Athāto brahmājijñāsā अथातो ब्रह्माजिज्ञासा (I.i.1)
This is the first aphorism of Brahma Sūtra. Now, the discussion on Brahman begins. Brahma jijnasa means desire to know and understand Brahman. Athātas means now or hereafter. Unless an object is known, it cannot be understood. That is why, the first two chapters of Brahma Sūtra dwells on imparting knowledge by deliberating Brahman. This is not the knowledge that can be attained through any other means except listing to a Guru. How the desire to realize Brahman has entered into the mind of a spiritual aspirant? Not because he is performing certain rituals like recitation of mantras. Knowledge about mantras is not necessary to enquire about Brahman. He should have studied somewhere that Brahman is to be attained through mind. Brahman has to be contemplated without a form, as this alone is the Truth. This Truth, this is knowledge and this is everything (Taittirīya Upaniṣad II.i.1 says satyaṁ jñanaṁ anantaṁ brahma, which means Truth, Knowledge and Infinite is Brahman). The desire to know and understand Brahman was inherent in him. The seed of knowledge is there and now it is ready to sprout (due to his karmic account and he continues in this birth from where he had left in his last birth).
Who can know Brahman? Is there any qualification to know Him? Is it necessary that one has to be karma yogi to know Brahman? Everyone can know Brhaman and there is no restriction. It is beyond religious faiths. It is not necessary that one should have done a lot of dharma (charity) to know Brahman. Desire to know Brahman has no preconditions, whatsoever. What is required is only the mind. Brahman cannot be seen with biological eyes hence, all known objects are to be negated to know Him. When everything is negated, there should be some cause for our existence. That is Brahman. Then what are the basic requirements to know Brahman? Knowing Brahman is only through discrimination, as explained in Upaniṣad-s. In order to discriminate, one has to have the right kind of mindset. One should not be attached to fruits of actions; one has to learn to control his mind; he has to be cautious in using his sensory organs; and above all he should have will power to know Brahman. One should not continue to dwell on the rituals as prescribed by various dharma śāstra-s, which are of later origin.
The material world is full of attraction and deception and there is every possibility that even a sincere aspirant could slip and fall from the height he has reached after persistent and prolonged practice. It is not only the perfection in practice, but also the will to pursue ceaselessly by ignoring the attraction of the deceptive nature of the material world. Attraction to the material world could be anything and can be explained as those that are not necessary for our basic survival. Food to satiate appetite is not an attraction; water to quench our thirst is not an attraction; a home to live is not an attraction. These are the basic requirements in the present world. World was different during the days of Kṛṣṇa and the world in which we live is different. Adaptability to evolutionary changes is the primary quality of a human being. The yardstick used during those days cannot be applied today to evaluate one’s spiritual stature. Though the fundamentals and perception remain the same, environment is different. Deliberation about Brahman is always the same and answer is also the same, but the way in which knowledge is sought is different. Those days, Guru used to teach his disciples under the shadow of a huge tree (this is known as sārasvataṁ). Today, this is not possible. Spiritual discourses are held in air-conditioned halls equipped with microphones. During those days, one to one interaction was there. Today, in the first place, identifying a Guru is extremely difficult. Even if one is there, one to one interaction may not be feasible due to time and distance. But one to one interaction with Guru is an integral part of realizing Brahman and is absolutely essential.
Upaniṣad-s explain the need for realization. Chāndogya Upaniṣad (VIII.ii.1) says, “Everything perishes, whether it is something you have acquired through hard work in this world or it is a place in the other world (like heaven, etc) which you have acquired through your karmic account. Those who leave this world (earth) without knowing the Self should know that they are not free, no matter where they go. But those who leave this world after knowing the Self are free, no matter where they are.” There cannot be a better explanation than the accentuating of this Upaniṣad. Therefore, it is important that everyone should realize Brahman in order to be free from the pains of transmigration. Taittirīya Upaniṣad (II.i.1) also endorses this view by saying, “Brahmavit āpnoti param ब्रह्मवित् आप्नोति परम्”, which means that the one who knows Brahman attains the highest (beyond heaven).
Brahma jijnasa means Brahman is going to be deliberated through this series of 555 aphorisms. In other words, knowledge about Brahman will now be discussed in the first two chapters. It is not enough to merely gain knowledge. The knowledge thus gained should be put into use to see the results arising out of acquired knowledge. Third chapter discusses about practice and the fourth and last chapter discusses about the result arising out of the first three chapters. At the end of the last aphorism, an aspirant should be a fully realized person. This is the object of this series on Brahma Sūtra.
Thus, the first aphorism discussed the need to know Brahman through deliberations and discussions and subsequent aphorism defines Brahman.
(to be continued)