Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 3-3-1


In the last section the two entities ‘thou’ and ‘That’ of the Vedic dictum (Mahāvākyam) ‘That thou art’ have been explained and shown to be identical.

Now the scriptures prescribe various meditations that help to attain this knowledge of identity.

It is not possible for the ordinary man to grasp the Infinite. Therefore the scriptures present various symbols of Brahman such as Prāṇa, Ākāśa, and mind, for the beginner to meditate upon.

Sometimes they prescribe the cosmic form of Brahman (Vaiśvānara) for meditation.

These different methods of approaching the infinite Brahman are known as Vidyās or Upāsanās.

This section discusses these various Vidyās, by means of which the individual soul attains Brahman.

In this connection the question naturally arises whether similar Vidyās described differently in different recensions of the Vedas are one or different, and consequently to be combined into a single meditation or separately gone through.

Here it is decided which Vidyās are the same and have to be combined into one, and which Vidyās are different in spite of certain similarities.

The principle that is followed throughout in the interpretation of these Vidyās is this:

Since Brahman, which is the only reality, is the resulting cognition of all Vidyās, it may be helpful to combine the particulars of the same Vidyā mentioned in different Śākhās, since they have been found efficacious by the followers of those Śākhās.

Topic 1 - The Vidyās with identical or similar form met with in the scriptures, or in different recensions of the scriptures are one Vidyā

Sutra 3,3.1

सर्ववेदान्तप्रत्ययम्, चोदनाद्यविशेषात् ॥ १ ॥

sarvavedāntapratyayam, codanādyaviśeṣāt || 1 ||

sarva-vedānta-pratyayam—Described in the various Vedānta texts; codanādi-aviśeṣāt—on account of non-difference as regards injunction etc. (i.e. connection, form and name).

1 (The Upāsanās) described in the various Vedānta texts (are not different), on account of the non-difference as regards injunction etc. (i.e. connection, form, and name).

There are Upāsanās described variously in different Vedānta texts.

For example, the Upāsanā of Prāṇa is described in one way in the Brihadāraṇyaka Upanishad and in a different way in the Chāṇḍogya.

Are such Upāsanās, described differently in different Śākhās of the Vedas, different or same?

The opponent holds that they are different, on account of the difference in form.

This Sutra refutes it and says that such meditations are one and the same, on account of the non-difference as regards injunction, connection, name, and form of these in different Śākhās.

Just as on account of the injunction in all Śākhās, “One should perform the Agni-hotra” etc. (Mai. 6. 36) the daily Agnihotra sacrifice is one only,

and as Jyotiṣṭoma and Vājapeya sacrifices described in different Śākhās are one only, so also on account of non-difference as regards injunction such as, “He who knows the oldest and greatest” (Brih. 6. 1. 1.) in both the Brihadāraṇyaka and the Chāṇḍogya Upanishads, the Prāṇa Vidyā in all the Śākhās is one and the same.

Similarly as regards the fruit or result of the Upāsanā there is non-difference. “He who knows it to be such becomes the oldest and greatest” (Brih. 6. 1. 1).

Prāṇa, which is the object of the meditation, is described in both as the oldest and greatest, and both the meditations are named Prāṇa Vidyā. Therefore there being non-difference in all respects, the two Vidyās are not different, but one.

The same is true of Dahara Vidyā, Vaiśvānara Upāsanā, Śāndilya Vidyā, etc. described in various Śākhās.

Sutra 3,3.2

भेदान्नेति चेत्, न, एकस्यामपि ॥ २ ॥

bhedānneti cet, na, ekasyāmapi || 2 ||

bhedāt—On account of difference na—not; iti cet—if it be said; na—not so; ekasyāmapi—even in the same (Vidyā).

2. If it be said (that the Vidyās are) not (one) on account of difference (in minor points), (we reply) not so, since even in the same Vidyā (there might be such minor differences).

A further objection is raised that since certain differences are seen to exist with respect to the Vidyās described in different Śākhās, they cannot be one.

