In Hindu philosophy there are three main Pramanas or valid means of knowledge: Pratyaksha or sensory perception, Anumana or inference, and Shabda or revelation/scripture. And there is a hierarchy of these Pramanas: Anumana is only applicable to those things which cannot be known through Pratyaksha, and Shabda is only applicable to those things which cannot be known through either Pratyaksha or Anumana.

Now in the first section of his commentary on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Advaita philosopher Adi Shankaracharya argues that the existence of a soul which transcends the body cannot be established by either Pratyaksha or Anumana Pramana, and thus we must rely on Shabda Pramana, specifically the Vedas, to know that the soul transcends he body.

Now, unless a person is aware of the existence of the self in a future life, he will not be induced to attain what is good and avoid what is evil in that life. For we have the example of the materialists. Therefore the scriptures proceed to discuss the existence of the self in a future life and the particular means of attaining the good and avoiding the evil in that life. For we see one of the Upaniṣads starts with the words, ‘There is a doubt among men regarding the life after death, some saying that the self exists, and others that it does not’ (Ka. I. 20), and concludes, ‘It is to be realised as existing indeed’ (Ka. VI. 13), and so on. Also, beginning with, ‘How (the self remains) after death’ (Ka. V. 6), it ends with, ‘Some souls enter the womb to get a new body, while others are born, as stationary objects (plants etc.), all according to their past work and knowledge’ (Ka. V. 7). Elsewhere beginning with, ‘The man (self) himself becomes the light’ (IV. iii. 9), it ends with, ‘It is followed by knowledge, work’ (IV. iv. 2). Also, ‘One becomes good through good work and evil through evil work’ (III. ii. 13). Again beginning with, ‘I will instruct you’ (II. i. 15), the existence of the extracorporeal self is established in the passage, ‘Full of consciousness (i.e. identified with the mind),’ etc. (II. i. 16-17).

Objection: "Is it not a matter of perception?"
Reply: No, for we see the divergence of opinion among different schools. Were the existence of the self in a future body a matter of perception, the materialists and Buddhists would not stand opposed to us, saying that there is no self. For nobody disputes regarding an object of perception such as a jar, saying it does not exist.
Objection: "You are wrong, since a stump, for instance, is looked upon as a man and so on."
Reply: No, for it vanishes when the truth is known. There are no more contradictory views when the stump, for instance, has been definitely known as such through perception. The Buddhists, however, in spite of the fact that there is the ego-consciousness, persistently deny the existence of the self other than the subtle body. Therefore, being different from objects of perception, the existence of the self cannot be proved by this means. Similarly inference too is powerless.
Objection: "No, since the Śruti (Veda) points out certain grounds of inference for the existence of the self, and these depend on perception, (these two are also efficient means of the knowledge of the self)."
Reply: Not so, for the self cannot be perceived as having any relation to another life. But when its existence has been known from the Śruti and from certain empirical grounds of inference cited by it, the Mīmāṃsakas and logicians, who follow in its footsteps, fancy that those Vedic grounds of inference such as the ego-consciousness are the products of their own mind, and declare that the self is knowable through perception and inference.

I'm interested in Adi Shankaracharya's claim that the existence of a soul which transcends the body cannot be known through Anumana or inference. The thing is, in his commentary on Adhyaya 3 Pada 3 Sutra 54 of the Brahma Sutras, Adi Shankaracharya refutes the view of Charvakas or materialists that the soul is the same as the body, and presents a logical argument that the soul must transcend the body:

