I-3 Śrī Bhāshya | Rāmānuja | 5

Topic 5 - The ‘small Ākāśa’ is Brahman

 Sutra 1,3.14

दहर उत्तरेभ्यः ॥ १४ ॥

dahara uttarebhyaḥ || 14 ||

daharaḥ—Small; uttarebhyaḥ—because of subsequent texts.

14. The small (Ākāśa) (is Brahman) because of subsequent texts (which give ample indication to that effect).

The Chāṇḍogya have the following text, 'Now in that city of Brahman there is the palace, the small lotus, and in it that small ether. Now what is within that small ether that is to be sought for, that is to be understood' (Kh. Up. VIII, 1, 1).--The question here arises whether that small ether (space) within the lotus of the heart be the material clement called ether, or the individual Self, or the highest Self.--The first view presenting itself is that the element is meant, for the reason that the word 'ether' is generally used in that sense; and because the clause 'what is within that small ether' shows that the ether mentioned constitutes the abode of something else that is to be enquired into.--This view is set aside by the Sūtra. The small ether within the heart is the highest Brahman, on account of the subsequent reasons, contained in clauses of the same section. The passage 'That Self which is free from evil, free from old age, free from death, free from grief, free from hunger and thirst, whose wishes and purposes come true' (VIII, 7, 1) ascribes to that small ether qualities--such as unconditioned Selfhood, freedom from evil, etc.--which clearly show that ether to be the highest Brahman. And this conclusion is confirmed by what other texts say about him who knows the small ether attaining the power of realising his own wishes, ‘Those who depart from hence having come to know the Self and those real wishes, for them there is freedom in all worlds'; and 'whatever object he desires, by his mere will it comes to him; having obtained it he is happy' (Kh, Up. VIII, 1, 6; 2, 9). If moreover the ether within the heart were the elemental ether, the comparison instituted in the passage 'As large as that (elemental) ether is, so large is this ether within the heart' would be wholly inappropriate. Nor must it be said that that comparison rests on the limitation of the ether within the heart (so that the two terms compared would be the limited elemental ether within the heart, and the universal elemental ether); for there still would remain the inappropriate assertion that the ether within the heart is the abode of heaven, earth and all other things.--But, an objection is raised, also on the alternative of the small ether being the highest Brahman, the comparison to the universal elemental ether is unsuitable; for scripture explicitly states that the highest Self is (not as large but) larger than everything else, 'larger than the earth, larger than the sky,' etc. (Kh. Up. III, 14, 3). Not so, we reply; what the text says as to the ether within the heart being as large as the universal ether is meant (not to make a conclusive statement as to its extent but only) to negative that smallness of the ether which is established by its abiding within the heart. Similarly we say 'the sun moves with the speed of an arrow'; the sun indeed moves much faster than an arrow, but what our assertion means is merely that he does not move slowly.--But, a further doubt is started, the passage 'That Self which is free from sin,' etc. does not appear to refer back to the small ether within the heart. For the text makes a distinction between that ether and that within that ether which it declares to be the due object of search and enquiry. This latter object therefore is the topic of discussion, and when the text says later on 'That Self, free from sin, etc. is to be searched out' we must understand it to refer to the same object of search.--This would be so, we reply, if the text did not distinguish the small ether and that which abides within it; but as a matter of fact it does distinguish the two. The connexion is as follows. The text at first refers to the body of the devotee as the city of Brahman, the idea being that Brahman is present therein as object of meditation; and then designates an organ of that body, viz. the small lotus-shaped heart as the palace of Brahman. It then further refers to Brahman--the all-knowing, all powerful, whose love towards his devotees is boundless like the ocean--as the small ether within the heart, meaning thereby that Brahman who for the benefit of his devotees is present within that palace should be meditated upon as of minute size, and finally--in the clause 'that is to be searched out'--enjoins as the object of meditation that which abides in that Brahman, i.e. on the one hand, its essential freedom from all evil qualities, and on the other the whole treasure of its auspicious qualities, its power of realising its wishes and so on. The 'that' (in 'that is to be searched out') enjoins as objects of search the small ether, i.e. Brahman itself as well as the qualities abiding within it.--But how, it may be asked, do you know that the word 'that' really refers to both, viz. the highest Brahman, there called 'small ether,' and the qualities abiding in it, and that hence the clause enjoins an enquiry into both these entities?--Listen, attentively, we reply, to our explanation! The clause 'As large as this ether is, so large is this ether within the heart' declares the exceeding greatness of the small ether; the clause 'Both heaven and earth are contained within it' up to 'lightning and stars' declares that same small ether to be the abode of the entire world; and the clause 'And whatever there is for him in this world, and whatever there is not, all that is contained within it' declares that whatever objects of enjoyment there are for the devotee in this world, and whatever other objects there are not for him, i.e. are merely wishes but not obtained by him, all those objects are contained within that same small ether. The text next declares that that small ether, although dwelling within the heart which is a part of the body, is not affected by the body's old age and decay, for being extremely minute it is not capable of change; and adds 'that true being is the Brahman-city,' i.e. that Reality which is the cause of all is the city called Brahman, i.e. the abode of the entire Universe. The following clause 'in it all desires are contained' again referring to the small ether ('in it') declares that in it all desires, i.e. all desirable qualities are contained. The text next proceeds to set forth that the small ether possesses Selfhood and certain desirable auspicious qualities- this is done in the passage 'It is the Self free from sin' etc. up to 'whose purposes realise themselves.' The following section--'And as here on earth' down to 'for them there is freedom in all the worlds '--declares that those who do not know those eight qualities and the Self, called 'small ether,' which is characterised by them, and who perform actions aiming at objects of enjoyment different from that Self, obtain perishable results only, and do not attain the power of realising their wishes; while those on the other hand who know the Self called 'small ether' and the qualities abiding within it, through the grace of that very same highest Self, obtain all their wishes and the power of realising their purposes. On the ground of this connected consideration of the whole chapter we are able to decide that the text enjoins as the object of search and enquiry both the highest Brahman and the whole body of auspicious qualities abiding within it. This the Vākyakāra also renders clear in the passage beginning 'In the text "what is within that" there is designation of wishes (i.e. desirable qualities).'--For all these reasons the small ether is the highest Brahman.

