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. In obtaining a different (body) (the soul) goes enveloped (by subtle parts of the elements), (as appears from) question and explanation.

In the second adhyāya we have refuted the objections raised against the Vedāntic of Brahman on the ground of Smṛti and reasoning; we have shown that all other opinions are devoid of foundation, and that the alleged mutual contradictions of Vedic texts do not exist. Further we have demonstrated that the entities different from--but subordinate to--the individual soul (such as prāṇa, &c.) spring from Brahman.--Now in the third adhyāya we shall discuss the following subjects: the manner in which the soul together with its subordinate adjuncts passes through the saṃsāra (III, 1); the different states of the soul and the nature of Brahman (III, 2); the separateness or non-separateness of the vidyās and the question whether the qualities (of Brahman) have to be cumulated or not (III, 3); the accomplishment of man's highest end by means of perfect knowledge (saṃyagdarśana), the different injunctions as to the means of perfect knowledge and the absence of certain rules as to release which is the fruit (of perfect knowledge[1]) (III, 4). As occasion leads some other matters also will be explained.--The first pāda explains, on the ground of the so-called vidyā of the five fires (Ch. Up. V, 3-10), the different modes of the soul's passing through the saṃsāra; the reason of that doctrine being (the inculcation of) absence of all desire (vairāgya), in accordance with the scriptural remark at the end (of the vidyā), 'hence let a man take care to himself.'--The soul accompanied by the chief vital air, the sense-organs and the mind, and taking with itself nescience (avidyā), moral good or ill-desert (karman), and the impressions left by its previous existences[2], leaves its former body and obtains a new body; this is known from the scriptural passage extending from Bṛ. Up. IV, 4, 1 ('Then those prāṇas gather around him') up to IV, 4, 4 ('It makes to itself another newer and more beautiful shape'); which passage forms part of a chapter treating of the saṃsāra-state. And it moreover follows from the possibility (thus resulting) of the soul enjoying the fruits of good and evil actions.--Here the question arises whether the soul when going to the new body is enveloped or not by subtle parts of the elements constituting the seeds of the body.--It is not so enveloped, the pūrvapakṣin.--Why?--Because scripture, while stating that the soul takes the organs with itself, does not state the same with regard to the elements. For the expression 'those parts of light' (tejomātrāḥ) occurs in the passage 'He taking with him those parts of light,' &c., intimates that the organs only are taken (and not the elements), since in the complementary portion of the passage the eye, &c., are spoken of, and not the subtle parts of the elements. The subtle parts of the elements can moreover easily be procured anywhere; for wherever a new body is to be originated they are present, and the soul's taking them with itself would, therefore, be useless. Hence we conclude that the soul when going is not enveloped by them.

To this the teacher replies, 'in obtaining another it goes enveloped.' That means: we must understand that the soul when passing from one body to another is enveloped by the subtle parts of the elements which are the seeds of the new body.--How do we know this?--'From the question and the explanation.' The question is, 'Do you know why in the fifth libation water is called man?' (V, 3, 3.) The explanation, i.e. answer, is given in the entire passage which, after having explained how the five libations in the form of śraddhā, rain, food, seed are offered in the five fires, viz. the heavenly world, Parjanya, the earth, man and woman, concludes, 'For this reason is water in the fifth oblation called man.' Hence we understand that the soul goes enveloped by water.--But--an objection will be raised--another scriptural passage declares that like a caterpillar the soul does not abandon the old body before it makes an approach to another body[3]. (Bṛ. Up. IV, 4, 3, 'And as a caterpillar.')--We reply that what there is compared to the (action of the) caterpillar is (not the non-abandonment of the old body but) merely the lengthening out of the creative effort whose object is the new body to be obtained, which (new body) is presented by the karman of the soul[4]Ḥence there is no contradiction.--As the mode of obtaining a new body is thus declared by Śruti, all hypotheses which owe their origin to the mind of man only are to be set aside because they are contradicted by scripture. So e.g. the opinion (of the Sāṅkhyas) that the Self and the organs are both all--pervading[5], and when obtaining a new body only begin to function in it in consequence of the karman; or the opinion (of the Bauddhas) that the Self alone (without the organs) begins to function in a new body, and that as the body itself, so new sense-organs also are produced in the new abode of fruition[6]; or the opinion (of the Vaiśeṣikas) that the mind only proceeds to the new abode of fruition[7]; or the opinion (of the Digambara Jainas) that the individual soul only flying away from the old body alights in the new one as a parrot flies from one tree to another.--But--an objection will be raised--from the quoted question and answer it follows that the soul goes enveloped by water only, according to the meaning of the word made use of by scripture, viz. water. How then can the general statement be maintained that the soul goes enveloped by subtle parts of all elements?--To this doubt the next Sūtra replies.

Footnotes and references:


I.e. the absence of a rule laying down that release consequent on knowledge takes place in the same existence in which the means of reaching perfect knowledge are employed.


I read avidyā the commentators (Go. Ān., however, mentions the reading 'vidyā,' also); although vidyā appears preferable. Cp Max Müller's note 2, p. 175, Upan. II; Deussen, p. 405.--Pūrvagprajñā janmāntarīya-saṃskāraḥ. Ān Gi.


Evaṃ hi sūkṣmadehaparishvakto ramḥet yady asya sthūlaṃ śarīraṃ raṃhato na bhavet, asti tv asya vartamānasthūlaśarīrayogaḥ ādehāntaraprāptes tṛṇajalāyukānidarśanena, tasmān nidarsaṇaśrutivirodhān na sūkṣmadehaparishvakto raṃhatīti. Bhā.


Pratipattavyaḥ prāptavyo yo dehas tadviṣayāyā bhāvanāyā utpādanāyā dīrghibhāvamātraṃ jalūkayopamīyate. Bhā.--Ān. Gi. explains: prāptavyo yo dehas tadviṣayabhāvanāyā devo&'2365;ham ityādikāyā dīrghībhāvo vyavahitārthālambanatvaṃ tāvanmātram ityādi.


Karaṇānām āhaṃkārikatvāt tasya vyāpitvāt teṣām api tadātmakānāṃ vyāpitvam. Go. Ān.--The organs are, according to the Sāṅkhya, the immediate effects of the ahaṃkāra, but why all-pervading on that account?


Ātmā khalv alayajñānasamtānas tasya vṛttayaḥ śabdādijñānāni tallābhaḥ śarīrāntare bhavati, kevalaśabdas tu caraṇasāhityam ātmano vārayati. Go. Ān.


Kevalaṃ caraṇair ātmanā ca rahitam iti yāvat, karaṇāni nūtanany eva tatrārabhyante ātmā tu vibhutvād akriyo&'2365;pi tatra vṛttimātram āpnoti. Ān. Gi.

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