Brahma Sutra I.iii.7
What is the difference between the Self and the self (Brahman and the individual soul)? Supreme Self remains only as a witness and the individual self is always engaged in actions. Muṇḍaka Upanishad (III.i.1) cites an example. There are two birds of similar nature sitting on a tree. One of them goes here and there and eats a lot of fruits. The other simply watches this bird being highly active in satiating its desire. The bird that is witnessing the actions of the other bird is Brahman or the Self and the one that is active is an ordinary person, which is devoid of knowledge about the Self (individual soul). The point is that both are on the same tree (our body). When the individual soul understands that the Self is within, it also attains the status of Brahman.
It is very important to understand that the Self and the self are not two different entities. Brahman or the Self is Absolute purity and when this purity is veiled by spiritual ignorance known as māyā, the Self is known as the self. The Self always remains the same and it never loses its purity. Its purity is veiled and appears as impure. Let us take a light. Suppose the light is covered by dust, it loses its brightness and when the dust is removed, it regains its original brightness. Similarly, if spiritual ignorance known as māyā is removed, the Supreme Self is revealed. The process of removing this veil is known as sādhana or spiritual practice.
The difference between spiritual practices and rituals is quite significant. In spiritual practice, only mind is required and in ritual practices, we need both health and wealth, which ultimately leads to spiritual bent of mind, whereas spiritual practices straight away leads to bliss and liberation. However, entering straight into spiritual practices is not advisable, as the foundation could be shaky. One should not continue to remain in ritualism. Transition from ritualism to spiritualism should be as quick as possible. Many of the rituals are based only on cultural anthropology (traditions).
Brahma Sutra I.iii.8
There are two new words introduced in this Brahma Sutra. One is Bhūman and another is samprasāda. The sūtra says that Bhūman is superior to samprasāda. Bhūman literally means plenty or abundance, which indirectly refers to Brahman and samprasāda is the state of soul in deep sleep state.
Chāndogya Upanishad (VII.23) says “Yah vai bhūma tat sukham” which means that which is Infinite, that is happiness. The Upanishad further says “there is no happiness in the finite and happiness is only in the Infinite. But one must try to understand the nature of That Infinite.” Method of understanding That Infinite is sādhana (Please read here to understand what is sādhana). How that Bhūman can be explained? When Sage Nārada asked Sanatkumāra, (Sanaka, Sana, Sanatkumāra, and Sanandana are sons of Brahmā, who created them through his mind and these four are the disciples of Dakṣiṇāmūrti), “Where does Bhūman rest”, Sanatkumāra replied “It (he did not use He or She; he used only It to refer Brahman, which goes to prove that Brahman is beyond gender) rests not even on Its own power, no, not even on Its own Power; in fact in rests on nothing”. This goes to prove that Brahman cannot be simply expressed by definitions, deliberations and elucidations. He cannot be explained at all. We only know Him as That.
Then, what is samprasāda and its relevance to Brahman? Samprasāda is the state of deep sleep where prāṇa is active. Prāṇa is active in all the three states, active, dream and deep sleep states. Without prāṇa, a being cannot exist. If prāṇa escapes from the body, the person dies. Is not prāṇa superior or Brahman? How can prāṇa be superior to Brahman? If there is something that is superior to Brahman, it has to have a separate origin and not from Brahman. Taittirīya Upanishad (II.1) says that prāṇa has originated from Brahman. Then how can prāṇa be superior to Brahman. But what is the need to draw this comparison in the first place? It is not the comparison to prove the superiority of prāṇa. Even during our deep sleep state, prāṇa is active. Why deep sleep state is taken as an example? It is the state where both our antaḥkaraṇa (mind, intellect, consciousness and ego) and sensory organs remain in a state of suspended animation. This is the state of absolute purity and the closest possible state to the state of Brahman. Hence this state is referred here.