Sutra 1,3.15

गतिशब्दाभ्यां, तथा हि दृष्टं लिङ्गं च ॥ १५ ॥

gatiśabdābhyāṃ, tathā hi dṛṣṭaṃ liṅgaṃ ca || 15 ||

gatiśabdābhyām—From going and the word; tathā hi—likewise; dṛṣṭaṃ—it is seen; liṅgam—indicatory; ca—and.

15. The small Ākāśa (is Brahman) on account of going (into Brahman) and of the word (Brahmaloka); it (i.e. the individual soul’s going into Brahman) is likewise seen (from other Śruti texts); and (the daily going) is an indicatory sign (by which we can interpret the word Brahmaloka).

'As people who do not know the country walk again and again over a gold treasure' etc., 'thus do all these creatures day after day go into that Brahma-world' (Kh. Up. VIII, 3, 2). The circumstance, here stated, of all individual souls going to a place which the qualification 'that' connects with the subject- matter of the whole chapter, i.e. the small ether; and the further circumstance of the goal of their going being called the Brahma-world, also prove that the small ether is none other than the highest Brahman.--But in what way do these two points prove what they are claimed to prove?--'For thus it is seen'; the Sūtra adds. For we see it stated in other texts, that all individual souls go daily to Brahman, viz. in the state of deep sleep, 'All these creatures having become united with the True do not know that they are united with the True'; 'Having come back from the True they know not that they have come back from the True' (Kh. Up. VI, 9, 2; 10, 2). And in the same way we see that the word 'Brahma-world' denotes the highest Brahman; so e.g. ‘this is the Brahma-world, O King' (Bri. Up. IV, 3, 32).--The Sūtra subjoins a further reason. Even if the going of the souls to Brahman were not seen in other texts, the fact that the text under discussion declares the individual souls to abide in Brahman in the state of deep sleep, enjoying freedom from all pain and trouble just as if they were merged in the pralaya state, is a sufficient 'inferential sign' to prove that the 'small ether' is the highest Brahman. And similarly the term 'Brahma-world' as exhibited in the text under discussion, if understood as denoting co-ordination (i.e. 'that world which is Brahman'), is sufficient to prove by itself that the 'small ether'--to which that term is applied--is the highest Brahman; it therefore is needless to appeal to other passages. That this explanation of 'Brahma-world' is preferable to the one which understands by Brahma-world 'the world of Brahman' is proved by considerations similar to those by which the Pū. Mī. Sūtras prove that 'Niṣāda-sthapati' means a headman who at the same time is a Niṣāda.--Another explanation of the passage under discussion may also be given. What is said there about all these creatures daily 'going into the Brahma-world,' may not refer at all to the state of deep sleep, but rather mean that although 'daily going into the Brahman-world,' i. e. although at all time moving above the small ether, i. e. Brahman which as the universal Self is everywhere, yet all these creatures not knowing Brahman do not find, i.e. obtain it; just as men not knowing the place where a treasure is hidden do not find it, although they constantly pass over it. This constant moving about on the part of ignorant creatures on the surface, as it were, of the small ether abiding within as their inward Ruler, proves that small ether to be the highest Brahman. That the highest Brahman abides within as the inner Self of creatures which dwell in it and are ruled by it, we are told in other texts also, so e.g. in the Antaryāmin-brāhmaṇa. 