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Brahma Sutras
by Swami Sivananda


Section 4: Anumanikadhikaranam: Topic 1 (Sutras 1-7)

The Mahat and Avyakta of the Kathopanishad do not refer to the Sankhya Tattvas.

Anumanikamapyekeshamiti chet na sarirarupakavinyastagrihiter darsayati cha I.4.1 (107)

If it be said that in some (recensions of the Vedas) that which is inferred (i.e. the Pradhana) (is) also (mentioned), (we say) no, because (the word 'Avyakta' occurring in the Katha Upanishad) is mentioned in a simile referred to the body (and means the body itself and not the Pradhana of the (Sankhyas); (the Sruti) also explains (it).

Anumanikam: that which is inferred (i.e., the Pradhana); Api: also; Ekesham: of some branches or school of Srutis or recensions of the text; Iti: thus; Chet: if; Na: No; Sarirarupa-kavinyastagrihiteh: because it is mentioned in a simile referring to the body (Sarira: body, Rupaka: simile, Vinyasta: contained, Grihiteh: because of the reference); Darsayati: (the Srutis) explain; Cha: also, too, and.

The Sankhyas again raise an objection. They say that the Pradhana is also based on scriptural authority, because some Sakhas like the Katha Sakha (school) contain expressions wherein the Pradhana seems to be referred to "Beyond the Mahat there is the Avyakta (the unmanifested or the undeveloped), beyond the Avyakta is the Purusha (Being or Person)" Katha Up. 1-3-11.

The Sankhyas say that the word 'Avyakta' here refers to the Pradhana because the words 'Mahat', 'Avyakta' and 'Purusha' which occur in the same order in the Sankhya philosophy, occur in the Sruti text. Hence they are recognised to be the same categories of the Sankhyas. The Pradhana is called 'undeveloped' because it is destitute of sound and other qualities. It cannot therefore be said that there is no scriptural authority for the Pradhana. We declare that this Pradhana is the cause of the world on the strength of Sruti, Smriti and ratiocination.

This Sutra refutes it thus. The word 'Avyakta' does not refer to the Pradhana. It is used in connection with a simile referring to the body. The immediately preceding part of the Chapter exhibits the simile in which the Self, the body, and so on, are compared to the Lord of a chariot, a charioteer etc. "Know the soul to be the Lord of the chariot, the body to be the chariot, the intellect the charioteer and the mind the reins. The senses they call the horses, the objects of the senses their roads. When the Self is in union with the body, the senses and the mind, then wise people call him the enjoyer" Katha Up. I.3.3-4.

All these things that are referred to in these verses are found in the following: "Beyond the senses there are the objects, beyond the objects there is mind, beyond the mind there is the intellect, the great Self (Mahat) is beyond the intellect. Beyond the great (Mahat) is the Avyakta (the undeveloped), beyond the Avyakta there is the Purusha. Beyond the Purusha there is nothing – this is the goal, the highest path" Katha Up. I.3.10-11.

Now compare these two quotations. In this passage we recognise the senses etc. which in the preceding simile had been compared to horses and so on. The senses, the intellect and the mind are referred to in both passages under the same names. The objects in the second passage are the objects which are in the former passage designated as the roads of the senses. The Mahat of the later text means the cosmic intellect. In the earlier passage intellect is the charioteer. It includes the individual and cosmic intellect. The Atman of the earlier text corresponds to the Purusha of the later text and body of the earlier text corresponds to Avyakta in the later text. Therefore Avyakta means the body here and not the Pradhana. There remains now the body only which had before been compared to the chariot in the earlier text.

Now an objection is raised. How can the body which is manifest, gross and visible (Vyakta) be said to be unmanifest and unevolved? The following Sutra gives a suitable answer.

Sukshmam tu tadarhatvat I.4.2 (108)

But the subtle (body is meant by the term Avyakta) on account of its capability (of being so designated).

Sukshmam: the subtle, the permanent atoms, the causal body; Tu: but; Tad arhatvat: because it can be properly so termed.

An objection to Sutra 1 is refuted.

The Sutra replies that what the term 'Avyakta' denotes is the subtle causal body. Anything subtle may be spoken of as 'undeveloped' or 'unmanifested'. The subtle parts of the elements, the causal substance, i.e., the five uncompounded elements out of which the body is formed may be called so. As they are subtle and not manifest, and as they also transcend sense perception, they can be properly designated by the term 'Avyakta'.

