Chidbhananda (an advaitin monk) in his Gita translation explained Sat & Asat. He explains that when Krishna told Arjuna that He's both sat & asat, Krishna was referring to saguna brahman.

Chidbhananda explains -

Sat = being / vyakta / material manifestation.

Asat = non-being / avyakta / non-manifestation / subtlety.

And both sat & asat are part of Prakriti / Maya / SagunaBrahman, since sat and asat are a type of qualities or features that can be applied to only Saguna Brahm and not to Nirguna Brahm ... Nirguna Brahm on the other hand is beyond "sat/vyakta" and "asat/avyakta" features. Here is the link to the ebook. Ch13,v12, page 89 & 90 Chidbhananda Gita The pages are all in a scrabled order in this ebook. After page 89 , page 94 appears. You need to flip a few pages back to get to pg.90


On the other hand, in Chandogya upanishad, chapter 6, Section 2, verses 1 & 2, Sage Aruni aka Uddalaka describes Brahman (nirguna) as Sat. Here are the verses-

Verse 1 ... Sat – Being (‘is-ness’), eva – only, saumya – dear boy, idam – this, agra – in the beginning, asid (aasith) – was, ekam – one, eva – only, advitiyam – without a second (non-dual), tad – about that, haika (aika) – some, ahuh – say, asad (asath) – non-being (void), eva – only, idam – this, agra – in the beginning, asid (aasith) – was, ekam – one, eva – only, advitiyam – without a second (non-dual), tasmad asatah (asathah) – from that non-being, saj (sath) – being (“is-ness”), jayata – arose/was born

In the beginning, dear boy, this was Being alone, one only, without a second. Some say that, in the beginning, this was Non-being alone, one only, without a second. From that Non-being arose Being.

Verse 2 ... Kutah – whence/how, tu – but, khalu – indeed, saumya – dear boy, evam – so, syat – could it be, iti hovaca – so (Aruni) said, katham – how, asatah (asathah) – from Non-being (Void), saj (sath) – Being (“is-ness”), jayet – could arise, iti – so (he said), sat (sath) – Being (“is-ness”), tu – in truth, eva – only, saumya – dear boy, idam – this, agra – in the beginning, asid (aasith) – was, ekam – one, eva – only, advitiyam – without a second (non-dual)

Aruni (Uddalaka) said, ‘But how, indeed, dear boy, could it be so? How could Being arise from Non-being? In truth, dear boy, in the beginning (before creation), there was Being alone, one only, without a second.

I'm a little confused here. Does sat simply means existence or being as Aruni describes, which Aruni ascribes it to Nirguna Brahman ... or is Chidbhananda's explanation correct, that sat(vyakta) & asat(avyakta) are features of Saguna Brahman and that the term 'sat' is not ANY KIND of existence but only material manifestation or vyaktaroopa?


2 Answers 2


Sat and Asat can mean existence and non-existence.It can also mean real and unreal. It can mean being and non-being. It all depends on the context.

The unreal has no existence; the real never ceases to be. The truth about both has been realized by the seers.

Gita 2.16

In the above verse asat has been translated as unreal and sat as real. Asat (Unreal) means transience while sat (real) means permanent in this context.

Then again there is Gita 9.19

I give heat, I withold and send forth the rain; I am immortality and death; I am being as well as nonbeing, Arjuna.

Gita 9.19

As the Immanent Reality, the working of Iswara in and through the Cosmos has its glory. As the sun, the Lord gives death and as the sun-rays He is the cause of the rain commencing and ceasing. Based on the fruits of karma, the Lord is the seeming immortality of the Devas and the death of the human beings; the former is in fact, as evenscent as the latter. Both of these transitory states are helpful to train the Jivatman and make him fit for enlightenment. In His manifested state the Lord is the being of the Cosmos and in His unmanifested state He is the non-being. The non-being should not be construed as nihility.

Commentary of Swami Chidbhavananda of Gita 9.19

Since Gita 9.19 is talking of heat and rain this verse is talking about Saguna Brahman.Nirguna Brahman cannot be associated with any phenomena.

Now let us look at Gita 13.12

I shall describe that which has to be known knowing which one attains to immortality. Beginningless is the Supreme Brahman. It is not said to be 'sat' or 'asat'.

Gita 13.12

He [Supreme Brahman] is no more affected by the relative 'sat' or 'asat' - being and nonbeing, the manifest state and the unmanifest state.

Commentary of Swami Chidbhavananda of Gita 13.12

Here it is clear from the context that Gita is talking about Nirguna Brahman which does not change and is thus unaffected by sat and asat.

Now let us look at what Aruni said (given in the details).

Aruni (Uddalaka) said, ‘But how, indeed, dear boy, could it be so? How could Being arise from Non-being? In truth, dear boy, in the beginning (before creation), there was Being alone, one only, without a second.

Chandogya 6.2.2

What does sat (Being) mean here? It means Reality. It just means only Reality or being exists before creation.