'He who dwells in the Self, within the Self, whom the Self does not know, of whom the Self is the body, who rules the Self within; unseen but seeing, unheard but hearing' (Bri. Up. III, 7, 22; 23).--On this interpretation we explain the last part of the Sūtra as follows. Even if other texts did not refer to it, this daily moving about on the part of ignorant creatures, on the ether within the heart--which the comparison with the treasure of gold shows to be the supreme good of man--, is in itself a sufficient proof for the small ether being Brahman.

Sutra 1,3.16

धृतेश्च, महिम्नोऽस्यास्मिन्नुपलब्धेः ॥ १६ ॥

dhṛteśca, mahimno'syāsminnupalabdheḥ || 16 ||

dhṛteḥ—On account of the supporting (of the world by the Ākāśa); ca—moreover; asya mahimnaḥ—this greatness; asmin—in Brahman; upalabdheḥ—being seen.

16. Moreover on account of the supporting (of the world by the small Ākāśa it is Brahman) for this greatness is seen in this (Brahman only from other scriptural texts).

In continuation of the passage 'It is the Self free from Sin,' etc., which refers to the small ether, the text says: 'it is a bank, a limitary support, that these worlds may not be confounded.' What the text here says about the small ether supporting the world proves it to be the highest Brahman; for to support the world is the glory of Brahman. Compare 'He is the Lord of all, the king of all things, the protector of all things. He is a bank and a boundary, so that these worlds may not be confounded' (Bri. Up. IV, 4, 22); 'By the command of that Imperishable, O Gārgī, heaven and earth stand, held apart' (Bri. Up. III, 8, 9). Now this specific greatness of the highest Brahman, which consists in its supporting the world, is also observed in the small ether--which proves the latter to be none other than Brahman.

Sutra 1,3.17

प्रसिद्धेश्च ॥ १७ ॥

prasiddheśca || 17 ||

prasiddheḥ—Because of the well-known (meaning); ca—also.

17. Also because of the well-known meaning (of Ākāśa as Brahman the ‘small Ākāśa’ is Brahman).

The word 'ether,' moreover, is known to have, among other meanings, that of Brahman. Compare 'For who could breathe, who could breathe forth, if that ether were not bliss?' (Taitt. Up. II, 7); 'All these beings take their rise from the ether' (Kh. Up. I, 9, 1). It has to be kept in view that in the text under discussion the meaning 'Brahman' is supported by what is said about the qualities of the small ether--viz. freedom from sin, etc.--and hence is stronger than the other meaning--, according to which ākāśa signifies the elemental ether.

So far the Sūtras have refuted the view of the small ether being the element. They now enter on combating the notion that the small ether may possibly be the individual soul.

Sutra 1,3.18

इतरपरामर्शात् स इति चेत्, न, असभवात् ॥ १८ ॥

itaraparāmarśāt sa iti cet, na, asambhavāt || 18 ||

itara-parāmarśat—Because of the reference to the other (i.e. the individual soul); saḥ—he (the individual soul); iti cet—if it be said; na—no; asambhavāt—on account of impossibility.

