I-4 Śrī Bhāshya | Rāmānuja | 7

Topic 7 - Brahman is also the material cause of the world

Sutra 1,4.23

प्रकृतिश्च प्रतिज्ञादृष्टान्तानुपरोधात् ॥ २३ ॥

prakṛtiśca pratijñādṛṣṭāntānuparodhāt || 23 ||

prakṛtiḥ—Material cause; ca—also; pratijñā-dṛṣṭānta-anuparodhāt—not being contradictory to the proposition and illustrations.

23. (Brahman is) the material cause also, (on account of this view alone) not being contradictory to the proposition and the illustrations (cited in the Śruti).

The claims raised by the atheistic Sānkhya having thus been disposed of, the theistic Sānkhya comes forward as an opponent. It must indeed be admitted, he says, that the Vedānta-texts teach the cause of the world to be an all-knowing Lord; for they attribute to that cause thought and similar characteristics. But at the same time we learn from those same texts that the material cause of the world is none other than the Pradhāna; with an all-knowing, unchanging superintending Lord they connect a Pradhāna, ruled by him, which is non-intelligent and undergoes changes, and the two together only they represent as the cause of the world. This view is conveyed by the following texts, 'who is without parts, without actions, tranquil, without fault, without taint' (Svet. Up. VI, 18); 'This great unborn Self, undecaying, undying' (Bri. Up. IV, 4, 25); 'He knows her who produces all effects, the non-knowing one, the unborn one, wearing eight forms, the firm one. Ruled by him she is spread out, and incited and guided by him gives birth to the world for the benefit of the souls. A cow she is without beginning and end, a mother producing all beings'. That the Lord creates this world in so far only as guiding Prakriti, the material cause, we learn from the following text, 'From that the Lord of Māyā creates all this. Know Māyā to be Prakriti and the Lord of Māyā the great Lord' (Svet. Up. IV, 9, 10). And similarly Smriti, 'with me as supervisor Prakriti brings forth the Universe of the movable and the immovable' (Bha. GĪ. IX, 10). Although, therefore, the Pradhāna is not expressly stated by Scripture to be the material cause, we must assume that there is such a Pradhāna and that, superintended by the Lord, it constitutes the material cause, because otherwise the texts declaring Brahman to be the cause of the world would not be fully intelligible. For ordinary experience shows us on all sides that the operative cause and the material cause are quite distinct: we invariably have on the one side clay, gold, and other material substances which form the material causes of pots, ornaments, and so on, and on the other hand, distinct from them, potters, goldsmiths, and so on, who act as operative causes. And we further observe that the production of effects invariably requires several instrumental agencies. The Vedānta-texts therefore cannot possess the strength to convince us, in open defiance of the two invariable rules, that the one Brahman is at the same time the material and the operative cause of the world; and hence we maintain that Brahman is only the operative but not the material cause, while the material cause is the Pradhāna guided by Brahman.

