Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 1-4-1


In topic 5, section 1, it has been shown that as the Sānkhya’s Pradhāna is not based on scriptural authority and that as the Śruti texts all refer to an intelligent principle as the First Cause, Brahman is that First Cause.

In all the subsequent Sutras of the first three sections it has been shown how all the Vedānta texts refer to Brahman.

Now the fact that the Pradhāna is not based on scriptural authority is questioned by the opponent, and his objections are being answered. The whole of section 4 practically answers all objections from the Sānkhya’s standpoint.

Topic 1 - The Mahat and Avyakta of the Katha Upanishad do not refer to the Sānkhya’s categories

In the last topic of the previous section, by a reference to the well-known individual soul, Brahman, which is not so well known, was taught.

So the opponent in this topic holds that the reference to Avyakta in the text to be quoted should be taken to deal with the well-known Sānkhya’s category.

 Sutra 1,4.1

आनुमानिकमप्येकेषामिति चेत्, न, शरीररूपकविन्यस्तगृहीतेः, दर्शयति च ॥ १ ॥

ānumānikamapyekeṣāmiti cet, na, śarīrarūpakavinyastagṛhīteḥ, darśayati ca || 1 ||

ānumānikam—That which is inferred (i.e. the Pradhāna); api—also; ekeṣām—in some (recensions of the texts); iti cet—if it be said; na—no; śarīra-rūpaka-vinyasta-gṛhīteḥ—because it is mentioned in a simile referring to the body; darśayati—(the Śruti) explains; ca—too.

1. If it be said that in some (recensions of the Vedas) that which is inferred (i.e. the Pradhāna) (is) also (mentioned), (we say) no,

because (the word ‘Avyakta’ occurring in the Katha Upanishad) is mentioned in a simile referring to the body (and means the body itself and not the Pradhāna of the Sānkhyas); (the Śruti) too explains (it).

An objection is again raised here by the Sānkhyas that the Pradhāna is also based on scriptural authority, for some Śākhās (Vedic recensions) like the Katha Śākhā (school) contain expressions wherein the Pradhāna seems to be referred to:

Beyond the Mahat (Great) there is the Avyakta (Undeveloped), beyond the Undeveloped is the Purusha (Being)” etc. (Kath. 1 . 3. 11).

The word ‘Avyakta’ they say, here refers to the Pradhāna.

Because the words ‘Mahat’, ‘Avyakta’, and ‘Purusha’, which occur in the same order as mentioned in the Sānkhya philosophy, occur in the text, and so they are recognized to be the same categories of the Sānkhyas.

This Sutra after raising this objection refutes it thus:

The word ‘Avyakta’ is used in connection with a simile referring to the body, and does not refer to the Pradhāna. In that word we recognize something mentioned in an earlier text.

Know that the soul is the rider of the chariot and the body the chariot. Consider the intellect to be the charioteer and the mind the reins. The senses, they say, are the horses, and their roads are the sense-objects” etc. (Kath. 1. 3. 3-4).

All these things that are referred to in these verses are to be found in the following:

The objects are superior to the senses, the mind is superior to the objects, the intellect is superior to the mind, the Mahat is superior again to the intellect, the Avyakta is superior to the Mahat, and the Purusha is superior to the Avyakta. Nothing is superior to the Purusha,” etc. (Kath. 1. 3. 10-11).

Now compare these two quotations.

The senses, mind and intellect, mentioned in the earlier texts, are to be found in these later texts.

The Ātman of the earlier texts is denoted by the ‘Purusha’ of the later ones.

The Mahat of the later texts mean the cosmic intellect and so is included in the intellect of the earlier texts, where it is used in a comprehensive sense to include both the individual and cosmic intellects.

What remain is only the body in the earlier texts, and Avyakta in the later texts; and so Avyakta means the body here and not the Pradhāna.

We shall not be justified in interpreting a Śruti according to Sānkhya’s technicalities. For the purpose of recognition a comparison should be made not with the Smriti, but with similar passages of the Śruti itself, like those cited above.

Sutra 1,4.2

सूक्ष्मं तु तदर्हत्वात् ॥ २ ॥

sūkṣmaṃ tu tadarhatvāt || 2 ||

sūkṣmaṃ—Subtle; tu—but; tadarhatvāt—because it can be properly so designated.

2. But the subtle (cause of the body is meant by the term ‘Avyakta’) because it can be properly so designated.

An objection is raised. As the body is gross and developed, how can it be referred to by the term ‘Avyakta’ (Undeveloped)?

The answer is, here, not the gross body but the causal substance, i.e. the five uncompounded elements out of which the body is built, is meant.

They, being subtle and not fully manifest and also being beyond sense perception, can be properly designated by the term ‘Avyakta’ (Undeveloped).

It is also a common thing to denote the effect by the cause and hence indirectly the gross body is referred to here. “Mix the Soma with the cow (i.e. milk)” (Rig Veda 9. 46. 4).

