Brahma Sutras (Shankara Bhashya)

by Swami Vireshwarananda | 1936 | 124,571 words | ISBN-10: 8175050063

This is the English translation of the Brahma-sutras including the commentary (Bhashya) of Shankara. The Brahma-sutra (or, Vedanta-sutra) is one of the three canonical texts of the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy and represents an early exposition the Vedantic interpretation of the Upanishads. This edition has the original Sanskrit text, the r...


The Six Systems of Philosophy

The Vedas are the scriptures of the Hindus, to whatever sect or denomination they may belong. They are the earliest extant religious literature to-day and form the corner-stone of the Indo-Aryan cultural edifice. The Hindus believe that the Vedas are not the utterances of any person but are eternal and owe their authority to no individual. They are not inspired but expired by God. These Vedas are divided into two sections, the Karmakanda and the Jnanakanda, the former dealing with the ritualistic and the latter with the knowledge portion of the Vedas. The latter section is also known as the Vedanta, the end of the Vedas or the goal or gist of the Vedas. These are not mere speculations but the record of the spiritual experiences of the race for centuries, actual realizations or superconscious perceptions.

Though we find Vedantic thought even in some of the earliest hymns of the Rig-Veda, e.g. the Nasadiya Sukta, which forms as it were the basis of later Upanishads, yet there is no denying the fact that the Indo-Aryans in their earlier days in India were given more to rituals and sacrifices. These were elaborated to such an extent by the Brahmanas, the priestly class, that persons of rationalistic bent of mind revolted and questioned the very efficacy of the sacrificial religion. They engaged themselves in metaphysical problems and arrived at different solutions of the world. The Vedantic thought that was in germ form was now developed more and more, and we have the Upanishads. This spirit of revolt against ritualism was carried on mainly by the Kshatriyas. The Indo-Aryans were very bold thinkers and nothing was sacrilegious to them in their search after truth. Traces of opposition against the religion of the Vedas are found in the Vedas themselves. This tidal wave of rationalism in its extreme form gave rise to such schools of thought as the Charvakas, which were extremely materialistic and anti-religious.

In the age immediately preceding Buddha and during his lifetime there was a great religious and philosophical upheaval in India. From the Brahma-jala-Sutras we learn that in his time there wrere as many as sixty-two different schools of philosophy in India. We also learn from Buddhistic literature the names of a good number of teachers who were venerated in Âryavarta at the time—names like Purana Kasyapa, Katyayana, Makkali Gosala, Nigantha Nathaputra, the founder of Jainism, and others. While these great souls represented Indian culture from an anti-Vedic standpoint there were many great names that represented the culture from the traditional standpoint—names that are still venerated by Hindu religion and culture.

The destructive criticism of everything in the old system by the Charvakas and others set the orthodox section to organize their belief on a more rationalistic basis and render it immune against all such criticism. This led to the foundation of the six systems of orthodox Hindu philosophy—orthodox[1] in the sense that they accepted the authority of the Vedas in things transcendental—while there were others who did not accept this authority and therefore were dubbed heterodox, though otherwise they too were the outcome of Upanishadic thought. The acceptance of the authority of the Vedas by these orthodox schools, however, does not mean that they accepted them in toto . Their allegiance to the Vedas varied widely and often it was too loose. Of the six orthodox schools, viz. Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta, the last two are intimately connected with the Vedas, which is one of the reasons why they are not mentioned in the Jaina and Buddhistic literature, while the others are mentioned.

These six orthodox systems of thought developed side by side at different intellectual centres, of which there were a good number all over the country even during the Upanishadic period. Again in each system there were shades of difference. Thus for centuries philosophic thought developed in India till at last it became so unwieldy that a regular systematization of each school of thought was found a great necessity. This led to the Sutra literature.


The Sutras

These systematic treatises were written in short aphorisms called Sutras, meaning clues, and were intended as memory-aids to long discussions on any topic which the student had gone through with his teacher or Guru. The thought was very much condensed, for much was taken for granted. Consequently the maximum of thought was compressed into these Sutras in as few words as possible. Madhwa-charya quotes from Padma Purana a definition of the Sutra in his commentary on the Brahma-Sutras which runs as follows:

अल्पाक्षरमसंदिग्धं सारवद्विश्वतोमुखम् ।
अस्तोभमनवद्यं च सूत्रं सूत्रविदो विदुः ॥

alpakṣaramasaṃdigdhaṃ saravadviśvatomukham |
astobhamanavadyaṃ ca sūtraṃ sūtravido viduḥ ||

“People learned in Sutra literature say that a Sutra should be concise and unambiguous, give the essence of the arguments on a topic but at the same time deal with all aspects of the question, be free from repetition and faultless.”

Though this definition states what a Sutra ought to be, in practice, however, the desire for brevity was carried to such extremes that most part of the Sutra literature is now unintelligible, and this is particularly so with respect to the Vedanta-Sutras which has consequently given rise to divergent systems.

There was Sutra literature in every branch of Indo-Aryan knowledge which had become cumbrous through centuries and required systematization. The authors of these Sutras, as we see, are not the founders of the thought or systems they propounded, but are mere systematizers of the thought developed on the subject by successive generations of thinkers for centuries. The thought of these Sutras was much developed by later thinker and even modified by them, though all of them disclaimed any originality in it, declaring that they were merely interpreting the Sutras. This was specially the case with respect to the philosophical Sutras. All these subsequent thinkers belonged lo one or other of the six systems and developed its traditionary thought from generation to generation, rendering it more and more perfect, and more and more secure against the ever new criticisms of rival schools. Such interpretations of the Sutras gave rise to various kinds of literary writings like Vakvas, Vrittis, Karikas and Bhashyas, each of them being more and more elaborate than the previous ones.


The Brahma-Sutras

The Upanishads do not contain any ready-made consistent system of thought. At first sight they seem to be full of contradictions. Hence arose the necessity of systematizing the thought of the Upanishads. Badarayana, to whom the authorship of the Brahma-Sutras or Vedanta-Sutras is ascribed, is not the only one who had tried to systematize the philosophy of the Upanishads. From the Brahma-Sutras itself we find that there were other schools of Vedanta which had their own following. We find the names of Audulomi, Kasakristna, Badari, Jaimini, Karshnajini, Âsmarathya and others mentioned. All this shows that Badarayana’s Sutras do not constitute the only systematic work in the Vedanta school, though probably the last and best. All the sects of India now hold this work to be the great authority and every new sect starts with a fresh commentary on it —without which no sect can be founded in this country.


The Author and Date of the Sutras

About Badarayana, the author of the Sutras, very little is known to-day. Tradition, however, identifies him with Vyasa, the author of the Gita and the Mahabharata. Sankara, however, in his commentaries refers to Vyasa as the author of the Mahabharata, and the author of the Sutras he refers to as Badarayana. Perhaps to him these two personalities were different. His followers, Vachaspati, Ânandagiri and others identify Vyasa and Badarayana, while Ramanuja and other commentators on the Sutras attribute it to Vyasa.

Deussen infers from the cross references in the works of Jaimini and Badarayana that they may have been combined by a later editor into one work, and provided with the cross references.

This combined work, he says, was commented upon by Upavarsha op whose work the commentaries of Sahara on the Purva Mimamsa and Sankara on the Uttara Mimamsa rest. Sankara’s commentary on 3.3.53 gives support to this last view and it also explains the popular idea that the two Mimamsas form one Sastra. This combined work might well have been arranged by Vyasa, the author of the Mahabharata. Or it may be that he had written them himself according to the views that were traditionally handed down as Badarayana’s. This latter view easily accounts for the reference to Badarayana by name in the Sutras. That such a thing was not uncommon in ancient India is established by Cole-brook 011 the authority of Indian commentators of Manu and Yajnavalkya.[2] Max Müller also says that Badarayana and other similar names are simply eponymous heroes of different philosophies.[2]

In support of the view that the two persons are one it can be pointed out that there existed in the time of Panini Sutras known as Bhikshu-Sutras which are identified by Vachaspati with the Vedanta-Sutras. The subject-matter of the Vedanta-Sutras being Brahman, the knowledge of which is pre-eminently meant for Sannyasins, it might well be called Bhikshu-Sutras. Panini in his Sutras ascribes these Bhikshu-Sutras to Parasarya, the son of Parasara, i.e. Veda-Vyasa, who was also called Badarayana as he had his Âshrama at Badari in the Himalayas. That the Vedanta-Sutras and Purva Mimamsa-Sutras must have existed before Panini can also be inferred from the commentary on both of them by Upavarslia who is said to be the Guru of Panini in the Katha-saïit-sagar, though we must admit it cannot be conclusively proved that the two Upavarshas are one and the same person.

The identity of the Vedanta-Sutras and the Bhikshu-Sutras would no doubt fix the date of the Sutras very early, before Buddha, and a question may arise how such an early work could have referred to various other schools of philosophy of a much later date and refuted them. In this connection we must not forget that the author of the Sutras does not refer to any founder of the different schools by name. He even does not use the technical terms of the different schools as they are known to us to-day. During that great philosophical ferment which followed at the close of the Upanishadic period various metaphysical views were held which later developed in definite channels. Therefore the fact that Badarayana is acquainted with certain systems of thought which later came to be associated with certain names does not show that Badarayana was later than these persons. These later names were by no means the original founders of these systems of thought, but only gave definite shape to some particular thought that was found in that mass of philosophical speculations which existed in that period. Badarayana could anticipate even the Buddhistic and Jaina schools, for Buddha and Mahavira also were not the founders of any altogether new schools of philosophy but imbibed much of the thought current in the country at the time. There was no revolutionary departure in their philosophy, but it was their great personality that shaped the history of India for centuries. As regards Jaina thought we know definitely that it existed from even before the tirre of Parswanath (8th or 9th century B. C.). In fact all these systems must have belonged to the same period of philosophical ferment which preceded the rise of Buddhism. Thus a writer of the Vedanta-Sutras before Buddha may well be acquainted with the different schools of philosophy refuted in the Tarkapada of that book, though they might not have existed in the form in which we know them to-day or in the form in which they have been refuted by Sankara.

