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  Sankara Bhashya
  By Edwin Arnold

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  Ramanuja SriBhashya


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  Brahma Sutras

Brahma Sutra Bhashya of Sri Adi Sanakara - Part I
translated by George Thibaut

Sankara's Introduction to Brahma Sutras

(Note: This introduction is referred by some as 'Adyasa Bhashya')




It is a matter not requiring any proof that the object and the subject whose respective spheres are the notion of the 'Thou' (the Non-Ego) and the 'Ego,' and which are opposed to each other as much as darkness and light are, cannot be identified. All the less can their respective attributes be identified. Hence it follows that it is wrong to superimpose upon the subject--whose Self is intelligence, and which has for its sphere the notion of the Ego--the object whose sphere is the notion of the Non-Ego, and the attributes of the object, and vice versâ to superimpose the subject and the attributes of the subject on the object. In spite of this it is on the part of man a natural procedure--which has its cause in wrong knowledge--not to distinguish the two entities (object and subject) and their respective attributes, although they are absolutely distinct, but to superimpose upon each the characteristic nature and the attributes of the other, and thus, coupling the Real and the Unreal, to make use of expressions such as 'That am I,' 'That is mine.'--But what have we to understand by the term 'superimposition?'--The apparent presentation, in the form of remembrance, to consciousness of something previously observed, in some other thing.

Some indeed define the term 'superimposition' as the superimposition of the attributes of one thing on another thing. Others, again, define superimposition as the error founded on the non-apprehension of the difference of that which is superimposed from that on which it is superimposed. Others, again, define it as the fictitious assumption of attributes contrary to the nature of that thing on which something else is superimposed. But all these definitions agree in so far as they represent superimposition as the apparent presentation of the attributes of one thing in another thing. And therewith agrees also the popular view which is exemplified by expressions such as the following: 'Mother-of-pearl appears like silver,' 'The moon although one only appears as if she were double.' But how is it possible that on the interior Self which itself is not an object there should be superimposed objects and their attributes? For every one superimposes an object only on such other objects as are placed before him (i.e. in contact with his sense-organs), and you have said before that the interior Self which is entirely disconnected from the idea of the Thou (the Non-Ego) is never an object. It is not, we reply, non-object in the absolute sense. For it is the object of the notion of the Ego, and the interior Self is well known to exist on account of its immediate (intuitive) presentation. Nor is it an exceptionless rule that objects can be superimposed only on such other objects as are before us, i.e. in contact with our sense-organs; for non-discerning men superimpose on the ether, which is not the object of sensuous perception, dark-blue colour.

Hence it follows that the assumption of the Non-Self being superimposed on the interior Self is not unreasonable.

This superimposition thus defined, learned men consider to be Nescience (avidyâ), and the ascertainment of the true nature of that which is (the Self) by means of the discrimination of that (which is superimposed on the Self), they call knowledge (vidyâ). There being such knowledge (neither the Self nor the Non-Self) are affected in the least by any blemish or (good) quality produced by their mutual superimposition. The mutual superimposition of the Self and the Non-Self, which is termed Nescience, is the presupposition on which there base all the practical distinctions--those made in ordinary life as well as those laid down by the Veda--between means of knowledge, objects of knowledge (and knowing persons), and all scriptural texts, whether they are concerned with injunctions and prohibitions (of meritorious and non-meritorious actions), or with final release.--But how can the means of right knowledge such as perception, inference, &c., and scriptural texts have for their object that which is dependent on Nescience?--Because, we reply, the means of right knowledge cannot operate unless there be a knowing personality, and because the existence of the latter depends on the erroneous notion that the body, the senses, and so on, are identical with, or belong to, the Self of the knowing person. For without the employment of the senses, perception and the other means of right knowledge cannot operate. And without a basis (i.e. the body) the senses cannot act. Nor does anybody act by means of a body on which the nature of the Self is not superimposed. Nor can, in the absence of all that, the Self which, in its own nature is free from all contact, become a knowing agent. And if there is no knowing agent, the means of right knowledge cannot operate (as said above).

