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Brahma Sutras
by Swami Sivananda


Section 2: Prakritaitavattvadhikaranam: Topic 6 (Sutras 22-30)

The Neti-neti text explained.

Prakrtaitavattvam hi pratishedhati tato braviti cha bhuyah III.2.22 (340)

What has been mentioned up to this is denied (by the words "not this, not this" and the Sruti) says something more than that (afterwards).

Prakritaitavattvam: what bas been mentioned up to this; Hi: because, for; Pratishedhati: denies; Tatah: then that, over and above that; Braviti: declares; Cha: and; Bhuyah: something more. (Prakrita: mentioned first, previously stated; Etavattvam: this much.)

In this group of Sutras also the Sutrakara expounds the Nirvisesha (formless) Brahman.

The Sruti declares "There are two forms of Brahman, gross and subtle, the material and the immaterial, the mortal and the immortal, the limited and the unlimited, Sat and Tyat" (Bri. Up. II.3.1).

After describing the two forms of Brahman, the gross consisting of earth, water and fire, and the subtle, consisting of air and ether, the Sruti declares finally "Now, therefore, the description of Brahman; not this, not this" (Bri. Up. II.3. 6).

There arises a doubt whether the double denial in "not this, not this" negates both the world and Brahman, or only one of them.

The Purvapakshin or the opponent maintains that both are denied and consequently Brahman which is false, cannot be the substratum for a universe which is also false. It leads us to Sunyavada. If one only is denied it is proper that Brahman is denied, because It is not seen and therefore Its existence is doubtful and not the universe because we experience it.

This Sutra refutes this view of the Purvapakshin. It is impossible that the phrase "Not so, not so" should negative both, as that would imply the doctrine of a general void. The words "Neti, Neti" cannot be said to deny Brahman as well as its having form, because that would be Sunyavada.

The Sruti affirms Brahman. What is the good of teaching Brahman and saying that it is non-existent? Why smear yourself with mud and then wash it? So Brahman is beyond speech and mind and is eternal, pure and free. It is a mass of consciousness. Therefore the Sruti denies that Brahman has form but not Brahman itself.

What has been described till now, viz., the two forms of Brahman: gross and subtle, is denied by the words, "not this, not this".

Brahman cannot be denied, because that would contradict the introductory phrase of the Chapter. "Shall I tell you Brahman?" (Bri. Up. II.1.1), would show disregard of the threat conveyed in Tait. Up. II.6. "He who knows the Brahman as non-existing becomes himself non-existing," would be opposed to definite assertions such as "He is" "He is to be apprehended" (Katha Up. II.6.13); and would certainly involve a stultification of the whole Vedanta.

The phrase that Brahman transcends all speech and thought does certainly not mean to say that Brahman does not exist, because after the Sruti has established the existence of Brahman in such texts as "He who knows Brahman obtains the Highest", "Truth, Knowledge, Infinity is Brahman". It cannot be supposed all at once to teach its non-existence. Because the common saying is "Better than bathing it is not to touch dirt at all." The Sruti text "From whence all speech with the mind turns away unable to reach it" (Tait. Up. II.4), must therefore be viewed as intimating Brahman.

"Not so, not so" negatives the entire aggregate of effects superimposed on Brahman, but not Brahman which is the basis for all fictitious superimpositions. It denies of Brahman the limited form, material as well as immaterial which in the preceding part of the chapter is described with reference to the gods as well as the body, and also the second form which is produced by the first, is characterised by mental impressions, forms the essence of that which is immaterial, is denoted by the term Purusha.

The double repetition of the negation may either serve the purpose of furnishing special denial of the material as well as the immaterial form of Brahman; or the first 'not so' may negative the aggregate of material elements, while the second denies the aggregate of mental impressions. Or else the repetition may be an emphatic one, intimating that whatever can be thought is not Brahman.

