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 vallabha’s interpretation of the brahma-sutra: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the first part in the series called the “the philosophy of vallabha”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 1 - Vallabha’s Interpretation of the Brahma-sūtra

Most systems of Vedānta are based upon an inquiry regarding the ultimate purport of the instruction of the text of the Upaniṣads which form the final part of the Vedas. The science of mīmāṃsā is devoted to the enquiry into the nature of Vedic texts, on the presumption that all Vedic texts have to be interpreted as enjoining people to perform certain courses of action or to refrain from doing others; it also presumes that obedience to these injunctions produces dharma and disobedience adharma. Even the study of the Vedas has to be done in obedience to the injunction that Vedas must be studied, or that the teacher should instruct in the Vedas or that one should accept a teacher for initiating him to the holy thread who will teach him the Vedas in detail. All interpreters of Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta agree on the point that the study of the Vedas implies the understanding of the meaning by the student, though there are divergences of opinion as to the exact nature of injunction and the exact manner in which such an implication follows. If the Brahmacārin has to study the Vedas and understand their meaning from the instruction of the teacher at his house, it may generally be argued that there is no scope for a further discussion regarding the texts of the Upaniṣads; and if this is admitted, the whole of the Brahma-sūtra, whose purpose is to enter into such a discussion, becomes meaningless. It may be argued that the Upaniṣad texts are pregnant with mystic lore which cannot be unravelled by a comprehension of the textual meaning of words. But, if this mystic lore cannot be unravelled by the textual meaning of the word, it is not reasonable to suppose that one can comprehend the deep and mystic truths which they profess to instruct by mere intellectual discussions. The Upaniṣads themselves say that one can comprehend the true meaning of the Upaniṣads through tapas and the grace of God[1].

To this Vallabha’s reply is that, since there are diverse kinds of śāstras offering diverse kinds of instructions, and since Vedic texts are themselves so complicated that it is not easy to understand their proper emphasis, an ordinary person may have legitimate doubt as to their proper meaning, unless there is a śāstra which itself discusses these difficulties and attempts to solve them by textual comparisons and contrasts; it cannot be denied that there is a real necessity for such a discussion as was undertaken by Vyāsa himself in the Brahma-sūtra[2].

According to Rāmānuja the Brahma-sūtra is a continuation of the Mīmāṃsā-sūtra\ though the two works deal with different subjects, they have the same continuity of purpose. The study of the Brahma-sūtra must therefore be preceded by the study of the Mīmāṃsā-sūtra . According to Bhāskara the application of the Mīmāṃsā-sūtra is universal; all double-born people must study the Mīmāṃsā and the nature of dharma for their daily duties. The knowledge of Brahman is only for some; a discussion regarding the nature of Brahman can therefore be only for those who seek emancipation in the fourth stage of their lives. Even those who seek emancipation must perform the daily works of dharma ; the nature of such dharma can only be known by a study of the Mīmāṃsā. The enquiry regarding Brahman must therefore be preceded by a study of the Mīmāṃsā. It is also said by some that it is by a long course of meditation in the manner prescribed by the Upaniṣads that the Brahman can be known. A knowledge of such meditation can only be attained by a knowledge of the due nature of sacrifices. It is said also in the smṛtis that it is by sacrifices that the holy body of Brahman can be built (mahā-yajñaiś ca yajñaiś ca brāhmīyaṃ kriyate tanuḥ)[3]; so it is when the forty-eight saṃskāras are performed that one becomes fit for the study or meditation on the nature of the Brahman. It is also said in the smṛtis that it is only after discharging the three debts—study, marriage, and performance of sacrifices—that one has the right to fix his mind on Brahman for emancipation. According to most people the sacrificial duties are useful for the knowledge of Brahman; so it may be held that enquiry about the nature of Brahman must follow an enquiry about the nature of dharma[4].

