Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 4-1


In the third chapter the means to Knowledge were discussed.

In this chapter the result of Knowledge and some other topics are taken up for discussion. In the beginning, however, a special discussion connected with the means to Knowledge is dealt with.

Topic 1 - The meditation on the Ātman enjoined by the scriptures is to be repeated till Knowledge is attained

 Sutra 4,1.1

आवृत्तिः, असकृदुपदेशात् ॥ १ ॥

āvṛttiḥ, asakṛdupadeśāt || 1 ||

āvṛttiḥ—Repetition (is necessary); asakṛt—repeatedly; upadeśāt—on account of instruction by the scriptures.

1. The repetition (of hearing, reflection, and meditation on the teaching of the Self is necessary), on account of the repeated instruction by the scriptures.

The Self, my dear Maitreyī, should be realized—should be heard of, reflected on, and meditated upon” (Brih. 2. 4. 5).

The intelligent aspirant after Brahman, knowing about this alone, should attain intuitive knowledge” (Brih. 4. 4. 21).

The question arises whether what is enjoined in this is to be done once only or repeatedly. The opponent holds that it is to be observed once only, even as sacrifices like Prayāga are to be performed once only to yield the desired result.

This Sutra refutes the view and says that the hearing etc. must be repeated till there is intuition of Brahman.

Of course, if the knowledge of Brahman is attained by a single act, it is well and good; otherwise there is the necessity of repetition till the Knowledge dawns. It is the repetition of these acts that finally leads to intuition.

The case of the Prayāga is not to the point. For there the result is Adriṣṭa, which yields fruit at some particular future time, Here the result is directly perceived, and so, if the result is not there, the process must be repeated till the result is seen.

Moreover, scriptural texts like the first one cited above give repeated instruction, thereby signifying the repetition of the means.

Again ‘meditation’ and ‘reflection’ imply a repetition of the mental act, for when we say, ‘he meditates on it’, we imply the continuity of the act of remembrance of the object. Similarly with respect to ‘reflection’.

It follows, therefore, that there must be repetition of the instruction. This holds good even in those cases where the texts do not give instruction repeatedly, as for example, in the second text cited above.

Sutra 4,1.2

लिङ्गाच्च ॥ २ ॥

liṅgācca || 2 ||

liṅgāt—On account of the indicatory mark; ca—and.

2. And on account of the indicatory mark.

Reflect upon the rays, and you will have many sons” (Chh. 1. 5. 2). This text prescribes repeated meditation by asking to meditate on the Udgītha as the rays instead of as the sun. And what holds good in this case is equally applicable to other meditations also.

And it is not true that repetition is not necessary. If it were so, the Śruti would not have taught the truth of the statement ‘That thou art’ repeatedly.

There may be people who are so advanced, and so little attached to the world of sense objects, that in their case a single hearing of the statement may result in Knowledge. But generally such advanced souls are very rare.

Ordinary people, who are deeply rooted in the idea of the body and the senses, do not realize the truth by a single enunciation of it. This wrong notion of theirs goes only through repeated practice of the truth, and it is only then that Knowledge dawns.

So repetition has the effect of removing this wrong notion gradually, till even the last trace of it is removed. When the body consciousness is completely removed, the Self manifests Itself in all purity.

Topic 2 - In the meditations on the Supreme Brahman the meditator is to comprehend It as identical with himself

 Sutra 4,1.3

आत्मेति तूपगच्छन्ति ग्राहयन्ति च ॥ ३ ॥

ātmeti tūpagacchanti grāhayanti ca || 3 ||

ātmeti—As the self; tu—but; upagacchanti—acknowledge; grāhayanti—teach; ca—also.

3. But (the Śruti texts) acknowledge (Brahman) as the self (of the meditator) and also teach others (to realize It as such).

The question whether Brahman is to be comprehended by the individual soul as identical with it or separate from it, is taken up for discussion.

The opponent holds that Brahman is to be comprehended as different from the individual soul on account of their essential difference. For one is subject to misery, while the other is not.

This Sutra refutes the view and holds that Brahman is to be comprehended as identical with one’s self; for in reality the two are identical, the experience of misery etc. by the individual soul—in other words, the Jīva-hood—being due to the limiting adjunct, the internal organ.

