Brahma Sutra [Section]

Notes on Brahma-Sutra
Brahma-Sutra with the commentary of Sri Sankaracharya
Translated by Swami Gambhirananda

Foreward by T.M.P. Mahadevan:

The three basic texts of Vedanta are the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita and the Brahma-Sutra. Together they are referred to as the Prasthana-traya, triple canon of Vedanta. The Upanishads constitute the revealed texts (sruti-prasthana); they mark the summits of the Veda which is Sruti (the heard, the revealed). They are the pristine springs of Vedantic metaphysics; Vedanta is the name given to them because they are the end (aim as well as concluding parts) of the Veda (Veda + anta). The Bhagavad-Gita comes next only to the Upanishads. It is given a status which is almost equal to that of the Upanishads. As embodying the teachings of Sri Krishna and as constituting the cream of the Epic Mahabharata, the Bhagavad-Gita occupies a unique place in the Vedantic tradition. A popular verse compares the Upanishads to the cows, the Bhagavad-Gita to the milk, Sri Krishna to the milkman, Arjuna, the Pandava hero, to the calf and the wise people to the partakers of the milk. Sri Sankara describes the Bhagavad-Gita as the quintessence of the teaching of the entire Veda (samasta-vedartha-sarasangraha-bhutam). As this text forms a part of the Mahabharata which is a Smriti (the remembered, ie., secondary text based on the Veda), it is called Smriti-prasthana. The third of the canonical texts is the Brahma-Sutra which is regarded as Nyaya-prasthana, because it sets forth the teachings of Vedanta in a logical order. This work is known by other names also: Vedanta-sutra, since it is the aphoristic text on Vedanta; Sariraka-sutra, since it is concerned with the nature and destiny of the embodied soul; Bhikshu-Sutra, since those who are most competent to study it are the sannyasins; Uttara-mimamsa-Sutra, since it is an inquiry into the final sections of the Veda.

The author of the Brahma-Sutra is Badarayana whom Indian tradition identifies with Vyasa, the arranger or compiler of the Veda.

In the Brahma-Sutra, Badarayana-Vyasa strings together the leading concepts of Vedanta in an ordered manner. The Sutra is an exquisite garland made out of Upanishad-blossoms. It is divided into four chapters (adhyayas); each chapter consists of four parts (padas); each part has a number of sections (adhikaranas); and each section has one or more aphorisms (sutras). According to Sankara, the number of sections is 192. The total number of aphorisms is 555.

Commentary of Sankaracharya:

I-i-1: Brahman does exist as a well-known entity - eternal, pure, intelligent, free by nature and all -knowing and all-powerful. For from the very derivation of the word Brahman, the ideas of eternality, purity etc., become obvious, this being in accord with the root brmh.* Besides, the existence of Brahman is well known from the fact of Its being the Self of all; for everyone feels that his Self exists and he never feels, "I do not exist". Had there been no general recognition of the existence of the Self, everyone would have felt, "I do not exist".

[*The root brmh means growth and suffix man, added to it, signifies an absence of limitation (in expanse). So Brahman derivatively means that which is absolutely the greatest. And eternality etc., follow as a matter of course from this limitlessness.]

["A deed is held to be dharma that has no association with undesirable consequence even from the standpoint of its result, it being the cause of bliss alone." - Sloka-vartika I-I-2, 268-269.]

I-i-2: That omniscient and omnipotent source must be Brahman from which occur the birth, continuance and dissolution of this universe that is manifested through name and form, that is associated with diverse agents and experiences, that provides the support for actions and results, having well-regulated space, time and causation and that defies all thoughts about the real nature of its creation.

I-i-4: The scriptures aim at the removal of the differences fancied through ignorance. Not that the scriptures seek to establish Brahman as an entity referable objectively by the word "This".

By presenting Brahman as not an object on account of Its being the inmost Self (of the knower), they remove the differences of the "known", the "knower" and the "knowledge" that are fancied through ignorance.