But, even if the theory of the joint-performance of sacrifice and meditation on Brahman be admitted, it does not follow that an enquiry into the nature of Brahman must follow an enquiry about the nature of dharma. It can only mean that the nature of the knowledge of Brahman may be held to be associated with the nature of dharma, as it is properly known from the Mīmāṃsā-śāstra. On such a supposition the knowledge of the nature of the self is to be known from the study of the Brahma-sūtra; but since the knowledge of the self is essential even for the performance of sacrificial actions, it may well be argued that the enquiry into the nature of dharma must be preceded by an enquiry about the nature of the self from the Brahma-sūtra[5]. Nor can it be said that from such texts as require a person to be self-controlled (śānto dānto, etc.) it may be argued that enquiry into the nature of dharma must precede that about Brahman: the requirement of self-control does not necessarily mean that enquiry about the nature of dharma should be given precedence, for a man may be self-controlled jeven without studying the Mīmāṃsā.

Nor can it be said, as Śaṅkara does, that enquiry into the nature of Brahman must be preceded by a disinclination from earthly and heavenly joys, by mind-control, self-control, etc. On this point Bhāskara argues against the Vallabha views, and his reason for their rejection is that such attainments are extremely rare; even great sages like Durvāsas and others failed to attain them. Even without self-knowledge one may feel disinclined to things through sorrows, and one may exercise mind-control and self-control even for earthly ends. There is moreover no logical relation between the attainment of such qualities and enquiry about the nature of Brahman. Nor can it be argued that, if enquiry into the nature of Brahman is preceded by an enquiry into the Mīmāṃsā, we can attain all these qualities. Moreover, an enquiry about the nature of Brahman can only come through a conviction of the importance of the knowledge alone, and for the comprehension of such importance the enquiry about Brahman is necessary: there is thus an argument in a circle. If it is held that, when knowledge of the Vedāntic texts is properly acquired by listening to instruction on the Vedas, one may then turn to an enquiry into the nature of Brahman, that also is objectionable; for, if the meaning of the Vedāntic texts has been properly comprehended, there is no further need for an enquiry about the nature of Brahman. If it is held that the knowledge of Brahman can come only through the scriptural testimony of such texts as “that art thou” or “thou art the truth,” that too is objectionable: for no realization of the nature of Brahman can come by scriptural testimony to an ignorant person who may interpret it as referring to an identity of the self and the body. If by the scriptural texts it is possible to have a direct realization of Brahman, it is unnecessary to enjoin the duty of reflection and mediation. It is therefore wrong to suppose that an enquiry into the nature of Brahman must be preceded either by dharmavicāra or by the attainment of such extremely rare qualities as have been referred to by Śaṅkara. Again, it is said in the scriptures that those who have realized the true meaning of the Vedānta should renounce the world; so renunciation must take place after the Vedāntic texts have been well comprehended and not before. Again, without an enquiry into the nature of Brahman one cannot know that Brahman is the highest object of attainment; without a knowledge of the latter one would not have the desired and other attainments of the mind and so be led to a discussion about Brahman. Again, if a person with the desired attainments listens to the Vedāntic texts, he would immediately attain emancipation and there would be no one to instruct him.

The enquiry about the nature of Brahman does not require any preceding condition; anyone of the double-born caste is entitled to do it. The Mīmāṃsakas say that all the Vedāntic texts insisting upon the knowledge of Brahman should be interpreted as injunctions by whose performance dharma is produced. But this interpretation is wrong; though any kind of prescribed meditation (upāsanā) may produce dharma, Brahman itself is not of the nature of dharma. All dharmas are of the nature of actions (dharmāśya ca kriyā-rūpatvāt); but Brahman cannot be produced, and is therefore not of the nature of action. The seeming injunction for meditation on Brahman is intended to show the greatness of Brahma-knowledge ; such meditations are merely mental operations akin to knowledge and are not any kind of action. This Brahma-knowledge is also helpful for the proper discharge of one’s duties; for this reason people like Janaka had it and so were able to discharge their duties in the proper manner. It is wrong to suppose that those who do not have the illusory notion of the self as the body are incapable of performing karma; for the Gītā says that the true philosopher knows that he does not work and yet is always associated with work; he abnegates all his karmas in Brahman and acts without any attachment, just as a lotus leaf never gets wet by water. The conclusion is therefore that only he who knows Brahman can by his work produce the desired results; so those who are engaged in discussing the nature of dharma should also discuss the nature of Brahman. The man who knows Brahman and works has no desire for the fruits of his karma, for he has resigned all his works to Brahman. It is therefore wrong to say that only those who are desirous of the fruits of karma are eligible for their performance; the highest and the most desired end of karma is the abnegation of its fruits[6].