For instance, the Jābāla acknowledge it: “I am indeed Thou, O Lord, and Thou art indeed myself.” Other scriptural texts also say the same thing: “I am Brahman” (Brih. 1. 4. 10); “This self is the Brahman” (Ma. 2).

These texts are to be taken in their primary, and not secondary sense, as in, “The mind is Brahman” (Chh. 3. 18. 1), where the text presents the mind as a symbol for contemplation.

Hence we have to meditate on Brahman as being the self.

Topic 3 - Where symbols of Brahman are used for contemplation, the meditator is not to comprehend them as identical with him

 Sutra 4,1.4

न प्रतीके न हि सः ॥ ४ ॥

na pratīke na hi saḥ || 4 ||

na—Not; pratīke—in the symbol; na—is not; hi—because; saḥ—he.

4. (The meditator is) not (to see the self) in the symbol, because he is not (that).

The mind is Brahman” (Chh. 3. 18. 1).

In such meditations, where the mind is taken as a symbol of Brahman, is the meditator to identify himself with the mind, as in the case of the meditation “I am Brahman”?

The opponent holds that he should, for the mind is a product of Brahman according to Vedanta, and as such it is one with It. So is the individual soul, the meditator, one with Brahman.

Hence it follows that; the meditator also is one with the mind, and therefore he should see his self in the mind in this meditation also.

This Sutra refutes it.

In the first place, if the symbol, mind, is cognized as identical with Brahman, then it ceases to be a symbol, even as when we realize an ornament as gold, we forget its individual character of being an ornament.

Again, if the meditator is conscious of his identity with Brahman, then he ceases to be the individual soul, the meditator.

The act of meditation can take place only where these distinctions exist, and unity has not been realized; and where there is knowledge of diversity, the meditator is quite distinct from the symbol. As such he is not to see his self in the symbol.

Topic 4 - In meditations on symbols the latter are to be viewed as Brahman and not in the reverse way

 Sutra 4,1.5

ब्रह्मदृष्टिः, उत्कर्षात् ॥ ५ ॥

brahmadṛṣṭiḥ, utkarṣāt || 5 ||

brahmadṛṣṭiḥ—Viewing as Brahman; utkarṣāt—on account of the elevation.

5. (The symbol is) to be viewed as Brahman (and not in the reverse way), on account of the elevation (of the symbol thereby).

In meditations on symbols as in, “The mind is Brahman”, “The sun is Brahman” the question is whether the symbol is to be regarded as Brahman, or Brahman as the symbol.

The Sutra says that the symbols, the mind and the sun, are to be regarded as Brahman and not vice versa.

Because it is only by looking upon an inferior thing as a superior thing that we can progress, and not in the reverse way. Inasmuch as our aim is to get rid of the idea of differentiation and see Brahman in everything, we have to meditate upon these symbols as That.

Topic 5 - In meditations on the members of sacrificial acts the idea of the divinity is to be superimposed on the members and not vice versa

 Sutra 4,1.6

आदित्यादिमतयश्चाङ्गे, उपपत्तेः ॥ ६ ॥

ādityādimatayaścāṅge, upapatteḥ || 6 ||

ādityādi-matayaḥ—The ideas of the sun etc.; ca—and; aṅge—in a subordinate member (of sacrificial acts); upapatteḥ—because of consistency.

6. And the ideas of the sun etc. (are to be superimposed) on the subordinate members (of sacrificial acts), because (in that way alone would the statement of the scriptures) be consistent.

One ought to meditate upon that which shines yonder as the Udgītha” (Chh. 1. 3. 1); “One ought to meditate upon the Sāman as fivefold” etc. (Chh. 2. 2. 1).

In meditations connected with sacrificial acts as given in the texts quoted, how is the meditation to be observed?

For example, in the first cited text, is the sun to be viewed as the Udgītha, or the Udgītha as the sun? Between the Udgītha and the sun there is nothing to show which is superior, as in the previous Sutra, where Brahman being preeminent, the symbol was viewed as Brahman.

This Sutra says that the members of sacrificial acts, as here the Udgītha, are to be viewed as the sun and so on. Because by so doing the fruit of the sacrificial act is enhanced, as the scriptures say.

If we view the Udgītha as the sun, it undergoes a certain ceremonial purification and thereby contributes to the Apūrva, the invisible fruit of the whole sacrifice.