It is also a matter of common occurrence to denote the effect by the cause. Therefore the gross body is referred to here indirectly. Compare for instance the phrase "Mix the Soma with the cow (i.e., milk)" Rigveda IX.40.4. Another scriptural passage also declares "Now all this, i.e., this developed world with names and forms is capable of being designated 'undeveloped' in so far as in a previous state it was in a merely seminal or potential state destitute of names and forms".

In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad I-4-7, the Karana Sarira is called by the term unevolved or Avyakta. Before the world came into manifestation it was in the form of a seed or causal body.

An objection is raised. If the Avyakta is taken to be matter in its subtle state consisting of the causal body, what objection is there to interpret it as the Pradhana of the Sankhya system, because there also Avyakta means matter in subtle state. The following Sutra gives a suitable answer to this objection.

Tadadhinatvat arthavat I.4.3 (109)

On account of its dependence (on the Lord, such a previous seminal condition of the world may be admitted, because such an admission is) reasonable.

Tad: its; Adhinatvat: on account of dependence; Arthavat: having a sense or a meaning subserving an end or purpose; is fitting.

The argument in support of Sutra 1 is continued.

The opponent says. If a suitable causal state of the gross world is admitted it is as good as accepting the Pradhana, for we Sankhyas understand by the term Pradhana, nothing but the antecedent condition of the universe.

The Siddhantin gives the following reply. The Pradhana of the Sankhyas is an independent entity. The subtle causal state admitted here is dependent on the Highest Lord. A previous subtle stage of the universe must necessarily be admitted. It is quite reasonable. For without it the Lord cannot create. It is the potential power of Brahman. The whole Lila is kept up through this power. He could not become active if he were destitute of this potential power. It is the causal potentiality inherent in Brahman. That causal potentiality is of the nature of nescience.

The existence of such a causal potentiality renders it possible that the Jivanmuktas or liberated souls do not take further birth as it is destroyed by perfect knowledge. It is rightly denoted by the term 'undeveloped' (Avyakta). It has the Supreme Lord for its substratum. It is of the nature of an illusion. It is Anirvachaniya or indescribable. You can neither say that it is nor that it is not.

This undeveloped principle is sometimes denoted by the term 'Akasa', ether. "In that Imperishable then, O Gargi, the ether is woven like warp and woof" Bri. Up. III-8-11. Sometimes, again, it is denoted by the term Akshara, the Imperishable. "Higher than the high, Imperishable" Mun. Up. II-1-2.

Just as the illusion of a snake in a rope is not possible merely through ignorance without the substratum – rope, so also the world cannot be created merely by ignorance without the substratum, the Lord. Therefore the subtle causal condition is dependent on the Lord, and yet the Lord is not in the least affected by this ignorance, just as the snake is not affected by the poison. "Know that the Prakriti is Maya and the great Lord the ruler of Maya" Svet. Up. IV-10.

So the Avyakta is a helper (Sahakari) to the Lord in His creation. The Lord creates the universe using it as a means. It is dependent on the Lord. It is not like the Pradhana of the Sankhyas which is an independent entity.

The Lord looks on Maya and energises her. Then she has the power of producing the world. In her own nature she is Jada or insentient.

In the next Sutra the author gives another reason for holding that the 'Avyakta' of the Katha Upanishad is not to be interpreted as Pradhana.

Jneyatvavachanaccha I.4.4 (110)

And because it is not mentioned (that the Avyakta) is to be known (it cannot be the Pradhana of the Sankhyas).

Jneyatva: that is the object to be known; Avachanat: because of non-mention; Cha: and.

The argument in support of Sutra 1 is continued.

According to the Sankhyas, emancipation results when the difference between the Purusha and the Avyakta (Prakriti) is known. For without a knowledge of the nature of the constitutive elements of Pradhana it is impossible to recognise the difference of the soul from them. Hence the Avyakta is to be known according to the Sankhyas. But here there is no question of knowing the Avyakta. Hence it cannot be the Pradhana of the Sankhyas.

It is impossible to hold that knowledge of things which is not taught in the text is of any use to man. For this reason also we hold that the word 'Avyakta' cannot denote the Pradhana.

The Sankhyas call Avyakta or Pradhana the first cause. But the first cause has been stated in the Sruti as the object to be known. In the Sruti 'Avyakta' is not stated to be an object of pursuit. Hence it is not the first cause and consequently, cannot be mistaken for the matter of Sankhyas.

