Saccidānandam: Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya’s Trinitarian Brahman- Xavier Tharamel, S.J.

Having brought up in the tradition of the Brahma Samāj, Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya described God in the neuter word Brahman. It implies mainly the unconditioned Absolute who is beyond all qualifications and beyond even the concept of personality. However, in Sankara’s advaita, the word Parabrahman or the Supreme Being is indicated asSaccidānanda. That means, Brahman is Sat(positive Being), Cit (Intelligence) Anandam (Bliss) and as well as nirgunam.

The starting point for a consideration of Upadhyaya’s teaching on the Trinitarian Brahman is the wonderful hymnSaccidānanda which he wrote originally in Sanskrit. Here are the verses unpacking the three-fold unity of the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

I bow to Him who is Being, Consciousness and Bliss.

I bow to Him whom worldly minds loathe, whom pure minds yearn for,

the Supreme Abode.

He is the Supreme, the Ancient of days, the Transcendent,

Indivisible Plentitude, Immanent yet above all things,

Three-fold relation, pure, unrelated,

Knowledge beyond knowledge.

The Father, Sun, Supreme Lord Unborn,

The seedless Seed of the tree of becoming,

The Cause of all, Creator; Providence, Lord of the universe.

The infinite and perfect world,

The Supreme Person begotten,

Sharing in the Father’s nature, Conscious by essence,

Giver of true Salvation.

He who proceeds from Being and Consciousness,

Replete with the breath of perfect bliss,

The Purifier, the Swift, the Revealer of the Word,

The Life-giver.[1]

Despite the fact that the notion of Saccidānandacannot exhaustively define the nature of the Trinity, when imaginatively used as here, especially with Upadhyaya’s rich combination of ideas from the Scriptural, Greek and Hindu sources, it provides for a culturally or a religiously Hindu an entry into an extensive understanding of the Christian doctrine of God. Significantly, Upadhyaya combined the Thomist idea of God as pure being with the Vedantic conception of Brahman. It is not a parallelism but augmentation of the theological imagination on Brahman and the Trinity.

According to Upadhyaya, nirgunam means that the attributes that relates the infinite to the finite are not necessary to Brahman’s being. For instance, the creatorhood is not an intrinsic attribute of His being. Brahman is said to be nirgunam in the sense that He possesses no external attributes, no necessary correlation with any being other than His infinite self. Upadhyaya points out that Parabrahman is Sat, for nothing can be caused by Him. For explaining the Cit, Upadhyaya infers from the Vedanta Rishis who had a very clear conception of the universe existing ideally in the intelligence of God from eternity. Brahman reproduces Himself as Sabdabrahman (Logos). The knowing God is mirrored as the God in the ocean of Cit.

Upadhyayapoints out that the Vedàntic concept of God or Brahman as the highest point where the human reason can attain through the natural order. In the supernatural order, the highest point is the Triune God(nirguna Brahman). Thus, it is significant to understand that, according to Upadhyaya, anything connected with Ìsvarâ (saguna Brahman) is definitely on a lower level than the highest religion. Consequently, he demotes the popular Hinduism because of its chosen deities (ista devas/devatas) and the claim of having a vision of God by popular gurus (ex. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa etc.). According to Upadhyaya, this is a low level of religious experience because the Bible says that no man has seen nor can see God, (Jn 1: 18). Being a good Catholic, he strongly believed that the ultimate end of man is to pass beyond the abstract knowledge of God’s divinity to ‘the immediate vision of the Divine Essence.[2]

Upadhyaya further explains Sat-Cit-Anandam as a self-existent eternal being. Brahman is Saccidānandam means that Brahman knows Himself and from that self-knowledge His eternal beatitude. Brahman is in Himself, by Himself. Brahman is related only to the Infinite Image of His own being, mirrored in the ocean of His knowledge. This relation of being to Itself in self-knowledge Cit is one perfect harmony, self-satisfaction, beatitude bliss (Anandam). And Upadhyaya concluded that the Christian doctrine of the Trinitarian God is exactly the same as the Vedanta conception of Brahman as Sat chit anandam.Revelation in Jesus Christ is the further clarification and affirmation of God as Sat-Cit-Ananda. Upadhayay points out the limitation of reason and need for revelation to understand the inner life of God.

The origin of the Second and Third Persons of the Trinity was the central problem he faced during the reflection on the Trinity andSaccidānanda. Firstly, how can God, who is ‘unrelated’ (nirguna), have a Son? Secondly, what is the inner meaning of the traditional phrase ‘eternal generation’? Upadhyaya finds solution for these crucial questions in the nature of Brahman as Cit, Thought. That means, though God is ‘unrelated without’ He may be ‘related within’. Existing from all eternity, God has self-knowledge. Thus, the origin of the Cit/Logos is equally eternal. Ananda (bliss) is basically the non-dualistic unity of the Father and the Son. The Spirit has to be understood as a state of rest in the blissful union with the Father and the Son not as love proceeding from the knowledge of the Father and the Son. The reason for this is highlighted by Gispert-Sauch is that in Advaita,the idea of union cannot exist because there is only one reality or it is non-dual.

Upadhayay says the revelation of God in Jesus Christ acknowledges responsively His eternal thought-generation from the Father. Between Him and Father, there is no division in the divine substance; it is a relation of perfect reciprocity. This relation is the revelation of true relation between Sat and Citas well as the revelation of Anandam. So, the revelation of God in Jesus is further clarification and affirmation of God conceived as Sat-Chit-Ananda.It means only in the light of his Trinitarian framework, we are to understand rest of Upadhayay theological approach, especially Christology and the doctrine of Creation.

In a word, Upadhyaya places the notion of Saccidananda in the context of the Tripersonal God and applying the Trinitarian theology of Aquinas to it. As an Indian Hindu-Christian/culturally Hindu, through deep encounter with the Triune God in Jesus Christ, he sees the Saccidananda with a three-dimensional personality of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

[1] As quoted by Robin Boyd in An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology (Madras: 1979), originally written in Sanskrit which appeared in Sophia, Oct. 1898.

2 thoughts on “Saccidānandam: Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya’s Trinitarian Brahman- Xavier Tharamel, S.J.

  • April 28, 2017 at 10:51 pm
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    WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by searching for finger-root

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  • May 12, 2017 at 7:14 am
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    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is wonderful blog.
    A great read. I’ll definitely be back.

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