The interpretation of 'Nirguna' is different in different philosophies.

Srila baldeva VidyaBhushan in His Govind Bashya (Gaudiya vaishnav commentary on vedanta sutras)interprets 'Nirguna' as being without any material attributes;i.e. He is fully spiritual.

Similarly, Sripad Ramanujacharya interprets 'Nirguna' as to being without any negative qualities.

Ramanujacarya makes the following argument's in his Sri-Bhasya to refute the theory of Supreme being attributeless(It goes roughly as follows):

if we see a rope and think it is a snake, that mistaken idea is due to the fact that there is something snake-like in the rope, namely the shape of the rope. Similarly, if we are really perceiving Brahman but we think we are seeing the world, then the attributes we are seeing in the world must be derived from the qualities we are seeing in Brahman So for instance, if we see a chair there must be something chair-like in Brahman, otherwise we wouldn't mistake it for a chair. And if we see an apple then Brahman must have some apple-like attribute, etc. But that cannot be if Brahman is attributeless.

So I'm interested in knowing if Sripad Sankaracarya makes any such convincing arguments(I am sure He does) and what these arguments are.

Vedic scriptures contain various verses that states that Supreme Brahman is Nirguna. But as I've already mentioned; the interpretation of the word 'Nirguna' varies greatly in different philosophies.

Ex. Vedanta Sutra; Adhyaya 1, pada 1 ;Adhikarana 5 deals explicitly with this subject matter.

Adi Shankaracharya interprets Nirguna as without any attributes(correct me if i'm wrong). However Shankara also says that Brahman is full of eternal bliss and knowledge(Satcitanandmaya) ; this is also mentioned in various scriptures.

So my 1st question here is

  1. Is it wrong to say that knowledge,eternity and bliss are his attributes ; Thus concluding that He has attributes?

It is believed by Advaitins that this nirguna Brahman expands himself in saguna form(say Lord Krishna).

  1. Is there any difference between this Saguna expansion and Nirguna Brahman?

3.If Saguna brahman(say Lord Krishna) is superimposition of Maya on Nirguna Brahman; than would it mean that krishna is under the spell of Maya(illusion)?

The purpose of these questions(Q.2 , Q.3) is that I'm confused with above Shankara philosophy and this verse of Geeta

Edit 1: I seek to find out the explanation/arguments that Shankaracharya(or other prominent acaryas in Disciplic succession) put forward to infer that supreme is without any attributes.

Edit 2: So; please avoid quoting a direct verse from scripture; since I'm looking what Sripad Sankaracharya comments on those(related) verses.

Edit 3: I've purposely used the word 'Supreme' ; instead of using any specific term.


there is sun and from sun radiates the sunlight. Sun pervades the world in form of his light energy. This all-pervading light does not have any form. But sun does have form.

Now If someone argues that Sunlight is Supreme(in this ex.) ; than that would be contradiction to sutra 1.1.2 ; "Janmadi yasya yataha" (from whome birth etc). This is because in given example ; sunlight is the effect of Sun;It has come from sun; Sun is the cause. Thus since sunlight is not independent of sun; it is subordinate to sun.

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    By the way, just like Baladeva Vidyabhushana's Govinda Bhashya interprets Nirguna as "no material qualities" rather than "no qualities", Ramanujacharya's Sri Bhashya interprets Nirguna as "no negative qualities". In fact Brahman is characterized by the Kalyana Gunas ascribed to him by the Pancharatra texts - Jnana, Bala, Aishvarya, Virya, Shakti, and Tejas. Apr 29, 2016 at 10:54
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    @KeshavSrinivasan my question is 'what is convincing explaination for infering Brahman as Nirguna?' . I understand the the rules of this site and respect the opinion of participants. I've asked the question since i cannot apprehend the possible explaination for calling Brahman as to being without any attributes. Il edit my question; may be it is not clear Apr 29, 2016 at 10:58
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    OK, that's better. By the way, you may be interested in one of the arguments that Ramanujacharya makes against the Advaita theory of Nirguna Brahman. It goes roughly as follows: if we see a rope and think it is a snake, that mistaken idea is due to the fact that there is something snake-like in the rope, namely the shape of the rope. Similarly if we are really perceiving Brahman but we think we are seeing the world, then the attributes we are seeing in the world must be derived from the qualities we are seeing in Brahman. Apr 29, 2016 at 11:17
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    So for instance, if we see a chair there must be something chair-like in Brahman, otherwise we wouldn't mistake it for a chair. And if we see an apple then Brahman must have some apple-like attribute, etc. But that cannot be if Brahman is attributeless. So Ramanujacharya argues the Advaita theory of Maya contradicts the Advaita theory of Nirguna Brahman. Apr 29, 2016 at 11:20
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    Whatever form you give him, is only a way of your 'Mind' trying to understand something that is beyond it. Therefore all attributes belong in the region of the Mind. Advaita says that in order to experience God, one must remove the attempt to 'understand' or 'describe' him, but rather strive to 'experience' him. For example, descibe 'sweetness' or 'truth' (wiki fails). However everyone 'knows' what sweetness is. How? By having experienced it. So Advaita says 'Brahman' is attributeless. Satchidananda - Existence, Consciousness, Bliss - is the closest the Mind can get to describing attributeless
    – Sai
    May 1, 2016 at 4:38

