As I discuss in this answer, by far the most popular school of Hindu philosophy is the Vedanta school, which bases its tenets on the doctrines laid out in the Brahma Sutras, a work by the sage Vyasa which summarizes and systematizes the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads. You can read the Brahma Sutras here; they consist of concise sayings, so people usually read them with the help of a commentary. Numerous commentaries have been written on them, by proponents of various Vedantic philosophies. The commentary of the Sri Vaishnava sect, for instance, is the Sri Bhashya of Ramanujacharya, which you can read here.

But my question is about the commentary of Adi Shankaracharya, which written from the perspective of Advaita. Specifically, the commentary on the following Sutra (Adhayaya 1, Pada 1, Sutra 12):

ānanda-mayo 'bhyāsāt

(The Self) consisting of bliss (is the highest Self) on account of the repetition (of the word 'bliss,' as denoting the highest Self).

Concerning this Sutra, Adi Shankaracharya says this:

The Taittirîya-upanishad (II, 1-5), after having enumerated the Self consisting of food, the Self consisting of the vital airs, the Self consisting of mind, and the Self consisting of understanding, says, 'Different from this which consists of understanding is the other inner Self which consists of bliss.' Here the doubt arises whether the phrase, 'that which consists of bliss,' denotes the highest Brahman of which it had been said previously, that 'It is true Being, Knowledge, without end,' or something different from Brahman, just as the Self consisting of food, &c., is different from it.

And he argues that the first option is the correct one. From this, two facts seem clear:

  1. Adi Shankaracharya is saying that this Sutra is about the quote "Different from this which consists of understanding is the other inner Self which consists of bliss" from Chapter 5 of the Anandavalli of Taittiriya Upanishad.

  2. Adi Shankaracharya is saying that the quote I mentioned above is referring to the highest Brahman.

The reason these are significant is that chapters 2-5 of the Anandavalli of the Taittiriya Upanishad are generally considered to be a description of the Pancha Kosha. For those who don't know, an embodied being is thought to be made up of five layers or selves: the Annamaya self consisting of food, the Pranamaya self consisting of breath, the Manomaya self consisting of mind, the Vijnanamaya self consisting of understanding, and the Annandamaya self consisting of bliss. The first is called the gross body, the middle three are said to be part of the subtle body, and the Annandamaya self is considered the causal body. Advaitins generally seem to believe that Brahman is not the same as any of these five, because they think that it is deeper than even the causal body.

And yet it seems like Adi Shankaracharya is adopting a different viewpoint in his commentary on the Brahma Sutras. Assuming I am right about statements 1 and 2, and right again in assuming that the Taittiriya Upanishad chapter in question is referring to the Anandamaya self, the clear implication is that Adi Shankaracharya is equating Brahman with the causal body.

I can think of three ways to avoid this conclusion:

A. Arguing that Adi Shankaracharya is not talking about that chapter of the Taittiriya Upanishad. That seems untenable because Adi Shankaracharya specifically says that he is discussing that quote.

B. Arguing that Adi Shankaracharya is not saying that the thing he is talking about is the highest Brahman. That seems even more implausible, because he explicitly says that it is the highest Brahman.

C. Arguing that Adi Shankaracharya is merely saying that bliss is Brahman, and that he is not at all that the Anandamaya self or causal body is Brahman. That seems implausible to me, because in Adi Shankaracharya's commentary on that chapter of the Taittiriya Upanishad, he apparently says that that chapter is about the Anandamaya Kosha. So assuming statements 1 and 2 are correct, that would imply that in the Brahma Sutra he is saying that the Anandamaya self is the highest Brahman.

So where am I going wrong? How can we reconcile Adi Shankaracharya's statements in the Brahma Sutra Bhashya with his statements elsewhere (like his commentary on the Taittiriya Upanishads) and the common Advaitin view concerning Brahman transcending the Anandamaya self? Are there any subcommentaries (i.e. commentaries on Adi Shankaracharya's commentary) that address this issue?