But by the reverse way, the sun being viewed as the Udgītha, the purification of the sun by this meditation will not contribute to the Apūrva, inasmuch as the sun is not a member of the sacrificial act.

So if the statement of the scriptures that the meditations enhance the result of the sacrifice, is to come true, the members of the sacrificial acts are to be viewed as the sun etc.

Topic 6 - One is to meditate sitting

 Sutra 4,1.7

आसीनः, संभवात् ॥ ७ ॥

āsīnaḥ, saṃbhavāt || 7 ||

āsīnaḥ—Sitting; saṃbhavāt—because of the possibility.

7. (One has to practise Upāsanā) sitting, because (in that way alone) it is possible.

As Upāsanā or contemplation is a mental affair, the posture of the body is immaterial—says the opponent.

This Sutra says that one has to meditate sitting, for it is not possible to meditate while standing or lying down. In Upāsanā one has to concentrate one’s mind on a single object, and this is impossible if one is standing or lying.

Sutra 4,1.8

ध्यानाच्च ॥ ८ ॥

dhyānācca || 8 ||

dhyānāt—On account of meditation (implying that); ca—and.

8. And on account of meditation (implying that).

The word ‘Upāsanā’ also means exactly what meditation means, i.e. concentrating on a single object, with fixed look, and without any movement of the limbs. This is possible only in a sitting posture.

Sutra 4,1.9

अचलत्वं चापेक्ष्य ॥ ९ ॥

acalatvaṃ cāpekṣya || 9 ||

acalatvam—Immobility; ca—and; apekṣya—referring to.

9. And referring to (its) immobility (the scriptures attribute meditativeness to the earth).

The earth meditates as it were”—in such statements meditativeness is ascribed to the earth on account of its immobility or steadiness.

So we learn that steadiness is a concomitance of meditation, and that is possible only while sitting and not while standing or walking.

Sutra 4,1.10

स्मरन्ति च ॥ १० ॥

smaranti ca || 10 ||

smaranti—The Smriti texts say; ca—also.

10. The Smriti texts also say (the same thing).

Having made a firm seat for one’s self on a pure spot” etc. (Gītā 6. 11)—in this text the sitting posture is prescribed for meditation.

Topic 7 - With respect to meditation there is no restriction of place

 Sutra 4,1.11

यत्रैकाग्रता तत्र, अविशेषात् ॥ ११ ॥

yatraikāgratā tatra, aviśeṣāt || 11 ||

yatra—Wherever; ekāgratā—concentration of mind; tatra—there; aviśeṣāt—want of any specification.

11. Wherever concentration of mind (is attained), there (it is to be practised), there being no specification (as to place).

The object of meditation is to attain concentration, and so any place is good if concentration is attained in that place.

That is why the scriptures say, “Select any place suitable and convenient”; “Where the mind is buoyant there one should concentrate”, and so on.

But places that are clean, free from pebbles, fire, sand, and so on, are desirable, as such places are helpful to meditation. But all the same there are no fixed rules as to place.

Topic 8 - Meditations are to be observed till death

 Sutra 4,1.12

आ प्रयाणात्, तत्रापि हि दृष्टम् ॥ १२ ॥

ā prayāṇāt, tatrāpi hi dṛṣṭam || 12 ||

ā prayāṇāt—Till death; tatra—then; api—even; hi—because; dṛṣṭam—is seen (from the scriptures).

12. Till death (meditations have to be observed), because (their observance) even at that moment is seen (from the scriptures).

In the first topic of this section it was said that meditations on Brahman are to be repeated till Knowledge dawns. The question is now taken up about other meditations which are practised for attaining certain results.

The opponent holds that such meditations can be stopped after a certain time; they would still yield results, like sacrifices performed only once.

This Sutra says that they are to be continued till death, for the Śruti and Smriti say so:

With whatever thought he passes away from this world” (Sat. Br. 10. 0. 3. 1). “Remembering whatever form of being he leaves this body” etc. (Gītā 8. 6).

Such a thought at the time of death as fixes the course of life hereafter cannot be had at that moment without lifelong practice. Hence meditations must be practised till death.

