An Analysis of the Brahma Sutra
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 2: The Critique of Erroneous Doctrines

Atha atah brahma-jijnasa.

Atha is an auspicious word. You should utter atha, 'Om Auspicious!', 'Om Auspicious!', 'Om Auspicious'.

Om Atha, Om Atha, Om Atha – very auspicious words. These words came from the throat of Brahma himself, the Creator. Atha, auspicious; now we discuss something most auspicious. Om Atha, Om Atha, Om Atha.

Atha: Therefore. What is 'therefore'? 'Therefore' means after having equipped oneself adequately for entering into a discussion on Brahman. The other day, we pointed out the difficulty, who is to know Brahman? If I am to know Brahman or you are to know Brahman or someone is to know Brahman, that someone stands outside Brahman. So, a Brahman known by someone else cannot be a complete Brahman, because Brahman is inclusive. Bhuma is the name of this Brahman, as the Chhandogya Upanishad puts it – the Full.

Where one does not see anything outside, where one does not hear anything outside, where one does not understand or think anything outside – That Great Being, Plenum of Felicity is Brahma. But if there is someone to see, hear see, hear and understand and imagine that one is going to know Brahman, that Brahman would not be the real Brahman because the point to be remembered always is that Brahman is inclusiveness.

Brhmati iti brahma; Everything is inside It. Even the one aspiring to know It is included in It. So there is no such thing as aspiring to know Brahman! This is the problem of Jnana Marga. Nobody can touch Jnana. It will close all talk and people can go crazy because their mind cannot understand what this terrible thing is; no one can know Brahman and yet It has to be known. These apparently contradictory statements appear before a foolish mind, which is not ready to understand what the Truth is.

There was nobody before creation. Therefore what right has a subsequent created object to try to know Brahman, which is prior to its existence? Yet It can be known. Sankaracharya in his commentary raises some questions. Is Brahman a known thing or an unknown thing? If it is a known thing, why are you worrying about It? If It is an unknown thing, again why are you worrying about It? So It is not a known thing; It is not also a totally unknown thing.

Why is It not an unknown thing? Because It is vigorously asserting Itself through the soul of each person.

Aham asmi iti vijaniyat.

No one says 'I am not'.

Nobody says 'I am not'. This affirmation of 'I am' is actually the affirmation' of Brahman. But isn't the word 'I' a very intriguing thing because so many 'I's are there! This is I, this is I, that is I, this is I – which 'I' are you referring to? It is the supreme 'I' that is speaking as the 'I' of all individual beings.

Iha amutra vishaya tyaga is necessary. If you have no desire for anything outside; you have accepted that there is nothing outside Brahman and you are therefore wanting to know Brahman. You should not be dishonest to your own self, by saying 'I want something else', 'I have got a desire for something else'. When Brahman is the Only existent thing, how would you allow the mind to long for another thing? This is an erroneous attitude of the so-called seeker of Brahman. Already a warning is given. Unless the longings for the pleasures of this world as well as the other world are abolished and obliterated completely, one cannot become fit for the knowledge of Brahman.

What are the joys of this world? So many sense-enjoyments; beautiful things to see, beautiful things to hear, beautiful things to taste, beautiful things to smell, beautiful things to touch – these are the attractions of the world. Everybody runs after these attractions. Nobody is free from this longing for the objects of the world. Then you are unfit for knowing Brahman, you should not even talk about that word. With these desires that are longings of the earth, touching Brahman would be like touching a dynamite. It may burst on your face. Therefore vishaya tyaga, abandonment of the longing for external objects is called for.

External things do not exist at all, really. That is the whole point. They are scintillating apparitions, shadows, deceiving colours and sounds – therefore they do not exist. Asking for pleasures from non-existent things is the worst of defects one can discover in one's own mind. Why not have the longing for the pleasures in heaven? 'Indra is enjoying there; I will like to go to heaven; wonderful, wonderful, wonderful joy! Gods in the heaven do not eat; they have no hunger; they don't wink; they don't sleep; they don't perspire; they are not tired; they don't want anything; they are satisfied with themselves. Oh, that joy is wonderful for me. Let me go!' – this desire also should be abandoned. Because the joys of the heaven are only rarefied forms of sense pleasures, that desire also should go. The joys of this world and joys of the other world also must be rejected completely, by discriminative understanding.