Hence perception and the other means of right knowledge, and the Vedic texts have for their object that which is dependent on Nescience. (That human cognitional activity has for its presupposition the superimposition described above), follows also from the non-difference in that respect of men from animals. Animals, when sounds or other sensible qualities affect their sense of hearing or other senses, recede or advance according as the idea derived from the sensation is a comforting or disquieting one. A cow, for instance, when she sees a man approaching with a raised stick in his hand, thinks that he wants to beat her, and therefore moves away; while she walks up to a man who advances with some fresh grass in his hand. Thus men also--who possess a higher intelligence--run away when they see strong fierce-looking fellows drawing near with shouts and brandishing swords; while they confidently approach persons of contrary appearance and behaviour. We thus see that men and animals follow the same course of procedure with reference to the means and objects of knowledge. Now it is well known that the procedure of animals bases on the non-distinction (of Self and Non-Self); we therefore conclude that, as they present the same appearances, men also--although distinguished by superior intelligence--proceed with regard to perception and so on, in the same way as animals do; as long, that is to say, as the mutual superimposition of Self and Non-Self lasts.

With reference again to that kind of activity which is founded on the Veda (sacrifices and the like), it is true indeed that the reflecting man who is qualified to enter on it, does so not without knowing that the Self has a relation to another world; yet that qualification does not depend on the knowledge, derivable from the Vedânta-texts, of the true nature of the Self as free from all wants, raised above the distinctions of the Brâhmana and Kshattriya-classes and so on, transcending transmigratory existence. For such knowledge is useless and even contradictory to the claim (on the part of sacrificers, &c. to perform certain actions and enjoy their fruits). And before such knowledge of the Self has arisen, the Vedic texts continue in their operation, to have for their object that which is dependent on Nescience. For such texts as the following, 'A Brâhmana is to sacrifice,' are operative only on the supposition that on the Self are superimposed particular conditions such as caste, stage of life, age, outward circumstances, and so on. That by superimposition we have to understand the notion of something in some other thing we have already explained. (The superimposition of the Non-Self will be understood more definitely from the following examples.) Extra-personal attributes are superimposed on the Self, if a man considers himself sound and entire, or the contrary, as long as his wife, children, and so on are sound and entire or not. Attributes of the body are superimposed on the Self, if a man thinks of himself (his Self) as stout, lean, fair, as standing, walking, or jumping. Attributes of the sense-organs, if he thinks 'I am mute, or deaf, or one-eyed, or blind.' Attributes of the internal organ when he considers himself subject to desire, intention, doubt, determination, and so on. Thus the producer of the notion of the Ego (i.e. the internal organ) is superimposed on the interior Self, which, in reality, is the witness of all the modifications of the internal organ, and vice versâ the interior Self, which is the witness of everything, is superimposed on the internal organ, the senses, and so on. In this way there goes on this natural beginning--and endless superimposition, which appears in the form of wrong conception, is the cause of individual souls appearing as agents and enjoyers (of the results of their actions), and is observed by every one.

With a view to freeing one's self from that wrong notion which is the cause of all evil and attaining thereby the knowledge of the absolute unity of the Self the study of the Vedânta-texts is begun. That all the Vedânta-texts have the mentioned purport we shall show in this so-called Sârîraka-mîmâmsâ.

Of this Vedânta-mîmâmsâ about to be explained by us the first Sûtra is as follows.

1. Then therefore the enquiry into Brahman.

The word 'then' is here to be taken as denoting immediate consecution; not as indicating the introduction of a new subject to be entered upon; for the enquiry into Brahman (more literally, the desire of knowing Brahman) is not of that nature. Nor has the word 'then' the sense of auspiciousness (or blessing); for a word of that meaning could not be properly construed as a part of the sentence. The word 'then' rather acts as an auspicious term by being pronounced and heard merely, while it denotes at the same time something else, viz. immediate consecution as said above. That the latter is its meaning follows moreover from the circumstance that the relation in which the result stands to the previous topic (viewed as the cause of the result) is non-separate from the relation of immediate consecution.

