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 ...

24. Vaiśvānara (is the highest Lord) on account of the distinction qualifying the common terms (Vaiśvānara and Self).

(In Ch. Up. V, 11 ff.) a discussion begins with the words, 'What is our Self, what is Brahman?' and is carried on in the passage, 'You know at present that Vaiśvānara Self, tell us that;' after that it is declared with reference to Heaven, sun, air, ether, water, and earth, that they are connected with the qualities of having good light, &c., and, in order to disparage devout meditation on them singly, that they stand to the Vaiśvānara in the relation of being his head, &c., merely; and then finally (V, 18) it is said, 'But he who meditates on the Vaiśvānara Self as measured by a span, as abhivimāna[1], he eats food in all worlds, in all beings, in all Selfs. Of that Vaiśvānara Self the head is Sutejas (having good light), the eye Viśvarūpa (multiform), the breath Pṛthagvartman (moving in various courses), the trunk Bahula (full), the bladder Rayi (wealth), the feet the earth, the chest the altar, the hairs the grass on the altar, the heart the Gārhapatya fire, the mind the Anvāhārya fire, the mouth the Āhavanīya fire.'--Here the doubt arises whether by the term 'Vaiśvānara' we have to understand the gastric fire, or the elemental fire, or the divinity presiding over the latter, or the embodied soul, or the highest Lord.--But what, it may be asked, gives rise to this doubt?--The circumstance, we reply, of 'Vaiśvānara' being employed as a common term for the gastric fire, the elemental fire, and the divinity of the latter, while 'Self' is a term applying to the embodied soul as well as to the highest Lord. Hence the doubt arises which meaning of the term is to be accepted and which to be set aside.

Which, then, is the alternative to be embraced?--Vaiśvānara, the pūrvapakṣin maintains, is the gastric fire, because we meet, in some passages, with the term used in that special sense; so, for instance (Bṛ. Up. V, 9), 'Agni Vaiśvānara is the fire within man by which the food that is eaten is cooked.'--Or else the term may denote fire in general, as we see it used in that sense also; so, for instance (Ṛg-veda Saṃh. X, 88, 12), 'For the whole world the gods have made the Agni Vaiśvānara a sign of the days.' Or, in the third place, the word may denote that divinity whose body is fire. For passages in which the term has that sense are likewise met with; compare, for instance, Ṛg-veda Saṃh. I, 98, 1, 'May we be in the favour of Vaiśvānara; for he is the king of the beings, giving pleasure, of ready grace;' this and similar passages properly applying to a divinity endowed with power and similar qualities. Perhaps it will be urged against the preceding explanations, that, as the word Vaiśvānara is used in co-ordination with the term 'Self,' and as the term 'Self' alone is used in the introductory passage ('What is our Self, what is Brahman?'), Vaiśvānara has to be understood in a modified sense, so as to be in harmony with the term Self. Well, then, the pūrvapakṣin rejoins, let us suppose that Vaiśvānara is the embodied Self which, as being an enjoyer, is in close vicinity to the Vaiśvānara fire,[2] (i.e. the fire within the body,) and with which the qualification expressed by the term, 'Measured by a span,' well agrees, since it is restricted by its limiting condition (viz. the body and so on).--In any case it is evident that the term Vaiśvānara does not denote the highest Lord.

To this we make the following reply.--The word Vaiśvānara denotes the highest Self, on account of the distinction qualifying the two general terms.--Although the term 'Self,' as well as the term 'Vaiśvānara,' has various meanings--the latter term denoting three beings while the former denotes two--yet we observe a distinction from which we conclude that both terms can here denote the highest Lord only; viz. in the passage, 'Of that Vaiśvānara Self the head is Sutejas,' &c. For it is clear that that passage refers to the highest Lord in so far as he is distinguished by having heaven, and so on, for his head and limbs, and in so far as he has entered into a different state (viz. into the state of being the Self of the threefold world); represents him, in fact, for the purpose of meditation, as the internal Self of everything. As such the absolute Self may be represented, because it is the cause of everything; for as the cause virtually contains all the states belonging to its effects, the heavenly world, and so on, may be spoken of as the members of the highest Self.--Moreover, the result which Scripture declares to abide in all worlds--viz. in the passage, 'He eats food in all worlds, in all beings, in all Selfs'--is possible only if we take the term Vaiśvānara to denote the highest Self.--The same remark applies to the declaration that all the sins are burned of him who has that knowledge, 'Thus all his sins are burned,' &c. (Ch. Up. V, 24, 3).--Moreover, we meet at the beginning of the chapter with the words 'Self' and 'Brahman;' viz. in the passage, 'What is our Self, what is Brahman?' Now these are marks of Brahman, and indicate the highest Lord only. Hence he only can be meant by the term Vaiśvānara.

Footnotes and references:


About which term see later on.


Sārīre lakṣaṇayā vaiśvānaraśabdopapattim āha tasyeti. Ān. Gi.

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