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Brahma Sutras
by Swami Sivananda


Section 1: Ikshatyadyadhikaranam: Topic 5 (Sutras 5-11)

Brahman (the intelligent principle) is the First Cause.

Ikshaternasabdam I.1.5 (5)

On account of seeing (i.e. thinking being attributed in the Upanishads to the First Cause, the Pradhana) is not (the first cause indicated by the Upanishads; for) it (Pradhana) is not based on the scriptures.

Ikshateh: on account of seeing (thinking); Na: is not; Asabdam: not based on the scriptures.

Sutras 5 to 11 refute the arguments of the Sankhyas and establish Brahman alone as the First Cause.

It is not possible to find room in the Vedanta texts for the non-intelligent Pradhana, because it is not based on scripture. Why? Because seeing or thinking is ascribed to the cause in the scripture. In the scripture it is said that the First Cause willed or thought before creation. You will find in the Chhandogya Upanishad VI-2, "Being only, my dear, this was in the beginning, one only without a second. It thought 'May I be many, may I grow forth.' It projected fire." Aitareya Upanishad says, "The Atman willed: 'Let me project worlds'. So it projected these worlds" (I-1-1.2). In Prasna Upanishad VI-3 it is said of the person of sixteen parts. "He thought. He sent forth Prana..." There cannot be any thinking or willing in the insentient Pradhana. It is possible only if the First Cause is an intelligent being like Brahman.

If it is said that such a quality can be attributed to Prakriti in a secondary sense, just as red-hot iron can be called fire because it can burn, we reply, why should we ascribe creative power and Omniscience to such Prakriti which we invest with will and Omniscience in a secondary sense when we can ascribe creative power and Omniscience to Brahman Himself to whom Will and Omniscience can be ascribed in a primary sense.

Brahman's knowledge is permanent. He is not in need of any instruments of knowledge. He is not in need of a body. His knowledge is without any obstructions. Svetasvatara Upanishad says, "He grasps without hands, moves without feet, sees without eyes, hears without ears. He knows what can be known, but no one knows Him. They call Him the first, the Great person" (VI-8, III-19).

You cannot attribute sentiency (Chetanatva) to Pradhana even in a figurative sense, because it is said that the Creator became the soul and entered the body. How can the insentient matter (Achetana) become the sentient soul (Chetana)? Vedantic texts emphatically declare that by knowing Brahman everything else can be known. How can we know the souls by knowing matter?

Pradhana or matter cannot be the Sat which is described as the cause of the world, because that would be opposed to the scripture which uses the word "Ikshateh". You will find in Svetasvatara Upanishad, "He, the God of all souls, is the Creator of the world". Therefore it is quite clear that Brahman and not Pradhana is the cause of this world.

In all Vedantic texts there is a uniform declaration that Chetana (consciousness) is the cause of the world. Pradhana potentially contains all forms in a seed state. The whole world exists in it in a subtle seed state in Pralaya and yet it cannot be regarded as the Creator because it is non-sentient. Vedanta texts emphatically declare that an Intelligent Being willed and created this universe. You will find in Chhandogya Upanishad, "The Sat existed in the beginning. It was one without a second. It willed to become many. It created fire".

The argumentation of the Sankhyas that the Pradhana is all-knowing because of its Sattva is inadmissible, because Sattva is not preponderant in the Pradhana as the three Gunas are in a state of equipoise. If the Pradhana is all-knowing even in the condition of equilibrium (Gunasamyavastha) on account of the power of knowledge residing in Sattva, it must be little-knowing also on account of the power of retarding knowledge which resides in Rajas and Tamas. Therefore while Sattva will make it all-knowing, Rajas and Tamas will make it little-knowing. This is actually a contradiction. Further a modification of Sattva which is not connected with a witnessing principle or silent Sakshi is not called knowledge. The non-intelligent Pradhana is devoid of such a principle. Hence all-knowingness cannot be ascribed to Pradhana.

The case of the Yogins does not apply to the point under consideration here. They attain Omniscience on account of excess of Sattva in them. There is an intelligent principle (Sakshi) in him independent of Sattva. When a Yogi attains knowledge of the past and the future on account of the grace of the Lord, you cannot deny the Eternity and Infinity of Brahman's knowledge.

Brahman is pure Intelligence itself, Unchangeable. All- knowingness and creation are not possible for Brahman. To this objection it can be replied that Brahman can be All-knowing and creative through His illusory power, Maya.

Just as in the case of ether we talk of ether inside a jar and ether in the sky but it is all really one ether, so also the differentiation of Jiva and Isvara is only an apparent differentiation on account of limiting adjuncts or Upadhis, viz., body and mind.