This prima facie view the Sūtra combats. Prakriti, i.e. the material cause, not only the operative cause, is Brahman only; this view being in harmony with the promissory declaration and the illustrative instances. The promissory declaration is the one referring to the knowledge of all things through the knowledge of one, 'Did you ever ask for that instruction by which that which is not heard becomes heard?' etc. (Kh, Up. VI, 1, 3). And the illustrative instances are those which set forth the knowledge of the effect as resulting from the knowledge of the cause, 'As by one lump of clay there is made known all that is made of clay; as by one nugget of gold, etc.; as by one instrument for paring the nails,' etc. (Kh. Up. VI, 1, 4). If Brahman were merely the operative cause of the world, the knowledge of the entire world would not result from the knowledge of Brahman; not any more than we know the pot when we know the potter. And thus scriptural declaration and illustrative instances would be stultified. But if Brahman is the general material cause, then the knowledge of Brahman implies the knowledge of its effect, i.e. the world, in the same way as the knowledge of such special material causes as a lump of clay, a nugget of gold, an instrument for paring the nails, implies the knowledge of all things made of clay, gold or iron-- such as pots, bracelets, diadems, hatchets, and so on. For an effect is not a substance different from its cause, but the cause itself which has passed into a different state. The initial declaration thus being confirmed by the instances of clay and its products, etc., which stand in the relation of cause and effect, we conclude that Brahman only is the material cause of the world. That Scripture teaches the operative and the material causes to be separate, is not true; it rather teaches the unity of the two. For in the text, 'Have you asked for that ādeśa (above, and generally, understood to mean "instruction"), by which that which is not heard becomes heard?' the word 'ādeśa' has to be taken to mean ruler, in agreement with the text, 'by the command--or rule--of that Imperishable sun and moon stand apart' (Bri. Up. III, 8, 9), so that the passage means, 'Have you asked for that  [paragraph continues] Ruler by whom, when heard and known, even that which is not heard and known, becomes heard and known?' This clearly shows the unity of the operative (ruling or supervising) cause and the material cause; taken in conjunction with the subsequent declaration of the unity of the cause previous to creation, 'Being only, this was in the beginning, one only,' and the denial of a further operative cause implied in the further qualification 'advitīyam,' i.e. 'without a second.'--But how then have we to understand texts such as the one quoted above (from the Kūlika-Upanishad) which declare Prakriti to be eternal and the material cause of the world?--Prakriti, we reply, in such passages denotes Brahman in its causal phase when names and forms are not yet distinguished. For a principle independent of Brahman does not exist, as we know from texts such as 'Everything abandons him who views anything as apart from the Self; and 'But where for him the Self has become all, whereby should he see whom?' (Bri. Up. II, 4, 6; 15). Consider also the texts, 'All this is Brahman' (Kh. Up. III, 14, 1); and 'All this has its Self in that' (Kh. Up. VI, 8, 7); which declare that the world whether in its causal or its effected condition has Brahman for its Self. The relation of the world to Brahman has to be conceived in agreement with scriptural texts such as 'He who moves within the earth,' etc., up to 'He who moves within the Imperishable'; and 'He who dwells within the earth,' etc., up to 'He who dwells within the Self (Bri. Up. III, 7, 3-23). The highest Brahman, having the whole aggregate of non-sentient and sentient beings for its body, ever is the Self of all. Sometimes, however, names and forms are not evolved, not distinguished in Brahman; at other times they are evolved, distinct. In the latter state Brahman is called an effect and manifold; in the former it is called one, without a second, the cause. This causal state of Brahman is meant where the text quoted above speaks of the cow without beginning and end, giving birth to effects, and so on.--But, the text, 'The great one is merged in the Unevolved, the Unevolved is merged in the Imperishable,' intimates that the Unevolved originates and again passes away; and similarly the Mahābhārata says, 'from that there sprung the Non-evolved comprising the three gunas; the Non-evolved is merged in the indivisible Person.'--These texts, we reply, present no real difficulty. For Brahman having non-sentient matter for its body, that state which consists of the three gunas and is denoted by the term 'Unevolved' is something effected. And the text, 'When there was darkness, neither day nor night,' states that also in a total pralaya non-sentient matter having Brahman for its Self continues to exist in a highly subtle condition. This highly subtle matter stands to Brahman the cause of the world in the relation of a mode (prakāra), and it is Brahman viewed as having such a mode that the text from the Kūl. Upanishad refers to. For this reason also the text, 'the Imperishable is merged in darkness, darkness becomes one with the highest God,' declares not that darkness is completely merged and lost in the Divinity but only that it becomes one with it; what the text wants to intimate is that state of Brahman in which, having for its mode extremely subtle matter here called 'Darkness,' it abides without evolving names and forms. The mantra, 'There was darkness, hidden in darkness,' etc. (Ri. Samh. X, 129, 3), sets forth the same view; and so does Manu (I, 5), 'This universe existed in the shape of Darkness, unperceived, destitute of distinctive marks, unattainable by reasoning, unknowable, wholly immersed as it were in deep sleep.' And, as to the text, 'from that the Lord of Māyā creates everything,' we shall prove later on the unchangeableness of Brahman, and explain the scriptural texts asserting it.