If, then, the word 'then' intimates immediate consecution it must be explained on what antecedent the enquiry into Brahman specially depends; just as the enquiry into active religious duty (which forms the subject of the Pûrvâ Mîmâmsâ) specially depends on the antecedent reading of the Veda. The reading of the Veda indeed is the common antecedent (for those who wish to enter on an enquiry into religious duty as well as for those desirous of knowing Brahman). The special question with regard to the enquiry into Brahman is whether it presupposes as its antecedent the understanding of the acts of religious duty (which is acquired by means of the Pûrvâ Mîmâmsâ). To this question we reply in the negative, because for a man who has read the Vedânta-parts of the Veda it is possible to enter on the enquiry into Brahman even before engaging in the enquiry into religious duty. Nor is it the purport of the word 'then' to indicate order of succession; a purport which it serves in other passages, as, for instance, in the one enjoining the cutting off of pieces from the heart and other parts of the sacrificial animal. (For the intimation of order of succession could be intended only if the agent in both cases were the same; but this is not the case), because there is no proof for assuming the enquiry into religious duty and the enquiry into Brahman to stand in the relation of principal and subordinate matter or the relation of qualification (for a certain act) on the part of the person qualified; and because the result as well as the object of the enquiry differs in the two cases. The knowledge of active religious duty has for its fruit transitory felicity, and that again depends on the performance of religious acts. The enquiry into Brahman, on the other hand, has for its fruit eternal bliss, and does not depend on the performance of any acts. Acts of religious duty do not yet exist at the time when they are enquired into, but are something to be accomplished (in the future); for they depend on the activity of man. In the Brahma-mîmâmsâ, on the other hand, the object of enquiry, i.e. Brahman, is something already accomplished (existent),--for it is eternal,--and does not depend on human energy. The two enquiries differ moreover in so far as the operation of their respective fundamental texts is concerned. For the fundamental texts on which active religious duty depends convey information to man in so far only as they enjoin on him their own particular subjects (sacrifices, &c.); while the fundamental texts about Brahman merely instruct man, without laying on him the injunction of being instructed, instruction being their immediate result. The case is analogous to that of the information regarding objects of sense which ensues as soon as the objects are approximated to the senses. It therefore is requisite that something should be stated subsequent to which the enquiry into Brahman is proposed.--Well, then, we maintain that the antecedent conditions are the discrimination of what is eternal and what is non-eternal; the renunciation of all desire to enjoy the fruit (of one's actions) both here and hereafter; the acquirement of tranquillity, self-restraint, and the other means, and the desire of final release. If these conditions exist, a man may, either before entering on an enquiry into active religious duty or after that, engage in the enquiry into Brahman and come to know it; but not otherwise. The word 'then' therefore intimates that the enquiry into Brahman is subsequent to the acquisition of the above-mentioned (spiritual) means.

The word 'therefore' intimates a reason. Because the Veda, while declaring that the fruit of the agnihotra and similar performances which are means of happiness is non-eternal (as, for instance. Kh. Up. VIII, 1, 6, 'As here on earth whatever has been acquired by action perishes so perishes in the next world whatever is acquired by acts of religious duty'), teaches at the same time that the highest aim of man is realised by the knowledge of Brahman (as, for instance, Taitt. Up. II, I, 'He who knows Brahman attains the highest'); therefore the enquiry into Brahman is to be undertaken subsequently to the acquirement of the mentioned means.

