Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 3-2-5
Topic 5 - The nature of the Supreme Brahman
The preceding four topics deal with the nature of ‘thou’ or the apparent self.
By proving that the creation in dreams is false, it has been shown that though the Jīva appears apparently to enjoy happiness and misery, yet in reality it is unattached.
By its mergence in Brahman in deep sleep that detachment has been firmly established.
By saying that the self-same Jīva returns from sleep the doubt as to its non-permanency has been refuted.
By a reference to swoon it has been explained that though all expressions of life are extinct in that state still the Jīva is there, and hence one can be sure that even after death the soul continues to exist.
Thus it has been shown that the soul is self-luminous, of the nature of consciousness, having pleasure in itself only, and beyond the various states.
Having described the nature of ‘thou’, the nature of ‘That’ is taken up for discussion in the succeeding Sutras.
न स्थानतोऽपि परस्योभयलिङ्गम्, सर्वत्र हि ॥ ११ ॥
na sthānato’pi parasyobhayaliṅgam, sarvatra hi || 11 ||
na—Not; sthānataḥ—from (difference of) place; api—even; parasya—of Brahman; ubhayaliṅgaṃ—twofold characteristic; hi—because; sarvatra—throughout (the scriptures teach otherwise).
11. Even from (difference of) place a twofold characteristic cannot (be predicated) of Brahman, because throughout (the scriptures teach It to be otherwise i.e. without any qualities).
In the scriptures we find two kinds of description about Brahman:
Some texts describe It as qualified and some as unqualified, “From whom all activities, all desires, all odours, and all tastes proceed” (Chh. 3. 14. 2) speak of attributes;
again “It is neither gross nor minute, neither short nor long, neither redness nor moisture” etc. (Brih.3.8.8).
Are we to take that both are true of Brahman according as It is or is not connected with adjuncts, or have we to take only one of them as true and the other as false, and if so, which, and on what grounds?
The Sutra says that both cannot be predicated of one and the same Brahman, for it is against experience. One and the same thing cannot have two contradictory natures at the same time.
Nor does the mere connection of a thing with another change its nature, even as the redness of a flower reflected in a crystal does not change the nature of the crystal, which is colourless. The imputation of redness is due to ignorance and not real.
Neither can a thing change its real nature: it means destruction. Even so in the case of Brahman, Its connection with adjuncts like earth etc. is a product of nescience.
Hence between the two aspects of Brahman we have to accept that which is attributeless as Its true nature, for throughout the scriptures we find Brahman so described to the exclusion of Its qualified aspects: “It is without sound, without touch, form, and decay” etc. (Kath. 1. 3. 15).
The other description of Brahman is only for the sake of Upāsanā and is not Its real nature.
न भेदादिति चेत्, न, प्रत्येकमतद्वचनात् ॥ १२ ॥
na bhedāditi cet, na, pratyekamatadvacanāt || 12 ||
na—Not; bhedāt—on account of difference (being taught in the scriptures); iti cet—if it be said; na—not so; pratyekam—with respect to each; atadvacanāt—because of the declaration of the opposite of that.
12. If it be said (that it is) not so on account of difference (being taught in the scriptures), (we reply) not so, because with respect to each (such form) the Śruti declares the opposite of that.
We find that the scripture declares Brahman as having different forms in different Vidyās or meditations. In some It is described as having four feet, in some as of sixteen digits (Kalās) or again as having for Its body the three worlds and being called Vaiśvānara, and so on.
So we have to understand on scriptural authority that Brahman is also qualified.
This Sutra refutes it and says that every such form due to Upādhi is denied of Brahman in texts like, “The shining, immortal being who is in this earth, and the shining, immortal, corporeal being in the body are but the Self” (Brih. 2. 5. 1).
Such texts show that in all Upādhis like earth etc. the same Self is present, and hence there is only non-difference, oneness. It is not true that the Vedas inculcate the connection of Brahman with various forms.
With regard to what we take as different, the Śruti explains at every instance that the form is not true, and that in reality there is only one formless principle.
अपिचैवमेके ॥ १३ ॥
apicaivameke || 13 ||
api ca—Moreover; evam—thus; eke—some.
13. Moreover some (teach) thus.
Some Śākhās (recensions) of the Vedas directly teach that the manifoldness is not true, by passing strictures on those who see difference: “He goes from death to death, who sees difference, as it were, in It” (Kath, 1. 4. 11); also Brih. 4.4.19.
अरूपवदेव हि, तत्प्रधानत्वात् ॥ १४ ॥
arūpavadeva hi, tatpradhānatvāt || 14 ||
arūpavat—Formless; eva—only; hi—verily; tat-pradhānatvāt—on account of that being the main purport.
14. Verily Brahman is only formless on account of that being the main purport (of all texts about Brahman).
Brahman is only formless for all the texts that aims at teaching Brahman describe It as formless.
If Brahman be understood to have a form, then texts which describe It as formless would become purport-less, and such a contingency with respect to the scriptures is unimaginable, for the scriptures throughout have a purport.
On the other hand, texts dealing with qualified Brahman seek not to establish It, but rather to enjoin meditations on Brahman. Therefore Brahman is formless.
प्रकाशवच्चावैयर्थ्यात् ॥ १५ ॥
prakāśavaccāvaiyarthyāt || 15 ||
prakāśavat—Like light; ca—and; avaiyarthyāt—not being purportless.