Liberation cannot also be had through purification, so as to be dependent on action. Purification is achieved either through the addition of some quality or removal of some defect. As to that, purification is not possible here through the addition of any quality, since liberation is of the very nature of Brahman on which no excellence (or deterioration) can be effected. Nor is that possible through the removal of any defect, for liberation is of the very nature of Brahman that is ever pure.

Liberation is the state of identity with Brahman and hence it is not to be achieved through purification.

*Reflection and profound meditation are meant for giving rise to immediate knowledge.

[*Reflection and profound meditation are enjoined for one who does not realize from the first hearing. This is owing to his own mental defects. The illumination dawns when there is no defect. By hearing is removed the doubt from an unprepared mind that the Upanishads cannot impart the knowledge of Brahman. Reflection removes the doubt that the Self and Brahman cannot be one. Through meditation the mind is withdrawn from distraction and all things other than Brahman and then Brahman stands revealed. Thus hearing etc., generate knowledge and knowledge brings liberation.]

All these injunctions as well as all the other means of knowledge have their validity till the realization, "I am Brahman". For once the non-dual Self, that is neither acceptable nor rejectable, is realized, there can be no possibility of the persistence of the means of knowledge that become bereft of their objects and subjects. Moreover, they (the knowers of Brahman) say, "While on the realization of the Existence-Brahman as I, the body, son, etc., become sublated and consequently the secondary and false selves cease to exist, how can there be any action (prompted by injunction and prohibition)? The Self can be a knowing agent earlier than the rise of the complete knowledge of Brahman that has to be sought for; but (when that search has been finished), the knower, freed from the defect of sin, becomes one with the entity arrived at through the search. Just as the ideas of the body as the Self are accepted by the wise as valid postulates (for empirical dealings), similarly these empirical means of knowledge are accepted as valid till the direct knowledge of the Self dawns" (Sundarapandya-karika).

Thus it has been said that the Upanishadic texts are meant for imparting the knowledge of Brahman; that when their meaning is fully ascertained, they have the Self, which is Brahman, as their fullest import; and that they culminate in (the knowledge of) Brahman even without any connection with an action.

I-i-9: The individual soul keeps awake so long as it is under the influence of the characteristics of those objects of sense-perception which it apprehends as a result of its contact with the conditioning factors constituted by the diverse manifestations of the mind. It assumes the name of mind while seeing dreams under the influence of the impressions of the experiences of the waking state. And when these two conditioning factors become inactive in the state of sleep, it appears to be merged, as it were, in the Self, owing to the absence of particularization created by limiting adjuncts; and hence it is said to have become merged in its own Self.

I-i-10: In all the Upanishads, Consciousness is apprehended uniformly as the cause, as for instance in the texts: "As from a burning fire, the sparks fly diversely in different directions, similarly from this Self all the senses and organs originate in their respective loci. After the senses originate their presiding deities and after the deities emerge the sense-objects" (Kausitaki Upanishad III-8), "from that very Self, that is such, originated space" (Taittiriya Upanishad II-1), "From the Self indeed came all this" (Chandogya VII-xxvi-1), "From the Self emerges this vital force" (Prasna III-3), etc., where all the Upanishads reveal the Self as the cause. And we said that the word "Self" implies a conscious entity. This also is a great proof of the validity of the Upanishads, that just like the eyes etc., imparting the same kind of knowledge about colour etc., the Upanishads also impart the same kind of knowledge about the Self’s being the cause of the universe. Hence it follows from the uniformity in the trend (of the meaning imparted) that omniscient Brahman is the cause of the universe.

I-i-12: Brahman is known in two aspects - one as possessed of the limiting adjunct constituted by the diversities of the universe which is a modification of name and form, and the other devoid of all conditioning factors and opposed to the earlier.

