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Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 1-1-5

Topic 5 - The First Cause is An Intelligent Principle

Sutras 5-11 refute these arguments of the Sānkhyas and establish Brahman as the First Cause. The discussion mainly refers to the sixth chapter of the Chāṇḍogya Upanishad.

Sutra 1,1.5

ईक्षतेर्न, अशब्दम् ॥ ५ ॥

īkṣaterna aśabdam || 5 ||

īkṣateḥ—On account of thinking (seeing); na—is not; aśabdam—not based on the scriptures.

5. On account of thinking (being attributed to the First Cause by the scriptures, the Pradhāna) is not (the First Cause referred to by them); it (Pradhāna) is not based on the scriptures.

The First Cause is said, in the scriptures, to have willed or thought before creation.

This universe, my dear, was but the Real (Sat) in the beginning—One only without a second. It thought, ‘may I be many, may I grow!’ and It projected fire” (Chh. 6. 2. 2-3).

It (the Ātman) willed, ‘Let me project worlds!’ So It projected these worlds” (Ait. 1. 3. 1-2).

Such thinking or willing is not possible to the insentient Pradhāna. It is possible only if the First Cause is an intelligent principle like Brahman.

The all-knowingness attributed to the Pradhāna because of its Sattva component is inadmissible, as Sattva is not predominant in the Pradhāna, since all the three Guṇas are in a state of equilibrium.

If in spite of this it is said to be capable of producing knowledge, then the other two Guṇas must be equally capable of retarding knowledge. So while Sattva will make it all-knowing, Rajas and Tamas will make it partly knowing, which is a contradiction.

That all-knowingness and creation are not possible to Brahman, which is pure intelligence itself and unchangeable, is also not true. For Brahman can be all-knowing and creative through Māyā. So Brahman, the Sat of the text quoted, which thought, is the First Cause.

The Sānkhyas again try to avoid the difficulty created by thinking being attributed to the First Cause thus: In the same text quoted above it is said further on,

That fire thought, ‘may I be many, may I grow!’ and it projected water .... Water thought, . . it projected earth” (Chh. 6. 2. 3-4).

Here fire and water are material things, and yet thinking is attributed to them.

Similarly the thinking by the Sat (Real), in the text originally quoted, can also be taken figuratively, in which case the Pradhāna, though insentient, can yet be the First Cause.

This argument the following Sutra refutes.

Sutra 1,1.6

गौणश्चेत्, न, आत्मशब्दात् ॥ ६ ॥

gauṇaścet, na, ātmaśabdāt || 6 ||

gauṇaḥ—Secondary (figurative); ceta—if (it be said); na—not; ātmaśabdāt—because of the world ‘Self’ (Ātman).

6. If it be said (that ‘thinking’) is used in a secondary sense (with regard to Sat); (we say) not so, because of the word ‘Self’ (by which the First Cause is referred to in the scriptures).

The Sat (Real) of the text cited in the previous Sutra after creating fire, water, etc. thought,

Let me now enter into these three as this living self (Jīva) and evolve names and forms” (Chh. 6. 3. 2.).

The Sat, the First Cause, refers to the intelligent principle, the Jīva, as its self. The insentient Pradhāna cannot refer to an intelligent principle like the Jīva as its self or as its own nature.

The Sānkhyas again try to ward off this objection by saying that the word ‘Self’ (Ātman) is equally used to refer to intelligent and non-intelligent things,

as, for example, in expressions like Bhūtātmā (the self of the elements), Indriyātmā (the self of the senses), etc., and so can be used in connection with the Pradhāna also.

The next Sutra refutes this argument.

Sutra 1,1.7

तन्निष्ठस्य मोक्षोपदेशात् ॥ ७ ॥

tanniṣṭhasya mokṣopadeśāt || 7 ||

tanniṣṭhasya—To one who is devoted to that (Sat); mokṣopadeśāt—because Liberation is declared.

7. (That Pradhāna cannot be designated by the word ‘Self’ is established) because Liberation is declared to one who is devoted to that Sat (the First Cause).

The sixth chapter of the Chāṇḍogya Upanishad ends by instructing Śvetaketu thus: “Thou art that.” An intelligent being such as Śvetaketu cannot be identified with the insentient Pradhāna.

Moreover, in section 14, paragraphs 2-3 of this chapter, Liberation is said to result to one who is devoted to this Sat, and it cannot result from meditation on the insentient Pradhāna.

For these reasons, given in the previous Sutra and in this, the ‘Sat’ the First Cause, does not refer to the Pradhāna but to an intelligent principle.

