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....

1. If it be objected that (from the doctrine expounded hitherto) there would result the fault of there being no room for (certain) Smṛtis; we do not admit that objection, because (from the rejection of our doctrine) there would result the fault of want of room for other Smṛtis.

It has been shown in the first adhyāya that the omniscient Lord of all is the cause of the origin of this world in the same way as clay is the material cause of jars and gold of golden ornaments; that by his rulership he is the cause of the subsistence of this world once originated, just as the magician is the cause of the subsistence of the magical illusion; and that he, lastly, is the cause of this emitted world being finally reabsorbed into his essence, just as the four classes of creatures are reabsorbed into the earth. It has further been proved, by a demonstration of the connected meaning of all the Vedānta-texts, that the Lord is the Self of all of us. Moreover, the doctrines of the pradhāna, and so on, being the cause of this world have been refuted as not being scriptural.--The purport of the second adhyāya, which we now begin, is to refute the objections (to the doctrine established hitherto) which might be founded on Smṛti and Reasoning, and to show that the doctrines of the pradhāna, &c. have only fallacious arguments to lean upon, and that the different Vedānta-texts do not contradict one another with regard to the mode of creation and similar topics.--The first point is to refute the objections based on Smṛti.

Your doctrine (the pūrvapakṣin says) that the omniscient Brahman only is the cause of this world cannot be maintained, 'because there results from it the fault of there being no room for (certain) Smṛtis.' Such Smṛtis are the one called Tantra which was composed by a ṛṣi and is accepted by authoritative persons, and other Smṛtis based on it[1]; for all of which there would be no room if your interpretation of the Veda were the true one. For they all teach that the non-intelligent pradhāna is the independent cause of the world. There is indeed room (a raison d'être) for Smṛtis like the Manu-smṛti, which give information about matters connected with the whole body of religious duty, characterised by injunction[2] and comprising the agnihotra and similar performances. They tell us at what time and with what rites the members of the different castes are to be initiated; how the Veda has to be studied; in what way the cessation of study has to take place; how marriage has to be performed, and so on. They further lay down the manifold religious duties, beneficial to man, of the four castes and āśramas[3]. The Kāpila Smṛti, on the other hand, and similar books are not concerned with things to be done, but were composed with exclusive reference to perfect knowledge as the means of final release. If then no room were left for them in that connexion also, they would be altogether purposeless; and hence we must explain the Vedānta-texts in such a manner as not to bring them into conflict with the Smṛtis mentioned[4].--But how, somebody may ask the pūrvapakṣin, can the eventual fault of there being left no room for certain Smṛtis be used as an objection against that sense of Śruti which--from various reasons as detailed under I, 1 and ff.--has been ascertained by us to be the true one, viz. that the omniscient Brahman alone is the cause of the world?--Our objection, the pūrvapakṣin replies, will perhaps not appear valid to persons of independent thought; but as most men depend in their reasonings on others, and are unable to ascertain by themselves the sense of Śruti, they naturally rely on Smṛtis, composed by celebrated authorities, and try to arrive at the sense of Śruti with their assistance; while, owing to their esteem for the authors of the Smṛtis, they have no trust in our explanations. The knowledge of men like Kapila Smṛti declares to have been ṛṣi-like and unobstructed, and moreover there is the following Śruti-passage, 'It is he who, in the beginning, bears in his thoughts the son, the ṛṣi, kapila[5], whom he wishes to look on while he is born' (Śve. Up. V, 2). Hence their opinion cannot be assumed to be erroneous, and as they moreover strengthen their position by argumentation, the objection remains valid, and we must therefore attempt to explain the Vedānta-texts in conformity with the Smṛtis.