Moreover, that the Vedanta-Sutras were known to exist before Buddha can also be made out from the Gita. The date of the Gita and the original Mahabharata, of which the Gita is a part, can be fixed before the time of Buddha. Both of them are pre-Buddhistic, for they contain no reference to Buddha and Buddhism. Quotations from both are found in Bodhayana who belongs to 400 B.C. The language of the Gita also seems to belong to a period before Panini. He is also conversant with the epic characters. So we can well say that the Gita and the Mahabharata were known before Buddha. Now we find a clear reference to the Brahma-Sutras, in Gita 13.4), where the word ‘Brahma-Sutra-padaih’ occurs. This is a definite reference to the Vedanta-Sutras.

The full text runs as follows:

“This has been sung by the Rishis in various ways and in different metres and definitely and logically by the words of the Brahma-Sutras.”

Tilak argues in his Gita-Rahasya that the first half refers to teachings which arc disconnected and unsystematic and therefore refers to the Upanishads, while the later half to something definite and logical—a difference that is clearly brought out by this stanza and therefore refers to the systematized thought in the Vedanta-Sutras. Max Müller too is of opinion that the Vedanta-Sutras belong to an earlier period than the Gita[3] and in the text just quoted he finds a clear reference to the recognized title of the Vedanta or Brahma-Sutras.[4] Indian commentators on the Gita like Ramanuja, Madhwa and others identify the Vedanta-Sutras in this passage of the Gita.

But if the Vedanta-Sutras be of an earlier date than the Gita, how could it contain references to the Gita? In Sutras 2. 3. 45 and 4. 2. 21 all the commentators quote the same text of the Gita, and there seems to be no doubt that they are right. These cross references show that the author of the Gita had a hand in the present recension of the Sutras. This is also made clear by the rejection of the fourfold Vyuha of the Bhagavatas both by the Gita and the Sutras and the great predominance given to the Sankhya school in both. The Gita accepts the Sankhya view of creation but modifies it to some extent and makes the Pradhana subservient to the Supreme Brahman which is non-dual. In the Vedanta-Sutras also the author refutes the dualism of the Sankhyas. Otherwise he has no objection to accepting the Pradhana or Prakriti as a principle dependant on the Supreme Lord (vide 1. 4. 2-3). Sankara in his Bhashya on these Sutras makes this quite clear.

From what has been said above we find that there are strong grounds for believing that the Vedanta-Sutras must have existed before Buddha and that if Badarayana and Veda-Vyasa are not one and the same person as tradition holds, the latter must have had a hand in the present recension of the Sutras, though it is very difficult to say to what extent— whether it was by way of merely revising the original Sutras of Badarayana or writing them down in toto after the teachings of Badarayana.


Commentators on the Brahma-sutras

It has already been shown that the Brahma-Sutras of Badarayana somehow gained prominence and popularity and as a result all the great Âcharyas have written commentaries on it. The oldest of the extant commentaries is by Sankara, the exponent of Monism. A Vritti by Upavarsha is mentioned by Sankara and Bhaskara and a Vritti by Bodhayana is referred to and often quoted by Ramanuja in his Sri Bhashya. Sankara does not refer to Bodhayana. According to Vedanta Desika the two are one person. Unfortunately this work of Bodhayana is not available now. Ramanuja quotes also from the Dramida Bhashya which evidently belongs to the Bhakti cult of Southern India. Sankara was followed by a host of commentators on these Sutras—Yadava Prakasha, Bhaskara, Vijnana Bikshu, Ramanuja, Nilakantha, Sripati, Nimbarka, Madhwa, Vallabha and Baladeva There are even some recent commentaries, though of not much value. All these try to maintain that their system is the one that Badarayana propounded through his Sutras.

At present, however, only five of these great commentators have a large following—Sankara, the exponent of Monism; Ramanuja, the exponent of Visishtadvaita or qualified Monism; Nimbarka, the exponent of Bhedabhedavada or the theory of difference and non-difference; Madhwa, the exponent of Dualism; and Vallabha, the exponent of Suddhad-vaitavada. All of these systems seem to be based on the views of one or other of the ancient Vedanta schools which we find Badarayana referring to in his Sutras.

A question may be raised how the same work could have given rise to so many conflicting schools of thought. The reasons are many. In the first place the brevity of the Sutras leaves much to be supplied by the commentators, and in the absence of an universally accepted unbroken tradition each is free to do this according to his own preconceived ideas. Sometimes even without supplying anything the same Sutra is capable of being interpreted differently and even conveying quite the opposite meaning (e.g. Sankara and Ramanuja on 3. 2. II) by the mere shifting of the stops. Again, while there is a tradition which is accepted more or less by all as regards the arrangement into chapters and sections, there is no such accepted tradition as regards the division into Adhikaranas (topics), nor is there anything authoritative to guide us as to which Sutras form the Purvapaksha or the prima facie view and which give the Siddhanta or the author’s view. So every one is free to divide the Sutras into topics according to his own choice and regard any Sutras as giving the author’s view. Then again, the Sutras do not give any reference as to which texts of the scriptures are being discussed and as a result the commentator is free to select any texts from that vast repertory, so much so that it often happens that different commentators see different topics discussed in the same set of Sutras. Added to all this is the difficulty that Badarayana is often silent as regards his own decisioii and that on fundamental questions. He merely gives the views of different Vedantins and ends the topic (vide 1. 4. 20-22).

The five great commentators more or less agree on certain points, especially where the author attacks the principles of the non-Vedantic schools. All of them agree that Brahman is the cause of this world and that knowledge of It leads to final emancipation which is the goal to be attained; also that Brahman can be known only through the scriptures and not through mere reasoning. But they differ amongst themselves as to the nature of this Brahman, Its causality with respect to this world, the relation of the individual soul to It and the condition of the soul in the state of release.

Brahman according to Sankara is attributeless, immutable, Pure Intelligence. Iswara according to him is a product of Maya—the highest reading of the Nirguna Brahman by the individualized soul. The world is a Vivarta or apparent transformation through Maya of the Nirguna Brahman but not in reality. The Jiva in reality is all-pervading and identical with Brahman, though as individualized by its Upadhi (adjunct), the internal organ, it regards itself as atomic, as an agent, and as a part of the Lord. The knowers of the Nirguna Brahman attain It directly and have not to go by “the path of the gods”. It is the knowers of the Saguna Brahman that go by that path to Brahmaloka from where they do not return but attain Brahman at the end of the cycle. Knowledge is the only means to Liberation.

To Ramanuja and the other commentators Brahman is not attributeless but an essentially Personal God possessing infinite benign attributes. They hold that though personality as we experience it in man is limited, it need not be invariably connected with personality as Sankara thinks, so as to contradict infinity. They do not accept the Maya doctrine, for to them the world is real, and so they accept that the world is produced from Brahman. Madhwa, however, accepts It only as the efficient cause and not as the material cause also. The Jiva according to them is really atomic, an agent, and a part of the Lord. The knower of Brahman goes by the path of the gods to Brahmaloka where he attains Brahman and does not return to this mortal world. They do not make any distinction of higher and lower knowledge like Sankara. According to them Bhakti is the chief means to Liberation, and not Jnana.

Thus to all of them Brahman, the world, and the souls are all realities. Ramanuja integrates the three into one organic whole and says that Brahman has for Its body the other two. Nimbarka integrates the three by his Bhedabhedavada, i.e. the relation of the sentient and insentient world with Brahman is one of difference and non-difference. Madhwa, a thoroughgoing dualist, regards these three as quite independent, eternal entities, though Brahman is the ruler of the other two. To Vallabha the world and the souls are Brahman Itself. They are real and their relation to Brahman is one of identity, as that of parts to a whole.[5]


Sankara’s Interpretation of the Sutras

There is a strong opinion current amongst scholars to-day that whatever be the merit of Sankara’s metaphysical doctrines considered by themselves or even as doctrines elucidating the teachings of the Upanishads, he is not faithful to Badarayana in his interpretation of the Sutras. They hold that Badarayana was ignorant of a twofold Brahman and consequently of a twofold knowledge; that he was not aware of the doctrine of Maya and so did not hold that the world was unreal, but that Brahman underwent a real change into this world-order; and that the Sutras do not hold the view of absolute identity of the individual soul and Brahman. In short their view is that the system of Badarayana is a theistic system which has more affinities with the systems of Ramanuja and Nimbarka than with Sankara’s pure Non-dualism. This view is nothing new. Bhaskara at the beginning of his commentary on the Sutras accuses Sankara of this very thing. But at the same time we can also cite Sandilya, the author of the Bhakti-Sutras, who in Sutra 30 of his work refers to Badarayana as a Monist, which shows that the view that Badarayana was an Abhedavadin was prevalent in ancient days, even as early as the Sutra period.

It is not possible to deal with such a controversial subject in a short Introduction like this. All the same we shall take some salient points connected with this discussion and try to see how far such a criticism against Sankara is justified. At the outset, however, it is fair to adnii; that at places Sankara’s interpretations seem to be far-fetched; but this is by no means a defect of his Bhashya alone but of all the other extant Bhashyas as well. Moreover, in such a critical study we shall not gain much if we follow the letter of the Sutras, missing the general spirit of the work as a whole. It is possible to give a consistent interpretation of the Sutras by following the letter of the Sutras and at the same time miss the general spirit of the work as a whole.

पौवपियपिरामृष्टः शठदो'न्याम् कुह्ते(?) मतिम् ।

pauvapiyapirāmṛṣṭaḥ śaṭhado'nyām kuhte(?) matim |

“The Sruti texts give rise to a wrong view if they are not studied as one connected whole”—in other words the letter often kills the spirit.


