Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 2-4


In the third section it has been shown that ether and the other elements are produced from Brahman, by reconciling the apparently contradictory texts of the Śrutis with respect to their origination.

In this section the Sutras take up for discussion texts that deal with the origination of the senses etc.

Topic 1 - The organs are produced from Brahman

Sutra 2,4.1

तथा प्राणाः ॥ १ ॥

tathā prāṇāḥ || 1 ||

tathā—Likewise; prāṇāḥ—the organs.

1. Likewise the organs (are produced from Brahman).

In the scriptures, in those sections which treat of the origin of things, we do not find the origination of the organs etc. mentioned.

On the other hand, there are texts like,

This was indeed non-existence in the beginning. They say: What was nonexistence in the beginning? Those Rishis . . . . Who are those Rishis? The Prāṇas (organs) are indeed the Rishis” (Sat. Br. 6. 1. 1. 1),

which show that the organs are eternal and not created.

This Sutra refutes that view and says that the organs etc. are produced just like ether etc. from Brahman.

The word ‘likewise’ refers not to the immediately preceding topic of the last section, which is the plurality of souls, but to the creation of ether etc. spoken of in the last section.

Śruti texts directly declare their origination. “From that (Self) are produced the vital force, mind, and all the organs” (Mu. 2. 1. 3).

Therefore the senses are created.

Sutra 2,4.2

गौण्यसंभवात् ॥ २ ॥

gauṇyasaṃbhavāt || 2 ||

gauṇi—Secondary senses; asaṃbhavāt—being impossible.

2. On account of the impossibility (of explaining the origination in a) secondary sense.

Since there are texts like the one quoted from the Sat. Br. which speak of the existence of the organs before creation, why not explain the texts which describe their creation in a secondary sense?

This Sutra refutes it, for a secondary sense would lead to the abandonment of the general assertion, “By the knowledge of one, everything else is known.” Therefore they are produced from Brahman.

The reference to the existence of the Prāṇas (organs) before creation in Sat. Br. is concerning Hiraṇyagarbha, which is not resolved in the partial dissolution of the world, though all other effects are resolved.

Even Hiraṇyagarbha is resolved, however, in complete dissolution (Mahāpralaya).

Sutra 2,4.3

तत्प्राक्श्रुतेश्च ॥ ३ ॥

tatprākśruteśca || 3 ||

tat—That; prāk—first; śruteḥ—being mentioned; ca—and.

3. And because that (the verb denoting origin) is mentioned first (in connection with the Prāṇas).

The text referred to is: “From that (Self) are produced the vital force, mind and all the organs, ether, air, water, fire, and earth” (Mu, 2. 1. 3).

Here the word ‘produced’ occurs at the very beginning of the things enumerated, and if it is interpreted in its primary sense with respect to ether etc., it is all the more to be so interpreted with respect to the vital force, mind, and organs mentioned earlier.

Thus a further reason is given in this Sutra to show that the organs etc. have originated from Brahman.

 Sutra 2,4.4

तत्पूर्वकत्वाद्वाचः ॥ ४ ॥

tatpūrvakatvādvācaḥ || 4 ||

vācaḥ—Of the organ of speech (etc.); tatpūrvakatvāt—being preceded by them (the lements).

4.  On account of the pre-existence of that (i.e. the elements) (before) the organ of speech (etc.).

For truly, my boy, mind consists of earth, the vital force of water, the vocal organ of fire” (Chh. 6. 5. 4).

This text clearly shows that the organs etc. are products of the elements, which in their turn spring from Brahman. Hence they too are products of Brahman. Being products of the elements, they are not separately mentioned in texts dealing with the origin of things.

Topic 2 - The number of the organs

Sutra 2,4.5

सप्त गतेर्विशेषितत्वाच्च ॥ ५ ॥

sapta gaterviśeṣitatvācca || 5 ||

sapta—Seven; gateḥ—being so known (from the scriptures); viśeṣitatvāc—on account of the specification; ca—and.

5. (The organs are) seven (in number), because it is so known (from the scriptures) and on account of the specification (of those seven).

The number of the organs is ascertained in this and the next Sutra.

This Sutra, which gives the view of the opponent, declares that there are seven organs. “The seven Prāṇas (organs) spring from It” (Mu. 2. I. 8).

These are again specified in another text, “Seven indeed are the Prāṇas (organs) in the head” (Taitt. Sam. 5. I. 7. 1).

