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Brahma Sutras
by Swami Sivananda


Section 2: Ubhayalingadhikaranam: Topic 5 (Sutras 11-21)

The nature of Brahman.

Na sthanato'pi parasyobhayalingam sarvatra hi III.2.11 (329)

Not on account of (difference of) place also two-fold characteristics can belong to the Highest; for everywhere (scripture teaches It to be without any difference).

Na: not; Sthanatah: on account of (difference of) place; Api: even; Parasya: of the Highest (i.e., Brahman); Ubhayalingam: two-fold characteristics; Sarvatra: everywhere; Hi: because.

The Sutrakara now proceeds to deal with the nature of Brahman.

In the scriptures we find two kinds of description about Brahman. Some texts describe it as qualified, i.e., with attributes and some as unqualified (without attributes). "From whom all activities, all desires, all odours and all tastes proceed" (Chh. Up. III.14.2). This text speaks of attributes. Again, "It is neither coarse nor fine, neither short nor long, neither redness nor moisture" etc. (Bri. Up. III.8.8). This text speaks of Brahman without attributes.

Are we to assume that both are true of Brahman according as it is or is not connected with limiting adjuncts or Upadhis or have we to assume only one of them as true and the other false? and if so, which is true? and why it is true?

This Sutra says that the Highest Brahman cannot by itself possess double characteristics. In the case of Brahman you cannot say that it has two aspects, viz., with form and attributes, and without form and attributes, i.e., with Upadhis (limiting adjuncts) and without Upadhis, because It is described everywhere as being Nirguna (without attributes).

Both cannot be predicated of one and the same Brahman because it is against experience. One and the same thing cannot have two contradictory natures at the same time. Brahman cannot at the same time have form and be formless.

The redness of a flower reflected in a crystal does not change the nature of the crystal which is colourless. Even so the mere connection of a thing with another does not change its nature. It is an altogether erroneous notion to impute redness to the crystal. The redness of the crystal is unreal. A thing cannot change its real nature. Changes of its real nature means annihilation. Similarly in the case of Brahman, its connection with the limiting adjuncts like earth, etc., is due to ignorance. An Upadhi cannot affect the nature of Brahman, such Upadhi being merely due to Avidya or nescience. The essential character of a thing must always remain the same whatever may be the conditions imposed on it. If however it appears to be altered it is surely due to ignorance.

Therefore we have to accept that Brahman is without attributes, because all Sruti texts whose aim is to represent the nature of Brahman such as "It is without sound, without touch, without form, without decay" (Katha Up. I.3.15) teach that It is free from all attributes.

Brahman with attributes is only for the sake of Upasana or pious worship of devotees; it is not Its real nature.

Na bhedaditi chenna pratyekamatadvachanat III.2.12 (330)

If it be said that it is not so on account of difference (being taught in the scriptures), we reply that it is not so, because with reference to each (such form), the Sruti declares the opposite of that.

Na: not so; Bhedat: on account of difference (being taught in the scriptures); Iti: thus, as, so, this; Chet: if; Na: not so; Pratyekam: with reference to each; Atadvachanat: because of the declaration of opposite of that. (Atad: absence of that; Vachanat: on account of the statement.)

An objection to the preceding Sutra is raised and refuted.

This Sutra consists of two parts namely an objection and its reply. The objection portion is "Bhedat iti chet" and the reply portion is "Na pratyekamatadvachanat".

The Purvapakshin says, "The various Vidyas teach different forms of Brahman. It is said to have four feet (Chh. Up. III.18.2); to consist of sixteen parts or Kalas (Pras. Up. VI.1); to be characterised by dwarfishness (Katha Up. V.3); to have the three worlds for its body (Bri. Up. I.3.22); to be named Vaisvanara (Chh. Up. V.11.2), etc. Hence we must admit that Brahman is also qualified."

