Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 2-3-1


In the previous section the inconsistency of the doctrines of the various non-Vedāntic schools has been shown and consequently their unreliability has been established.

A doubt may arise that on account of contradiction among the Śruti texts, the doctrine that upholds Brahman as the First Cause may also be of the same class.

To clear such a doubt by harmonizing the apparent contradictions in scriptural texts, the next two sections are begun.

The arguments of the opponent, who tries to prove the self-contradiction of the Śruti texts, are always given first, and then follows the refutation.

Topic 1 - Ether is not eternal but created

Sutra 2,3.1

न वियत्, अश्रुतेः ॥ १ ॥

na viyat, aśruteḥ || 1 ||

na—Not; viyat—Ākāśa; aśruteḥ—(as it is) not so stated by the Śruti.

1. Ākāśa (is) not (created), (as it is) not so stated by the Śruti.

To start with, the texts dealing with creation are taken up, and Ākāśa (ether) is first dealt with.

In the Chāṇḍogya Upanishad, where the order of creation is given, the text says, “It thought, ‘May I be many, may I grow forth.’ It sent forth fire” (6. 2. 3).

Here there is no mention of Ākāśa being produced by the Sat or Brahman. Hence Ākāśa has no origin, it is eternal.

Sutra 2,3.2

अस्ति तु ॥ २ ॥

asti tu || 2 ||

asti—There is; tu—but.

2. But there is (a Śruti text which states that Ākāśa is created).

The opponent in this Sutra anticipates a possible objection against his arguments advanced in Sutra 1, and explains it away in Sutra 3.

The text referred to here is, “From that Self (Brahman) sprang Ākāśa (ether)” etc.- (Taitt. 2. 1).

Sutra 2,3.3

गौणी, असंभवात् ॥ ३ ॥

gauṇī, asaṃbhavāt || 3 ||

gauṇī—Used in a secondary sense; asaṃbhavāt—on account of the impossibility.

3. (The Śruti text dealing with the origin of Ākāśa) is to be taken in a secondary sense, on account of the impossibility (of Ākāśa being created).

The Taittirīya text referred to in the previous Sutra, the opponent holds, should be taken in a secondary sense, as Ākāśa cannot be created. It has no parts and hence cannot be created.

Moreover, Ākāśa is all-pervading, and therefore it can be inferred that it is eternal—without origin.

Sutra 2,3.4

शब्दाच्च ॥ ४ ॥

śabdācca || 4 ||

śabdāt—From the Śruti texts; ca—also.

4. Also from the Śruti texts (we find that Ākāśa is eternal).

In the last Sutra Ākāśa was inferred to be eternal.

Here the opponent cites a Śruti text to show that it is eternal. The text referred to is, “(And the formless are) Vāyu and Ākāśa—these are immortal” (Brih. 2. 3. 3).

Being immortal or eternal, it cannot have a beginning.

 Sutra 2,3.5

स्याच्चैकस्य ब्रह्मशब्दवत् ॥ ५ ॥

syāccaikasya brahmaśabdavat || 5 ||

syāt—Is possible; ca—and; ekasya—of the same (word ‘sprang’); brahmaśabdavat—like the word ‘Brahman’.

5. It is possible that the same word (‘sprang’ be used in a primary) and (secondary sense) like the word ‘Brahman’.

The opponent in the Sutra answers a weak point in his argument, i.e. how can the same word ‘sprang’ in the Taittirīya text,

From that Self (Brahman) sprang Ākāśa; from Ākāśa sprang Vāyu (air), from air sprang fire” etc. (2. 1),

be used in a secondary sense with respect to Ākāśa and in the primary sense with respect to air, fire, etc.?

He does this by referring to other Śruti texts, where the word ‘Brahman’ is so used:

Try to know Brahman by penance, for penance is Brahman,” where Brahman is used both in a primary and in a secondary sense in the same text;

also “Food is Brahman” (Taitt. 8. 2) and “Bliss is Brahman” (Taitt. 3. 6), where Brahman is used in a secondary and primary sense respectively in two complementary texts.

 Sutra 2,3.6

प्रतिज्ञाहानिरव्यतिरेकाच्छब्देभ्यः ॥ ६ ॥

pratijñāhāniravyatirekācchabdebhyaḥ || 6 ||

pratijñā-ahāniḥ—Non-abandonment of proposition; avyatirekāt—from non-distinction; śabdebhyaḥ—from the Śrutis.

6. The non-abandonment of the proposition (i.e. by the knowledge of one everything else becomes known, can result only) from the non-distinction (of the entire world from Brahman). From the Śruti texts (which declare the non-difference of the cause and its effects, this proposition is established).

This Sutra refutes the opponent’s view set forth so far, and gives the conclusion.

The proposition that from the knowledge of one (Brahman) everything else is known, can be true only if everything in the world is an effect of Brahman.

For the Śruti says that the effects are not different from their cause, and consequently the cause being known, the-effects will also be known.

If Ākāśa is not created from Brahman, then the proposition in question falls through; for after knowing Brahman Ākāśa still remains to be known, on account of its not being an effect of Brahman.

But if it is created, then no such difficulty arises.

Hence Ākāśa is created; otherwise the authoritativeness of the Vedas would be gone.

The Chāṇḍogya text in which Ākāśa is not mentioned is accordingly to be interpreted in the light of the Taittirīya text; that is, Ākāśa and Vāyu have to be inserted, and the text would mean that after creating Ākāśa and Vāyu, “It created fire.”

Sutra 2,3.7

यावद्विकारं तु विभागो लोकवत् ॥ ७ ॥

yāvadvikāraṃ tu vibhāgo lokavat || 7 ||

yāvat-vikāraṃ—Extending to all effects whatsoever; tu—but; vibhāgaḥ—separateness; lokavat—as in the world.

7. But in all effects whatsoever (there is) separateness, as (is seen) in the world.

The word ‘but’ refutes the idea that Ākāśa is not created.

We see in the world that all created things are different from each other. A pot is different from a piece of cloth and so on. In other words, everything which has a separateness about it is created. We cannot conceive of a thing as separate from others and yet eternal.

Now Ākāśa is distinct from earth etc., and hence it cannot be eternal, but must be a created thing.

It may be objected that the Ātman also is divided from ether and so on and therefore It too is an effect.

But that is not possible, for all things are created from the Ātman, which is their Self, and so not separate from them; therefore It is not an effect.

The all-pervasiveness and eternity of Ākāśa are only relatively true; it is created and is an effect of Brahman.