Sutra 2 aims at a Nirguna Brahman:

To start with, let us take the definition of Brahman given by Badarayana in Sutra 2. Sutra 1 says that Brahman is to be inquired into, for the knowledge of It leads to Moksha (Liberation). The next Sutra defines Brahman and so naturally we have to understand that the Brahman the knowledge of which gives Moksha is defined here. As such we get a Saguna Brahman as the subject-matter of the Sastra and not the Nirguna Brahman of Sankaya which is Existence, Knowledge, Bliss Absolute. So it appears that the author at the very beginning of the work precludes any chance of Sankara’s doctrine being read in his Sutras. But let us investigate into the matter a little and see whether it is actually so.

After the statement in Sutra 1 that Brahman is to be known, naturally the question about the nature of Brahman arises. The Sutrakara (aphorist) here Anticipates an objection that Brahman cannot be defined at all. For whatever we cognize in this world is limited and as such cannot be a characteristic of Brahman which is infinite. A limited thing cannot define an unlimited thing. Nor can any characteristic which is absolutely beyond our experience, like Reality etc., dêfine Brahman, for it is only a well-known characteristic that defines a thing and distinguishes it from other things. Again the scriptures cannot define Brahman, for being absolutely unique It cannot be expressed in speech. Thus in the absence of any definition Brahman cannot be a thing worth inquiring into and cannot serve any human purpose. To refute all such objections the Sutrakara defines Brahman in Sutra 2. Granted that the world we experience cannot define Brahman as being a quality of It or as being identical with It, yet the quality of being the (supposed) cause of the world may indicate It. “Birth etc.” mentioned in the Sutra define Brahman per accidens. Though they inhere in the world and do not pertain to Brahman, the causality connected therewith pertains to Brahman and therefore the definition holds good. This causality indicates Brahman even as the snake indicates the rope when we say that that which is the snake is the rope, where the rope is indicated by the snake owing to the illusory connection between the two. This definition, therefore, actually aims at the Nirguna Brahman and cannot be taken as a definition of the Saguna Brahman.[6]

Again the Sutra referp to the Taittiriya text, “That, from which these beings are born . . . That is Brahman” etc. (3.1) and the word ‘that’ here refers to the Brahman defined as Existence, Knowledge, and Infinite in the immediately preceding section, the Ânanda Valli. Therefore from this text itself we get at the real nature of Brahman.

Yet it may be questioned why the author should give an indirect definition of Brahman instead of defining It in Its real nature as, “Existence, Knowledge, Bliss is Brahman.” The answer is that the author has followed here the universally accepted principle of taking a student step by step from a lower to a higher truth, from a grosser to a subtler one. it is indeed by first pointing to the end of the branch of a tree that one points out the moon to the child. Similarly, first Brahman as the Cause is distinguished from this world of products, and finally by saying that from Bliss this universe is born, It is differentiated from other probable causes like atoms, the Pradhana, etc. In this way finally Brahman’s real nature as distinguished from everything else is described. The aspirant whose mind is turned away from the world of the senses first comprehends Brahman as the cause of the world. Though in Itself as the Inner Self Brahman is immediate, yet we have the idea that It is remote. Hence the Sruti ñrst teaches that Brahman is the cause of the world, and then to remove this false notion of remoteness it teaches that It is one with the Inner Self. So long as this identity is not realized, It appears to be the cause of the world.

That Bliss which admits of no difference is Brahman we learn from the Chhandogya Upanishad.

“The Bhuman (Infinite) only is Bliss. This Infinite we must desire to understand”

(7. 23. 1).

What is this Infinite which is called Bliss ? The Upanishad explains :

“Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, understands nothing else, that is the Infinite. Where one sees something else, hears something else, understands something else, that is the finite. The Infinite is immortal, the finite is mortal”

(Ibid. 7. 24. 1).

This non-dual Bliss is the Infinite, the Brahman defined in Ânanda Valli as Existenc' , Knowledge, Infinite is Brahman, and from this all creation springs—so understood Bhrigu, the son of Varuna.

Again the Taittiriya text, “That from which all beings are born . . . Try to know that. That is Brahman,” aims at defining a non-dual Brahman as the only reality and does not define a Saguna Brahman. It defines Brahman as the efficient and also as the material cause of the universe, since It is the place of dissolution of the world. Being the material cause of everything, It is the basic reality behind everything and this gives rise to the intuition that Brahman is non-dual and that everything else is unreal. Its being the efficient cause also establishes the fact that It is non-dual, as it precludes anything else being such an efficient cause. Thus this definition, which is but one, qualifies per accidens the nondual Brahman as both the efficient and material cause of the udiverse. This material causality of Brahman which is non-dual, immutable Intelligence cannot be one of origination, as by primeval atoms by whose combination something new is created; nor can it be one of modification, as of the Pradhana of the Sankhyas. It is through Vivaria or apparent modification through Maya or Nescience that Brahman is transformed into this universe. This universe is therefore illusory.[7] That this is in accordance with Badarayana’s view is made clear by the fact that he uses the word ‘Sat’ as a characteristic epithet to denote Brahman, which he would not have done if he had considered the Jivas and the world also real like Brahman (vide Sutra 2. 3. 9). The word ‘Sat’ here is interpreted by all commentators to denote Brahman.

Thus we find that this definition is given by Badarayana to indicate a Nirguna (attributeless) and Nirvisesha (absolute) Brahman and not a Saguna Brahman and he has selected a significant text from the wide range of scriptural texts for defining his Brahman.


Is Brahman the real or apparent cause of the world ?

Now let us take up the Sutras about the causality of Brahman, viz. Sutras 1. 4. 23-27 and Sutra 2. 1. 14. Before that let us have a brief summary of the work up to 2. 1. 14. After defining Brahman in Sutra 2 the Sutrakara from 1. 1. 5 to 1. 4. 13 and in 1. 4. 23-27 shows that all the scriptural texts teach that Brahman is both the efficient and the material cause of the universe, refuting the Sankhyas in 1. 1. 5-11 and in 1. 4. 1-13. Sutras 1. 4. 14-22 refute the Sankhyan objection that there are contradictions in the Sruti texts with respect to the First Cause. Finally Sutra 28 says that by what has been said against the Sankhyas the others also are refuted. Sutras 2. 1. 1-3 reject the authority of the Sankhya and Yoga Smritis as against the scriptures. Sutras 4-11 answer through reasoning without the aid of texts the Sankhyan objection based on reasoning that Brahman cannot be the material cause of the world, for It and the world are of different nature and as such the relation of cause and effect cannot exist between them. Sutra 12 refutes the validity of reasoning in matters transcendental and thus refutes all schools which arrive at their doctrines through reasoning. Sutra 13 answers another objection of the Sankhyas that if Brahman be the material cause, then there would result non-distinction between enjoyer and things tnjoyed, a fact established by experience. The Sutra refutes it saying that such a difference can exist in non-different things even as we have waves, foam, etc. in the sea and so the Vedantic doctrine cannot be set aside on the ground of contradiction to our experience. Non-duality and non-duality cannot exist in one and the same thing, for they are mutually contradictory. The example of the sea and the waves would be apt if Brahman had aspects, but non-dual reality does not admit of such aspects. Moreover, Sutra 13 has not established the truth of the scriptural statement, “By the knowledge of the one everything else is known” which was referred lo in Sutra 1. 4. 23. To establish these two things Sutras 14-20 declare that the effects are in reality non-different from the cause, i.e. they have no existence apart from the cause.[8] Non-difference here does not mean identity but that there is no difference.[9] In other words the two, Brahman and the world, have not the same grade of reality.[10] That is what is meant. If the world is something different from Brahman it would contradict such Sruti texts as, “All this was but the Self” (Brih. 1. 4. 1., 1. 4. 17). Again if the world is real, it would contradict texts like, “There is nothing whatsoever here” (Brih. 4. 4. 19). Therefore the world is non-different from Brahman. But identity is not what is meant by non-difference, for this is impossible between the world and Brahman, they being mutually different in nature. Hence non-difference means that it has no existence apart from Brahman, it precludes difference. The denial of identity, however, does not establish the difference of the world and Brahman, but establishes the apparent identity or the illusory nature of the world, even as the illusory snake is seen in the rope. This is what the Chhandogya text 6. 1. 4 tries to teach. Thus only by the knowledge of one thing can everything be known, on any other assumption it would be impossible to establish it. The non-difference of the world from Brahman being established, the question naturally arises that Brahman would then be responsible for creating evil for the Jiva which is one with It. This is answered in Sutras 2. 1. 21-23. Sutras 21-25 show how Brahman, though destitute of materials and instruments, yet is the cause of the world even as milk turns into curds without any extraneous help. The example cited raises a fresh objection in Sutra 20 that Brahman cannot at the same time be both immutable and be transformed into the world. Against this Sutra 27 says that the Sruti states both these views and so they have to be accepted, as the Sruti is the only authority with respect to Brahman. As to how these two views are to be reconciled, Sutra 28 says that even as in the individual soul diverse creation exists in the dream state without marring its indivisibility, so also this world springs from Biahman, This example which is cited is very significant as it shows that Badarayana was quite familiar with Mayavada—that he considered this world unreal in a higher sense even as the dream world is Maya (3. 2. 3). These two Sutras together with Sutras 2. 3. 50 and 3. 2. 18 show that he viewed the world as unreal. The subsequent Sutras establish that Brahman through Maya possesses all powers necessary for creation and so on.

In the above summary we find how logically and consistently Sankara has interpreted the Sutras which leaves no room for dispute as to what Badarayana meant in these Sutras.

Thus in the whole of Chapter I and Section 1 of Chapter II Badarayana establishes the efficient and material causality of Biahman and in this his opponents are primarily the Sankhyas who deny Its material causality. As they also quote the scriptures often in their support, they are the foremost opponents in Badarayana’s view’. He disposes of others by saying that they too are refuted by these arguments. Sankara also, as shown above, has in Ch. I, See. 4 and Ch. .II, Sec. 1 consistently interpreted the Sutras as directed against the Sankhyas or as answering their objections.

