Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 4-2 1-5


In the previous section it was shown that by the destruction of actions which have not as yet begun to yield results a knower of Brahman attains Jīvan-mukti,

and that on the exhaustion of the Prārabdha work he attains Videhamukti at death and becomes one with Brahman.

Thus in a general way the result of Knowledge has been set forth.

The remaining three sections deal at length with the nature of Liberation, which is attained on the exhaustion of the Prārabdha Karma.

In this particular section the path of the gods, by which the knower of the Saguṇa Brahman travels after death, is described. With this end in view it begins with the exposition of the successive steps by which the soul passes out of the body at death.

Topic 1 - At the time of death the functions of the organs are merged in mind

 Sutra 4,2.1

वाङ्मनसि, दर्शनाच्छब्दाच्च ॥ १ ॥

vāṅmanasi, darśanācchabdācca || 1 ||

vāk—Speech; manasi—in mind; darśanāt—because it is so seen; chabdāt—from scriptural statements; ca—and.

1. Speech (is merged) in mind, because it is so seen, and there are scriptural statements (to that effect).

When, my dear, the man departs from here, his speech merges in mind, mind in Prāṇa, Prāṇa in Fire, and Fire in the Highest Deity” (Chh. 6. 8. 6). This text describes what happens at the time of death. It says that speech gets merged in mind, mind in Prāṇa, and so on.

Now the question is whether the organ of speech as such gets merged in mind, or only its function.

The opponent holds that as there is no mention in the text about the function of speech getting merged, we have to understand that the organ itself gets merged in mind.

The Sutra refutes this view and says that only the function of the organ of speech gets merged in mind. Mind is not the material cause of the organs, and as such they cannot get merged in it.

It is only in the material cause that the effects get merged, and as mind is not the material cause of the organs, we have to understand here by speech not the organ, but its function.

A function of the organ, unlike the organ itself, can get merged in mind, even though it is not the cause of that function, just as the burning property of fire, which has its start in wood, becomes extinct in water.

The scriptural statement therefore refers to the function of speech, the function and the thing to which it belongs being viewed as one.

We also notice that a dying man first loses his function of speech, though his mind is still functioning. So we have to understand from experience also that the function of speech, and not the organ itself, if merged in mind.

Sutra 4,2.2

अत एव च सर्वाण्यनु ॥ २ ॥

ata eva ca sarvāṇyanu || 2 ||

ataḥ eva—For the same reason; ca—and; sarvāṇi—all (organs); anu—after.

2. And for the same reason all (organs) follow (mind, i.e. get their functions merged in it).

For the same reasons as stated in Sutra 1 the functions of the remaining organs follow, i.e. get merged in mind:

The fire is verily the Udāna, for they in whom the fire has been extinguished, go for rebirth with their organs absorbed in mind” (Pr. 8. 9). This text shows that the functions of all the organs get merged in mind.

Topic 2 - The function of mind gets merged in Prāṇa

 Sutra 4,2.3

तन्मनः प्राणे, उत्तरात् ॥ ३ ॥

tanmanaḥ prāṇe, uttarāt || 3 ||

tat—That; manaḥ—mind; prāṇe—in Prāṇa; uttarāt—from the subsequent clause ( of the Śruti).

3. That mind (is merged) in Prāṇa, (as is seen) from the subsequent clause (of the Śruti cited).

That mind, in which the functions of the different organs get merged, in its turn gets merged in Prāṇa, for the Śruti cited in Sutra 1 says, “Mind in Prāṇa.”

The opponent holds that here, unlike the case of the organs, it is mind itself, and not its function, that gets merged in Prāṇa, inasmuch as Prāṇa can be said to be the material cause of mind.

In support of his contention he cites the following texts: “Mind consists of food, Prāṇa of water” (Chh. 6. 6. 5) and “Water sent forth earth” (Chh. 6. 2. 4).

When mind is merged in Prāṇa, it is the same thing as earth being merged in water, for mind is food or earth, and Prāṇa is water. Hence the Śruti here speaks not of the function of mind, but of mind itself getting merged in Prāṇa.

The Sutra refutes this view and says that this relation of causality by an indirect process does not justify our understanding that mind itself is merged in Prāṇa.

So here also it is the function alone that gets merged, and this is justified on the same grounds as given in Sutra 1, i.e. scriptural statement and experience. We find that mind ceases to function in a dying man, even while his vital force is functioning.

Topic 3 - The function of the vital force gets merged in the individual soul

 Sutra 4,2.4

सोऽध्यक्षे, तदुपगमादिभ्यः ॥ ४ ॥

so’dhyakṣe, tadupagamādibhyaḥ || 4 ||

saḥ—That (Prāṇa); adhyakṣe—in the ruler (Jīva); tat-upagamādibhyaḥ—on account of (statements expressing) approach to that etc.

4. That (Prāṇa) is merged in the ruler (Jīva) on account of (statements expressing) approach to that etc.

In the text cited in Sutra 1 we have, “Prāṇa (is merged) in fire.” How then can it be said that the function of Prāṇa is merged in the individual soul, asks the opponent.

The Sutra justifies its view on the ground that statements about Prāṇas coming to the Jīva etc. are found in scriptural texts:

All the Prāṇas approach the departing man at the time of death” (Brih. 4. 3. 38). Also, “When it departs, the vital force follows” (Brih. 4. 4. 2).

The text cited in Sutra 1 does not, however, contradict this view, as the following Sutra shows.

