A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 4

Indian Pluralism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1949 | 186,278 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of interpretation of brahma-sutra i. 1. 2: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the third part in the series called the “madhva’s interpretation of the brahma-sutras”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 3 - Interpretation of Brahma-sūtra I. 1. 2

The literal translation of the second sūtra, janmādy asya yataḥ, is “from which production, etc., of this”. The purport of Śaṅkara’s commentary on this sūtra may briefly be stated as follows: “Production, etc.” means production, existence and destruction. Production, existence and destruction of this world-appearance, which is so great, so orderly and so diversified, is from that ultimate cause, God (Īśvara); and neither th eparamāṇus nor the inanimate prakṛti can be its cause. This rule is not intended to stand as an inference in favour of the existence of God, but is merely the description of the purport of the Upaniṣad texts on the nature of Brahman[1]; for the ultimate grasp of the nature of Brahman, which is beyond the range of our sense-organs, can only come through the right comprehension of the meaning of Upaniṣad texts.

Jaya-tīrtha, in commenting on the Bhāṣya of Madhva and the Anuvyākhyāna, follows Madhva in explaining this sūtra as a definition (lakṣaṇa) of Brahman, intended to differentiate Him from beings of His class, viz., the souls (jīva), and inanimate objects, which belong to a different class. The idea is that that from which the production, etc., of the world takes place is Brahman, and there are important śruti texts which say that the world was produced from Brahman[2]. It has already been pointed out that by “produced , etc.” in the sūtra Śaṅkara understood production (sṛṣṭi), existence (stkiti) and destruction (laya or bhaṅga), and he there reconciled the six stages of existent things (bhāva-vika) referred to by Yāska in the Nirukta, such as being produced, to continue to exist, to grow, to change, to decay and to be destroyed, as being included within the three stages referred to by him; for growth and change are included within production (janma), and decay is included within destruction.

Madhva, however, includes eight different categories in the term “production, etc.”; these with him are

  1. production (sṛṣṭi),
  2. existence (sthiti),
  3. destruction (saṃhāra),
  4. control (niyama),
  5. knowledge (jñāna),
  6. ignorance (ajñāna),
  7. bondage (bandha)
  8. and release (mokṣa)[3].

The existence of all these qualities implies the fullness of qualities signified by the name Brahman. That single being in whom all the above-mentioned eightfold qualities exist is called Brahman.

Generally two kinds of definitions are distinguished from each other, viz., essential (svarūpa-lakṣaṇa) and accidental (tatastha-lakṣaṇa). Prakāśātman, the writer of the Pañca-pādikā-vivaraṇa, speaks of this definition of Brahman as being of the latter type, since it is only in association with māyā that Brahman can be said to be the cause of the production, etc., of the world-appearance. In itself it is of the nature of pure bliss (ānanda), which is also identical in its nature with pure knowledge[4]. Madhva and his followers, however, consider the characteristics mentioned in the sūtra as essential and do not think that the essences of ānanda and jīva are in any sense anything else but qualities, in which case they would not be essences identical with Brahman, as would be required by what may be called a svarūpa-lakṣaṇa ; for ānanda is as much a characteristic as any other characteristic is, and, if ānanda could be regarded as a defining essence, then the characteristic of being the cause of the world might also be regarded as a defining essence[5]. If His being the cause involves qualities unessential to Himself, then in His purity He could neither be ānanda, whether as a class notion, as a desirable feeling (anukūla-vedanā), as being the dearest one (parama-premāspada), or as being opposed to sorrow; for, if these be the nature of ānanda, it must by its very nature be associated with inessential traits (sopādhikatvāt). So knowledge also must express something and must therefore by its very nature be connected with something outside of itself (artha-prakāśātmakatvena sopādhikam eva) ; for knowledge is inseparably connected with the knower and the known (jñānasya jñātṛ-jñeya-sāpekṣatvāt).

