Brahma Sūtras II.i.18

Chāndogya Upaniṣhad (VI.ii.1 and 2) says, “Before this world was manifest, there was only existence, one without a second.” Brahman is referred here as the one, without a second. This means that the universe was created out of this existence that is also known as Brahman. For example, before a pot was created, clay already existed, as the pot was not created out of nothing or out of something imagined by the potter. Similarly, even before universe was created, Brahman existed. How do we know that? We cannot know that as He was present even before the first signs of creation. How Brahman created the universe is the question. When He willed to create, there was a throb in Him, who existed as Divine Potent Energy. A piece of the throb is the cause for the creation of the universe. How this piece can be compared? It is like offering dīpārādhana (offering a lamp) to the sun.

Brahma Sūtras II.i.19

Now a comparison is being made to a folded cloth. Folded cloth is compared to the unmanifest Brahman. Suppose this folded cloth is spread, it does not undergo any change, except its shape. Similarly, unmanifest Brahman, when manifests in different shapes and forms, continues to maintain His Supremacy. Therefore, the effect need not be different from the cause. The inherent quality of the cause is always maintained.

Brahma Sūtras II.i.20

From prāṇa, five different types of prāṇas originate. The cause of these five types of prāṇas such as prāṇa, apāna, vyāna, udāna, and samāna are only prāṇa. Though they are called by different names and though their activities are also different, the inherent nature of prāṇa alone prevails in these five types of prāṇas. Though manifestation of Brahman has different types of shapes and forms with different qualities, the principle of Brahman prevails in all these shapes and forms. In other words, Brahman exists in the form of essence in all these shapes and forms and without Him none of these forms can exist.

There could be a doubt at this stage regarding the different qualities of different people. Difference in qualities of people is due to their karmic account, which is accrued over several past births. This can be explained through another example. There are balloons in different shapes and forms, but the air within is always the same. This is further explained in the next aphorism.

Brahma Sūtras II.i.21

When Brahman is the embodiment of only good qualities and if all the beings are Brahman, how can the beings act against the fundamental principle of Brahman? As discussed in earlier parts, Brahman is present as the essence in all beings. There is difference between the Self and the self, where former is Brahman and later is an embodied soul or jīvāntaman. This is explained in Chāndogya Upaniṣhad (VI.iii.2). “Entering into fire, water and earth as the individual self, I shall manifest in many names and forms.” This principle was explained with balloons as example in the previous aphorism.  

The true nature of Brahman is concealed by māyā. Understanding the effects of māyā and transcending it is Self-realization. How is that Self? Chāndogya Upaniṣhad (VI.viii.7) explains the Self. “That which is the subtlest of all is the Self of all this. It is the Truth. It is the Self. You are That (the Self).” Now another question arises. When Brahman is the creator of the universe, why He has also created pains, miseries and sorrows? Why He has not created the world, only with happiness, so that people do not suffer. This is being explained in subsequent sūtra-s.

Brahma Sūtras II.i.22

Brahman (the Self) is far superior to an individual soul. This difference has already been dealt with in the first part of Brahma Sūtra. In order to avoid any confusion, this concept is taken up for discussion again. Now the question is, if Brahman is superior, is it not contrary to the statement “You are That”. No, it is not contrary to that statement, which always hold good.  Brahman is beyond attributes and qualities. He is not partaking in any of the activities of an individual person. Why He is not partaking in any of the activities of a person? He is not partaking in any of the activities, because He is beyond normal human mind. If He is not human mind, then what is Brahman? He is Sat-Cit-Ānanda and Satyaṁ-Jñānaṁ-Anantaṁ Brahma. This means that Brahman is not bound like the individual souls and is always infinite. Most importantly, a bounded soul cannot do anything for Him, as a bounded soul is only a miniscule before His macrocosm.

{Further reading: The difference between the Self and the self though has been discussed at length in the first chapter is being discussed again to understand this difference without any ambiguity. An individual soul is bound by māyā, spiritual ignorance, caused by His Power. Therefore, māyā is not an external factor of Brahman. This means māyā is inherent in Brahman. If māyā is considered as an external factor, then omnipresence of Brahman becomes questionable. How Brahman can be realized? This is answered in Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (II.iv.5). “The Self should be realized, should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon. By the realisation of the Self, through hearing, reflection and meditation, all this is known.” As long as Brahman is not realized, the difference between the meditator and the object of meditation (Brahman) always exist. But, in reality, the difference does not exist, but made to appear as different because of māyā. In simple terms, māyā causes confusion and illusion in the minds of humans, which in turn leads to the fallacious path to realization instead of correct path. The correct path is to know His Grandeur through meditation. Instead, māyā induces a person to seek Him elsewhere, except to seek Him within. Māyā also makes a person to spend major part of his life in getting involved in dualism instead of non-dualism. How? In dualistic worship, an idol or image is adored. In this case, the worshiper and the worshiped become two different objects. As long as this dualism prevails, where is the question of affirming “I am That”. Therefore, at this state of the aspirant, realization appears like mirage, as the aspirant has not even understood the reality of Brahman. After understanding Brahman, he has to become a person with a firm mind (sthitaprajña), then move on to the state of a yogi (yoking of individual consciousness and the Supreme Consciousness) and then become a jīvanmukta and finally merges with Brahman. However, jīvanmukta stage cannot be attained by everyone. This is the stage where a man realizes the Self during his life time and upon realization spends rest of his life only to spend his karmic account. If one desires to have liberation, in the first place, he has to have spiritual knowledge and after gaining knowledge from a learned Guru, he should practice meditation under his guidance and after repeated attempts, finally it dawns on him that He is also Brahman. Chāndogya Upaniṣhad (VIII.vii.1) says, “The Self has to sought for and thoroughly known.” This means that the Self cannot be worshiped; He can only be investigated, explored and finally known. This is the true state of realization. Many times, illusionary realization also happens. The aspirant feel that he has realized the Self and declares so, but in reality he is not realized. This happens due to non-annihilation of ego.}

Further Readings:

Brahma Sutra II.i.5 - 9

Brahma Sutra II.i.10 - 17

Brahma Sutra - II.i.23 - 28