No doubt in some texts eight or even more organs are enumerated, but these are to be explained as modifications of the inner organ, and so there is no contradiction in the Śruti texts if we take the number as seven.

Sutra 2,4.6

हस्तादयस्तु स्थितेऽतो नैवम् ॥ ६ ॥

hastādayastu sthite’to naivam || 6 ||

hastādayaḥ—Hands etc.; tu—but; sthite—being a fact; ataḥ—therefore; na—not; evam—like this;

6. But hands etc. (are also referred to as sense-organs in scriptural texts). Since this is a fact, therefore (it is) not like this (i.e. they are not merely seven in number).

But’ refutes the view of the previous Sutra.

The hands are the Graha (organs)” etc. (Brih. 8. 2. 8). Such texts show that the hands etc. are additional sense-organs.

Therefore to the seven already enumerated, i.e. eyes, nose, ears, tongue, touch, speech, and inner organ, four others, i.e. hands, feet, anus, and the organ of generation, have to be added. In all, therefore, there are eleven organs.

The different modifications of the inner organ, i.e. mind, intellect, ego, and Chitta (memory), are not separate organs, and therefore cannot raise the number beyond eleven, which is therefore the number fixed.

These are: the five organs of knowledge, the five organs of action, and the inner organ.

Topic 3 - The organs are minute in size

Sutra 2,4.7

अणवश्च ॥ ५ ॥

aṇavaśca || 7 ||

aṇavaḥ—Minute; ca—and.

7. And (they are) minute.

The organs are minute. ‘Minute’ does not mean atomic, but fine and limited in size. It is because they are subtle that they are not seen.

If they were all-pervading, then texts, which speak of their passing out of the body and going and coming along with the soul at death and birth, would be contradicted.

Moreover, we do not perceive through the senses what is happening throughout the universe, which would be the case if they were ill-pervading.

Hence they are all subtle and limited in size.

Topic 4 - The chief Prāṇa (vital force) also is created from Brahman

Sutra 2,4.8

श्रेष्ठश्च ॥ ८ ॥

śreṣṭhaśca || 8 ||

śreṣṭhaḥ—The chief Prāṇa (vital force); ca—and.

3. And the chief Prāṇa (vital force) (is also produced).

From this (Self) is produced the vital force” Mu. 2. 1. 3); again we have, “By Its own law It alone was moving without wind (the vital force)” (Rig-Veda 10. 129. 2).

Here the words “was moving” seem to refer to the function of the vital force, and so it must have existed before creation and was therefore not created. Hence there appears to be a contradiction with respect to its origination.

This Sutra says that even the vital force is produced from Brahman.

The words “was moving” are qualified by ‘without wind’ and so does not intimate that the vital force existed before creation. It only intimates the Brahman, the Cause, existed before creation, as is known from texts like “Existence alone was there before this” (Chh. 6. 2. 1).

It is called the ‘chief’, because it functions before all other Prāṇas and senses, i.e. from the very moment the child is conceived, and also on account of its superior qualities; “We shall not be able to live without you” (Brih. 6. 1. 13).

Topic 5 - The chief vital force is different from air and sense functions

Sutra 2,4.9

न वायुक्रिये, पृथगुपदेशात् ॥ ९ ॥

na vāyukriye, pṛthagupadeśāt || 9 ||

na vāyukriye—Not air nor function; pṛthak—separately; upadeśāt—on account of its being mentioned.

9. (The chief Prāṇa) is neither air nor any function (of the organs) on account of its being mentioned separately.

In this Sutra the nature of the chief Prāṇa is discussed.

The opponent holds that there is no separate principle called Prāṇa, but that it is only air and nothing else, which exists in the mouth as well as outside. The Śruti also says, “That vital force is air.”

Or it may be the combined effect of the functions of all the eleven organs:

Just as a number of birds in a cage, when they move, also move the cage, so also the eleven organs functioning together constitute life in the body. So the resultant of these functions is Prāṇa.

This is the view of the Sānkhyas. Hence there is no separate principle called Prāṇa (vital force).

The Sutra refutes these views and says that Prāṇa is a separate principle, for it is mentioned separately from air and the sense functions:

The Prāṇa (vital force) indeed is the fourth foot of Brahman. That foot shines and warms as the light called air” (Chh. 3. 18. 4), where it is distinguished from air.

