Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 1-1-4

Topic 4 - Brahman the main purport of all Vedānta texts

Sutra 1,1.4

तत् तु समन्वयात् ॥ ४ ॥

tat tu samanvayāt || 2 ||

tat—That; tu—but; samanvayāt—because It is the main purport.

4. But that (Brahman is to be known only from the scriptures and not independently by any other means is established) because It is the main purport (of all Vedānta texts).

Objection by Pūrva Mimāmsakas: The Vedānta texts do not refer to Brahman.

The Vedas cannot possibly aim at giving information regarding such self-established, already existing objects like Brahman, which can be known through other sources.

They generally give information only about objects that cannot be known through other means of right knowledge, and about the means to attain such objects.

Again Brahman, which is our own Self, can neither be desired nor shunned and as such cannot be an object of human effort. So a mere statement of fact about an existing object like Brahman, incapable of being desired or shunned and therefore useless, would make the scriptures purposeless.

Vedic passages have a meaning only in so far as they are related to some action. So the Vedānta texts, to have a meaning, must be so construed as to be connected with action (rituals), as supplementing them with some necessary information.

The texts dealing with the individual soul in the Vedānta, therefore, refer to the agent; those dealing with Brahman refer to the Deities; and those dealing with creation refer to spiritual practices (Sādhanās).

In that case, being supplementary to action, the Vedānta texts will have a purpose. But if they are taken to refer to Brahman only, they will be meaningless, inasmuch as they will not be helpful to any action.

Answer: The word but in the Sutra refutes all these objections. The Vedānta texts refer to Brahman only, for all of them have Brahman for their main topic.

The main purport of a treatise is gathered from the following characteristics:

  1. Beginning and conclusion,
  2. repetition,
  3. uniqueness of subject-matter,
  4. fruit or result,
  5. praise,
  6. and reasoning.

These six help to arrive at the real aim or purport of any work.

In chapter six of the Chāṇḍogya Upanishad, for example, Brahman is the main purport of all the paragraphs; for all these six characteristics point to Brahman.

It begins, “This universe, my boy, was but the Real (Sat), in the beginning” (Chh. 6.2.1), and concludes by saying, “In it all that exists has its self. It is true. It is the Self” (Ibid. 6.15.2)—

which also refers to the Sat or Brahman. In the frequent repetition, “Thou art That, O Śvetaketu”, the same Brahman is referred to.

The uniqueness of Brahman is quite apparent, as It cannot be realized either by direct perception or inference in the absence of form etc. and characteristics respectively.

Reasoning also has been adopted by the scriptures here by citing the example of clay to elucidate their point. As different objects are made out of clay, so are all things created from this Brahman.

The description of the origin of the universe from Brahman, and of its sustenance by and reabsorption in It is by way of praise (Artha-vāda).

The result or fruit (Phala) is also mentioned, i.e. that through the knowledge of Brahman everything else is known. When we realize Brahman, the universal Reality, we know all the particulars involved in It.

So, all these six characteristics show that the main topic of the Vedānta texts, as cited above, is Brahman.

Again, these texts cannot be made to refer to the agent etc., for they are treated in quite a different section from the Karmakāṇda.

Neither are the texts useless, for from the comprehension of these texts results Liberation, without any reference to action on the part of the person, even as a mere statement that it is a rope and not a snake helps to destroy one’s illusion.

A mere intellectual grasp of the texts, however, will not help the person to attain Liberation; actual realization is what is meant here.

Objection: The scriptures have a purpose in so far as they lay down injunctions for man. They either induce him to or prohibit him from some action. The very meaning of the word ‘Śāstra’ is this.

Even the Vedānta texts are related to injunctions and thus have a purpose. For though they have Brahman for their main purport, yet they do not end there, but after describing the nature of Brahman they enjoin on man to realize Brahman through intuition.

The Self is to be realized—to be heard of, thought about, and meditated upon”— in passages like this the scriptures, after enjoining on man to be conversant first with the nature of Brahman, further enjoin thinking and meditation on the meaning of those passages for the attainment of direct experience.

Thus they formulate injunctions with regard to the knowledge of Brahman.

Answer:He who knows the Supreme Brahman becomes Brahman indeed” (Mu. 3. 2. 9)—

texts like this show that to know Brahman is to become Brahman.

But since Brahman is an already existing entity, we cannot say that to know Brahman involves an act, like a ritualistic act, having for its result Brahman.

When ignorance is removed, Brahman manifests Itself, even as when the illusion of the snake is removed the rope manifests itself. Here the rope is not the creation of any act.

