Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 3-3-17

Topic 17 - The knower of the Saguṇā Brahman alone goes by the path of the gods after death and not the knower of the Nirguna Brahman

Sutra 3,3.29

गतेरर्थवत्त्वमुभयथा, अन्यथा हि विरोधः ॥ २९ ॥

gaterarthavattvamubhayathā, anyathā hi virodhaḥ || 29 ||

gateḥ—Of the soul’s journey (after death) along the path of the gods; arthavattvam—utility; ubhayathā—in two ways; anyathā—otherwise; hi—for; virodhaḥ—a contradiction.

29. (The soul’s) journey along the path of the gods is applicable in two ways (i.e. differently), for otherwise (there would result) a contradiction.

A question is raised that just as the getting rid of good and evil is understood as being followed by their acceptance by others,

so also the journey after death along the Devayāna, the path of the gods, which is sometimes mentioned as following the discarding of good and evil, is common to all Upāsakas, those of the Nirguna as well as the Saguṇā Brahman.

This Sutra says that it is true only of the worshipper of the Saguṇā Brahman, for Brahmaloka being located elsewhere in space, the journey has a meaning in his case only.

But the knowledge which results from absorption in the Nirguna Brahman is merely the destruction of ignorance. So what meaning has journey for such a person.

If the journey applies to him also, then it would contradict Śruti texts like, “Shaking off good and evil, free from passions, he reaches the Highest Unity” (Mu. 8. 1. 8).

How can one who has become Brahman, the pure, the one without movement, go to another place by Devayāna. Since he has already attained his goal, i.e. unity, the journey along the Devayāna is meaningless for him.

Therefore the worshipper of the Saguṇā Brahman alone goes by the Devayāna.

Sutra 3,3.30

उपपन्नः, तल्लक्षणार्थोपलब्धेः, लोकवत् ॥ ३० ॥

upapannaḥ, tallakṣaṇārthopalabdheḥ, lokavat || 30 ||

upapannaḥ—Is reasonable; tat-lakṣaṇārtha-upalabdheḥ—for the characteristics which render such journey possible are seen; lokavat—as in the world.

30. (The differentiation mentioned above) is reasonable, for the characteristics which render such a journey possible are seen (in the case of Saguṇā Upāsanā but not in that of Nirguna Upāsanā); as (is seen) in the world.

The differentiation between the paths of the worshippers of the Saguṇā and Nirguna Brahman is reasonable,

because the characteristics or reasons for such a journey of the worshipper of the Saguṇā Brahman are seen in the Vidyā described in the Kaushitaki Upanishad.

For the texts mention certain results which can be attained by the worshipper only by going to different places, such as mounting the couch and holding conversation with Brahman.

But with perfect Knowledge or destruction of ignorance, which results from Nirguna Upāsanā, no purpose is served by such a journey.

The distinction is analogous to what is seen in the world. To reach a village we have to go by the path which leads to it. But no such journey is required to get rid of our illness.