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The Vedanta Sutras, commentary by Sankaracharya (SBE34), tr. by George Thibaut [1890] at

28. If it be said (that a contradiction will result) in respect of the word; we refute this objection on the ground that (the world) originates from the word, as is shown by perception and inference.

Let it then be granted that, from the admission of the corporeal individuality of the gods, no contradiction will result in the case of sacrificial works. Still a contradiction will result in respect of the 'word' (sabda).--How?--The authoritativeness of the Veda has been proved 'from its independence,' basing on the original (eternal) connection of the word with its sense ('the thing signified') 1. But now, although a divinity possessing corporeal individuality, such as admitted above, may, by means of its supernatural powers, be able to enjoy at the same time the oblations

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which form part of several sacrifices yet it will, on account of its very individuality, be subject to birth and death just as we men are, and hence, the eternal connexion of the eternal word with a non-eternal thing being destroyed, a contradiction will arise with regard to the authoritativeness proved to belong to the word of the Veda.

To this we reply that no such contradiction exists.--Why?--'On account of their origin from it.' For from that very same word of the Veda the world, with the gods and other beings, originates.--But--an objection will be raised--in Sûtra I, 1, 2 ('That whence there is the origin, &c. of this world') it has been proved that the world originates from Brahman; how then can it be said here that it originates from the word? And, moreover, even if the origin of the world from the word of the Veda be admitted, how is the contradiction in regard to the word removed thereby, inasmuch as the Vasus, the Rudras, the Âdityas, the Visvedevas, and the Maruts 1 are non-eternal beings, because produced; and if they are non-eternal, what is there to preclude the non-eternality of the Vedic words Vasu, &c. designating them? For it is known from every-day life that only when the son of Devadatta is born, the name Yaadatta is given to him (lit. made for him) 2. Hence we adhere to our opinion that a contradiction does arise with regard to the 'word.'

This objection we negative, on the ground that we observe the eternity of the connexion between such words as cow, and so on, and the things denoted by them. For, although the individuals of the (species denoted by the word) cow have an origin, their species 3 does not have an origin, since of (the three categories) substances, qualities, and actions the individuals only originate, not the species. Now it is with the species that the words are connected, not with the individuals, which, as being infinite in number, are not capable of entering into that connexion. Hence, although

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the individuals do not originate, no contradiction arises in the case of words such as cow, and the like, since the species are eternal. Similarly, although individual gods are admitted to originate, there arises no contradiction in the case of such words as Vasu, and the like, since the species denoted by them are eternal. And that the gods, and so on, belong to different species, is to be concluded from the descriptions of their various personal appearance, such as given in the mantras, arthavâdas, &c. Terms such as 'Indra' rest on the connexion (of some particular being) with some particular place, analogously to terms such as 'army-leader;' hence, whoever occupies that particular place is called by that particular name.--The origination of the world from the 'word' is not to be understood in that sense, that the word constitutes the material cause of the world, as Brahman does; but while there exist the everlasting words, whose essence is the power of denotation in connexion with their eternal sense (i. e. the âkritis denoted), the accomplishment of such individual things as are capable of having those words applied to them is called an origination from those words.

How then is it known that the world originates from the word?--'From perception and inference.' Perception here denotes Scripture which, in order to be authoritative, is independent (of anything else). 'Inference' denotes Smriti which, in order to be authoritative, depends on something else (viz. Scripture). These two declare that creation is preceded by the word Thus a scriptural passage says, 'At the word these Pragâpati created the gods; at the words were poured out he created men; at the word drops he created the fathers; at the words through the filter he created the Soma cups; at the words the swift ones he created the stotra; at the words to all he created the sastra; at the word blessings he created the other beings.' And another passage says, 'He with his mind united himself with speech (i. e. the word of the Veda.--Bri. Up. I, 2, 4). Thus Scripture declares in different places that the word precedes the creation.--Smrti also delivers itself as follows, 'In the beginning