The assertion that the Self is not separate from the body cannot be maintained. The Self rather must be something separate from the body, 'because the existence (of the Self) does not depend on the existence of that (i.e. the body).' For if from the circumstance that they are where the body is you conclude that the qualities of the Self are qualities of the body, you also must conclude from the fact that they are not where the body is that they are not qualities of the body, because thereby they show themselves to be different in character from the qualities of the body. Now the (real) qualities of the body, such as form and so on, may be viewed as existing as long as the body exists; life, movement, &c., on the other hand, do not exist even when the body exists, viz. in the state of death. The qualities of the body, again, such as form and so on, are perceived by others; not so the qualities of the Self, such as consciousness, remembrance, and so on. Moreover, we can indeed ascertain the presence of those latter qualities as long as the body exists in the state of life, but we cannot ascertain their non-existence when the body does not exist; for it is possible that even after this body has died the qualities of the Self should continue to exist by passing over into another body. The opposite opinion is thus precluded also for the reason of its being a mere hypothesis.--We further must question our opponent as to the nature of that consciousness which he assumes to spring from the elements; for the materialists do not admit the existence of anything but the four elements. Should he say that consciousness is the perception of the elements and what springs from the elements, we remark that in that case the elements and their products are objects of consciousness and that hence the latter cannot be a quality of them, as it is contradictory that anything should act on itself. Fire is hot indeed but does not burn itself, and the acrobat, well trained as he may be, cannot mount on his own shoulders. As little could consciousness, if it were a mere quality of the elements and their products, render them objects of itself. For form and other (undoubted) qualities do not make their own colour or the colour of something else their objects; the elements and their products, on the other hand, whether external or belonging to the Self (the organism) are rendered objects by consciousness. Hence in the same way as we admit the existence of that perceptive consciousness which has the material elements and their products for its objects, we also must admit the separateness of that consciousness from the elements. And as consciousness constitutes the character of our Self, the Self must be distinct from the body. That consciousness is permanent, follows from the uniformity of its character (and we therefore may conclude that the conscious Self is permanent also; as also follows) from the fact that the Self, although connected with a different state, recognises itself as the conscious agent--a recognition expressed in judgments such as 'I saw this,'--and from the fact of remembrance and so on being possible.

That sounds like he is using Anumana to establish the existence of a soul which transcends the body. So my question is, does Adi Shankaracharya believe that Anumana is able to establish the existence of a soul which transcends the body, or does he believe that it can only be established through the Vedas? Is there any way to reconcile his statements in these two works?

On a side note, Ramanujacharya and other commentators do not think that Adhyaya 3 Pada 3 Sutra 54 of the Brahma Sutas is about refutation of Charvakas and the existence of the soul; see my question here.

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    All reasoning is within the realm of maya. All reasoning is circular. The soul is beyond the sensual universe, therefore it cannot be proved by reasoning or inference or sensual experience. We must rely on scripture. Gita 16.24 - "Therefore let the scriptures be your guide in determining what ought to be done and what ought not to be done..." May 12, 2017 at 9:14
  • @SwamiVishwananda But then what about the argument that Adi Shankaracharya gives in his commentary on Adhyaya 3 Pada 3 Sutra 54 of the Brahma Sutras? He refutes the Charvaka view that the soul is the same as the body and presents a logical argument that there must exist a soul which transcends the body. May 12, 2017 at 13:54
  • @SwamiVishwananda By the way, can you take a look at my question here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/18275/36 May 12, 2017 at 14:25

2 Answers 2


Does Adi-Shankaracharya believe the exsistance of soul requires Scripture to establish.

I am trying to answer your question from translation of one Shloka from Adi Shankara's work Atma Bodha where he says - "Atman being luminous by nature , illumines itself does not depend on anything else for its manifestation."

स्वबोधे नान्यबोधेच्छा बोधरूपतयात्मन: ।
न दीपस्यान्यदीपेच्छा यथा स्वात्मप्रकाशने ।।28॥

swabodhe nānyabodhecchā bodharūpatyātmanaḥ
na dīpasyānyadīpecchā yathā svātmaprakāśane

As a lighted lamp does not need another lamp to manifest it's light , So Atman being consciousness itself , does not need another instrument of consciousness to illumine itself.

Another translation of the same is found Here

29. A lighted-lamp does not need another lamp to illumine its light. So too, Self which is knowledge itself needs no other knowledge to know it.

