Introduction to Chapter I. iv
In the previous three sections containing 106 sūtra-s, Brahman was described through affirmations and negations. It was also discussed that Prakṛti is not Brahman, as advocated by Sāṁkhya philosophy. Affirmations and negations were interpreted according the sayings of Upaniṣad-s. According to Upaniṣad-s, there cannot be any other cause of the universe, except Brahman. However, great sages like Kapila (Sāṁkhya philosophy) made Vedic references to project Prakṛti (primordial nature) as cause of the universe. In order to remove all possible doubts, the fourth section of chapter I containing 28 aphorisms explain authentically, that what is referred to by Sage Kapila and others is not acceptable and reasons are given to prove this point.
Misconception occurs because Kaṭha Upaniṣad (I.iii.10) says, “mahataḥ param avyaktam avyaktāt puruṣaḥ paraḥ”, which means, “The Unmanifest (referring to Prakṛti) is superior to Hiraṇyagarbha, the Great Self (Mahat – the intellectual principle according to Sāṁkhya); but the Cosmic Self (Brahman) is superior to Unmanifest.” This verse is the cause for confusion. There need to be no confusion on this, as the verse is explicitly clear. First it says that Prakṛti is superior to Mahat principle and immediately thereafter it says that Brahman is superior to Mahat. Upaniṣad talks about step by step spiritual elevation, understanding grosser to finer. Grosser means understanding māyā. Unless māyā is understood, it cannot be transcended. Māyā is not something different from Brahman. It is also part of Brahman, His grosser side, His manifestations, His acting principle. But māyā cannot exist alone; Brahman has to be present to make māyā active. Brahman is present as a witness. If we look at this aphorism, then it can be proved Prakṛti and Hiraṇyagarbha are not Brahman. They are not even Brahman’s Power. Brahman’s Power is māyā. But what is the proof? This is explained in Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (VI.18) which says, “He first created Brahmā (god of creation and not Brahman) and passed on the knowledge to Him”. This knowledge is mahat. It is now clear that Brahman alone has created Brahmā and passed on the knowledge to Him. It is not that Brahmā came on His own. Further creations happen from Brahmā and in his creation, Brahman remains as a witness. Otherwise, creations of Brahmā will remain inert.
The un-manifest state is known as avyakta because it needs to be called so. What is avyakta? Avyatka means not yet fully developed where the entire three guṇa-s lie in equal proportion (each1/3). It is the state of Prakṛti which undergoes modifications and the modified stage is known as māyā. Therefore, avyakta is the causal state (about to manifest) and is not the cause of origin.
Therefore, what is referred in Kaṭha Upaniṣad (I.iii.10) is not Brahman, but is only the causal state. The discussion is about Brahman, the inconceivable original cause and not about the first stages of creation. First stages of creation mean that already Brahman has willed to create and He has initiated steps towards this. This is what is mentioned in Kaṭha Upaniṣad.
Prakṛti has to depend upon Brahman to become manifest. Therefore, Prakṛti by itself is not the cause. It has to depend on Brahman to undergo changes for the purpose of creation. What are the changes? There is a sequential and orderly process of creation such as ether, air, fire, water and finally earth and its beings (Taittirīya Upaniṣad II.1). This is endorsed by Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (I.iv.6) which says, “This universe was then undifferentiated.” The undifferentiated refers to Brahman. Again, Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (V.i) beautifully explains this thus. “Parabrahman (Nirguṇa Brahman) is higher than Hiraṇyagarbha. Knowledge and ignorance are both hidden in Parabrahman. Ignorance is the cause of birth and death (ignorance here refers to spiritual ignorance), whereas knowledge leads to immortality (cessation from the pains of transmigration).” We must always remember that Brahman controls both knowledge and ignorance (knowledge means path to liberation and ignorance means concealment and illusionary projection known as māyā). What is māyā? Māyā can be simply explained as the power of Brahman which wrongfully projects something as real. For example, due to effect of māyā we are associating ourselves only with the gross forms and not with the root cause of this form, Brahman. Māyā is nothing but a deceptive screen that veils the true form of Brahman. This veil can be removed only if we understand the power of māyā. Once we understand māyā, only then we can go past māyā to realize Brahman. It is like dark rain bearing clouds obstructing the grandeur of the sun and after sometime moving away from the sun revealing the grandeur of the sun.
