23. That [Brahman] is unmanifest, for this is what [the Śruti] states.
These sūtras pose the question of the negative formula, that is, neti neti. The hypothetical objector may ask: To what does neti neti refer? Does it refer to the metaphysical foundation (Brahman)? Or to the principial cause from which the effect, or the world, proceeds? Or to the world of names and forms? Or does it refer to all three aspects?
If we rule out the metaphysical foundation (the unborn), we are inferring that some given item within manifestation (the born) would not be able to govern itself, for it would not have its own root from which to discover its reason for existence.
In the same way, a tree without a root cannot come to birth. Nor can a building arise without land, which acts as its foundation.
If we rule out the principial cause (Īśvara), which contains all the indefinite manifest qualities and quantities, (multiplicity within unity, the One-many of Plato) then manifestation, having no potential cause, would be unable to emerge as the effect or the world, and there would be no perception of anything. In other words, there would be no subject and object, and no cause and effect.
If we rule out the world of names and forms, there would remain only a principial cause, with no development; a cause, however, which contains potentialities must sooner or later manifest itself or initiate those potentialities; and thus it must pass from power into act.
If we negate all three conditions that have been mentioned, we would reach the point of totally negating the whole of reality itself; but at this point the question may be put: Who is it that is negating? To negate or affirm something there needs be an ultimate subject with the possibility and the ability to negate or affirm. However, if there is no subject who is there that is negating?
What is the position of the Brahmasūtra? The following sūtras expound the conclusion.
24. And also in deep meditation [the Brahman is realised] in accordance with direct perception and deduction.
The Brahman, however, despite being unqualified and unmanifest, can be comprehended and realised through deep meditation or direct recognition, or even through inference, that is, by means of the Śruti or the Smṛti.
25. And as [in the case of] light in its activity, and so on, [so within the Brahman there is] non-distinction; [this is confirmed] by repeated statements.
As we have seen previously, the Śruti has confirmed that there is no absolute distinction between the supreme Ātman and its manifest reflection.
We consider again the analogy with the sun, whose image is reflected in water: between the image and its source there is no distinction, but nor is there identity; that is, there is no duality, because the reflection in the water has no absolute reality, no aseity.
The world of phenomena is a mere appearance, which indeed appears and disappears on the horizon of the supreme Reality. Between the supreme Ātman and the manifest jīva there is no duality, because the latter merges into That ‘Thou art That: ‘thou’ is the jīva, and ‘That’ is the Ātman or Brahman.
Hence, as sūtra 26 shows, the ray of sunlight is re-united with the source from which it issued forth.
26. For this reason [the manifest jīva creates the identity] with the Infinite, because this is what [the Scripture] indicates.
1. Hence the aim of the [human] being, according to the Scriptures; this is what Bādarāyana [says].
The aim of human existence, according to the Scriptures, is the Knowledge, Realisation of the supreme Brahman. This first sūtra points out that knowledge (jñāna), without recourse to other means, can remove the limitations enclosing the being that has fallen into saṁsāra. This implies that such knowledge cannot be subordinated or linked to ritual or to other contingent factors.
‘It is the highest among the sciences, the science which must command the dependent ones, it is the science which knows the aim why everything is made; and the aim, in everything, is the good, and in general in the whole of nature, the aim is the Supreme Good.’ [Aristotle, Metaphysics, A 2.982 b.]
In the Chāndogya Upaniṣad (VII.I.3) we read: ‘I am this, O venerable one, I am a knower of the mantras only and not a knower of the Ātman… the knower of the Ātman goes beyond sorrow… .’
A knower of a metaphysical order goes to the ultimate end of Reality, non-born, eternal, undivided because it is one without a second.
3. But [the Śruti] recognises the Ātman and considers the Ātman [as Supreme].
In the Śruti we read: ‘Now again, whoever knows That as “I am Brahman” becomes this [Brahman]. Not even the gods can hinder him, because he is, in truth, their own Ātman.’ [Bṛ.I.IV.10.]
Three aspects of the human being need to be considered: the Ātman, which is of the same nature as the Brahman; the jīva, as a reflection or spark of the Ātman; and ahaṁkāra, the sense of I, the psychological and individualised ego, which has no inherent reality.