As to the contention raised by the Pūrvapakshin that on the basis of invariable experience it must be held that one and the same principle cannot be both material and operative cause, and that effects cannot be brought about by one agency, and that hence the Vedānta-texts can no more establish the view of Brahman being the sole cause than the command 'sprinkle with fire' will convince us that fire may perform the office of water; we simply remark that the highest Brahman which totally differs in nature from all other beings, which is omnipotent and omniscient, can by itself accomplish everything. The invariable rule of experience holds good, on the other hand, with regard to clay and similar materials which are destitute of intelligence and hence incapable of guiding and supervising; and with regard to potters and similar agents who do not possess the power of transforming themselves into manifold products, and cannot directly realise their intentions.--The conclusion therefore remains that Brahman alone is the material as well as the operative cause of the Universe.

Sutra 1,4.24

अभिध्योपदेशाच्च ॥ २४ ॥

abhidhyopadeśācca || 24 ||

abhidhyopadeśāt— On account of the statement of will (to create); ca—also.

24. Also on account of the statement of will (to create on the part of the Supreme Self, It is the material cause).

Brahman must be held to be both causes for that reason also that texts such as 'He desired, may I be many, may I grow forth,' and 'It thought, may I be many, may I grow forth,' declare that the creative Brahman forms the purpose of its own Self multiplying itself. The text clearly teaches that creation on Brahman's part is preceded by the purpose 'May I, and no other than I, become manifold in the shape of various non-sentient and sentient beings.'

Sutra 1,4.25

साक्षाच्चोभयाम्नानात् ॥ २५ ॥

sākṣāccobhayāmnānāt || 25 ||

sākṣāt—Direct; ca—and; ubhayāmnānāt—because the Śruti states both.

25. And because the Śruti states that both (the creation and the dissolution of the world) (have Brahman as) the direct (cause).

The conclusion arrived at above is based not only on scriptural declaration, illustrative instances and statements of reflection; but in addition Scripture directly states that Brahman alone is the material as well as operative cause of the world. 'What was the wood, what the tree from which they have shaped heaven and earth? You wise ones, search in your minds, whereon it stood, supporting the worlds.-- Brahman was the wood, Brahman the tree from which they shaped heaven and earth; you wise ones, I tell you, it stood on Brahman, supporting the worlds.'--Here a question is asked, suggested by the ordinary worldly view, as to what was the material and instruments used by Brahman when creating; and the answer--based on the insight that there is nothing unreasonable in ascribing all possible powers to Brahman which differs from all other beings--declares that Brahman itself is the material and the instruments;--whereby the ordinary view is disposed of.--The next Sūtra supplies a further reason.

 Sutra 1,4.26

आत्मकृतेः परिणामात् ॥ २६ ॥

ātmakṛteḥ pariṇāmāt || 26 ||

ātmakṛteḥ—As it created Itself; pariṇāmāt—by undergoing modification.

26. (Brahman is the material cause of the world) because (the Śruti says that) It created Itself by undergoing modifications.

Of Brahman which the text had introduced as intent on creation, 'He wished, may I be many' (Taitt. Up. II, 6), a subsequent text says, 'That itself made its Self (II, 7), so that Brahman is represented as the object as well as the agent in the act of creation. It being the Self only which here is made many, we understand that the Self is material cause as well as operative one. The Self with names and forms non- evolved is agent (cause), the same Self with names and forms evolved is object (effect). There is thus nothing contrary to reason in one Self being object as well as agent.

A new doubt here presents itself.--'The True, knowledge, infinite is Brahman' (Taitt. Up. II, 1); 'Bliss is Brahman' (Bri. Up. III, 9, 28); 'Free from sin, free from old age, free from death and grief, free from hunger and thirst' (Kh. Up. VIII, 1,5); 'Without parts, without action, tranquil, without fault, without taint' (Svet. Up. VI, 19); 'This great unborn Self, undecaying, undying' (Bri. Up. IV, 4, 25)--from all these texts it appears that Brahman is essentially free from even a shadow of all the imperfections which afflict all sentient and non-sentient beings, and has for its only characteristics absolutely supreme bliss and knowledge. How then is it possible that this Brahman should form the purpose of becoming, and actually become, manifold, by appearing in the form of a world comprising various sentient and non- sentient beings--all of which are the abodes of all kinds of imperfections and afflictions? To this question the Sūtra replies.

Owing to modification.

