An Analysis of the Brahma Sutra
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 3: Erroneous Notions Refuted

Desires pertaining to the objects of the world cannot be fulfilled for the reason that the mind accepts them to be outside. An 'outside' thing cannot become an 'inside' thing. So, all desires are futile in their nature. They are a will-of-the-wisp, a phantasmagoria that you are pursuing. In the vyavaharika satta, in the practical and pragmatic state of existence, the world seems to be on par with you. You can shake hands with it. But you cannot shake hands with Brahman, the Absolute.

The world exists as an empirical, practical, pragmatic reality. Therefore vijnanavada is not correct in saying that the world does not exist at all in any way. It exists in some way, though not in all ways. Vyavaharika satta is the accepted, empirical reality of the world outside with which we come in contact every day in our dealings of the world, and the business of the world goes on.

Therefore, we have to take the doctrine of the existence or non-existence of the world with a pinch of salt, very carefully. We should not go to extremes. Unpurified minds should not go for philosophy.

A Guru told the disciple, 'All is Brahman'. 'Very good, very good', the latter said. He was walking on the road one day. An elephant was coming in front. The mahut said 'Get away, get away, get away!' The student thought, 'Why should I get away? The elephant also is Brahman, and the Guru has said it!' The disciple would not move. The elephant caught hold of the man, and threw him out, which broke his legs. The student ran to the Guru and said, 'Guruji, what have you told me? You said everything is Brahman and I thought that the elephant also is Brahman. It broke my legs.' 'Oh foolish man! Did you not believe that the mahut also is Brahman? He told you not to stand there. You have not understood the thing properly,' he said.

A partial understanding of Reality is no good. The Yoga-Vasishta warns us:

Ardhavyutpannabuddhestu sarvam brahmeti yo vadet;
Mahanaraka-jaleshu sa tena viniyojitah

If you speak the doctrine of Brahman to an unprepared mind, you yourself will go to hell together with that student! Do not talk about that carelessly. It is mischievous to tell an unprepared person that all is Brahman. That would ruin the sanity of the person and he will get nothing out of it, and he would lose whatever he has.

Again the warning – Vedanta should not be studied in the beginning stage of learning. In the earlier stages, there is Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga, upasana and other things prescribed. The upasana method also will be mentioned in the Brahma Sutra itself, in the third chapter. You have to pass through the upasana stage, bhakti as you call it, until the mind is purified thoroughly.

We have seen how Brahma Sutra refutes the Buddhistic view of a fluxation of things, the momentariness of things and the nihilist aspect of Buddhism.

There are other doctrines like the atomic theory. Everything is only atoms. The coming together of atoms creates forms of things and the qualities of the causes produce new qualities in the effect. Who created the world? Atoms created the world. Atoms joined one with the other and created the sense of objectivity, solidity, perceptiveness etc. This doctrine is refuted in the Brahma Sutra. Atoms cannot join one with the other, because atoms have no shape or dimension. The Nyaya and the Vaiseshika who adumbrate this doctrine themselves accept that atoms have no shape and dimension. If there is no dimension of one atom, how will that atom be joined with another atom which has also no dimension? So, the theory of the joining of atoms is not acceptable. Also, even supposing there is a possibility of one atom joining another atom, who will make the atom join with another? Who causes the coming together of two atoms into a dyad, a bi-atom or a tri-atom, as they call it? Unless there is an impelling force beyond the so-called activity of the atoms, the activity cannot take place. Accepting for the sake of argument that atoms join together and create this world, there must be some force to make the atoms come together. The atomic theory is not complete when it says that atoms are sufficient and everything is created by the automatic action of the atoms. This theory is refuted. The Nyaya, however, finally accepts the existence of an Extra-Cosmic God shaping creation, but this extra-cosmicality would actually prevent God's interference with the world of creation.

There are other theories which hold that the Atman or the Self or the soul or consciousness, is also like an atom – anumatra. This word used in the Upanishads is not to be understood as atomic but as subtle. It means something very fine, incapable of grasping; therefore, it is called anu, metaphorically.

Anuh pantha vitatah, says the Upanishad. The path to perfection is anu, atomic. Atomic does not mean little, little as particles. You have to understand it in the proper connotation. It is extremely subtle, cannot be grasped by the senses or the mind, therefore it is referred to as Anu, extremely subtle, imperceptible.

Kshurasya dhara nisita duratyaya
Durgam pathasat kavayo vadanti.

(Katha Upanishad)

The path to Heaven, the path to the Gods, the path to the Absolute is sharp, subtle, incapable of comprehension as the edge of a razor, on which one has to tread.

