Brahma Sutras (Shankaracharya)

by George Thibaut | 1890 | 203,611 words

English translation of the Brahma sutras (aka. Vedanta Sutras) with commentary by Shankaracharya (Shankara Bhashya): One of the three canonical texts of the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy. The Brahma sutra is the exposition of the philosophy of the Upanishads. It is an attempt to systematise the various strands of the Upanishads which form the ...

11. And because it is directly stated in Scripture (therefore the all-knowing Brahman is the cause of the world).

That the all-knowing Lord is the cause of the world, is also declared in a text directly referring to him (viz. the all-knowing one), viz. in the following passage of the mantropaniṣad of the Śvetāśvataras (VI, 9) where the word 'he' refers to the previously mentioned all-knowing Lord, 'He is the cause, the lord of the lords of the organs, and there is of him neither parent nor lord.' It is therefore finally settled that the all-knowing Brahman is the general cause, not the non-intelligent pradhāna or anything else.

In what precedes we have shown, availing ourselves of appropriate arguments, that the Vedānta-texts exhibited under Sūtras I, I-II, are capable of proving that the all-knowing, all-powerful Lord is the cause of the origin, subsistence, and dissolution of the world. And we have explained, by pointing to the prevailing uniformity of view (I, 10), that all Vedānta-texts whatever maintain an intelligent cause. The question might therefore be asked, 'What reason is there for the subsequent part of the Vedānta-sūtras?' (as the chief point is settled already.)

To this question we reply as follows: Brahman is apprehended under two forms; in the first place as qualified by limiting conditions owing to the multiformity of the evolutions of name and form (i.e. the multiformity of the created world; in the second place as being the opposite of this, i.e. free from all limiting conditions whatever. Compare the following passages: Bṛ. Up. IV, 5, 15, 'For where there is duality as it were, then one sees the other; but when the Self only is all this, how should he see another?' Ch. Up. VII, 24, 1, 'Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, understands nothing else, that is the greatest. Where one sees something else, hears something else, understands something else, that is the little. The greatest is immortal; the little is mortal;' Taitt. Ār. III, 12, 7, 'The wise one, who having produced all forms and made all names, sits calling (the things by their names[1]);' Śv. Up. VI, 19, 'Who is without parts, without actions, tranquil, without faults, without taint, the highest bridge of immortality, like a fire that has consumed its fuel;' Bṛ. Up. II, 3, 6, 'Not so, not so;' Bṛ. Up. III, 8, 8, 'It is neither coarse nor fine, neither short nor long;' and 'defective is one place, perfect the other.' All these passages, with many others, declare Brahman to possess a double nature, according as it is the object either of Knowledge or of Nescience. As long as it is the object of Nescience, there are applied to it the categories of devotee, object of devotion, and the like[2]. The different modes of devotion lead to different results, some to exaltation, some to gradual emancipation, some to success in works; those modes are distinct on account of the distinction of the different qualities and limiting conditions[3]. And although the one highest Self only, i.e. the Lord distinguished by those different qualities constitutes the object of devotion, still the fruits (of devotion) are distinct, according as the devotion refers to different qualities. Thus Scripture says, 'According as man worships him, that he becomes;' and, 'According to what his thought is in this world, so will he be when he has departed this life' (Ch. Up. III, 14, 1). Smṛti also makes an analogous statement, 'Remembering whatever form of being he leaves this body in the end, into that form he enters, being impressed with it through his constant meditation' (Bha. Gītā VIII, 6).

Although one and the same Self is hidden in all beings movable as well as immovable, yet owing to the gradual rise of excellence of the minds which form the limiting conditions (of the Self), Scripture declares that the Self, although eternally unchanging and uniform, reveals itself[4] in a graduated series of beings, and so appears in forms of various dignity and power; compare, for instance (Ait. Ār. II, 3, 2, 1), 'He who knows the higher manifestation of the Self in him[5],' &c. Similarly Smṛti remarks, 'Whatever being there is of power, splendour or might, know it to have sprung from portions of my glory' (Bha. Gītā, X, 41); a passage declaring that wherever there is an excess of power and so on, there the Lord is to be worshipped. Accordingly here (i.e. in the Sūtras) also the teacher will show that the golden person in the disc of the Sun is the highest Self, on account of an indicating sign, viz. the circumstance of his being unconnected with any evil (Ved. Sū. I, 1, 20); the same is to be observed with regard to I, 1, 22 and other Sūtras. And, again, an enquiry will have to be undertaken into the meaning of the texts, in order that a settled conclusion may be reached concerning that knowledge of the Self which leads to instantaneous release; for although that knowledge is conveyed by means of various limiting conditions, yet no special connexion with limiting conditions is intended to be intimated, in consequence of which there arises a doubt whether it (the knowledge) has the higher or the lower Brahman for its object; so, for instance, in the case of Sūtra I, 1, 12[6]. From all this it appears that the following part of the Śāstra has a special object of its own, viz. to show that the Vedānta-texts teach, on the one hand, Brahman as connected with limiting conditions and forming an object of devotion, and on the other hand, as being free from the connexion with such conditions and constituting an object of knowledge. The refutation, moreover, of non-intelligent causes different from Brahman, which in I, 1, 10 was based on the uniformity of the meaning of the Vedānta-texts, will be further detailed by the Sūtrakāra, who, while explaining additional passages relating to Brahman, will preclude all causes of a nature opposite to that of Brahman.

Footnotes and references:


The wise one, i.e. the highest Self; which as jīvātman is conversant with the names and forms of individual things.


I.e. it is looked upon as the object of the devotion of the individual souls; while in reality all those souls and Brahman are one.


Qualities, i.e. the attributes under which the Self is meditated on; limiting conditions, i.e. the localities--such as the heart and the like--which in pious meditation are ascribed to the Self.


Ānanda Giri reads āviṣṭasya for āviṣkṛtasya.


Cp. the entire passage. All things are manifestations of the highest Self under certain limiting conditions, but occupying different places in an ascending scale. In unsentient things, stones, &c. only the sattā, the quality of being manifests itself; in plants, animals, and men the Self manifests itself through the vital sap; in animals and men there is understanding; higher thought in man alone.


Ānanda Giri on the preceding passage beginning from 'thus here also:' na kevalaṃ dvaividhyam brahmaṇaḥ śrutismṛtyor eva siddhaṃ kiṃ tu sūtrakṛto'pi matam ity āha, evam iti, śrutismṛtyor iva prakṛte'pi śāstre dvairūpyam brahmaṇo bhavati; tatra sopādhikabrahmaviṣayam antastaddharmādhikaraṇam udāharati ādityeti; uktanyāyaṃ tulyadeśeṣu prasārayati evam iti; sopādhikopadeśavan nirupādhikopadeśaṃ darśayati evam ityādinā, ātmajñānaṃ nirṇetavyam iti sambandhaḥ; nirṇayaprasaṅgam āha pareti; annamayādyupādhidvāroktasya katham paravidyāviṣayatvaṃ tatrāha upādhīti; nirṇayakramam āha vākyeti, uktārtham adhikaraṇaṃ kvāstīty āsaṅkyoktaṃ yatheti.

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