Brahma Sutra I.iv.13
Even though, followers of Kāṇva (Kaṇva is a renowned sage, who has derived several hymns of the Ṛg Veda and his followers are known as kāṇva-s) skip their food, but they cannot exist without Light (from which originate the rest). What is this Light? This Light is Brahman. If Light is Brahman, why not other elements be Brahman? Of course, other elements are also Brahman. But the fact is that Brahman is incomprehensible. It is easier for us to know Him as Light because, only with the help of light matter is made known to us; hence, to enable us to understand Brahman, He is described as Light. Further, Brihadaranyaka upanishad (Iv.iv.16) says, “Gods meditate on that immortal and eternal Light”. Since Brahman is described as Light, obviously, He cannot be prakṛti, where evolution takes place. Brahman is the cause for this evolution and hence He is not prakṛti, as modifications take place in prakṛti.
Brahma Sutra I.iv.14
Having authoritatively refuted that Brahman is not prakṛti, Brahma Sūtra now proceeds to elucidate Brahman through the teachings of Upanishad-s.
As we commonly know that there is difference between cause and effect, we now proceed to understand the cause, which is known as Brahman. How do we say that Brahman is the cause? This is the essence of all Upanishad-s and there is no further proof needed beyond the precepts of Upanishad-s. Brahma Sūtra does not give its own interpretation, but exhaustively dwells on the essence of various Upanishad-s. What is so important about Upanishad-s? Upanishad means destroying ignorance by revealing the knowledge of the Self. Secondly, origin of Upanishad-s are not known. They are taught by ancient sages and saints to their worthy disciples who sat down at their feet to listen to their words (verbal teaching), which are considered as the secret knowledge. Hence, what is described and declared in Upanishad-s is taken as the final authority. But this does not mean that Upanishad-s elucidate Brahman in their own way. Upanishad-s are the essence of Vedas. Vedas can be interpreted both grossly and subtly. Grosser interpretations lead to yajñā-s (rituals) with the help of mantras and subtle interpretations lead to Self realization with the help of Upanishad-s. Gross interpretations lead to strong foundations and subtle interpretations lead to the path of spirituality and ultimate emancipation.
There are many Upanishad texts which say that Brahman is the cause of creation. Taittirīya Upanishad (II.1) says, “From Brahman space originated, from space air...” Out of the five principal elements, rest of the creation originated. Therefore, the cause of creation is only Brahman or the Self. Similarly, Chāndogya Upanishad (VI.ii.2) says, “Before this universe came into being, there was only one existence*, without a second (referring to Brahman)”. Every Upanishad says that creation began from Brahman. Upanishad-s do not vary in interpreting Brahman, as all of them speak only about Brahman. Further, there is no contradiction whatsoever amongst Upanishad-s about the process of creation. Contradiction arises only if something is spoken against the Truth. All Upanishad-s are source of realization and only their wordings differ. The order of creation is also the same. This is clearly explained in Chāndogya Upanishad (VI.iii.2), says that Brahman decided to enter into fire, water and earth as the individual self (jīvātaman) and again decided to manifest Himself in many shapes and forms. This is almost similar to Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The above statement conclusively proves that everything is Brahman including different gross bodies. These gross bodies can function only if He enters these gross bodies as the essence. Different electrical gadgets exist, but what is the use of these gadgets without electricity? They are manufactured only with the help of electricity. Thus, electricity is both the cause (for manufacturing gadgets) and the effect (functioning of these gadgets). Thus the need of electricity is always felt. This is how Brahman functions. Without Him, nothing can function.
Brahma Sutra I.iv.15
One without a second, as discussed in the previous aphorism, does not mean Brahman alone existed all the time. In the beginning, Brahman alone existed and He wanted to create and thus One became many*. Many refer to different shapes and forms and not the essence of these shapes and forms, which is Brahman alone. Electricity is the same, but the appliances are different. Same electricity is used to light a bulb, a fan, an air-conditioner, a refrigerator. These gadgets cannot function without electricity. Similarly, different shapes and forms cannot function without Brahman. Like electricity being the cause for all the gadgets to become effective, Brahman is the cause for different shapes and forms.
In reality, Brahman is not simply explicable. Hence, Taittirīya Upanishad (II.1) says, “satyaṁ jñānaṁ anantaṁ brahma (Brahman) (truth, knowledge and everything else is Brahman).” How can Brahman be explained, as everything originates from Him? Secondly, why we should know Brahman? These questions are also answered in the same verse which says, “the one who knows Brahman attains the supreme attainment”. Brahman can only be attained and cannot be seen, as He is devoid of shapes and forms. In other words, He cannot be attained through senses, but can be realized only through mind and intellect (buddhi).
Brahma Sutra I.iv.16
This sūtra discusses on Kauṣītakī Upanishad. This Upanishad talks about worshiping various elements as Brahman. For example someone worships sun, others moon, others, fire, etc. Different people worship different shapes and forms or different elements that play a significant role in sustenance of the universe. For example, without sun, the universe cannot exist, hence sun is worshiped; similarly fire, moon, prāṇa, etc. But what is the source of their origin? They originate from Brahman on the macrocosmic platform and from the soul on the microcosmic platform. What exists in macrocosm also exists in microcosm. The difference is only in the usage of two words macro and micro. Macrocosm refers to the universe or brahmāṇḍa (universe) and microcosm refers to piṇḍāṇḍa (an individual self). Ultimately, everything originate from Brahman alone, be it prāṇa, air, heat, water, food, etc. Source is always the same and we have to realize that source through knowledge (buddhi). Where the realization takes place? With the help of intellect, realization takes place in the mind. What would be state of the realized one? He is a like a person in deep sleep state. In deep sleep state, every involuntary biological activity is going on, but we are not aware of these activities. Similarly, a realized person does all the actions that are necessary for his existence, but he is not aware of his activities and its results. He is not aware because, he has lost his individual mind and his mind is now pervaded by the Self.