  • Will give a detailed answer but will take a few days to compose. In the meantime, this is a better translation by Swami Vireswarananda - wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/brahma-sutras/index.html - If you click on 'click here to visit the source' you can download as a pdf. – Swami Vishwananda Feb 25 '15 at 13:43
  • @SwamiVishwananda OK thanks. By the way, what Swami Vireswarananda says about Sutra 12 is highly confusing: Http://wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/brahma-sutras/d/doc62766.html He seems to be suggesting that the stuff that is in everyone else's translations of Adi Sankaracharya's commentary on Sutra 12 is just Upavarsha's vritti on Sutra 12, and that Adi Shankaracharya's commentary says something entirely: "So Sankara replaces this interpretation of the Sutras, which Ânandagiri attributes to the Vrittikâra, by another, which we have reproduced above." – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 25 '15 at 15:46
  • @SwamiVishwananda But this makes no sense to me, because the original Sanskrit text of Adi Shankaracharya's commentary here seems to correspond entirely with what Vireswarananda calls Upavarsha's vritti, and it doesn't contain Adi Shankaracharya's supposed "replacement" where he expresses disagreement with the vritti. Is the replacement only found in Anandagiri's commentary? If so, I'd like to read Ananadagiri's commentary. Is it available in English? – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 25 '15 at 15:50
  • This Yahoo groups post makes the same claim that Vireswarananda makes: groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/advaitin/conversations/messages/… "This view of the vrittikara that anandamaya is Paramatma is refuted by the Siddhanti, Sri Shankaracharya, by adducing the reason that the sentence 'Brahma puccham pratishtha' occurring after the delineation of the avayavas priya, moda etc., is to be taken to mean that Brahman is the support, pratishta, for the jiva, since anandamaya, is superimposed on the adhishthana Brahman." So perhaps there's a missing part of Adi Shankaracharya's Bhashya. – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 25 '15 at 20:44

This is what could find about this sutra,

Have other saints commented on Shankara's commentary for this sutra?

I am looking for such commentaries on commentaries, I found this one, where Swami Sivananda has commented on Shankara's views in his Brahma Sutra commentary:

In BRAHMA SUTRAS by Sri Swami Sivananda, Page 32, in His commentary on Sutra I.1.12,

Thus, the Sutra establishes that Anandamaya is Brahman. But the commentator Sankara has a new orientation of outlook in this regard. The Archarya says that Anandamaya cannot be Brahman because Anandamaya is one of the five sheaths or Koshas of the individual, the other four being Annamaya (physical body), Pranamaya (vital body), Manomaya (mental body), and Vijnanamaya (intellectual body). The Anandamaya is actually the causal body which determines the functions of the other sheathes. The individual enters into the Anandamaya sheath in deep sleep and enjoys bliss there, which is the reason why this sheath is called Anandamaya (bliss-filled). A coverage of individuality cannot be regarded as Brahman. Further, if Anandamaya had been Brahman itself, the individual in deep sleep will be united with Brahman in that condition. But this does not happen since one who goes to sleep returns to ordinary waking experience. Hence the Anandamaya is not Brahman.

This is what Swami Vishweshwarananda says about that translation (which you and Swamiji already have read but anyway for other readers reproduced here below):

Sankara objects to this interpretation of the Sutras and says that Anandamaya cannot be the highest Brahman. First of all, there is no justification, for suddenly changing the interpretation of the suffix 'mayat' from modification in the case of Vijnanamaya, Pranamaya, etc. in the preceding passages to abundance in the case of Anandamaya, so as to make this word refer to Brahman. Again the very idea of preponderance or abundance of bliss suggests there is also misery in it, however slight. Such an idea with respect to Brahman is absurd. So Sankara replaces this interpretation of the Sutras, which Anandagir attributes to the Vrittikara, by another, which we have reproduced above.

here is what Dr. George Thibaut (the one whose translation is provided in vedantabase I guess) says about Shankaracharya's commentary (I have removed some of His own opinion from the quote so that it makes it bit more neutral)

Adhik. VI (12-19) raises the question whether the anandamaya, mentioned in Taittriya Upanishad II, 5, is merely a transmigrating individual soul or the highest Self. Sankara begins by explaining the Sutras on the latter supposition... gives, however, finally the preference to a different explanation according to which the Sutras teach that the anandamaya is not Brahman, since the Upanishad expressly says that Brahman is the tail or support of the anandamaya.

