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Brahma Sutras
by Swami Sivananda


Section 1: Na Vilakshanatvadhikaranam: Topic 3 (Sutras 4-11)

Brahman can be the cause of the universe, although It is of a contrary nature from the universe.

Na vilakshanatvadasya tathatvam cha sabdat II.1.4 (138)

(The objector says that) Brahman cannot be the cause of the world, because this (the world) is of a different nature (from Brahman) and its being so (different from Brahman) (is known) from the scriptures.

Na: not (i.e. Brahman is not the cause of the world); Vilakshanatvat: because of difference in nature; Asya: its (i.e. of this world); Tathatvam: its being so; Cha: and; Sabdat: from the word, from the Sruti.

There are eight Sutras in this Adhikarana. The first and the second express the Purvapaksha (objection) and the others express the true doctrine (Siddhanta).

The objections founded on Smriti against the doctrine of Brahman being the efficient and the material cause of the universe have been refuted. We now proceed to refute those founded on reasoning.

Some plausible objections against Brahman being the cause of the world are raised in this Sutra and the subsequent one.

The objector says: Brahman is intelligence. Brahman is pure. But the universe is material, insentient and impure. Therefore, it is different from the nature of Brahman. Hence, Brahman cannot be the cause of this world.

The effect must be of the same nature as the cause. The effect is only cause in another form. The cause and effect cannot be entirely of a different nature. The intelligent and sentient Brahman cannot produce non-intelligent, insentient, material universe. If Brahman is taken to be the cause of the world, the nature of the two must be similar. But they appear to be quite different in essence or nature. Hence, Brahman cannot be the cause of the world.

The difference in nature is also known from the statements of Sruti, "Brahman became intelligence as well as non-intelligence (world)" (Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmananda Valli, Sixth Anuvaka – Vijnanam cha avijnanam cha abhavat). Therefore, Brahman cannot be the cause of the material universe. Brahman, which is pure spirit, cannot be the cause of this universe, which is impure matter. The world which consists of pain, pleasure and illusion cannot be derived from Brahman.

Abhimanivyapadesastu viseshanugatibhyam II.1.5 (139)

But the reference is to the presiding deities (of the organs) on account of the special characterisation and also from the fact of a deity so presiding.

Abhimani: the presiding deity (of the organs and the elements); Vyapadesah: an expression, an indication, pointing out of, denotation of; Tu: but; Visesha: specific adjunct, on account of distinction, because of so being qualified; Anugatibhyam: the act of pervading; Viseshanugatibhyam: from the specific adjunct as well as from the fact of pervading, on account of their entering.

This Sutra meets an objection to Sutra 4. The word 'Tu' (but) discards the doubt raised.

Whenever an inanimate object is described in Smriti as behaving like animate beings, we are to understand that it is an indication of a deity presiding over it. In the case of actions like speaking, disputing, and so on, which require intelligence, the scriptural texts do not denote the mere material elements and organs but rather the intelligent deities which preside over each organ viz., speech, etc.

You will find in Kaushitaki Upanishad: "The deities contending with each other for who was the best." "All the deities recognised the pre-eminence in Prana" (Kau. Up. II-14). The Kaushitakins make express use of the word "deities" in order to exclude the idea of the mere material organs being meant. Aitareya Aranyaka (II-2-4) says, "Agni having become speech entered the mouth". This shows that each organ is connected with its own presiding deity.

There is a text in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (VI-I-7) which says, "These organs quarrelled over their respective greatness."

The texts of Chhandogya Upanishad also show the existence of such presiding deities. "The fire thought and produced water." This indicates that the inanimate object may be called God having reference to its presiding deity. The thought spoken of is that of the Highest Deity which is connected with the effects as a superintending principle. All these strengthen the hypothesis that the texts refer to the superintending deities.

From all this, we have to conclude that this universe is different in nature from Brahman. Therefore, the Universe cannot have Brahman for its material cause.

The next Sutra gives a very suitable reply to the objection raised by the Purvapakshin or the objector.

Drishyate tu II.1.6 (140)

But it (such organisation of life from matter) is also seen.

Drishyate: is seen; Tu: but.

Objection raised in Sutras 4 and 5 are now refuted.

The word 'but' discards the Purvapaksha. 'But' refutes the Purvapakshin's or objector's views expressed in the last Sutra, viz., that this universe cannot have originated from Brahman, because it is different in character. For we see that from man who is intelligent, non-intelligent things such as hair and nails originate, and that from non-intelligent matter such as cow-dung, scorpions etc., are produced. So the objections raised in Sutras 4 and 5 are not valid. Hence it is quite possible that this material universe could be produced by an intelligent Being, Brahman. Origination of insentient creation from the sentient Creator is not unreasonable.