The identity of the individual soul and Brahman set forth in texts like, “I am Brahman” (Brih. 1. 4. 10), is not a fancy or imagination, but an actuality,

and therefore differs from meditation and devout worship as prescribed by the scriptures in texts like, “One should meditate on the mind as Brahman”, and “The Sun is Brahman” (Chh. 3. 18. 1; 3. 19. 1).

The knowledge of Brahman, therefore, does not depend on human endeavour, and hence it is impossible to connect Brahman or the knowledge of It with any action.

Neither can Brahman be said to be the object of the act of knowing; for there are texts like, “It is different from the known, again, It is beyond the unknown” (Ken. 1. 4), and “Through what, O Maitreyī, can the knower be known?” (Brih. 2. 4. 14).

In the same way Brahman is denied as an object of devout worship (Upāsanā)—“Know that alone to be Brahman, not that which people adore here” (Ken. 1. 5).

The scriptures, therefore, never describe Brahman as this or that, but only negate manifoldness which is false, in texts like, “There is no manifoldness in It” (Kath. 2. 4. 11), and “He who sees manifoldness in It goes from death to death” (Kath. 2. 4. 10).

Moreover, the result of action is either creation, modification, purification or attainment.

None of these is applicable to the knowledge of Brahman, which is the same thing as Liberation. If Liberation were created or modified, it would not be permanent, and no school of philosophers is prepared to accept such a contingency.

Since Brahman is our Inner Self, we cannot attain It by any action, as a village is attained by our act of going. Nor is there any room for a purification ceremony in the eternally pure Self.

Knowledge itself, again, cannot be said to be an activity of the mind. An action depends upon human endeavour and is not bound up with the nature of things. It can either be done, or not done or modified by the agent.

Knowledge, on the other hand, does not depend upon human notions, but on the thing itself. It is the result of the right means, having for its objects existing things.

Knowledge can therefore neither be made, nor not made, nor modified. Although mental, it differs from such meditations as “Man is fire, O Gautama”, “Woman is fire”, etc. (Chh. 5. 7. 1 ; 5. 8. 1).

Thus Brahman or the knowledge of Brahman being in no way connected with action, injunctions have no place with regard to It.

Therefore texts like, “The Ātman is to be realized” etc., though imperative m character, do not lay down any injunction, but are intended to turn the mind of the aspirant from things external, which keep one bound to this relative existence, and direct it inwards.

Further it is not true that the scriptures can have a purpose if only they enjoin or prohibit some action, for even by describing existing things they serve a useful purpose, if thereby they conduce to the wellbeing of man,

and what can do this better than the knowledge of Brahman, which results in Liberation? The comprehension of Brahman includes hearing, reasoning, and meditation.

Mere hearing does not result in full comprehension or realization of Brahman. Reasoning and meditation are also subservient to that full comprehension.

Hence it cannot be said that they are enjoined. If after full comprehension Brahman was found to be related to some injunction, then only it could be said to be supplementary to action.

So Brahman is in no way connected with action.

All the Vedānta texts deal with an independent topic, which is Brahman, and these texts are the only proof of this Brahman, as it is not possible to know It through any other source.

So far it has been shown in the previous Sutras that all the Vedānta texts refer exclusively to Brahman without any connection whatsoever with action, and that Brahman is the omniscient, omnipotent cause of the origin etc. of this universe.

Here the Sānkhyas raise an objection:

The Vedānta texts about creation do not refer to Brahman but to the unintelligent Pradhāna made up of the three Guṇas (constituents)—Sattva, Rājas, and Tamas, as the First Cause.

The Pradhāna is omnipotent with respect to its effects. Again the Pradhāna has Sattva for one of its components, of which, according to Smriti (Gītā 14. 17), knowledge is an attribute.

Therefore the Pradhāna can figuratively be said to be omniscient, because of its capacity for all knowledge.

To Brahman, on the other hand, which is isolated and pure intelligence itself, you cannot ascribe all-knowingness or partial-knowledge.

Moreover, as the Pradhāna has three components, it seems reasonable that it alone is capable of undergoing modifications, like clay, into various objects of name and form, and not Brahman, which is uncompounded, homogeneous and unchangeable.

Moreover, the First Cause is an already existing entity and so can be established by inference from its effects and even the scriptures recommend inference of the cause from the effect.

So what the Vedānta texts about creation say with respect to the First Cause holds good, and more aptly so in the case of the Pradhāna, and therefore it is the First Cause referred to by the scriptures.