Reference: The Vedanta Sutras by Dr. George Thibaut.

Here is another source where Swami Nikhilananda displays knowledge of Shankara's disagreement that Anandamaya kosha is the Supreme Brahman itself (from Swami Nikhilananda’s translation of the Taittiriya):

It should be noted that the Taittiriya Upanishad itself stops its descriptions of the successive ‘selves’ with the Anandamaya kosha. There is therefore the implication that this is the ‘highest’ Self, i.e. that it is not itself a ‘covering’ of something further. This doubt is raised in the Brahma Sutra Topic 6 (Anandamayo.bhyAsAt – I.1.12 – 19). The doubt raised is that Anandamaya cannot be the paramAtman because it has the form of the body, has parts (head, tail etc) and has joy, whereas the Self is formless, partless and limitless. The sutra concludes that it is Brahman, because Ananda is repeatedly uses as an ‘indicator’ or ‘characteristic’ of Brahman. The Taittiriya concludes that ‘Ananda is Brahman’ (II.6.1) and the Brihadaranyaka says that ‘Knowledge and bliss is Brahman’ (II.9.27) so the ‘Self made of bliss’ must be Brahman also. It is the most subtle in the series of increasing levels of subtlety pointed out in the metaphor.

Shankara disagrees and states that Anandamaya is not Brahman but the last of the five sheaths. It is the ‘causal body’ for the other four. We enjoy bliss in deep sleep but we are clearly not ‘united’ with Brahman because we return to ordinary waking afterwards. Anandamaya is the fluctuating bodily enjoyment or ‘reflection of’ the real Ananda, whereas Ananda itself is Brahman.

Reference: Swami Nikhilananda’s translation of the Taittiriya.

Has Adi Shankara provided His knowledge about the Anandamaya Kosha in His other works?

Let us see what Adi Shankaracharya says in Vivekachudamani, 207

The blissful sheath (Anandamaya Kosha) is that modification of Nescience which manifests itself catching a reflection of the Atman which is Bliss Absolute; whose attributes are pleasure and the rest; and which appears in view when some object agreeable to oneself presents itself. It makes itself spontaneously felt by the fortunate during the fruition of their virtuous deeds; from which every corporeal being derives great joy without the least effort.

Also Vivekachudamani, 209

Nor is the blissful sheath the Supreme Self, because it is endowed with the changeful attributes, is a modification of the Prakriti, is the effect of past good deeds, and imbedded in the other sheaths which are modifications.

So everybody seems to be aware of the fact that Shankaracharya believed that Anandamaya kosha is not Brahman. Also everyone refers to the fact that Shankaracharya in His Brahma Sutra Bashya expressed the interpretation that Anandamaya Kosha is not Brahman. Now comes the question, where in the Sutra does Shankaracharya actually refute that Anandamaya is not Brahman?

Where in the Sutra does He actually provide His arguments against the traditional interpretation of the Sutra

It turns out that all this information is present in His commentary on Sutra 19 - I.1.19. I am not sure if it is present in the Internet link which you showed me. But in the book that I am looking at, which is


it is very clear what Shankaracharya is saying:

But, in reality, the following remarks have to be made concerning the true meaning of the word 'ânandamaya[111].' On what grounds, we ask, can it be maintained that the affix 'maya' after having, in the series of compounds beginning with annamaya and ending with vijńânamaya, denoted mere modifications, should all at once, in the word ânandamaya, which belongs to the same series, denote abundance, so that ânandamaya would refer to Brahman?

and also

We therefore must conclude that the affix maya, in the word ânandamaya, does not denote abundance, but expresses a mere effect, just as it does in the words annamaya and the subsequent similar compounds.

and also

And as Brahman is the cause, it cannot at the same time be called the member, in the literal sense of the word, of the Self of bliss, which is nothing but one of Brahman's effects. The other Sutras also (which refer to the Self of bliss[114]) are to be considered, as well as they may, as conveying a knowledge of Brahman, which (Brahman) is referred to in the passage about the tail.