Some critics of Sankara, however, think that the reasoning employed by the aphorist against the Sankhyas in Sutras 4-11 of Ch. II, Sec. 1, especially Sutra 6, would be hardly appropriate from Sankara's point of view, for according to him the world springs not from Brahman as Intelligence, but in so far as It is associated with Maya. Similarly Sutra 24 which says that Brahman transforms Itself into the world like milk would be inappropriate if the world were unreal; Sutra 1. 4. 23 where Brahman is said to be the material and efficient cause of the world does not say that Brahman is the material cause through Maya; on the other hand Sutra 1. 4. 26 uses the word ‘Parinamat’ to show how Brahman is changed into the world.

This criticism does not seem to be relevant. In Sutras 2. 1. 4-11 the Sankhyas’ objection against the Vedantic doctrine of the material causality of Brahman is answered. Here the author is concerned only with establishing Brahman as the material cause and thus refuting the dualism of the Sankhyas who posit an independent principle, the Pradhana, as the First Cause, and not with the true nature of this causality. Up to Sutra 13 he refutes the objection from the Sankhyas’ own realistic standpoint. His own view as to the true significance of the causality is established in Sutra 14. It is not true that Sankara holds that Brahman as Pure Intelligence is not the material cause, but only as endowed with Maya. Brahman or Pure Intelligence as such is the material cause of the world as Sutra 1. 4. 23 says. But because of this, we cannot expect the effect, the world, to be similar to the cause in all respects. This is made clear by Sankara in his commentary op Sutra 2.1.6 tohere he says that they cannot be similar in all respects, for if they were, then there would be nothing like cause and effect, nor would they be called by different names. What is essential for establishing the relation of cause and effect is that some qualities of the cause must be found in the effect also, and this is satisfied in the case of Brahman and the world. Everything in this world exists and this quality is obtained from Brahman which is existence; everything is also illumined by Intelligence which is Brahman. So Sutra 1. 4. 23 which says that Brahman as Intelligence is the cause is not contradicted according to Sankara’s view. This Sutra futher says, “This view rot contradicting the proposition and illustration cited in Chh. 6. 1. 4.” In what sense the material causality of Brahman as Intelligence does not contradict this enunciation, is shown by the aphorist in 2. 1. 14. From these Sutras Sankara says that both Brahman and Maya are the cause of the world. Brahman through Vivarta, and Maya through Parinama; and the qualities of both are found in the effect, the world, as we gather from our cognition of a pot, ‘The pot exists,’ ‘The pot is inert’ where as existence the pot is indentical with Brahman which is existence itself, and as inert it is identical with Maya which is inert. Everything in this world has five elements in its make-up, viz. Asti, Bhati, Priya, Nama, and Rupa, the former three have Brahman for its material cause corresponding to the three factors, Existence, Intelligence and Bliss, and the last two consist of Maya and are unreal. No doubt the aphorist takes the Pari-nama view as a workable basis in refuting the Sankhyas. But we have already said that it is a well established principle of Indian teachers to take the aspirant step by step to the final truth. So Badarayana, by taking the Parinama view-point in his earlier Sutras where Brahman is referred to as the Cause and establishing Vivarta in 2. 1. 14, has only followed this universally accepted method. That the author is not for Parinamavada is made clear by him in Sutras 26-28. Sutra 28 clearly establishes the unreality of the world, it being illusory like the dream world.

Coming to Ramanuja’s commentary we find that he is not so logical or consistent as Sankara. According to him Brahman has for Its body the entire universe with all its sentient and insentient beings in all Its states. When the souls and matter are in the subtle state, Brahman is in the causal condition and when they are in the gross state It is in the effect state. The effect, i.e. the world, is thus seen to be non-different from the cause, i.e. the Supreme Brahman (vide Sri Bhashya Sutras 3. 4. 27 and 2. 1. 15). Badarayana does not seem to hold this view, for nowhere does he say that Brahman has for Its body the souls and matter. Even if 2. 3. 43 should mean that the souls are the body of Brahman, there is no similar Sutra to show that matter too is Its body. Moreover, if Brahman is the material cause of the world through Its insentient part only, as the above view leads to, then Sutra 3. 4. 23 which says that Brahman as Intelligence is the material cause would be contradicted and Sutras 2. 1. 26-28 also would be useless, for the question of the whole of Brahman passing over into the world does not arise at all. Nor can the relation of cause and effect exist between Brahman in the causal and the effect state for it is the same Brahman in either case. Evrn if such a relationship be granted, it would make Sutras 2. 1. 4-6 meaningless, for there can be no difference of nature in Brahman in the two states as between Brahman and the world—the sentient and the insentient. Ramanuja directs Sutra 14 against the Vaiseshikas, but we do not find the author making anybody else but the Sankhyas the opponents. The rest he disposes of by saying that the arguments against the Sankhyas refute others also (vide 1. 4. 28 and 2. 1. 12). The interpretation of Sutra 2. 1. 28 by Ramanuja is very far-fetched. His explanation that because things possess different qualities owing to the difference in their essential nature, Brahman which is unique can possess qualities beyond our experience, is not to the point, while Sankara’s interpretation is very happy as it gives us an idea as to how it is possible for Brahman to create the world and yet remain immutable. Moreover, Ramanuja has not explained in Sutras 26-28 the contradiction in the Sruti texts, while Sankara’s interpretation reconciles the contradiction through reasoning, and such reasoning as is not against the Sruti texts is quite acceptable to all Vedantins; in fact that is what the author proposes to do in this Uttara-Mimamsa work of his.

Coming to Nimbarka, his line of argument on these Sutras relating to the causality of Brahman is to establish the Bhedabheda doctrine. Sutra 2. 1. 13 he interprets first like Sankara. But in Sutra 14 the word  ‘ananyatvam’ he interprets as ‘na tu atyantabhinnatvam’ ‘not absolutely different.’ That is, the effect is not absolutely different from the cause: it has no separate existence from Brahman. Thus from Sutra 13 which says that Brahman and the Jiva are different, Sutras 4-6 which say that the insentient world is different from It and Sutra 14 which says that they have no separate existence apart from Brahman, Nimbarka concludes that between Brahman and the sentient and insentient world there is difference as well as non-difference. But such a thing in one and the same entity is impossible. The Chhandogya text says that the clay alone is real and not the things made of clay, for they are mere names, unreal. Take for example a clay pot; when we cognize it as a pot we are not conscious of its being clay and when we cognize it as clay we miss the pot, though both these aspects are inherent in it. So we have to conclude that its nature is illusory, for it is not cognized as what it is. That which is non-different from a thing and yet appears to be different and which depends upon the non-difference for its existence cannot but be illusory. So between the pot and the clay, the latter alone is real and not the pot. Similar is the case with Beahman and the world. Brahman alone is real and the world is unreal. “When all this is but the Self, how could one see another?” (Brih. 2. 4. 11). Chhandogya 6. 16 calls one who sees variety as fulse-minded and the one who cees unity as true-minded. But to people who are in ignorance both difference and non-difference seem to be real, the unity being understood through the scriptures and varety through direct perception. This is only a relative or Vyavaharika state. The truth is unity. Therefore Nimbarka’s view cannot be correct.


Does Badarayana accept the Pancharatra view ?

In Section 2 of Chapter II the author takes the offensive. So long he was on the defensive. In the whole of this section he refutes through reasoning alone, without recourse to the Sruti texts, the various schools of philosophy of the time. In this section he refutes those schools of thought that were regarded by the orthodox section as outside the sphere of the Vedas. We have enough references in ancient works like the Mahabharata and some of the Puranas that all these schools refuted in Section 2 by the author were so regarded. The Siva Mahimna Stotra contains the verse ‘wft    sta; wrfêmä    which shows that Sankhya, Yoga, Pasupata and Vaishnava (which includes Pancharatra) schools of thought were regarded as different from stsft or the Vedic religion with its two branches, Karmakanda and Jnanakanda. Moreover, we find that in many works of the Pancharatra school the Vedas are held in contempt. Sankara himself quotes such a text. The scholiasts Govinda-nanda and Ânandagiri also quote similar texts. Therefore they must have been definitely regarded by the ancients as outside the pale of the Vedas and we cannot reasonably expect Badarayana to have accepted their view as his final conclusion in a work meant to systematize the orthodox thought of the Upanishads. Of course, to that portion which does not contradict the Vedas he has no objection; nor has Sankara, as he has made it clear in his Bhashya on Sutras 42 and 43. Ramanuja, however, sees in Sutras 44 and 45 the acceptance of the Pancharatra doctrine by a refutation of the objections raised against it in Sutras 42-43. But his interpretations are stretched. Sutra 45 he twists to mean, “And because the creation of the soul is contradicted by this Sastra”, saying thereby that the question raised in Sutra 42 as to the creation of the soul does not arise at all, as this school does not hold the view. The way in which this Sutra is stretched by Ramanuja can easily be seen by comparing it with Sutra 10 where Badarayana uses the same wording, “And on account of contradiction,” etc. to mean that contradiction in the Sankhya system makes it unacceptable to the wise. This seems to be the Sutrakara’s view here also. Dr. Thibaut thinks, “It would not be unnatural proceeding to close the polemical section with a defence of that doctrine which in spite of objections has to be viewed as the true one.” But that being the purpose of the whole work itself, we cannot reasonably think that the author establishes his doctrine in these two Sutras. Moreover, no other commentator sees the acceptance of the Pancharatra doctrine in this topic. Vallabha follows Sankara. Nimbarka sees the refutation of Saktivada in the topic. He is therefore consistent in that lie regards the whole of Section 2 as being devoted to a refutation of views not acceptable to the author. He accepts the Pancharatra system and so he finds some other subject in this topic, though on this account his interpretation is not happy. But if Vyasa had any hand in this work as already shown, then we cannot but see the refutation of the Pancharatra system in these Sutras, for we find that he does not accept this doctrine even in his Gita.