The Sankhyas raise another objection. They say that fire and water also are figuratively spoken of as intelligent beings. "The fire thought 'May I be many, May I grow' and it projected water. Water thought 'May I be many, May I grow,' it projected earth" Chh. Up. 6-2-3-4. Here water and fire are insentient objects, and yet thinking is attributed to them. Even so the thinking by the Sat in the text originally quoted can also be taken figuratively in the case of Pradhana also. Hence, though Pradhana is insentient, it can yet be the First Cause.

The following Sutra refutes this argument.

Gaunaschet na Atmasabdat I.1.6 (6)

If it be said that (the word 'seeing' or thinking) is used in a secondary sense, (we say) not so, because of the word Atman being applied to the cause of the world.

Gaunah: indirect, secondary, figurative; Chet: if; Na: not; Atmasabdat: because of the word Atman, i.e., soul.

You say that the term 'Sat' denotes the non-intelligent Pradhana or Prakriti and that 'thinking' is attributed to it in a secondary or figurative sense only as it is to fire and water. You may argue that inert things are sometimes described as living beings. Therefore Pradhana can well be accepted as the efficient cause of the world. This cannot stand. This is certainly untenable. Why so? Because of the terms 'Atman' (soul) being applied subsequently in the Sruti to that which is the cause of the world vide the Sruti "All this universe is in essence That; That is the Truth. That is Atman (Soul). That thou art O Svetaketu." Chh. Up. VI-8-7. (Instruction by Uddalaka to his son, Svetaketu).

The passage in Chh. Up. VI-2 begins, "Being (Sat) only, my dear, this was in the beginning". After creating fire, water, earth, It thought 'let me now enter into these three as this living self (Jiva) and evolve names and forms' Chh. Up. VI-3-2. The Sat, the First Cause, refers to the intelligent principle, the Jiva as its Self. By the term Jiva we must understand the intelligent principle which rules over the body and supports the Prana. How could such a principle be the self of the non-intelligent Pradhana? By Self or Atman we understand a being's own nature. Therefore it is quite obvious that the intelligent Jiva cannot form the nature of the non-intelligent Pradhana. The thinking on the part of the fire and water is to be understood as dependent on their being ruled over by the Sat. Hence it is unnecessary to assume a figurative sense of the word 'thinking'.

Now the Sankhya comes with a new objection. He says that the word 'Atman' (Self) may be applied to the Pradhana, although it is non-intelligent, on account of its being figuratively used in the sense of 'that which serves all purposes of another', as for example, a king uses the word 'self' to some servant who carries out his wishes 'Govinda is my (other) self'. Similarly it applies to Pradhana also because the Pradhana works for the enjoyment and the final salvation of the soul and serves the soul just in the same manner as the minister serves his king. Or else the word Atman (Self) may refer to non-intelligent things, as well as to intelligent beings, as for instance, in expressions like Bhutatma (the Self of the elements), Indriyatma (the Self of the senses) just as the one word 'light' (Jyoti) denotes a certain sacrifice (the Jyotistoma) as well as a flame. Therefore the word Self (Atman) can be used with reference to the Pradhana also. How then does it follow from the word 'Self' that the 'thinking' attributed to the cause of the universe is not to be taken in a figurative sense?

The next Sutra refutes the argument.

Tannishthasya mokshopadesat I.1.7 (7)

(The Pradhana cannot be designated by the term Self) because Salvation is declared to one who is devoted to that Sat.

Tat: to that; Nishthasya: of the devoted; Mokshopadesat: from the statement of salvation.

Further reason is given in this Sutra to prove that Pradhana is not the cause of this world.

The non-intelligent Pradhana cannot be denoted by the term 'Self' because Chhandogya Upanishad declares: "O Svetaketu! That (the subtle Sat) is the Self. 'Thou art That'." An intelligent man like Svetaketu cannot be identified with the non-intelligent Pradhana. If the non-intelligent Pradhana were denoted by the term 'Sat', the meaning of the Mahavakya "Tat Tvam Asi" would be 'Thou art non-intelligent'. The teaching will come to this. You are an Achetana or non-intelligence and emancipation is attaining such a state of insentiency. Then the Srutis would be a source of evil. The scriptures would make contradictory statements to the disadvantage of man and would thus not become a means of right knowledge. It is not right to destroy the authority of the faultless Srutis. If you assume that the infallible Sruti is not the means of right knowledge this will be certainly quite unreasonable. The final emancipation is declared in the Srutis to him who is devoted to the Sat, who has his being in Sat. It cannot be attained by meditation on the non-intelligent Pradhana vide Sruti: 'He waits only till he is released and therefrom unites with Brahman' (Chh. Up. VI-14-2).

If the scripture which is regarded as a means of right knowledge should point out a man who is desirous of emancipation but who is ignorant of the way to it, an insentient self as the true Self he would, like the blind man who had caught hold of the ox's tail to reach his village, never be able to attain the final release or the true Self.