This objection we dispose of by the remark, 'It is not so because therefrom would result the fault of want of room for other Smṛtis.'--If you object to the doctrine of the Lord being the cause of the world on the ground that it would render certain Smṛtis purposeless, you thereby render purposeless other Smṛtis which declare themselves in favour of the said doctrine. These latter Smṛti-texts we will quote in what follows. In one passage the highest Brahman is introduced as the subject of discussion, 'That which is subtle and not to be known;' the text then goes on, 'That is the internal Self of the creatures, their soul,' and after that remarks 'From that sprang the Unevolved, consisting of the three guṇas, O best of Brāhmaṇas.' And in another place it is said that 'the Unevolved is dissolved in the Person devoid of qualities, O Brāhmaṇa.'--Thus we read also in the Purāṇa, 'Hear thence this short statement: The ancient Nārāyaṇa is all this; he produces the creation at the due time, and at the time of reabsorption he consumes it again.' And so in the Bhagavadgītā also (VII, 6), 'I am the origin and the place of reabsorption of the whole world.' And Āpastamba too says with reference to the highest Self, 'From him spring all bodies; he is the primary cause, he is eternal, he is unchangeable' (Dharma Sūtra I, 8, 23, 2). In this way Smṛti, in many places, declares the Lord to be the efficient as well as the material cause of the world. As the pūrvapakṣin opposes us on the ground of Smṛti, we reply to him on the ground of Smṛti only; hence the line of defence taken up in the Sūtra. Now it has been shown already that the Śruti-texts aim at conveying the doctrine that the Lord is the universal cause, and as wherever different Smṛtis conflict those maintaining one view must be accepted, while those which maintain the opposite view must be set aside, those Smṛtis which follow Śruti are to be considered as authoritative, while all others are to be disregarded; according to the Sūtra met with in the chapter treating of the means of proof (Mīm. Sūtra I, 3, 3), 'Where there is contradiction (between Śruti and Smṛti) (Smṛti) is to be disregarded; in case of there being no (contradiction) (Smṛti is to be recognised) as there is inference (of Smṛti being founded on Śruti).'--Nor can we assume that some persons are able to perceive supersensuous matters without Śruti, as there exists no efficient cause for such perception. Nor, again, can it be said that such perception may be assumed in the case of Kapila and others who possessed supernatural powers, and consequently unobstructed power of cognition. For the possession of supernatural powers itself depends on the performance of religious duty, and religious duty is that which is characterised by injunction[6]; hence the sense of injunctions (i.e. of the Veda) which is established first must not be fancifully interpreted in reference to the dicta of men 'established' (i.e. made perfect, and therefore possessing supernatural powers) afterwards only. Moreover, even if those 'perfect' men were accepted as authorities to be appealed to, still, as there are many such perfect men, we should have, in all those cases where the Smṛtis contradict each other in the manner described, no other means of final decision than an appeal to Śruti.--As to men destitute of the power of independent judgment, we are not justified in assuming that they will without any reason attach themselves to some particular Smṛti; for if men's inclinations were so altogether unregulated, truth itself would, owing to the multiformity of human opinion, become unstable. We must therefore try to lead their judgment in the right way by pointing out to them the conflict of the Smṛtis, and the distinction founded on some of them following Śruti and others not.--The scriptural passage which the pūrvapakṣin has quoted as proving the eminence of Kapila's knowledge would not justify us in believing in such doctrines of Kapila (i.e. of some Kapila) as are contrary to Scripture; for that passage mentions the bare name of Kapila (without specifying which Kapila is meant), and we meet in tradition with another Kapila, viz. the one who burned the sons of Sagara and had the surname Vāsudeva. That passage, moreover, serves another purpose, (viz. the establishment of the doctrine of the highest Self,; and has on that account no force to prove what is not proved by any other means, (viz. the supereminence of Kapila's knowledge.) On the other hand, we have a Śruti-passage which proclaims the excellence of Manu[7], viz. 'Whatever Manu said is medicine' (Taitt. Saṃh. II, 2, 10, 2). Manu himself, where he glorifies the seeing of the one Self in everything ('he who equally sees the Self in all beings and all beings in the Self, he as a sacrificer to the Self attains self-luminousness,' i.e. becomes Brahman, Manu Smṛti XII, 91), implicitly blames the doctrine of Kapila. For Kapila, by acknowledging a plurality of Selfs, does not admit the doctrine of there being one universal Self. In the Mahābhārata also the question is raised whether there are many persons (souls) or one; thereupon the opinion of others is mentioned, 'There are many persons, O King, according to the Sāṅkhya and Yoga philosophers;' that opinion is controverted 'just as there is one place of origin, (viz. the earth,) for many persons, so I will proclaim to you that universal person raised by his qualities;' and, finally, it is declared that there is one universal Self, 'He is the internal Self of me, of thee, and of all other embodied beings, the internal witness of all, not to be apprehended by any one. He the all-headed, all-armed, all-footed, all-eyed, all-nosed one moves through all beings according to his will and liking.' And Scripture also declares that there is one universal Self, 'When to a man who understands the Self has become all things, what sorrow, what trouble can there be to him who once beheld that unity?' (Īś. Up 7); and other similar passages. All which proves that the system of Kapila contradicts the Veda, and the doctrine of Manu who follows the Veda, by its hypothesis of a plurality of Selfs also, not only by the assumption of an independent pradhāna. The authoritativeness of the Veda with regard to the matters stated by it is independent and direct, just as the light of the sun is the direct means of our knowledge of form and colour; the authoritativeness of human dicta, on the other hand, is of an altogether different kind, as it depends on an extraneous basis (viz. the Veda), and is (not immediate but) mediated by a chain of teachers and tradition.

Hence the circumstance that the result (of our doctrine) is want of room for certain Smṛtis, with regard to matters contradicted by the Veda, furnishes no valid objection.--An additional reason for this our opinion is supplied by the following Sūtra.

Footnotes and references:


The Smṛti called Tantra is the Sāṅkhyaśāstra as taught by Kapila; the Smṛti-writers depending on him are Āsuri, Pañcaśikha, and others.


Mīmāṃsā Sū. I, 1, 2: codanālakṣaṇo'rtho dharmaḥ. Commentary: codanā iti kriyāyāḥ pravartakaṃ vacanam āhuḥ.


Puruṣārtha; in opposition to the rules referred to in the preceding sentence which are kratvartha, i.e. the acting according to which secures the proper performance of certain rites.


It having been decided by the Pūrvā Mīmāṃsā already that Smṛtis contradicted by Śruti are to be disregarded.


On the meaning of 'kapila' in the above passage, compare the Introduction to the Upaniṣads, translated by Max Müller, vol. ii, p. xxxviii ff.--As will be seen later on, Śaṅkara, in this bhāṣya, takes the Kapila referred to to be some ṛṣi.


I.e. religious duty is known only from the injunctive passages of the Veda.


After it has been shown that Kapila the dvaitavādin is not mentioned in Śruti, it is now shown that Manu the sarvātmavādin is mentioned there.

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