I-1 Śrī Bhāshya | Rāmānuja | 2

Topic 2 - Definition of Brahman

Sutra 1,1.2

जन्माद्यस्य यतः ॥ २ ॥

janmādyasya yataḥ || 2 ||

janmādi—Origin etc. (i.e. sustenance and dissolution); asya—of this (world); yataḥ—from which.

2. (Brahman is that omniscient, omnipotent cause) from which proceed the origin etc. (i.e. sustenance and dissolution) of this (world).

The expression 'the origin', etc., means 'creation, subsistence, and reabsorption'. The 'this' (in 'of this') denotes this entire world with its manifold wonderful arrangements, not to be fathomed by thought, and comprising within itself the aggregate of living souls from Brahmā down to blades of grass, all of which experience the fruits (of their former actions) in definite places and at definite times. 'That from which,' i. e. that highest Person who is the ruler of all; whose nature is antagonistic to all evil; whose purposes come true; who possesses infinite auspicious qualities, such as knowledge, blessedness, and so on; who is omniscient, omnipotent, supremely merciful; from whom the creation, subsistence, and reabsorption of this world proceed--he is Brahman: such is the meaning of the Sūtra.--The definition here given of Brahman is founded on the text Taitt. Up. III, 1, 'Bhrigu Vāruṇī went to his father Varuṇa, saying, Sir, teach me Brahman', etc., up to 'That from which these beings are born, that by which when born they live, that into which they enter at their death, try to know that: that is Brahman.'

A doubt arises here. Is it possible, or not, to gain a knowledge of Brahman from the characteristic marks stated in this passage?--It is not possible, the Pūrvapakshin contends. The attributes stated in that passage--viz. being that from which the world originates, and so on--do not properly indicate Brahman; for as the essence of an attribute lies in its separative or distinctive function, there would result from the plurality of distinctive attributes plurality on the part of Brahman itself.--But when we say 'Devadatta is of a dark complexion, is young, has reddish eyes,' etc., we also make a statement as to several attributes, and yet we are understood to refer to one Devadatta only; similarly we understand in the case under discussion also that there is one Brahman only!--Not so, we reply. In Devadatta's case we connect all attributes with one person, because we know his unity through other means of knowledge; otherwise the distinctive power of several attributes would lead us, in this case also, to the assumption of several substances to which the several attributes belong. In the case under discussion, on the other hand, we do not, apart from the statement as to attributes, know anything about the unity of Brahman, and the distinctive power of the attributes thus necessarily urges upon us the idea of several Brahmans.--But we maintain that the unity of the term 'Brahman' intimates the unity of the thing 'Brahman'!--By no means, we reply. If a man who knows nothing about cows, but wishes to know about them, is told 'a cow is that which has either entire horns, or mutilated horns, or no horns,' the mutually exclusive ideas of the possession of entire horns, and so on, raise in his mind the ideas of several individual cows, although the term 'cow' is one only; and in the same way we are led to the idea of several distinct Brahmans. For this reason, even the different attributes combined are incapable of defining the thing, the definition of which is desired.--Nor again are the characteristics enumerated in the Taitt. passage (viz. creation of the world, etc.) capable of defining Brahman in the way of secondary marks (upa-lakṣaṇa), because the thing to be defined by them is not previously known in a different aspect. So-called secondary marks are the cause of something already known from a certain point of view, being known in a different aspect--as when it is said 'Where that crane is standing, that is the irrigated field of Devadatta.'--But may we not say that from the text 'The True, knowledge, the Infinite is Brahman,' we already have an idea of Brahman, and that hence its being the cause of the origin, etc., of the world may be taken as collateral indications (pointing to something already known in a certain way)?--Not so, we reply; either of these two defining texts has a meaning only with reference to an aspect of Brahman already known from the other one, and this mutual dependence deprives both of their force.--Brahman cannot therefore be known through the characteristic marks mentioned in the text under discussion.