It is the intention of Vallabha that both the Pūrva-mīmāṃsā and the Uttara-mīmāṃsā (or the Brahma-sūtra) are but two different ways of propounding the nature of Brahman; the two together form one science. This in a way is the view of all the Vedāntic interpreters except Śaṅkara, though they differ in certain details of mode of approach[7]. Thus according to Rāmānuja the two Mīmāṃsās form one science and the performance of sacrifices can be done conjointly with continual remembering of Brahman, which (with him) is devotion, meditation and realization of Brahman. According to Bhāskara, though the subject of the Pūrva-mīmāṃsā is different from that of the Uttara-mīmāṃsā, yet they have one end in view and form one science, and the ultimate purport of them both is the realization of the nature of Brahman. According to Bhikṣu the purpose of the Brahma-sūtra is to reconcile the apparently contradictory portions of the Vedāntic texts which have not been taken by Pūrva-mīmāṃsā. The purpose of the Brahma-sūtra is the same as that of the Pūrva-mīmārnsā, because enquiry into the nature of the Brahman is also due to the injunction that Brahman should be known, and the highest dharma is produced thereby. The Uttara-mīmāṃsā is a supplement of the Pūrva-mīmāṃsā. According to Madhva it is those who have devotion who are eligible for enquiry into the nature of Brahman.

Vallabha combines the second and the third sūtra of Adhyāya 1, Pāda 1, of the Brahma-sūtra and reads them as Janmādyasya yataḥ, śāstrayonitvāt. The commentator says that this is the proper order, because all topics (adhikaraṇas) show the objections, conclusions and the reasons; the reasons would be missing if the third sūtra (śāstrayonitvāt) were not included in the second, forming one adhikaraṇa. Brahman is the cause of the appearance and disappearance of the world, and this can be known only on the evidence of the scriptures. Brahman is thus the final and the ultimate agent; but, though production and maintenance, derangement and destruction are all possible through the agency of Brahman, yet they are not associated with Him as His qualities. The sūtra may also be supposed to mean that that is Brahman from which the first (i.e., ākāśa) has been produced[8].

The view of Śaṅkara that Brahman is the producer of the Vedas and that by virtue of this He must be regarded as omniscient is rejected to-day by Puruṣottama. To say the Vedas had been produced by God by His deliberate desire would be to accept the views of the Nyāya and Vaiśeṣikas; the eternity of the Vedas must then be given up. If the Vedas had come out of Brahman like the breath of a man, then, since all breathing is involuntary, the production of the Vedas would not show the omniscience of God (niḥśvā-sātmaka-vedopādānatvena abuddhi-pūrvaka-niḥśvāsopādāna-puruṣadṛṣṭānta-sanāthena pratisādhanena apāstam)[9].

Moreover, if Brahman had produced the Vedas in the same order in which they existed in the previous kalpa, He must in doing so have submitted Himself to some necessity or law, and therefore was not independent[10]. Again, the view of Śaṅkara that the Brahman associated with ajñāna is to be regarded as the omniscient Īśvara can be accepted on his authority alone.

It is no doubt true that the nature of Brahman is shown principally in the Upaniṣads, and from that point of view the word śāstra-yoni, “he who is known by the Upaniṣads,” may well be applied to Brahman; yet there may be a legitimate objection that other parts of the Vedas have no relevant connection with Brahman. The reply is that it is by actions in accordance with other parts of the Vedas that the mind may be purified, and thus God may be induced to exercise His grace for a revelation of His nature. So in a remote manner other parts of the Vedas may be connected with the Vedas. So the knowledge of the Vedānta helps the due performance of the scriptural injunctions of other parts of the Vedas. The karma-kāṇḍa and the jñāna-kāṇḍa are virtually complementary to each other and both have a utility for self-knowledge, though the importance of the Upaniṣads must be superior.

We know already that Rāmānuja repudiated the idea of inferring the existence of God as omniscient and omnipotent from the production of the world, and established the thesis that God cannot be known through any means of proof, such as perception, inference, and the like, but only through the testimony of the scriptural texts.