18. Because of the reference to the other (i.e. the individual soul in a complementary passage) if it be said that he (the individual soul) (and not Brahman is meant by the ‘small Ākāśa’), (we say)' no, on account of the impossibility (of such an assumption).

An objection is raised to the argumentation that, on account of complementary passages, the small ether must be explained to mean the highest Self.

For, the objector says, a clear reference to him who is 'other' than the highest Self, i.e. to the individual soul, is contained in the following passage (VIII, 12, 3): 'Thus does that serenity (samprasāda), having risen from this body and approached the highest light, appear in its own form.' 'That is the Self,' he said. 'That is the immortal, the fearless, this is Brahman' (VIII, 7, 3?). We admit that for the different reasons stated above the ether within the heart cannot be the elemental ether; but owing to the force of the intimations conveyed by the complementary passages just quoted, we must adopt the view that what is meant is the individual soul. And as the word 'ākāśa' may be connected with prakāśa (light), it may be applied to the individual soul also.--This view is set aside by the Sūtra. The small ether cannot be the individual soul because the qualities attributed in the text to the former, viz. freedom from sin, etc., cannot possibly belong to the individual soul.

Sutra 1,3.19

उत्तराच्चेत्, आविर्भूतस्वरूपस्तु ॥ १९ ॥

uttarāccet, āvirbhūtasvarūpastu || 19 ||

uttarāt—From subsequent texts (in the chapter); cet—if; āvirbhūta-svarūpaḥ—with its real nature made manifest; tu—but.

19. If (it be said) that from subsequent texts (which contain references to the Jīva, ‘small Ākāśa’ means the Jīva) (we say) but (that reference to the Jīva is in so far as its) real nature (as non-different from Brahman) is made manifest.

The Pūrvapakshin now maintains that we ascertain from a subsequent declaration made by Prajāpati that it is just the individual Soul that possesses freedom from sin and the other qualities enumerated. The whole teaching of Prajāpati, he says, refers to the individual Soul only. Indra having heard that Prajāpati had spoken about a Self free from sin, old age, etc., the enquiry into which enables the soul to obtain all worlds and desires, approaches Prajāpati with the wish to learn the true nature of that Self which should be enquired into. Prajāpati thereupon, wishing to test the capacity of his pupil for receiving true instruction, gives him successive information about the embodied soul in the state of waking, dream and dreamless sleep. When he finds that Indra sees no good in instruction of this kind and thus shows himself fit to receive instruction about the true nature of the disembodied Self, he explains to him that the body is a mere abode for a ruling Self; that that bodiless Self is essentially immortal; and that the soul, as long as it is joined to a body due to karman, is compelled to experience pleasure and pain corresponding to its embodied state, while it rises above all this when it has freed itself from the body (VIII, 12, 1). He then continues: 'Thus that serenity having risen from this body and approached the highest light, appears in its own form'; thus teaching him the true nature, free from a body, of the individual soul. He next informs him that the 'highest light' which the soul reaches is the supreme Person ('That is the supreme Person'), and that the soul having reached that highest light and freed itself from what obscured its own true nature, obtains in the world of Brahman whatever enjoyments it desires, and is no longer connected with a body springing from karman and inseparable from pain and pleasure, or with anything else that causes distress. ('He moves about there laughing,' etc.). He next illustrates the connexion with a body, of the soul in the Samsāra state, by means of a comparison: 'Like as a horse attached to a cart,' etc. After that he explains that the eye and the other sense-organs are instruments of knowledge, colour, and so on, the objects of knowledge, and the individual Self the knowing subject; and that hence that Self is different from the body and the sense-organs ('Now where the sight has entered' up to 'the mind is his divine eye'). Next he declares that, after having divested itself of the body and the senses, the Self perceives all the objects of its desire by means of its 'divine eye,' i.e. the power of cognition which constitutes its essential nature ('He by means of the divine eye,' etc.). He further declares that those who have true knowledge know the Self as such ('on that Self the devas meditate'); and in conclusion teaches that he who has that true knowledge of the Self obtains for his reward the intuition of Brahman--which is suggested by what the text says about the obtaining of all worlds and all desires ('He obtains all worlds and all desires,' etc., up to the end of the chapter).--It thus appears that the entire chapter proposes as the object of cognition the individual soul free from sin, and so on. The qualities, viz. freedom from guilt, etc., may thus belong to the individual Self, and on this ground we conclude that the small ether is the individual Self.

