We all know that it's Saguna Brahman that does the job of creation but I would like to know, how Nirguna Brahman becomes Saguna Brahman in the first place. I know you guys would probably say that when Nirguna's reflection falls on maya, it becomes Saguna and so on, but such an explanation never really made any sense to me, since as of yet (as far as my knowledge goes) no one has explained in detail, what is meant by Nirguna's reflection. If Nirguna Brahman really lacks attributes (as the ancients claimed in the past) then how can it possibly have a reflection?

I read in some article that by the word reflection the sages meant something else, and shouldn't be taken literally as a reflection. So if it's not a reflection then i wonder what they meant by it.

Besides, this whole reflection theory is just one way of explaining it. I think the rishis/philosophers used other methods as well, for explaining the transformation of Nirguna to Saguna. It would be great if someone could list all those methods (if there are any) and explain how the transformation takes place. I would like to know the process of transformation in detail. Thank you.

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    From the Advaita standpoint, the question is not logical. Saguna and Nirguna are the same. There is only 1 Brahman, not 2 joined together. Saguna Brahman is Nirguna Brahman. Saguna Brahman is Nirguna Brahman 'seen' through maya. From within maya Nirguna Brahman cannot be perceived. From within maya what is perceived is Saguna Brahman. See the 'Introduction' pp xv - xxxiv of the Brahma Sutras available here - wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/brahma-sutras Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 9:17
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    ... During the period of prakrithika pralaya (the small scale dissolution at the end of Bruhma's night) do you think Saguna Brahman stops existing? ... No He exists. Even when our minds and indriyas are not there to percieve them, He exists. What would you like to say about that brother? Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 13:19
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    But Advaita says, that before creation, no names or forms exists, (not even saguna). Then just before creation, Nirguna uses it's shakti Prakriti/Maya, in order to manifest as Saguna ... This is the part that i would like to know in detail. (The whole transformative process.) Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 13:29
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    You should read purusha shuktam - Rig Veda Hymn 10.90. This is exact suktam, which is related to nirguna to saguna or hopefully your question. Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 23:54
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    In playstore ebook, search for “purusha sooktam” by chinmayananda. Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 9:54

2 Answers 2


I am supplementing chinmaya sarupriya's excellent answer.

Nirguna Brahman is inert. There is no question of it changing to Saguna Brahman.

A BRAHMO DEVOTEE: "Sir, has God forms or has He none?"

MASTER : "No one can say with finality that God is only 'this' and nothing else. He is formless, and again He has forms. For the bhakta He assumes forms. But He is formless for the jnani, that is, for him who looks on the world as a mere dream. The bhakta feels that he is one entity and the world another. Therefore God, reveals Himself to him as a Person. But the jnani — the Vedantist, for instance — always reasons, applying the process of 'Not this, not this'. Through this discrimination he realizes, by his inner perception, that the ego and the universe are both illusory, like a dream. Then the jnani realizes Brahman in his own consciousness. He cannot describe what Brahman is.

"Do you know what I mean? Think of Brahman, Existence-Knowledge- Bliss Absolute, as a shoreless ocean. Through the cooling influence, as it were, of the bhakta's love, the water has frozen at places into blocks of ice. In other words, God now and then assumes various forms for His lovers and reveals Himself to them as a Person. But with the rising of the sun of Knowledge, the blocks of ice melt. Then one doesn't feel any more that God is a Person, nor does one see God's forms. What He is cannot be described. Who will describe Him? He who would do so disappears. He cannot find his 'I' any more.

"If one analyses oneself, one doesn't find any such thing as 'I'. Take an onion, for instance. First of all you peel off the red outer skin; then you find thick white skins. Peel these off one after the other, and you won't find anything inside.

"In that state a man no longer finds the existence of his ego. And who is there left to seek it? Who can describe how he feels in that state — in his own Pure Consciousness — about the real nature of Brahman? Once a salt doll went to measure the depth of the ocean. No sooner was it in the water than it melted. Now who was to tell the depth?

"There is a sign of Perfect Knowledge. Man becomes silent when It is attained. Then the 'I', which may be likened to the salt doll, melts in the Ocean of Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute and becomes one with It. Not the slightest trace of distinction is left.

"As long as his self-analysis is not complete, man argues with much ado. But he becomes silent when he completes it. When the empty pitcher has been filled with water, when the water inside the pitcher becomes one with the water of the lake outside, no more sound is heard. Sound comes from the pitcher as long as the pitcher is not filled with water.

"People used to say in olden days that no boat returns after having once entered the black waters' of the ocean.

"All trouble and botheration come to an end when the 'I' dies. You may indulge in thousands of reasonings, but still the 'I' doesn't disappear. For people like you and me, it is good to have the feeling, 'I am a lover of God.'

"The Saguna Brahman is meant for the bhaktas. In other words, a bhakta believes that God has attributes and reveals Himself to men as a Person, assuming forms. It is He who listens to our prayers. The prayers that you utter are directed to Him alone. You are bhaktas, not jnanis or Vedantists. It doesn't matter whether you accept God with form or not. It is enough to feel that God is a Person who listens to our prayers, who creates, preserves, and destroys the universe, and who is endowed with infinite power.

