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Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta (Vedānta-vicāra-śāstra). Its oldest name seems to


Sūtras) have been Śārī raka or “the book about the embod-
ied.” This name has been interpreted differently by
Aleksandar Uskokov the commentators. Śaṅkara says that the book is so
Department of South Asian Languages and called because it intends to teach that the individual
Civilizations, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, embodied Self is, in fact, Brahman, the supreme
USA Self that is one for all. Rāmānuja, on the other hand,
takes the “embodied” to stand for Brahman directly,
through the fact that Brahman is the true Self of the
Introduction: Author, Composition, world and the individual Selves, who constitute
Date, and Sources Brahman’s body. In contradistinction to the
Mī māṁsā Sūtra (MS), the BS is also called “the
Brahma Sūtra (BS) is the most canonical work of book of 4 chapters,” Catur-Lakṣaṇī (the MS being
the Vedānta school of theology and philosophy. It Dvādaśa-lakṣaṇī , “the book of 12 chapters”), and
belongs to the genre of sūtra literature or texts that “inquiry into Brahman,” Brahma-Mī māṁsā (the
outline a knowledge system in a string of short, MS being Karma-Mī māṁsā, “inquiry into ritual
topically arranged statements – sūtras or apho- action”) ([18], pp. 425–428).
risms, literally strings – providing thereby the The author of the BS is commonly called by
venue of interpretation in which the system the commentators simply the “author of the aph-
develops. As its name says, the BS is a systema- orisms,” sūtrakāra, and the oldest preserved com-
tization of the doctrine of Brahman from the mentary, that of Śaṅkara, explicitly identifies this
Upaniṣads. Unlike the other sūtra compositions, sūtrakāra with “the venerable Bādarāyaṇa”
whose statements, though short, are generally (BSBh 4.4.22). From the time of Śaṅkara’s second
easy to read, the statements of the BS are not commentator, the ninth-century Vācaspati Miśra,
only terse but very cryptic as well: it has been Bādarāyaṇa is identified with Vedavyāsa the
said many times that they are impossible to read author of the Mahābhārata ([23], p. 96; 17).
without a commentary. While that may be a bit of Both identifications are, nevertheless,
an exaggeration, it is nevertheless true that the BS problematic. The structure of the BS is such that
leaves the impression of being intentionally the text has likely undergone several recensions
esoteric. before assuming the form on which the commen-
The BS is sometimes called “the science of taries were written. Bādarāyaṇa is, in fact, quoted
deliberation on Brahman” (Brahma-vicāra-śāstra) several times in the BS along with a few other
or the “science of deliberation on the Upaniṣads” Vedāntins, and while his views are generally
# Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2018
P. Jain et al. (eds.), Hinduism and Tribal Religions, Encyclopedia of Indian Religions,
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-1036-5_493-1
2 Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta Sūtras)

conclusive, this indicates that the final text was important role of the Taittirī ya Upaniṣad (TU),
put together after him. Śaṅkara’s student which supplies the definition of Brahman as the
Sureśvara, in fact, attributed the BS not to topic of the treatise, the paradigmatic brahma-
Bādarāyaṇa but to Jaimini ([18], pp. 396–398). vidyā, and much of the technical terminology.
The identification of Bādarāyaṇa with Vyāsa may While the ChU core can hardly be questioned,
be a conflation of the Purāṇic tradition that makes the TU is so structural to the text that it is hard to
Jaimini a student of Vyāsa, and the fact that imagine that the BS was not a novel undertaking
Bādarāyaṇa is regarded highly in the MS tradi- predicated on the view that all Upaniṣads form a
tionally attributed to Jaimini. coherent corpus and should speak in a single
Scholars have considered the question of the voice.
composition of the BS in some detail. It has since In fact, it is apparent from the text that the BS
long been recognized that the BS looks very much comes in a line of an already established tradition.
like a systematization of the Chāndogya Along with Bādarāyaṇa, seven other Vedāntins
Upaniṣad (ChU). Paul Deussen was probably are quoted by name: Bādari, Kāśakṛtsna,
the first to notice that in the first chapter of the Kārṣṇājini, Auḍulomi, Ātreya, Āśmarathya, and
text, 12 of the 28 topical passages were from the Jaimini. It is very likely that they were authors of
ChU, while no other Upaniṣad supplied more than earlier sūtra compositions, on which the
4. Further, the passages from each Upaniṣad were sūtrakāra drew and which he in effect replaced.
discussed in the order as they appear in their texts, This process can be compared to the composition
which prompted Deussen to suggest that of another great sūtra work, the Aṣtādhyāyī San-
Bādarāyaṇa or a follower of his inserted 16 pas- skrit grammar of Pāṇini, whose genius drew on
sages from other Upaniṣads into an earlier work and replaced a number of earlier works ([15],
that systematized the ChU, keeping the principle p. 79).
that the original order of the extracts should be This argument can be further supported by
maintained ([10], pp. 27–29; also [11], considering the relationship of the BS with
pp. 120–122). The dominance of the ChU appears another canonical Vedānta work, the Bhagavad-
even more striking in the other three chapters. For Gītā [28]. In verse four of chapter thirteen, the BG
instance, the whole first section of the third chap- says that the field and its knower, kṣetra and
ter is based on the doctrine of five fires as kṣetra-jña, standing for the body and the Self,
discussed in the fifth book of the ChU. The third have been described “variously and severally”
section of the same chapter, further, deals with by sages in Vedic compositions, as well through
five sections of the ChU, again in the order in sound reasoning “in words that form strings about
which they appear in the Upaniṣad Brahman” (brahma sūtra-padaiś caiva
[12]. S. K. Belvalkar went farthest in proposing hetumadbhir viniścitaiḥ). Topical passages from
that there could have been a Chāndogya-Brahma the BG, on the other hand, are discussed in the BS:
Sūtra and a Bṛhad-Āraṇyaka-Brahma Sūtra, sūtra 2.3.45 refers to BG 15.7, and 4.2.21 dis-
etc. The Brahma Sūtra that became the normative cusses BG 8.25. If the BG reference is to the
was the Chāndogya one, written by Jaimini, in present BS, then there is an apparent circularity:
which Bādarāyaṇa or his students introduced pas- the two works refer to one another. Śaṅkara inter-
sages from the other Upaniṣads as side illustra- prets the verse as referring to reasoning within the
tions ([1], p. 152). The goal in doing this was to Upaniṣads, but the Upaniṣads do not mention
secure the harmony within the ChU but use mate- sūtra as a genre of Vedic texts, and the context
rials from the other Upaniṣads as supporting evi- of the verse – knowledge of the embodied and its
dence [1–3]. A third and final recension, body – is a clear allusion to the old name
Belvalkar suggested, included refutation of the Śārīraka. Other traditional commentators on the
doctrines of other schools of philosophy. While Gītā have read brahma sūtra-padaiḥ as an
this is an appealing proposition, it is not one explicit reference to the present BS, presumably
without difficulties, the chief one being the all- under the assumption that the author of the two
Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta Sūtras) 3

