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Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 1-3-5

Topic 5 - The ‘small Ākāśa’ is Brahman

In the previous section the epithet ‘Highest Person,’ being generally used with reference to the Highest Brahman, was taken to mean that.

The opponent now follows this argument and wants to interpret the word ‘Ākāśa’ occurring in the texts to be taken up for discussion in this section, as ether, that being the ordinary meaning of the word.

 Sutra 1,3.14

दहर उत्तरेभ्यः ॥ १४ ॥

dahara uttarebhyaḥ || 14 ||

daharaḥ—Small; uttarebhyaḥ—because of subsequent texts.

14. The small (Ākāśa) (is Brahman) because of subsequent texts (which give ample indication to that effect).

Now there is in this city of Brahman (the body) a small lotus-like palace (the heart), and in it a small Ākāśa. What exists within that small Ākāśa is to be sought, that is to be understood” (Chh. 8. 1. 1).

Here the ‘small Ākāśa’ is Brahman and does not mean ether, though it is the ordinary meaning of the word; nor does it mean the Jīva or individual soul, though there is the qualification ‘small’, which may show that it is a limited something. Why?

Because the characteristics of Brahman occur later on in the text, “As large as this (external) ether is, so large is that Ākāśa within the heart” (Chh. 8. 1. 3), which clearly shows it is not actually small.

Again Ākāśa cannot be compared with itself, nor can the limited individual soul be compared with the all-pervading ether. Therefore the two are precluded.

Then we have the characteristics of Brahman: “Both the earth and heaven are contained in it” (Ibid. 8. 1. 3), which shows that this Ākāśa is the support of the whole world. “It is the Self, free from sin, free from old age” etc. (Ibid. 8.1.5), all of which are distinctly qualities of the Highest Brahman.

 Sutra 1,3.15

गतिशब्दाभ्यां, तथा हि दृष्टं लिङ्गं च ॥ १५ ॥

gatiśabdābhyāṃ, tathā hi dṛṣṭaṃ liṅgaṃ ca || 15 ||

gatiśabdābhyām—From going and the word; tathā hi—likewise; dṛṣṭaṃ—it is seen; liṅgam—indicatory; ca—and.

15. The small Ākāśa (is Brahman) on account of going (into Brahman) and of the word (Brahmaloka); it (i.e. the individual soul’s going into Brahman) is likewise seen (from other Śruti texts); and (the daily going) is an indicatory sign (by which we can interpret the word Brahmaloka).

This Sutra gives further reasons that the ‘small Ākāśa’ is Brahman.

All these creatures day after day go into this Brahmaloka (i.e. they are merged in Brahman while fast asleep) and yet do not discover it” etc. (Chh. 8. 3. 2).

This text shows that in deep sleep all Jīvas go daily into the ‘small Ākāśa’, called here Brahmaloka (the world of Brahman), thus showing that the ‘small Ākāśa’ is Brahman.

In other Śruti texts also we find that this going of the individual soul into Brahman in deep sleep is mentioned : “He becomes united with the Real (Sat), he is merged in his own self” (Chh. 0. 8. 1).

The word ‘Brahmaloka’ is to be interpreted as Brahman Itself, and not as the world of Brahma, because of the indicatory sign in the text where it is said that the soul goes to this world every day, for it is not possible to go to the world of Brahma every day.

 Sutra 1,3.16

धृतेश्च, महिम्नोऽस्यास्मिन्नुपलब्धेः ॥ १६ ॥

dhṛteśca, mahimno'syāsminnupalabdheḥ || 16 ||

dhṛteḥ—On account of the supporting (of the world by the Ākāśa); ca—moreover; asya mahimnaḥ—this greatness; asmin—in Brahman; upalabdheḥ—being seen.

16. Moreover on account of the supporting (of the world by the small Ākāśa it is Brahman) for this greatness is seen in this (Brahman only from other scriptural texts).

That Self is a bank, a limiting support, so that these worlds may not get confounded”, (Chh. 8. 4. 1)

—in which text is seen the glory of the ‘small Ākāśa’ by way of holding the worlds asunder.

It is learnt beyond doubt from other texts that this greatness of supporting belongs to Brahman alone:

Under the mighty rule of that Immutable (Akṣara), O Gārgī, the sun and moon are held in their positions” (Brih. 3. 8. 9).

See also Ibid. 4. 4. 22.

Sutra 1,3.17

प्रसिद्धेश्च ॥ १७ ॥

prasiddheśca || 17 ||

prasiddheḥ—Because of the well-known (meaning); ca—also.