The Jiva’s real nature:

Now we come to Sutras 2. 3. 16-53 which deal with the nature of the soul and its relation to Brahman. All except Sankara interpret these Sutras to mean that the soul is atomic, an agent, and a part of the Lord. Sankara alone says that the atomicity, agency, and being a part are not the Jiva’s real nature, but its nature as a Samsarin (transmigrating entity) and that in reality it is all-pervasive and identical with Brahman.

The author defines Brahman as the cause etc. of this world of sentient and insentient things in Sutra 2, referring to the Taittiriya text, “That out of which all these creatures are born" etc. (3. 1). It is clear, therefore, that the world of sentient and insentient things has sprung from Brahman. Hence the Jivas too have sprung from the Lord. But in Sutra 17 the author says that the individual soul is not produced. Thus he contradicts his definition and also the enunciation of the scriptures that “by the knowledge of one thing everything else is known” (Chh. 6. 1). The Sutrakara at every place makes this enunciation the corner-stone of his argument. So we have to reconcile it and the author’s definition of Brahman with his statement in Sutra 17 which drives us to the conclusion that the Jiva as such, as a Samsarin, is an effect, but in its real nature it is eternal and identical with Brahman. That the nature of the Jiva as we experience it is unreal is made clear by him in Sutra 16. What originates is its connection with its adjuncts, gross and subtle, which is unreal. From this standpoint it is also clear why the author treats the question of the Jiva’s nature and its relation to Brahman in this section which reconciles contradictions in the Sruti texts with respect to creation. There are different statements about the nature of the Jiva also and these he reconciles in this section, showing thereby that in its real nature it is not created and is identical with Brahman, but as a Samsarin it is an effect, atomic, an agent, and a part of Brahman.

Even as Iswara or Brahman limited by Nescience is not eternal, so is the Jiva limited by the body, mind, etc, not eternal, but in its true nature it is eternal. Bereft of their Upadhis both are Pure Intelligence and identical. That is why the Taittiriya Upanishad after saying, “Existence, Knowledge, Infinite is Brahman” (2. 1) says, “From That verily—from this Self—is the ether born” etc. (2. I), thus identifying the self as bereft of all its Upadhis with Brahman. Taittiriya 2. 1, and 3. 1 cited by the Sutrakara in his definition of Brahman all refer to the same Pure Intelligence. Thus the one ‘Existence, Knowledge, Infinite’ which is Pure Intelligence, reflected in Nescience is Iswara, and reflected in the Antah-karana (internal organ) is the Jiva, which is borne out by the scriptural statement, “This Jiva has the effect for the adjunct and Īswara has the cause for the adjunct” (Sukharahasya Up. 2. 12). This seems to be the true view-point which has guided the aphorist in framing the Sutras of Section 3, Chapter II and in which sense Sankara also has interpreted them. The enunciation also is not contradicted according to this interpretation.

According to Ramanuja the souls are really effects of Brahman but have existed in It from all eternity as a mode or Prakara of Brahman. So also have the elements. Yet the latter are said to originate, as at the time of creation they undergo an essential change of nature. But the souls do not undergo such a change, they are always cognizing

agents, but at the time of creation there is an expansion of thêir intelligence and in this sense alone, i.e. in the sense that there is no essential change in their nature at creation, are the souls said to be not created (vide Sri Bhashya 2. 3. 18) while the elements which undergo change in their essential nature are said to be created. Badarayana nowhere says that the souls and Prakriti which form the body of Brahman are Its effects; nor does he anywhere declare such a difference between the souls and the elements. Again, according to Ramanuja Brahman means not pure Being but as qualified by the souls and matter for Its body. This very conception of Brahman establish that the relation between the souls and Brahman is as between a quality and the thing qualified and consequently 2. 3. 43 is redundant if the word ‘part’ there should be interpreted to convey this idea.

Ramanuja sees a refutation of Advaita in Sutras 50-53. This does not seem to be intelligible at all, for the Advaitins do not say that the Jiva is all-pervading in its relative state. It is so in the state of release. Sankara makes it clear that the Jiva as such is limited and subject to injunctions and prohibitions, through its connection with a gross body (2. 3. 48), and that even after the gross body falls, on account of its finer Upadhis, the Antahkarana etc. which accompany it even after death (4. 2. 1-0), it still continues to be individualized (2. 3. 30), and so there is no confusion in fruits of actions done in the gross body (2. 3. 49 and 50). It is only when this Upadhi also, which being something created and not eternal (vide 2. 4) and therefore liable to destruction, is rent asundei, that the Jiva attains its real nature and is all-pervading. As such. Ramajiuja’s refutation of Advaita falls flat. Sankara’s interpretation of these Sutras on the other hand is happy. The Sutrakara, having established that the Jiva in its relative state is atomic and an agent but in reality aH-pervading, refutes the view of those who hold that the Jivas are many and all-pervading in their relative state itself. Nimbarka and Vallabha also see the same subject in this topic which shows that Rama-nuja’s attempt to refute Advaita is far-fetched and not at all what the Sutrakara (aphorist) means.

Nimbarka too regards the Jivas and Prakriti as effects of Brahman; but while matter undergoes further modification after creation, the souls do not and in this sense the soul is said to be eternal by him also. Such a view stands refuted by the same arguments as are applied against Ramanuja’s view. Coming to Sutra 43 which says the Jiva is different as well as non-different from Brahman, it has already been shown by Sankara in 2. 1. 14 that such a thing is not possible in the same entity and that nondifference alone is real.

Let us now conclude this topic by considering the reasonableness or otherwise of taking Sutras 19-28 as the decisive view of the author. According to this view the soul is atomic, for the Sruti declares it to be so (Mu. 3. 1. 9) and other texts mention it& passing out of the body, going to heaven, etc. But then the Sruti also describes the Supreme Self as atomic in texts like, “Smaller than a grain of rice, smaller than a grain of barley” etc. (Chh. 3. 14. 3). So how can we say that the Jiva alone is atomic and not the Lord? It may be said that texts say that Brahman is all-pervading. “All-pervading like the ether and eternal” etc.; “Greater than the sky, greater than heaven” etc. But then the Sruti texts describe the soul also as all-pervading: “He is indeed the great unborn Self” (Brih. 4. 4. 22); “Just as when a pot is carried, the pot alone is carried, not the ether inside it, even so is the Jiva compared to the ether,” which expressly says it is all-pervading. Nor will it serve any purpose to say that Brahman, being the material cause of the world, must be all-pervasive, for even the atomic Jiva creates several bodies (Kayavyuha) and rules them and so Brahman though the material cause can yet be atomic. So neither by the Sruti texts nor by reasoning can the differentiation of Brahman and the Jiva as all-pervasive and atomic be justified. But according to Advaita there is no disparity in its reasoning in the two cases. Brahman due to Upadhi (adjunct) appears atomic but in reality It is all-pervasive. So also is the Jiva in its real nature all-pervading and therefore identical with Brahman, though it appears to be atomic, an agent and so on owing to its limiting adjunct, the Antahkarana. The primary texts say that Brahman and the Jiva in its real nature are all-pervading. The texts which speak of atomicity etc. are of a secondary import and so have to be explained otherwise.[11]


Is Brahman with or without attributes:

Now let us take up the Sutras in Chapter III, Section 2, where Badarayana describes the nature of Brahman. Sutras 11-21 according to Sankara deal with the reconciliation of texts which describe Brahman both as attributeless and as possessing attributes and mean that even from difference of place a twofold characteristic cannot be predicated of Brahman, because the scriptures teach throughout that Brahman is without attributes (11). If it be said that such difference is taught by the scriptures we deny it, because with respect to each form the Sruti declares just the opposite of that. The Sruti explains ut every instance that the form is not true and that behind all Upadhis there is one formless principle (vide Brih. 2. 5. I) (12). Moreover, some teach thus (vide Katha. 4. 11) (13). Verily Brahman is formless, for that is the purport of the texts (14). And as formless light takes form, so does Brahman take form in connection with Upadhis which serve the purpose of Upasana (meditation) (15). It is Pure Intelligence (16). The Sruti and Smriti teach that It is attributeless (17). Therefore we have with respect to Brahman comparisons like the images of the sun. The forms are mere reflections, they are not real (18).

Ramanuja and Nimbarka on the other hand see quite a different subject discussed in these Sutras. The topic is not whether Brahman is attributeless or possesses attributes, but whether It is polluted by imperfections owing to Its being inside everything as the Inner Ruler, even as the soul being embodied is subject to imperfections due to its states of waking, dream, and dreamless sleep described in Sutras 1-10. Therefore according to Ramanuja the Sutras mean that even on account of place such as matter and soul there is not the possibility of the Supreme Lord being contaminated by imperfections, since everywhere in the scriptures Brahman is described as having a twofold characteristic, viz, freedom from imperfections and possessing all blessed qualities (11). If it be said that since the soul also by nature possesses according to Chh. 8.7 the twofold characteristic of Brahman and yet is subject to imperfections due to its connection with a body, the Inner Ruler will likewise be subject to such conditions owing to its connection with bodies, we deny it, for the Sruti at every place denies it by saying that Brahman is immortal and therefore free from imperfections (vide Brih. 3. 7. 3—22). The imperfections in the soul are due to Karma and the Lord who is not subject to it is therefore free from such imperfections (12). Brahman can be said to have no form, as It is the originator of name and form and therefore is not subject to Karma like the souls which being embodied are subject to it (14). To an objection that the differentiated form of Brahman is false, Sutra 15 answers thus: Even as on account of texts like, “Brahman is Existence, Knowledge, Infinite” we have to accept that intelligence constitutes the essential nature of Brahman, so also we have to admit that It possesses a twofold characteristic, as otherwise such texts become meaningless (15). And the texts say that much only, i.e. that Brahman has intelligence for its essential nature, and does not negative the other attributes of Brahman (10). The Sruti and Smriti state thus (17). For this very reason are comparisons such as reflected images of the sun. Brahman, although abiding in manifold places, ever possesses the twofold characteristic and is not contaminated even as the sun reflected in dirty water is not polluted (18).