 Sutra 4,2.5

भूतेषु, तच्छ्रुतेः ॥ ५ ॥

bhūteṣu, tacchruteḥ || 5 ||

bhūteṣu—In the elements; tat-śruteḥ—from the Śruti texts to that effect.

5. In the elements (is merged) (the Jīva with the Prāṇas), as it is seen from the Śruti.

If we understand, “Prāṇa (is merged) in fire” as meaning that the Jīva with Prāṇa is merged in fire, there is no contradiction between this Śruti text and what is said in the last Sutra.

So Prāṇa is first merged in the individual soul and then the soul with Prāṇa takes its abode in the fine essence of the gross elements, fire etc., the seed of the future body.

Sutra 4,2.6

नैकस्मिन्, दर्शयतो हि ॥ ६ ॥

naikasmin, darśayato hi || 6 ||

na—Not; ekasmin—in one; darśayataḥ—(both) declare so; hi—for.

6. (The soul with Prāṇa is merged) not in one (element only), for both (the Śruti and Smriti) declare so.

At the time of death, when the soul leaves one body and goes in for another, it together with the subtle body, abides in the fine essence of all the gross elements and not in fire only, for all the elements are required for a future body. Vide 8. 1. 2.

Topic 4 - The mode of departure from the body up to the way is common to both a knower of the Saguṇa Brahman and an ordinary man

 Sutra 4,2.7

समाना चासृत्युपक्रमात्, अमृतत्वं चानुपोष्य ॥ ७ ॥

samānā cāsṛtyupakramāt, amṛtatvaṃ cānupoṣya || 7 ||

samānā—Common; ca—and; ā sṛti-upakramāt—up to the beginning of their ways; amṛtatvaṃ—immortality; ca—and; anupoṣya—not having burnt (ignorance).

7. And common (is the mode of departure at the time of death for both the knower of the Saguṇa Brahman and the ignorant) up to the beginning of their ways; and the immortality (of the knower of the Saguṇa Brahman is only relative), not having burnt (ignorance).

For the knower of the Nirguna Brahman there is no departure at all.

Leaving his case, the opponent says that the mode of departure from the body for the knower of the Saguṇa Brahman and the ignorant ought to be different, as they attain different abodes after death, the former reaching Brahmaloka and the latter being reborn in this world.

This Sutra says that the knower of the Saguṇa Brahman enters at death the nerve Sushumnā, and then goes out of the body, and takes to the path of the gods, while the ignorant enter some other nerve and go by another way to have rebirth.

But till they enter on their respective ways, the method of departure at death is common to both, for it is something pertaining to this life, and like happiness and misery it is the same for both.

Topic 5 - The merging of fire etc. at death in the Supreme Deity is not absolute merging

Sutra 4,2.8

तदापीतेः, संसारव्यपदेशात् ॥ ८ ॥

tadāpīteḥ, saṃsāravyapadeśāt || 8 ||

tat—That; ā apīteḥ—up to the attainment of Brahman (through Knowledge); saṃsāra-vyapadeśāt—because (scriptures) declare the state of relative existence.

8. That (fine body lasts) up to the attainment of Brahman (through Knowledge), because (the scriptures) declare the state of relative existence (till then).

In the text cited in Sutra 1 we have, “And fire (is merged) in the Supreme Deity”.

The opponent argues that as fire and the other elements are merged in the Supreme Deity, which is the cause of these elements, this is only the final dissolution, and so everyone at death attains Liberation.

This Sutra says that this merging is not absolute merging, but the one we experience in deep sleep. Only the functions of these elements are merged, and not the elements themselves.

The final dissolution does not take place till Knowledge is attained; for the scriptures declare that till then the individual soul is subject to relative existence: “Some souls enter the womb to have a body” etc. (Kath. 2. 5. 7).

If the merging at death were absolute, then there could be no rebirth.

Sutra 4,2.9

सूक्ष्मं प्रमाणतश्च, तथोपलब्धेः ॥ ९ ॥

sūkṣmaṃ pramāṇataśca, tathopalabdheḥ || 9 ||

sūkṣmaṃ—Subtle; pramāṇataḥ—as regards size; ca—and; tathā—so; upalabdheḥ—because it is experienced.

9. (This fine body) is subtle (by nature) and size, because it is so experienced.

The body formed from the essence of the gross elements in which the soul abides at the time of death is subtle by nature and size.

This is understood from scriptural statements which declare that it goes out along the Nāḍis (nerves). So it is necessarily subtle or small in size. Its transparency explains why it is not obstructed by gross bodies, or is not seen when it passes out at death.

Sutra 4,2.10

नोपमर्देनातः ॥ १० ॥

nopamardenātaḥ || 10 ||

na—Not; upamardena—by the destruction; ataḥ—therefore.

10. Therefore (this subtle body is) not (destroyed) by the destruction (of the gross body).

Sutra 4,2.11

अस्यैव च-उपपत्तेः-एष ऊष्मा ॥ ११ ॥

asyaiva ca-upapatteḥ-eṣa ūṣmā || 11 ||

asya eva—To this (fine body) alone; ca—and; upapatteḥ—because of possibility; eṣaḥ—this; ūṣmā—(bodily) heat.

11. And to this (fine body) alone does this (bodily) heat belong, because this (only) is possible.

The bodily heat observed in living animals belongs to this subtle body and not to the gross body, for the heat is felt so long as there is life and not after that.