was the same Vyāsa, which does not involve the Here we provide a short catalog of the most
said circularity. However, the final text of BS influential commentaries and sub-commentaries
seems to postdate the early fifth-century AD, and on the BS that have been preserved and are avail-
the time of the Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu, able in print:
the exponent of Vijñānavāda, since BS 2.2.28–32,
refutes Vijñānavāda, whereas the BG is earlier by • The Advaitin Śaṅkara (ca. 700–750 AD) wrote
roughly half a millennium. Several scholars have, the Brahma-Sūtra-Bhāṣya [27]. His immediate
therefore, suggested that the BG verse refers to student Padmapāda wrote a commentary on the
multiple older brahma sūtras, perhaps by the first four sutras, called Pañcapādikā [30],
Vedāntins that are named in the BS, which were which was further commented upon by
used by the sūtrakāra to produce his own treatise Prakāśātman (eleventh century) in his
[15, 17]. Vivaraṇa. Vācaspati Miśra wrote the first full
The BS could not have been finalized much commentary on the Bhāṣya, called Bhāmatī
later than the fifth century either, because we [26], and Advaita Vedānta is generally divided
know for a fact that several prominent Vedāntins in two schools that follow the Vivaraṇa and the
wrote commentaries on the BS before the eighth- Bhāmatī, respectively.
century Advaitin Śaṅkara. • The Bhedābheda-Vādin Bhāskara
Along with the principal Upaniṣads, of which (ca. 750–850) wrote a Brahma-Sūtra-Bhāṣya,
only the Kena and Māṇḍukya are absent, the BS which was very influential but had no sub-
refers occasionally to passages from the Vedic commentaries, as no school of Vedānta in the
Saṁhitās and Brāhmaṇas. Several sūtras refer to institutional sense is associated with
the smṛti corpus: the BG, Mahābhārata, Kūrma Bhāskara’s name.
Purāṇa, Manu, etc. Finally, important features of • The Viśiṣṭādvaitin Rāmānuja (ca. 1077–1157)
the BS doctrine, such as the unity of the individual wrote three commentaries on the BS,
brahma-vidyās and the uniformity of the notion of Śrī bhāṣya [16], his longest and principal
Brahman throughout the brahma-vidyās, are work, which was commented upon by
derived from theological principles of the MS. Sudarśana Sūri (late thirteenth–early four-
teenth century) in the longer Śruta-Prakāśikā
and the shorter Śruta-Pradī pikā; Vedānta-
Dī pa, a briefer and simpler comment; and
Commentarial Tradition
Vedānta-Sāra, which attempts to provide the
meaning of the sūtras and their topical pas-
The BS is one of the most influential and
sages in as few words as possible ([6],
commented upon works in Indian intellectual his-
pp. 52–60).
tory. From the commentaries of Śaṅkara,
• The Dvaitin Madhva (1238–1318) wrote four
Bhāskara, and Rāmānuja, it is evident that there
compositions on the BS: Brahma-Sūtra-
were several pre-Śaṅkara expositions of the BS
Bhāṣya [25]; Anu-Vyākhyāna, a polemical run-
that have not survived to our time. Some of them
ning commentary of 1985 verses; Anu-Bhāṣya,
were not readily available even in Rāmānuja’s
a summary in 32 verses; and Nyāya-Vivaraṇa,
days, but paraphrases and direct quotes are not
a prose summary. Jayatīrtha (ca. 1365–1388)
uncommon in the three Bhāṣyas. Prominent
wrote commentaries on all except the Anu-
names include Upavarṣa, Bodhāyana, Vṛttikāra,
Bhāṣya, the most important of which is the
Brahmānandin, Vākyakāra, Bhāṣyakāra,
Nyāya-Sudhā on the Anu-Vyākhyāna ([24],
Dramiḍa, etc. Several of these are generic titles
pp. 97–127, 251–254).
meaning “a commentator,” and scholars have
• The Bhedābheda-Vādin Nimbārka (date uncer-
debated precise identifications [19, 22]. It is, fur-
tain, possibly the twelfth century) wrote the
ther, inferable that the practice was to write a
Vedānta-Pārijāta-Saurabha, a very short com-
commentary on the MS and BS as a single śāstra.
mentary restricted to making sense of the terse
4 Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta Sūtras)

sūtras and identifying their topical texts. portray of Brahman’s feature of bliss ([7],
Nimbārka’s immediate follower Śrīnivāsa pp. 217–218).
wrote the Vedānta-Kaustubha, which was
commented upon by Keśava Kāśmīrī
(ca. early sixteenth century) in his Prabhā [4]. Themes and Structure
• The Śaiva Śrīkaṇṭha (date unknown, post-
Rāmānuja, pre-Śrīpati) wrote the Brahma- The BS is made of four chapters (adhyāya), each
Sūtra-Bhāṣya, which was commented upon having four sections (pāda). The sections are
by Appaya Dīkṣita (sixteenth–seventeenth composed of statements (sūtras) that are orga-
century) in the Śivārka-Maṇi-Dī pikā [8, 9]. nized in headings (adhikaraṇa). The headings
• The Vīraśaiva Śrīpati (ca. 1350) wrote the can consist of a single sūtra, though commonly
Śrī kara-Bhāṣya [14]. they are longer. The number of sūtras is not uni-
• The Śuddhādvaita-Vādin Vallabha form across the commentaries – for instance, in
(1479–1531) wrote the Anu-Bhāṣya. It has Śaṅkara’s Bhāṣya there are 555 sūtras, whereas in
been argued that this commentary was incom- Rāmānuja’s 545 – nor are the sūtras read uni-
plete and that it was completed by Vallabha’s formly: occasionally the different commentaries
son Viṭṭhalanātha (1516–1586) [5]. read different words, join two sūtras in one, or
• The Bhedābheda-Vādin Vijñānabhikṣu split a single sūtra in two. With that said, the text
(ca. sixteenth century) wrote the is relatively coherent. The adhikaraṇas are sec-
Vijñānāmṛta [20]. tions in which a single topic is discussed, such as a
• The Acintya-Bhedābheda-Vādin Baladeva particular Upaniṣadic passage. The structure of an
Vidyābhūṣaṇa (ca. 1700–1793), a follower of adhikaraṇa is generally said to consist of five
Caitanya, wrote the Govinda-Bhāṣya [29]. elements: (1) positing of a topic under discussion,
viṣaya, generally a topical Upaniṣadic passage,
Mention should be made here that the early viṣaya-vākya, as a preliminary thesis; (2) a
Caitanya Vaiṣṇavas considered the Bhāgavata doubt, saṁśaya, with respect to the topic; (3) a
Purāṇa to be a “natural” commentary on the BS prima facie view, pūrva-pakṣa; this may be
that is intuited by the same agent Vyāsa [13]. The followed by an uttara-pakṣa or a preliminary con-
Bhāgavata, in fact, explicitly draws on the BS in clusion; (4) a conclusion, siddhānta, affirmation
its first verse, opening with the BS statement that of the thesis through clarifying the doubt and
Brahman is that from which proceed creation, overturning the prima facie view; and (5) coher-
maintenance, and destruction of beings ence, saṅgati, of the topic, which is its pertinence
(BS 1.1.2: janmādy asya yataḥ) and describing for Brahman the theme of the śāstra and appro-
itself as the essence of all Upaniṣads (12.13.15: priateness for the chapter and the section ([29],
sarva-vedānta-sāraṁ hi śrī-bhāgavatam iṣyate). pp. 4–5). Given that an adhikaraṇa may consist of
In the twentieth century, the Bengali intellectual a single sūtra, a commentator will generally sup-
Rampada Chattopadhyay attempted to demon- ply many of these five as implied but not
strate in his 2,200-page Brahmasūtra O Śrī mad expressed. In the longer adhikaraṇas, any sūtra
Bhāgavata how the Bhāgavata commented on may express a prima facie view or part of the
specific sūtras of the BS. Particularly interesting conclusion, and often the commentators differ as
is Chattopadhyay’s suggestion that the commen- to what is the case. What sūtras constitute an
tators on the BS such as Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja adhikaraṇa is also not uniform across the
have emphasized Brahman’s feature of conscious- commentarial tradition: Śaṅkara’s commentary,
ness from the canonical definition of Brahman as for instance, has 191 adhikaraṇas, whereas
sat-cit-ānanda, Being, consciousness, bliss, but Rāmānuja’s has 156.
that it was only the Bhāgavata that made a full The content of the BS is generally divided in
three topics: tattva or the nature of Brahman and
its relation to the world and the individual Selves,
Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta Sūtras) 5