Nimbarka also more or less follows Ramanuja5s interpretation as regards Sutras 11-14. Sutras 15 and 16 he interprets in a different way, and sees in them an argument for establishing the authority of the Sruti as absolute in the matter discussed in 11-14. Sutras 17-21 he interprets like Ramanuja, though he reads 21 as a separate Sutra and not as a part of 20 as Ramanuja does.

A glance through these three commentaries on these Sutras convinces one of the superiority and reasonableness and also of the logical consistency of Sankara’s interpretation. Moreover, it has the merit of dealing with the solution of an important doubt that arises in the mind of even a casual reader of the Upanishads, viz. as to the nature of Brahman— whether it is qualified or non-qualified; for the Sruti texts seem to support both views though they are contradictory. Ramanuja and Nimbarka ignore such an important subject and see a less important subject discussed in these Sutras. Secondly, they fail to bring out the force of the words of the Sutras in bold relief as Sankara does, e.g. ‘twofold characteristic’ of Sutra 11 which refers to contradictory qualities in Sankara, but not so in the other two. They therefore seem to overlook what is actually taught in the Sutras and bring in a subject-matter not meant by the aphorist. We shall be doing an injustice to Badarayana to think with Ramanuja and Nimbarka that he had omitted to discuss such an important subject in his work meant to systematize the teachings of the Upanishads. No doubt Ramanuja broaches this subject in Sutras 15 and 16 and says that both these views are to be accepted; but his interpretation of Sutra 16 is indeed stretched and cannot be accepted, while Nimbarka does not discuss the subject at all. We cannot think with Ramanuja that Badarayana disposed of such an important subject in one or two Sutras in a topic which deals with quite a different subject-matter and of less importance. Ramanuja’s introducing this subject in Sutras 15 and 16 is against the spirit of the Adhikarana (topic) even according to his own interpretation. It is something which he forcibly introduces out of a, 11 relation to the context, as anybody can easily see.

In fact according to their interpretation of this Adhikarana the whole of it looks redundant after what has been stated by them in 2. 1. 13. Finally the simile of the reflections of the sun is happier according to Sankara’s interpretation than according to that of the other two and the text cited by Ramanuja in Sutra 18 holds good according to Sankara’s view also and more aptly.

Sutras 22-30 Sankara takes as a separate topic and interprets 22 to 24 as follows: What has been mentioned up to this (i.e. the two forms of Brahman mentioned in Brih. 2. 3. 1) is denied by the words “Not this, not this” (Brih. 2. 3. 6) and the Sruti says something more than that afterwards. It does not deny Brahman but Its forms mentioned earlier, their transcendental reality (22). The objection that Brahman is denied because It is not experienced is not reasonable, for the Sruti says that Brahman exists, though It is not manifest on account of ignorance (23). And moreover It is realized in perfect meditation, so say the Sruti and Smriti (24). Therefore the Jiva becomes one with the Infinite when Knowledge dawns, for thus the scripture indicates (26). In the next two Sutras an objection is raised against Sutras 25 and 26. But on acount of both difference and non-difference being taught by the Sruti, the relation between them is as between the serpent and its coil (27), or like that between light and its orb (28). Sutra 29 refutes this view and says: Or the relation is as given before in Sutras 25-26. And on account of the denial of everything else besides Brahman by the Sruti texts (30).

Ramanuja continues the previous topic up to 26. Sutras 22-26 according to him mean: The text (Brih. 2. 3. 6) denies the previously mentioned that-muchness and says more than that. The two forms of Brahman (Brih. 2. 3. 1) do not exhaust Its attributes, for the text states further qualities after that. “For there is nothing higher than this ‘not this’. Then comes the name, ‘the Truth of truth’; for the Pranas are true and It is the truth of them.” ‘Pranas’ here mean the souls, because they accompany the latter at death. The souls are true, because they do not undergo any change in their essential nature. The Lord is the Truth of these true souls, for these contract and expand with respect to intelligence, while He is unaffected. Thus the subsequent part of the text connects Brahman with some qualities. The clause “Not this, not this” does not deny the attributes of Brahman, but denies that Its nature is confined to these two forms only (22). The Sruti instruction is not unnecessary here, for though the world is seen, yet it is not known as a Prakara or mode of Brahman and that is what can be gathered only from the Sruti texts. So declares the Sruti (23). And Brahman’s being differentiated by these two forms is realized even as Its being of the nature of intelligence is realized by repeated meditation (25). For all these reasons Brahman is regarded as Infinite, i.e. as-possessing infinite attributes; for thus the attributes hold good, i.e. the twofold characteristic of Sutra 22 (26). Sutras 27-80 are treated by Ramanuja as a separate topic. Sutras 27 and 28 give the Purvapaksha, as Sankara also says and 29 gives the Siddhanta; but the words ‘as before’ in the Sutra refer not to Sutras 25 and 26, but to 2. 3. 43.

Nimbarka follows Ramanuja in Sutras 22-24. The next two Sutras he interprets somewhat differently. Just as fire is manifested through the rubbing of wooden sticks, so is Brahman manifested in meditation (25). On realizing Brahman the soul becomes one with It (26). Sutras 27 and 28 he takes as the author’s and not as the opponent’s view. Sutra 27 describes that the relation between Brahman and the insentient world is as between the serpent and its coils (27) and the relation between the soul and Brahman is as between the orb and the light (28). But to an objection of the kind raised in Sutra 2.1.25 the answer is as before, i.e. 2. 1. 26 (29). Moreover, the Supreme Self is not affected by the imperfection of the soul (30).

Sankara thus interprets “Not this, not this” as a denial of the two forms of Brahman mentioned in Brih. 2. 3. 1. Brahman can be described only as “Not this, not this,” i.e. It is not what we see. Whatever we see is not Brahman as It is. Brahman is something different from all this manifested world. This interpretation is in keeping with scriptural teaching. Ramanuja and Nimbarka interpret that “Not this, not this” denies only the limitation of Brahman’s nature to only these two forms, in other words It has many more attributes than these two. The two forms are real and are only two of the infinite attributes of the Lord. This seems to be a total denial of the Upanishadic teaching. “Not this, not this” occurs in four different places in the Brih. Up. Even if Ramanuja’s explanation be allowed in Brih. 2. 3. 6—however strange and twisted it might seem, Brih. 4. 2. 4, 4. 4. 22 and 4. 5. 15 do not by any means yield to such an interpretation. These texts after saying, “This Self is that which has been described as ‘Not this, not this,’” says, “It is imperceptible” etc. Other texts also describe the Self or Brahman as beyond comprehension. “There goes neither the eye, nor speech nor the mind; we know It not nor do we see how to teach about It. Different It is from all that is known, and is beyond the unknown as well” (Kena 1. 3-4); “Whence speech returns along with the mind without realizing It” (Taitt. 2. 4); also Ibid 2. 9 and Katha 1. 3. 15. From these texts we find that nothing can be predicated of Brahman. From the Kena texts we find that we cannot say that Brahman is this and this in a positive way. It is not what we see and therefore It can only be described as “Not this, not this” by denying everything we see in It. It is true that we do find the scriptures dealing with both difference and non-difference; but with what object, is the question. It is not tu establish that both are true, for they are mutually contradictory. A careful study of the scriptures convinces one that duality is taught in order to take the aspirant step by step through it to non-duality. Ramanuja in his Bhashya on these Sutras criticizes Sankara saying that the Sruti could not have described these two forms only to deny them later on. But that this is a process the Sruti adopts is clear from Prajapati’s instruction to Indra in the Chhandogya or Varuna’s teaching to Bhrigu in the Taittiriya Upanishad. The aspirant is gradually taken to higher and higher truths. Through duality he is led up to non-duality, the goal or final truth. Duality has not been praised anywhere in the scriptures, and no fruit is ascribed to it. On the other hand it is censured (vide Katha 2. 4. 10-11 ; Brih. 4. 4. 19; Mait. 4. 2. and 6. 3), which shows that the scriptures do not intend to posit duality. But nonduality is praised and immortality is said to be achieved by the knowledge of unity. According to the Purva Mimamsa principle, that which has no result of its own but is mentioned in connection with something else which has a result, is subordinate to the latter. Therefore duality which has no fruit of its own is subsidiary to non-duality which is the main purport of the Sruti texts. Again we have texts like, “The Atman is smaller than the smallest, greater than the greatest” (Katha 1. 2. 20); “Neither gross nor fine” etc.—which negate all duality and establish the Infinity of Brahman beyond all doubts.

A question, however, may arise: If everything is negated, what will be left? We shall by such a process arrive at a nonentity. Not so. We cannot go on negating ad infinitum , but have to come finally to some basic reality, and this basic reality behind everything is the Âtman or Brahman. When we remove an object, space is left behind. Similarly, when everything we see is removed or negated, Brahman is left behind, which cannot be negated and which is the witness of everything. We cannot say that by negation we come to nonentity, for the very fact that we comprehend this nonentity shows that it is being illumined by the witnessing consciousness, the basic reality even behind this idea of nonentity. In this Sutra the Sutrakara solves this doubt, showing that the negation concerns not Brahman, but only the two forms of It. To turn the drift of this discussion topsy turvy and establish the reality of the two forms is to ignore the spirit of scriptural teaching.