Why does it say, then, that the Atman is inside? The idea that the Atman is inside gives the impression that it is not outside. Is it so? The idea of the Atman, whether it is inside or outside, is to be cleared first. What do you mean by the Atman at all? What is it? What is it made of? It is not a physical substance, because all physical things are perishable. The Self is imperishable, immortal. Every doctrine, every philosophy accepts that the Self is imperishable. If it is imperishable, it should defy dimension and temporality of every kind. It should be dimensionless. If the consciousness which is the Atman has a dimension, a limitation, then it will be finite and not be immortal. Finite things aspire to become Infinite. No finite thing can remain satisfied with itself. There is a struggle of every finite centre to become the Infinite. Therefore the Atman cannot be a finite centre. It is all-pervading consciousness.

The idea that the Atman is inside is also to be understood properly in its proper connotation. 'Inside' does not mean 'inside me', 'inside you', etc.; rather it is inside everything. A thing that is inside everything is everywhere. Inasmuch as it is everywhere, it is safe not to use the word 'inside' and 'outside' in the case of the Atman. Do not say the Atman is inside or outside. It is everywhere, and so incomprehensible. If something is outside, you can comprehend it; if it is inside also, you can comprehend it to some extent. But if it is everywhere, who will comprehend it?

Again the same question of knowing Brahman arises here. That which is everywhere includes even the person who tries to know It. So, That which is everywhere cannot be known unless the knower also becomes That. Knowing Brahman is being Brahman. Knowing Reality is being Reality. Thought and Reality coalesce and become Absolute Being. Thus, the Atman is not an anu or a little spark as sometimes people think. The atomic doctrine or anuvada of consciousness being inside only also is refuted.

Very surprisingly, this is why the Brahma Sutra should not be read by all and everyone; – it refutes even theology like Vaishnavism, Saivism etc. You will be surprised why it refutes Vaishnavism and Savisism. Towards the end of the second chapter, the Brahma Sutra goes into detail of the impossibility of conceding validity to the Vaishnava concepts and Saiva theology, wholesale. This is something unpleasant to hear for devotees. Philosophy is not religion; it is the deep analysis of the modus operandi of the attractiveness of religions.

Why does the Brahma Sutra go to that extent of defying the religious beliefs of people? Again, the point is that people are not fit for the knowledge of Brahman, and they should not study the Brahma Sutra in the beginning of the educational process. Prior knowledge of the logic of desires and emotions is necessary.

Vyuha means a group of divinities. These groups are called Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. Vasudeva is Lord Krishna. Pradyumna is his son, Aniruddha his grandson and Sankarshana his brother. Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha – these are the categories of divinities, compared to God, individual, mind and ego, according to Vaishnavism.

The Brahma Sutra says that there cannot be categories of divinities. It is one indivisible mass, and if Vasudeva produces Sankarshana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha etc., each one will be perishable. That which produces another has an end. A cause that transforms itself into an effect has already undergone a transformation within itself and it has ceased to be a cause; the effect has destroyed the cause.

Brahman cannot become Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha unless it modifies itself into these gradations or objects which we are worshipping religiously. When milk transforms itself into the thing called the curd, it cannot be called milk anymore. Then when curd is seen, milk ceases to exist. If you accept this doctrine of the manifestation of vyuhas according to Vasihnava theology, then it would mean that Brahman has modified itself into these vyuhas, as milk has modified itself into curd. Then as curd has destroyed the milk completely, these vyuhas will destroy Brahman also. Therefore, this theology cannot be accepted. For analogous reasons, the Pasupata and Saiva cosmologies are set aside.

The Personality concept of God is prevalent in all the religions of the world, whether it be Christianity or Islam or Zoroastrianism and all the Semitic religions. In Indian religions, God is considered as the Supreme Person. You may call Him Allah, you may call Him Father in Heaven, you may call Him Narayana, Vishnu or Siva – it doesn't matter what the name is, you are accepting the Personality of God.

What do you mean by Personality? We must explain it first. Personality is a limitation you are imposing upon the all-pervadingness of God. You have a personality, and you are only expanding the concept of your personality to an infinite extent in order to conceive the Personality of God. God looks like a huge human being. You cannot avoid this defect in thinking. Even if God is an infinitely extended Person, there would be space and time outside Him. The idea of a person cannot arise unless there is a space outside. If space also goes inside the Person, the personality of the conceived object will become Impersonality. Brahma Sutra emphasises the impersonality of God, and permits personality for the purpose of worship and contemplation.

The Brahma Sutra is not studied in the beginning of the Vedanta Sastra. There are preliminary texts like Atma Bodha, Tattva Bodha, Vedanta Sara and Panchadasi, etc., which are introductory texts meant to clarify the knotty points of the Vedanta doctrine. You must go slowly. Never go to the Upanishads suddenly. Nowadays people say 'I study Upanishads', and all that. The mind is not clear, it is not purified, the heart is full of desires, longings, prejudices, egoism, lust, anger, greed – everything is there. These distractions should be obviated before the longing for the All-Being, Brahman, can arise.