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Sanskrit is a language with a complicated grammar, and the task of mastering it strikes fear in me even though---or maybe just because---I was forced to learn Latin grammar in high school. Even if we take just one word and one ending---Brahman and its final “n”---we soon find ourselves involved in complexity. But the most complex thing about the word “Brahma” or “Brahman” is not its conjugation but its myriad of meanings. In regard to meaning, the final “n” of Brahman creates a profound difference, for it turns the masculine word into a neuter word. And when we turn a masculine deity into a neuter “something”---a substance perhaps? We have indeed changed our perception of the world in a penetrating way.

In Brahma we have a god or God that almost was---he almost was a God that many could worship, who in the time of the Mahabharata was still more important than Vishnu and Shiva. Both the evolution and decline of the Vedic Brahma are probably the result of an excessive refinement by the philosophical mind. It was this refinement that made Brahma seem like an attractive alternative to the God of Abraham, at least for a moment in history.

I would like to make several observations about Brahma. One of the meanings of the root of the name Brahma, brih, is “to expand”. Modern cosmology has provided an exciting image of expansion in the act of creation that was the Big Bang. I do not know if the syllable brih describes this process so well because of chance or because of a fortunate intuition on the part of the ancient philosophers. In only a few seconds after the initial Big Bang the matter that makes up the universe underwent a profound transformation. The Vedic sages theorized that sound was the cause of the initial creation and the many rapid changes that followed. These sounds were symbolized by the syllable AUM or OM and were supposed to be a series of ramifications upon that initial syllable. Brahma was said to have chanted the AUM, but we must imagine that the Creative Mind thought that sound and a myriad of other sounds in a logical sequence that resulted in a mathematical series of changes in matter. These changes led from subatomic particles to atoms to elements to compounds.

The symbolic image of Brahma, with four heads gazing into the four directions of the compass, resembles to some extent the Tibetan scheme of four Buddhas surrounding a fifth---because there was once a fifth head in the center, which we may suppose looked upward. This head would have symbolized transcendence, but Brahma lost it because of his sexual desire for his daughter. We may see in this development of the concept of Brahma a point of failure that foretold the final obsolescence of the God. It was the philosophical mind that favored Brahma as an image of God, and when that mind began to think that the rampant sexuality of the world removed it from consideration as a living presence of transcendent deity, both Brahma and his creation became the “world” in an almost medieval European sense, where the world was spiritually dangerous. When Brahma lost the enthusiastic support of the philosopher sages, he was doomed to decline in importance; for he was not sufficiently rooted in Indian soil to rival Shiva, who deprived him of the fifth, “transcendent” head as a punishment for his sexual excess.

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