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a divine voice, eternal, without beginning or end, formed of the Vedas was uttered by Svayambhû, from which all activities proceeded. 'By the 'uttering' of the voice we have here to understand the starting of the oral tradition (of the Veda), because of a voice without beginning or end 'uttering' in any other sense cannot be predicated.--Again, we read, 'In the beginning Mahesvara shaped from the words of the Veda the names and forms of all beings and the procedure of all actions.' And again, 'The several names, actions, and conditions of all things he shaped in the beginning from the words of the Veda' (Manu I, 21). Moreover, we all know from observation that any one when setting about some thing which he wishes to accomplish first remembers the word denoting the thing, and after that sets to work. We therefore conclude that before the creation the Vedic words became manifest in the mind of Pragâpati the creator, and that after that he created the things corresponding to those words. Scripture also, where it says (Taitt. Brâ. II, 2, 4, 2) 'uttering bhûr he created the earth,' &c., shows that the worlds such as the earth, &c. became manifest, i.e. were created from the words bhûr, &c. which had become manifest in the mind (of Pragâpati).

Of what nature then is the 'word' with a view to which it is said that the world originates from the 'word?'--It is the sphota, the pûrvapakshin says.  1 For on the assumption

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that the letters are the word, the doctrine that the individual gods, and so on, originates from the eternal words of the Veda could not in any way be proved, since the letters perish as soon as they are produced (i. e. pronounced). These perishable letters are moreover apprehended as differing according to the pronunciation of the individual speaker. For this reason we are able to determine, merely from the sound of the voice of some unseen person whom we hear reading, who is reading, whether Devadatta or Yaadatta or some other man. And it cannot be maintained that this apprehension of difference regarding the letters is an erroneous one; for we do not apprehend anything else whereby it is refuted. Nor is it reasonable to maintain that the apprehension of the sense of a word results from the letters. For it can neither be maintained that each letter by itself intimates the sense, since that would be too wide an assumption;  1 nor that there takes place a simultaneous apprehension of the whole aggregate of letters; since the letters succeed one another in time. Nor can we admit the explanation that the last letter of the word together with the impressions produced by the perception of the preceding letters is that which makes us apprehend the sense. For the word makes us apprehend the sense only if it is itself apprehended in so far as having reference to the mental grasp of the constant connexion (of the word and the sense), just as smoke makes us infer the existence of fire only when it is itself apprehended; but an apprehension of the last letter combined with the impressions produced by the preceding letters does not actually take place, because those impressions are not objects of perception.  2 Nor, again, can it be maintained that (although those impressions

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are not objects of perception, yet they may be inferred from their effects, and that thus) the actual perception of the last letter combined with the impressions left by the preceding letters--which impressions are apprehended from their effects--is that which intimates the sense of the word; for that effect of the impressions, viz. the remembrance of the entire word, is itself something consisting of parts which succeed each other in time.--From all this it follows that the sphote is the word. After the apprehending agent, i. e. the buddhi, has, through the apprehension of the several letters of the word, received rudimentary impressions, and after those impressions have been matured through the apprehension of the last letter, the sphota presents itself in the buddhi all at once as the object of one mental act of apprehension.--And it must not be maintained that that one act of apprehension is merely an act of remembrance having for its object the letters of the word; for the letters which are more than one cannot form the object of one act of apprehension.--As that sphota is recognised as the same as often as the word is pronounced, it is eternal; while the apprehension of difference referred to above has for its object the letters merely. From this eternal word, which is of the nature of the sphota and possesses denotative power, there is produced the object denoted, i. e. this world which consists of actions, agents, and results of action.