"The Supreme Self, which after creating all forms and then giving them names, (enters into them as individual souls and) continues to utter those names". (Taittiriya Aranyaka III-xii-7)

"That which is different from the Absolute is finite; that which is different from the Qualified is the Absolute".

"He who meditates on the Self, manifested in a more pronounced way, attains It". (Aitareya Aranyaka II-iii-2.1)

I-i-17: In the case of ordinary people, it is seen that, though the Self even retains Its true nature of being the Self, there is a false self-identification with the body etc., which are non-Self.

God is different to be sure from the one imagined through ignorance to be embodied, the agent, the experiencer and called the Self conditioned by the intellect.

I-i-31: "These ten elements and their enjoyable qualities are dependent on the ten senses and sense-perceptions; and the senses and sense-perceptions are dependent on the elements and their qualities. Had not the elements and qualities been there, the senses and sensations would not have been there; and had not the senses and sensations been there the elements and their qualities would not have been there. From neither of them is any rupa, appearance, possible; nor are they different. To illustrate this point: As the rim of a chariot wheel is fixed on the spokes and the spokes are fixed on the nave, so are these elements and their enjoyable qualities fixed on the senses and sensations, and the senses and sensations are fixed on the elements and their enjoyable qualities. This Prana, that is such, is surely one with Consciousness". (Kausitaki Upanishad III-8)

I-ii-6: It is quite true that the supreme Self Itself, as delimited by the conditioning factors - body, senses, mind, intellect, etc., - is spoken of in a roundabout way as the embodied soul by the ignorant. The case is similar to the appearance of space, undivided though it is, as if divided owing to such conditioning factors as a pot, a jar, etc.

I-ii-7: The limited habitation and subtleness (attributed to God) being declared (are) for the sake of meditation; these do not belong to Brahman in any real sense.

I-ii-8: Just because Brahman has some relationship with the hearts of all beings, it does not follow that Brahman experiences happiness and sorrow like the embodied souls; for there is a difference. There is forsooth a difference between the embodied soul and the supreme God. The one is an agent, an experiencer (of happiness and sorrow), a source of merit, demerit etc., and possessed of happiness and sorrow, while the other is just the opposite, being possessed of such qualities as freedom from sin and so on. Because of this distinction between the two, the one has experiences, but not the other. If from the mere fact of proximity, and without any reference to the intrinsic nature of things, a causal relation with some effect is postulated, then space, for instance, can as well become burnt, (it being connected with fire).

So long as the aspirant has not understood the oneness of the embodied Self with Brahman, the experience of happiness and sorrow by the embodied being is a result of false ignorance, and Brahman, the highest Reality, cannot be touched by it. For the sky does not really become possessed of a surface (ie., concavity) or tainted by dirt etc., which the ignorant fancy on it.

Not even, owing to the fact of unity, is Brahman affected by any experience undergone by the embodied soul; for there is a difference, inasmuch as true knowledge differs from false ignorance etc., The experience of happiness etc., is cooked up by false ignorance, while unity is seen through real knowledge. And it is never a fact that a thing perceived through real knowledge is affected by any experience under false ignorance. Accordingly, it is not possible to fancy the slightest touch of the experience of happiness and sorrow in God.

I-ii-14: Though Brahman is without qualities, still for the sake of meditation, It is presented in those respective places as a qualified entity, possessed of the characteristics associated with name and form.

I-iii-19: The individuality of the individual persists so long as, like the elimination of the false idea of a man superimposed on a stump of a tree, he does not eradicate ignorance expressing itself as the world of duality and does not know that Self as "I am Brahman" - the Self that has no change and is eternal and a witness by nature. But when the individual is roused from the assemblage of body, senses, mind and intellect by the Upanishad which makes him understand, "You are not the assemblage of body, senses and intellect, nor are you a transmigratory being. What are you then ? That which is truth - the Self of the nature of pure Consciousness - that thou art", then he realizes the Self that has no change and is eternal and a witness by nature, and then that very individual rises above its identity with the body and the rest to become the Self Itself - unchanging, eternal and a witness by nature. This is declared in such Upanishadic texts as, "Anyone who knows that supreme Brahman becomes Brahman indeed" (Mundaka III-ii-9). And that is the soul’s supremely real nature by virtue of which it attains its essential stature after rising above the body.