Conclusion - So from above passages we can see Adi Shankara's views on this , IMO he does not think that exsistance of soul requires Scripture to establish.

  • Adi Shankaracharya is speaking in that verse from the absolute perspective, in which Pratyaksha, Anumana, and Shabda are all invalid. I am talking about the relative perspective, i.e. the perspective of someone who is living under Maya. May 11, 2017 at 18:14
  • @KeshavSrinivasan - Ok , there is also one shloka related to that , i.e. the perspective of someone who is living under Maya. Will update the answer tomorrow. May 11, 2017 at 18:17
  • And also the purpose of my question is to find out how to reconcile Adi Shankaracharya's statement in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Bhashya and his statement in the Brahma Sutra Bhashya, which seem to be saying opposite things. May 11, 2017 at 18:32
  • Ok ,Got that ,Will try that also. Wish me luck :-) May 11, 2017 at 18:34

In the Brahmasutra bhashya for the very first sutra Shankara says:

The Self is known to everyone naturally. The need for the Veda is for this: The Self is known to everyone not specifically but wrongly imagined to be: karta, bhokta, etc.

सर्वो ह्यात्मास्तित्वं प्रत्येति, न ‘नाहमस्मि’ इति । यदि हि नात्मास्तित्वप्रसिद्धिः स्यात् , सर्वो लोकः ‘नाहमस्मि’ इति प्रतीयात् । आत्मा च ब्रह्म । यदि तर्हि लोके ब्रह्म आत्मत्वेन प्रसिद्धमस्ति, ततो ज्ञातमेवेत्यजिज्ञास्यत्वं पुनरापन्नम् ; न ; तद्विशेषं प्रति विप्रतिपत्तेः । देहमात्रं चैतन्यविशिष्टमात्मेति प्राकृता जना लोकायतिकाश्च प्रतिपन्नाः । इन्द्रियाण्येव चेतनान्यात्मेत्यपरे । मन इत्यन्ये । विज्ञानमात्रं क्षणिकमित्येके । शून्यमित्यपरे । अस्ति देहादिव्यतिरिक्तः संसारी कर्ता भोक्तेत्यपरे । भोक्तैव केवलं न कर्तेत्येके । अस्ति तद्व्यतिरिक्त ईश्वरः सर्वज्ञः सर्वशक्तिरिति केचित् । आत्मा स भोक्तुरित्यपरे । एवं बहवो विप्रतिपन्ना युक्तिवाक्यतदाभाससमाश्रयाः सन्तः । तत्राविचार्य यत्किञ्चित्प्रतिपद्यमानो निःश्रेयसात्प्रतिहन्येत, अनर्थं चेयात् । तस्माद्ब्रह्मजिज्ञासोपन्यासमुखेन वेदान्तवाक्यमीमांसा तदविरोधितर्कोपकरणा निःश्रेयसप्रयोजना प्रस्तूयते ॥ १ ॥

In the above bhashya several schools have been alluded to, including the Vedantin. Shankara says: The enquiry into Brahman (which is the same as the Self) is thus necessitated to know the Self correctly (and not as karta, bhokta, samsari, etc.). This answers the question: whether Shankara is of the opinion that the Shruti is required to know the existence of Self. In the 'eke atmanah sharire bhaavaat' discourse, since Shankara is answering the materialist, who does not believe in shruti, only arguments, logic, is presented to show, by anvaya-vyatireka logic, that the sentient self has to be admitted and the inert body cannot be regarded as the self. In effect: The shruti is required to teach us the exact nature of the self. Of course, in the context of determining that the jiva is a eternal entity and not the body that is born and ends, the shruti is required as the after-life is known only through the shruti pramana, being atindriya. This sums up all the issues related to the question and hence there is no contradiction in Shankara's various statements across the bhashyas. If they are seen in their proper contexts, their correctness can be appreciated.

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