This means--owing to the essential nature of modification (pariṇāma). The modification taught in our system is not such as to introduce imperfections into the highest Brahman, on the contrary it confers on it limitless glory. For our teaching as to Brahman's modification is as follows. Brahman--essentially antagonistic to all evil, of uniform goodness, differing in nature from all beings other than itself, all-knowing, endowed with the power of immediately realising all its purposes, in eternal possession of all it wishes for, supremely blessed--has for its body the entire universe, with all its sentient and non-sentient beings--the universe being for it a plaything as it were-- and constitutes the Self of the Universe. Now, when this world which forms Brahman's body has been gradually reabsorbed into Brahman, each constituent element being refunded into its immediate cause, so that in the end there remains only the highly subtle, elementary matter which Scripture calls Darkness; and when this so-called Darkness itself, by assuming a form so extremely subtle that it hardly deserves to be called something separate from Brahman, of which it constitutes the body, has become one with Brahman; then Brahman invested with this ultra-subtle body forms the resolve 'May I again possess a world-body constituted by all sentient and non-sentient beings, distinguished by names and forms just as in the previous aeon,' and modifies (pariṇāmayati) itself by gradually evolving the world- body in the inverse order in which reabsorption had taken place.

All Vedānta-texts teach such modification or change on Brahman's part. There is, e.g., the text in the Brihadāraṇyaka which declares that the whole world constitutes the body of Brahman and that Brahman is its Self. That text teaches that earth, water, fire, sky, air, heaven, sun, the regions, moon and stars, ether, darkness, light, all beings, breath, speech, eye, ear, mind, skin, knowledge form the body of Brahman which abides within them as their Self and Ruler. Thus in the Kāṇva-text; the Mādhyandina- text reads 'the Self' instead of 'knowledge'; and adds the worlds, sacrifices and Vedas. The parallel passage in the Subāla-Upanishad adds to the beings enumerated as constituting Brahman's body in the Brihadāraṇyaka, buddhi, ahaṁkāra, the mind (citta), the Un-evolved (avyakta), the Imperishable (Akṣara), and concludes 'He who moves within death, of whom death is the body, whom death does not know, he is the inner Self of all, free from all evil, divine, the one god Nārāyana. The term 'Death' here denotes matter in its extremely subtle form, which in other texts is called Darkness; as we infer from the order of enumeration in another passage in the same Upanishad, 'the Unevolved is merged in the Imperishable, the Imperishable in Darkness.' That this Darkness is called 'Death' is due to the fact that it obscures the understanding of all souls and thus is harmful to them. The full text in the Subāla-Up. declaring the successive absorption of all the beings forming Brahman's body is as follows, 'The earth is merged in water, water in fire, fire in air, air in the ether, the ether in the sense- organs, the sense-organs in the tanmātras, the tanmātras in the gross elements, the gross elements in the great principle, the great principle in the Unevolved, the Unevolved in the Imperishable; the Imperishable is merged in Darkness; Darkness becomes one with the highest Divinity.' That even in the state of non-separation (to which the texts refer as 'becoming one') non-sentient matter as well as sentient beings, together with the impressions of their former deeds, persists in an extremely subtle form, will be shown under II, 1, 35. We have thus a Brahman all-knowing, of the nature of supreme bliss and so on, one and without a second, having for its body all sentient and non-sentient beings abiding in an extremely subtle condition and having become 'one' with the Supreme Self in so far as they cannot be designated as something separate from him; and of this Brahman Scripture records that it forms the resolve of becoming many--in so far, namely, as investing itself with a body consisting of all sentient and non-sentient beings in their gross, manifest state which admits of distinctions of name and form-- and thereupon modifies (pariṇāma) itself into the form of the world. This is distinctly indicated in the Taittirīya-Upanishad, where Brahman is at first described as 'The True, knowledge, infinite,' as 'the Self of bliss which is different from the Self of Understanding,' as 'he who bestows bliss'; and where the text further on says, 'He desired, may I be many, may I grow forth. He brooded over himself, and having thus brooded he sent forth all whatever there is. Having sent forth he entered it. Having entered it he became sat and tyat, defined and undefined, supported and non-supported, knowledge and non-knowledge, real and unreal.' The 'brooding' referred to in this text denotes knowing, viz. reflection on the shape and character of the previous world which Brahman is about to reproduce. Compare the text 'whose brooding consists of knowledge' (Mu. Up. I, 1, 9). The meaning therefore is that Brahman, having an inward intuition of the characteristics of the former world, creates the new world on the same pattern. That Brahman in all kalpas again and again creates the same world is generally known from Śruti and Smriti. Cp. 'As the creator formerly made sun and moon, and sky and earth, and the atmosphere and the heavenly world,' and 'whatever various signs of the seasons are seen in succession, the same appear again and again in successive yugas and kalpas.'