Before the dawn of discriminating knowledge, the individual soul’s nature of Consciousness, expressing through seeing etc., remains mixed up as it were, with the body, senses, mind, intellect, sense-objects, and sorrow and happiness.

In the case of the individual soul, remaining indistinguishably mixed up with such limiting adjuncts as the body etc., there springs up a discriminatory knowledge from the Upanishads constituting his rising from the body (consciousness); and the result of the discriminatory knowledge is the attainment of the real nature, its realization of its nature as the absolute Self. Thus un-embodiedness or embodiedness for the Self follows respectively from the fact of discrimination or non-discrimination.

The individual soul continuing in the state of its unmanifested nature, owing to the absence of discriminatory knowledge, is said to have its real nature manifested when discriminatory knowledge dawns.

The theme of this Sariraka text is this: The supreme Lord is but one - unchanging. Eternal, absolute Consciousness; but like the magician He appears diversely through Maya, otherwise known as Avidya (ignorance). Apart from this there is no other Consciousness as such.

I-iii-20: The individual being ... plays the role of the supervising director of this cage, made up of the body and senses, during all the wakeful dealings; and then moving in the nerves, it experiences the dreams created by the impressions of that wakeful state. Then becoming tired and desirous of having some refuge, it rises above (ie., gets detached from) its identity with both kinds of bodies (gross and subtle), approaches in the sleep state the supreme Light, that is the Supreme Brahman referred to by the term Space, and getting rid of the particularized cognition attains its true nature. The Supreme Light which is has to approach as also its own nature in which it becomes established, is the self possessed of the attributes of freedom from sin and so on; and this Self is to be meditated on.

I-iii-28: "In the beginning, He, the great Lord, created from the words of the Vedas alone, the names and forms of the creatures and promoted religious activities" (Manu I-21)

I-iv-23: Those who insist on difference (duality), shut the door to the understanding of the purport of the Upanishads and thereby shut out full illumination itself that leads to liberation.

II-i-12: Since the Vedas are eternal and a source of knowledge, they can reasonably reveal as their subject-matter something which is (well established and) unchanging; and the knowledge arising from them can be true, so that no logician, past, present, or future can deny it. Hence it is proved that the knowledge arising from the Upanishads is alone the true knowledge.

II-i-14: The Upanishads are the ultimate (conclusive) means of valid knowledge, establishing the truth of the oneness of the Self, after which nothing else remains to be sought after for knowledge.

II-i-27: "Do not bring those things within the range of argumentation which are beyond thought. The nature of a thing beyond thought consists in its being other than the things within Nature". (Purana)

Brahman becomes subject to all kinds of (phenomenal) actions like transformation, on account of the Differences of aspects, constituted by name and form, which remain either differentiated or non-differentiated, which cannot be determined either as real or unreal, and which are imagined through ignorance. In Its real aspect Brahman remains unchanged and beyond all phenomenal actions.

II-ii-40: If God has a body, he will have to undergo experiences like any transmigrating soul, so that we shall be faced with the predicament of God himself being deprived of His Godhead.

II-ii-45: In the scripture of the Bhagavatas many kinds of contradiction are in evidence, concerning, for instance, qualities and the things qualified.

Moreover, this scripture contradicts the Vedas, since it is seen to cast a slur on the Vedas by declaring, "Not finding the highest good in the four Vedas, Sandilya studied this scripture".

II-iii-43. The individual should be a part of God even as a spark is of fire. The individual is a part only apparently, for the partless Brahman can have no part in the literal sense.

II-iii-45: It involves no contradiction to hold that God, having His unsurpassable limiting adjunct, rules over the individual souls having their inferior limiting adjuncts.