After having attained that, atah, 'therefore', one should know Brahman. But the mind gets harassed by hearing so many contrary things. This man is telling that, that man is telling this – what am I to make out of all these? You go to so many places, read so many scriptures and so many philosophies. They are upsetting the mind.

Sankhya said something. The other day we discussed Sankhya. It is a very famous philosophy. Most people accept it. The presence of Purusha and Prakriti, consciousness and matter, is accepted and these words are used in such great texts like Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita, Manu Smriti etc. Such noble textbooks of highest authority are using words like Prakriti and Purusha. So this will make us feel there is some truth in it. Why does the Bhagavad Gita go on using the word Prakriti and Purusha, when Sankhya is rejected by the Brahma Sutras? Now we shall not enter into the other subject as to why they are using these words.

The main objection against Sankhya is the assertion of duality; One thing is different from another thing. But the Samkhya forgets it is not possible to know that one thing is different from another thing unless there is a third thing which knows the difference. The one thing which is different from the other thing cannot know that the other thing exists at all. So there is a flaw in the argument. The third thing is necessary, which the Sankhya does not accept. It is caught up by a vicious argument of the self-sufficiency of Purusha and Prakriti. And even its concept of liberation is inadequate, because the Sankhya believes that separation of Purusha and Prakriti from contact of each other is liberation. But there is a defect here. Purusha is liberated – all right, okay, from contact with Prakriti, and Purusha is accepted to be omniscient, all-pervading consciousness. But Sankhya contradicting this statement says Prakriti also exists. In liberation, Prakriti is not destroyed; where does it exist? It exists outside Purusha. Then where is the infinity of the consciousness of Purusha?

Is Purusha omniscient, all-knowing? Yes, it is. If it is all-knowing, it must be knowing the existence of Prakriti also. The moment it knows the existence of Prakriti, it gets caught in bondage. And bondage will be permanently there. The idea of liberation in the Sankhya is not acceptable for obvious reasons.

There are other schools which deny the existence of the Atman itself, like nihilism or sunyavada, a trend in Buddhistic philosophy. 'Nothing is'. This idea that nothing is arose from another series of discourses given by Buddha himself. Buddha did not say that nothing exists, but something followed from his standpoint. He said that everything is moving and nothing is existing at any particular point, even for a moment, like the flow of the waters of a river. Not for a single moment does the water stand at one place. The river is not a stable object; it is movement. That we are unable to perceive the continuous movement of the waters in a river is the reason why we mistake that the river is a solid water reservoir.

In the same way, the mind does not exist. The mind is only an imagined centralisation of a point as is the point imagined in the flow of a river. Not for a moment does anything exist to continue to see. But Buddha accepted rebirth and samsara, from which he advocated freedom. Now what is this he is saying? Who will take rebirth? That person who is to take rebirth does not exist even for a moment, according to the accepted doctrine.

Karma is the cause of rebirth. Karma is the repercussion produced by the action of someone. This someone does not exist, because existence is momentary. Momentariness is almost equivalent to saying that it is non-existent. So who will take rebirth? How will suffering be explained?, which Buddha emphasised very much – there is suffering, we have to overcome suffering.

This peculiar difficulty in understanding the real point behind what Buddha said created a discussion by another set of Buddhists leading to nihilism. If everything is momentary, neither does samsara exist nor does karma exist. Non-existence is the final word of nihilistic philosophy. But the nihilists made the same mistake as the Sankhya doctrine became self-contradictory.

Sankhya looked very logical, very acceptable, very beautiful from outside, but inside it was vacuous due to the defects already pointed out. So is this so-called boast and adumbration of nihilism, sunyavada. Who is saying that nothing exists? Who is talking? Is the non-existence itself saying that non-existence is there? Does the philosopher of nihilism exist? If the philosopher of nihilism does not exist because nihilism abolishes the existence of everyone, then who is making a declaration that nothing exists?