Let us repeat a passage from the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (II.I.1): ‘This is the truth. Just as from a blazing and radiant [fire] sparks of [its] very same nature shoot out in their thousands, so, my beloved, innumerable existences are generated from the Imperishable and precisely there they will return.’
This passage needs to be repeatedly meditated upon, contemplated, absorbed by the consciousness, and thus realised. The empirical mind, being merely an instrument of ahaṁkāra, is unable to comprehend that which stands behind it.
The jīva, the trans-empirical soul, is of the same nature as the Ātman and expresses itself at specific universal levels. The Ātman is of the same nature as the supreme Brahman.
Our strife-ridden avidyā (a-gnosis) can be transcended because there is within us a quid which pertains to the universal dimension. To exclude this dimension, this state of consciousness, has a limiting effect upon the being, which consequently finds itself facing… nothing, the void. But in spite of ‘the will of men’ to reduce themselves to ‘nothing’, they cannot destroy what they really are.
The ahaṁkāra, the empirical ego, is not, for it does not have the nature to be, and it vanishes when seen for what it is. In this way, when the dawn of Knowledge appears above the horizon of our consciousness, ignorance disappears, because, in fact, it is not substance and it is not being.
Synopsis of Book
The Brahmasūtra or Vedāntasūtra of Bādarāyaṇa represents the fundamental text of exegesis of Vedānta.
The intent of Bādarāyaṇa – the sage that for authority and realization of consciousness has been identified with Vyāsa, the Ṛṣi who ordered the texts of the Vedas – is that of providing the right perspective in the interpretation of the most profound and meaningful contents of the Upaniṣads. This had proven necessary in order to rectify some unilateral aspects propounded by several schools of thought, both orthodox and non-orthodox.
The Brahmasūtra presents, in their simplicity and incisiveness, the assertions of the Śruti and of the Smṛti, showing their concordance in the recognition of the Nirguṇa Brahman as the ultimate Realty.
The Brahmasūtra contains 555 sūtras, arranged in four Books, each of which is divided into four Chapters.
In Book One, “Harmony”, the vision of the Brahman, as the Foundation of all that exists, is expounded; the purpose being that of reconciling different Vedic statements on the subject.
In Book Two, “Absence of Contradiction”, the objections raised against this vision are examined and refuted. Moreover, there are some notes regarding the nature of the jīva, its attributes, and its relationship with the Brahman, the body and its actions.
In Book Three, “Spiritual Discipline”, the ways and the means (sādhana) necessary to realize the brahmavidyā, the knowledge of the supreme Brahman are expounded. The state of consciousness of the jīva is also dealt with in this Book.
In Book Four, “The Fruit”, the fruits (phala) of the brahmavidyā are reviewed. There is also the description of the departure of the jīva after the death of the physical body, along the two paths, that of the gods and that of the ancestors (devayaṇa and pitṛyaṇa ways), and of the nature of the final liberation.
In his notes, Raphael underlines the fact that Bādarāyaṇa does not oppose the various philosophical schools, but the Ṛṣi allows us to comprehend that their postulates cannot represent the ultimate Truth as expounded in the Vedas and in the Upaniṣads. Moreover, at times Raphael focuses on certain aspects of the Advaita Doctrine with references to the Western Tradition, and – making the relevant parallels to the philosophy of Parmenides, Plato, Plotinus, and so on – highlights the unity of the sole universal Tradition at the metaphysical level.
Lastly, Raphael clarifies an aspect which is of special importance in the Advaita view: that is, that between the perspectives of Gauḍapāda and Śaṅkara there is neither opposition nor contradiction. They are just two modes of approach which, all the same, reach supreme nirguṇa Truth. In fact, Gauḍapāda puts himself from an exclusively pāramārthika perspective (ultimate and supreme Truth), while Śaṅkara begins with the vyāvaharika knowledge (empirical, phenomenal and relative reality) to then lead the seeker to the dimension of the pure pāramārthika knowledge.
Note regarding Book Cover
Guruparaṁparā, the “Uninterrupted chain of the gurus.” According to Tradition, the lineage in the transmission of the Teaching of Vedānta is this: Nārayāṇa, Brahmā, Vāsiṣṭa, Śakti, Paraśara, Vyāsa, Śuka, Gauḍapāda, Govindapāda, Śaṅkara and his disciples Padmapāda, Hastāmalaka, Toṭaka and Sureśvara.