II-iii-46: We solemnly declare that God does not suffer the woes of the world like an individual being. The individual soul, under the influence of ignorance, seems to become identified with the body etc., and it suffers the sorrows occurring to the body, owing to its belief that the sufferings created by ignorance are its own. But God has no such identity with the body etc., nor any conception of suffering in Himself. In the case of the individual soul as well, the feeling of suffering that it has, arises from an error consisting in not realizing its difference from the limiting adjunct constituted by the body, organs, etc., which are created by name and form that are the products of ignorance; but in reality it has suffering.

II-iii-50: Though it is true that one is directed (by the scriptures) only when one knows (intellectually) the Self to be different from the body, still only that person alone can have the idea that he is being directed (by the scriptures) who does not realize the Self to be (actually) dissociated from body etc., even as space etc., (are from jar etc.,). For nobody who understands the Self to be dissociated from the body etc., is ever seen to come under the range of direction, what to speak of one who realizes the unity of the Self ? And it cannot be said that if the man of enlightenment is beyond all (scriptural) obligation, he may as well behave capriciously; for it is self-identity (with body etc.,) that is seen to promote action everywhere, but in the case of enlightened one there is no such self-identity. Therefore injunction and prohibition become possible only as a result of association with the body.

III-i-25: Knowledge of virtue and vice is derived from the scriptures. The scriptures alone are the source for knowing that such an act is virtuous and such another is not virtuous; for merit and demerit are supersensuous realities and they are not invariable for all space, time and environment. Any deed that is performed as virtuous in relation to certain place, time and circumstances, become non-virtuous in relation to other places, times and circumstances, so that nobody can have any knowledge about virtue and vice, unless it be from the scriptures.

III-ii-7: The soul has no limitation apart from that caused by conditioning factors.

III-ii-22: The texts about Brahman have enlightenment alone as their goal and they are not concerned with injunction.

III-iii-30: For the men who realize the unity of the Self, whose desires all become fulfilled, have nothing else to look for except the exhaustion through experience of all the residual karmas that have begun to yield their results in the present bodies. In their case a journey is meaningless.

III-iv-9: The Upanishadic mention of the conduct of enlightened men is equally in evidence to show that knowledge is not subservient to rites. Thus there is the text, "The Kavaseya seers, who had known this very entity, said, "Why need we study (the Vedas), why need we perform sacrifices?’ This is that very entity, having known which, the enlightened of yore ceased to perform the Agnihotra sacrifice." (Kausitaki Upanishad II-5)

III-iv-16: The scriptures declare that the whole world of manifestation, which consists of actions, instruments and results, bestowing the necessary qualification for work and which is a creation of ignorance, is destroyed root and branch by knowledge.

III-iv-20: "Monasticism is Brahma (Hiranyagarbha), because Brahma is the highest (being), and the highest Entity has become Brahma. These other austerities are surely inferior; monasticism indeed transcended them." (Narayana Upanishad 78)

Monasticism is meant as a subsidiary of the knowledge of Brahman for its full maturity; and this is shown in the text: "Then the monk who adopts a discoloured (ochre) robe, shaves his head, desists from accepting wealth, becomes pure, and free from enmity, resorts to begging, becomes fit to attain the state of Brahman." (Jabala Upanishad 5)

III-iv-26: "The duties result in scorching away sins; the supreme goal being knowledge, when sins are scorched by duties, knowledge begins to emerge" (Smriti)

The duties of the different stages of life are needed not for the fruition of the result of knowledge, but for the emergence of knowledge itself.

III-iv-38: "A Brahmana can succeed merely through Japa. There can be no doubt as regards this. A kind-hearted man is called a Brahmana irrespective of whether he does anything else or not". (Manu Ii-87)

III-iv-41: "For one who after being established in the norm of the lifelong celibate (Naisthika) falls from it, we cannot imagine any expiation by which that self-immolating man can be purified"; (Smriti) for no remedy is possible for one whose head is cut off.

