's net that you linked to contains in my opinion the most gobbledygook I have seen in one place since a long long time... – nir Dec 12 '15 at 18:20
  • and I don't think Atman=Brahman is too difficult to grasp - it is reminiscent of monism, or idealism, or panpsychism - something along the lines of the essence of mind is an essence of the universe. – nir Dec 12 '15 at 18:22
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    @nir I refer only to the figure of GAIL ATKINS and the five bullet points below. - I agree with your last sentence: atman = brahman is meant as "something along the lines of the essence of mind is an essence of the universe". But what is the essence of the mind, what is the essence of the universe, why are they equal, and how to show that they are? - I did never understand what Hindus explained to me about these points. I appreciated Indra's net as a metaphor to find at least some sense in the grand unification of the Upanishads. – Jo Wehler Dec 12 '15 at 18:35
  • I quite like the picture that's drawn of Indras net; it's so rather like Liebniz's monads, that I've wondered before whether he had been in part inspired by it; the Upanishads are great. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 12 '15 at 18:57
  • This answer lacks specificity. "Brahma is one of the main Hindu deities." Which one? "A Brahmin is a member of the first of the four classes." As characterized by what? – Rubellite Fae Aug 23 '17 at 21:21
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Brahmin

The Hindu caste system has four Varna :

  • Brahmins: priests, scholars and teachers
  • Kshatriyas: rulers, warriors and administrators
  • Vaishyas: agriculturalists and merchants
  • Shudras: laborers and service providers

The Brahmin caste are thus the caste that produced the clergy in traditional Hindu society.


Brahma

Hinduism has three primary Gods, known as the Trimurti. These Gods are references to the three primary forces in nature that hold the universe together :

  • Brahma (order), the source of creation, can be understood as an anthropomorphic representation of emergence
  • Shiva (chaos), the source of destruction, can be understood as an anthropomorphic representation of entropy
  • Vishnu (balance), the source of balance, can be understood as an anthropomorphic representation of the laws of thermodynamics

Brahma is thus the Hindu representation of the creative force in the universe.


Atman & Brahman

The Atman and Brahman are concepts from the Vedanta branch of Hinduism that represent respectively your individual consciousness and universal consciousness. The Brahman is thus a pantheistic perspective on the divine.

Advaita Vedanta, a school of thought within the Vedanta branch, stresses the notion that the Atman and Brahman are just different manifestations of the same divine essence, which is basically just simplified Animism.

See also my article The Atheistic approach to God… or how to bridge the gap between Atheists and Theists where I explain how Atheism, Pantheism, Hinduism, Animism and Shamanism are really just different perspectives on the same core concepts.

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    How you get from Advaita Vedanta to Animism I cannot imagine. The correct term is 'nondualism'. This states that the Universe is a Unity or Consciousness is a Unity. This view is not strictly atheism or theism, which is why we find both in the perennial philosophy. Nor is Atman defined as our individual consciousness but as something more like 'Christ-consciousness'. . – PeterJ Aug 7 '17 at 12:02
  • @PeterJ : I'm not sure what "Christ-consciousness" is supposed to mean. Even though I've been raised a Catholic, that term means literally nothing to me. Anyway, the Animistic position is that (1) everything in the universe is conscious to some degree and that (2) consciousness is layered like a Matryoshka doll. The Atman & Brahman correspond with two layers within such an Animistic framework. See my article for more details on how Hinduism relates to Animism! – John Slegers Aug 7 '17 at 12:35
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    @PeterJ "if your monism is of the nondual type" Please clear up how monism can be anything other than nondual. John Slegers, "Christ consciousness" is an ACIM term for "true self" as opposed to "ego 'self.'" They call it that because Yeshua ben Yosef is the West's most famous example of an individual who identified self with true self instead of ego. ACIM is somewhat like Advaita Vedanta for former Christians. Although, most diligent readers I've met have a hard time understanding the texts. – Rubellite Fae Aug 23 '17 at 21:11
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    @PeterJ : Personally I lean towards the notion that dimensions are circular instead of linear and that our universe is sort-of like a fractal. – John Slegers Aug 25 '17 at 16:44
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    @John Slegers - Yes! This is weird. On another forum I recently posted a explanation of why I see dimensions as being circular, like the worm Aurobourus, and not open-ended, and linked this to Hofstadter's 'strange loops'. We must be on the same track. – PeterJ Aug 26 '17 at 12:45
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This answer was too long for a comment.

At hinduism.stackexchange.com you will get emic answers to this question. Here the answers are more likely to be etic. As a side note, as a linguaphile I discourage concurrently learning words that either sound similar or have totally opposite meanings. In my experience, I forget or am apprehensive about which is which. Whatever your study and memorization methodology is, I'd recommend learning other things in between or risk losing certainty about the meaning of these words.

These answers will be short enough to memorize and further research, but are in no way comprehensive. Volumes have been written on these topics.

Brahman: the totality of the cosmos; the (non-anthropomorphic) monad; Ultimate Reality, i.e., that which lies behind the veil of maya (useful illusion).
Brahma: the deva of creation (and thus anthropomorphic); often spoken of in context of the trimurti—creation, preservation, destruction; the generative aspects of reality.
Brahmin: a social caste whose members have the dharma (sacred life-duty) of theology.
Atman: similar to the Western concept of the individual soul; often discussed along with Brahman: dualistic schools believe it is different/separate from Brahman (like traditional Western religions) while non-dualistic schools believe that any seeming differentiation/separation is maya (like Western esoteric/mysticism schools).

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Satcitananda. Roughly: truth, consciousness, bliss.

That's it. Not surprisingly however, Satcitananda has a Wikipedia! And I would particularly draw your attention to the Discussion section of the Wikipedia article.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satcitananda

I was trying to get across that it is something realized rather than learned through definitions (as we tend to do in the west). Brahman "is" indescribable, unitary, ultimate (wiki, under the Vedanta section).

I realize that what I have written here does not answer the original question as asked, and again I would point to the discussion section I mentioned above.

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    This is too brief for an answer here. Can you expand it? See How to Answer. – user2953 Aug 6 '17 at 17:51
  • I fear any answer would be too brief. This stuff takes years to assimilate and as Gordon says, some meditation would be required for any proper understanding. Put simply, the Universe would be a Unity and all distinctions including Brahman-Atman would be conceptual. Even 'here-there' and 'now-then' would be mental constructs to be transcended by the practices of Yoga. What is revealed is our true self, and ultimately this would be Being, Consciousness, Bliss, or in Christian terms the Godhead. This would be what we are and we'd know this if only we could see past the smoke and mirrors. – PeterJ Aug 10 '17 at 12:38

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