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 ...

33. On account of the impossibility (of contradictory attributes) in one thing, (the Jaina doctrine is) not (to be accepted).

Having disposed of the Bauddha doctrine we now turn to the system of the Gymnosophists (Jainas).

The Jainas acknowledge seven categories (tattvas), viz. soul (jīva), non-soul (ajīva), the issuing outward (āsrava), restraint (saṃvara), destruction (nirjara), bondage (bandha), and release (mokṣa)[1]. Shortly it may be said that they acknowledge two categories, viz. soul and non-soul, since the five other categories may be subsumed under these two.--They also set forth a set of categories different from the two mentioned. They teach that there are five so-called astikāyas ('existing bodies,' i.e. categories), viz. the categories of soul (jīva), body (pudgala), merit (dharma), demerit (adharma), and space (ākāśa). All these categories they again subdivide in various fanciful ways[2].--To all things they apply the following method of reasoning, which they call the saptabhaṅgīnaya: somehow it is; somehow it is not; somehow it is and is not; somehow it is indescribable; somehow it is and is indescribable; somehow it is not and is indescribable; somehow it is and is not and is indescribable.

To this unsettling style of reasoning they submit even such conceptions as that of unity and eternity[3].

This doctrine we meet as follows.--Your reasoning, we say, is inadmissible 'on account of the impossibility in one thing.' That is to say, it is impossible that contradictory attributes such as being and non-being should at the same time belong to one and the same thing; just as observation teaches us that a thing cannot be hot and cold at the same moment. The seven categories asserted by you must either be so many and such or not be so many and such; the third alternative expressed in the words 'they either are such or not such' results in a cognition of indefinite nature which is no more a source of true knowledge than doubt is. If you should plead that the cognition that a thing is of more than one nature is definite and therefore a source of true knowledge, we deny this. For the unlimited assertion that all things are of a non-exclusive nature is itself something, falls as such under the alternative predications 'somehow it is,' 'somehow it is not,' and so ceases to be a definite assertion. The same happens to the person making the assertion and to the result of the assertion; partly they are, partly they are not. As thus the means of knowledge, the object of knowledge, the knowing subject, and the act of knowledge are all alike indefinite, how can the Tīrthakara (Jina) teach with any claim to authority, and how can his followers act on a doctrine the matter of which is altogether indeterminate? Observation shows that only when a course of action is known to have a definite result people set about it without hesitation. Hence a man who proclaims a doctrine of altogether indefinite contents does not deserve to be listened to any more than a drunken man or a madman.--Again, if we apply the Jaina reasoning to their doctrine of the five categories, we have to say that on one view of the matter they are five and on another view they are not five; from which latter point of view it follows that they are either fewer or more than five. Nor is it logical to declare the categories to be indescribable. For if they are so, they cannot be described; but, as a matter of fact, they are described so that to call them indescribable involves a contradiction. And if you go on to say that the categories on being described are ascertained to be such and such, and at the same time are not ascertained to be such and such, and that the result of their being ascertained is perfect knowledge or is not perfect knowledge, and that imperfect knowledge is the opposite of perfect knowledge or is not the opposite; you certainly talk more like a drunken or insane man than like a sober, trustworthy person.--If you further maintain that the heavenly world and final release exist or do not exist and are eternal or non-eternal, the absence of all determinate knowledge which is implied in such statements will result in nobody's acting for the purpose of gaining the heavenly world and final release. And, moreover, it follows from your doctrine that soul, non-soul, and so on, whose nature you claim to have ascertained, and which you describe as having existed from all eternity, relapse all at once into the condition of absolute indetermination.--As therefore the two contradictory attributes of being and non-being cannot belong to any of the categories--being excluding non-being and vice versā non-being excluding being--the doctrine of the Arhat must be rejected.--The above remarks dispose likewise of the assertions made by the Jainas as to the impossibility of deciding whether of one thing there is to be predicated oneness or plurality, permanency or non-permanency, separateness or non-separateness, and so on.--The Jaina doctrine that aggregates are formed from the atoms--by them called pudgalas--we do not undertake to refute separately as its refutation is already comprised in that of the atomistic doctrine given in a previous part of this work.

Footnotes and references:


Soul and non-soul are the enjoying souls and the objects of their enjoyment; āsrava is the forward movement of the senses towards their objects; saṃvara is the restraint of the activity of the senses; nirjara is self-mortification by which sin is destroyed; the works constitute bondage; and release is the ascending of the soul, after bondage has ceased, to the highest regions.--For the details, see Professor Cowell's translation of the Ārhata chapter of the Sarvadarśaṇasaṃgraha.


Cp. translation of Sarvadarśaṇasaṃgraha, p. 59.


And so impugn the doctrine of the one eternal Brahman.

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