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In this excerpt from his book "Spiritual Heritage of India", Swami Prabhavananda quotes a number of passages from the Upanishads concerning the indescribability of Brahman. In particular, he says this:

And again, in a passage preserved only in Shankara's commentary:

'"Sir," said a pupil to his master, "teach me the nature of Brahman." The master did not reply. When a second and a third time he was importuned, he answered: "I teach you indeed, but you do not follow. His name is silence."'

First of all, I'd preferably like to know what Upanishad this passage is taken from, even if the actual text of this Upanishad is no longer available. But failing that, my question is, where in the works of Adi Shankaracharya is this passage quoted?

It says that it's preserved in "Shankara's commentary". Does that mean one of his commentaries on the principal Upanishads, or his commentary on the Brahma Sutras, or what? I can't seem to find the quote outside of Swami Prabhavananda's book (or sources that cite it).

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    I don't know more than what the Swami has written. – Pradip Gangopadhyay May 7 '15 at 15:09
  • Yes, this is from Sankara. there are a few variations on it also. I'll try and give a citation. – Swami Vishwananda May 8 '15 at 7:58
  • @SwamiVishwananda Sai already found it, in the Brahma Sutra Bhashya. See his answer. But what do you mean by a few variations? – Keshav Srinivasan May 8 '15 at 13:57
  • @SwamiVishwananda Also, do you have any idea what the original Upanishad was, since Adi Shankaracharya says "shruyate"? – Keshav Srinivasan May 8 '15 at 14:37
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The quote is from Brahma Sutra Bhashya,

Third Adhyaya, Second Pada, Sutra 17

That Brahman is without any difference is proved by those scriptural passages also which expressly deny that it possesses any other characteristics; so, e.g. 'Next follows the teaching by No, no' (Bri. Up. II, 3, 6); 'It is different from the known, it is also above the unknown' (Ke. Up. I, 4); 'From whence all speech, with the mind, turns away unable to reach it' (Taitt. Up. II, 9).

Of a similar purport is that scriptural passage which relates how Bâhva, being questioned about Brahman by Vashkalin, explained it to him by silence, 'He said to him, "Learn Brahman, O friend," and became silent. Then, on a second and third question, he replied, "I am teaching you indeed, but you do not understand. Silent is that Self."'

The same teaching is conveyed by those Smriti-texts which deny of Brahman all other characteristics; so, e.g. 'I will proclaim that which is the object of knowledge, knowing which one reaches immortality; the highest Brahman without either beginning or end, which cannot be said either to be or not to be' (Bha. Gîtâ XIII, 12).

Of a similar purport is another Smriti-passage, according to which the omniform Nârâyana instructed Nârada, 'The cause, O Nârada, of your seeing me endowed with the qualities of all beings is the Mâyâ emitted by me; do not cognize me as being such (in reality).'

  • Thank you so much for finding this! Now it only increases my desire to find out what the original Upanishad was. But thanks to your help, at least I have the original Sanskrit quote: "sa hōvācādhīhi bhō iti sa tūṣṇī̃ babhūva taṁ ha dvitīyē tṛtīyē vā vacana uvāca brūmaḥ khalu tvaṁ tu na vijānāsi. upaśāntō'yamātmā iti." – Keshav Srinivasan May 8 '15 at 1:16
  • It looks like Gaudiya Vaishnavas believe that the Vashkalin mentioned by Adi Shankaracharya was actually an Asura; the ISKCON book "Beyond Nirvana" says he was the grandson of Hiranyakashipu and was killed by an earlier Vamana incarnation from a previous Manvantara (as opposed to the famous Vamana incarnation who killed Mahabali). – Keshav Srinivasan May 8 '15 at 3:58
  • By the way, I just posted a question about the notion that Vishnu has had multiple Vamana incarnations: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/7210/36 – Keshav Srinivasan May 8 '15 at 14:48
  • @KeshavSrinivasan I'm sorry. But where does it say that the two Vashkalins are the same? – Sai May 8 '15 at 15:56
  • @Sai The ISKCON book "Beyond Nirvana", page 78, says that the Vashkalin in the Adi Shankaracharya passage is the same as the Vashkalin killed by an earlier Vamana incarnation. – Keshav Srinivasan May 8 '15 at 16:07

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