15. And like light (taking form in connection with bodies having form, Brahman takes form in connection with Upādhis), because (texts ascribing form to Brahman) are not purportless.
If Brahman is formless, what about the texts which describe It as having form? Are they superfluous?
If Brahman is without form then all Upāsanās of the Brahman with form would be futile, for how can the worship of such a false Brahman lead to Brahmaloka and other spheres?
This Sutra explains that they are not without a purpose.
Just as light, which has no form, appears to be great or small according to the aperture through which it enters a room and yet has the virtue of removing the darkness in the room,
even so the formless Brahman appears to have a form, as being limited by adjuncts like earth etc.; and the worship of such an illusory Brahman can help one to attain Brahmaloka etc., which are also illusory from the absolute standpoint.
Hence these texts are not altogether purportless.
This, however, does not contradict the position already established, i.e. that Brahman, though connected with limiting adjuncts, is not dual in character, because the effects of these cannot constitute attributes of a substance, and moreover these limiting adjuncts are all due to Nescience.
आह च तन्मात्रम् ॥ १६ ॥
āha ca tanmātram || 16 ||
āha—Declares; ca—and; tat-mātram—that (i.e. intelligence) only.
16. And (the scripture) declares (that Brahman is) that (i.e. intelligence) only.
Now what is the nature of that formless Brahman?
“As a lump of salt is without interior or exterior, entire, and purely salt in taste, even so is the Self without interior or exterior, entire, and Pure Intelligence alone” (Brih. 4. 5. 13).
It is mere intelligence, self-effulgent, homogeneous, and without attributes.
दर्शयति च, अथो अपि स्मर्यते ॥ १७ ॥
darśayati ca, atho api smaryate || 17 ||
darśayati—(Scripture) shows; ca—also; atho—thus; api—also; smaryate—(it is) stated by the Smritis.
17. (The scripture) also shows (this, and) thus also (is it) stated by the Smṛti.
That Brahman is without any attributes is also proved by the fact that the Śruti teaches about It by denying all characteristics to It.
“Now therefore the description (of Brahman): ‘Not this, not this.’ Because there is no other and more appropriate description than this ‘Not this’” (Brih. 2 . 3. 6).
If Brahman had form, then it would be established by such texts, and there would be no necessity to deny everything and say ‘Not this, not this’.
So also the Smṛti teach about Brahman:
“The Highest Brahman without either beginning or end, which cannot be said either to be or not to be” (Gītā 13. 12); “It is unmanifest, unthinkable, and without modification, thus is It spoken of” (Gītā 2.25).
अत एव चोपमा सूर्यकादिवत् ॥ १८ ॥
ata eva copamā sūryakādivat || 18 ||
ata eva—Therefore; ca—also; copamā—comparison; sūryakādivat—like the images of the sun etc.
18. Therefore also (with respect to Brahman we have) comparisons like the images of the sun etc.
That Brahman is formless is further established from the similes used with respect to It.
Since this Brahman is mere intelligence, homogeneous, and formless, and everything else is denied in It,
therefore we find that the scriptures explain the fact of Its having forms by saying that they are like reflections in water of the one sun, meaning thereby that these forms are unreal, being due only to limiting adjuncts.
अम्बुवदग्रहणात् तु न तथात्वम् ॥ १९ ॥
ambuvadagrahaṇāt tu na tathātvam || 19 ||
ambuvat—Like water; agrahaṇāt—not being experienced; tu—but; na—no; tathātvam—similarity.
19. But (there is) no similarity (in the case of Brahman, any second thing) not being experienced like water.
An objection is raised that the comparison of the last Sutra is not correct.
In the case of the sun, which has a form, water, which is different and at a distance from it, catches its image; but Brahman is formless and all-pervading, and there can be nothing else different and at a distance from It, to serve as an Upādhi, that can catch Its reflection.
So the comparison is defective.
वृद्धिह्रासभाक्त्वमन्तर्भावाद्, उभयसामञ्जस्यादेवम् ॥ २० ॥
vṛddhihrāsabhāktvamantarbhāvād, ubhayasāmañjasyādevam || 20 ||
vṛddhi-hrāsa-bhāktvam—Participating in the increase and decrease; antarbhāvāt—on account of its being inside; ubhaya-sāmañjasyāt—on account of the similarity in the two cases; evam—thus.
20. On account of Brahman being inside (Its adjuncts) (It appears) to participate in their increase and decrease. On account of this similarity in the two cases (mentioned in Sutra 18) it is thus (i.e. the comparison is not defective).
The comparison with the reflection of the sun is to be taken not on all fours but only with respect to a particular feature.
Just as the reflected sun is distorted, trembles, or varies in size as the water shakes, expands, or contracts, while the real sun remains unchanged;
so also Brahman participates, as it were, in the attributes of the Upādhis; it grows with them, decreases with them, suffers with them, and so on, but not in reality.
Hence on account of this similarity in the two cases the comparison is not defective.
दर्शनाच्च ॥ २१ ॥
darśanācca || 21 ||
darśanāt—On account of scriptural instruction; ca—and.
21. And on account of scriptural instruction.
The Scripture also teaches that Brahman enters into the body and other limiting adjuncts.
“He made bodies with two feet and bodies with four feet. That Supreme Being first entered the bodies as a bird. He on account of his dwelling in all bodies is called the Purusha” (Brih. 2. 5. 18).
Thus also the comparison in Sutra 18 is not defective.
Therefore it is established that Brahman is formless, of the nature of intelligence, and homogeneous— without any difference.