To this prima facie view we make the following reply. Brahman can be known on the basis of the origination, subsistence, and reabsorption of the world--these characteristics occupying the position of collateral marks. No objection can be raised against this view, on the ground that, apart from what these collateral marks point to, no other aspect of Brahman is known; for as a matter of fact they point to that which is known to us as possessing supreme greatness (brihattva) and power of growth (brimhana)--this being the meaning of the root brimh (from which 'Brahman' is derived). Of this Brahman, thus already known (on the basis of etymology), the origination, sustentation, and reabsorption of the world are collateral marks. Moreover, in the Taitt. text under discussion, the relative pronoun--which appears in three forms, (that) 'from whence,' (that) 'by which,' (that) 'into which'--refers to something which is already known as the cause of the origin, and so on, of the world. This previous knowledge rests on the Kh. passage, 'Being only this was in the beginning,' etc., up to 'it sent forth fire'--which declares that the one principle denoted as 'being' is the universal material, and instrumental cause. There the clause 'Being only this was in the beginning, one only,' establishes that one being as the general material cause; the word 'without a second' negatives the existence of a second operative cause; and the clauses 'it thought, may I be many, may I grow forth', and 'it sent forth fire', establish that one being (as the cause and substance of everything). If, then, it is said that Brahman is that which is the root of the world's origination, subsistence, and reabsorption, those three processes sufficiently indicate Brahman as that entity which is their material and operative cause; and as being the material and the operative cause implies greatness (brihattva) manifesting itself in various powers, such as omniscience, and so on, Brahman thus is something already known; and as hence origination, etc., of the world are marks of something already known, the objection founded above on the absence of knowledge of another aspect of Brahman is seen to be invalid.--Nor is there really any objection to the origination, etc., of the world being taken as characteristic marks of Brahman in so far as they are distinctive attributes. For taken as attributes they indicate Brahman as something different from what is opposed to those attributes. Several attributes which do not contradict each other may serve quite well as characteristic marks defining one thing, the nature of which is not otherwise known, without the plurality of the attributes in any way involving plurality of the thing defined; for as those attributes are at once understood to belong to one substrate, we naturally combine them within that one substrate. Such attributes, of course, as the possession of mutilated horns (mentioned above), which are contradictorily opposed to each other, necessarily lead to the assumption of several individual cows to which they severally belong; but the origination, etc., of the world are processes separated from each other by difference of time only, and may therefore, without contradiction, be connected with one Brahman in succession.--The text 'from whence these beings', etc., teaches us that Brahman is the cause of the origination, etc., of the world, and of this Brahman thus known the other text 'The True, knowledge, the Infinite is Brahman', tells us that its essential nature marks it off from everything else. The term 'True' expresses Brahman in so far as possessing absolutely non-conditioned existence, and thus distinguishes it from non-intelligent matter, the abode of change, and the souls implicated in matter; for as both of these enter into different states of existence called by different names, they do not enjoy unconditioned being. The term 'knowledge' expresses the characteristic of permanently non-contracted intelligence, and thus distinguishes Brahman from the released souls whose intelligence is sometimes in a contracted state. And the term 'Infinite' denotes that, whose nature is free from all limitation of place, time, and particular substantial nature; and as Brahman's essential nature possesses attributes, infinity belongs both to the essential nature and to the attributes. The qualification of Infinity excludes all those individual souls whose essential nature and attributes are not unsurpassable, and who are distinct from the two classes of beings already excluded by the two former terms (viz. 'true being' and 'knowledge').--The entire text therefore defines Brahman-- which is already known to be the cause of the origination, etc., of the world--as that which is in kind different from all other things; and it is therefore not true that the two texts under discussion have no force because mutually depending on each other. And from this it follows that a knowledge of Brahman may be gained on the ground of its characteristic marks--such as its being the cause of the origination, etc., of the world, free from all evil, omniscient, all-powerful, and so on.

To those, on the other hand, who maintain that the object of enquiry is a substance devoid of all difference, neither the first nor the second Sūtra can be acceptable; for the Brahman, the enquiry into which the first Sūtra proposes, is, according to authoritative etymology, something of supreme greatness; and according to the second Sūtra it is the cause of the origin, subsistence, and final destruction of the world. The same remark holds good with regard to all following Sūtras, and the scriptural texts on which they are based--none of them confirm the theory of a substance devoid of all difference. Nor, again, does Reasoning prove such a theory; for Reasoning has for its object things possessing a 'proving' attribute which constantly goes together with an attribute 'to be proved.' And even if, in agreement with your view, we explained the second Sūtra as meaning 'Brahman is that whence proceeds the error of the origination, etc., of the world', we should not thereby advance your theory of a substance devoid of all difference. For, as you teach, the root of all error is Nescience, and Brahman is that which witnesses (is conscious of) Nescience, and the essence of witnessing consciousness consists in being pure light (intelligence), and the essence of pure light or intelligence is that, distinguishing itself from the Non-intelligent, it renders itself, as well as what is different from it, capable of becoming the object of empiric thought and speech (vyavahāra). All this implies the presence of difference--if there were no difference, light or intelligence could not be what it is, it would be something altogether void, without any meaning.--Here terminates the Adhikaraṇa of 'origination and so on.'

An objection to the purport of the preceding Sūtras here presents itself.--The assertion that Brahman, as the cause of the origination, etc., of the world, must be known through the Vedānta-texts is unfounded; for as Brahman may be inferred as the cause of the world through ordinary reasoning, it is not something requiring to be taught by authoritative texts.

--To this objection the next Sūtra replies.