The Mundaka Upanishad says "Just as the spider stretches forth and gathers together its threads, as herbs grow out of the earth, as from a living man comes out the hair, so also from the Imperishable comes out this universe" (I.1.7).

The objector may say that the body of a man is the cause of the hair and nails and not the man, and the cow-dung is the cause of the body of the scorpion, etc. Even then, there is difference in character between the cause, the dung and the effect, the body of the scorpion, in so far as some non-intelligent matter (the body) is the abode of an intelligent principle (the soul of the scorpion), which the other non-intelligent matter (the cow-dung) is not. They are not similar in all respects. If they were, then there would be nothing like cause and effect. If you expect to find all the aspects of Brahman in the world, then what is the difference between cause and effect?

The cause and its effects are not similar in all respects, but something in the cause is found in the effect also, just as clay in the lump is found in the jar also, though the shape, etc., of the two vary. The very relationship of cause and effect implies that there is some difference between the two. Some qualities of the cause, Brahman, such as existence and intelligence, are found in Its effect, the universe. All objects in the universe exist. The universe gets this quality from Brahman, which is Existence itself. Further the intelligence of Brahman illumines the entire world. The two qualities of Brahman, viz., existence and intelligence, are found in the universe. Hence it is quite proper to take Brahman as the cause of this universe, though there may be some difference in other respects between them.

Asaditi chet na pratishedhamatratvat II.1.7 (141)

If it be said (that the world, the effect, would then be) non-existent (before its origination or creation), (we say) no, because it is a mere negation (without any basis).

Asat: non-existence; Iti chet: if it be said; Na: no; Pratishedhamatratvat: because of denial, as it simply denies.

An objection to Sutra 6 is raised and refuted.

The opponent says that if Brahman which is intelligent, pure and devoid of qualities such as sound and so on, is the cause of the universe which is of an opposite nature, i.e., non-intelligent, impure, possessing the qualities of sound, etc., it follows that the effect, i.e., the world, was non-existent before its actual origination, because Brahman was then the only existence. This means that something which was non-existing is brought into existence, which is not accepted by the Vedantins who maintain the doctrine of the effect existing in the cause already.

The objection raised by the opponent is no real objection. It has no force on account of its being a mere negation.

This Sutra refutes the objection raised by the opponent. It declares that this negation is a mere statement without any objective validity. If you negative the existence of the effect previous to its actual origination, your negation is a mere negation without any object to be negatived. The effect certainly exists in the cause before its origination and also after it. The effect can never exist independently, apart from the cause either before or after creation. The Sruti says, "Whosoever looks for anything elsewhere than in Brahman is abandoned by everything" (Bri. Up. II-4-6).

Therefore, the universe exists in Brahman even before creation. It is not absolutely non-existent.

Apitau tadvatprasangadasamanjasam II.1.8 (142)

On account of the consequence that at the time of Pralaya or great dissolution (the cause becomes) like that (i.e., like the effect), the doctrine maintained hitherto (that Brahman is the cause of the universe) is absurd.

Apitau: at the time of Pralaya or the great dissolution; Tadvat: like that, like the effect; Prasangat: on account of the consequences; Asamanjasam: inconsistent, absurd.

A plausible objection against Brahman being the cause of the world is raised here.

The Purvapakshin or the opponent raises further objections.

During dissolution the effect, i.e., the world, is absorbed in the cause, the Brahman. Consequently, it follows that the cause becomes like the effect. The cause is affected by the nature of the effect. The evils of defects inherent in the effect will taint the cause. Brahman must be affected by the nature of the world, just as water is affected by the salt which is dissolved in it, just as the whole food is scented by the pungent smell of asafoetida when it is mixed with any condiment. He would become impure and would no more be the Omniscient cause of the universe as the Upanishads hold. He must become insentient, gross, limited, like the world, which is absurd. Brahman, therefore, cannot be the cause of the world.

There is another objection also. During dissolution all things have gone into a state of oneness with Brahman. All distinctions pass at the time of reabsorption into the state of non-distinction. Then there would be no special cause left at the time of a new beginning of the universe. Consequently, the new world could not arise with all the distinctions of enjoying souls, objects to be enjoyed, etc. There will be no factor bringing about creation again.

The third objection is, if in spite of this a new creation is possible, then even the liberated souls or the Muktas who have become one with Brahman, will be dragged into rebirth.

It cannot be said that the universe remains distinct from the Highest Brahman even in the state of reabsorption or dissolution, because in that case it would be no dissolution at all. The effect existing separate from the cause is not possible.

Hence the Vedanta doctrine of Brahman being the cause of the universe is objectionable as it leads to all sorts of absurdities.

The next Sutra gives a suitable reply to this.