Brahma Sutra I.iv.17
Brahman is explained in many ways. For example, He has been referred as individual soul or prāṇa. Does this mean that Brahman is restricted? If Brahman is described as various elements or aspects, will this not lead to comparative statements such as higher or lower? There is no question of comparison at all, as everything that exists is only the manifestation of Brahman. Right from creation, through sustenance and ultimate destruction, He alone prevails and there is no second object or aspect. It is due to our innate ignorance caused by māyā, we continue to dwell on the theory of cause and effect. In reality, there is no cause and no effect; because cause is also Brahman and effect is also Brahman.
There is a reference to mind and its afflicted nature in Chāndogya Upanishad (VI.viii.2) which says, “The mind runs in every direction and when it fails to get a resting place anywhere, it surrenders itself to prāṇa.” There is a subtle conveyance in this verse. When our mind is wavering, we need to concentrate on our breath. The mind will calm down. Most of the meditative techniques depend upon concentrating on breath.
Brahma Sutra I.iv.18
If Brahman is omnipresent, then what is the need for the individual soul? In the first place, it should be understood that individual soul is also Brahman, but encased by māyā. The purpose of the individual soul is to realize its own true nature (the Self). Secondly, the individual soul cannot be active without Brahman being present. It is similar to the example of gadgets without electricity.
This can be understood through our deep sleep state. What happens during our deep sleep state? All the involuntary systems continue to function; we continue to breathe, our heart beats, etc. Without our mind and will, how do these organs function? They function because they are under the control of the individual soul, which stands united with the Supreme Self during deep sleep state. They take refuge in the Self for its function. Brihadaranyaka upanishad explains this further.
“When this being (a person) full of consciousness (the mind or consciousness in association with the mind) is in deep sleep state, where was it and wherefrom did this come from?” According to this Upanishad (IV.iv.5), “That self (individual soul) is indeed Brahman and is identified with the intellect, mind and prāṇa.” This clearly answers the previous question. In deep sleep state the individual soul merges into the Self. If the same state is attained during active state, that state indeed is the state of Self-realization.
Brahma Sutra I.iv.19
What is to be meditated upon? It is the Self (Brahman) and not the self (individual self). Why? Because Brihadaranyaka upanishad (IV.v.6) says, “The Self should be realized, should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon. When the Self is realized, all this is known.” Step by step guide to meditate Brahman is conveyed. First, Brahman should be heard of. A Teacher teaches his disciple about Brahman and finally the Teacher says that he himself is Brahman (tat tvaṁ asi or you are That). The disciple reasons out the teaching of his Teacher. He has many doubts while reasoning. If the student does not get any doubts, it clearly menas that he has not understood the teachings of his Teacher (Guru). He asks his Teacher, who explains patiently explains about Brahman. The Teacher tells his student (incidentally, the disciple is his wife), “My dear, you have been my beloved and you know my mind. Come and take your seat here. I will explain this to you. As I explain, meditate on the meaning (the essence of my teachings).” He explains step by step. The disciple understands the elucidations of his Teacher. He now meditates on Brahman. After years, the disciple returns to his Teacher and says, “Sir, you are right. I am Brahman (I am That or ahaṁ brahmāsmi). Now I fully understand this.” The perfect path to realisation and liberation is laid down here.
Brahma Sutra I.iv.20
Is there any difference between the Self (Brahman) and the self (individual soul)? Yes, there are differences; former is the cause and later is the effect. Does this not mean that something exists apart from Brahman? No, there is no second to Brahman. Then, why there is confusion between the Self and the self? There is no confusion at all. Let us take an example. There are two situations. One, the sun shines without any clouds obstructing its grandeur. Two, the shine of sun is obstructed by dark clouds, obstructing its grandeur. Does this mean that original grandeur of the sun is lost? No, the sun is always the same; the difference is in the obstructions. Now let us consider the sun as Brahman. When there is no cloud, it means there is no spiritual ignorance, known as māyā. Māyā is also the Power of Brahman and in no way different from Brahman. But, when clouds obstruct the shine of the sun, grandeur of the sun is wrongly projected as something that is not as bright as the sun without obstructions.
Brahman is like sun without any obstructions by dark clouds. Individual soul is the sun obstructed by dark clouds. How the obstruction of Brahman can be removed. It is like moving the dark clouds veiling the sun. This veil is known as spiritual ignorance known as māyā. How māyā can be removed? This is explained in I.iv.19 above.
But, what happens if Brahman is not realized? Brihadaranyaka upanishad (IV.v.7) says such a person is ousted out. In order to make us understand the ‘difference’ between the Self and the self, further elucidations are given in the next aphorisms.
Vivekacūḍāmaṇi (236) also explains this. “Whatever a deluded man (afflicted with spiritual ignorance known as māyā), perceives through mistake is Brahman and Brahman alone (this explains that māyā is also part of Brahman). It is Brahman, which (no gender is mentioned) is always considered as this universe, whereas that which is superimposed (māyā) on Brahman, viz. the universe is merely a name.