This Sutra refutes it and declares that every such form due to limiting adjunct is denied of Brahman in texts like "This bright, immortal being who is in this earth and that bright immortal corporeal being in the body are but the self" (Bri. Up. II.5.1). Such texts clearly indicate that the same self is present in all limiting adjuncts like earth, etc. Therefore there is only oneness. It, therefore cannot be maintained that the conception of Brahman with various forms is taught by the Vedas.

In every passage identity is also affirmed. The Supreme Truth is oneness. Separateness is for devotion. The Sruti declares that the form is not true and that there is only one formless essence or principle in reality.

Api chaivameke III.2.13 (331)

Moreover some (teach) thus.

Api: also; Cha: moreover, and; Evam: thus; Eke: some.

A further argument is given in support of Sutra 11.

Some Sakhas or recensions of the Vedas directly teach that the manifoldness is not true. They pass a critical remark on those who see difference, "He goes from death to death who sees difference, as it were, in it" (Katha Up. I.4.11). "By the mind alone it is to be perceived. There is no diversity in It. He who perceives therein any diversity goes from death to death" (Bri. Up. IV.4.19).

Others also "By knowing the enjoyer, the enjoyed, and the ruler, everything has been declared to be three-fold and this is Brahman" (Svet. Up. I.12), say that the entire world characterised by enjoyers, things to be enjoyed and a ruler has Brahman for its true nature.

Arupavadeva hi tatpradhanatvat III.2.14 (332)

Verily Brahman is only formless on account of that being the main purport (of all texts about Brahman).

Arupavat: without form, formless; Eva: only, indeed, decidedly; Hi: verily, certainly, because; Tatpradhanatvat: on account of that being the main purport of scripture. (Tat: of that; Pradhanatvat: on account of being the chief thing.)

A further argument is given in support of Sutra 11.

We must definitely assert that Brahman is formless and so on. Why? On account of this being the main purport of scriptures. The scriptures declare,"It is neither coarse nor fine, neither short nor long" (Bri. Up. III.8.8). "That which is without sound, without form, without decay" (Katha Up. I.3.15). "He who is called ether is the revealer of all names and forms. That within which names and forms are, that is Brahman" (Chh. Up. VIII.14.1). "That heavenly Person is without body, He is both within and without, not produced" (Mun. Up. II.1.2). "That Brahman is without cause, and without anything inside or outside, this self is Brahman, Omnipresent and Omniscient" (Bri. Up. II.5.19).

These texts aim at teaching Brahman, describe It as formless. If Brahman be understood to have a form then the scriptural passages which describe it as formless would become meaningless. The scriptures have a purport all throughout. On the contrary, the other passages which refer to a Brahman qualified by form do not aim at setting forth the nature of Brahman but rather at enjoying the worship of Brahman.

Therefore Brahman is formless.

As long as those latter texts do not contradict those of the former class they are to be accepted as they stand; where, however, contradictions occur, the texts whose main purport is Brahman must be viewed as having greater force than those of the other kind. This is the reason for our deciding that, although there are two different classes of scriptural texts, Brahman must be held to be altogether formless, not at the same time of an opposite nature. The main Sruti texts declare Brahman to be formless.

The colour and forms are the products of the elements and Brahman is far above the influence of and different from the elements. Hence He is called the colourless or formless. Material colour and form cannot be found in Him when He is far above the subtle material cause as well as above its presiding deity.

Prakasavacchavaiyarthyat III.2.15 (333)

And as light (assumes forms as it were by its contact with things possessing form, so does Brahman take form in connection with Upadhis or limiting adjuncts), because (texts which ascribe form to Brahman) are not meaningless.

Prakasavat: like the light; Cha: and, moreover; Avaiyarthyat: because of not being meaningless.

A further argument is given in support of Sutra 11.

The word 'Cha' (and) is employed to remove the doubt raised above.

If Brahman is formless then all the scriptural texts which treat of Brahman with form would be meaningless, and superfluous. Then all Upasanas of Brahman with form would be useless. How can the worship of such a false Brahman lead to Brahmaloka?