The tendency of the Nyāya system has been to prove the existence of God by inference; thus Udayana gives nine arguments in favour of the existence of God. The first of these is that the word, being of the nature of effect, must have some cause which has produced it (kāryānumāna). The second is that there must be some one who in the beginning of the creation set the atoms in motion for the formation of molecules (āyojanānumāna). The third is that the earth could not have remained hanging in space if it were not held by God (dḥrtyanumāna). The fourth is that the destruction of the world also requires an agent and that must be God (vināśānumāna). The fifth is that meanings ascribed to words must have been due to the will of God (padānumāna). The sixth is that merit and demerit, as can be known from the prescription of the Vedas, must presume an original acquaintance of the person who composed the Vedas (pratyanumāna). The seventh is that the scriptures testify to the existence of God. The eighth (vākyānumāna) is the same as the seventh. The ninth is as follows: the accretion of the mass of atoms depends upon their number, as they are partless; the numerical conception is dependent upon relative mental comparison on the part of the perceiver; at the time of creation there must have been some one by whose numerical conception the accretion of mass is possible. This is the ninth anumāna (saṃkhyānumāna). Though God is regarded as the cause of the world, yet He need not have a body; for cause as producer does not necessarily involve the possession of a body; there are others, however, who think that God produces special bodies, the avatāra of Rāma, Kṛṣṇa, etc., by which He acts in special ways.

Vijñāna-bhikṣu, however, thinks that the Sāṃkhya categories of buddhi, etc., being products, presume the existence of their previous causes, about which there must be some intuitive knowledge, and whose purpose is served by it; such a person is Īśvara. The procedure consists in inferring first an original cause (the prakṛti) of the categories, and God is He who has direct knowledge of the prakṛti by virtue of which He modifies it to produce the categories, and thus employs it for His own purpose.

There are some who hold that even in the Upaniṣadic texts there are instances of inferring the nature of Brahman, and though Bādarāyaṇa does not indulge in any inferences himself, he deals with such texts as form their basis. The point of view of the syllogists has been that the inferences are valid inasmuch as they are in consonance with the Upaniṣad texts. But Vallabha agrees with Rāmānuja and Bhāskara that no inference is possible about the existence of God, and that His nature can only be known through the testimony of the Upaniṣadic texts[11].

Footnotes and references:


a-laukiko hi vedārtho na yuktyā pratipadyate tapasā
veda-yuktyā tu prasādāt paramātmanaḥ.
      Vallabha’s Bhāṣya on Brahma-sūtra
      (Chowkhamba edition, p. 13).


sandeha-vārakaṃ śāstraṃ buddḥi-doṣāt tad-udbhavaḥ
viruddha-śāstra-saṃbhedād aṅgaiś cāśakya-niścayaḥ
tasmāt sūtrānusāreṇa kartavyaḥ sarva-nirṇayaḥ
anyathā bhraśyate svārthān madhyamaś ca tathāvidḥaḥ.
      Ibid. p. 20.


Manu, II. 28.


Puruṣottama’s commentary on Vallabhācārya’s Anubhāṣya, pp. 25-6.


pūrvaṃ vedānta-vicāreṇa tad avagantavyaṃ nānā-balair ātma-svarūpe vipratipanna-vaidikānāṃ veda-vākyair eva tan nirāsasyāvaśyakatvāt jñāte tayoh sva-rūpe karmaṇi sukhena pravṛtti-darśanaṃ.
p. 27.


phala-kāmādy-anupayogāt anenaiva tat-samarpaṇāt nityatvād apy artha-jñānasya na phala-prepsur adhikārī.
      Puruṣottama’s commentary on Vallahhācārya’s Anubhāṣya, p. 43.


prakāra-bhedenāpi kāṇḍa-dvayasyāpi brahma-pratipādakatayaikavākyatva-samarthanan mīmāṃśā-dvayasyaika-śāstrasya sūcanena vṛttikāra-virodhato’pi bodhitaḥ.
p. 46.


Janma ādyasya ākāśasya yataḥ.
p. 61.


Commentary on Anubhāṣya, p. 64.


tādṛśānupūrvī-racanayā asvātantrye rājājñānuvādaka-rāja-dūtavadānu-pūrvī-racanā-mātreṇeśvara-sārvajñāsiddhyā vyākhyeya-grantha-virodhāc ca.
p. 64.


The commentator Puruṣottama offers a criticism of the theistic arguments after the manner of Rāmānuja. Commentary on Anubhāṣya, pp. 74-8.

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