2 Answers 2


Sri Shankaraacharya discusses the nature of the Supreme in Brahma Sutra Bhasya.

Brahman is only formless to be sure, for that is the dominant mode (of the Upanishad teaching).

Brahman is surely to be known as having no form constituted by color etc, and not as having it.


"For that is the dominant teaching", inasmuch as it has been established under the aphorism, "But that Brahman is known from the Upanishads, because of their being connected with Brahman as their main import" (I.i.4), that the texts like the following have for their main purport the transcendental Brahman which is the Self, and not any other subject-matter: "It is neither gross, nor minute, neither short nor long" (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad III.viii.8), "Soundless, touchless, colorless, undiminishing" (Katha Upanishad I.iii.15), "That which is known as Space is the accomplisher of name and form; That in which they are included is Brahman" (Chandogya Upanishad VIII.xiv.1), "Purusa is transcendental, since He is formless, and He is coextensive with all that is external and internal, since He is birthless" (Mundaka Upanishad II.i.2), "That Brahman is without prior or posterior, without interior and exterior. The Self, the perceiver of everything, is Brahman" (Brhadaranayaka Upanishad II.v.19), and so on. Hence in sentences of this kind, the formless Brahman alone, just as It is spoken of by the texts themselves, has to be accepted. But the other texts, speaking of Brahman with form, have the injunctipns about meditations as their main objectives. So long as they do not lead to some contradiction, their apparent meanings should be accepted. But when they involve a contradiction, the principle to be followed for deciding one or the other is that, those that have the formless Brahman as their main purport are more authoritative than the others which have not that as their main purport. It is according to this that one is driven to the conclusion that Brahman is formless and not its opposite, though texts having both the purports are in evidence.

Opponent: What would then be the fate of the texts speaking of forms?

Vedantin: Hence comes the reply.

Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya of Sri Sankaracharya III.ii.14

And like light, Brahman can (be assumed to) have different appearances, so that the scriptures may not become purposeless.

Though the light of the sun or moon spreads over the whole space, still when it comes in contact with adjuncts like fingers etc., it seems to assume the forms, straight or bent, as those adjuncts may have; similarly Brahman, too, seems to have the forms of earth etc., when in contact with those things. And it is, nothing contradictory to enjoin meditations on Brahman based on those forms. Thus the sentences presenting Brahman as having forms do not become meaningless, for it is not proper to interpret some Vedic sentences as having meaning and the others as meaningless, since they are all valid.

Opponent: Even so, does not the assertion made earlier that Brahman cannot have a dual characteristic even in association with limiting adjuncts, stand contradicted?

Vedantin: We say, no, since whatsoever is brought about by an adjunct is ot the essential characteristic of a thing, since the adjuncts themselves are conjured up by ignorance. And we said in the respective contexts that all social and Vedic behaviors crop up only when the beginningless nescience is taken for granted.

Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya of Sri Sankaracharya III.ii.15

The Upanishad also declares Brahman to be Consciousness alone.

The Upanishad also says that Brahman is pure consciousness, devoid of other aspects contrary to this, and without any distinguishing feature, as in, "As a lump of salt is without interior or exterior, entire, and purely saline in taste, even so is the Self without interior or exterior, entire and pure Intelligence alone" (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad IV.v.13) which means that the Self has no internal or external aspect apart from pure consciousness. Its nature being mere impartite consciousness without any interstices, just as lump of salt has the saline taste alone both inside and outside, and no other taste, so also is this Self.

Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya of Sri Sankaracharya III.ii.16

Answers to sub-questions:

  1. There is no right or wrong about considering knowledge, consciousness and bliss to be His attributes. Bhaktas think of Him as a Person and consider these as His attibutes. Advaita Vedanta considers Brahman as knowledge itself, as consciousness itself and bliss itself and do not consider these as attributes.