It has been urged in the Pañca-pādikā-vivaraṇa that the knowledge which forms the essential defining characteristic of Brahman is all-illuminating revelation which is not in any way conditioned by its being dependent on, or its being inseparably connected with, objects[6]. But the fact that it can reveal everything implies possession of power, and this power is necessarily connected with the object with reference to which it is effective. Moreover, if any power can be considered as being an essential defining characteristic, then the power of producing the world and of affecting it in other ways (as referred to in the sūtra) might also be considered as an essential defining characteristic[7]. The objection, that the essence (svarūpā) of anything cannot be expressed by a reference to anything other than itself, is not valid; for a thing wholly unrelated to, and devoid of all reference to, any other thing cannot be known (svarūpasya sva-vedyatvāt). It is further held by the opponents that an accidental defining characteristic like that of the Brahman being the cause of the world (tatastha-lakṣaṇa)—as, for example, indicating a house by a temporary association, as that of a crow sitting on the roof of it—is not an inherent and intrinsic characteristic (ananvayī), whereas an essential characteristic like ānanda is an inherent and intrinsic constituent (kāryānvayī) of the thing. But such an objection cannot rule out the causality, etc., of Brahman as being inessential; for we want to know Brahman in its essence as the cause or kāraṇa of the world, as much as by any other characteristic.

The essential feature of Brahman is its fullness of qualities, as the ultimate cause of production, etc., and these are in no sense less essential than His nature as ānanda. Like the power of burning in fire, these powers of world-creation, etc., are coextensive with the essence of Brahman. It is indeed surprising, says Vyāsa-tlrtha, that the Śaṅkarites should enter into any long discussion with regard to the distinction of essential and accidental definitions; for all definitions mean the making known of object by its distinctive characteristics such as are well known[8]. But, as the Śaṅkarites believe in absolutely unqualified Brahman, how do they undertake to define it? All definitions must proceed through the means of known qualities[9]. Whether a definition (lakṣaṇa) be svarūpa or tatastha, it must proceed by way of enumerating distinctive characteristic qualities; and, as the Brahman of the opponents has no qualities, it cannot be defined at all.

Rāmānuja in his interpretation of this sūtra asserted that the characteristic qualities and powers of Brahman referred to in the sūtra belong to Brahman as He is immanent; but the Upaniṣads also define Him in His essential characteristic features, as transcendent, by speaking of Him as being truth, knowledge, the infinite (satyaṃ jñānam anantaṃ brahma); and this distinguishes Him from the souls and inanimate objects, which also are held within Him. But Vyāsa-tīrtha points out that Madhva has by implication denied this in his Anuvyākhyāna, where he distinctly asserted the causality of Brahman as its own intrinsic constitutive definition[10]. Vyāsa-tīrtha says that in defence of the Rāmānuja point of view it may be urged that, as a special form of a jug would differentiate it from all other things, yet its possession of smell constitutes its nature as earth, so, though causality, etc., differentiate Brahman from others, yet it is His nature as truth, knowledge and infinite that really differentiates Him from souls and inanimate objects. But Vyāsa-tīrtha contends that this is wrong, since the special form of a jug differentiates it from cloth, etc., and not from earth; an earthen jug is itself earth; but the special form which distinguishes an earthen jug from other objects (such as cloth, etc.) also by that very fact shows that it belongs to a class different from them. Here also the causality which differentiates Brahman from souls, etc., also shows that He is different in nature from them. So the fact that Brahman is the ultimate cause of production, etc., constitutes its essential defining characteristic. He, Brahman, not only possesses these qualities, but in reality His qualities are infinite, and their possession forms His defining characteristic (ananta-guṇa-sattvam eva brahmano lakṣaṇam)[11].