Na tu drishtantabhavat II.1.9 (143)

But not (so) on account of the existence of illustrations.

Na: not; Tu: but; Drishtantabhavat: on account of illustrations.

The objection raised in Sutra 8 is refuted.

By the word 'tu' (but) the possibility of the objection is set aside.

The objections have no force. Why should an effect which is resolved into the cause again affect the cause by introducing the defects of the effect? When the effect is involved in the cause, it does not at all taint the cause by its effects. There are innumerable instances. If a good ornament is melted into gold, how can the peculiarities of form of the ornament appear in the gold?

When a jar made up of clay is broken and reabsorbed into its original substance, i.e., clay, it does not impart to it its special features or qualities. It does not turn the earth into pots and pitchers but it is itself transformed as earth. The four-fold complex of organic beings which springs from the earth does not impart its qualities to the latter at the time of re-absorption.

Reabsorption cannot occur at all if the effect, when resolving back into its causal substance, continues to subsist there with all its individual properties.

Despite the non-difference of cause and effect, the effect has its self in the cause but not the cause in the effect. The effect is of the nature of the cause and not the cause the nature of the effect. Therefore the qualities of the effect cannot touch the cause.

Instead of Brahman being transformed into the world, the world is transformed into Brahman, being merged in Him at the time of its dissolution. Hence there cannot be any objection to Brahman being accepted as the cause of the world on the ground suggested in Sutra 8.

Though the world is full of misery, etc., yet Brahman is all pure, etc. He remains always untouched by evil. As youth, childhood and old age belong to the body only and not to the Self, as blindness and deafness etc., belong to the senses and not to the Self, so the defects of the world do not belong to Brahman and do not pervade the pure Brahman.

If cause and effect are separate as you say, there will be no involution at all. As cause and effect are one and the same, the objection that the defects of the effect will affect the cause is not peculiar to involution alone. If what the Purvapakshin says is correct, the defect will affect the cause even now. That the identity of cause and effect of Brahman and the universe, holds good indiscriminately with regard to all time, not only the time of involution or reabsorption is declared in many scriptural passages, as for instance – This everything is that Self (Bri. Up. II.4.6). The Self is all this (Chh. Up. VII.25.2). The Immortal Brahman is this before (Mun. Up. II.2.11). All this is Brahman (Chh. Up. III.14.1).

If it is said that the defects are the effects of superimposition of Avidya or nescience and cannot affect the cause, this explanation will apply to involution also.

Cobra is not affected by the poison. A magician is not affected by the magical illusion produced by himself, because it is unreal. Even so Brahman is not affected by Maya. The world is only an illusion or appearance. Brahman appears as this universe, just as a rope appears as the snake. Therefore Brahman is unaffected by Maya or the world illusion. No one is affected by his dream-creations or the illusory visions of his dream, because they do not accompany the waking state and the state of dreamless sleep. Similarly the Eternal Witness of all states of consciousness is not affected by the world or Maya.

Equally baseless is the second objection. There are parallel instances with reference to this also. In the state of deep sleep, you do not see anything. The soul enters into an essential condition of non-distinction. There is no diversity, but as soon as you wake up you behold the world of diversity. The old stage of distinction comes again, as ignorance or Avidya is not destroyed. Chhandogya Upanishad says, "All these creatures when they have become merged in the True, know not that they are merged in the True. Whatever these creatures are here, whether a lion, or a wolf, or a boar or a worm or a gnat or a mosquito, that they become again" (Chh. Up. VI-9-2 & 3).

A similar phenomenon takes place during Pralaya or dissolution. The power of distinction remains in a potential state as Avidya or Nescience in the state of dissolution also. So long as the basic Avidya or ignorance is there, creation or evolution will follow involution just as a man wakes up after sleep.

The liberated souls will not be born again because in their case wrong knowledge or ignorance has been completely destroyed by perfect knowledge of Brahman.

The view held by the Purvapakshin that even at the time of reabsorption the world should remain distinct from Brahman is not admitted by the Vedantins.

In conclusion it can be correctly said that the system founded on the Upanishads is in every way unobjectionable.

Svapakshadosacca II.1.10 (144)

And because the objections (raised by the Sankhya against the Vedanta doctrine) apply to his (Sankhya) view also.

Svapakshadoshat: because of the objections, to his own view; Cha: and.

The objections raised in Sutras 4 and 8 are levelled against the opponents.

Now the tables are turned on the objector. The objections raised by him (the Sankhya) to the doctrines of Vedanta are applicable to his theory as well. In his doctrine of causation also, the world of forms and sounds takes its origin from Pradhana and Prakriti which has no form or sound. Thus the cause is different from the effect here also. In the state of reabsorption or dissolution, all objects merge into Pradhana and become one with it.