Sutra 1,1.8

हेयत्वावचनाच्च ॥ ८ ॥

heyatvāvacanācca || 8 ||

heyatvāvacanāt—Fitness to be abandoned not being stated (by the scriptures); ca—and.

8. And because it is not stated (by the scriptures) that It (Sat) has to be abandoned, (Pradhāna cannot be denoted by the word ‘Sat’).

If the intention of the scriptures had been to take the aspirant step by step from grosser to subtler truths till finally the real nature of the Ātman was presented to him,

and for this purpose they had referred to the Pradhāna—denoted by the word ‘Sat’ according to the Sānkhya—as the Self,

then there would have been later on a statement to the effect that this Pradhāna must be dropped, for it was not the real Self.

But there is no such statement in the texts in question. On the contrary, the whole chapter of the Chāṇḍogya Upanishad, in which the texts occur, deals with the Self as nothing but that Sat.

Moreover, this chapter begins with the question, “What is that which being known everything is known?” Now if the Pradhāna were the First Cause, then by knowing it everything would be known, which is not a fact.

The enjoyer (Purusha), which is different from it, not being a product of the Pradhāna like the objects of enjoyment, cannot be known by knowing the Pradhāna.

Therefore the Pradhāna is not the First Cause, knowing which everything is known, according to the scriptures. Such a view will contradict the premise.

Sutra 1,1.9

स्वाप्ययात् ॥ ९ ॥

svāpyayāt || 9 ||

svāpyayāt—On account of resolving or merging in one’s own self.

9. On account of (the individual soul) merging in its own Self (or the universal Self referred to as the Sat, in deep sleep, the Pradhāna cannot be denoted by the word ‘Self’).

When a man is said to be thus asleep, he is united with the Sat, my child—he merges in his own Self” (Chh. 6. 8. 1).

Here it is taught that the individual soul merges in the Sat, and as it is impossible for the intelligent soul to merge in the insentient Pradhāna, the latter cannot be the First Cause denoted by the word ‘Sat’ in the text.

Sutra 1,1.10

गतिसामान्यात् ॥ १० ॥

gatisāmānyāt || 10 ||

gatisāmānyāt—On account of the uniformity of views.

10. Because (all the Vedānta texts) uniformly refer to (an intelligent principle as the First Cause, Brahman is to be taken as that Cause).

See Chh. 7. 26. 1, Pr. 3. 3, Taitt. 2. 1, etc. The scriptures themselves say, “Whom all the Vedas proclaim” (Kath. 1. 2. 15).

Sutra 1,1.11

श्रुतत्वाच्च ॥ ११ ॥

śrutatvācca || 11 ||

śrutatvāt—Being declared by the Vedas; ca—also.

11. (The all-knowing Brahman alone is the First Cause of this world) because (it is so known directly) from the Vedas also.

He is the Cause, the Lord of the ruler of the sense organs (Jīvātman) and has neither parent nor Lord’ (Svet. 6. 9)—where ‘He’ refers to the all-knowing Lord described in that chapter.

Therefore it is established that the omniscient, omnipotent Brahman is the First Cause and not the insentient Pradhāna or anything else.

From Sutra 12 onwards till practically the end of the first chapter a new topic is taken up for discussion, i.e. whether certain terms found in the Upanishads are used in their ordinary sense or as referring to Brahman.

Again the Upanishads speak of two types of Brahman, the Nirguṇa or Brahman without attributes and the Saguṇa or Brahman with attributes.

It is the latter which is within the domain of Nescience and is the object of meditation (Upāsanā), which is of different kinds yielding different results;

while the Nirguṇa Brahman, which is free from all imaginary limiting adjuncts of the other type is the object of Knowledge.

Meditation on the Saguṇa Brahman cannot lead to immediate Liberation. It can at best lead to gradual Liberation (Krama-Mukti). The knowledge of the Nirguṇa Brahman alone leads to immediate Liberation.

Now in many places in the Upanishads Brahman is described apparently with qualifying adjuncts; yet the scriptures say that the knowledge of that Brahman leads to immediate Liberation.

If Brahman is worshipped as limited by those adjuncts, it cannot lead to such Liberation.

But if these qualifying adjuncts are regarded as not being ultimately aimed at by the Śruti, but used merely as indicative of Brahman, then these very texts would refer to the Nirguṇa Brahman and Liberation would be the immediate result of knowing that Brahman.

So by reasoning we have to arrive at a conclusion as to the true significance of these texts, which obviously have a doubtful import.

The issue of the Saguṇa and Nirguṇa Brahman as shown above is not, however, kept up all through, for in many places it is not between them but between the Saguṇa Brahman and the individual soul or something else.