discussed in the first two chapters; sādhana or the born, they live, and into which they pass upon
process of liberation, discussed in the third chap- death, know that distinctly, it is Brahman” (All
ter, called sādhanādhyāya; and phala or references to the Upaniṣads are to Olivelle’s edi-
puruṣārtha, liberation from rebirth as the highest tion [21]). The etc. in the sūtra, thus, stands for
human good, discussed in the fourth chapter, maintenance and destruction. The key character-
called phalādhyāya. While this division is istic of Brahman, then, is that it is the great cause
roughly justified, we should note that the real or the first principle. The sūtrakāra presents the
topic of the first chapter is not so much a positive details of the notion of Brahman through
definition of Brahman – indeed, we learn more distinguishing it from the pradhāna/prakṛti of
about the essential characteristics of Brahman in Sāṅkhya. The main divide between the two is
the third chapter, when there appears the need to theological: whereas Brahman is known from
standardize the idea of Brahman across the scripture (1.1.3), pradhāna is a non-scriptural
Upaniṣadic meditations – but the fact that it is entity (aśabda), and the sūtrakāra refers to it as
Brahman that is discussed in the individual the “inferable cause,” ānumānika (1.4.1), which is
Upaniṣadic texts, not the prakṛti or puruṣa of a direct jab at the Sāṅkya-Kārika’s claim that
Sāṅkhya: thus the chapter is called supersensible things are known through inference
samanvayādhyāya, the chapter on common mean- that is based on general observation (kārikā 6).
ing. The second chapter is all about Brahman in its We may illustrate the theological nature of
causal role, in the context of which the various such arguments by looking at sūtra 1.1.5, īkṣater
Upaniṣadic creation accounts are standardized; a nāśabdam, which says that the non-scriptural
pan-Upaniṣadic doctrine of the individual Self is principle (pradhāna) cannot be the first cause,
developed, occasioned by the fact that the Self is since the action of reflection is mentioned. This
not created but spoken as such metaphorically; is not a statement to the effect that the first cause
Sāṅkhyan objections to Brahman’s being both must be a sentient principle but a reference to the
the material and the instrumental cause are statement in the sixth chapter of the ChU, which
answered, etc. Sāṅkhya is throughout the dialogue says that Being reflected or visualized before cre-
partner, but in the second section, all the other ating the world: “And it thought to itself: ‘Let me
contemporary rival doctrines of causality are become many. Let me propagate myself.’”
discussed: Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Buddhism, Jainism, Pradhāna is an insentient principle, and it fails
Pāśupata, and Pāñcarātra. Thus, the second chap- the scriptural test.
ter is called avirodhādhyāya, on absence of con- Similar is the case with the determination of
tradiction, in the Upaniṣads internally and by Brahman as bliss in another famous sūtra, 1.1.13:
opposing doctrines. ānandamayo ‘bhyāsāt, “That which is bliss abun-
In the following sections, we reconstruct these dant is Brahman, because of repetition.” This is a
three topics, drawing on several commentaries as denial that the individual Self or puruṣa of
much as it is necessary to make sense of the Sāṅkhya is the reference of the Taittirī ya text
sūtras, looking at their topical passages, and that describes five successively higher layers of
with a view to internal coherence of the text. personhood – the person of food, of vital breath,
(The sūtra references are given according to of mind, of cognition, and of bliss – because the
Nimbārka’s commentary.) Taittirī ya proceeds to repeat “bliss” explicitly in
association with Brahman throughout its second
and third chapters and says that it is Brahman that
Ontology causes bliss (ānandayati, 2.7), that is, makes the
individual Selves blissful. Although the sūtrakāra
Brahman is defined at the very opening of the BS does not explicitly state these two characteristics
(1.1.2): “It is that from which proceed origination of Brahman as essential, beyond its being the
etc.” This is a reference to the TU 3.1.1: “That cause, well until the third chapter, we learn from
from which these beings are born, on which, once
6 Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta Sūtras)