The two principal Vedānta texts by which the Śaṅkarites seek to establish their theory of absolute monism (advaita) are “that art thou” (tat tvam asi) and “Brahma is truth, knowledge, infinite” (satyaṃ jñānam anantam brahma). Now Madhva urges that, since these may also be otherwise interpreted directly (mukhyārtha) on the basis of difference, it is not proper to explain them on the basis of non-difference with an indirect and distant meaning (lakṣaṇa)[12]. The Nyāya-sudhā points out that with the monistic interpretation the difficulty arises, how to identify the qualityless (nirguṇa) with the qualified (saguṇa), as in the case of the souls; the qualityless is indeterminable by itself (nirguṇa syaiva nirūpayitum aśakyatvāt)[13]. If this nirguṇa brahma were entirely different from the saguṇa Brahma or Īśvara acknowledged by the Śaṅkarites, then there would be a duality; if the relation is held to be indefinable (anirvacanīya), then the criticisms against the indefinable suggested in the first sūtra apply to it[14]. If, however, it is urged that the unity or identity referred to in the above passages is with regard to the Brahman as pure self-revealing intelligence and the same element as forming the principal reality of jīva, then it becomes difficult to understand how the Upaniṣads can have the presumption of revealing the self-revealing intelligence[15]. Moreover, it may be objected that, if the Brahman is nothing else but pure intelligence, then its “unity” with jīva as taught by the Upaniṣads, being different from Brahman, is false; for “unity” is not pure intelligence, and, if unity is false, then duality becomes true. If the “unity” was identical with pure intelligence, then with the self-shining of pure intelligence there would be the self-shining of “unity” too, and even for expressing the “unity” it would not be necessary to take the help of the Upaniṣads or of anything else.

Another question of importance arises in connection with the attribution of the epithets “truth,” “knowledge,” “infinite” to Brahman. Is Brahman, to whom all these qualities are attributed, a simple unity in Himself, or is He a complex of many qualities, truth, knowledge, infinite, etc., which have differe.pt connotations and are not synonymous? Pure intelligence (caitanya) is one, but these epithets are many. How can we conceive the one caitanya to coexist in itself with the many attributes which are said to belong to it? How is the plurality of these attributes to be implied in the unity of the one[16]? To this the answer that Madhva gives in his Anuvyākhyāna, which is further explained by Jaya-tīrtha, is that it has to be admitted that in the unity of Brahman there is some special virtue (atiśaya) which represents difference and serves its purpose; there is no other way of solving the difficulty, and this is the only solution left (gaty-antarābhāvād arthāpattyā). This special virtue, which serves to hold and reconcile plurality without sacrificing its unity, is called by the Madhvas viśeṣa ; this viśeṣa exists not only in Brahman, but in all other things. Thus, for example, a cloth is not different from its whiteness, since both of them form one indissoluble whole. So it has to be admitted that there is in cloth such a special virtue, a viśeṣa, by which it remains one with itself and yet shows the plurality of qualities with which it is sure to form a whole. These viśeṣas are infinite in number in the infinite number of objects, though there is no intrinsic difference in the nature of these viśeṣas. Each whole or unity may be said to possess as many viśeṣas as there are qualities through which it expresses itself, and each of these viśeṣas is different from the others according to the difference of the quality with which it is associated; but these viśeṣas are not considered as requiring other viśeṣas for their connection with the thing, and so there is no vicious infinite (anavasthā). So there is not only one viśeṣa in each thing, but there are as many viśeṣas as there are different qualities unified with it[17].

The result attained by the first two sūtras, then, is that Brahman, as defined by the second sūtra, is the object of enquiry for those who seek release.

Footnotes and references:


janmādi-sūtraṃ nānumānopanyāsārthaṃ kiṃ tarhi vedānta-vākya-pradar-śanārtham.


Jaya-tīrtha refers to another interpretation of the sūtra as janma ādyasya hiraṇyagarbhaṣya yatas tad brahma. The Tātparya-candrikā discusses the points of view raised in the Nyāya-sudhā and elsewhere with regard to the meaning of Brahman as referred to by the word yataḥ. Bṛha, a constituent of the word brahman, has several technical meanings (rūḍhi), such as jāti (class-notion), jīva, Kamalāsana or Brahmā. But the word is not used here in its technical sense, but in the etymological sense, which signifies the entity in which there is a fullness of qualities; for it is only in this sense that the Upaniṣad texts alluded to in connection with this sūtra and the previous one become significant. Again, on the basis of other texts, which speak of Him (from which everything is produced) as lying in the ocean, Brahman here means Viṣṇu (as in the Samākhya-śruti, dyāvāpṛthivī paraṃ mama yonir apsu antaḥ samudre), because it is only in Him that there is the fullness of all qualities.