The Vedanta comes in and says this argument cannot be accepted. Brahma Sutra refutes it. There must be someone to know that nothing exists. That someone must be existing. It is something like the argument which the Western philosopher Rene Descartes posed before himself. Everything may be doubtful; the world may not be existing; I may not be existing; nothing may be there at all; all things are dubious. It may be so. Some devil might have entered my mind and is making me think erroneously. But he concluded as a wise one that the consciousness that everything is doubtful cannot itself be doubted. "Therefore "I am"."

In a similar way, the Vedanta accepts that there should be an awareness of there being nothing. If sunyavada accepts that there is an awareness which alone can say 'nothing exists', then the doctrine of nothingness is defeated out and out. Something is.

There are various schools of Buddhist philosophy. There is the Ethical Idealism of Buddha, which emphasised the momentariness of things though he was a very highly ethical person. But the others went to extremes and there are four extreme types, offshoots of Buddhist psychology and philosophy. One of them is called yogachara or vijnanavada. This is totally refuted by the Brahma Sutras in the second chapter.

All that you see outside is the creation of the mind. This is the basic principle of vijnana-vada. Vijnana is the consciousness in the mind or consciousness itself as the mind, which projects itself as an outside world of perception. The world actually does not exist. The Vedanta refutes this position. The Commentary of Acharya Sankara is long on this particular Sutra. "The non-existence of the world cannot be accepted."

Oh! Some people open their eyes. What is Sankaracharya saying? What is Sutra telling? Is the world really existing? Are you contradicting your own Vedanta doctrine that the world ultimately does not exist? Why are you fighting with this Buddhist psychology?

The Vedanta is a difficult subject. Very difficult subject. Any amount of probing into it can put you out of gear. 'In what sense is the world existing and in what sense is it not existing?' – must be first clear to the mind.

That there is nothing at all outside, and it is only the mind moving outside as is proclaimed by the vijnanvada theory of Buddhism, is refuted. Why is it refuted? Acharya Sankara's commentary is elaborate, worth reading again and again. Beautiful! If there is nothing outside, if the consciousness appears to be outside according to your doctrine, this doctrine cannot be accepted because "how did the idea of 'outsideness' arise in the mind?" If the mind is wholly inside and is not outside, and it only projects itself as if it is outside, how did the idea of outsideness arise at all? A non-existent idea, an impossible idea cannot arise in the mind. Every idea has some meaning. Nonsensical ideas cannot arise in the mind. Even if you agree that there is some appearance outside, and really things do not exist, the appearance has to be outside. This outsideness must be accepted first. How did things appear 'outside' even though they may be only mental? The mind is inside; you will see the whole world dancing inside your head. Why does it not happen? Why is there the idea of 'an outside'?

There is an outright condemnation and criticism of vijnavada that you cannot go on saying that there is an appearance of something being outside unless there is really something outside. A rope appears as a snake but even for that appearance, the rope must be existing. If rope also does not exist, then the snake will not be there.

Now, the other side comes in. Does Vedanta accept that there is a world, when it says that vijnanavada is wrong? There are two degrees of reality. One degree is called vyavaharika satta; another degree is called paramarthika satta.

The object and the subject are on par with each other. Anything that is above your mental operation cannot be known. by you. Anything that is below your mental operation also cannot be known. You cannot know heavens because they are above the operations of your mind. You cannot know hell because it is below the operation of your mind. You can see only empirical existence because the mind is an empirical phenomenon. Now, the question whether the world exists or not should not arise at all, because the existence of a thing is nothing but the acceptance by the mind that something outside is existing. When consciousness accepts that there is something, it exists. You cannot deny its existence, because who will deny it? Consciousness accepts it. The world is seen; now, which consciousness is accepting it? The empirical consciousness which is subjectively engaged in this physical body is accepting that there is something outside, because anything that is inside should also accept that there is something outside. You cannot say 'my mind is inside'. Who told you that the mind is inside? Because you have differentiated your mind from something outside. If the outside thing does not exist, the inside also cannot exist. There is a clash between the inside and the outside in ordinary perception. The subject and object contradict each other. Therefore the mind cannot know the nature of the world correctly, nor can the world enter into the mind.