Mayavada in the Upanishads:

There is a common belief that Mayavada is not found in the scriptures and that it is Sankara’s own doctrine borrowed from the Buddhists. But such a statement is scarcely justified. In the Brihadaranyaka text under discussion we have, “Now its name: ‘The Truth of truth.’ The vital force is truth, and It is the Truth of that” (Brih. 2. 3. 6). If the vital force, i.e. Prajna (the soul in a state of deep sleep) of which the vital force is an Upadhi is true or real, Brahman is the Tritfth or Reality of this real. In other words, Rrahman’s reality is of a different grade from that of the universe. If this world is real and not Maya, as Sankara would call it, then Brahman is the Reality of this real, which shows that the world’s reality is of an inferior kind from that of Brahman and when It is realized this world is no more. A similar idea is conveyed by Chh. 7. 24. 1 where Brahman, the Infinite, is said to be immortal and the world, the finite, is said to be mortal. But this is exactly what Sankara too says—that the two, Brahman and the world, have two grades of reality, even as the dream world and the world we experience while we are awake have two grades of reality, and as a result we are justified in saying that the dream world is Maya, as the Sutrakara says in 3. 2. 3, or unreal as compared with the waking state. Similarly, this world we experience is Maya or unreal as compared with the reality of Brahman. The dream world has a reality for the time being; so has this world so long as we are in ignorance; and Sankara nowhere denies the Vyavaharika (phenomenal) reality of this world. The scriptures explain this difference between the reality of the two, Brahman and the world, by using symbology, as for example in Chh. 6. 1. 4, which we had occasion to explain in Sutra 2. 1. 14 where the Sruti tries to explain that the one, the clay, is more real than the many, which it identifies with name and form only.

We find the same idea again in Brih. 1. 6. 3 :

“This immortal entity is covered by truth (the five elements): The vital force is the immortal entity, and name and form are truth; (so) this vital force is covered by them.”

Name and form, i.e. the world we experience, are called truth, but Brahman is distinguished from them by saying that It is immortal —Its reality is of a different grade from the reality of that which is called truth. And as the reality of this world is of a lesser grade or illusory as compared with that of Brahman, It can be the cause of such an illusory world of manifoldness without undergoing any change in Itself; for an illusory manifoldness can exist in It without in any way affecting Its immutability, like a snake in a rope or the manifold dream world in the dreaming self, as the Sutrakara exemplifies in 2. 1. 28, which brings us to the conclusion that this world is a Vivarta of the non-dual Brahman, as Sankara says.

Coming to the interpretation of Sutras 27-30, Sankara connects “or as before” in Sutra 29 with what immediately precedes in Sutras 25-20 and so it is happy. Raman,uja connects it with Sutra 2. 3. 43 and so it is not so apt. Nimbarka’s explanation is still far-fetched; for while Ramanuja refers for the Siddhanta only to a previous Sutra, Nimbarka refers for an objection as well as a decision to Sutras in 2.1. His interpretation of the whole topic thus appears to be much stretched.

That Sankara has followed the Sutrakara faithfully in his interpretation of Sutras 11-30 will be clearer if we just try to see the reason why the latter treats of dream and deep sleep in this section which deals with the nature of Brahman. Sankara at the beginning of Chapter III, Section 1, says that the transmigration of the soul is taught in order to generate a spirit of Vairagya (dispassion).

Sutras 1-10 of Section 2 treat of the soul’s states of dream and dreamless sleep. According to Sankara the very fact that the dream world does not fulfil the conditions of the time and space factors as in the waking state, shows that the dream world is illusory and therefore a creation of the soul and not of the Lord. From this he shows that the real nature of the Jiva is self-luminous and beyond all these states. Thus Sutras 1-10 elucidate the real nature of the ‘Thou’ in “Thou art That.” Sutras 11-23 give the nature of ‘That’ and Sutras 22-30 identify the two. Thus the place of Sutras 1-30 in this section is very significant. Ramanuja and Nimbarka say that the creation of the dream world belongs to the Lord and not to the soul. If it were so, it should be as real as this world. Granting that it is the Lord’s creation, of what significance is this subject in a section that deals with the nature of Brahman? It would have been apt in 2.3 where creation is taught. If it be to create a spirit of Vairagya, as Ramanuja says at the beginning of Chapter III, then it ought to have been included in Section 1 which treats of the soul’s transmigration with the same object, and thus be separated from Section 2 where it is out of place.

The above analysis of Sutras 3. 2. 1-30 shows that Sankara has rightly grasped the spirit of Badarayana, while Ramanuja and Nimbarka have sadly missed it.


A twofold knowledge of Brahman established:

Finally, let us consider Sutras 4. 2. 12-14 and Sutras 4.4.1-7. The former set of Sutras as they stand are interpreted better by Ramanuja and Nimbarka than by Sankara. According to Sankara they run as follows: If it be said (that the Pranas of a knower of Brahman do not depart), on account of the Sruti denying it (we say) not so, for the Sruti (Madhyandina recension of the text) denies the departure of the Pranas from the soul and not from the body (12). For the denial is clear in the texts of some schools (13). So in Sutra 12 the Siddhanta view is first expressed on the basis of Brih. 4. 4. 6, Kanva recension, and the objection against this is raised by the opponent in the second half of the Sutra, basing his argument on the Madhyandina recension of the text, which is answered again in Sutra 13 by Brih. 3. 2. 11, Kanva recension. By such an interpretation the significance of ‘some schools’ is lost, for it ought to have referred to some text of the Madhyandina school and not of the same Kanva school on which the Siddhanta is based in Sutra 12.

Ramanuja and Nimbarka on the other hand read these Sutras as one, which runs as follows: “If it be said that the Pranas of a knower of Brahman do not depart on account of the denial by the Sruti text

(Brih. 4. 4. 6, Kanva), we deny it; for the Sruti says that they do not depart from the soul (i.e. they accompany the soul) and this(?) is clear according to some, viz. the Madhyandina recension of Brih. 4. 4. 6.” We cannot but say that this is more happy, as the force of ‘some school’ and the word ‘hi’ (because) in the Sutra are well brought out.

Though the interpretation according to the letter of the Sutra forces us to side with Ramanuja and Nimbarka, yet if we consider the Sruti text, viz. Brih. 4. 4. 6, on which the discussion is based and also the arrangement of the Sutras in this Section 2 up to Sutra 16, we find that Sankara is more reasonable than the other two and it looks as though the Sutrakara himself had made a slip, though he meant otherwise.

Brih. 4. 4. 6 says in the first half of the text how one who is attached transmigrates, and concludes the first half by saying,

“Thus does the man who desires transmigrate.”

The second half speaks of the man without desires and says,

“Of him who is without desires . . . and to whom all objects of desire are but the Self—the organs do not depart. Being but Brahman, he is merged in Brahman.”

Here it is quite clear that the Sruti contrasts the two cases of one who is attached and one who is not attached and so does not transmigrate but is merged in Brahman. Now it is well known both from the scriptures and the Vedanta-Sutras itself that a transmigrating soul at the time,of death goes out with the organs, and so when in contrast to this it is said, “His organs do not depart,” it is quite clear that the denial of departure of the Pranas is from,the body as in the case of one who is attached, and consequently the expression ‘from him’ in the Madhyandina recension even ought to mean the body and not the soul.

From what has been stated above we find Sankara more reasonable and consistent and therefore we can safely say that his interpretation of Sutras 12-14 as establishing a twofold knowledge is after Badarayana’s view, though according to the wording of the Sutras it is not so happy. This sort of interpretation of the Sutrakaras is not without its precedent, as we find Upavarsha and Sabara doing the same in their commentaries on the Purva Mimamsa-Sutras.

We now come to the last section of the work where the state of the released soul is described. Sutras 1-3 describe that on the attainment of Knowledge the soul manifests itself in its own nature. Sutra 4 says that it attains non-distinction with Brahman. The question as to what the nature of that state is naturally arises after this and Sutras 5-7 attempt a description. The views of Jaimini and Audulomi are given and finally in Sutra 7 Badarayana says that both these views are true, for they are not contradictory. The question is, whether the views of Jaimini and Audulomi are true of the released soul in succession or simultaneously. Badarayana’s decision is that they are true at one and the same time according as the subject is viewed from the relative or transcendental standpoint. Sankara makes this clear iri his Bhashya. His critics find fault with him here. They say that he is obliged in this Sutra to ascribe to the truly released soul qualities which clearly cannot belong to it, since for such a soul no Vyavahara exists. They say thereby that his interpretation is not faithful. Such a criticism shows that they have failed to understand what Sankara means here. He does not say that the released soul is conscious of itself as possessing all the qualities described by Jaimini, but that we who are in bondage are obliged in describing the state of such a soul to have recourse to such a description. In reality the soul when released exists as Pure Intelligence, but as Pure Intelligence is beyond our conception, we in our ignorance view it as identified with Iswara, for that is the highest reading of Pure Intelligence or the Nirguna Brahman that we can possibly conceive. Certainly there exists no Vyavahara at all for the released soul, which is free from ignorance; but it exists for us who are in ignorance and Jaimini’s description of the state of a released soul is our description of it. Iswara’s possession of powers is not like that of an ordinary Jiva which being subject to Nescience thinks of itself as an experiencer, an agent, and so on. He is beyond all taint and therefore not subject to Nescience, and consequently does not think of Himself as possessing all these lordly powers; but these powers exist in Him, because we in our ignorance ascribe them to Him. Even so are these lordly powers ascribed to the released soul by us and it is regarded as identical or having attained non-distinction with Iswara. This is the full import of Sutra 7 both according to Badarayana and Sankara. So till ail souls are released, the state of the released partakes of a twofold characteristic according to the viewpoint from which it is described—transcendental or relative, even as Brahman has a twofold characteristic of which one is illusory or read from the relative standpoint (vide 3. 2. 11-21). This attainment of Jordly powers by souls on identification with Iswara is not the same as the attainment of such powers by the knowers of the Saguna Brahman who go to Brahmaloka, for it is made clear in 4. 4. 17 that their lordly powers do not include the power of creation etc., but only power to create objects of enjoyments at will (4. 4. 8), while this power is not negated in the case of souls which get identified with Iswara according to Sutra 4. 4. 5 and 7.