This view the second half of the Sūtra sets aside. The two sections, that which treats of the small ether and that which contains the teaching of Prajāpati, have different topics. Prajāpati’s teaching refers to the individual soul, whose true nature, with its qualities such as freedom from evil, etc., is at first hidden by untruth, while later on, when it has freed itself from the bondage of karman, risen from the body, and approached the highest light, it manifests itself in its true form and then is characterised by freedom from all evil and by other auspicious qualities. In the section treating of the small ether, on the other hand, we have to do with the small ether, i.e. the highest Brahman, whose true nature is never hidden, and which therefore is unconditionally characterised by freedom from evil, and so on.—

Moreover, the daharākāsa-section ascribes to the small ether other attributes which cannot belong to the individual Self even 'when its true nature has manifested itself.' The small ether is there called a bank and support of all worlds; and one of its names, ‘satyam,' is explained to imply that it governs all sentient and non-sentient beings. All this also proves that the small ether is none other than the highest Self. That the individual soul, 'even when its true nature is manifest,' cannot be viewed as a bank and support of the worlds, etc., we shall show under IV, 4.

But if this is so, what then is the meaning of the reference to the individual soul which is made in the section treating of the small ether, viz. in the passage, 'Now that serene being, which after having risen from this body,' etc. (VIII, 3, 4)?

To this question the next Sūtra replies.

Sutra 1,3.20

अन्यार्थश्च परामर्शः ॥ २० ॥

anyārthaśca parāmarśaḥ || 20 ||

anyārthaḥ—For a different purpose; ca—and; parāmarśaḥ—reference.

20. And the reference (to the individual soul) is for a different purpose.

The text in question declares that the released individual soul when reaching the highest light, i.e. Brahman, which is free from all sin, and so on, attains its true nature, which is characterised by similar freedom from sin, and so on. Now this reference to the individual soul, as described in the teaching of Prajāpati, has the purpose of giving instruction (not about the qualities of the individual soul, but) about the nature of that which is the cause of the qualities of the individual soul, i.e. the qualities specially belonging to the supreme Person. The reason why, in the section containing the teaching of Prajāpati, information is given as to the true nature of the released individual soul is that such knowledge assists the doctrine referring to the small ether. For the individual Self which wishes to reach Brahman must know his own true nature also, so as to realise that he, as being himself endowed with auspicious qualities, will finally arrive at an intuition of the highest Brahman, which is a mass of auspicious qualities raised to the highest degree of excellence. The cognition of the soul's own true nature is itself comprised in the result of the meditation on Brahman, and the results which are proclaimed in the teaching of Prajāpati ('He obtains all worlds and all wishes'; 'He moves about there laughing,' etc.) thus really are results of the knowledge of the small ether.

 Sutra 1,3.21

अल्पश्रुतेरिति चेत्, तदुक्तम् ॥ २१ ॥

alpaśruteriti cet, taduktam || 21 ||

alpaśruteḥ—Because of the Śruti declaring its smallness; iti cet—if it be said; tat—that; uktam—has already been explained.

21. If it be said that because the Śruti declares the limitedness (of this Ākāśa, therefore it cannot refer to the all-pervading Brahman); (we say) that has already been explained (as having reference to devout meditation only. Vide 1.2.7).

The text describes the ether within the heart as being of small compass, and this agrees indeed with the individual soul which elsewhere is compared to the point of an awl, but not with Brahman, which is greater than everything.--The reply to this objection has virtually been given before, viz. under I, 2, 7, where it is said that Brahman may be viewed as of small size, for the purpose of devout meditation.

It thus remains a settled conclusion that the small ether is none other but the highest Person who is untouched by even a shadow of imperfection, and is an ocean of infinite, supremely exalted, qualities-- knowledge, strength, lordly power, etc. The being, on the other hand, which in the teaching of Prajāpati is described as first having a body due to karman--as we see from passages such as 'they strike it as it were, they cut it as it were'--and as afterwards approaching the highest light, and then manifesting its essential qualities, viz. freedom from sin, etc., is the individual soul; not the small ether (or Brahman).

The next Sūtra supplies a further reason for this conclusion.