this that Brahman is a sentient and a blissful instrumental cause (2.1.23). The Sāṅkhya oppo-
principle. nent of the BS claimed that it was not possible for
The sūtrakāra, still, does engage in philosoph- Brahman to be the material cause of the world,
ical reasoning about causality, with the general because the world as the effect was radically dif-
claim that Brahman fits best the requirements of ferent from Brahman as the cause (2.1.4). The
the first principle in virtue of its characteristics commentators are quite unanimous in interpreting
(2.1.35), and it is in dialogue with Sāṅkhya that what this objection meant: the world is evidently
the Vedāntic theory of causation develops. It is, insentient, impure, and full of suffering, whereas
nevertheless, required several times to remind the Brahman is essentially sentient, pure, and bliss
interlocutors that scripture is the only means of solid: it is not right that the first be an effect of
knowing Brahman. For instance, sūtras 2.1.11–12 the second. The reply of the sūtrakāra was that
say that reasoning is inconclusive, and one never precisely such cases of causal relations where the
gets to avoid all undesirable consequences of a effect was radically different from the cause were
causal theory solely through reasoning. Particu- in evidence (2.1.6). The commentators give sev-
larly underwhelming is 2.1.26, which answers the eral instances of such cases, most of which fail to
objection, if Brahman is the cause that transforms impress – worms produced from honey, dung
into the world the effect, all of Brahman would beetle from dung, etc. – but two of which are
have to transform, since Brahman is a partless quite appealing: insentient hair that grows from a
entity. The answer is, the Upaniṣads say that Brah- sentient body and the insentient cobweb that a
man does transform, and that is the knockdown sentient spider produces.
argument. While the sūtrakāra proposes a reason- Such cases, then, are proof enough that there is
able theory in the next few sūtras (on which no requirement that the effect be of the same
below), the general tendency of the philosophical nature as the cause. It must be real, sat or Being,
reasoning is to show that the Sāṅkhya notion of and insofar such is the case, Vedānta endorses sat-
causality faces the same objections (2.1.10, kārya-vāda equally as Sāṅkhya; however, the
2.1.28) and that the competing causal principles effect has a surplus of characteristics beyond sat
make a little sense under our common understand- that are not shared with the cause, and the
ing of causality. sūtrakāra is careful to point out that the objection
The sūtrakāra shares the general theory of as to the different nature of the effect from the
causality with Sāṅkhya, the doctrine of sat- cause can be made just as equally against the
kārya-vāda, which says that the effect is not a pradhāna, for its transformations also have char-
new thing but a transformation and a continuation acteristics that pradhāna does not have (2.1.10).
of the cause, and this is explicitly affirmed in Brahman as a unique cause that does not
2.1.7. He does, however, take an exception with require an external factor for its transformation,
the claim that the effect must share the character- an instrumental cause, is compared to milk, which
istics of the cause. This exception was a direct turns into curd on its own, without the interven-
result of the Vedāntic presupposition that Brah- tion of another agent (2.1.23). While we may be
man was a single cause, one without a second, as suspect of this example, since it does not exclude
the ChU puts it (6.2.1: ekam evādvitī yam). In agents other than milk – the transformation of
Indian philosophies, generally three kinds of milk into curd is caused by bacteria present in
causes are discussed: an efficient cause (nimitta- the milk – the BS point is that Brahman, like
kāraṇa), such as a potter; a material cause milk, is constitutionally such a thing which, left
(upādāna-kāraṇa), for instance, clay; and an to its own internal devices, would transform into
instrumental or assisting cause (sahakārin), such its product, without the external intervention of
as the potter’s wheel. The BS presupposition was another thing, such as the addition of whey. In
that Brahman was both the efficient and the mate- answer to the aforementioned objection about
rial cause, and an explicit claim was that Brahman being partless, the sūtrakāra says that
Brahman’s causality did not require an Brahman is a principle which is sarvopetā,
Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta Sūtras) 7

furnished with “everything” (2.1.29). This is a from this higher Self that liberation of the highest
reference to Śāṇḍilya’s teachings from the ChU good is attained (3.4.1). The sūtrakāra, thus,
3.14, which say that Brahman which is “every- affirmed that Brahman and the individual Self
thing,” sarvam, possesses “all actions, all desires, were different, and such a state of affairs was
all smells, and all tastes” and that its resolves are also a necessary requirement for the BS soteriol-
“true” and effortlessly realized. Clearly the idea is ogy, as we will see under the last heading.
that Brahman, though single, has internal faculties Now, in another sense it was crucial to affirm
that facilitate its diversification, and it is in relation that the individual Self was Brahman, for the
to this sūtra that the pan-Vedāntic doctrine of simple reason that only in this way would the
Brahman’s omnipotence, sarva-śakti, develops. final attainment be permanent. As we will see
The single Brahman possesses all kinds of pow- later, the BS replaced dharma the ritual action as
ers, śakti, and it is significant that the category of the principal factor in the attainment of the highest
śakti in Brahmanical thought was universally good with Brahman: Brahman was eternal, and its
understood as something that resides in a thing desires and resolves were effortlessly accom-
as its feature, yet is not a different thing itself. plished. One could enjoy a result which was per-
One of the objections to Brahman’s being the manent and blissful only if one was essentially
cause facilitates out considering its relation to the Brahman. The individual Self, thus, had to be
individual Self. The objection says, on the pro- simultaneously identical with and different from
posed account of causality, if pradhāna is not the Brahman, bhedābheda. Sūtras 1.4.20–22 discuss
cause, there obtains the fault of Brahman acting to how it can be justified that the Higher Self is
its own detriment. This is so because Brahman is denoted in some Upaniṣadic passages through
expressly identified with the individual Self in words that stand for the individual Self, by
texts such as “This Self is Brahman,” ayam ātmā referencing the opinions of three earlier
brahma (BĀU 2.5.19), and “You are that,” tat Vedāntins, and one of them is pertinent for their
tvam asi (ChU 6.8.7ff). If Brahman is the cause ontological relationship: Auḍulomi said that the
of the world, which is a place of suffering, then individual Self that rises from the body at libera-
Brahman inflicts its own suffering through creat- tion attains the nature of Brahman (1.4.21). We
ing the world (2.1.20). The sūtrakāra’s reply is will see what that precisely meant later.
telling: Brahman is something more (adhikam) Elsewhere the individual Selves are described
than the individual Self, because the two are as “parts,” aṁśa, of Brahman, with the justifica-
expressly said to be different. The commentators tion that they are many (2.3.42). Clearly this is not
read a reference to the Madhyandina recension of intended to present a partitive relationship: sūtra
the BĀU (Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa [ŚPB] 14.6.7.30), 2.3.45 says that the Selves are like illumination,
in the section about the inner controller whereas the Supreme is not of that kind. If we
(antaryāmin): “He who is within the Self, residing understand this through the common simile of
in it, whom the Self does not know, whose body Brahman being like the sun to which the Selves
the Self is, who controls the Self within, he is your are the sunrays, we can take aṁśa best in the sense
Self, the inner controller, the immortal.” We find of an “extension.” The Selves, then, are kind of an
essentially the same doctrine in the fourth section attributive awareness of Brahman, through which
of the third chapter, where Bādarāyaṇa argues Brahman is vicariously and not directly related to
against the Mīmāṁsā reading of the Upaniṣads the world of suffering, just as the sun contacts filth
as providing knowledge of an eternal Self that is through its rays but individually remains aloof.
the ritual agent which survives death and enjoys The individual Self is minute in extension
the results of ritual in the hereafter, making thus (2.3.19): this is also in contrast to the Sāṅkhya
the Upaniṣads subordinate to the Brāhmaṇas and doctrine about the Self as all-pervading. It resides
not an independent corpus. Bādarāyaṇa’s crucial in the heart (2.3.24) and is substantive conscious-
claim is that the Upaniṣads teach “the higher” ness (2.3.18), but by its attributive awareness it
(adhika) Self (3.4.8) as their main topic: it is extends through the body (2.3.25), like a “drop of
8 Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta Sūtras)