That the Sutrakara makes a distinction between the attainment of Liberation by the knowledge of the Nirguna Brahman and that by the knowledge of the Saguna Brahman, is clear from Sutra 4. 1. 19, where he makes no reference to any going forth in the case of a Jivanmukta, but simply says that on the exhaustion of the Prarabdha Karma he attains Brahman and this is also in keeping with texts like Brih. 4. 4. 6 and especially Chh. G. 14. 2 where it is clearly stated that his merging in Brahman is delayed just as long as the body lasts. But going to Brahmaloka by “the path of tne gods” is also a kind of Liberation, for from there the soul does not return to this mortal world, but gets merged in Brahman at the end of the cycle together with Brahma, as stated in Sutra 4. 8. 10. As the author is concerned in this section, with the result of Upasanas, viz. Liberation, he describes the result of the knowledge of the Nirgun?. Brahman in Sutras 1-7 and from 8-22 the result of the knowledge of the Saguna Brahman. If, as according to Ramanuja and Nimbarka, there is no such distinction at all, but the description is of one kind of Liberation only, then when it is said in Sutra 4. 4. 5 that the released soul attains a nature like that of Brahman, there is no further necessity of saying that it can create at will all objects of enjoyment. Moreover, if being free from sin, old age etc. (Chh. 8. 1. 5) are qualities of the soul as well as of the Lord, then they will cease to be the jdefining characteristic of the Lord. In this case the objection raised in the first part of Sutra 1. 3. 19 will not be answered by the second half of the Sutra.

The Sutra runs as follows:

“If it be said that from the subsequent texts which refer to the Jiva ‘small Âkasa’ means the Jiva, we say that the reference to the soul is in so far as its real nature is made manifest (i.e. as non-different from Brahman).”

In the previous Sutra it was established that the ‘small Âkasa’ in Chh. 8. 1. 1 is Brahman and not the Jiva, in spite of the reference to the Jiva in Chh. 8. 3. 4, for ‘free from evil’ etc. which are said to be qualities of the ‘small Âkasa’ are not true of the soul. At the end of his commentary on Sutra 18, Sankara says that Sutra 20 will make it clear why the individual soul is referred to in Chh. 8. 3. 4. In Sutra 19 cited above a fresh objection is raised that subsequent texts also refer to the Jiva (vide Chh. 8. 7-11 in which the waking, dream, and deep sleep state of the soul are described) and therefore ‘small Âkasa’ means Jiva. The second half answers it by saying that the reference to the Jiva is in so far as its real nature is made manifest (vide Chh. 8. 12. 3). The reference to the individual soul in Chh. 8. 3. 4 is to show that in reality it is beyond the three states of waking, dream, and deep sleep and non-different from Brahman. If under the circumstances ‘free from sin’ etc. are its qualities even as different from Brahman, as Ramanuja says, then ‘small Âkasa’ cannot be established to be Brahman against the objection raised in Sutra 1. 3. 19. Moreover, in Sutra 1. 3. 20 (according to him 19) the explanation given by him for the reference to the Jiva in Chh. 8. 3. 4 is not at all satisfactory.

He says,

“This reference to the Jiva serves the purpose of giving instruction not about the Jiva, but about the nature of that which is the cause of the qualities of the individual soul, i.e. qualities specially belonging to the Lord. The reason is that such information about the released soul helps the doctrine with respect to ‘small Âkasa’ The individual soul which wants to attain Brahman must also know its true nature, so that it as being endowed with auspicious qualities will finally arrive at the intuition of the Lord who is a mass of auspicious qualities raised to the highest excellence.”

But according to Sankara we have seen that its reference is to identify the two—tlie released soul and the Lord. It is quite apparent that between the two explanations Ramanuja’s falls to the ground. Such an argument does not at all fit in as an explanation for the reference to the released soul in Chh. 8. 3. 4 and is against the spirit of the teaching of the whole of chapter 8 of the Chhandogya. Sankara’s critics find fault with him taking into consideration only Sutra 1. 3. 19; but if they only try to understand the Sutrakara taking into consideration Sutras 18-20 and the Sruti texts to which they refer, they will find that Sankara’s interpretation is by far the best.

The defects that are shown in Ramanuja’s interpretation of Section 4 hold good in the case of Nimbarka also.


Sankara’s interpretation justified by the Gita:

Thus a comparative study of these three commentaries on the most important topics treated by Badarayana in his work establishes a strong case for Sankara’s interpretation of the Sutras. We find similar views also expressed in the Gita. And if, as has been shown at the beginning, the author of the Gita had a hand in the Sutras—and this fact is not questioned by Ramanuja and Nimbarka, for according to them it is the same person Veda Vyasa— then it goes all the more to show that Sankara’s interpretation is correct, for we cannot expect that the same author has expressed different views in the two works. We shall cite a few texts from the Gita which tally with Sankara’s interpretation of th Sutras.

“I shall describe that which has to be known, . . . the beginningless Supreme Brahman. It is called neither being nor non-being, . . . Without and within all beings. . . Impartible, yet It exists as if divided in beings”


—these texts describe the attributelessness of Brahman. The text says that the one Immutable appears as if divided into many and not in reality. It Itself, therefore, is “the sustainer, generator, and devourer of all beings” (13. 16); also 7. 6 and 7. That Brahman has a twofold nature, the Nirguna which is Its real nature and the Saguna which is the creation of Maya, is made clear by Arjuna’s question in 12. 1 and the Lord’s answer in 12. 2-5, where He recognizes the Nirguna aspect, but says at the same time that those devoted to the Saguna aspect are better versed in Yoga, as devotion to it is easier and therefore best suited to Arjuna and the generality of mankind, even as He says in 5. 6 for the same reason that Karma Yoga is better than Jnana Yoga.

The individual soul in its real nature is described in 2. 11-25. Specially verses 16-18 say that it is real, all-pervading, changeless, immutable, indestructible and illimitable, while verse 24 again says it is all-pervading. Again 6. 31 establishes the identity of the self and Brahman contained in the Vedic dictum, “That thou art,” verses 29 and 30 having described the real nature of ‘thou’ and ‘That’; while 13. 29-34 describe the real nature of the soul as identical with Brahman. But the soul in its state of bondage being deluded considers itself an agent and experiencer, atomic and a part of the Lord.

“The Gunas of Prakriti perform all action. With the understanding deluded by egoism, man thinks, ‘I am the doer’” (3. 27).

See also 14. 23 and 15. 7.

The doctrine of Maya is clearly referred to in the following texts:

“Knowledge is enveloped in ignorance, hence do beings get deluded” (5. 15);

“This world knows Me not, being deluded by the modifications of the Gunas. Verily this divine Maya of Mine is difficult to cross over . . . deprived of discrimination by Maya they follow the Âsuric ways” (7. 13-16);

“I am not manifest to all, being veiled by My Yogamaya” (7. 25);

“The Lord dwells in the heart of all beings causing them to revolve by His Maya” (18. 61).

Finally, though stress is laid on Bhakti in the Gita, nowhere does it say that Bhakti is superior to Knowledge. On the other hand we find Knowledge highly praised.

“The fire of Knowledge burns all Karma to ashes. There exists nothing so purifying like Knowledge” (4. 37-38);

“Supremely dear is the wise man to Me. I regard him as My very Self” (7. 17-18).



In conclusion, we would like to state that from what all has been said above we do not mean to suggest that Sankara’s interpretation of the Sutras is the only true one. Rather our object has been to show that Sankara too, like the other great commentators, is justified in interpreting the Sutras in the way he has done. The fact is, Badarayana has systematized the philosophy of the Upanishads in his work, and like them his Sutras also are all-com-prehensive. The Upanishads, we must remember, do not teach throughout any particular doctrine. They contain various doctrines which are meant for people at different stages of spiritual evolution. They are not contradictory, but rather they are based on the principle of Adhikaribheda, as all are not capable of apprehending the same truth. The old idea of Arundhati-darasana-nyaya[12] applies. Nearly every chapter in the Upanishad begins with dualistic teaching or Upasana and ends with a grand flourish of Advaita. God is first taught as a Being who is the creator of this universe, its preserver, and the destruction to which everything goes at last. He is the one to be worshipped, the Ruler, and appears to be outside of nature. Next we find the same teacher teaching that God is not outside of nature, but immanent in nature And at last both ideas are discarded and it is taught that whatever is real is He; there is no difference. “Svetaketu, thou art That.” The immanent one is at last declared to be the same that is in the human soul.[13] This fact is recognized by Badarayana too and so commentators make a mistake when they think that the Sutras propound only their doctrine and nothing else.

This grand principle of Adhikaribheda is the foundation on which the teachings of the Upanishads, the Brahma-Sutras, and the Gita are based and that is the reason why they have been universally accepted by the Hindus of all classes and denominations. From this point of view we are inclined to think that of all the commentators Sankara has done the greatest justice to the Sutrakara by his twofold doctrine of the absolute and phenomenal reality.

Footnotes and references:


Âstika (orthodox) and Nastika (heterodox) had nothing to do with belief or non-belief in the existence of a God.r Sankhya and Mimamsa which did not accept an Iswara were yet regarded Âstika (orthodox).


The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy (1912 Impression), p. 120.


The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy, p. 113.


Ibid, d. 118.


For details, see the various Bhashyas on Sutras 1. 1. 2.


Bhamati and Ratnaprabha on Sankara’s comments on Sutra 2.


Siddhantalesha, Brahma Lakshanavichara.


Sankara on Sutra 14.


Bhamati on Sutra 14.


Siddhantalesha, Brahmakaranatvavichara.


Siddhantalesha, Jivanutvavichara.


The method of spotting the tiny star Arundhati with the help of bigger stars near it, calling them Arundhati.


Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. III. pp. 281, 397, and 898.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: