An Analysis of the Brahma Sutra
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 4: The Origin of Bondage

The Brahma Sutra is a Moksha Sastra, dealing with the subject of the salvation of the soul. How did you get into bondage and how will you retrace your steps to the original liberated condition – that is the main subject of this wonderful scripture, the Brahma Sutra. How do you get into bondage? This subject is dealt with in the Chhandogya Upanishad and the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad under the chapter called the Panchagni Vidya.

When a child is born, it enters into bondage. Also, how does the child get into the womb of the mother? How does it become necessary for the child to enter the womb of the mother? How does it know who is the suitable parent? There is an endless number of parents in the world. Why does it choose only one particular set of parents?

When this subject is discussed, we must first of all know what we mean by the soul that takes birth. What is soul? What is it made of? We have a wrong notion of the word, generally speaking. People imagine that the soul is a kind of substance – a little ball, mercury-like – moving inside the body. All sorts of funny ideas everybody has about the Jiva, Atma, soul, and all that. It is nothing of this kind, really.

Jiva or soul, for the purpose of our subject, is a concentrated point of desire. The soul that we are discussing about here is not the Universal Soul; it is rather the bound soul and no one can be bound unless there is a concentralisation of desire at a spatio-temporal point.

It is desire that is born, not a child. The human being is a shape taken by a mass of desires. Every cell of our body is made up of desires. It vibrates with desires – any number of desires. But since any number of desires cannot be fulfilled through a single body, a certain set of desires is chosen intelligently for the purpose of fulfilling them through a single incarnation.

The desire of a person is infinite in its nature. It would like to swallow the whole world, if it is possible. That it is unable to do so is a different matter; but if it could be possible, it would do it. It would swallow the whole sky also! Such is the rapacious, insatiable nature of desire.

What is desire? It is a concentration of consciousness at a finite point. Just as we can centralise into a point of concentration sunlight by allowing the rays of the sun to pass through a lens, and make it appear that the sun is totally concentrated through the lens, in a similar manner, as it were, the Universal Consciousness arranges itself into a point of concentration and finitises itself. When it finitises itself, originally, it is said in the Upanishads, that it looked like a spark of fire. As from a huge conflagration several sparks may jet forth in all directions, so from this great conflagration of 'Brahma Fire', many little sparks shot out which are the individuals. So far so good. But creation did not end with that only.

The 'shot-off' sparks asserted individuality of their own, something like each appointed official in a centralised government assuming independence. This is called seceding. A district collector may say 'the whole district is mine only. Don't talk to me!' and so on. A patwari may say 'this village is mine'. Though they are all sparks of a central operation called the government, they can attempt to secede by an arrogance developed in themselves and wind themselves up on a cocoon of involvement in a little area of functioning – it may even be a little mohulla – you may say 'I am the lord of this mohulla'. In a similar manner, tragedy has befallen the individual soul.

Desire is the nature of the soul that incarnates, but desire is nothing but a necessity to fulfil a need; an unfulfilled desire is a malady. Desire is an intensely concentrated onward march of a point of consciousness in some given direction, which is the eagerness to fulfil desire.

What happens? Fulfilment of desire is possible only if there is an object through which the desire can be fulfilled. The objects of the world are material in their nature. A mere spark of the flame cannot come in contact with material objects. So it assumes simultaneously a materiality of bodily encasement also, for which purpose it draws particles of matter – earth, water, fire, air and ether into itself – and here we are in this position, internally centralised points of desire for something or anything outside. This physical embodiment assumed is called the body.

What are these physical embodiments? They are nothing but the segregated parts and formation of the five elements. The five elements are everywhere but particles of all these elements are drawn in and centralised around a point of concentration like a magnetic point. The desiring centre which is the individual soul is a point which is like the centre of the eye of the magnet. It pulls everything into itself. This centre is also called the ego. Its purpose is to pull everything into itself and reject everything else, which are the dual functions of desire – ego.

Having taken birth for the purpose of fulfilment of desires, the desiring centre forgets that the body cannot last long since it is like material out of which a house is built. How long will the house be standing? It will wear out one day. You whitewash it, cement it and decorate it by taking bath, dressing, washing and cleaning – so many things we are doing but how long? How long can you decorate a house? One day it collapses. This is called the death of the body.

