Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 3-2-1


In the last section the passage of the soul to different spheres and its return have been explained.

There are people who get disgusted with Karma or sacrifices leading to such a fate of the soul and become dispassionate.

In order to make them grasp the true import of the Mahāvākyas or the great Vedic dicta, this section sets itself to elucidate the true nature of ‘That’ and ‘thou’ contained in the Mahāvākyam, “That thou art.”

In the last section the waking state of the soul (the ‘thou’) has been fully described. Now its dream state is taken up for discussion, to show that the soul is self-luminous.

In this way the three states of the soul, i.e. waking, dream, and deep sleep, will be shown to be merely illusory, and thus the consequent identity of the Jīva and Brahman will be established.

Topic 1 - The soul in the dream state

Sutra 3,2.1

संध्ये सृष्टिराह हि ॥ १ ॥

saṃdhye sṛṣṭirāha hi || 1 ||

saṃdhye—In the intermediate stage (between waking and deep sleep, i.e. in the dream state); sṛṣṭiḥ—(there is real) creation; āha—(Śruti) says so; hi—because;

1. In the intermediate stage (between waking and deep sleep, there is a real) creation, because (the Śruti) says so.

The question is raised whether the creation which one experiences in the dream state is as real as this world of ours, or merely Māyā, false, as compared with this waking world.

This Sutra, which gives the view of the opponent, holds that it is just as real, for the Śruti declares:

There are no chariots, nor horses to be yoked to them, nor roads there, but he himself creates the chariots, horses, and roads. For he is the agent” (Brih. 4. 3. 10).

Moreover, we do not find any difference between the experience of the waking state and that of the dream state. A meal taken in dream has the effect of giving satisfaction even as in the waking state.

Therefore the creation of the dream state is real and springs from the Lord Himself, even as He creates ether etc.

Sutra 3,2.2

निर्मातारं चैके, पुत्रादयश् च ॥ २ ॥

nirmātāraṃ caike, putrādayaś ca || 2 ||

nirmātāraṃ—Creator; ca—and; ike—some (the followers of particular Śākhās of the Vedas); putrādayaḥ—sons etc.; ca—and;

2. And some (Śākhās or recensions) (state the Self or the Supreme Lord to be) the creator (of objects of desires while we are asleep) and (objects of desires there stand for) sons etc.

A further argument is given by the opponent that the creation even in dreams is by the Lord Himself:

He who is awake in us shaping objects of desire while we are asleep . . . that is Brahman” (Kath. 2. 5. 8).

Sons etc. are the objects of desire that He creates. So, as in the case of the waking state, even in dreams the Lord Himself creates, and hence the world of dreams is also real.

Therefore the dream world is not false but real like this Vyavahārika (phenomenal) world of ours.

Sutra 3,2.3

मायामात्रं तु, कार्त्स्न्येनानभिव्यक्तस्वरूपत्वात् ॥ ३ ॥

māyāmātraṃ tu, kārtsnyenānabhivyaktasvarūpatvāt || 3 ||

māyāmātraṃ—Mere illusion; tu—but;  kārtsnyenain toto; anabhivyaktasvarūpatvāt—on account of its nature not being manifest.

3. But (the dream world is) mere illusion, on account of its nature not being manifest with the totality (of attributes of the waking state).

But’ discards the view expressed by the two previous Sutras.

The nature of the dream world does not agree in toto with that of the waking world with respect to time, place, cause, and non-contradiction, and as such that world is not real like the waking world. There can be no appropriate time, place or cause in the dream state.

Inside the body, there is not enough space for objects like chariots, horses, etc., and in a dream the soul does not leave the body; for if it did, then one who dreams of having gone to America would find himself there on waking while he went to sleep in India.

Nor is the midnight proper time for an eclipse of the sun seen in a dream, nor can we conceive a child’s getting children in a dream to be real.

Moreover, even in dreams we see objects seen being transformed, as for example, when we see a tree turn into a mountain.

He himself creates the chariots etc.” (Brih. 4. 3. 10), only means that objects which have no reality appear to exist in dreams just as silver does in mother-of-pearl.

The argument that the dream world is real because it is also a creation of the Supreme Lord, like this waking world, is not true, for the dream world is not the creation of the Lord but of the individual soul.

When he dreams . . . himself puts the body aside and himself creates (a dream body in its place)” (Brih. 4. 3. 9). This text clearly proves that it is the Jīva that creates in dreams and not the Lord.

Sutra 3,2.4

सूचकश्च हि श्रुतेः, आचक्षते च तद्विदः ॥ ४ ॥

sūcakaśca hi śruteḥ, ācakṣate ca tadvidaḥ || 4 ||

sūcakaḥ—Omen; ca—but; hi—for; śruteḥ—from the Śruti; ācakṣate—say; ca—also; tadvidaḥ—experts in dream-reading.

4. But (though the dream-world is an illusion) yet it serves as an omen, for (so we find) in the Śruti, (and) expert dream-readers also say (thus).

Lest it be thought that because the dream-world is an illusion, even the results indicated by dreams are to be so regarded, this Sutra says that these dreams are yet capable of forecasting events or good and bad fortune.

The thing indicated by these dreams is real, though the dreams themselves are unreal, even as the appearance of silver in a mother-of-pearl, though false, produces joy in us, which is real.

The Śruti also says so: “If in this dream he sees a woman, let him know this to be a sign that his sacrifice has succeeded” (Chh. 5. 2 . 8).

Sutra 3,2.5

पराभिध्यानात्तु तिरोहितम्, ततो ह्यस्य बन्धविपर्ययौ ॥ ५ ॥

parābhidhyānāttu tirohitam, tato hyasya bandhaviparyayau || 5 ||

parābhidhyānāt—By meditation on the Supreme Lord; tu—but; tirohitam—that which is covered (by ignorance); tataḥ—from Him (the Lord); hi—for; asya—of the soul; bandhaviparyayau—bondage and its opposite, i.e. freedom.

5. But by meditation on the Supreme Lord, that which is covered (by ignorance, i.e. the similarity of the Lord and soul, becomes manifest); for from Him (the Lord) are its (the soul’s) bondage and freedom.

It has been shown that the dream-world is false. But an objection is raised against it.

The individual soul is but a part of the Supreme Soul and therefore shares Its power of knowledge and rulership even as a spark and fire have alike the power of burning. As such it must also be able to create at will like the Lord.

This Sutra refutes it and says that that rulership is covered by ignorance in the Jīva state and gets manifested only when in the state of meditation on the Lord this ignorance is destroyed by the knowledge ‘I am Brahman.’

When that god is known all fetters fall off. . . . From meditating on him there arises, on the dissolution of the body, the third state, that of universal Lordship” (Svet. 1. 11).

Till then the Jīva cannot create at will anything real. Moreover, this does not come to man spontaneously, since the bondage and freedom of the individual soul come from the Lord.

That is to say, ignorance of His true nature causes bondage, and the knowledge of it results in freedom.

Sutra 3,2.6

देहयोगाद्वा सोऽपि ॥ ६ ॥

dehayogādvā so’pi || 6 ||

dehayogāt—From its connection with the body; —and; saḥ—that (the covering of its rulership); api—also.

6. And that (the covering of the soul’s rulership) also (results) from its connection with the body.

A cause for this covering up of the soul’s rulership is given; and that is its connection with the body etc.

Because of these limiting adjuncts, the result of nescience, its knowledge and rulership remain hidden, and this lasts so long as it erroneously thinks itself as the body etc.

Hence though the soul is not different from the Lord, its powers remain hidden.