This Sutra explains that they also have a purpose. The light of the sun has no form but it appears to be great or small according to the hole through which it enters a room and yet has the force of dispelling the darkness in the room. Similarly Brahman which is without a form appears to have a form due to limiting adjuncts like earth, body, etc. Just as the light of the sun comes in contact with a finger or some other limiting adjunct and according as the latter is straight or bent, itself becomes straight or bent as it were, so also Brahman assumes, as it were, the form of the earth, and the limiting adjuncts with which it comes into contact. The worship of such an illusory Brahman can help one to attain Brahmaloka which is also illusory from the view-point of the Absolute.

Therefore these texts are not meaningless. They have certainly a purport. All parts of the Veda are equally authoritative and therefore must all be assumed to have a meaning or purpose.

This, however, does not contradict the tenet maintained above, viz., that Brahman though connected with limiting adjuncts does not possess double characteristics, because what is merely due to a limiting adjunct cannot constitute an attribute of a substance. Further the limiting adjuncts are all due to ignorance.

Aha cha tanmatram III.2.16 (334)

And (the Sruti) declares (that Brahman is) that (i.e., intelligence) only.

Aha: (the Sruti) declares; Cha: and, moreover; Tanmatram: that (i.e., intelligent) only.

The force of the word 'Matra' in Tanmatra is to denote exclusiveness.

Scripture declares that Brahman consists of intelligence. "As a lump of salt has neither inside nor outside, but is altogether a mass of saltish taste, thus indeed has that Self neither inside nor outside but is altogether a mass of knowledge" (Bri. Up. IV.3.13). Pure intelligence constitutes its nature. Just as a lump of salt has neither inside nor outside but one and the same saltish taste, not any other taste, so also Brahman has neither inside nor outside any characteristic form but intelligence.

Darsayati chatho api smaryate III.2.17 (335)

(The scripture) also shows (this and) it is likewise stated in Smriti.

Darsayati: (the scripture or Sruti) shows; Cha: and, also; Atho: thus, moreover; Api: also; Smaryate: the Smritis declare or state.

The argument in support of Sutra 11 is continued.

That Brahman is without any attributes is also proved by those scriptural texts also which expressly deny that It possesses any other characteristics, e.g., "Now, therefore, the description of Brahman; not this, not this (neti, neti)" (Bri. Up. II.3.6). There is no other and more appropriate description than this "not this, not this".

Kenopanishad (I.4) declares "It is different from the known, It is also above the unknown". Taittiriya Upanishad (II.9) says "From whence all speech, with the mind, turns away unable to reach it".

The Sruti text which treats of the conversation between Bahva and Vashkali has a similar purport. Vashkali questioned Bahva about the nature of Brahman. Bahva explained it to Vashkali by silence. Bahva said to Vashkali "Learn Brahman, O friend" and became silent. Then on a second and third question he replied "I am teaching you indeed, but you do not understand. That Brahman is Silence."

If Brahman has form, there is no necessity to deny everything and say "Not this, not this."

The same teaching is conveyed by those Smriti texts which deny of Brahman all other characteristics, e.g., "I will proclaim that which is the object of knowledge, knowing which one attains immortality; the Highest Brahman without either beginning or end, which cannot be said either to be or not to be" (Gita XIII.12). "It is unmanifest, unthinkable, and without modification, thus It is spoken of" (Gita II. 25).

Of a similar purpose is another Smriti text. Lord Hari instructed Narada "The cause, O Narada, of your seeing Me endowed with the qualities of all beings is the Maya thrown out by Me; do not cognise Me as being such in reality."

Ata eva chopama suryakadivat III.2.18 (336)

For this very reason (we have with respect to Brahman) comparisons like the images of the sun and the like.

Ata eva: for this very reason; therefore; Cha: also, and; Upama: comparison; Suryakadivat: like the images of the sun and the like.

The argument in support of Sutra 11 is continued.

That Brahman is formless is further established from the similes used with respect to It. As Brahman is of the nature of intelligence, devoid of all difference, transcending speech and mind, as He is formless, homogeneous and as He is described only by denying of Him all other characteristics, the scriptures compare His forms to the images of the sun reflected in the water and the like, meaning thereby that these forms are unreal being due only to limiting adjuncts. "As the one luminous sun enters into relation to many different waters is himself rendered multiform by his limiting adjuncts; so also the one unborn Brahman appears different in different bodies."