Therefore the word 'Self' is applied to the subtle Sat not in a merely figurative sense. It refers to what is intelligent only in its primary meaning. The 'Sat', the first cause, does not refer to the Pradhana but to an intelligent principle. It is declared in the Sruti that he, who is absolutely devoted to the Creator or cause of the world, attains the final emancipation. It is not reasonable to say that one attains his release by devotion to blind matter, Pradhana. Hence Pradhana cannot be the Creator of the world.

Heyatvavachanaccha I.1.8 (8)

And (the Pradhana cannot be denoted by the word 'Self'), because it is not stated (by the scriptures) that It (Sat) has to be discarded.

Heyatva: fitness to be discarded; Avachanat: not being stated (by the scriptures); Cha: and.

Another reason is given in this Sutra to prove that Pradhana is not the Creator of the universe.

If you want to point out to a man the small star Arundhati, you direct his attention at first to a big neighbouring star and say 'That is Arundhati' although it is really not so. Then you point out to him the real Arundhati. Even so if the preceptor intended to make his disciple understand the Self step by step from grosser to subtler truths through the non-self he would definitely state in the end that the Self is not of the nature of the Pradhana and that the Pradhana must be discarded. But no such statement is made. The whole chapter of the Chhandogya Upanishad deals with the Self as nothing but that Sat.

An aspirant has been taught to fix his mind on the cause and meditate on it. Certainly he cannot attain the final emancipation by meditating on the inert Pradhana. If the Sruti here meant the Pradhana to be the cause of the world, it would have surely asked the aspirant to abandon such a cause and find out something higher for his final emancipation. Hence Pradhana cannot be the end and aim of spiritual quest.

The word 'and' signifies that the contradiction of a previous statement is an additional reason for the rejection.

Further this chapter begins with the question, "What is that which being known everything is known? Have you ever asked, my child, for that instruction by which you hear what cannot be heard, by which you perceive what cannot be perceived, by which you know what cannot be known." Now if the term 'Sat' denoted the Pradhana, if the Pradhana were the first cause, then by knowing Pradhana everything must be known, which is not a fact. The enjoyer (soul) which is different from Pradhana, which is not an effect of the Pradhana cannot be known by knowing the Pradhana. If 'that' or Sat means Pradhana (matter) the Srutis should teach us to turn away from it. But it is not the case. It gives a definite assurance that by knowing that everything can be known. How can we know the soul by knowing matter? How can we know the enjoyer by knowing the enjoyed? Hence the Pradhana is not denoted by the term 'Sat'. It is not the first cause, knowing which everything is known, according to the Sruti.

For this the Sutrakara gives another reason.

Svapyayat I.1.9 (9)

On account of (the individual) merging in its own Self (the Self cannot be the Pradhana).

Svapyayat: on account of merging in one's own self.

The argument to prove that Pradhana is not the cause of the universe or the Self is continued.

The waking state is that where the mind, the senses and the body act in concert to know the objects. The individual soul identifies himself with the gross body. In the dreaming state the body and the senses are at rest and the mind plays with the impressions which the external objects have left. The mind weaves its web of Vasanas. In deep sleep the individual soul is free from the limitation of mind. He rests in his own Self though in a state of ignorance.

With reference to the cause denoted by the word 'Sat' the Sruti says, "When a man sleeps here, then my child, he becomes united with the Sat, he is gone to his own self. Therefore they say of him 'he sleeps' (Svapiti) because he is gone to his own (Svam Apita) Chh. Up. VI-8-1. From the fact that the individual soul merges in the universal soul in deep sleep, it is understood that the Self, which is described in the Sruti as the ultimate Reality, the cause of the world is not Pradhana.

In the Chhandogya text it is clearly said that the individual soul merges or resolves in the Sat. The intelligent Self can clearly not resolve itself into the non-intelligent Pradhana. Hence, the Pradhana cannot be the First Cause denoted by the term 'Sat' in the text. That into which all intelligent souls are merged in an intelligent cause of the universe is denoted by the term Sat and not the Pradhana.

A further reason for the Pradhana not being the cause is given in the next Sutra.

Gatisamanyat I.1.10 (10)

On account of the uniformity of view (of the Vedanta texts, Brahman is to be taken as that cause).

Gati: view; Samanyat: on account of the uniformity.

The argument to prove that Pradhana is not the cause of the universe is continued.

All the Vedanta texts uniformly refer to an intelligent principle as the First Cause. Therefore Brahman is to be considered as the cause. All the Vedanta texts uniformly teach that the cause of the world is the intelligent Brahman. The Srutis declare thus, "As from a burning fire sparks proceed in all directions, thus from that Self the Pranas proceed each towards its place, from the Pranas the gods, from the gods the worlds" (Kau. Up. III-3). "From that Brahman sprang ether" (Tait. Up. II-1). "All this springs from the Self" (Chh. Up. VII-2-6). "This Prana is born from the Self" (Pra. Up. III-3). All these passages declare the Self to be the cause. The term 'Self' denotes an intelligent being. Therefore the all-knowing Brahman is to be taken as the cause of the world because of the uniformity of view of the Vedanta-texts.