Again, “From that (Self) are produced the vital force, mind, and all the organs” (Mu. 2.1.3), which shows that it is not a function of any organ, for in that case it would not have been separated from the organs.

The text, “The vital force is air,” is also correct, inasmuch us the effect is but the cause in another form and the vital force is air functioning within the body (Adhyātma).

The analogy of the birds in a cage is not to the point, for they all have the same kind of activity, i.e., movement, which is favourable to the motion of the cage.

But the functions of the organs are not of one kind, but different from one another; and they are also of a distinct nature from that of the vital force. Hence they cannot constitute life.

Therefore Prāṇa (vital force) is a separate entity.

Sutra 2,4.10

चक्षुरादिवत्तु तत्सहशिष्ट्यादिभ्यः ॥ १० ॥

cakṣurādivattu tatsahaśiṣṭyādibhyaḥ || 10 ||

cakṣurādivat—Like eyes etc.; tu—but; tat-saha-śiṣṭyādibhyaḥ—on account of (its) being taught with them and other reasons.

10. But (Prāṇa is subordinate to the soul) like eyes etc. on account of (its) being taught with them and for other reasons.

If the vital force is a separate entity from the organs, which are subordinate to it, then it, like the soul, must also be independent in the body.

The Sutra refutes this and says that the vital force is subordinate to the soul. Why?

Because in the conversation of the Prāṇas which we find in the Upanishads it is mentioned along with the sense-organs. Now in such grouping only those of a class are grouped together. So the vital force, like the organs, is subordinate to the soul.

The other reasons referred to in the Sutra are its being composed of parts, its being insentient, and so on.

 Sutra 2,4.11

अकरणत्वाच्च न दोषः, तथाहि दर्शयति ॥ ११ ॥

akaraṇatvācca na doṣaḥ, tathāhi darśayati || 11 ||

akaraṇatvāt—On account of (its) not being an instrument; ca—and; na—not; doṣaḥ—objection; tathā hi—because thus; darśayati—(Śruti) teaches.

11. And on account of (its) not being an instrument (there is) no objection, because thus (the scripture) teaches.

If the vital force, like the organs is also subordinate to the soul, then it must stand in the relation of an instrument to the soul like the organs.

But as there are only eleven functions and as many organs already, there is no room for a twelfth organ in the absence of a twelfth sense-object.

This Sutra refutes the above objection and says that the vital force is not an instrument or organ like the eyes etc., for the acceptance of which a twelfth sense-object would be necessary; yet it has a function in the body which no sense-organ is capable of, and that is the upkeep of the body.

In the text, “Preserves the unclean nest (of a body) with the help of the vital force” (Brih. 4. 3. 12), the vital force is said to guard the body.

Again, “From whatever limb the Prāṇa goes, right there it withers” (Brih, 1. 8. 19); “Whatever food one eats through the Prāṇa satisfies these (the organs)” (Brih, 1. 8. 18). All these texts show that the function of the vital force (Prāṇa) is the upkeep of the body, unlike those of the organs.

Nor is this the only function of the vital force. There are others, too, as the next Sutra declares.

 Sutra 2,4.12

पञ्चवृत्तिर्मनोवद्व्यपदिश्यते ॥ १२ ॥

pañcavṛttirmanovadvyapadiśyate || 12 ||

pañcavṛttiḥ—Having fivefold function; manovat—like the mind; vyapadiśyate—it is taught.

12. It is taught as having a fivefold function like the mind.

I alone dividing myself fivefold support this body and keep it” (Pr. 2. 3).

Fivefold, i.e. as Prāṇa, Apāna, Vyāna, Udāna, and Samāna each of which has a special function,

 i.e. breathing in, exhaling, functioning throughout the body and aiding feats of strength, helping the soul to pass out of the body, and digesting the food eaten and carrying it to all parts of the body.

In this respect it resembles the inner organ, which though one has a fourfold aspect as mind, intellect, ego, and Chitta (memory).

Topic 6 - The minuteness of the vital force

Sutra 2,4.13

अणुश्च ॥ १३ ॥

aṇuśca || 13 ||

aṇuḥ—Minute; ca—and.

13. And it is minute.

The vital force (Prāṇa) is also minute, subtle, and limited like the senses.