Against this doctrine the reverend Upavarsha maintains that the letters only are the word.--But--an objection is raised--it has been said above that the letters no sooner produced pass away!--That assertion is not true, we reply; for they are recognised as the same letters (each time they are produced anew).--Nor can it be maintained that the recognition is due to similarity only, as in the case of hairs, for instance; for the fact of the recognition being a recognition in the strict sense of the word is not contradicted by any other means of proof.--Nor, again, can it be said

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that the recognition has its cause in the species (so that not the same individual letter would be recognised, but only a letter belonging to the same species as other letters heard before); for, as a matter of fact, the same individual letters are recognised. That the recognition of the letters rests on the species could be maintained only if whenever the letters are pronounced different individual letters were apprehended, just as several cows are apprehended as different individuals belonging to the same species. But this is actually not the case; for the (same) individual letters are recognised as often as they are pronounced. If, for instance, the word cow is pronounced twice, we think not that two different words have been pronounced, but that the same individual word has been repeated.--But, our opponent reminds us, it has been shown above, that the letters are apprehended as different owing to differences of pronunciation, as appears from the fact that we apprehend a difference when merely hearing the sound of Devadatta or Yagñadatta reading.--Although, we reply, it is a settled matter that the letters are recognised as the same, yet we admit that there are differences in the apprehension of the letters; but as the letters are articulated by means of the conjunction and disjunction (of the breath with the palate, the teeth, &c.), those differences are rightly ascribed to the various character of the articulating agents and not to the intrinsic nature of the letters themselves. Those, moreover, who maintain that the individual letters are different have, in order to account for the fact of recognition, to assume species of letters, and further to admit that the apprehension of difference is conditioned by external factors. Is it then not much simpler to assume, as we do, that the apprehension of difference is conditioned by external factors while the recognition is due to the intrinsic nature of the letters? And this very fact of recognition is that mental process which prevents us from looking on the apprehension of difference as having the letters for its object (so that the opponent was wrong in denying the existence of such a process). For how should, for instance, the one syllable ga, when it is pronounced in

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the same moment by several persons, be at the same time of different nature, viz. accented with the udâtta, the anudâtta, and the Svarita and nasal as well as non-nasal 1? Or else 2--and this is the preferable explanation--we assume that the difference of apprehension is caused not by the letters but by the tone (dhvani). By this tone we have to understand that which enters the ear of a person who is listening from a distance and not able to distinguish the separate letters, and which, for a person standing near, affects the letters with its own distinctions, such as high or low pitch and so on. It is on this tone that all the distinctions of udâtta, anudâtta, and so on depend, and not on the intrinsic nature of the letters; for they are recognised as the same whenever they are pronounced. On this theory only we gain a basis for the distinctive apprehension of the udâtta, the anudâtta, and the like. For on the theory first propounded (but now rejected), we should have to assume that the distinctions of udâtta and so on are due to the processes of conjunction and disjunction described above, since the letters themselves, which are ever recognised as the same, are not different. But as those processes of conjunction and disjunction are not matter of perception, we cannot definitely ascertain in the letters any differences based on those processes, and hence the apprehension of the udâtta and so on remains without a basis.--Nor should it be urged that from the difference of the udâtta and so on there results also a difference of the letters recognised. For a difference in one matter does not involve a difference in some other matter which in itself is free from difference. Nobody, for instance, thinks that because the individuals

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are different from each other the species also contains a difference in itself.

The assumption of the sphota is further gratuitous, because the sense of the word may be apprehended from the letters.--But--our opponent here objects--I do not assume the existence of the sphota. I, on the contrary, actually perceive it; for after the buddhi has been impressed by the successive apprehension of the letters of the word, the sphota all at once presents itself as the object of cognition.--You are mistaken, we reply. The object of the cognitional act of which you speak is simply the letters of the word. That one comprehensive cognition which follows upon the apprehension of the successive letters of the word has for its object the entire aggregate of the letters constituting the word, and not anything else. We conclude this from the circumstance that in that final comprehensive cognition there are included those letters only of which a definite given word consists, and not any other letters. If that cognitional act had for its object the sphota--i. e. something different from the letters of the given word--then those letters would be excluded from it just as much as the letters of any other word. But as this is not the case, it follows that that final comprehensive act of cognition is nothing but an act of remembrance which has the letters of the word for its object.--Our opponent has asserted above that the letters of a word being several cannot form the object of one mental act. But there he is wrong again. The ideas which we have of a row, for instance, or a wood or an army, or of the numbers ten, hundred, thousand, and so on, show that also such things as comprise several unities can become the objects of one and the same cognitional act. The idea which has for its object the word as one whole is a derived one, in so far as it depends on the determination of one sense in many letters 1; in the same way as the idea of a