The sense of the Taittirīya-text therefore is as follows. The highest Self, which in itself is of the nature of unlimited knowledge and bliss, has for its body all sentient and non-sentient beings--instruments of sport for him as it were--in so subtle a form that they may be called non-existing; and as they are his body he may be said to consist of them (tan-maya). Then desirous of providing himself with an infinity of playthings of all kinds he, by a series of steps beginning with Prakriti and the aggregate of souls and leading down to the elements in their gross state, so modifies himself as to have those elements for his body--when he is said to consist of them--and thus appears in the form of our world containing what the text denotes as sat and tyat, i.e. all intelligent and non-intelligent things, from gods down to plants and stones. When the text says that the Self having entered into it became sat and tyat, the meaning is that the highest Self, which in its causal state had been the universal Self, abides, in its effected state also, as the Self of the different substances undergoing changes and thus becomes this and that. While the highest Self thus undergoes a change--in the form of a world comprising the whole aggregate of sentient and non-sentient beings--all imperfection and suffering are limited to the sentient beings constituting part of its body, and all change is restricted to the non-sentient things which constitute another part. The highest Self is effected in that sense only that it is the ruling principle, and hence the Self, of matter and souls in their gross or evolved state; but just on account of being this, viz. their inner Ruler and Self, it is in no way touched by their imperfections and changes. Consisting of unlimited knowledge and bliss he for ever abides in his uniform nature, engaged in the sport of making this world go round. This is the purport of the clause 'it became the real and the unreal': although undergoing a change into the multiplicity of actual sentient and non-sentient things, Brahman at the same time was the Real, i.e. that which is free from all shadow of imperfection, consisting of nothing but pure knowledge and bliss. That all beings, sentient and non-sentient, and whether in their non-evolved or evolved states, are mere playthings of Brahman, and that the creation and reabsorption of the world are only his sport, this has been expressly declared by Dvaipāyana, Parāsara and other Rishis, ‘Know that all transitory beings, from the Unevolved down to individual things, are a mere play of Hari'; 'View his action like that of a playful child,' etc. The Sūtrakāra will distinctly enounce the same view in II, 1, 33. With a similar view the text 'from that the Lord of Māyā sends forth all this; and in that the other is bound by Māyā' (Svet. Up. IV, 9), refers to Prakriti and soul, which together constitute the body of Brahman, as things different from Brahman, although then, i.e. at the time of a pralaya, they are one with Brahman in so far as their extreme subtlety does not admit of their being conceived as separate; this it does to the end of suggesting that even when Brahman undergoes the change into the shape of this world, all changes exclusively belong to non- sentient matter which is a mode of Brahman, and all imperfections and sufferings to the individual souls which also are modes of Brahman. The text has to be viewed as agreeing in meaning with 'that Self made itself.' Of a similar purport is the account given in Manu, 'He being desirous to send forth from his body beings of many kinds, first with a thought created the waters and placed his seed in them' (I, 8).

It is in this way that room is found for those texts also which proclaim Brahman to be free from all imperfection and all change. It thus remains a settled conclusion that Brahman by itself constitutes the material as well as the operative cause of the world.

Sutra 1,4.27

योनिश्च हि गीयते ॥ २७ ॥

yoniśca hi gīyate || 27 ||

yoniḥ—Origin; ca—and; hi—because; gīyate—is called.

27. And because (Brahman) is called the origin.

Brahman is the material as well as the operative cause of the world for that reason also that certain texts call it the womb, 'the maker, the Lord, the Person, Brahman, the womb' (Mu. Up. III, 1, 3); 'that which the wise regard as the womb of all beings' (I, 1, 6). And that 'womb' means as much as material cause, appears from the complementary passage 'As a spider sends forth and draws in its threads' (I, 1, 7).