Further, apart from Brahman nothing has been discussed worthy of knowing. In the previous aphorism, it is said that māyā should first be understood and this being the case, how it can be said that Brahman alone is worth knowing. It has already been discussed that māyā is nothing but the power of Brahman. Māyā is not something different Brahman and is inherent in Him. Power of a person cannot be separated from the person himself. Power is inherent in a person and similarly, māyā is inherent in Brahman. Therefore, avyakta need not be known separately. If Brahman is known, everything else is known, as He pervades everywhere. He is omnipresent. How do we know Brahman? We have to understand the effects of māyā and go past it to know Brahman. Unless the dark clouds move away, sun cannot be seen.
As we proceed, Brahman is made known to us through series of negations and affirmations, like all Upaniṣad-s. Not satisfied with the above explanations and in order to remove the remaining doubts, this sūtra again refutes that avyakta is not Brahman and not worth knowing. It cannot be argued that avyakta needs to be known simply because it is mentioned in the Upaniṣad. But Upaniṣad is categorical in saying that Brahman is the cause of avyakta. Where it is said so? It is said in Kaṭha Upaniṣad (I.iii.15)*, “That is which is soundless, touchless, formless, odourless and that which is eternal, un-decaying, which is without beginning and without end, superior even to Hiraṇyagarbha is the Self and having known this Self, one can be free from death (death here means liberation, freed from the pains of transmigration). This eloquently makes it clear that Brahman alone is Supreme and He alone needs to be known and not His different stages of expansions such as avyakta, etc.
We have to go back to Kaṭha Upaniṣad (I.i.14) to know the context in which avyakta is used. Yama, the lord of death teaches various aspects of Self-realization to Naciketā. As a part of his teachings, Yama told Naciketā, “Fire is the means of attaining immortality and it is also the support of the universe. It lies in the minds of the wise.” In the next verse, Yama said to Naciketā that fire is the first embodied existence. When he says embodied existence, it obviously means it is not Brahman, as Brahman is never mentioned as an embodied existence. He is formless. Most importantly, Yama tells Naciketā (I.ii.18), “The Self is not born; it does not die either…..The body perishes but the Self never perishes.” Self is not born is important to disprove that avyakta mentioned in this Upaniṣad. What is avyakta? It is nothing but Prakṛti, the primordial nature, which goes back to Brahman during annihilation. Therefore, avyakta does not mean Brahman.
Avyakta can be compared only to mahat, which is a terminology used in Sāṁkhya philosophy. Mahat arises from the union of puruṣa (soul) prakṛti (nature). Mahat is the second principle from prakṛti as per Sāṃkhya philosophy. Puruṣa is the self-intelligent subject and prakṛti is the non-intelligent potential cause of the objective universe. Puruṣa-s are innumerable in number, whereas prakṛti is one. The primal constituents of prakṛti are the three guṇa-s (sattva, rajas and tamas). As per sāṃkhya yoga, all objects both physical and psychical are transformation of prakṛti, the first of which is mahat.
Kaṭha Upaniṣad (I.iii.10)* says, “mahataḥ avyaktam param”, which means avyakta is superior to mahat; the verse proceeds to say, “avyaktāt puruṣaḥ paraḥ”, which means Brahman is superior to avyakta. Therefore, nothing can be compared to Brahman. This is further affirmed in Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (III.10) which says, “Brahman is the cause of Hiraṇyagarbha and Hiraṇyagarbha is the cause of is world.” Thus it has been conclusively proved that Brahman is Supreme and not other aspects of creation such avyakta or Hiraṇyagarbha. That is why Brahma Sūtra explains exhaustively about Brahman.