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wood, an army, and so on. But--our opponent may here object--if the word were nothing else but the letters which in their aggregate become the object of one mental act, such couples of words as gârâ and râgâ or pika and kapi would not be cognised as different words; for here the same letters are presented to consciousness in each of the words constituting one couple.--There is indeed, we reply, in both cases a comprehensive consciousness of the same totality of letters; but just as ants constitute the idea of a row only if they march one after the other, so the letters also constitute the idea of a certain word only if they follow each other in a certain order. Hence it is not contrary to reason that the same letters are cognised as different words, in consequence of the different order in which they are arranged.

The hypothesis of him who maintains that the letters are the word may therefore be finally formulated as follows. The letters of which a word consists--assisted by a certain order and number--have, through traditional use, entered into a connexion with a definite sense. At the time when they are employed they present themselves as such (i. e. in their definite order and number) to the buddhi, which, after having apprehended the several letters in succession, finally comprehends the entire aggregate, and they thus unerringly intimate to the buddhi their definite sense. This hypothesis is certainly simpler than the complicated hypothesis of the grammarians who teach that the sphota is the word. For they have to disregard what is given by perception, and to assume something which is never perceived; the letters apprehended in a definite order are said to manifest the sphota, and the sphota in its turn is said to manifest the sense.

Or let it even be admitted that the letters are different ones each time they are pronounced; yet, as in that case we necessarily must assume species of letters as the basis of the recognition of the individual letters, the function of conveying the sense which we have demonstrated in the case of the (individual) letters has then to be attributed to the species.

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From all this it follows that the theory according to which the individual gods and so on originate from the eternal words is unobjectionable.


201:1 The reference is to Pûrva Mîmâmsâ Sûtras I, 1, 5 (not to I, 2, 21, as stated in Muir's Sanskrit Texts, III, p. 69).

202:1 In which classes of beings all the gods are comprised.

202:2 Which shows that together with the non-eternality of the thing denoted there goes the non-eternality of the denoting word.

202:3 Âkriti, best translated by εἶδος.

204:1 The pûrvapakshin, i. e. here the grammarian maintains, for the reasons specified further on, that there exists in the case of words a supersensuous entity called sphota which is manifested by the letters of the word, and, if apprehended by the mind, itself manifests the sense of the word. The term sphota may, according as it is viewed in either of these lights, be explained as the manifestor or that which is manifested.--The sphota is a grammatical fiction, the word in so far as it is apprehended by us as a whole. That we cannot identify it with the 'notion' (as Deussen seems inclined to do, p. 80) follows from its being distinctly called vâkaka or abhidhâyaka, and its being represented as that which causes the conception of the sense of a word (arthadhîhetu).

205:1 For that each letter by itself expresses the sense is not observed; and if it did so, the other letters of the word would have to be declared useless.

205:2 In order to enable us to apprehend the sense from the word, there is required the actual consciousness of the last letter plus the impressions of the preceding letters; just as smoke enables us to p. 206 infer the existence of fire only if we are actually conscious of the smoke. But that actual consciousness does not take place because the impressions are not objects of perceptive consciousness.

208:1 'How should it be so?' i.e. it cannot be so; and on that account the differences apprehended do not belong to the letters themselves, but to the external conditions mentioned above.

208:2 With 'or else' begins the exposition of the finally accepted theory as to the cause why the same letters are apprehended as different. Hitherto the cause had been found in the variety of the upâdhis of the letters. Now a new distinction is made between articulated letters and non-articulated tone.

209:1 I. e. it is not directly one idea, for it has for its object more than one letter; but it may be called one in a secondary sense because it is based on the determinative knowledge that the letters, although more than one, express one sense only.

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