Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 1-1-8

Topic 8 - The Word ‘Ākāśa’ (ether) to be Understood as Brahman

In the last topic the characteristics like “being above all evil” etc., being of doubtful import were made to refer to Brahman and not to the deity of the solar orb and accordingly the mention of form etc. were interpreted to be imagined in Brahman for the sake of meditation.

But now the characteristics mentioned in the text that are taken up for discussion are not of doubtful import but refer clearly to elemental ether, so how will you interpret these texts—seems to be the view of the objector.

 Sutra 1,1.22

आकाशस्तल्लिङ्गात् ॥ २२ ॥

ākāśastalliṅgāt || 22 ||

ākāśaḥ—(The word) Ākāśa; talliṅgāt—on account of the characteristic marks of that (Brahman).

22. (The word) Ākāśa (ether) (is Brahman) on account of the characteristic marks of That (i.e. Brahman) (being mentioned).

“‘What is the goal of this world?’ ‘Ākāśa,’ he replied.

For all these beings take their rise from Ākāśa only and dissolve in it. Ākāśa is greater than these. It is their ultimate goal. It indeed is the Supreme Udgītha .... He who knowing this as such meditates on the Supreme Udgītha . . .” (Chh. 1. 9. 1-2).

Here ‘Ākāśa’ refers to Brahman and not to the elemental Ākāśa (ether), as the characteristics of Brahman, namely, the rise of the entire creation from it and its return to it at dissolution are mentioned.

No doubt these marks may also refer to the ether, as the scriptures say that from the ether is produced air, from air fire, etc., and they return to the ether at the end of a cycle. But then the force of the words ‘all these’ and ‘only’ in the text quoted would be lost.

To preserve it the text should be taken to refer to the fundamental cause of all, including the ether, which can be Brahman alone.

The word ‘Ākāśa’ is also used for Brahman in other texts:

“That which is called Ākāśa is the revealer of all forms and names.” (Chh. 8. 14. 1).

Again Brahman alone can be ‘greater than all’ and ‘their ultimate goal’ as mentioned in the text.

In other scriptural passages like, “He is greater than the earth, He is greater than the heavens” (Chh. 3. 14. 3), “Brahman is knowledge and Bliss. It is the ultimate goal of him who makes gifts” (Brih. 3. 9. 28)—these qualities of being greater and the ultimate goal of everything are mentioned, and therefore this interpretation is justified.

Hence the Udgītha in the text cited is to be meditated upon not as a symbol of the ether but of Brahman.