The Sruti denies that Brahman has form but not Brahman itself. It interdicts by two negations the gross and the subtle bodies. Or it interdicts Bhutas (elements) and Vasanas. Or the repetition is for stating the denial of all similar assumptions. So the denial denies the world as superimposed on Brahman and does not deny Brahman itself.

After the negation of Neti Neti, the Sruti goes on to describe in positive terms the further attributes of this Brahman – His name being the True of the true (Satyasya Satyam). Moreover after making such a denial, it affirms the existence of something higher – Anyat Paramasti; Satyasya Satyam – The Truth of Truth. This intimates that Brahman alone is the one reality that exists and is the substratum of the world which is illusory.

'Neti Neti' denies the so-muchness of Brahman, as was described in the preceding Sutras. It says that the material and immaterial is not the whole of Brahman. It is something more than that. The word 'Iti' refers to what has been mentioned immediately before, i.e., the two forms of Brahman, the subject matter of the discussion. Hence it cannot refer to Brahman itself which is not the chief topic of the preceding texts.

The objection viz., Brahman is not experienced and therefore it is Brahman that is denied, has no force. It cannot stand, because the object of the Sruti is to teach about something which is not ordinarily experienced by us. Otherwise its teaching would be superfluous.

We, therefore, decide that the clause "not so, not so", negatives not absolutely everything, but only everything but Brahman.

Tadavyaktamaha hi III.2.23 (341)

That (Brahman) is not manifest, for (so the scripture) says.

Tat: that (i.e., Brahman); Avyaktam: is not manifest; Aha: (so the scripture) says; Hi: for, because.

The character of Brahman is discussed.

This is a Purvapaksha Sutra.

Brahman is beyond the senses, so the Sruti declares. If Brahman exists, then why is It not apprehended by the senses or the mind? Because It is extremely subtle and is the witness of whatever is apprehended i.e., subject in the apprehension. The individual souls are enveloped by ignorance. Hence they are not able to perceive Brahman. The Sruti declares "Brahman is not apprehended by the eye, nor by the speech, nor by the other senses, nor by penance, nor by good works" (Mun. Up. III.1). "That Self is to be described by no, no! He is incomprehensible, for He cannot be comprehended" (Bri. Up. III.9.26). "That which cannot be seen nor apprehended" (Mun. Up. I.1.6).

"When in that which is invisible, incorporeal, undefined, unsupported" (Tait. Up. II.7). Similar statements are made in Smriti passages, e.g., "He is called unevolved, not to be fathomed by thought, unchangeable."

Api cha samradhane pratyakshanumanabhyam III.2.24 (342)

And moreover (Brahman is experienced) in devout meditation (as we know) from the Sruti and Smriti.

Api cha: and moreover; Samradhane: in devout meditation; Pratyakshanumanabhyam: from the Sruti and the Smriti.

The discussion on the characteristic of Brahman is continued.

The word 'Api' sets aside the Purvapaksha. It is used in a deprecative sense. The above Purvapaksha is not even worthy of consideration.

Brahman is exceedingly subtle. Hence He cannot be seen by the physical eyes. He is beyond the senses. But Yogis behold Him in their purified minds. If Brahman is not manifest, then we can never know Him and therefore there will be no freedom.

This Sutra declares that Brahman is not known only to those whose heart is not purified, but those who are endowed with a pure heart realise Brahman in the state of Samadhi when ignorance is annihilated.

This is vouched for by Srutis as well as Smritis. "The Self-existent created the senses with out-going tendencies. Therefore man beholds the external universe but not the internal Self. Some wise man, however, with his eyes closed and wishing for immortality beholds the Self within" (Katha Up. IV.1). "When a man's mind has become purified by the serene light of knowledge, then he sees Him, meditating on Him as without parts" (Mun. Up. III.1.8).

The Smriti also says the same thing "He who is seen as light by the Yogins meditating on Him sleeplessly, with suspended breath, with contented minds and subdued senses, etc., reverence be to Him" and "the Yogins see Him, the august, eternal one!"