Ambuvadagrahanattu na tathatvam III.2.19 (337)

But there is no similarity (of the two things compared since) (in the case of Brahman any second thing) is not apprehended or experienced like water.

Ambuvat: like water; Agrahanat: in the absence of perception, because of non-acceptance, because it cannot be accepted, not being experienced; Tu: but; Na: not, no; Tathatvam: that nature, similarity.

An objection to the preceding Sutra is raised by the Purvapakshin.

An objection is raised by the Purvapakshin that the similarity spoken of in the preceding Sutra is not appropriate or correct. In the above illustration the sun is seen to be separate from the water. Sun has a form. It is a material thing. Water is different from the sun and is at a distance from the sun. Hence the sun may be reflected in the water. But Brahman is formless and all-pervading.

It is not a material thing. All are identical with it. There are no limiting adjuncts different from it and occupying a different place, that can catch its reflection. It is not seen to be separate from the Upadhis or limiting adjuncts.

Brahman is all-pervading. So no object can be at a distance from Him. The sun is reflected in water because of its distance from water. But there can be no such distance between Brahman and any object. Hence reflection in this connection is a meaningless term.

Therefore the instances are not parallel. The comparison is defective.

The next Sutra removes the objection.

Vriddhihrasabhaktvamantarbhavadubhayasamanjasyadevam III.2.20 (338)

As (the highest Brahman) is inside (its limiting adjuncts) It participates in their increase and decrease; owing to the appropriateness (thus resulting) of the two (things compared), it is thus, (i.e., the comparison holds good).

Vriddhihrasabhaktvam: participating in the increase and decrease; Antarbhavat: on account of its being inside; Ubhaya- samanjasyat: on account of the appropriateness in the two cases; Evam: thus. (Vriddhi: increase; Hrasa: decrease; Ubhaya: towards both; Samanjasyat: because of the justness, appropriateness.)

The objection raised in the preceding Sutra is refuted.

The comparison with the reflection of the sun should not be taken on all fours. Whenever two things are compared they are so only with reference to some particular point or feature they have in common. Entire equality of the two can never be demonstrated. If it could be shown, there would be an end of that particular relation which gives rise to the comparison. Exact similitude in all points would mean absolute identity.

The similarity is only in point of the participation in the distortion and contortion in increase and decrease of the image or reflection. The reflected image of the sun dilates when the surface of the water expands; it contracts when the water shrinks; it trembles when the water is agitated; it divides itself when the water is divided. It thus participates in all the attributes and conditions of the water; while the real sun remains all the time the same.

Even so Brahman although in reality uniform and never changing, participates as it were in the attributes and states of the body and the other limiting adjuncts within which It abides. It grows with them as it were, decreases with them as it were and so on. As the two things compared possess certain common features, no objection can be made to the comparison. The comparison is certainly not defective on account of the above similarity in the two cases.

Darsanaccha III.2.21 (339)

And on account of the declaration of scripture.

Darsanat: as it is found to be so, because it is seen, on account of scriptural declaration; Cha: and, also.

A further reason is given to refute the objection raised in Sutra 19.

The scripture moreover declares that the Supreme Brahman enters into the body and other limiting adjuncts. "He made bodies with two feet, He made bodies with four feet. That Highest Brahman first entered the bodies as a bird. He is called the Purusha on account of His dwelling in all bodies" (Bri. Up. II.5.18). "Having entered into them with this luring individual self" (Chh. Up. VI.3.2). For all these reasons the comparison set forth in Sutra 18 is not defective.

Therefore it is established that Brahman is formless, homogeneous, of the nature of intelligence, and without any difference.

Scripture declares that devout meditations on Brahman with form have results of their own viz., either the warding off of calamities, or the gaining of power, or else release by successive steps (Krama Mukti or progressive emancipation).