sandal paste” that is applied to a spot and refreshes Brahman, who is by definition āpta-kāma or he
the whole body (2.3.23) or like the scent that whose desires are fully satisfied, want to create the
extends beyond the flower (2.3.26). In embodi- world? What purpose would Brahman need to
ment, its attributive awareness is contracted and achieve? The answer of the sūtrakāra is that cre-
limited to the body, but in liberation it expands, ation is not a purposeful action but a “sport,”
and one can be aware of multiple bodies created at something one does out of sheer joy, like a king
one’s will. Directly against Sāṅkhya’s claim that who goes out to play ball (Rāmānuja), like some-
the Self is the agent of experience but not of one infatuated with happiness who gets up to
action, which is performed by the guṇas of dance (Baladeva), or even more basically, like
prakṛti, the BS affirms that the Self is an agent breathing that just happens (Śaṅkara). But, does
and essentially so for two reasons: without its the absence of intention absolve the agent of the
being an agent, scriptural injunctions and prohi- consequences of her action? The world is a place
bitions on whose performance or otherwise good of suffering and inequality: is Brahman not
and bad karma are consequent would make no responsible for this? No, because in creating
sense, and one would experience the results of such inequality, Brahman has regard to the indi-
actions that one had not performed (2.3.32); lib- vidual karma of the various living beings, and
eration would also be impossible, as one could not their karmas are all different because embodiment
perform the Upaniṣadic meditations that are the does not have an initial point where everyone
means of liberation (2.3.38). This statement of would begin from square one: inequality is coeval
agency needs to be modulated, in two directions. with time, it is without a beginning.
First, there are texts which affirm agency to If karma and embodiment are without a begin-
prakṛti and deny it to the Self, and they do so ning, they are not without an end. We move now,
having in view instrumentality. The Self is like a therefore, to the doctrine of practice for attaining
carpenter who uses instruments in his work, and liberation.
agency in that sense depends on perspective: from
the standpoint of the instrument that directly con-
tacts wood, it may be said that the carpenter is not
Practice: The Doctrine of Vidyā
an agent; from the standpoint of his initiative and
effort, he definitely is an agent (2.3.38–39). Sec-
The challenge for the sūtrakāra in defining the
ond, the agency of the Self is dependent on Brah-
Upaniṣads as a canon distinct from the Brāhmaṇas
man, who is, we should remember, the inner
was to show how they serve human goals inde-
controller. It does not depend on the whims of
pendent of ritual. This specific difference of the
Brahman, though, since that would nullify
Upaniṣads was found in the doctrine of vidyā and
agency, and Brahman makes one act by having
upāsana, both of which I translate as meditation.
in view effort and initiative (2.3.40–41). Thus, a
Strictly speaking, vidyās are specific Upaniṣadic
complex notion of agency obtains: the Self first
sections that engage “hidden connections”
expresses an initiative, which is taken into consid-
between two distinct things that are seen as iden-
eration and approved by Brahman and executed
tical. Such vidyās could either constitute a single
by instruments which are products of Brahman’s
section in one Upaniṣad or be repeated in several
transformation into the world, such as the
places. The first may be illustrated with the famous
intellect.
identification of the sacrificial horse and the Uni-
This brings us to the final point: in deliberating
verse at the opening of the Bṛhad-Āraṇyaka
on an action, Brahman has regard not only to
Upaniṣad (BĀU). An example of the second is
effort and initiative but to the past karma of an
the Śāṇḍilya-vidyā, Śāṇḍilya’s teaching about
individual as well, which implies that not all ini-
how the whole world is Brahman, most prominent
tiative can be sanctioned. This is discussed in the
in the ChU 3.14, but also repeated in the ŚPB and
part of the BS that is commonly said to deal with
the BĀU.
theodicy (2.1.31–35). The question is, why would
Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta Sūtras) 9

Whether they are one-off or repeated, these specific, it consists in seeing or mentally imposing
vidyās constitute units, in the same way as sacri- these spatiotemporal and Vedic categories in or to
fices described in different Vedic texts are single a specific horse, one which is to be sacrificed in an
ritual models: they aim at the same result, such as actual ritual performance.
attaining Brahman; they have the same form, for Two criteria of classifying the Upaniṣadic
instance, they are about Vaiśvānara the universal vidyās can be inferred from the BS. The vidyās
Self and involve the same details; they start with are means of attaining something desirable to
the same injunction, for instance, that one should men, and they can be classified in terms of the
meditate on this universal Self; and they share the intended result (3.4.1). A second and a more basic
same name. They are constituted as units by way criterion is the nature of the correspondence
of combining the details mentioned in the differ- between the correlated things: the correlation can
ent texts (3.3.1, drawing on MS 2.4.9). be either real or symbolic (4.1.4; 4.3.14). The
Vedāntins of different backgrounds quite unan- meditation on the Aśvamedha sacrificial horse is
imously used the term upāsana as a synonym for a good example of the second: the head of the
vidyā and understood the intended meaning of horse is not really dawn, but dawn is mentally
both to be meditation. If any distinction at all imposed over the horse’s head and meditated on
should be drawn between the two, vidyā seems as such in virtue of some resemblance between the
to stand more generally for the constituted textual two. Śaṅkara says, for instance, that primacy is a
ideality of an Upaniṣadic meditation, whereas feature both of dawn and the horse’s head, and this
upāsana indicates its facticity in practice. This, is ground enough for the one to be visualized as
however, is a tenuous distinction and it should not the other (BĀUBh 1.1.1). In the commentarial
be pursued consistently. BS exclusively used corpus, these became known as pratī kopāsana,
vidyā, but in the commentarial corpus, upāsana symbolic meditations.
became the term of art and for a good reason: the The sūtrakāra calls the symbolic meditations
related etymology of upāsana with upaniṣad. The kāmya, optional, with a clear allusion to the
unique feature of the Upaniṣads, then, was optional, desire-based rituals that are performed
expressed in their title: they were meditational for specific results (3.3.58–64). They are classi-
texts. fied further as (1) performed within a broader
Let us briefly illustrate how an Upaniṣadic ritual or as (2) performed independently. The
vidyā would have looked like through the afore- term for the first was aṅgāvabaddha meditations,
mentioned identification of the sacrificial horse meditations pertaining to subsidiary elements of a
and the Universe. We list some of the identifica- ritual and meant to either enhance the result of the
tions drawn in BĀU 1.1.1: the horse’s head is ritual or bring some added value (3.3.53). The
dawn; its torso is the year; its limbs and joints meditation on the sacrificial horse can again be
are the seasons, months, and fortnights; its feet are adduced as an example. In the Aśvamedha sacri-
days and nights; its sight is the sun; its breath is the fice, the sacrificial horse was a subsidiary element,
wind; its gaping mouth is the fire common to all subordinate to the principal element that was the
men; its underbelly is the earth; its abdomen is the ritual action, which was performed for a specific
intermediate space; its flanks are the quarters; its result. If the ritual, however, was accompanied by
bones are the stars; its flesh are the clouds; and its the meditation on the horse as Prajāpati, then the
intestines are the rivers. It is apparent that the meditation became the principal element; the
horse is likened to spatiotemporal categories and horse was embellished through that meditation,
to elements significant for the world of Vedic and the meditation-ritual complex brought the
sacrifice, and in Śaṅkara’s reading, the BĀU pre- attainment of the highest heaven, the world of
sents an identification of the sacrificial horse with Prajāpati. The insertion of this meditation was
the highest divinity of the Vedic worldview, optional, contingent on the desire of the sacrificer
Prajāpati (BĀUBh on 1.1.1). The meditation con- for another result. This meditation would be, thus,
sists in visualizing these correlations: to be both kāmya and aṅgāvabaddha.
10 Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta Sūtras)