According to the Sankhyas, liberation is attained by knowing that Purusha is different from Prakriti. The knowledge of Prakriti is thus an essential of release. But the Katha Upanishad nowhere mentions that the knowledge of 'Avyakta' is necessary for the final emancipation. Therefore the Avyakta of the Katha Upanishad is not the Prakriti of the Sankhyas.

Nowhere does the scripture declare that Pradhana (Matter) is Jneya (to be known) or Upasya (to be worshipped). What is aimed at as the object of knowledge of adoration in the Srutis is the Supreme seat of Vishnu (Tad Vishnoh paramam padam).

Vadatiti chet na prajno hi prakaranat I.4.5 (111)

And if you maintain that the text does speak (of the Pradhana as an object of knowledge) we deny that; because the intelligent (supreme) Self is meant on account of the general subject matter.

Vadati: the verse or the text states; Iti: thus; Chet: if. Na: no; Prajnah: the intellect supreme; Hi: because; Prakaranat: from the context, because of the general subject-matter of the Chapter.

An objection to Sutra 4 is raised and refuted.

The Sruti says, "He who has perceived that which is without sound, without touch, without form, decay, without taste, eternal, without smell, without beginning, without end, beyond the great (Mahat) and unchangeable, is freed from the jaws of death" Katha Up. II-3-15.

The Sankhyas says that the Pradhana has to be known to attain the final release, because the description given of the entity to be known agrees with the Pradhana, which is also beyond the Mahat (great). Hence we conclude that the Pradhana is denoted by the term 'Avyaktam'.

This Sutra refutes this. It says that by Avyakta, the one beyond Mahat (great) etc., the intelligent Supreme Self is meant, as that is the subject-matter of that Section.

Further the highest Self is spoken of in all Vedantic texts as possessing just those qualities which are mentioned in the passage quoted above viz., absence of sound etc.

Hence it follows that the Pradhana in the text is neither spoken of as the object of knowledge nor denoted by the term 'Avyaktam'.

Even the propounders of the Sankhya philosophy do not state that liberation or release from death is the result of the knowledge of Pradhana. They state that it is due to the knowledge of the sentient Purusha.

The author gives another reason for holding that Pradhana is not meant in the passage of the Katha Upanishad.

Trayanameva chaivamupanyasah prasnascha I.4.6 (112)

And there is question and explanation relating to three things only (not to the Pradhana).

Trayanam: of the three, namely three boons asked by Nachiketas; Eva: only; Cha: and; Evam: thus; Upanyasah: mentioned, (presentation by way of answer); Prasnat: question; Cha: and.

The objection raised in Sutra 5 is further refuted.

In the Katha Upanishad Nachiketas asks Yama three questions only viz., about the fire sacrifice, the individual soul and the Supreme Self. These three things only Yama explains and to them only the questions of Nachiketas refer. Pradhana is not mentioned. Nothing else is mentioned or enquired about. There is no question relative to the Pradhana and hence no scope for any remarks on it. We cannot expect Yama to speak of the Pradhana which has not been enquired into. So Pradhana has no place in the discourse.

Mahadvaccha I.4.7 (113)

And (the case of the term Avyakta) is like that of the term Mahat.

Mahadvat: like the Mahat; Cha: and.

An argument in support of Sutra 1 is given. Just as in the case of Mahat, Avyakta also is used in the Vedas in a sense different from that attached to it in the Sankhya.

The Sankhyas use the term 'Mahat' (the great one) to denote the first born entity, the intellect. The term has a different meaning in the Vedic texts. In the Vedic texts it is connected with the word Self. Thus we see in such passages as the following – "The great Self is beyond the intellect" (Katha Up. I-3-10), "The great Omnipresent Self" (Katha Up. I-2-22), "I know the great person" (Svet. Up. III-8). We therefore, conclude that the term 'Avyakta' also where it occurs in the Srutis, cannot denote the Pradhana. Though the Avyakta may mean the Pradhana or Prakriti in the Sankhya philosophy, it means something different in the Sruti texts. So the Pradhana is not based on scriptural authority, but is a mere conclusion of inference.

Mahat is the Buddhi of the Sankhyas. But in the Katha Upanishad the Mahat is said to be higher than Buddhi. "Buddheratma mahan parah." So the Mahat of the Kathopanishad is different from the Mahat of the Sankhyas.