Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 1-1-2
Topic 2 - Definition of Brahman
जन्माद्यस्य यतः ॥ २ ॥
janmādyasya yataḥ || 2 ||
janmādi—Origin etc. (i.e. sustenance and dissolution); asya—of this (world); yataḥ—from which.
2. (Brahman is that omniscient, omnipotent cause) from which proceed the origin etc. (i.e. sustenance and dissolution) of this (world).
In the previous Sutra it has been established that an inquiry into Brahman should be made as it helps Liberation. Knowledge of Brahman leads to Liberation.
Now in order that we may attain this knowledge of Brahman, It must have some characteristics by which It can be known; otherwise it is not possible to have such knowledge.
The opponent holds that Brahman has no such characteristics by which It can be defined, and in the absence of a definition there can be no knowledge of Brahman, and consequently no Freedom.
This Sutra refutes that objection and gives a definition of Brahman:
“That which is the cause of the world is Brahman”—where the imagined “cause of the world” is indicative of Brahman. This is called the Taṭastha Lakṣaṇa, or that characteristic of a thing which is distinct from its nature and yet serves to make it known.
In the definition given by this Sutra, the origin, sustenance, and dissolution are characteristics of the world and as such are in no way related to Brahman, which is eternal and changeless;
yet these indicate Brahman, which is imagined to be the cause of the world, just as an imagined snake indicates the rope when we say, “that which is the snake is the rope”.
The scriptures give another definition of Brahman which describes Its true nature:
“Truth, Knowledge, Infinity is Brahman.” This is called the Svarūpa Lakṣaṇa, that which defines Brahman in Its true essence.
These words, though they have different meanings in ordinary parlance, yet refer to the one indivisible Brahman, even as the words, father, son, brother, husband, etc., refer to one and the same person according to his relation with different individuals.
It must not however be thought that the First Cause of the universe is arrived at by this Sutra through mere reasoning, inference, and other means of right knowledge usually valid in this sense world.
Brahman cannot be so established independently of the scriptures (Śruti).
Though from the effect, the world, we can infer that it must have a cause, we cannot establish with certainty what exactly is the nature of that cause.
We cannot say that Brahman alone is the cause and nothing else, as Brahman is not an object of the senses.
The relation of cause and effect can be established where both the objects are perceived. Inference etc. may give only strong suggestions of Brahman’s being the First Cause of the world.
A thing established by mere inference, however well thought out, is explained otherwise by greater intellects. Reasoning also is endless according to the intellectual capacity of people and therefore cannot go far in the ascertainment of Truth.
So the scriptures ought to be the basis of all reasoning.
It is experience that carries weight, and the scriptures are authoritative because they are the records of the experience of master minds that have come face to face with reality (Aptavākya). That is why the scriptures are infallible. Hence in ascertaining the First Cause the scriptures alone are authority.
The prime object of this Sutra, therefore, is not to establish Brahman through inference but to discuss scriptural passages which declare that Brahman is the First Cause—
“That from which these beings are born, by which they live after birth and into which they enter at death— try to know That, That is Brahman” (Taitt. 3.1).
The Sutra collects the Vedānta texts for the full comprehension of Brahman.
Once the scriptures have declared Brahman to be the First Cause, reasoning etc. may be taken advantage of in so far as they do not contradict the scriptures, but rather supplement them, in ascertaining the sense of the Vedānta texts.
Such reasoning must be corroborative of the truth inculcated.
This kind of reasoning includes the hearing of the texts (Śravaṇa), thinking about their meaning (Manana), and meditation on them (Nididhyāsana). This leads to intuition.
By intuition is meant that mental modification (Vṛtti) of the mind (Chitta) which destroys our ignorance about Brahman.
When the ignorance is destroyed by this mental modification in the form of Brahman (Brahmākārā Vṛtti), Brahman, which is self-luminous, reveals Itself.
In ordinary perception when we cognize an object the mind (Chitta) takes the form of the external object, which destroys the ignorance about it, and consciousness reflected in this modification of the mind manifests the object.
In the case of Brahman, however, the mental modification destroys the ignorance, but Brahman, which is consciousness pure and simple, manifests Itself, being self-luminous.
That is why the scriptures describe Brahman as ‘Not this’, ‘Not this’, thus removing the ignorance about it. Nowhere is Brahman described positively, as ‘It is this’, ‘It is this’.
There is thus a difference between an inquiry into Brahman and an inquiry into religious duty (Dharma Jijñāsā). In the latter case, the scriptures alone are authority.
Pūrva Mīmāṃsā says that if you do such and such a thing, you will get such and such results. It is something yet to come and does not exist at the time. So no other proof is available regarding the truth of these statements except faith in them.
But Vedānta speaks about Brahman, which is an already existing entity, and not dependent on human endeavour. Therefore besides faith in the scriptural texts there are other means available to corroborate its statements. That is why there is room for reasoning etc. in Vedānta.