Prakasadivacchavaiseshyam prakasascha karmanyabhyasat III.2.25 (343)

And as in the case of (physical) light and the like, there is no difference, so also between Brahman and Its manifestation in activity; on account of the repeated instruction (of the Sruti to that effect).

Prakasadivat: like light and the like; Cha: also, and; Avaiseshyam: similarity, non-difference, non-distinction; Prakasah: Brahman; Cha: and; Karmani: in work; Abhyasat: on account of repeated mention (in the Sruti).

The discussion on the character of Brahman is continued.

The identity of Jiva and Brahman is explained. Just as light, ether, the sun, etc., appear differentiated as it were, through their objects such as fingers, vessels, water, etc., which form the limiting adjuncts while in reality they preserve their essential non-difference, so also the distinction of different selves is due to limiting adjuncts only, while the unity of all selves is natural and original. Through ignorance the individual soul thinks he is different from Brahman, but in reality he is identical with Brahman.

As in the case of light, etc., the self-luminous Brahman appears diverse in meditation and other acts. This is clear from the Sruti saying "Tat Tvam Asi" nine times.

The Vedanta texts insist again and again on the doctrine of the non-difference of the individual soul and the Supreme Soul. The identity of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul is known from repeated instruction of the Sruti in texts like "That Thou art – Tat Tvam Asi", "I am Brahman – Aham Brahma Asmi" which deny difference.

Ato'nantena tatha hi lingam III.2.26 (344)

Therefore (the individual soul becomes one) with the Infinite; for thus the (scripture) indicates.

Atah: hence, therefore; Anantena: with the Infinite; Tatha: thus; Hi: because, for; Lingam: the indication (of the scriptures).

The result of realisation of Brahman is stated here.

By the realisation of Brahman the meditator becomes identical with the Infinite. Ignorance with all its limiting adjuncts vanishes when one attains Brahma Jnana. There is indication to that effect in Sruti, "He who knows the highest Brahman becomes Brahman Himself" (Mun. Up. III.2.9). "Being Brahman he goes to Brahman" (Bri. Up. IV.4.6). If the difference were real, then one could not become Brahman Himself. Difference is only illusory or unreal. Jiva is only a mere shadow or reflection. He is mere appearance. Just as the reflection of the sun in the water gets absorbed in the sun itself when the water dries up, so also the reflected Jiva gets absorbed in Brahman when ignorance is destroyed by the dawn of Knowledge of Brahman.

Ubhayavyapadesattvahikundalavat III.2.27 (345)

But on account of both (i.e., difference and non-difference) being taught (by the Sruti), (the relation of the highest Brahman to the individual soul has to be viewed) like that of the snake to its coils.

Ubhayavyapadesat: on account of both being taught; Tu: but; Ahikundalavat: like that between a serpent and its coils. (Ubhaya: both; Vyapadesat: on account of the declaration of the scripture; Ahi: serpent; Kundalavat: like the coils.)

The discussion on the characteristic of Brahman is resumed.

Sutras 27 and 28 express the views of the Bhedabhedavadins. Sutra 29 gives the real view.

Having established the identity of the individual soul and Brahman the Sutrakara or the author mentions a different view of the same matter. He now proceeds to enquire into the doctrine of difference and non-difference.

Some scriptural texts refer to the Supreme Soul and the individual soul as distinct entities: "Two birds of beautiful plumage, etc." (Mun. Up. III.1.1). This text speaks of difference between the Jiva and Brahman.

In some other texts the Supreme Soul is represented as the object of approach and as the ruler of the individual soul. "Then he sees him meditating on him as without parts" (Mun. Up. III.1.8). "He goes to the Divine Person who is greater than the great" (Mun. Up. III.2.8). "Who rules all beings within."

In other texts again the two are spoken of as non-different. "Thou art That" (Chh. Up. VI.8.7). "I am Brahman" (Bri. Up. I.4.10). "This is thy Self who is within all" (Bri. Up. III.4.1). "He is thy Self, the ruler within, the immortal" (Bri. Up. III.7.15).

