Advaitins usually use the term 'Self' to address Atman (the undivided portion of Brahman that pervades the five sheaths). Yet Vireswarananda used the word 'soul' to address Atman, in his translation of Shankara's Brahma Sutra Bhashya.

We can always ignore the terms used and instead pay attention to the context but the more i went through the verses of Shankara's Brahma Sutra Bhashya translated by Vireswarananda, i noticed it deviates from non-duality, or so it appears to me.

Below is a Brahma Sutra bhashya verse of Shankara translated by Vireswarananda.

Brahma-Sutra 2.3.19: Sanskrit text and English translation.

उत्क्रान्तिगत्यागतीनाम् ॥ १९ ॥

utkrāntigatyāgatīnām || 19 ||

utkrānti-gati-āgatīnām—Passing out, going, and returning.

  1. (As the Sruti texts declare the soul’s) passing out, going (to other spheres) and returning (thence), (the soul is not infinite in size).

From this up to Sutra 82 the question of the size of the soul--whether it is atomic, medium-sized or infinite—is discussed. We have in the Svetas-vatara Upanishad : “He is the one God . . . all-pervading” (6. 11); and again. “This Atman is atomic” (Mu. 3. 3. 9). The two texts contradict each other and we have to arrive at a decision on the point. Sutras 20-28 set forth the prima facie view. The opponent says, we find in the scriptures texts mentioning the soul’s passing out of the body, going to heaven etc., and returning from there. This is possible only if the soul is atomic, and not infinite or all-pervading; for to an infinite soul there can be no going and coming. Therefore the soul is atomic.

The next verse says-

Brahma-Sutra 2.3.20: Sanskrit text and English translation.

स्वात्मना चोत्तरयोः ॥ २० ॥

svātmanā cottarayoḥ || 20 ||

svātmanā—(Being connected) directly with their agent; ca—and; uttarayoḥ—the latter two;

  1. And the latter two (the going and coming) (being connected) directly with their agent (the soul), (it is of atomic size).

Even if the soul is infinite, still it can be spoken of as passing out of the body, if by that term is meant ceasing to be the ruler of the body. But the two latter activities, viz.the going and coming, is not possible for an entity that is all-pervading. So the soul is atomic in size.

In the above two verses (and maybe more), Vireswarananda says that the eternal Atman (translated as soul all through out his book), is atomic in size. But all other Advaita scholars of today holds onto the view that Self/Atman which is the same as Brahman, is actually indivisible, infinite and all-pervasive. It cannot be divided or cut into pieces. It cannot be imprisoned into a body. It cannot have a size or shape or form (like that of atomic) either. And yet we see here, that the infinite, limitless Atman is reduced to a size.

Some of you may say, that its Brahman that is infinite or all-pervasive and not Atman. But doesn't Advaita say Brahman and Atman are not two, but one and the same. Once you remove the upadhi called pot/five-sheaths, then the brahman inside (which is atman) will become one with the brahman outside. Isn't that what advaita teaches us?

Again, in the above two verses, either Vireswarananda, Shankara or Badarayana (im not sure) speaks of Atman who comes and goes, as in travels or transmigrates to other physical bodies or goes to heaven after death. This is a pure dualistic belief of the gaudiya-vaishnavas that atman travels to heavenly abodes and also transmigrates to other bodies.

Pure mainstream Advaitins of today completely rejects this idea of Atman transmigrating to other physical bodies or in heaven/hell after death. To the mainstream advaitins, its the jiva (causal/subtle body) containing all the dispositions or samskaras that travels or transmigrates to other gross bodies or to heaven/hell.

To the majority of the advaitins, the Atman which is non-different from Brahman is infinite and all-pervasive like akasa and has no place to move/travel/transmigrate. And yet this Atman (as per advaita) appears to be separate or divided due to the upadhis called sheaths. It appears to be a travelling entity, due to ignorance. But in reality it isn't.

And yet in these verses we see Vireswarananda, Shankara or Badarayana (not sure who) is saying, just like how the dualists say, that Atman is a transmigrating entity.

All through out his translation, Vireswarananda uses the term 'soul' to refer to the eternal Atman, which according to him or Shankara or Badarayana, has a size/shape and also travels, which is completely opposite to what advaitins believe.

Am i correct in my judgement towards the non-advaitic nature of these verses or did i fail to comprehend what Shankara or Vireswarananda is trying to say here.

Please help me understand.

Thank you.

  • You are conflating the modern scientific usage of the word with the ancient scriptural usage. The scriptural usage is meant to convey that it is extremely small, smaller than small. It is not meant to convey physical size. Mar 31 at 5:39
  • @SwamiVishwananda And the transmigratory aspect spoken here? Does Shankara accept in his Bhashya that Atman transmigrates? ... Please do reply ... And no offence, but I have noticed that you do not reply to furthur questions posted by users. This is not a sign of healthy discussion. If you're here to impart knowledge, then please do it properly. Only a single post is not enough to drive away the uncertainties and confusions from the minds of the inquisitors. Mar 31 at 8:13

1 Answer 1


English translators should have left terms like the Atman and sraddha untranslated.

The answer to this questions is given in Brahma Sutra II.iii.29.

But the soul comes to have such appellations because of the dominance of the modes of that intellect; this is just as in the case of the supreme self.

Brahma Sutra II.iii.29

As a last resort, the soul is omnipresent. To explain how in that case, there can be any mention of atomicity etc., the aphorism says, "But the soul comes to have such appellations because of the dominance of the modes of that intellect". Desire, dislike, happiness, sorrow, etc. are the modes of that intellect. These modes constitute the essence or chief factors in the attainment of the state of transmigratoriness by the soul. For unless it be through the modes of intellect there can be no transmigratory state for the absolute Self. Though the Self is not an agent and experiencer, and though It has no transmigratoriness and is ever free, still It comes to have the states of being an agent and an experiencer, this being caused by the superimposition of the modes of the intellect acting as a limiting adjunct. Hence owing to the predominance of the modes of that intellect, the soul is said to have a dimension corresponding to that of the intellect. And it is sad to depart from the body and so on, in accordance as the intellect does so; but the soul does not do so naturally.

Brahma Sutra Bhasya II.iii.29 of Sri Sankaracharya

The Atman is all pervading and does not transmigrate. It appears to be atomic and appears to transmigrate when experienced through the mind of a Jiva. The mind finitizes the Atman.

  • 1
    Thanks for clearing up my confusion. I haven't gone through the whole Bhashya. I only stumbled upon those two verses (which are there in my original post), while doing a google search and it 'appeared' to me they're not advaitic (that's due to my ignorance ofcourse) for i haven't read the complete text ... And even if i did so, on my own, i still would have needed some guidance from experts, like you for instance :) Thanks again. Apr 1 at 14:44

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