By Brahman is to be understood that the definition of which will be given in the next Sûtra (I, 1, 2); it is therefore not to be supposed that the word Brahman may here denote something else, as, for instance, the brahminical caste. In the Sûtra the genitive case ('of Brahman;' the literal translation of the Sûtra being 'then therefore the desire of knowledge of Brahman') denotes the object, not something generally supplementary (sesha); for the desire of knowledge demands an object of desire and no other such object is stated.--But why should not the genitive case be taken as expressing the general complementary relation (to express which is its proper office)? Even in that case it might constitute the object of the desire of knowledge, since the general relation may base itself on the more particular one.--This assumption, we reply, would mean that we refuse to take Brahman as the direct object, and then again indirectly introduce it as the object; an altogether needless procedure.--Not needless; for if we explain the words of the Sûtra to mean 'the desire of knowledge connected with Brahman' we thereby virtually promise that also all the heads of discussion which bear on Brahman will be treated.--This reason also, we reply, is not strong enough to uphold your interpretation. For the statement of some principal matter already implies all the secondary matters connected therewith. Hence if Brahman, the most eminent of all objects of knowledge, is mentioned, this implies already all those objects of enquiry which the enquiry into Brahman presupposes, and those objects need therefore not be mentioned, especially in the Sûtra. Analogously the sentence 'there the king is going' implicitly means that the king together with his retinue is going there. Our interpretation (according to which the Sûtra represents Brahman as the direct object of knowledge) moreover agrees with Scripture, which directly represents Brahman as the object of the desire of knowledge; compare, for instance, the passage, 'That from whence these beings are born, &c., desire to know that. That is Brahman' (Taitt. Up. III, I). With passages of this kind the Sûtra only agrees if the genitive case is taken to denote the object. Hence we do take it in that sense. The object of the desire is the knowledge of Brahman up to its complete comprehension, desires having reference to results. Knowledge thus constitutes the means by which the complete comprehension of Brahman is desired to be obtained. For the complete comprehension of Brahman is the highest end of man, since it destroys the root of all evil such as Nescience, the seed of the entire Samsâra. Hence the desire of knowing Brahman is to be entertained.

But, it may be asked, is Brahman known or not known (previously to the enquiry into its nature)? If it is known we need not enter on an enquiry concerning it; if it is not known we can not enter on such an enquiry.

We reply that Brahman is known. Brahman, which is all-knowing and endowed with all powers, whose essential nature is eternal purity, intelligence, and freedom, exists. For if we consider the derivation of the word 'Brahman,' from the root brih, 'to be great,' we at once understand that eternal purity, and so on, belong to Brahman. Moreover the existence of Brahman is known on the ground of its being the Self of every one. For every one is conscious of the existence of (his) Self, and never thinks 'I am not.' If the existence of the Self were not known, every one would think 'I am not.' And this Self (of whose existence all are conscious) is Brahman. But if Brahman is generally known as the Self, there is no room for an enquiry into it! Not so, we reply; for there is a conflict of opinions as to its special nature. Unlearned people and the Lokâyatikas are of opinion that the mere body endowed with the quality of intelligence is the Self; others that the organs endowed with intelligence are the Self; others maintain that the internal organ is the Self; others, again, that the Self is a mere momentary idea; others, again, that it is the Void. Others, again (to proceed to the opinion of such as acknowledge the authority of the Veda), maintain that there is a transmigrating being different from the body, and so on, which is both agent and enjoyer (of the fruits of action); others teach that that being is enjoying only, not acting; others believe that in addition to the individual souls, there is an all-knowing, all-powerful Lord. Others, finally, (i.e. the Vedântins) maintain that the Lord is the Self of the enjoyer (i.e. of the individual soul whose individual existence is apparent only, the product of Nescience).

Thus there are many various opinions, basing part of them on sound arguments and scriptural texts, part of them on fallacious arguments and scriptural texts misunderstood. If therefore a man would embrace some one of these opinions without previous consideration, he would bar himself from the highest beatitude and incur grievous loss. For this reason the first Sûtra proposes, under the designation of an enquiry into Brahman, a disquisition of the Vedânta-texts, to be carried on with the help of conformable arguments, and having for its aim the highest beatitude.

So far it has been said that Brahman is to be enquired into. The question now arises what the characteristics of that Brahman are, and the reverend author of the Sûtras therefore propounds the following aphorism.

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