Brahma Sutra I.iii.9
Bādrāyaṇa (author Brahma Sūtra) not having satisfied with the above interpretation, reemphasises the Supremacy of Brahman here. Brihadaranyaka upanishad (III.viii.10 & 11) says, “Without knowing Brahman (this is known as Self realization), offers of oblations in the fire, performing sacrifices and practicing austerities even for thousands of years, one finds all such acts but perishable. He, who departs from this world without knowing Brahman becomes miserable. But the one, who departs this world after knowing Brahman, is a knower of Brahman (Self-realized person). This immutable is never seen, but is the Witness; It is never heard, but is Hearer; It is never thought, but is the Thinker; It is never known, but is the Knower. It pervades everywhere (omnipresent).” Please note the absence of gender again. These are not the words of some mundane scholar (self-boasters). These are the words of Sage Yājñavalkya, the first reputed teacher of the Vājasaneyi-saṃhitā or White Yajur-veda, revealed to him by the Sun.
Bhūman is known as Brahman only because both have same characteristics such as omnipresence, witnessing, etc. Chāndogya Upanishad (VII.xxiii) says, “That which is Infinite is the source of happiness. There is no happiness in the finite. Happiness (happiness here means Bliss) is only in the Infinite. But one must try to understand what the Infinite is. Bhūman is that Infinite.....”
Now it is proved beyond doubt that Brahman and Bhūman are the same.
Brahma Sutra I.iii.10
Akṣara is Brahman, says this Brahma Sutra. Generally akṣara is known as letters, in particular OM (ॐ). But this is not used here to mean letters. Akṣara also means imperishable. Everything is imperishable except Brahman. Brihadaranyaka upanishad (III.viii.8) says, “This Akṣara is immutable as That.” When it is said Immutable, it always refers to Brahman, as everything else is mutable. Now we know that Brahman is known by several names, unheard of till now. For example, Bhūman and Akṣara are mentioned as Brahman. Brahman is known by other names only to establish His Supremacy in the minds of those who pursue philistinism (desire for wealth and material possessions with little interest in spiritual matters).
Brihadaranyaka upanishad (II.xxiii.3) says, “OM permeates every form of speech. All is oṁkāra.” OM is said to the symbol of Brahman. Only based on this Upanishad text, Kulārṇava Tantra (XV.57) says, “Without having OM in the beginning and at the end of a mantra gives impurity to the mantra.” This is also explained in opening verse of Chāndogya Upanishad, “OM the word OM is always used at the beginning and at the end of anything said or done.” The whole first chapter of Chāndogya Upanishad is dedicated to OM. Bhagavad Gītā (XVII.23 - 26) says, “OM, tat and sat are the threefold representation of Brahman and from That alone Vedas, Vedic scholars and sacrificial rites have originated. Hence, during the acts of sacrifices, gifts, austerities approved by Scriptures and during Vedic recitations, OM is uttered in the beginning...”. In reality, OM which is known as Akṣara is only Brahman, says this sūtra.
Brahma Sutra I.iii.11
Beyond these elucidations, single important factor that establishes the Supremacy of Brahman is His mighty rule. What is special about His mighty rule? Brihadaranyaka upanishad (III.viii.9) says, “Under His mighty rule sun and moon, and heaven and earth, maintain their positions. Time period, flow of rivers, mighty mountains exist under His mighty rule.” There is a force, which we call as cosmic force is His Power, with which He rules. Nobody else can excise this mighty rule, simply because, they do not have that might. Fearing for Him, sun, moon, pañcabhūta-s carry out their duties. Kaṭha Upanishad (II.iii.3) says, “From fear of It (Brahman), fire gives heat; out of terror, the sun shines; afraid of It, Indra, Vāyu, Yama (god of death) rush to perform their respective duties.” (Though He is mighty, why His might should be understood? He is a terror for all those who fail to protect all of us properly. Why He wants to protect us? It is purely out of compassion for us.
That is Brahman. He is an embodiment of compassion. We need to understand His compassion and think about Him all the time to get liberated. The sole purpose of this series is to get liberated in this birth itself, through requisite knowledge.
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