"It is easier to attain God by following the path of devotion."

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, The Master with Brahmo devotees (I), translated by Swami Nikhilananda

Both Nirguna and Saguna Brahman are experiences of Yogis. A Yogi following the path of devotion experiences Brahman as a person through a layer of Sattva Maya. Hence he interprets his experience as Saguna Brahman. A Yogi who follows Jnana Yoga gains knowledge. What he experiences cannot be defined. This experience when the 'sun of knowledge' dawns is called Nirguna Brahman. The actual position is that no one knows what exactly is Brahman. When experienced through purified ego Brahman appears to be Saguna while when experienced beyond the ego appears to be Nirguna.

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    Your answer gave me a good way of framing experiences. Even though it seems so obvious now, I hadn't previously thought of guṇas as "qualities of illusion" as it were. But sattvic māyā, rajasic māyā, & tamasic māyā is a great way to frame the concept! ✨ Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 6:07

This is a popular question and tough to understand with our limited senses but addressed by illumined masters like Swami Vivekananda.

Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda / Volume 2 / Jnana Yoga / The Absolute and Manifestation:

The one question that is most difficult to grasp in understanding the Advaita philosophy, and the one question that will be asked again and again and that will always remain is: How has the Infinite, the Absolute, become the finite? I will now take up this question, and, in order to illustrate it, I will use a figure.

                                                              enter image description here

Here is the Absolute (a), and this is the universe (b). The Absolute has become the universe. By this is not only meant the material world, but the mental world, the spiritual world — heavens and earths, and in fact, everything that exists. Mind is the name of a change, and body the name of another change, and so on, and all these changes compose our universe. This Absolute (a) has become the universe (b) by coming through time, space, and causation (c). This is the central idea of Advaita. Time, space, and causation are like the glass through which the Absolute is seen, and when It is seen on the lower side, It appears as the universe. Now we at once gather from this that in the Absolute there is neither time, space, nor causation. The idea of time cannot be there, seeing that there is no mind, no thought. The idea of space cannot be there, seeing that there is no external change. What you call motion and causation cannot exist where there is only One. We have to understand this, and impress it on our minds, that what we call causation begins after, if we may be permitted to say so, the degeneration of the Absolute into the phenomenal, and not before; that our will, our desire and all these things always come after that.

You asked how Nirguna became Saguna? Nirguna never became Saguna in the first place!

That which is free cannot have any cause; else it would not be free, but bound. That which has relativity cannot be free. Thus we see the very question, why the Infinite became the finite, is an impossible one, for it is self-contradictory. Coming from subtleties to the logic of our common plane, to common sense, we can see this from another side, when we seek to know how the Absolute has become the relative. Supposing we knew the answer, would the Absolute remain the Absolute? It would have become relative. What is meant by knowledge in our common-sense idea? It is only something that has become limited by our mind, that we know, and when it is beyond our mind, it is not knowledge. Now if the Absolute becomes limited by the mind, It is no more Absolute; It has become finite. Everything limited by the mind becomes finite. Therefore to know the Absolute is again a contradiction in terms. That is why this question has never been answered, because if it were answered, there would no more be an Absolute. A God known is no more God; He has become finite like one of us.

Sri Ramakrishna said the same thing, when one goes into Samadhi, one experiences Advaita state which cannot be described, the moment we start to describe, we are not really talking about Nirguna Brahman.

Gospel / Volume 1 / The Master With The Brahmo Devotees (II):

It is also said in the Vedas that Brahman is beyond mind and words. The heat of the sun of Knowledge melts the ice-like form of the Personal God. On attaining the Knowledge of Brahman and communing with It in nirvikalpa samadhi, one realizes Brahman, the Infinite, without form or shape and beyond mind and words. The nature of Brahman cannot be described. About It one remains silent. Who can explain the Infinite in words? However high a bird may soar, there are regions higher still.

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    You said, Nirguna never became Saguna in the first place! ... Then how would you explain the claims of the Pratibimba theorists where they say that when Brahman's reflection falls on the vidya aspect of maya, Ishwara comes into being or manifests. (I'm assuming this happens right before creation. After Saguna manifests, he manifests the rest of the world. But before creation there's no saguna.) Now, the thing that i'm trying to understand here is, how can an attributeless Brahman possibly have a reflection. Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 15:03
  • Not limiting to one philosophy or the other, I would approach this from the point of view of the language you've used. Nirguna or "without attributes" to me would appear to be an abstraction rather than an absolute state. I think so, because if a name "Nirguna" has been ascribed to the subject of contemplation, then it already has at least one attribute, i.e. the name. If we take this to non linguistic dimensions, at the time there is knowledge or gnosis of the existence of the subject of contemplation, at least that attribute is ascribed, making it Saguna. Commented Oct 13, 2018 at 12:23
  • This would also seem consistent with the use of "vidya" aspect of "maya". If it is all an abstraction of one nature or the other, i.e. "maya", then the "vidya aspect" would probably be the gnosis (makes sense with the vid root). This would make the Pratibimbists consistent :). Commented Oct 13, 2018 at 12:25

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