Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 1-1-11

Topic 11 - Indra’s instruction to Pratardana

Sutra 1,1.28

प्राणस्तथानुगमात् ॥ २८ ॥

prāṇastathānugamāt || 28 ||

prāṇaḥ—Prāṇa; tathā—(like) that; anugamāt—being so comprehended (from the texts).

28. Prāṇa is Brahman, it being so comprehended (from the purport of the texts).

In the previous topic the fact that Brahman’s three feet (quarters) were spoken of in an earlier text as being in heaven helped us to recognize that the same Brahman is spoken of as the light above heaven. The connection with heaven helped us to this recognition.

Now another text is taken up for discussion, in which there is no such decisive factor.

In the Kaushitaki Upanishad there occurs the following conversation between Indra and Pratardana, in which the latter says to Indra:

You yourself choose for me that boon which you deem most beneficial to man.”

Indra said,

Know me only, that is what I deem most beneficial to man. . . . I am Prāṇa, the intelligent self (Prajñātman), meditate on me as life, as immortality. . . . And that Prāṇa is indeed the intelligent self, blessed, undecaying, immortal” (Kau. 3. 1-8).

The question is raised whether these passages refer to the god Indra, or the individual self, or the vital force, or Brahman.

The decision is that as the characteristics of Brahman are more in evidence in these passages than those of the god Indra, individual soul, or the vital force (Prāṇa), therefore Brahman is referred to in these passages; hence Prāṇa here means Brahman.

The characteristics of Brahman referred to are:

(1) Indra says in reply to Pratardana’s request for that which is most beneficial to man, “Know me, I am Prāṇa” etc., and since Brahman alone is most beneficial to man, Indra’s answer refers to Brahman.

(2) Prāṇa is spoken of as blessed, undecaying, immortal, which can be true only of Brahman.

(3) The knowledge of this Prāṇa is also said to absolve one from all sins: “He who knows me thus, by no deed of his is his achievement harmed, neither by matricide nor by patricide...” (Kau. 3. 1).

 Sutra 1,1.29

न वक्तुरात्मोपदेशादिति चेत्, अध्यात्मसबन्धभूमा ह्यस्मिन् ॥ २९ ॥

na vakturātmopadeśāditi cet, adhyātmasambandhabhūmā hyasmin || 29 ||

na—not; vaktuḥ—the speaker’s; ātmopadeśāt—on account of the instruction about himself; iti cet—if it be said; adhyātma-sambandha-bhūmā—abundance of reference to the Inner Self; hi—because; asmin—in this.

29. If it be said that (Brahman is) not (referred to in these passages) on account of the speaker’s instruction about himself; (we reply not so), because there is abundance of reference to the Inner Self in this (chapter).

An objection is raised that the word ‘Prāṇa’ cannot as stated in the last Sutra, refer to Brahman, since the speaker Indra describes himself by the word ‘Prāṇa’ in, “I am Prāṇa” etc.

But as in this conversation there are profuse references, as already pointed out in Sutra 28, to the Inner Self or Brahman, ‘Prāṇa’ here must be taken as Brahman.

And Indra’s describing himself as Prāṇa is apt, since he identifies himself with Brahman in that instruction, as did the Sage Vāmadeva.

 Sutra 1,1.30

शास्त्रदृष्ट्या तूपदेशो वामदेववत् ॥ ३० ॥

śāstradṛṣṭyā tūpadeśo vāmadevavat || 30 ||

śāstradṛṣṭyā—Through realization of the Truth confirmed by the scriptures; tu—but; upadeśaḥ—instruction; vāmadevavat—like Vāmadeva.

30 . But (Indra’s) instruction (to Pratardana is justified) by his realization of the Truth confirmed by the scriptures (i.e. that he is Brahman), as did (the sage) Vāmadeva.

Rishi Vāmadeva having realized Brahman said “I was Manu, and the sun,” etc., which is justified by the passage: “Whichever of the gods knew It (Brahman) became That” (Brih. 1. 4. 10).

Indra’s instruction also is like that. Having realized the truth, “Thou art That”, declared by the scriptures, he identifies himself in the instruction with the Supreme Brahman.

Sutra 1,1.31

जीवमुख्यप्राणलिङ्गान्नेति चेत्, न, उपासात्रैविध्यात्, आश्रितत्वात्, इह तद्योगात् ॥ ३० ॥

jīvamukhyaprāṇaliṅgānneti cet, na, upāsātraividhyāt, āśritatvāt, iha tadyogāt || 31 ||

jīvamukhyaprāṇaliṅgāt—On account of the characteristics of the individual soul and the vital energy; na—not; iti cet—if it be said; na—not so; upāsā-traividhyāt—because it would enjoin threefold meditation; āśritatvāt—on account of Prāṇa being accepted (elsewhere in the sense of Brahman); iha—here; tadyogāt—because words denoting Brahman are mentioned with reference to Prāṇa.

31. If it be said that (Brahman) is not referred to on account of the characteristics of the individual soul and the vital force (being mentioned), (we say) not so, because (such an interpretation) would enjoin threefold meditation (Upāsanā); because Prāṇa has been accepted (elsewhere in the sense of Brahman); and because here also (words denoting Brahman) are mentioned with reference to Prāṇa. (Hence it is to be understood to mean Brahman).

The passages under discussion might as well refer to the individual soul and the vital force, for their characteristics also are found:

One should know the speaker and not inquire into speech” (Kau. 3. 8),

Prāṇa, laying hold of this body, makes it rise up” (Kau. 3. 3).

The Sutra refutes such a view and says that Brahman alone is referred to by ‘Prāṇa’; for the above interpretation would involve a threefold Upāsānā, i.e. of the individual soul, of the chief vital force, and of Brahman, which is against the accepted rules of scriptural interpretation.

No single passage can be made to yield three different meditations in this way by splitting it up.

Moreover in the beginning we have, “Know me only”, followed by, “I am Prāṇa”, and in the end again we have, “And that Prāṇa indeed is the intelligent self, blessed, undecaying, immortal”, which shows that the same topic is kept up throughout.

Therefore ‘Prāṇa’ must be taken in the sense of Brahman and that on the ground that Its characteristics are found in this passage which have already been referred to in Sutra 1. 1. 28.

This meaning of ‘Prāṇa’ is found in other scriptural passages, and we are justified in taking it in that sense here, since words denoting Brahman are mentioned with reference to ‘Prāṇa’.