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Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 2-1-3

Topic 3 - Brahman, though of a different nature from the world, can yet be its cause

Sutra 2,1.4

न विलक्षणत्वादस्य, तथात्वं च शब्दात् ॥ ४ ॥

na vilakṣaṇatvādasya, tathātvaṃ ca śabdāt || 4 ||

na—Not; vilakṣaṇatvāt—because of the contrary nature; asya—of this; tathātvaṃ—its being so; ca—and; śabdāt—from Śruti.

4. (Brahman is) not (the cause of the world) because this (world) is of a contrary nature (from Brahman); and its being so, (i. e. different from Brahman) (is known) from the scriptures.

Brahman is intelligence, pure, etc., while the world is something material, impure, etc., and so is different from the nature of Brahman; as such, Brahman cannot be the cause of this world.

The effect is nothing but the cause in another form; therefore the cause and effect cannot be altogether of a different nature. Intelligence cannot produce material effects and vice versa.

That the world and Brahman differ entirely in their characteristics is known from texts like “Brahman became intelligence as also non-intelligent” (Taitt. 2. 6), where “non-intelligent” stands for the world.

So Brahman cannot be the First Cause of the material world, though the scriptures may say so.

Sutra 2,1.5

अभिमानिव्यपदेशस्तु विशेषानुगतिभ्याम् ॥ ५ ॥

abhimānivyapadeśastu viśeṣānugatibhyām || 5 ||

abhimānivyapadeśaḥ—The reference (is) to the presiding deities; tu—but; viśeṣa-anugatibhyām—because of the special characterization and the fact of being so presided.

5. But the reference is to the presiding deities (of the organs) on account of the special characterization (as ‘deities’) and also from the fact of a deity so presiding (over the functions of an organ being approved by the Śruti in other texts).

The opponent, who says that the world and Brahman being different in nature—sentient and material respectively—cannot be related to each other as cause and effect, anticipates a plausible objection and answers it in this Sutra.

There is a text, “These organs quarrelling over their respective greatness,” etc. (Brih. 6. 1. 7), which shows that even the organs are not material but sentient.

The opponent says that from this we are not to infer the sentiency of the world, since the reference is to the presiding deities of these organs.

For the same topic occurs in the Kauṣītaka Upanishad, where they are expressly mentioned: “These deities (speech etc.) quarrelling over their respective greatness” (Kau. 2. 14).

Also because other texts show the existence of such presiding deities. “Fire becoming speech entered the mouth” (Ait. Ar. 2. 4. 2. 4).

The same argument applies to texts of the Chāṇḍogya, Ch. VI, where fire etc. are said to have thought and produced the next element in the series. The thought here spoken of is of the highest Deity, Brahman, which is connected with Its effects as a superintending principle.

From all such texts we cannot infer the sentiency of the world, which is material and so different in nature from Brahman. Therefore Brahman cannot be the cause of the material world.

Sutra 2,1.6

दृश्यते तु ॥ ६ ॥

dṛśyate tu || 6 ||

dṛśyate—Is seen; tu—but.

6. But it is seen.

But’ refutes the opponent’s view expressed in the last Sutra, i.e. that this world cannot have originated from Brahman because it is different in character. For it is seen that intelligent things like scorpions etc. are produced from non-intelligent cowdung etc.

Again from a sentient spider there comes forth the thread for its web. So also do nails, hair, etc. come forth from a man, who is an intelligent being. Therefore it is quite possible that this material world could be produced by an intelligent Being, Brahman.

It may be objected that a man’s body is the cause of the hair and nails, and not the man; similarly the cowdung is the cause of the body of the worms.

Even then it must be admitted that there is a difference between the cause and the effect since, in both the examples cited, one of them is the abode of something sentient while the other is not; they are not similar in all respects. If they were, then there would be nothing like cause and effect, nor would they be called by different names.

So we have to admit that the cause and its effects are not similar in every respect, but something in the cause, or some qualities of it, must be found in the effects also, as the clay in the lump is found in the pot also, though the shape etc. of the two differ.

So we say that even in the case of Brahman and the world, some qualities of the cause, Brahman, such as existence and intelligence, are to be found in its effect, the world.

Everything in the world exists, and this quality it gets from Brahman, which is existence itself. Again the intelligence of Brahman lights the whole universe.

So these two qualities of Brahman are found in the world, which justify our relating them as cause and effect in spite of differences in other respects between them.

Sutra 2,1.7

असदिति, चेत्, न, प्रतिषेधमात्रत्वात् ॥ ७ ॥

asaditi, cet, na, pratiṣedhamātratvāt || 7 ||

asat—Non-existent; iti cet—if it be said; na—no; pratiṣedhamātratvāt—for it is merely a negation.

7. If it be said (that- the world, the effect, would then be) non-existent (before creation), (we say) no, for it is merely a negation (without any basis).

If Brahman, which is intelligent, pure, and without qualities, is the cause of the world of an opposite character, it follows that before creation the world was non existent, for Brahman was then the only existence.

This means that something which was non-existing is brought into existence, which is not accepted by the Vedāṅtins.

This argument of the opponent this Sutra refutes by saying that this negation is a mere statement without any objective validity.

The effect exists in the cause before its origination as well as after it. It can never exist independent of the cause either before or after creation. Therefore the world exists in Brahman even before creation and is not absolutely non-existent.

Sutra 2,1.8

अपीतौ तद्वत्प्रसङ्गादसमञ्जसम् ॥ ८ ॥

apītau tadvatprasaṅgādasamañjasam || 8 ||

apītau—At the time of dissolution; tadvat—like that; prasaṅgāt—on account of the fact; asamañjasam—is absurd.

