BRAHMA SUTRAS
by Swami Sivananda

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CHAPTER ONE: SAMANVAYA ADHYAYA

Section 4: Prakrtyadhikaranam: Topic 7 (Sutra 23-27)

Brahman is both the efficient and the material cause.


Prakritischa pratijna drishtantanuparodhat I.4.23 (129)

(Brahman is) the material cause also on account of (this view) not being in conflict with the proposition and the illustrations (quoted in the Sruti).

Prakritih: the material cause; Cha: also; Pratijna: the proposition; Drishtanta: illustrations; Anuparodhat: on account of this not being in conflict.

This Sutra states that Brahman is the efficient as well as the material cause of the universe.

Brahman has been defined as that from which proceed the origin, sustenance and dissolution of this universe. Now a doubt arises whether Brahman is the material cause like clay or gold, or the efficient or operative causality like potter or goldsmith.

The Purvapakshin or the objector holds that Brahman is the only operative or the efficient cause of the world, as in texts like, "He reflected, he created Prana" Pras. Up. VI.3 & 4. Observation and experience intimate that the action of operative causes only such as potters and the like is preceded by thinking or reflection. It is, therefore, quite correct that we should regard the creator also in the same light. The creator is declared as the 'Lord'. Lords such as kings are known only as operative causes. The Supreme Lord must be regarded as an operative cause.

This Sutra refutes this prima facie view of the Purvapakshin. Brahman is also the material cause of this universe. The term 'cha' (also) indicates that Brahman is the efficient cause as well. Only if Brahman is the material cause of the universe it is possible to know everything through the knowledge of Brahman. "Have you ever asked for that instruction by which that which is not heard becomes heard; that which is not perceived, perceived; that which is not known, known?" (Chh. Up. IV.1-2), which declare that the effects are not different from their efficient cause, because we know from ordinary experience that the carpenter is different from the house he has built.

The illustrations referred to here are "My dear, as by one lump of clay all that is made of clay is known, the modification i.e., the effect being a name merely which has its origin in speech, while the truth is that it is clay merely" etc. (Chh. Up. VI-14). These texts clearly indicate that Brahman is the material cause of the universe, otherwise they would be meaningless.

Promising statements are made in other places also. For instance "What is that through which if it is known everything else becomes known," Mun. Up. I.1.3. "When the Self has been seen, heard, perceived and known then all this is known" (Bri. Up. IV-5-6). All these promissory statements and illustrative instances which are to be found in all Vedanta texts prove that Brahman is also the material cause.

There is no other guiding being than Brahman. We have to conclude from this that Brahman is the efficient cause at the same time. Lumps of clay and pieces of gold are dependent on extraneous operative causes such as potters and goldsmiths in order to shape themselves into vessels and ornaments; but outside Brahman as material cause there is no other operative or efficient cause to which the material cause could look, because the scripture says that Brahman was One without a second previous to creation. Who else could be an efficient or operative cause when there was nothing else?

If that were admitted that there is a guiding principle different from the material cause, in that case everything cannot be known through one thing. Consequently the promissory statements and the illustrations would be stultified.

Therefore Brahman is the efficient cause, because there is no other ruling principle. He is the material cause as well because there is no other substance from which the universe can take its origin.

For the sake of harmony between the proposition to be established and illustrations given therein, we conclude that Brahman is the material cause of the world. The text expressly declares Him to be the efficient or operative cause as well.


Abhidhyopadesacca I. 4.24 (130)

On account of the statement of will or reflection (to create on the part of the Supreme Self, It is the material cause).

Abidhya: will, reflection; Upadesat: on account of instruction or teaching or statement; Cha: also, and.

An argument in support of Sutra 23 is given "He wished or thought may I be many, may I grow forth". In this text the desire and reflection indicate that Brahman is the efficient cause.

"May I be many" shows that Brahman Himself became many. Therefore He is the material cause as well.

He willed to manifest Himself as many i.e., as the universe.

He willed to evolve the universe out of Himself. This intimates that He is at once the material and the efficient cause of creation.


Sakshaccobhayamnanat I.4.25 (131)

And because the Sruti states that both (the origin and the dissolution of the universe) have Brahman for their material cause.

Sakshat: direct; Cha: also; Ubhayamnanat: because the Sruti states both.

The argument in support of Sutra 23 is continued.

This Sutra provides a further argument for Brahman's being the general material cause.

That from which a thing takes its origin and into which it is withdrawn, and absorbed is its material cause. This is well known. Thus the earth, for instance, is the material cause of rice, barley and the like. "All these things take their origin from the Akasa (Brahman) alone and return into the Akasa" Chh. Up. I-9-1.

"That from which these things are produced, by which, when produced they live, and into which they enter at their dissolution – try to know that. That is Brahman" Tait. Up. III.1. These Upanishadic passages indicate clearly that Brahman is the material cause also.

The word 'Sakshat' (direct) in the Sutra shows that there is no other material cause, but that all this originated from the Akasa (Brahman) only. Observation and experience teach that effects are not re-absorbed into anything else but their material cause.


Atmakriteh parinamat I.4.26 (132)

(Brahman is the material cause of the world) because it created Itself by undergoing modification.

Atmakriteh: created itself; Parinamat: by undergoing modification.

The argument in support of Sutra 23 is continued.

We read in the Tait. Up. II-7 "That Itself manifested Itself." This intimates that Brahman alone created the world out of Itself, which is possible only by undergoing modification. This represents the Self as the object of action as well as the agent. So He is the Karta (creator-agent) and Karma (creation). He becomes the creation by means of Parinama (evolution or modification).

The word 'Itself' intimates the absence of any other operative cause but the Self. The modification is apparent (Vivarta), according to Sri Sankaracharya. It is real, according to Sri Ramanujacharya. The world is unreal in the sense that it is not permanent. It is an illusion in the sense it has only a phenomenal existence, it has no existence separate from Brahman.


Yonischa hi giyate I.4.27 (133)

And because (Brahman) is called the source.

Yoni: the womb, the source, the origin; Cha: and; Hi: because; Giyate: is called.

The argument in support of Sutra 23 is continued.

Brahman is the material cause of the universe, also because He is stated in Sruti to be the source of the universe.

We read in Mundaka Upanishad III-1-3, "The Maker, the Lord, the Person, who has his source in Brahman" and "that which the wise regard as the Source of all beings" Mun. Up. I- 1-6.

Achintyam-avyaktam-ananta rupam, sivam, prasantam amritam brahmayonim; Tamadimadhyantavihinam-ekam vibhum chid-anandam-arupam-adbhutam – He is incomprehensible, unspeak- able, infinite in form, all-good, all-peace, immortal, the parent of the universe, without beginning, middle and end, without rival, all-pervading, all-consciousness, all-bliss, invisible, and inscrutable – this indicates that Brahman is the material cause of the world.

The word Yoni or womb always denotes the material cause, as in the sentence "the earth is the Yoni or womb of herbs and trees."

It is thus proved or established that Brahman is the material cause of the universe.