For example, in the Brihadāraṇyaka in the Panchāgni Vidyā a sixth fire is mentioned as an object of worship: “The fire becomes his fire” (Brih.3.2.14); whereas in the Chāṇḍogya we have, “But he who knows these five fires” (Chh. 5.10.10). Therefore on account of difference in form the two Vidyās cannot be one.

This Sutra refutes it and says that they are one, since even in the same Vidyā there may be differences of form. The five fires like heaven etc. mentioned in the Chāṇḍogya are identified in the Brihadāraṇyaka. Therefore there can be no difference in Vidyā.

Nor can the presence or absence of a sixth fire create a difference as regards form, for in the same Atirātra sacrifice the Ṣoḍaśī vessel may or may not be taken.

On the other hand, on account of the majority of fires being recognized in both, it is reasonable that we should add the sixth fire to the Vidyā in the Chāṇḍogya.

The name ‘five fires’ is also no objection against this increase of number, for the number five is not an essential part of the injunction.

Moreover, even in the same Śākhā and in the same Vidyā differences like this are seen in different chapters; yet the Vidyā described in these different chapters is taken on all hands as one.

Therefore in spite of these differences in different Śākhās it is reasonable that Vidyās of the same class are one and not different.

Sutra 3,3.3

स्वाध्यायस्य तथात्वेन हि समाचारेऽधिकाराच्च सववच्च तन्नियमः ॥ ३ ॥

svādhyāyasya tathātvena hi samācāre’dhikārācca savavacca tanniyamaḥ || 3 ||

svādhyāyasya—Of the study of the Vedas; tathātvena—as being such; iti—because; samācāre—in the Samāchāra (a book of that name); adhikārāt—on account of the qualification; ca—and; savavat—like that of the (seven) oblations (i.e. Sūrya etc.); ca—and; tanniyamaḥ—that rule.

3. (The rite of carrying fire on the head is connected) with the study of the Vedas, because in the Samāchāra (it is described) as being such.

And (this also follows) from its being a qualification (for the students of the Atharva Veda), as is the case with the (seven) oblations (i.e. Sūrya etc.).

A further objection is raised. In the Muṇḍaka Upanishad, which deals with the knowledge of Brahman, the carrying of fire on the head by the student is mentioned.

The opponent holds that on account of this particular ceremony, which obtains among the followers of the Atharva Veda, the Vidyā of the Ātharvanikas is different from all other Vidyās.

The Sutra refutes this saying that the rite of carrying fire on the head is not an attribute of the Vidyā, but of the study of the Vedas of the Ātharvanikas. So it is described in the book Samāchāra, which deals with Vedic observances.

From the following text, “A man who has not performed the rite (i.e. carrying fire) does not read this” (Mu.3.2.11) also we find it is connected with the reading or study of the Upanishad and not with the Vidyā.

The rite of carrying the fire is connected only with the study of that particular Veda and not others, like the seven oblations, which are not connected with the fires taught in the other Vedas, but only with those of the Atharva Veda.

So the unity of Vidyās stands in all cases.

Sutra 3,3.4

दर्शयति च ॥ ४ ॥

darśayati ca || 4 ||

darśayati—Instructs; ca—also.

4. (The scripture) also instructs thus.

That which all the Vedas declare” (Kath. 1. 2. 15) shows that the Nirguna Brahman is the one purport of all the Vedānta texts. Therefore all Vidyās relating to It must also be one.

Thus the meditation on the Saguṇā Brahman as Vaiśvānara, who is represented as extending from heaven to the earth in the Brihadāraṇyaka,

is referred to in the Chāṇḍogya as something well known: “But he who worships that Vaiśvānara self as extending from heaven to the earth” (Chh. 5. 18. 1), thereby showing that all Vaiśvānara Vidyās are one.

Thus since the Nirguna or the Saguṇā Brahman is one and not many, therefore particular Vidyās which relate to either of them are also one and not many.

This also follows from the same hymns and the like enjoined in one place being employed in other places for the sake of Upāsanā.

The same rule applies to other Vidyās also besides the Vaiśvānara, and in consequence they are not many, though differently described in different Śākhās.

The unity of Vidyās, having been established, their results are taken up for discussion.