This characteristic would not apply to any of the other technical (rūḍhi) senses, such as jāti or jīva; and so it is that, though the rūḍhi sense is stronger than the etymological sense (yaugika), yet the latter has preference here:

brahma-śabdasya jīve rūḍhatve’pi bādhaka-sadbhāvāt tad brahma iti śruty-uktaṃ brahma viṣṇur eva (Tattva-prakāśikā).

It may also be added that, according to the Tattva-prakāśikā, Tātparya-candrikā and other Madhva works, it is held that, though ordinarily brahma has the technical sense of jīva, yet with scholars the word always has the technical meaning of Viṣṇu. Thus a distinction is drawn between the ordinary technical sense (rūḍhi) and the technical sense with scholars (vidvad-rūḍhi), and preference is given to the latter: viduṣāṃ brahma-śabdena viṣṇu-vyakti-pratīteḥ (Tātparya-candrikā, p. 120).


Anubhāṣya of Madhva or Brahma-sūtra, I. 1.2. Madhva quotes for his authority a passage from the Skanda-purāṇa :

utpatti-sthiti-saṃhāra-niyatir jñānam āvṛtiḥ
bandha-mokṣaṃ ca puruṣād yasmāt sa harir ekarāṭ.


Pañca-pādikā-vivaraṇa, pp. 222—3.


ānandaṃ lakṣaṇam iti cet tarhi jagat-kāraṇaṃ lakṣaṇam astu.
p. 140.


anena sarvajña-śabdena sarvāvabhāsa-kṣamaṃ vijñapti-mātram ādityādi-prakāśavad aviṣayopādhikaṃ vijñānam eva brahma-svarūpa-lakṣaṇam. 
Pañca-pādikā-vivaraṇa, p. 210.


sāmarthyasya śakti-rūpatvād, viṣaya-nirūpyatvāc ca, jagaj-jananādi-sāmarthyasyaiva svarūpa-lakṣaṇatvopapatteś ca.
p. 141.


prasiddhasya asādhāraṇa-dharmasya lakṣaṇatvena;
also asādhāraṇa-dharmo hi lakṣaṇam parikīrtyate.
pp. 140, 143.


svarūpaṃ vā taṭasthaṃ vā lakṣaṇaṃ bhedakaṃ mataṃ
sajātīyād vijātiyāt tac-cādvaiti-mate katham.
p. 143.


asyodbhavādi-hetutvaṃ sākṣāḍ eva sva-lakṣaṇam.
      Op. cit.


Nyāya-sudhā, p. 107.


bhedenaiva tu mukhyārtha-sambhave lakṣaṇaṃ kutaḥ.
p. 5.

nanu abhedam upādāya sūtra-lakṣaṇaṃ vā āśrayaṇīya-bhedam upādāya mukhya-vṛttir na iti sandihyate; vayaṃ tu brūmaḥ, dvitīya eva pakṣaḥ śreyān.
p. 101.


Ibid. p. 102.


In such Upaniṣad passages as sākṣī cet kevalo nirguṇaś ca (Śvet. vi. n) the word nirguṇa, “qualityless,” could be given a modified meaning, in view of the fact that the strict direct meaning is not possible even in the context of the sentence; for in the very passage itself the brahman is said to be not only nirguṇa, but sākṣī (direct perceiver) also, and this is evidently a guṇa. It is not possible to attribute a guṇa and to call it nirguṇa at the same time. Nyāya-sudhā, p. 102.


svaprakāśa-caitanyātmakaṃ ca śāstra-pratipādyaṃ ceti vyāhatam.
p. 103.


caitanyam ekaṃ satyatvādīny anekāni iti saṃkhyā-vailakṣaṇyam ityādi-bhedakāryāṇi cāvagamyante.
p. 106.


tepy ukta-laksaṇa-viśeṣā aśeṣato’pi vastuṣu pratyekam anantāḥ santy ato nokta-doṣāvakāśaḥ; ananta iti upalakṣaṇam; yatra yāvanto vyavahārās tatra tāvanto viśeṣā iti jñātavyam.
p. 106.

It may be noted in this connection that the Madhvas were more or less forced to this position of accepting the viśeṣas, as they could not accept the samavāya relation of the Nyāya-vaiśeṣika, which is rejected by the Brahma-sūtras.

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