Shankara leaves no scope for any doubt when he declares at the end of his commentary at 2.1.33, sUtra bhAShya, that “The shruti statement of creation does not relate to any reality, for it must not be forgotten that such a text is … meant for propounding the fact that everything has brahman as its Self.” (Translation by Swami Gambhirananda).
Shankara also asserts in his commentary on mantra 2.1.20, brihadAraNyaka: “Therefore the-mention in all Vedanta texts of the origin, continuity and dissolution of the universe is only to strengthen our idea of Brahman being a homogeneous unity, and not to make us believe in the origin etc. as an actuality.” (Trans: Swami Madhavananda).
He makes it abundantly clear in his commentary at 3.15, Gaudapada kArikA that “Therefore, we have reasonably to conclude that the scriptural statements regarding creation, etc., are for the purpose of helping the mind to realize the oneness of Atman, and for no other purpose whatsoever. Therefore, no multiplicity is brought about by creation, etc. (Translation by Swami Nikhilananda.)
The 35th Sringeri Acharya HH Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha was unequivocal when he told a disciple that “To cater to the doubts of such people (i.e. less advanced aspirants) as regards creation, the scriptures speak variously of origination. Scriptures are actually not concerned with creation at all.”
Venkat had earlier cited references from Gaudapada kArikA and I had referred to Shankara’s introduction to 2.4.1, aitareya, establishing the same point. However, Rick cited 1.1.2, BSB, 1.4.15, BSB, 6.2.3, chAndogya, 2.6.1, taittirIya and 1.1, aitareya in support of his claim of “deliberate creation by brahman.” I present below a detailed analysis of my understanding on these references.
The purpose of this sUtra is principally to demolish the Buddhist and other theories which postulate the non-existence (voidness) of a primordial substance in the beginning. Shankara’s arguments here, therefore, are aimed at establishing firstly the “Beingness” aspect of brahman and then the “Consciousness” aspect (through a reference to the entry of the Self citing 6.3.2, chAndogya). His arguments are not, therefore, about “proving” that brahman willfully created a world.
Shankara, tells us at this aphorism that “it is to be understood that the theory of non-existence, fancied by the people of dull intellect, is raised and repudiated with a view to strengthening the idea of Existence accepted by the Upanishads.”
I did not find any mention to “spontaneous creation” or its denial in this sUtra, as was alleged in Rick’s comment.
Hence, this sUtra, IMHO, has no relevance to creation nor does it go to prove that brahman “deliberately” created a world.
We should keep in mind what Shankara explains at the very beginning part of his commentary on this famous sUtra. He writes:
“(So the meaning of the whole aphorism is): That omniscient and omnipotent source must be brahman from which occur the birth, continuance, and dissolution of this universe that is manifested through name and form, that is associated with diverse agents and experiences, that provides the support for actions and results, having well-regulated space, time and causation, and that defies all thoughts about real nature of its creation.” [Translation by Swami Gambhirananda.]
Please note the last words in the above sentence “defies all thoughts about real nature of its creation.”
Further on, Shankara writes:
“The senses naturally comprehend objects and not brahman. Had brahman been an object of sense perception, knowledge would have been of the form, “This product is related to (i.e. produced by) brahman.” Again, even when the mere effect (i.e. universe) is cognized, one cannot ascertain whether it is related to brahman (as its cause) or to something else. Therefore, the aphorism, “That from which” etc., is not meant to present an inference.” [Translation by Swami Gsambhirananda.]
Hence, this sUtra, IMHO, does not go to prove that brahman “deliberately” created a world.
Shankara, right in the opening parts of his commentary, disproves the contention of the Sankhyans that “pradhAna” is the source for the world. He contends that pradhAna being insentient, cannot create a world. Thus, the import of his argument is that whatever is the source for the world, It has to be “sentient.” Nothing more can be legitimately inferred from his argument from this part of his commentary.
And after saying the above, Shankara hastens to add:
“What we assert is that it is Being itself which is perceived in a form other than its own, through duality and diversity ; and there is no nonexistence of anything anywhere. … , , do not make any assumption of anything-name or named, other than Being at any time or place. Whatever there is, in the form of name or named, which is imagined to be something different – all this is Being only. Just as it is the rope itself which, under the assumption of the serpent, is called ‘ serpent’ and just as the clod, jar and the rest come to be spoken of as different from the Clay or the assumption that all that is different from Clay, in ordinary life. For those, however, who know the real character of the Rope, the name as well as the idea of ‘serpent’ cease, and for those who know the real character of Ciay, the name and idea of ‘jar etc.,’ cease; in the same manner, for those who know the real character of Being, the name and idea of all other products cease.” [Translation by Dr. G.N. Jha; accension by me.]
Hence, Shankara’s clear and unambiguous exposition at this Upanishad mantra as stated above, IMHO, does not go to prove that brahman “deliberately” created a world.
Venkat has already clarified the meaning and purpose of this mantra by referring to the mantra that comes a little later, viz., 2.8.5.
We should note that the Upanishad does not say that the Self has become the individual. That is because the intrinsic nature of the individual is sentience (caitanya swabhAva). The sentience or Consciousness in the world, though present, is covered up and it does not coruscate in the world as it does in the case of the individual (jIva).
The body and the constituents of the body like the bones, muscle, blood etc. including respiration, thoughts and so on are ‘particulars.’ They are similar to any other finite objects of the world. The ‘Knowing element’ within us is different from and unattached to any of the body components. That Knowing element is the unchanging and infinite brahman Itself. Because It does not suffer any ‘change,’ It is said to have ‘entered.’
The Self appears as though It has come down from top passing through various layers of subtlety (the five sheaths of the body). Because the Self Itself pervades all the layers (five sheaths) It passed through, we are exhorted to move up taking each of the layers as “myself.” That is the way, we are told, to work our way to be the Self back again. Whether the apparent movement is taken to be top down or bottom up, actually we have to understand that It is all the One Self . There is no multiplicity ever.
Hence, Shankara’s clear and unambiguous exposition on this Upanishad, IMHO, does not go to prove that brahman “deliberately” created a world.
The aitareya Upanishad opens with the situation before the creation has taken place. It was said that AtmA alone was. It was also asserted that there was nothing else. We were told that It thought about creating worlds. Then It created the worlds and entered the individual (jIva). Thus, the world is just a “thought” (mere imagination). It is not a construction like an engineering structure.
The most important point to be noted is that What-IS is Knowingness (prajnAnam) only. There is no other entity or substance. This is the basic message of the Upanishad and its mahAvAkya (“prajnAnam brahma” – 3.1.3, aitareya).
When we forget our body while walking in the Sun and see that a shadow is closely following us, we will not know that the shadow is not anything else than us. If we are aware of our body and see the shadow with that awareness in mind, we will understand that the shadow is us only.
Likewise, we have to cognize ourselves as brahman and see the world also to be brahman. Remembering thus is prajnAnam brahma. Then, it will be understood that the one who cognizes is the individual (jIva) and that which is cognized is the shadow-like world (jagat). Both the individual and the world will be recognized then to be One and the same brahman.
That in essence is the gist of this mantra.
Hence, Shankara’s clear exposition on this Upanishad, IMHO, does not go to prove that brahman “deliberately” created a world.
PS: I dedicate this Post to my wife who passed on three years ago on this day (Aug 5).