A further reason for this conclusion is given in the following Sutra.

Srutatvaccha I.1.11 (11)

And because it is directly stated in the Sruti (therefore the all-knowing Brahman alone is the cause of the universe).

Srutatvat: being declared by the Sruti; Cha: also, and.

The argument that Pradhana is not the cause of the world is continued.

The All-knowing Lord is the cause of the universe. This is stated in a passage of the Svetasvatara Upanishad VI-9, "He is the cause, the Lord of the Lords of the organs. He has neither parent nor Lord". 'He' refers to the all-knowing Lord described in the chapter. Therefore it is finally established that the All-knowing, All-powerful Brahman is the First Cause and not the insentient or non-intelligent Pradhana or anybody else.

Thus the Vedanta texts contained in Sutra I-1-11 have clearly shown that the Omniscient, Omnipotent Lord is the cause of the origin, subsistence and dissolution of the world. It is already shown on account of the uniformity of view (I-1-10) that all Vedanta texts hold an intelligent cause.

From Sutra 12 onwards till the end of the first chapter a new topic is taken up for discussion. The Upanishads speak of two types of Brahman, viz., the Nirguna or Brahman without attributes and the Saguna or Brahman with attributes.

The Upanishads declare, "For where there is duality as it were, then one sees the other; but when the Self only is all this, how should he see another?" Bri. Up. IV-5-15. "Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, understands nothing else, that is the greatest (Infinite, Bhuma). Where one sees something else, hears something else, understands something else, that is the little (finite). The greatest is immortal; the little is mortal" Chh. Up. VII-24-1. "The wise one, who having produced all forms and made all names, sits calling the things by their names" Tait. Ar. III-12-7.

"Who is without parts, without actions, tranquil, without faults, without taint, the highest bridge of immortality, like a fire that has consumed its fuel" Svet. Up. VI-19. "Not so, not so" Bri. Up. II-3-6. "It is neither coarse nor fine, neither short nor long; defective in one place, perfect in the other" Bri. Up. III-1-8.

All these texts declare Brahman to possess a double nature, according as it is the object either of nescience or knowledge. Brahman with attributes (Saguna) is within the domain of nescience. It is the object of Upasana which is of different kinds giving different results, some to exaltations, some to gradual emancipation (Krama-Mukti), some to success in works. When it is the object of nescience, categories of devotee, object of devotion, worship are applied to it. The kinds of Upasana are distinct owing to the distinction of the different qualities and limiting adjuncts. The fruits of devotion are distinct according as the worship refers to different qualities. The Srutis say "According as man worships him, that he becomes." "According to what his thought is in this world, so will he be when he has left this life" Chh. Up. III-14-1. Meditation on the Saguna Brahman cannot lead to immediate emancipation (Sadyo-Mukti). It can only help one to attain gradual emancipation (Krama-Mukti).

Nirguna Brahman of Vedantins or Jnanis is free from all attributes and limiting adjuncts. It is Nirupadhika, i.e., free from Upadhi or Maya. It is the object of knowledge. The Knowledge of the Nirguna Brahman alone leads to immediate emancipation.

The Vedantic passages have a doubtful import. You will have to find out the true significance of the texts through reasoning. You will have to make a proper enquiry into the meaning of the texts in order to arrive at a settled conclusion regarding the knowledge of the Self which leads to instantaneous emancipation. A doubt may arise whether the knowledge has the higher or the lower Brahman for its object as in the case of Sutra I-1-2.

You will find in many places in the Upanishads that Brahman is described apparently with qualifying adjuncts. The Srutis say that the knowledge of that Brahman leads to instantaneous release (Sadyo-Mukti). Worship of Brahman as limited by those adjuncts cannot lead to immediate emancipation. But if these qualifying adjuncts are considered as not being ultimately arrived at by the passages but used merely as indicative of Brahman then these passages would refer to the Nirguna Brahman and the final emancipation would result from knowing that Brahman. Therefore you will have to find out the true significance of the passages through careful enquiry and reasoning.

In some places you will have to find out whether the text refers to Saguna Brahman or the individual soul. You will have to arrive at a proper conclusion as to the true significance of these passages which evidently have a doubtful import through careful enquiry and reasoning. There will be no difficulty in understanding for the intelligent aspirant who is endowed with a sharp, subtle and pure intellect. The help of the teacher is always necessary.

Here ends the commentary of the eleven Sutras which form a sub-section by itself.