gauṇaścennātmaśabdāt गौणश्चेन्नात्मशब्दात् (I.i.6)
gauṇa – not so important (subordinate); cet – for the sake of argument; na – not (negation); ātma śabdāt – due to the usage of word Ātma. (śabdāt literally means ‘beyond the reach of sound’ subtly referring to Brahman).
This aphorism takes forward the discussion of the previous aphorism. Because Brahman cannot be seen physically like sun, moon, mountain, etc, it does not mean that the universe is not created by Brahman (as discussed in the previous sūtra). Why? Because of the usage of the word Ātma, known as Brahman. The usage of śabdāt is very important here, as śabdāt means Brahman, who cannot be known merely by sound. For a moment, let us give a name to Brahman and let Brahman be called as Śiva. Is this Śiva Brahman? No, certainly not, because Brahman cannot be known through sound; He is beyond sound and cannot be comprehended by sound, though sound is also subtle. Sound cannot be seen, like Brahman. When sound is incomprehensible to biological eyes, how can Brahman be seen? This is not because seeing is only subordinated sense, but because Brahman cannot be seen is the truth. Even if one wholeheartedly worships Śiva, it is not in any way equivalent to Brahman, as Brahman is devoid of form. If anyone worships Brahman with any sound, he is a spiritually ignorant person and has to continue with the pains of transmigration; because Brahman does not have any attributes, not even sound and light.
This aphorism needs to be explained from the view point of Chāndogya Upaniṣad. The universe originated from existence and it is wrong to say that the universe had originated out of nothing. Suppose we go to a potter’s workplace, we can only see clay. Only from this clay, his potteries are formed in various shapes and forms. Therefore clay is the cause for all his potteries. Similarly, the universe originated from something; as we do not know what it is, we call it as Brahman. For every existence, there has to be a cause. Vedānta does not argue frivolously. It argues with logic and reasoning. Vedānta calls this pre-creation-existence as Sat and Cit. Sat means existence which is pre-creation-existence and Cit means Consciousness. Why it is called Sat, because Brahman alone is Sat or reality of existence or reality of pre-creation-existence and this same Sat is also known as Cit or Consciousness or awareness. (Explanatory notes: It is awareness because Brahman can be realized only through mind. In order to realize Brahman in the mind – there is no other option to realize Him except through the mind – we have to become aware of Him. This is possible only if one shreds all other thought processes and stay focused. Stay focused on what? Just stay focused and one will enter into the state of bliss and trance, where final spiritual knowledge will be imparted to him. By whom it will be imparted? By Brahman alone. How Brahman can impart this knowledge, as He is without attributes? This is the crux of the issue and this is called Self-realization. Brahman will be realized, He will be simply realized. No big change will happen. There will be only transformation.) Brahman decided to expand and this is known as Divine Will (this is similar to our Free Will, but on the macrocosmic platform); Divine Will to create. He created universe by becoming many. He has not created various shapes and forms; but He Himself became many; He alone multiplied His own Self. Let us now view this from the point of porter’s work place. Clay remained the same and the potter made this clay into different shapes and forms. Clay is the pre-creation-existence, the potter is the Divine Will and the potteries originated from the combination of these two; Brahman and His Divine Will. Brahman became water and we worship water as Varuṇa and began to worship Him as a separate god. Brahman has become creation and we began to worship His creative activity as Brahmā. Brahmā is not a separate god and in no way different from Brahman. Due to our ignorance, we began to worship various acts of Brahman as separate gods. Thus came the worship of various gods in different shapes and forms.
A body requires water, air, food, etc. There are different factors that go into the formation of a human form or any other form. These are meticulously planned and executed by Brahman by becoming many. It is not that water, air or food is different from Brahman. They are Brahman themselves. They are not separate entities; but they are His multiple forms. Our body is being nourished by Brahman Himself and we call this nourishing activity as Viṣṇu. Viṣṇu is not a separate entity; He is Brahman Himself. Creation is made when Brahman decides to expand Himself as many. By remaining as water, food, etc Brahman continues to nourish; the act of nourishment is an act of Brahman and not that Viṣṇu. Viṣṇu is the name given to Brahman for His act of sustenance. When Brahman decides to contract, death happens. When Brahman decides to contract, many become one. Death is not caused by Śiva. When Brahman contracts Himself, we call this contraction as Śiva.
This Upaniṣad says (VI.x.1), “That which is the subtlest of all is the Self (Brahman) of all this. It is the Truth. It is the Self. You are That.” The Upaniṣad asserts that “You are That Brahman”. How this affirmation is possible? Is it logical? Does it have any valid reasoning? Yes, there is valid reasoning. They are visible to our biological eyes, clay, potter and the potteries. The same principle, the same logic and the same reasoning is ascribed here to establish the omnipresence of Brahman. But, why we are not realizing this? It is our innate ignorance in the form of māyā. Māyā is not something different from Him. It is also Brahman. Māyā is the tool by which an aspirant for liberation is evaluated. How long our spiritual ignorance will continue? As long as our karma exists, our mundane existence will continue.
Vivekacūḍāmaṇī (161) says, “Do not identify yourself with your external form and instead identify with Brahman, the Self of all, to attain Supreme Peace (liberation).”
The best meditative practice for this sūtra is the following self-affirmation. If one meditates on this saying, he begins to realize Brahman gradually. After all, what one thinks, he becomes that.
Self-affirmation: “I AM BRAHMAN”.