The span of life, the length of the life of a person, depends upon the extent of the capacity of the body to tolerate the action of desire. This is very important to remember. A particular desire has a particular force attached to it and the body will continue to exist as long as the force continues, like the voltage of an electric current. If it is 'high voltage', the body will last longer; if it is 'low voltage', it will be less. But desire cannot be fulfilled merely by the breaking of the body; desire is not meant to come in contact with one object only. It wants everything. Inasmuch as this point of desire has lost everything by disconnecting itself from the Universal Being, now it artificially wants to possess everything. A person who has lost everything wants everything, in a negative way. One who has starved for months will have such ravenous appetite that he will try to eat even stone.

You have lost the Infinite and therefore now you want an infinite desire to fulfil itself through contact with numberless finite objects. This is a brief story of birth and death, an endless chain of metempsychosis – samsara. Numberless finites do not make the Infinite.

When death takes place, what is actually the experience? The Panchagni Vidya is very interesting. The body becomes weak; the house says 'I am going to collapse!'; the bricks are weak, plastering is falling down; there is leaking on the top – everything will be gone completely. 'I am sneezing', 'I have got joint-pain', 'Oh' – it will go on crying. These are the symptoms of the coming of a time when the body is to be shed.

What happens? When the impending time comes for passing, the hearing stops. The body and the individuality are constituted of the five elements. The elements withdraw themselves one by one. Hearing is connected with space. The divinity of space will withdraw itself and then the hearing stops. A person who is about to die will not hear what one is saying. But then, what remains? The next element of descent in the process of creation is vayu, the touch principle. The tactile sensation ceases. The hearing goes, the sensation also goes. Then the fire principle: the body becomes cold; the feet are chill, hands are chill; people say, 'Oh! he is going, he is going.' 'He is becoming cold.' Then the body shrivels; the water principle also gets dried up.

The prana which was connecting itself to all these layers of physical personality trembles inside. There is an agony all over. And the spark that was the individual now manifests itself once again as a little glow at the tip of the heart. That glow is not visible in ordinary life because of the cloud of desire covering it and the busy occupation of the person with all kinds of activities. The glow is covered over and we do not know it. Now when all embodiment is going to be shed, the glow sparks forth. At the tip of the heart, a glow illumines. That is the symbol of the jiva wanting exit from the body. With a jerk, the flame – the little spark – leaves this body; drawing the vital energies (pranas) with itself.

Is there pain at the time of death or is there no pain? This can be known only by judging the extent of desire that was sustaining the body. Desires also are of various kinds. Intolerable longings are one kind of desire. Normal longings are anther kind. A person who eats three times a day will feel greater agony when Ekadasi comes; a person who takes only two times will feel less agony of Ekadasi; a person who takes only one meal will feel still less. In a similar manner, the desires which are sattvika (pure), rajasika (distracted) and tamasika (dark) will determine the feelings at the time of passing.

The agony that is felt depends upon the intensity of the desire that is entertained through the personality during lifetime. Those who have been doing prayer, worship, meditation etc., throughout their lives and leading a holy life of goodness, compassion and servicefulness will not feel the agony of death as many others may feel. Those who are utterly corrupt, those who have swindled, smuggled, destroyed other peoples' peace and worked like dacoits and done the worst of things in the world will feel a terrible stroke on their head when they die.

Why should you feel like that? If you lead a really religious life of prayer, meditation, service, goodness and compassion and love of God primarily, that will act as a palliating influence at that time of passing.

If you have served your Guru, Guru's Grace will work at that time. It is said that if the sadhana that is practised is intense, expected tragedies may pass away in dream-experience, by the Grace of God or the Grace of Guru. Suppose a person has the prarabdha of falling from a tree and breaking one's leg, by the power of devotion, worship and prayer, and Guru's Grace, that event will take place in dream. In dream, you will fall down and break the leg; actually when you wake up, you will feel the imaginary pain also. Instead of actually breaking the leg, a symbolic breaking takes place due to the Grace of God, Grace of Guru and the power of sadhana. In a similar manner, the agony of passing will be mitigated if we have lived a good life, a God-loving life.

The Brahma Sutra, in the Panchagni Vidya discourse, goes on describing the story of the passage after death. Where does it go? We do not want to know it! We eat well, sleep well and have a joyous life in this world; who bothers about what happens afterwards?

The soul will go to that place or thing which it has been thinking in its mind throughout its life. Now, let each one find out what it is that you have been thinking throughout your life. You may say 'I am thinking many things'; even then there is an opinion about yourself; that will continue. Your soul will gravitate like a jet to that place and you will take birth there.