Sutra 1,4.3

तदधीनत्वादर्थवत् ॥ ३ ॥

tadadhīnatvādarthavat || 3 ||

tadadhīnatvāt—On account of its dependence; arthavat—is fitting.

3. On account of its dependence (on the Lord), it fits in (with our theory).

It may be said that if a subtle causal condition of the gross world is thus admitted, it is as good as accepting the Pradhāna.

This Sutra makes the difference clear.

While the Pradhāna of the Sānkhyas is an independent entity, the subtle causal condition admitted here is dependent on the Supreme Lord. Such a causal condition has necessarily to be admitted, for without that the Lord cannot create. It is the potential power, the causal potentiality inherent in Brahman. It is Nescience.

That explains why, when one’s ignorance is destroyed by Knowledge, there is no possibility of that liberated soul getting into bondage again.

About this ignorance you can neither say that it is nor that it is not; it is an illusion and so it is reasonably called undeveloped (Avyakta).

This ignorance or creative power cannot create of itself without the instrumentality of the Lord.

The illusion of a snake in a rope is not possible merely through ignorance without the rope. So also the world cannot be created merely by ignorance without the substratum, the Lord.

Hence it is dependent on the Lord. Yet the Lord is not in the least affected by this ignorance, even as the poison does not affect the snake which has it. “Know then Prakriti is Māyā and the great Lord the ruler of Māyā” (Svet 4. 10). 

So the Avyakta is a helper, as it were, to Īśvara in His creation, and hence such an Avyakta dependent on the Lord is significant and has to be admitted, says the Sutra.

Sutra 1,4.4

ज्ञेयत्वावचनाच्च ॥ ४ ॥

jñeyatvāvacanācca || 4 ||

jñeyatvāvacanāt—Because it is not mentioned (as something) to be known; ca—and.

4. And because it is not mentioned (that the Avyakta) is to be known (it cannot be the Pradhāna of the Sānkhyas).

Liberation, according to the Sānkhyas, results when the difference between the Purusha and the Avyakta (Prakriti) is known.

Hence the Avyakta, with them, is to be known. But here there is no question of knowing the Avyakta, and as such it cannot be the Pradhāna of the Sānkhyas.

 Sutra 1,4.5

वदतीति चेत्, न, प्राज्ञो हि प्रकरणात् ॥ ५ ॥

vadatīti cet, na, prājño hi prakaraṇāt || 5 ||

vadati—Does state; iti cet—if it be said; na—no; prājñaḥ—inelligent self; hi—for; prakaraṇāt—from the context.

5. If it be said (that the Śruti) does state (that the Avyakta has to be known and therefore it is the Pradhāna); (we say) no, for (it is) the intelligent (Supreme) Self (which is meant), since that is the topic.

He who has perceived that which is without sound, without touch . . . beyond the Mahat (Great) and unchangeable, is freed from the jaws of death” (Kath. I. 3. 15).

The Sānkhyas hold that in this text the Śruti says that the Pradhāna has to be known to attain Freedom; for the description given of the entity to be known tallies with the Pradhāna, which is also beyond the Mahat.

The Sutra refutes this saying that by Avyakta, the one beyond the Mahat (Great) etc., the intelligent (Supreme) Self is meant, as that is the subject-matter of that section.

 Sutra 1,4.6

त्रयाणामेव चैवमुपन्यासः प्रश्नश्च ॥ ६ ॥

trayāṇāmeva caivamupanyāsaḥ praśnaśca || 6 ||

trayāṇām—Of three; eva—only; ca—and; evaṃ—thus; upanyāsaḥ—introduction; praśnaḥ—question; na—and;

6. And thus the question and elucidation with reference to three only (of which the Pradhāna is not one) (is consistent).

In the Katha Upanishad Nachikētas asks Yama three questions only, i.e. about the fire (sacrifice), the individual soul, and the Supreme Self.

The Pradhāna is not mentioned. So we cannot expect Yama to go out of his way and treat of the Pradhāna, which has not been inquired into.

Sutra 1,4.7

महद्वच्च ॥ ७ ॥

mahadvacca || 7 ||

mahadvat—Like Mahat; ca—and.

7. And like Mahat (the word ‘Avyakta’ does not refer to any Sānkhya’s category).

The Mahat according to the Sānkhyas means the first-born, the cosmic intelligence; but in the Vedic texts it is associated with the word ‘Self’.

Passages like “The Mahat (Great) is superior to the intellect” (Kath. 1.8.10), clearly show that it is used in a different sense from the intellect and refer to the Self in different aspects.

Similarly though the Avyakta in the Sānkhya philosophy may mean the Pradhāna or Prakriti, in the Śruti texts it means something different.

So the Pradhāna is not based on scriptural authority but is a mere inferred thing.