There is pervasion into the Pradhana of all the effects of the world. It is admitted by the Sankhyas also that at the time of reabsorption the effect passes back into the state of non-distinction from the cause, and so the objection raised in Sutra 8 applies to Pradhana also. The Sankhya will have to admit that before the actual beginning, the effect was non-existent. Whatever objections that are raised against Vedanta in this respect are in fact true of the Sankhyas. That Brahman is the cause of the world, which is admitted by Sruti, cannot be thrown out by this sort of vain reasoning. Vedanta is based on the Srutis. Hence the doctrine of Vedanta is authoritative and infallible. Therefore it must be admitted. Further, the Vedantic view is preferable, because the objections have also been answered from the viewpoint of Vedanta. It is not possible to answer them from the viewpoint of the Sankhya.

Tarkapratishthanadapi anyathanumeyamiti chet evamapyanirmoksha prasangah II.1.11 (145)

If it be said that in consequence of the non-finality of reasoning we must frame our conclusions otherwise; (we reply that) thus also there would result non-release.

Tarka: reasoning, argument; Apratishthanat: because of not having any fixity or finality; Api: also; Anyatha: otherwise; Anumeyam: to be inferred, to be ascertained, by arguing; Iti chet: if it be said, even thus in this way; Api: even; Anirmoksha: want of release, absence of the way out; Prasangah: consequence.

Objections raised in Sutras 4 and 8 are further refuted.

Great thinkers like Kapila and Kanada are seen to refute each other. Logic has no fixity or finality. The deductions of one reasoner are overthrown by another. What one man establishes through reason can be refuted by another man more intelligent and ingenious than he. Neither analogy nor syllogism can apply to the soul. Conclusions arrived at by mere argumentation, however well-reasoned, and not based on any authoritative statement, cannot be accepted as final as there still remains the chance of their being refuted by more expert sophists. Hence, the conclusion of Sruti alone must be accepted.

Without showing any regard to reasoning we must believe Brahman to be the material cause of the universe, because the Upanishad teaches so.

The conclusions of Vedanta are based on the Srutis which are infallible and authoritative. Reasoning which has no sure basis cannot overthrow the conclusions of Vedanta.

Reason has its own province and scope. It is useful in certain secular matters but in matters transcendental such as the existence of Brahman, final release, life beyond, the pronouncements of human intellect can never be perfectly free from doubt, because these are matters which are beyond the scope of intellect. Even if there is to be any finality of reasoning, it will not bring about any finality of doctrine with reference to the soul, because the soul cannot be experienced by the senses. Brahman cannot be an object of perception or of inference based on perception. Brahman is inconceivable and consequently unarguable. Kathopanishad says, "This knowledge is not to be obtained by argument, but it is easy to understand it, O Nachiketas, when taught by a teacher who beholds no difference" (I.2.9).

The opponent says: You cannot say that no reasoning whatever is well-founded because even the judgment about reasoning is arrived at through reasoning. You yourself can see that reasoning has no foundation on reasoning only. Hence the statement that reasoning has never a sure basis is not correct. Further, if all reasoning were unfounded, human life would have to come to an end. You must reason correctly and properly.

We remark against this argument of the opponent that thus also then results "want of release". Although reasoning is well-founded with respect to certain things, with regard to the matter in hand there will result "want of release".

Those sages who teach about the final emancipation of the soul, declare that it results from perfect knowledge. Perfect knowledge is always uniform. It depends upon the thing itself. Whatever thing is permanently of one and the same nature is acknowledged to be the true thing. Knowledge that pertains to this is perfect or true knowledge. Mutual conflict of men's opinions is not possible in the case of true or perfect knowledge. But the conclusions of reasoning can never be uniform. The Sankhyas maintain through reasoning that Pradhana is the cause of the universe. The Naiyayikas arrive through reasoning that the Paramanus or atoms are the cause of the world. Which to accept? How, therefore, can knowledge which is based on reasoning, and whose object is not something always uniform, be true of perfect knowledge? We cannot come to a definite, positive conclusion through reasoning independent of the Srutis. The Veda is eternal. It is the source of knowledge. It has for its object firmly established things. Knowledge which is founded on the Veda cannot be denied at all by any of the logicians of the past, present or future. As the truth cannot be known through reasoning there will be no liberation.

We have thus established that perfection can be attained through knowledge of Brahman with the aid of Upanishads or the Srutis. Perfect knowledge is not possible without the help of the Srutis. Disregard of Srutis will lead to absence of final emancipation. Reasoning which goes against the scriptures is no proof of knowledge.

Our final position is that the intelligent Brahman must be regarded as the cause and substratum of the universe on the ground of scripture and of reasoning subordinate to scripture.