It may be objected that it is all-pervading according to the text: “Because he is equal to a gnat, equal to a mosquito, equal to an elephant, equal to these three worlds, equal to this universe” (Brih. 1. 3. 22).

But the all-pervadingness spoken of here is with respect to Hiraṇyagarbha, the cosmic Prāṇa. In its universal aspect it is all-pervading; but in relation to beings in the world, in its individual aspect with which we are concerned here, it is limited.

Hence the vital force is also limited.

Topic 7 - The presiding deities of the organs

Sutra 2,4.14

ज्योतिराद्यधिष्ठानं तु तदामननात् ॥ १४ ॥

jyotirādyadhiṣṭhānaṃ tu tadāmananāt || 14 ||

jyotirādi-adhiṣṭhānaṃ—Presiding over by Fire and others; tu—but; tat-āmananāt—on account of the scriptures teaching that.

14. But there is the presiding over by Fire and others (over the organs), on account of the scriptural teaching about that.

The dependence or independence of the Prāṇa and the organs is taken up for discussion:

The scriptures say that these are presided over by the gods like Fire etc., which direct them. For example, “(Fire) having become speech entered the mouth” (Ait. Ar. 2. 4. 2. 4).

The organs etc., being inert, cannot move of themselves. Hence they are dependent on the presiding deities.

Sutra 2,4.15

प्राणवता, शब्दात् ॥ १५ ॥

prāṇavatā, śabdāt || 15 ||

prāṇavatā—With the one possessing the Prāṇas (organs); śabdāt—from the scriptures.

15. (The gods are not the enjoyers, but the soul, because the organs are connected) with the one (i.e. the soul) possessing them, (as is known) from the scriptures.

This Sutra makes it clear why the soul, and not the gods, is the enjoyer in the body.

The relation between the soul and the organs is that of master and servant, so the scriptures declare; hence the enjoyment through the organs is of the soul, and not of the gods.

He who knows, ‘Let me smell this,’ is the self, the nose is the instrument of smelling” (Chh. 8. 32. 4).

Moreover, there are many gods in the body, each presiding over a particular organ, but there is only one enjoyer. Otherwise remembrance would be impossible. Hence the senses are for the enjoyment of the soul and not the gods though they are directed by them.

 Sutra 2,4.16

तस्य च नित्यत्वात् ॥ १६ ॥

tasya ca nityatvāt || 16 ||

tasya—Its; ca—and; nityatvāt—on account of permanence.

16. And on account of its (soul’s) permanence (in the body it is the enjoyer, and not the gods).

The soul abides permanently in the body as the experiencer since it can be affected by good and evil and can experience pleasure and pain.

It is not reasonable to think that in a body which is the result of the souls past actions, others, e.g. the gods, enjoy. The gods have glorious positions and would disdain such lowly enjoyments as can be had through the human body. It is the soul that is the enjoyer.

Moreover, the connection between the organs and the soul is permanent. Vide Śruti text, “When it departs, the vital force follows; when the vital force departs, all other organs follow” (Brih. 4, 4. 2).

The soul is the master, and is therefore the enjoyer, in spite of the fact that there are presiding deities over the senses.

Topic 8 - The organs are independent principles and not modes of the chief Prāṇa

Sutra 2,4.17

त इन्द्रियाणि, तद्व्यपदेशादन्यत्र श्रेष्ठात् ॥ १७ ॥

ta indriyāṇi, tadvyapadeśādanyatra śreṣṭhāt || 17 ||

te—They; indriyāṇi—organs; tadvyapadeśāt—being so designated; śreṣṭhāt anyatra—except the chief.

17. They (the other Prāṇas) except the chief (Prāṇa) are organs (and so different from the chief Prāṇa), on account of (their) being so designated (by the scriptures).

The question is raised whether the eyes etc. are but modes of the vital force or independent entities.

The opponent holds the former view since the scripture says, “‘This is the greatest amongst us (the organs). . . . Well, let us all be of his form.’ They all assumed its form. Therefore they are called by this name of ‘Prāṇa’” (Brih. 1. 5. 21).

The Sutra refutes this and says that the eleven organs belong to a separate category, and are not modes of the vital force, because they are shown to be different in texts like:

From Him are born, the vital force, mind, and all organs” (Mu, 2. I. 3), where the vital force and the organs are separately mentioned.

The text of the Brihadāraṇyaka is to be taken in a secondary sense.

