An Analysis of the Brahma Sutra
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 12: Brahman and Its Realisation

The point that I am touching upon here is the fate of the soul in the state of liberation. This has been a controversial subject – what happens to the soul when it attains liberation. Learned people, professors of philosophy I have had the occasion to meet. Head of the Department of Philosophy in Cornell University, New York, came here long, long ago, during Gurudev's time. He stayed here for about twenty or twenty-one days; everyday he would come and sit with me with his Mrs., who was a doctor. All kinds of subjects he would discuss and he used to conduct daily lectures on Western thought in the Satsanga in the presence of Sri Gurudev.

In our discussion, the Professor asked me, 'What are you aiming at, Swamiji, finally?!' I said, 'We are aiming at the liberation of the spirit in God'. 'What does it mean?'. I said, 'Identity with God'. 'What happens when we attain identity with God?'. 'You lose your individuality and become the All.' He said, 'Oh! I lose myself? If I am not there, as you say, who will be experiencing God? The experiencer himself is not there as you are saying; then who is going to experience the state of liberation?' I said, 'God will experience the state of liberation'. 'Oh! Then what about me?' 'You will be so attuned to God's existence that there will be no question about it again – what will happen?' If the river Ganga enters the Ocean, then will the Ganga ask the question 'What will happen to me in the Ocean? What answer will you give? Does Ganga persist to exist in the Ocean as Ganga? And if you say Ganga will not be persisting as Ganga in the Ocean, will it be any kind of loss to Ganga?

Ganga will become the Ocean. All right, but there will be no Ganga there. Can you say Ganga is not there? Similar is the case with everyone. We will not be there but it is not that we will not be there. Ganga will be there in the Ocean, yet Ganga will not be there in the Ocean. Can you catch this subtle point? He said, 'Very terrible!' Westerners cannot understand this. 'Merging,' – that word is terrifying.

You can attain God, ruling in the Kingdom of Heaven – all these things are very interesting to hear but 'merging' is a disturbing word. The Brahma Sutra takes up this subject. There has been a lot of controversy; If you are honest enough to read the Sutras, you will find that right from the beginning till the end there is controversy discussed and argued about.

One of the things that comes out on a close analysis of the real meaning of the Sutras themselves is that it seems to be favouring Acharya Ramanuja's interpretation of God and the world; it does not seem to be favouring Sankaracharya fully, but Sankara is bent upon seeing that his thought is there.

According to Ramanuja, the soul does not merge in God. It enjoys the Glory of God. Our body is made up of so many cells; can you say the cells themselves are you? Or you are different from the cells? If the cells are not there, your body will not be there; but are you yourself the cells? When you say 'I have come from my room and am sitting here', now, who is this 'I'? Is it the bundle of cells that is speaking? The body consisting of cells is to be distinguished from that which embodies the cells. And Ramanuja concludes that all the world, all individuals are like cells or adjectives in the body of God. You cannot distinguish between yourself and the cells out of which your body is made; yet you are not the cells. So is the case with the individuals attaining God; they are inseparable from Narayana, Vishnu, God Almighty, but they are not themselves Narayana. The cells out of which your body is made are inseparable from the body, but the body is something unique by itself – cannot be called a hotchpotch bundle of the cells. There is a distinction. Ramanuja's doctrine is that the relation between God and the world is soul-body relation.

But Acharya Sankara does not agree with this decision. We should not bring here the word 'relation' at all – this is his point. 'Relation' means accepting the existence of two different things. If there are two different things, they cannot become one; If the two cannot become one, duality will persist; If duality persists, there will be no universal experience. Therefore, Ramanuja is not right and Sankara contends that the Brahma Sutra says that the soul merges in God in an Identity of Universality.

The difficulty arises due to the definition of God, Brahman, given in the Brahma Sutra, at the very beginning. Who is God? It does not say that God is the Supreme Absolute, indistinguishable, indivisible Eternal Being. The definition given is peculiar: – God is He who creates, sustains and dissolves the world. This definition is called 'tentative definition'. There is a distinction between 'essential definition' and 'tentative definition'; Where is the house of Mr. John? If you say 'The house on which a crow is perched, there – that is the house'; May be at that time the crow was perched but it does not mean that the crow will perch always on the house; The definition of the house is not complete when you say that that is the house where crow is perched.

Likewise, the definition of God as the creator is not a satisfactory definition, because God is not bound to be creating the world always; He can cease from creation. When he ceases from creation, what is His nature? The definition given in the Brahma Sutra is what is known as tatastha lakshana – an accidental attribute, which is not the essential nature of God. What is the purpose of defining God that way which is not his true nature? But in India, the respect for the Sutra is so much among the Pandits and the learned people that they cannot argue against the Sutra's meaning; whatever the Sutra says, must be accepted; otherwise you risk being a heretic, and you are contradicting the true meaning of the Sutra. All the commentators repeat what the Sutra says. And, this is the beginning of the Sutras; what is the end? Anavrittih shabdat, anavrittih shabdat – according to this scriptural statement, one will not return from the state of liberation after attaining God, Brahman, Creator, Preserver, Destroyer.