The second group of kāmya meditations, those classification because it did not correlate two dis-
independent of ritual, can be best defined nega- tinct things so that it could be a meditation of one
tively, through two characteristics: (1) they were thing as another. It was a depiction of saṁsāra,
strictly Upaniṣadic meditations, not tied to ritual but it promised the attainment of Brahman to
subsidiaries and not to be performed in a ritual those who know the process of rebirth, through
context (2) and their results were, however, of the the same path of the gods (deva-yāna, on which
variety which ritual would bring, not the attain- more below) which was associated with the com-
ment of Brahman. We give two instances: mon brahma-vidyās. The sūtrakāra, therefore,
emphasized the “not as a symbol” principle: if a
• ChU 3.1.5.2: “He who knows thus the wind as meditation is not symbolic and it promises the
the child of the quarters will not mourn the loss attainment of Brahman, it is a brahma-vidyā
of a son.” (4.3.14–15).
• ChU 7.1.5 “He who meditates on Brahman as A definition of brahma-vidyā in terms of scrip-
name obtains freedom of movement as far as tural theology would be: it is the textual ideality of
name reaches.” a specific meditation on Brahman, to be
reconstructed through combining the meditational
Such meditations are, in fact, interspersed in details of its various iterations as well as some
the Upaniṣads alongside the meditations for the other elements common to all brahma-vidyās, and
attainment of Brahman. They were also based on to be applied optionally to the other brahma-
symbolic likeness, pratī ka. When Vedāntins talk vidyās in an outlined procedure, resulting eventu-
about pratī kopāsanas, they generally have these ally in the attainment of Brahman. We are already
independent Upaniṣadic meditations in mind and familiar with the combination of details, but let us
even more restrictedly the meditations in which see how all of it was supposed to work. Let us
the symbolic counterpart is Brahman (4.1.4 and begin with an exemplary list of brahma-vidyās
commentaries). It is clear, however, that the med- discussed in the BS and the commentaries:
itations on ritual subsidiaries were also seen as
symbolic in nature. • Śāṇḍilya-vidyā in ChU 3.14 and ŚPB 10.3, the
If a meditation was not symbolic and it prom- teaching of Śāṇḍilya about the innermost Self
ised the attainment of Brahman, it was a brahma- as Brahman
vidyā. Thus, all the remaining Upaniṣadic medi- • Bhūma-vidyā in ChU 7, the teaching of Sanat-
tations (not optional and symbolic) were medita- kumāra to Nārada about Brahman that is
tions on Brahman proper, because they resulted in plenitude
attaining Brahman. This was essentially a nega- • Sad-vidyā in ChU 6, the instruction of
tive characterization, but it was combined with a Uddālaka Āruṇi to his son Śvetaketu on how
positive one: a brahma-vidyā was a meditation on Being is everything
Brahman as one’s Self. “As the Self, because that • Upakosala-vidyā in ChU 4.10–15, the teaching
is what they admit and teach; but, not as a symbol, of Upakosala Kāmalāyana to Satyakāma
because the symbol is not the Self” (4.1.3–4). Jābāla about the person in the sun and in the
There are, then, Upaniṣadic passages that identify eye
one’s Self with Brahman, and they constitute • Ānandamaya-vidyā in TU 2, otherwise also
brahma-vidyā. The negative characterization, known simply as Brahma-vidyā, discussing
however, was more basic, and that was to accom- what became the essential positive nature of
modate one Upaniṣadic vidyā which did not fit the Brahman
Brahman-as-the-Self paradigm. That was the • Vaiśvānara-vidyā in ChU 5.11–18 and BĀU
famed pañcāgni-vidyā, the knowledge of five 5.9, the teaching of the king Aśvapati to six
fires from the ChU 5.3–10 and BĀU 6.2, which householder Brahmins about the Self which is
was somewhat of an oddball for the BS common to all
Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta Sūtras) 11

• Akṣara-vidyā in BĀU 3.8, Yājñavaklya’s of the Taittirī ya. A second set of universal char-
teaching to Gārgī about the imperishable acteristics of Brahman were the negative charac-
Brahman teristics in Yājñavaklya’s teachings to Gārgī, the
• Dahara-vidyā in ChU 8.1–6, containing the teaching about the imperishable Brahman from
teaching about the small space in the city of the BĀU 3.8, which distinguishes Brahman from
Brahman that is the heart the finite beings that are its perishable products
• Madhu-vidyā in BĀU 2.5, the teaching of (3.3.33). Both insertions were justified by an
Dadhyañc Ātharvaṇa to the two Aśvins about appeal to a principle of the MS, which stipulates
the brilliant immortal person within everything that all characteristics essential to a primary ele-
• Pañcāgni-vidyā in ChU 5.3–10 and BĀU 6.2, ment in a ritual follow that primary wherever it
delineating the process of rebirth may appear (MS 3.3.9). Thus, it is only in the third
chapter that we learn about the essential charac-
This is, of course, a bit of a medley of texts and teristics of Brahman, beyond its being the cause of
topics, and some work had to be done not only to everything. Conspicuously absent from this con-
standardize the individual vidyās but to normalize strued notion of Brahman was its being the cause
them across the board as well so that all would be of everything, which was all-important in the first
equal meditations that bring one to Brahman. two chapters. We will see why under the next
A template brahma-vidyā was worked out to heading.
which they would all conform, keeping their indi- Once the vidyās have been standardized with
vidual details so that one could be practiced as per the deva-yāna and the essential notion of Brah-
one’s preferences. man, the surplus characteristics of Brahman in the
First of all, they all had to aim at attaining individual vidyās were peculiar to them. Because
Brahman through the so-called deva-yāna or the the attainment as their integral part in all of them is
course of the gods: as we have seen, it was pre- the same – Brahman through the deva-yāna – only
cisely because of the deva-yāna that the pañcāgni- one brahma-vidyā should be practiced by an indi-
vidyā, which does not so much as mention Brah- vidual practitioner: whereas the kāmya medita-
man, made the brahma-vidyā cut. The course, on tions which bring ritual-like attainments can be
the other hand, was not mentioned in several combined as one desires, the more the merrier, one
vidyās, so there it had to be inserted. Thus, ascend- brahma-vidyā brings the same attainment as any
ing through the course of the gods becomes a part other, and therefore they were theorized as options
of all brahma-vidyās. By the principle of reciproc- to one another (3.3.57–8).
ity, knowing Brahman is inserted in the pañcāgni- The next question was, How was a brahma-
vidyā, if someone ascends through the deva-yāna, vidyā to be practiced? In terms of type of aware-
he must be a knower of Brahman (3,3,31). ness, the meditation on Brahman was a fixed
A second thing to normalize was Brahman concentration, dhyāna, mulling over an idea
itself, and that was necessary to make sure that (4.1.6). In terms of content, the meditational
the object of meditation and the attained result thought that one would have mulled over would
were identical. A single conception of Brahman have been a self-identification with Brahman
was to permeate the vidyās, and so the notion of through any of the standardized brahma-
Brahman was standardized through inserting vidyās. Meditation on Brahman was to be prac-
Brahman’s “essential characteristics,” culled ticed strictly in a sitting posture, but there was no
from a few texts where Brahman is defined. First restriction in terms of place: it was to be practiced
to be inserted were Brahman’s positive character- “wherever concentration is possible” (4.1.7;
istics, which the sūtrakāra calls “bliss and the 4.1.11). This is a clear giveaway that the paradig-
rest” (3.3.11). This referred to the well-known matic meditator on Brahman would have been a
characterization of Brahman as Being, knowl- householder.
edge, limitless, and Bliss, from the second chapter Along the same lines, the meditation was sup-
posed to be accompanied by ritual and other
12 Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta Sūtras)