17. Also because of the well-known meaning (of Ākāśa as Brahman the ‘small Ākāśa’ is Brahman).

Ākāśa is the revealer of all names and forms” (Chh. 8. 14. 1);

All these beings take their rise from Ākāśa alone” (Chh. 1. 9. 1).

In all these passages ‘Ākāśa’ stands for Brahman.

Sutra 1,3.18

इतरपरामर्शात् स इति चेत्, न, असभवात् ॥ १८ ॥

itaraparāmarśāt sa iti cet, na, asambhavāt || 18 ||

itara-parāmarśat—Because of the reference to the other (i.e. the individual soul); saḥ—he (the individual soul); iti cet—if it be said; na—no; asambhavāt—on account of impossibility.

18. Because of the reference to the other (i.e. the individual soul in a complementary passage) if it be said that he (the individual soul) (and not Brahman is meant by the ‘small Ākāśa’), (we say)' no, on account of the impossibility (of such an assumption).

Now that being, the individual soul (Jīva) in deep sleep, which having risen above this earthly body” etc. (Chh. 8. 3. 4).

Since in this complementary passage the individual soul is referred to, one may say that the ‘small Ākāśa’ of Chh. 8. 1. 1 is also the individual soul.

It cannot be; for a comparison is made in Chh. 8. 1. 3 between the ‘small Ākāśa’ and the ether, which would be absurd if by ‘small Ākāśa’ Jīva were meant,

because there can be no comparison between a thing that is limited like the individual soul and the all-pervading ether.

The attributes like ‘free from evil’ of this Ākāśa, referred to in the passage discussed, cannot be true of the individual soul. So Brahman is meant in that passage.

Sutra 1,3.19

उत्तराच्चेत्, आविर्भूतस्वरूपस्तु ॥ १९ ॥

uttarāccet, āvirbhūtasvarūpastu || 19 ||

uttarāt—From subsequent texts (in the chapter); cet—if; āvirbhūta-svarūpaḥ—with its real nature made manifest; tu—but.

19. If (it be said) that from subsequent texts (which contain references to the Jīva, ‘small Ākāśa’ means the Jīva) (we say) but (that reference to the Jīva is in so far as its) real nature (as non-different from Brahman) is made manifest.

An objection is again raised to justify that the ‘small Ākāśa’ refers to the individual soul.

In Chh. in the later sections, i.e.. sections 7-11 of chapter 8, the different states of the individual soul are mentioned.

Section 7 begins thus:

That self which is free from sin . . . is -what is to be searched” etc.

Then we have,

“That person who is seen in the eye (the individual soul) is the self” (Chh. 8. 7. 4);

He who moves glorified in dreams is the self” (Chh. 8.10.1).

When a being is thus asleep, drawn in, perfectly serene, and sees no dreams, that is the self” (Chh. 8.11.1).

And in each of these descriptions of the self we have for it the qualifying terms, ‘immortal and fearless’, which show that it is free from evil.

It is clear that here the individual soul is meant, and not the Supreme Lord, for the latter is free from these three states i.e.. waking, dream, and deep sleep; and it is also said to be free from evil. Therefore ‘small Ākāśa’ in the preceding section refers to the soul and not to the Supreme Lord.

This Sutra refutes this and says that the reference is to the individual soul in its real nature as identical with Brahman and not to the individual soul as such.

As soon as it has approached the highest light it appears in its own form. It (then) is the Highest Purusha” (Chh. 8. 12. 3).

It is only as non-different from Brahman that the Jīva is free from evil etc. and not as the individual soul.

Sutra 1,3.20

अन्यार्थश्च परामर्शः ॥ २० ॥

anyārthaśca parāmarśaḥ || 20 ||

anyārthaḥ—For a different purpose; ca—and; parāmarśaḥ—reference.

20. And the reference (to the individual soul) is for a different purpose.

The detailed reference to the three states of the individual soul (Jīva) is meant not to establish the nature of the individual soul as such, but to show finally its real nature, which is non-different from Brahman.

 Sutra 1,3.21

अल्पश्रुतेरिति चेत्, तदुक्तम् ॥ २१ ॥

alpaśruteriti cet, taduktam || 21 ||

alpaśruteḥ—Because of the Śruti declaring its smallness; iti cet—if it be said; tat—that; uktam—has already been explained.

21. If it be said that because the Śruti declares the limitedness (of this Ākāśa, therefore it cannot refer to the all-pervading Brahman); (we say) that has already been explained (as having reference to devout meditation only. Vide 1.2.7).