As thus difference and non-difference are equally vouched for by the Sruti texts, the acceptation of absolute non-difference would render Futile all those texts which speak of difference. Therefore we have to take that their relation is one of difference and non-difference, as between a serpent and its coils. As a serpent it is one non-different, but if we look at the coils, hood, erect posture, and so on, there is difference.

Even so there is difference as well as non-difference between the individual soul and Brahman. The difference between them prior to emancipation is real. The Jiva becomes identical with Brahman only when his ignorance is destroyed by the dawn of knowledge of Brahman.

Their separateness and oneness is like a serpent in quiescence and motion.

Prakasasrayavadva tejastvat III.2.28 (346)

Or like (the relation of) light and its substratum, on account of both being luminous.

Prakasasrayavat: like light and its substratum; Va: or; Tejastvat: on account of both being luminous.

The relation between Brahman and the individual soul also is discussed.

Or else the relation of the two may be viewed as follows. Another illustration is given to establish the theory of difference and non-difference. Just as the light of the sun and its substratum, i.e., the sun itself, are not absolutely different, because they both consist of fire and yet are spoken of as different, so also the individual soul and the Supreme Soul (Brahman).

The light and the sun are both luminous. Hence they are non-different. They are different owing to their varying extensity. Similarly is the relation between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul one of difference and non-difference. The former is limited and the latter is all-pervading.

Purvavadva III.2.29 (347)

Or (the relation between the two, i.e., Jiva and Brahman is) as (given) before.

Purvavat: as before; Va: or.

Or it may be as stated in Sutra 25. This last is the real view, because if the individual soul is another state of Brahman or a ray of Brahman, such inherent limitation will never disappear. The Sruti affirms identity and states the feature of diversity which is due to Avidya.

The two previous Sutras express the view of Bhedabhedavadins who maintain the doctrine of difference and non-difference.

This Sutra refutes the view of Bhedabhedavadins and establishes the final truth which has been declared in Sutra 25, viz., that the difference is merely illusory, and identity or non-difference is the reality.

If the bondage of the soul is due to Avidya or ignorance only, final liberation is possible. But if the soul is really bound, whether the soul be regarded as a certain condition or state of the Supreme Soul or Brahman, as stated in Sutra 27, or as a part of the Supreme Soul, as expressed in Sutra 28 – its real bondage cannot be destroyed. Thus the scriptural doctrine of final liberation becomes purposeless and absurd.

If the difference is real it can never come to an end. All the scriptural instructions with regard to the final emancipation will be meaningless. Bondage is only the idea of separateness. If separateness is real there can be no final release at all. But if the difference is due to nescience or ignorance, then knowledge of Brahman or Brahma-Jnana can annihilate it. Then the Supreme Reality or Brahman, the non-difference may be realised.

It cannot be said that the Sruti equally teaches difference and non-difference. The Sruti aims at establishing non-difference only. It merely refers to difference as something known from other sources of knowledge, viz., perception, etc.

Hence the views expressed in Sutras 27 and 28 are not certainly correct. The view given in Sutra 25 alone is correct.

The conclusion is that the soul is not different from the Supreme Soul or Brahman as explained in Sutra 25.

Pratishedhaccha III.2.30 (348)

And on account of the denial.

Pratishedhat: on account of denial; Cha: and, moreover.

Sutra 29 is confirmed.

The Sruti in fact expressly denies separateness.

The conclusion arrived at above is confirmed by the fact of scripture expressly denying that there exists any intelligent being apart from Brahman or the Supreme Soul. "There is no other Seer but He – Nanyato'sti Drashta" (Bri. Up. III.7.23).

The same conclusion follows from those passages which deny the existence of a world apart from Brahman, and thus leave Brahman alone remaining, viz., "Now then the teaching – not this, not this" (Bri. Up. II.3.6). "That Brahman is without cause and without effect, without anything inside or outside" (Bri. Up. II.5.19).

It is now an established fact that there is no other entity but Brahman. Therefore there is only one Brahman without any difference at all.