religious practices, which included the daily becomes immediately free from the past bad
Agnihotra and practices such as charity and aus- karma which has not started bearing fruits,
terity for the individual āśramas (4.1.16; 3.4.33). whereas the new karma which one would other-
Ritual in the pursuit of liberation would foster wise create does not stick (4.1.13). The past good
meditation, and the individual āśramas were sup- karma is also gone, either immediately or at death,
posed to continue performing their individual but one must live through the karma that has
duties under the provision that they are conducive started bearing fruits: there was no such thing as
to liberation, which provision was traced to BĀU liberation before death (4.1.14–15). In terms of
4.4.22. Charity was the duty of the householders practice, everything was supposed to remain the
and austerity and fasting of the renunciants, while same as well – one had to continue meditating and
sacrifice consisting of the daily Agnihotra was to practicing ritual and one’s āśrama duties. In fact,
be performed by everyone, the only exemption the concern was more how to keep in some way
being “one Vedic branch some of whose members the reality of the good and bad karma which one is
never light up the fire” (3.4.15). The reference is freed from at the attainment of Brahman: such
to Vājasaneyin renunciants who would take up karma is not really destroyed but redistributed to
renunciation without ever marrying. Along with one’s friends and enemies, respectively (4.1.17).
their āśrama duties, all aspirants after liberation Finally, when death comes, one’s cognitive
were expected to cultivate virtues which were functions, life breath and the subtle elements
enjoined in the BĀU, immediately following the forming the subtle body, progressively withdraw
previous provision: calm, self-control, forbear- and gather around the Self. The Self at that point
ance, etc., thus, became mandatory virtues enters the heart, from which 108 channels shoot
(3.4.27). forth in different directions (4.2.1–7). He who
Finally, meditation on Brahman was supposed performed solely ritual takes any of the lower
to be practiced through one’s whole life (4.1.1; channels and gradually attains the world of the
4.1.13). This last stipulation is immediately rele- forefathers, pitṛ-loka, through the course of the
vant to considering the results of meditation, as it forefathers known also as the southern course
answered the question; What should one do when (pitṛ-yāna, dakṣiṇāyana), and eventually returns
the meditational practice has borne fruit? The to earth when the good karma has been exhausted.
question was prompted by the assumption that For the vidvān, on the other hand, the top channel
there comes a point in life when the meditation that forms a continuum with the sunrays lightens
has become perfect and one has become a vidvān, up (4.2.16), at which point begins his ascension
a knower of Brahman (3.2.24). The commentators through the course of the gods, known also as the
do not say much about how this achievement was northern or upward course (deva-yāna,
supposed to look like. A lexeme that is character- uttarāyana).
istically used is “steady recollection” Since the course of the gods is mentioned in
(dhruvānusmṛti), which implies that once one several Upaniṣadic passages in a variety of detail,
had experienced Brahman, such awareness had for the sūtrakāra it was important to standardize it
to be actively maintained: one is still in saṁsāra as the single course through which all knowers of
up until reaching brahma-loka, for which purpose Brahman achieve Brahman. The course of the
the practice of meditation had to continue till gods delineates the progress of the knower of
one’s final breath, along with Agnihotra and reli- Brahman from entering the channel that goes
gious duties that nurture it. from the top of the head and all the way to
brahma-loka, through a medley of intermediate
stages that are of a very heterogeneous character,
The Goal such as “flame,” “the waxing fortnight of the
moon,” “lightning,” various divinities, the sun
What happens when one has become vidvān, on and the moon, etc. These were interpreted as
the other hand, is depicted in detail. First, one guiding agents, which were, according to the
Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta Sūtras) 13