III-iv-43: Whether the lapse of the continent people from their respective orders of life constitutes a minor sin or a major one, in either case they are to be expelled from society by the good people.

V-i-2: Repetition will be unnecessary for one who can realize the Self as Brahman after hearing "That thou art" once only. But for one who cannot do so, repetition is a necessity.

Even in the case of the knowledge of the supreme Brahman, a repetition of the instructions, leading to that knowledge, is necessary.

IV-i-3: We hold that the scriptures aim at establishing the identity of the transmigrating soul with God Himself by removing from the soul all vestiges of transmigration. From this point of view it becomes affirmed that God is possessed of the characteristics of being untouched by sins etc., and that the opposite characteristics of the soul are unreal.

IV-i-4: It is only when the names etc., are deprived of their transformed states (as names etc.,) that one arrives at Brahman which is their essence. But when names etc., as such are done away with, how can they become symbols and how can there be any self-identification ?

IV-i-11: The regulation about direction, place and time is concerned only with that much regarding them as conduces to meditativeness. One should meditate facing any direction, in any place, at any time that leads to one’s concentration of mind easily.

IV-i-13: The knower of Brahman has no idea of agentship whatsoever with regard to the actions occurring in future. Although the man of knowledge appeared to have some ownership of the past works on account of false ignorance, still owing to the cessation of false ignorance through the power of knowledge, those works also are washed away.

IV-i-15: After the acquisition of knowledge, those virtues and vices that have not begun to yield their fruits and that were accumulated in earlier lives or even in this life before the dawn of knowledge are alone destroyed, but not so are those destroyed whose results have already been partially enjoyed and by which has been begun his present life in which the knowledge of Brahman arises.

IV-ii-7: The ignorant man moves on, resting on the subtle elements constituting the seed of the next body and under the impulsion of his past works, for the sake of fresh experiences in a new body. But the man of knowledge pursues the path through the nerve (passing out of the crown of the head and) lighted up by knowledge and leading to liberation.

IV-ii-11: "It is warm indeed so long as it lives and cold when it dies." (Vedic text)

IV-ii-14: "Even gods become befooled in the course of finding out the path of one who has become one with the Self of all beings, who has understood all beings truly as the Self and who has no state to reach." (Mahabharata)

IV-iii-9: The established practice is that the supreme Brahman Itself is called the inferior Brahman when It is conditioned by the pure adjuncts and is taught as though possessed of the attributes of being identified with the mind and such other features of creation for the sake of meditation by some aspirants under certain circumstances.

IV-iii-11: "When the time of final dissolution comes at the close of the life of Hiranyagarbha, all of them, with enlightenment already attained, enter into the supreme state along with Hiranyagarbha". (Kurma-Purana, Purva-bhaga, XII-269)

IV-iii-14: The supreme Brahman can never become a goal to be achieved which pervades everything, which is inside everything, which is the Self of all.

For one cannot reach where one already is.

Until complete enlightenment comes, nobody can make a promise of remaining totally free from the optional and prohibited acts in the period between birth and death, for subtle lapses are noticed in the cases of the most careful men.

There can be no hope of liberation so long as a soul persists to be by nature an agent and experiencer when at the same time that its identity with Brahman, realizable through knowledge, does not exist. And the Upanishad denies that there can be any other path of liberation except knowledge.

The superior Brahman is spoken of where It is indicated by such terms as "not gross" through a negation of all the distinctions of names, forms, etc., called up by nescience. That very Brahman becomes the inferior Brahman where It is taught as possessed of some distinct name, form, etc., for the sake of meditation.

IV-iii-15: One cannot have the belief of being one with Brahman when meditating with the help of symbols, since in such a meditation the symbol predominates.

IV-iv-2: Liberation comes to be considered as a fruit merely from the point of view of the cessation of bondage and not from the standpoint of production of any fresh result.