  2. Advaita Vedanta does not consider Saguna Brahman as expansion of Nirguna Brahman. Nirguna Brahman is seen as Saguna Brahman due to Avidya or nescience.

  3. Krishna is Lord of Maya and is not under spell of Maya.


Supreme is beyond all of the things and attributes. However it is not wrong to say him Satcitananda. (as I've discussed for this question when OP asked it is neither called sat nor asat and my reply on this.)

But remember that the right truth can only be realized. [Ken Upanishad 2.1-3]; also see the question on Turiya, [related to Mandukya Upanishad verse 6]

For 2nd question:

Is there any difference between this Saguna expansion and Nirguna Brahman?

ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पुर्णमुदच्यते पूर्णश्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥

Means : Om. That is infinite, this is infinite; From That infinite this infinite comes. From That infinite, this infinite removed or added; Infinite remains infinite.

For 3rd question, Krishna clearly says in Bhagavad Gita:

Verse 9.4 & 9.5 (English translation from vedabase)

मया ततमिदं सर्वं जगदव्यक्तमूर्तिना ।
मत्स्थानि सर्वभूतानि न चाहं तेष्ववस्थितः ॥

By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.

न च मत्स्थानि भूतानि पश्य मे योगमैश्वरम् ।
भूतभृन्न च भूतस्थो ममात्मा भूतभावनः ॥

And yet everything that is created does not rest in Me. Behold My mystic opulence! Although I am the maintainer of all living entities and although I am everywhere, I am not a part of this cosmic manifestation, for My Self is the very source of creation.

Adi Shankaracharya's Argument:

From Vivekachudamani:

Quoted verse 209-211 from here :

Nor is the blissful sheath the Supreme Self, because it is endowed with the changeful attributes, is a modification of the Prakriti, is the effect of past good deeds, and imbedded in the other sheaths which are modifications.

When all the five sheaths have been eliminated by the reasoning on Shruti passages, what remains as the culminating point of the process, is the Witness, the Knowledge Absolute - the Atman.

This self-effulgent Atman which is distinct from the five sheaths, the Witness of the three states, the Real, the Changeless, the Untainted, the everlasting Bliss - is to be realised by the wise man as his own Self.

You can read Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada karika in which Advaita is demonstrated by logical arguments.

"Neti-Neti" from Brihadaranyak Upanishad says "not this! not that" which means Brahman (The highest/supreme) is actually not as described or expressed.

  • Advaita (Nondualist) school of Vedanta say the Brahman is beyond all the things and can't be characterised or expressed.
  • If you think that Brahman is of some particular characteristics or attributes then it is limited by those attributes and hence can't be supreme
  • Actually the attributes are prevailing in the mind or say it is the subject of mind or speech but-
  • From Ken Upanishad 2.3 to 2.8 Brahman is not the subject of/for mind, speech, eye etc. And from Taittariya Upanishad (2.4.1 and 2.9.1) यतो वाचो निवर्तन्ते । अप्राप्य मनसा सह । which says that "words turn back along with the mind, failing to reach Brahman" (Adi Shankaracharya used this sentence many times in his commentaries)
  • The attributes of which (Sagun) Brahman is assumed are actually for preparatory meditation.

Also visit wikipedia article on Para Brahman and the views of Advaita Vedanta on it.

  • Since the main question is about what Adi Shankaracharya's arguments are for his theory of Nirguna Brahman, you should discuss his arguments in your answer. Apr 29, 2016 at 14:55
  • The Bhagwad Gita is a pancharatra text which is basis of Bhagwad Ramanujacharya's philosophy, and that quote is saying that he is unmanifested not attribute-less. So in that case your Quote from Bhagwad Gita directly makes no sense you should cite Adi Shankaracharyas' view on this from his Gita Bhasya.sankaracharya.org/gita_bhashya.php
    – Yogi
    Apr 29, 2016 at 14:56
  • @Vishalprabhulawande ok and I never asked you to read full Brahma sutra commentary! I'll revise my answer (I need some time to get exact meant of attributes)
    – Pandya
    Apr 30, 2016 at 6:38
  • "definitions" of Nirguna and Saguna Brahman are word-games. Nirguna Brahman can be attained and in that state there are no words. There are countless Saguna brahmans postulated and each invalidates the others. Nirguna Brahman is one and if you were fortunate enough to sit next to a Ramakrishna when he is in Samadhi, you can experience it directly and wordlessly.
    – S K
    Apr 10, 2021 at 16:06

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