Topic 9 - Knowledge of Brahman frees one from the effects of all past and future evil deeds

 Sutra 4,1.13

तदधिगम उत्तरपूर्वाघयोरश्लेषविनाशौ तद्व्यपदेशात् ॥ १३ ॥

tadadhigama uttarapūrvāghayoraśleṣavināśau tadvyapadeśāt || 13 ||

tat-adhigame—When that is realized; uttara-pūrva-aghayoḥ—of the subsequent and previous sins; aśleṣa-vināśau—non-clinging and destruction; tat-vyapadeśāt—because it is declared (by the scriptures).

13. When that (Brahman) is realized (there result) the non-clinging and destruction of the subsequent and previous sins respectively, because it is (so) declared (by the scriptures).

The state of Jīvanmukti is described here.

The opponent holds that Liberation is attained, in spite of Knowledge, only after one has experienced the results of one’s sins committed before illumination. For the Smriti say, “Karma is not destroyed before it has given its results.” The law of Karma is inexorable.

This Sutra says that when a person attains Knowledge, all his past sins are destroyed and future sins do not cling to him. For by realizing Brahman he experiences that he never was, nor is, nor will be an agent, and such a person cannot be affected by the result of sins.

The scriptures also declare that: “Just as cotton growing on reeds is burnt when thrown into fire, even so are burnt the sins of one who knowing this offers Agnihotra” (Chh. 5. 24. 3);

The fetters of the heart are broken, all doubts are solved, and all works are destroyed when He who is high and low is seen” (Mu. 2. 2. 8); “As water does not wet the lotus leaf, even so no sins cling to him who knows it” (Chh. 4. 14. 3).

What the Smriti say about the inexorability of the law of Karma is true only of ordinary people, and does not hold good in the case of the knowers of Brahman.

And in this way alone can Liberation result—by snapping the chain of work. Otherwise Liberation can never take place.

Topic 10 - Good deeds likewise cease to affect the knower of Brahman

 Sutra 4,1.14

इतरस्याप्येवमसंश्लेषः, पाते तु ॥ १४ ॥

itarasyāpyevamasaṃśleṣaḥ, pāte tu || 14 ||

itarasya—Of the other; api—also; evam—thus; asaṃśleṣaḥ—non-clinging; pāte—at death; tu—but.

14. Thus there is non-clinging of the other (i.e. virtue) also; but at death (Liberation i.e. Videhamukti is certain).

As a knower of Brahman has no idea of agency he is not affected by good deeds also. He goes beyond vice and virtue. “He overcomes both” (Brih. 4. 4. 22).

And as he is not touched by vice or virtue after illumination, and as his past sins are destroyed by Knowledge, his Liberation at death is certain.

Topic 11 - Works which have not begun to yield results are alone destroyed by Knowledge and not those which have already begun to yield results

 Sutra 4,1.15

अनारब्धकार्ये एव तु पूर्वे, तदवधेः ॥ १५ ॥

anārabdhakārye eva tu pūrve, tadavadheḥ || 15 ||

anārabdha-kārye—Works which have not begun to yield results; eva—only; tu—but; pūrve—former works; tadavadheḥ—that (death) being the limit.

15. But (of his) former works only those which have not begun to yield results (are destroyed by Knowledge); (for) death is the limit (set by the scriptures for Liberation to take place).

In the last two topics it has been said that all the past works of a knower of Brahman are destroyed.

Now past works are of two kinds: Sanchita (accumulated) i.e. those which have not yet begun to bear fruit, and Prārabdha (commenced) i.e. those which have begun to yield results, and have produced the body through which a person has attained Knowledge.

The opponent holds that both these are destroyed, because the Muṇḍaka text cited says that all his works are destroyed.

Moreover, the idea of non-agency of the knower is the same with respect to Sanchita or Prārabdha work; therefore it is reasonable that both are destroyed when Knowledge dawns.

The Sutra refutes this view and says that only the Sanchita works are destroyed by Knowledge, but not the Prārabdha, which are destroyed only by being worked out.

So long as the momentum of these works lasts, the knower of Brahman has to be in the body. When they are exhausted, the body falls off, and he attains perfection.

His Knowledge cannot check these works, even as an archer has no control over the arrows already discharged, which come to rest only when their momentum is exhausted.

The Śruti declares this in texts like, “And for him the delay is only so long as he is not liberated (from this body); and then he is one (with Brahman)” (Chh. 6. 14. 2). If it were not so, then there would be no teachers of Knowledge.

Therefore the Prārabdha works are not destroyed by Knowledge.