If it were a settled matter that Brahman is denoted by the term, 'the Self consisting of bliss,' then we could assume that in the subsequent passages, where merely the word 'bliss' is employed, the term 'consisting of bliss' is meant to be repeated; but that the Self consisting of bliss is not Brahman, we have already proved by means of the reason of joy being its head, and so on. Hence, as in another scriptural passage, viz. 'Brahman is knowledge and bliss' (Bri. Up. III, 9, 28), the mere word 'bliss' denotes Brahman, we must conclude that also in such passages as, 'If that bliss existed not in the ether,' the word bliss is used with reference to Brahman, and is not meant to repeat the term 'consisting of bliss.' The repetition of the full compound, 'consisting of bliss,' which occurs in the passage, 'He reaches that Self consisting of bliss' (Taitt. Up. II, 8), does not refer to Brahman, as it is contained in the enumeration of Non-Selfs, comprising the Self of food, &c., all of which are mere effects, and all of which are represented as things to be reached.-

This is all very heavy stuff. So let me provide what I understood from it:

He is basically saying that while the repitition of the word 'bliss' would imply that Bliss is Brahman that does not mean that the 'Self consisting of Bliss' denotes it. He is saying that the sentence 'consisting of bliss' implies that the term bliss is in this context an effect of the Self. Thus the Self is above it. If 'Self consisting of bliss' was the Highest Brahman, then the sentence 'consisting of bliss' would be repeated over scripture to denote Brahman. But that is not so, only bliss is repeated.

The entire commentary gives a detailed refutation. However, I do not want to quote everything here. The book is available on Google. All the best.

  • 1
    Thanks for your answer. I actually discovered this on my own about 5 minutes before you posted your answer. Yeah, it is there in the sacred-texts site I linked to: sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe34/sbe34025.htm It's pretty funny, I logically laid out every possible explanation I could think of for the discrepancy, but the actual explanation is something completely unexpected: it's that he didn't mean what he said in everything I quoted. He was just explaining the viewpoint of Upavarsha's vritti! – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 25 '15 at 21:26
  • @KeshavSrinivasan haha glad that the confusion is resolved :) – Sai Feb 25 '15 at 21:32
  • Sai's answer and your response are good. I won't answer. If you want further scriptural reference then there's Sri Vidyaranya Swami's Pancadasi XI. 58-100., Sankaracharya's Panchikaranam verses 42-43., Gambhirananda's translation of Taittiriya Upanishad II. v. 1. (Sankara's commentary on this verse), Mandukya Upanishad V.-VI. (and Sankara's commentary on these verses), and Chhandogya Upanishad VI. ix.-xi. with commentary, Sri-Bhasya 3.2.9, and Vedantasara 39-49. – Swami Vishwananda Feb 26 '15 at 11:11
  • @SwamiVishwananda Thanks for the references. By the way, your earlier remark to me about Adi Shankaracharya not talking about the Anandamaya self in his commentary in Sutra 12 wasn't accurate, right? Isn't the correct explanation that Adi Shankaracharya did mean the Anandamaya self in that passage, but that he was expressing the view of Upavarsha's vritti and not his own view? – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 28 '15 at 3:21
  • @keshavsrinivasan yes, he was only saying what Upavarsha's vitti view was. The translation you were referring to did not have all of Sankara's commentary. Vireswarananda's translation had the more complete commentary of Sankara to the verse including the reference to Upavarsha. – Swami Vishwananda Mar 1 '15 at 4:40

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