The soul will not return if it attains identity with the Absolute Being, Brahman. But Acharya Sankara is at pains to tell us that the God who is described in the Brahma Sutra is a God with many attributes, Saguna Brahman, because it is mentioned that God is He who creates, preserves, and destroys. But it does not say who God is by Himself independent of the activity of creation, preservation, destruction; The essential God is missed, but nobody can dare to say that the Brahma Sutra is not giving the correct information.

There is a difficulty felt by the orthodox commentator. He cannot agree with what the Sutra obviously is saying, nor can he say 'I don't agree'; If they do not agree it is heresy, if they agree it is self-contradictory. Acharya Shankara knows this well. So he holds that anavrittih shabdat – 'you will not return' – means you will not return until the time of the dissolution of Brahma-Loka, foundation of the universe. This would be conditional liberation, but not absolute liberation. What is absolute liberation, then?

According to Sankara, the God described in the Brahma Sutra is the Creator God, not the Absolute – a position that he maintains which is opposed to every other Acharya's interpretation – the Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka, Vallabha, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the Sakta and Saiva philosophers. All these have almost a uniform view; against all which Sankara stands.

The difficulty is in the definition of Brahman. Brahma Sutra could have said 'God is Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, Satchitananda'. What is the harm in giving that definition? 'Pure Being, Pure Consciousness, Pure Freedom' – instead of that why did the Brahma Sutra say God is He who creates, preserves, destroys? According to this view, by liberation, we have to mean going to Brahma-Loka, having Cosmic Consciousness but not becoming Brahma Himself. There is a specific Sutra, jagat vyaparavarjyam' – the liberated soul in Brahma-Loka will have all the freedom except the power of creating the world; It is like someone living in the White House – with all the facilities, all the enjoyments which the President has, but he is not the President. If you are in Brahma-Loka, you will not be Brahma Himself: Attainment of Brahma-Loka is subject to return according to the Bhagavadgita. Then why does the Sutra say that one will not return?

Sankara is caught in a difficulty. Like a shrewd lawyer, he argues, 'you will not return' means 'as long as the creator continues creating, and Brahma-Loka persists, you will be there and you will not return – anavrittih. But what about the state of this liberated soul when the universe is dissolved?

The presence of a second beside you limits your freedom. In a democracy, every person is free but not absolutely free; the citizen of a country is free to the extent that the same freedom is granted to other people also; it is not Absolute Freedom to the extent of denying freedom to other people. The existence of other people and the necessity to give equal freedom to other people makes one's freedom limited. Everybody's freedom is limited freedom due to the existence of other people, who also have the same freedom; – but that cannot be called Absolute Freedom.

'Absolute' means no condition attached to it. As long as you give freedom to other people, you are free relatively. But 'I want Unconditional Freedom'. That is possible only in a Timeless Existence. Timelessness does not mean long, long, long duration; even if you live continuously for millions of years, you are within time only. But if Freedom is Timelessness, it is Eternity. Inconceivable this State is; no human being can conceive what Eternity is, because our mind-body complex is involved in space and time. Anything that we think is in space; anything that we think is in time. Even if you stretch your imagination to the extent of affirming that there is no space and no time, that thought also will be in space and time only. So it is a futile attempt to reject the consciousness of space and time; Thus, no one can imagine what Eternity is – that is to say, no one can imagine who God is; – then it means also that no one can know what Liberation is, due to the persistence of egoism.

You should not be frightened that you will be abolished in your attunement with God, in the same way Ganga, Yamuna, Mississippi, Missouri, Volga rivers need not be afraid that they are going to lose themselves in the Ocean. They are not going to lose themselves in the Ocean; they are becoming the Ocean. Why are you afraid of the word 'losing'? Ganga has not lost herself in the bigness of the Ocean; she has become a larger being than herself. So the abolition of individuality is not a loss of existence; it is enhancement of existence in a Freedom which is incomparable. This is moksha. Human beings are all confused, because all conception is in space and time; bound by space-time-causation.

The arguments, questions, controversies in this regard arise because of the impossibility of the human mind to think Eternity and Infinity. As thought cannot go beyond time and space, nobody can understand what moksha is.

Meditation is the way to Liberation. Controversies are unnecessary, scholarship, disputation, pedantry are not necessary for a spiritual seeker. Meditate according to the Upanishadic dictum known as the Vaishvanara Vidya, or Bhuma Vidya.