Topic 12 - Obligatory works are however excepted from the rule mentioned in topic 10

 Sutra 4,1.16

अग्निहोत्रादि तु तत्कार्यायैव, तद्दर्शनात् ॥ १६ ॥

agnihotrādi tu tatkāryāyaiva, taddarśanāt || 16 ||

agnihotrādi—(Daily) Agnihotra etc.; tu—but; tat-kāryāya—contribute to the same result as that (Knowledge); eva—only; tat-darśanāt—that being seen (from the scriptures).

16. But (the results of daily) Agnihotra etc. (are not destroyed by Knowledge; these) contribute to the very same result as Knowledge (i.e. Liberation), because that is seen from the scriptures.

Among works some are enjoined for attaining certain results such as heaven, and there are others like the daily Agnihotra which yield no such results and yet are enjoined as a sort of discipline.

The opponent holds that even these regular works (Nitya Karma) performed before the dawning of Knowledge are destroyed, even as works done with desires (Kāmya Karma), for from the standpoint of the knower of Brahman his non-agency with respect to both is the same.

This Sutra refutes that view and says that the regular works performed in the past are not destroyed.

Works are of two kinds: those which yield specific results, and those which help to produce Knowledge. Obligatory regular works performed before Knowledge are of this latter kind.

And since Knowledge leads to Liberation, the regular works also may be said to contribute indirectly to that. Hence their results persist till death.

Sutra 4,1.17

अतो’न्यापि ह्येकेषामुभयोः ॥ १७ ॥

ato’nyāpi hyekeṣāmubhayoḥ || 17 ||

ataḥ—From this; anya—different; api—also; hi—indeed; ekeṣām—of some (Śākhās); ubhayoḥ—of both.

17. (There are) indeed (good works) also different from this (daily Agnihotra and the like), (with reference to which is the statement) of some (Śākhās); (this is the view) of both (Jaimini and Bādarāyaṇa).

Besides the Nitya Karma or regular works like the daily Agnihotra and the like there are other good works which are performed with a view to certain results.

It is with reference to these that the following statement of some Śākhās is made: “His sons get his inheritance—friends his good works and enemies his evil actions.

Both Jaimini and Bādarāyaṇa are of opinion that works done with a desire do not help the origination of Knowledge.

Topic 13 - Sacrificial works not combined with knowledge or meditations also help in the origination of Knowledge

 Sutra 4,1.18

यदेव विद्ययेति हि ॥ १८ ॥

yadeva vidyayeti hi || 18 ||

yat-eva—Whatever; vidyayā—with knowledge; iti—thus; hi—because.

18. Because (the statement), “Whatever (he does) with knowledge,” indicates this.

Regular works (Nitya Karma) which help the origination of Knowledge are of two kinds, those combined with meditations, those unaccompanied by them.

Since work combined with meditations is superior to work done without meditations, the opponent holds that the former alone helps the origination of Knowledge.

This Sutra refutes it and says that in the statement, “That alone which is performed with knowledge . . . becomes more powerful” (Chh. 1. 1. 10),

the comparative degree shows that works done without knowledge, that is, not combined with meditations, are not altogether useless, though the other class is more powerful.

Topic 14 - On the exhaustion of Prārabdha work through enjoyment the knower of Brahman attains oneness with It

 Sutra 4,1.19

भोगेन त्वितरे क्षपयित्वा संपद्यते ॥ १९ ॥

bhogena tvitare kṣapayitvā saṃpadyate || 19 ||

bhogena—By enjoyment; tu—but; itare—of the other two works; kṣapayitvā—having exhausted; saṃpadyate—becomes one (with Brahman).

19. But having exhausted by enjoyment the other two works (i.e. good and evil works that have begun to bear fruit), (he) becomes one (with Brahman).

The opponent argues that even as a knower of Brahman sees diversity while living, so also even after death he will continue to see diversity; in other words, he denies that the knower of Brahman attains oneness with Brahman at death.

This Sutra refutes it and says that the Prārabdha works are destroyed through fruition, and though till then the knower of Brahman has to be in the relative world as a Jīvan-mukta, yet when these are exhausted by being worked out, he attains oneness with Brahman at death.

He no longer sees any diversity, owing to the absence of any cause like the Prārabdha, and since all works including the Prārabdha are destroyed at death, he attains oneness with Brahman.