commentators, supposed to preclude the possibil- Already by the time of the BS, such descrip-
ity that they be seen as road signs or rest areas tions were not agreeable to all Vedāntins, and
(4.3.4). there appears the question: To which Brahman
The manner of standardizing the course to the does the liberated Self go to via the path of the
world of Brahman was through combining the gods? A certain Bādari apparently advanced the
details mentioned in the different texts, in the view that the vidvān is lead to Brahman which is
same way in which the details of meditations are the effect, kārya-brahma. This in later Vedānta
combined (4.3.1). And, when all the details are became synonymous with Hiraṇyagarbha,
worked out, the course would look like this: corresponding to Brahmā the demiurge in the
Flame ⇨ Day ⇨ Waxing fortnight ⇨ Six months of Purāṇic tradition. Since Brahman was omnipres-
northern solar course ⇨ Year ⇨ Vāyu ⇨ Sun ⇨ ent, Bādari claimed that actions such as motion
Moon ⇨ Lightning ⇨ “Nonhuman person” [assisted and attainment are not possible in relation to it,
successively by Varuṇa, Indra, Prajāpati] ⇨ and therefore the ultimate endpoint of the path of
Brahma-loka = end of saṁsāra.
the gods was Prajāpati, who can be named Brah-
Throughout the course, the accommodating man on the account of being the firstborn and
agent, the “highway,” were the sunrays that form closest to Brahman (4.3.7–8). The going to
a continuum between the heart and the sun that is brahma-loka was, however, accommodated by
the door of brahma-loka. When the vidvān the invention of the doctrine of gradual liberation:
reaches the world of Brahman, that is the end of at the end of the universe, Hiraṇyagarbha himself
saṁsāra (4.2.8). is liberated, and along with him, the deva-yāna
Now the question presents itself: What is this itinerant attains the supreme Brahman (4.3.9).
world of Brahman and which Brahman does the This view was opposed by Jaimini, who claimed
knower of Brahman attain? The eighth chapter of that the supreme Brahman is attained by those
the ChU described brahma-loka as a place of who meditate on it, because that was the primary
heavenly delights, but it was the Kauṣītaki meaning of the word brahma (4.3.11).
Upaniṣad (KṣU; Book 1, Chapters 3 through 7), Bādarāyaṇa disagreed with both. It was wrong to
commonly referred to on this point by the com- start from a supreme versus effected Brahman
mentators, that gave the most graphic description, distinction and then decide who goes where or at
and we may summarize what it had to say with all: the significant distinction was between sym-
profit. Once the knower of Brahman passes on bolic and nonsymbolic meditations. If one’s med-
from the world of Prajāpati toward brahma-loka, itation was not based on a symbolic
500 celestial nymphs dispatched by Brahman representation, one would attain Brahman even
greet him with garlands, lotions, cosmetic pow- if such meditation was on the effected Brahman,
ders, clothes, and fruits. His first stop is at a lake as in the case of those who meditate by means of
by the name of Āra, which he must cross with his the pañcāgni-vidyā. On the other hand, claiming
mind, and if his knowledge is imperfect, he that going to the supreme Brahman makes no
drowns there. A watchman greets him next, and sense jeopardized those texts that do talk about
he comes to a river by the name of Vijarā, which attaining the supreme or the highest light (4.3.14).
he also must cross with his mind: should he suc- Bādarāyaṇa was, in other words, uncompromis-
ceed, this is the exact point at which his saṁsāra ingly theological in his approach.
ends. When the deva-yāna itinerant finally meets Liberation, thus, meant reaching Brahman, and
Brahman, who is sitting on a throne, Brahman that also involved becoming Brahman. There
asks him the question: “Why are you?” (KṣU remained the task to specify what that precisely
1.5) and he replies: “You are the Self of all beings, meant: Did liberation involve attaining a novel
and I am who you are” (KṣU 1.6). After some state of affairs desirable to men, as in Mīmāṁsā?
more chitchat, Brahman finally tells him: “You If so, how could such a state be eternal? What kind
have truly attained my world, it is yours” (KṣU of Brahman did one become? What was the expe-
1.7). rience of liberation precisely like? Here we should
14 Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta Sūtras)

bear in mind that the principal element in a Vedic meditational model that was Brahman. One
ritual was the action of sacrificing or offering and becomes of the same kind as Brahman.
the good which was desirable to man was ulti- Here we should address, finally, the question
mately the result of that principal element and about the absence of Brahman as the cause in the
theorized as a novel state. The goal of the standardized brahma-vidyā. Brahman’s being the
Mīmāṁsakas in advancing such a theory was to cause was useless for the purpose of meditation,
remove any contingency that could have occurred because becoming Brahman involved being able
because of a personal whim. No human or divine to do everything Brahman was able to do, except
factor ought to have a say whether one will get a creating the world (4.4.17). Brahman’s causality
result or not: if the action was done properly and was, thus, an accommodating feature for the expe-
all the contingencies were accounted for, the result rience of liberation, insofar as one had to proceed
had to follow just as in any mundane enterprise somehow from Brahman – be Brahman – but it
such as agriculture. This brought with itself the had no real role in the meditational model of
problem of impermanency: the ritual action is an Brahman that one would emulate, because that
action, and the results produced by action are not feature was ontologically unavailable.
permanent. Therefore, while the doctrine of vidyā Two key ideas describe the state of liberation:
as a unit was constructed in the image of ritual, the independence and pleasure (bhoga). The two
sūtrakāra replaced action with Brahman as the were directly based on the seventh and eighth
principal factor in any Vedic undertaking, ritual- chapter of the Chāndogya, respectively. One
istic or meditational (3.2.38). Brahman became becomes independent, without a master, a sover-
the court of final jurisdiction at which an enter- eign to oneself, which gets to mean that one can
prise was judged. The reasoning behind this was travel in all the heavenly spheres and enjoy all the
simple: Brahman is the repository of all desires desires positively affirmed in the eighth of
which one could possibly obtain through the per- Chāndogya – the worlds of one’s forefathers,
formance of ritual, and all its intentions come to perfumes and garlands, women, and chariots –
pass by necessity, satya-kāma and satya- by one’s mere will, in bodies – multiple bodies
saṅkalpa. Brahman is eternal and it is also one’s at the same time – which one creates by mere will
Self, to be realized through meditation. If one and then pervades by one’s awareness, “as a lamp
could become Brahman, one would obtain both pervades space which is contiguous with it”
all desires and the requisite permanence at the (4.4.8–15). Liberation, thus, becomes sovereignty
same time. in which one becomes Brahman in kind, that is,
The issue of permanency also meant that the with enjoyment equal to that of Brahman, but
final attainment could not be quite a new or an without the ability to create (4.4.21). It was,
adventitious state. Liberation, thus, was a mani- finally, a state of “no return,” anāvṛtti, which is a
festation of an essential personal character but one reference to the end of the eighth chapter of ChU
that is presently not experienced (4.4.1). Thus, the and most certainly a counterposition to the attain-
attainment was neither novel nor quite not novel. ments of ritual, in which one had the gods as
It was becoming what one could essentially masters and had to continue sacrificing, rising,
become, when liberated from all that was adven- and falling to earth to no end.
titious to one’s real nature, a sculpture carved out One of the final sūtras, a particularly obscure
from the same omnipresent slab, not one one (4.4.19), is interpreted by Nimbārka,
constructed through addition. However, this was Śrīnivāsa, and Rāmānuja as positing a more
not the procedure of separation in the Sāṅkhya essential kind of pleasure, bliss, or ānanda,
manner, in which the Self eventually remains in which consists in intuiting Brahman in its essen-
isolation from matter, but a literal modeling, tial features. It is hard to adjudicate whether the
becoming a replica of the ideal model that is sūtrakāra did mean this, but we should bear in
Brahman. Final liberation meant achieving “the mind that the most essential positive characteristic
highest similarity,” paramaṁ sāmyam, to the of Brahman to be inserted in all brahma-vidyās
Brahma Sūtras (Vedānta Sūtras) 15

was precisely bliss, and Nimbārka’s formulation ▶ Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta


virtually mirrors the paradigmatic meditation, ▶ Vyāsa
only that now the notion has become an intuition.
The topical text quoted on this sūtra is right from
the bliss section of the Taittirī ya (2.7): “He [Brah-
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