Sutra 2,4.18

भेदश्रुतेः ॥ १८ ॥

bhedaśruteḥ || 18 ||

18. On account of differentiating scriptural texts.

In Brih.1.3. the organs are treated first in one section, and after concluding it the vital force is treated in a fresh section, which shows that they do not belong to the same category.

Hence also the organs are independent principles, and not modes of the vital force.

Sutra 2,4.19

वैलक्षण्याच्च || १९ ||

vailakṣaṇyācca || 19 ||

vailakṣaṇyat - on account of difference of characteristics; ca - and.

19. And on account of the difference of characteristics.

Various differences in their nature are described in the Scripture. For example, the organs do not function in deep sleep, whereas the vital force does. The organs get tired, but not the vital force.

The loss of individual organs does not affect life, but the passing out of the Vital force ends in the death of the body.

The Śruti which speaks of the organs being called Prāṇa for their having assumed its form is to be taken in a secondary sense, meaning that the organs follow the vital force even as the servants do their master. The vital force is the leader of the organs. Therefore the organs are independent principles.

Topic 9 - The creation of names and forms is by the Lord and not by the individual soul

Sutra 2,4.20

संज्ञामूर्तिक्लृप्तिस्तु त्रिवृत्कुर्वत उपदेशात् || २० ||

saṃjñāmūrtiklṛptistu trivṛtkurvata upadeśāt || 20 ||

saṃjñāmūrtiklṛpti - the creation of name and form; tu - but; trivṛtkurvata - of Him who does the tripartite creation, of His who made the elements triple;  upadeśāt - on account of scriptural teaching, as Śrutis stated so. (saṃjñā - name;  mūrti - form; klṛptiḥ - creation; trivṛt - tripartite, compound;  kurvata - of the Creator.)

20. But the creation of names and forms is by Him who does the tripartite (creation), for so the scriptures teach.

A question is raised whether the individual Soul or the Supreme Lord fashions gross objects of name and form after the 3 elements have been created by the Lord.

In the Chāṇḍogya 6.2 we have the creation of elements by the Lord. The next section says:

“That Deity thought: ‘Well, let me now enter those three deities (fire, earth and water) as this living Self (Jīva) and reveal names and forms’”. (Ch. Up. 6.3.2 ).

On the basis of this text the opponent holds that the fashioning names and forms , that is, the creation of the gross world after the elements have been created, belongs to the individual Soul and not the Lord.

This Sūtra refutes it and says that the word ‘Jīva’ in the text is syntactically related with ‘entrance’ and not with the revealing of names and forms. The individual soul has not the power to create the gross world.

Moreover, the next sentence of that passage,

“Then that Deity having said: ‘Let me make each of these three (elements) tripartite’”, etc. (Ch. Up. 6.3.3), clearly shows that the Supreme Lord alone reveals names and forms and creates the gross elements and this world.

How then is the production of pots, etc. by a potter to be explained?

-There also the Lord is the inner director. It is the Lord who resides in everything and directs the whole creation.

Sutra 2,4.21

मांसादि भौमं यथाशब्दमितरयोश् च ॥ २१ ॥

māṃsādi bhaumaṃ yathāśabdamitarayoś ca || 21 ||

21. Flesh etc. result from earth, according to the scriptures. So also as regards the other two (i.e. fire and water).

Tripartite earth, when assimilated by man, forms flesh etc.:

The earth (food) when eaten becomes threefold, ... its middle portion becomes flesh, and its finest portion mind” (Chh. 6. 5. 1).

So also we have to understand the effects of the other two elements according to the scriptures. Water produces blood, Prāṇa, etc., and fire produces bone, marrow and the organ of speech.

Sutra 2,4.22

वैशेष्यात्तु तद्वादस्तद्वादः ॥ २२ ॥

vaiśeṣyāttu tadvādastadvādaḥ || 22 ||

vaiśeṣyāt—On account of the preponderance; tu—but; tadvādaḥ(-tadvādaḥ)—that special name.

22. But on account of the preponderance (of a particular element in them the gross elements), are so named (after it).

An objection is raised, if all the gross elements contain the three fine elements, then why such distinctions as “This is water,” “This is earth,” “This is fire”?

The Sutra refutes this objection saying that as the fine elements are not found in equal proportion in each of the gross elements, they are named after that fine element which preponderates in their constitution.

The repetition of “that special name” is to show that the chapter ends here.