  • Hmmm... so it all depends on the context. Great !! ... Ok, let's just go back to Gita verse 13.12 one more time. Can you explain more about this asat/non- being/avyakta that's mentioned in this Gita verse? Is it the subtle Mula-Prakriti that changes or manifests during each creation? ... How is this asat or avyakta(which is a part of saguna) different from Nirguna. Arent't both of these nirakar / formless? Jul 25, 2018 at 8:04
  • You shouldn't confuse sat/asat with avyakta (mula Prakrti). Sat/asat is being used here as manifestation/unmanifestation of the universe. Yes both Avaktya and nirakara Brahman are formless. However, Avaktya or mula-Prakrti is considered to be the sakti of Brahman. Sat (manifestation) , asat (unmanifestation), mula Pratkti, sakti of Brahman are dualistic concepts. None of these can be defined when one talks of Nirguna Brahman. Nirguna Brahman is nondual and all that can be said about it is that it exists without a second entity.. Jul 25, 2018 at 11:25
  • So it's the nirguna, the non-dual, cosmic consciousness that uses it's shakti or creative power (which is not separate from nirguna), to bring forth manifestation and saguna is part of this manifestation as shiva, vishnu, brahma. Am i right? Jul 26, 2018 at 9:43
  • @TheCrimsonUniverse, you are almost right. The only change I will make is that the non-dual Cosmic consciousness is inert. So you can;t say that It uses Sakti. All we can say is that Sakti manifests the universe and relative to this universe Brahman is called Saguna Brahman. Jul 26, 2018 at 13:24
  • I think this is the reason why the shaktaas consider adi shakti the goddess supreme, since it's shakti that creates or manifests. Jul 26, 2018 at 17:55


sat = existence/being
asat = non-existence/non-being

Gambhirananda covers it in following way:

BG 17.23 - 'Om-tat-sat' ['Om, That, Existence': 'Om iti brahma, Om is Brahman' (Tai. 1.8.1); 'Tattvamasi, Thou art That' (Ch. 6.8.7); and 'Sadeva somya idamagra asit, This was Existence alone in the beginning, O amiable one' (Ch. 6.2.1)-in these texts Brahman is indicated by the words Om, tat, sat.] - this is considered to be the threefold designation of Brahman. The Brahmanas and Vedas and the sacrifices were ordanined by that in the days of yore.

Further the particular term is explained as:

BG 17.26 - This word sat is used with regard to, coming into being (viz. existence) and with regard to, becoming good. So also, O son of Prtha, the word sat is used with regard to an auspicious rite.

The prime quality (guna/गुण) among the 3, sattva is also derived from sat. Hence many call it the "quality of goodness".
So any kind of "existence" is part of the [Saguna] Brahman only. In other words, all the existence is Brahman. Possibly this could be a reason, why we call the whole universe as "BrahmAnda".

A caveat is that, though sat describes the Sagunua (सगुण) Brahman, the asat does Not describe Nirguna (निर्गुण) Brahman!
Because, like any other quality (guna/गुण) the "sat" has an opposite -- "asat"; a duality. Any dual गुण cannot describe निर्गुण.

Hence for the sake of describing the un-describable, it's often referred as "That". "That" is considered beyond any'thing'.

BG 8.20 — But there is an eternal Nature, which is beyond manifested & unmanifested; When all elementary world is destroyed, "that" remains.
BG 13.13 - I shall speak of that which is knowable (i.e. should be known). Realising which, one attains immortality. The supreme(nirguna) Brahman dwelling under Me, is beginning-less. "That" is said to be neither existent (sat) nor non-existent (asat).

  • Ah that's a lovely explanation. May i know from which English translation of Gita you've quoted verse 8.20 ? ... Thnx. Jul 22, 2018 at 16:37
  • Thx @TheCrimsonUniverse. Above is just an Sanskrit to English translation word by word. By 'which', if you mean which commentator, then it's an amalgamation of Gambhirananda (which I refer as the base) + ISCKON (which I refer for their word to word synonyms) + spokensanskrit.org.
    – iammilind
    Jul 22, 2018 at 16:56
  • Yeah i meant the translator. So the verse 13.13 that you quoted in the end is also taken from Gambhirananda's translations right? ... Btw what does supreme Brahman dwelling under Krishna means in v13.13 ... Is Krishna trying to say Brahman is subordinate to Him? ... Atleast that's what Prabhupada says in his commentary. He even used the word subordinate in his Gita. Jul 22, 2018 at 20:26
  • If Sat is not describing Nirgun or Para Brahman, then what do you think about Sachchidananda (Sat + Chitta + Ananda)? Does it apply to Saguna Brahman?
    – Pandya
    Jul 23, 2018 at 1:37
  • @TheCrimsonUniverse, verse 13.13 is also translated as an amalgamation of Gambhirananda, Sivananda & ISCKON. However the content in the braces are added by me personally for better understanding. The "Supreme Brahman" is dwelling under "Me" and not "Krishna". Most of the translators would put "Me" to depict the union/*yoga* with Brahman while recitation of the Gita. At rare places, it's mentioned as "me", which means "Krishna" himself. In nutshell, "Me" means the ultimate self (or Atma) which can be claimed by everyone including Krishna, Arjuna, you and myself.
    – iammilind
    Jul 23, 2018 at 4:56

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