Brahma Sutras (Vedanta Sutras)

With the Commentary by Śaṅkarācārya

by George Thibaut | 1890 | 203,611 words

The Brahma sūtras (aka. Vedānta Sūtras) are one of the three canonical texts of the Vedānta school of Hindu philosophy. The Brahma sūtra is the exposition of the philosophy of the Upanishads. It is an attempt to systematise the various strands of the Upanishads which form the background of the orthodox systems of thought....

9. But the (elements) beginning with light (are meant by the term ajā); for some read so in their text.

By the term ajā we have to understand the causal matter of the four classes of beings, which matter has sprung from the highest Lord and begins with light, i.e. comprises fire, water, and earth.--The word 'but' (in the Sūtra) gives emphasis to the assertion.--This ajā is to be considered as comprising three elementary substances, not as consisting of three guṇas in the Sāṅkhya sense. We draw this conclusion from the fact that one śākhā, after having related how fire, water, and earth sprang from the highest Lord, assigns to them red colour, and so on. 'The red colour of burning fire (agni) is the colour of the elementary fire (tejas), its white colour is the colour of water, its black colour the colour of earth,' &c. Now those three elements--fire, water, and earth--we recognise in the Śvetāśvatara passage, as the words red, white, and black are common to both passages, and as these words primarily denote special colours and can be applied to the Sāṅkhya guṇas in a secondary sense only. That passages whose sense is beyond doubt are to be used for the interpretation of doubtful passages, is a generally acknowledged rule. As we therefore find that in the Śvetāśvatara--after the general topic has been started in I, 1, 'The Brahman-students say, Is Brahman the cause?'--the text, previous to the passage under discussion, speaks of a power of the highest Lord which arranges the whole world ('the Sages devoted to meditation and concentration have seen the power belonging to God himself, hidden in its own qualities'); and as further that same power is referred to in two subsequent complementary passages ('Know then, Prakṛti is Māyā, and the great Lord he who is affected with Māyā;' 'who being one only rules over every germ;' IV, 10, 11); it cannot possibly be asserted that the mantra treating of the ajā refers to some independent causal matter called pradhāna. We rather assert, on the ground of the general subject-matter, that the mantra describes the same divine power referred to in the other passages, in which names and forms lie unevolved, and which we assume as the antecedent condition of that state of the world in which names and forms are evolved. And that divine power is represented as three-coloured, because its products, viz. fire, water, and earth, have three distinct colours.--But how can we maintain, on the ground of fire, water, and earth having three colours, that the causal matter is appropriately called a three-coloured ajā? if we consider, on the one hand, that the exterior form of the genus ajā (i.e. goat) does not inhere in fire, water, and earth; and, on the other hand, that Scripture teaches fire, water, and earth to have been produced, so that the word ajā cannot be taken in the sense 'non-produced[1].'--To this question the next Sūtra replies.

Footnotes and references:


Here there seems to be a certain discrepancy between the p. 256 views of the Sūtra writer and Śaṅkara. Govindānanda notes that according to the Bhāṣyakṛt ajā means simply māyā--which interpretation is based on prakaraṇa--while, according to the Sūtra-kṛt, who explains ajā on the ground of the Chāndogya-passage treating of the three primary elements, ajā denotes the aggregate of those three elements constituting an avāntaraprakṛti.--On Śaṅkara's explanation the term ajā presents no difficulties, for māyā is ajā, i.e. unborn, not produced. On the explanation of the Sūtra writer, however, ajā cannot mean unborn, since the three primary elements are products. Hence we are thrown back on the rūḍhi signification of ajā, according to which it means she-goat. But how can the avāntara-prakṛti be called a she-goat? To this question the next Sūtra replies.

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