8. On account of the fact that at the time of dissolution (the cause becomes) like that (i. e., like the effect) (the doctrine of Brahman being the cause of the world) is absurd.

Says the opponent:

If Brahman is the cause of the world, then the world being dissolved in Brahman at the time of dissolution, its defects would affect Brahman, even as salt affects the water in which it is dissolved.

Hence Brahman would become impure and would no more be the omniscient cause of the world, as the Upanishads maintain.

Again at the time of dissolution all things having gone into a state of oneness with Brahman, there will be no special causes left for a new creation.

If in spite of this we consider a new creation possible, then it would mean that there is a chance of even the liberated souls, who have become one with Brahman, reappearing in the world.

Nor can it be said that the world remains separate from Brahman in the state of dissolution, for in that case it would be no dissolution at all.

So the Vedānta doctrine of Brahman being the cause of the world is objectionable, as it leads to all sorts of absurdities.

Sutra 2,1.9

न तु, दृष्टान्तभावात् ॥ ९ ॥

na tu, dṛṣṭāntabhāvāt || 9 ||

na—Not; tu—but; dṛṣṭānta-bhāvāt—on account of the existence of illustrations.

9. But not (so) on account of the existence of illustrations.

The objection is being answered:

That the effect, when it gets dissolved in the cause, does not pollute the latter by its defects, is borne out by innumerable instances: A clay pot, for instance, when it is broken and reabsorbed into its original substance, i.e. clay, does not impart to it its special features.

The very fact of absorption shows that all the qualities of the effect cannot abide, for in that case it would be no absorption at all.

Moreover, we have to remember that the effect is of the nature of the cause and not vice versa. Hence the qualities of the effect cannot touch the cause.

It may, however, be objected that since the effect is but the cause in a new condition, all the good and bad traits of the effect must have been in the cause.

But we forget that the world is after all an illusion. Brahman has only apparently changed into the world and as such is never affected by it, even as a magician is not affected by the illusion produced by him.

The other incongruity shown, i.e. that since at the time of dissolution the world is resolved into Brahman and becomes one with It, there can be no further creation, and if it takes place there will be the possibility of even free souls coming into bondage again,

cannot stand, for there are parallel Instances with respect to this also.

In deep sleep we do not perceive anything, there no diversity, but on awakening we find the world of duality. A similar phenomenon can be expected to happen at the time of dissolution.

In the former case it is the existence of ignorance (Avidyā), which is not destroyed, which is responsible for the reappearance of the world. So also at dissolution the power of distinction remains in a potential state as Avidyā or ignorance.

But in the case of the liberated no ignorance being left, there is no chance of their being brought back into bondage from their state of oneness with Brahman.

Sutra 2,1.10

स्वपक्षदोषाच्च ॥ १० ॥

svapakṣadoṣācca || 10 ||

svapakṣa-doṣāt—Because of the objections to his own view; ca—and.

10. And because of the objections (cited) (being applicable) to his own (Sānkhya’s) view (also).

The objections raised by the Sānkhyas against Vedānta are equally true of their view of the First Cause, i.e. the Pradhāna.

Form, taste, etc. are not to be found in the Pradhāna, yet we find these things in the world produced out of it. The objection as regards reabsorption at the time of Pralaya applies also in the case of the Sānkhya’s Pradhāna.

Thus whatever objections are raised against Vedānta in this respect are also true of the Sānkhyas. Hence they should be dropped.

Of the two, however, Vedānta being based on the Śrutis is more authoritative. Moreover, the objections have all been answered from the Vedānta standpoint, whereas from the Sānkhya’s standpoint it is not possible to answer them.

Sutra 2,1.11

तर्काप्रतिष्ठानादपि; अन्यथानुमेयमिति चेत्,
एवमप्यनिर्मोक्षप्रसङ्गः ॥ ११ ॥

tarkāpratiṣṭhānādapi; anyathānumeyamiti cet,
evamapyanirmokṣaprasaṅgaḥ || 11 ||

tarka-pratiṣṭhānāt—Because reasoning has no sure basis; api—also; anyathā—otherwise; anumeyam—should be inferred or reasoned; iti cet—if it be said; evam—so; api—even; anirmokṣa-prasaṅgaḥ—there will result the contingency of non-release.

11. Also because reasoning has no sure basis (it cannot upset the conclusions of Vedānta). If it be said that it should be reasoned otherwise (so as to get over this defect), (we say) even so there will result the contingency of non-release (from this defect, with respect to the matter in question).

What one man establishes through reason can be refuted by another more intelligent than he. Even a sage like Kapila is refuted by other sages like Kaṇāda. Hence reasoning having no sure basis cannot upset the conclusions of Vedānta, which are based on the Śrutis.

But, says the opponent, even this judgment about reasoning is arrived at through reasoning; so it is not true that reasoning has never a sure basis. Sometimes it is perfectly sound. Only we must reason properly.

The latter part of the Sutra says that even though in some cases reasoning is infallible, yet with respect to the matter in hand it cannot transcend this defect.

For the cause of the world (Brahman) is beyond the senses and has no characteristic signs. It cannot therefore be an object of perception, or of inference, which is based on perception.

Or again if we take ‘release’ in the Sutra to mean Liberation, it comes to this: True knowledge of a real thing depends on the thing itself, and therefore it is always uniform. Hence a conflict of views with respect to it is not possible. But the conclusions of reasoning can never be uniform.

The Sānkhyas arrive through reasoning at the Pradhāna as the First Cause, while the Naiyāyikas (logicians) mention Paramāṇus (atoms) as that. Which to accept?

So no conclusion can be arrived at through reasoning independent of the scriptures, and since the truth cannot be known through this means, there will be no Liberation.

Therefore reasoning which goes against the scriptures is no proof of knowledge and cannot contradict the Śruti texts.