Trimūrti abheda in the Brahmasūtra
The Brahma sūtras of Bhagavān Bādarāyaṇa (admitted to be non-different from Veda Vyāsa by Vedāntins) teach the nature and method of realizing Brahman. At the start of the sūtras we have ‘atha ato brahmajijñāsā’ which stipulates the need for enquiry into Brahman. In order to help understanding or identifying what this Brahman is whose enquiry is ordained, the second sūtra says: janmādi asya yataḥ. This means: that is Brahman from which the creation, sustenance and dissolution of the world takes place. Now, in popular parlance it is known that these three functions are associated with three devatās: brahmā, viṣṇu and maheśvara. Even though there is this popular association, yet, for the sūtrakāra it is one entity only that constitutes the source of creation, etc. of the world. We therefore see that there is a singularity of the Cause and no plurality as misunderstood by many. We are asked to enquire, know, realize One Brahman and not multiple deities in order to achieve liberation. In order to confirm that singularity the sūtrakāra says in the next sūtra: śāstra yonitvāt’ giving us thereby another indicatory mark by which we can understand the nature of Brahman: that which is the source/author of the scripture. Shankara also interprets this sūtra alternatively as ‘that which is known only through the medium of the scripture.’
Apart from the above conclusion of the sūtra that Brahman that is the cause of creation, etc. is one only and not multiple deities, we have the upaniṣadic pramāṇa too to show that:
- The very ‘viṣaya vākya’ of the stated Brahma sūtra 2 is the Taittiriya passage:
Yato vā imāni bhūtāni jāyante, yena jātāni jīvanti, yat prayantyabhisamviśanti tad vijijñāsasva, tad brahma [Know that to be Brahman whence originates creation, by which it is sustained and in which it lapses] The Upanishad here culminates in identifying this Brahman that is the Cause of creation, etc. as Ananda. The upaniṣad does not say that the three functions are carried out by three different entities. The Mundaka upaniṣad too says: That in which this entire creation rests is One only and know that to be the Ātman. ‘..tam ekam jānatha ātmānam…’
- नमः सवित्रे जगदेकचक्षुषे
This very popular verse, which smārtas recite thrice a day during their sandhyā worship, from the Sūrya maṇḍalāṣṭakam says: Sūrya (actually the Supreme Effulgence, which is also the devatā of the Gāyatri mantra) is the Cause of the creation, etc. It gives the additional information that the three functions such as creation take place by the association of Brahman with the three guṇas: sattva, etc. thereby calling the bluff of some disgruntled elements’ erroneous thinking that ‘Śiva is a tāmasa devatā’ without understanding that it is Brahman that is assuming that guṇa (as clarified by Shankaracharya in the Viṣṇu sahasra nāma bhāṣya) which is inevitable to perform Its function of dissolution. In fact the asura samhāra by Viṣṇu as Narasimha, for instance, is impossible without that guṇa. This is stated explicitly by the Bhāgavatam in the Narasimha avatāra episode and the Ramayana too where Rāma gets into extreme anger mode during the slaying of opponents. By derogatorily applying that epithet ‘tāmasa’ to Śiva, the vaiṣṇava bigots do not know that they are doing that to Brahman, which they hold to be none but Viṣṇu, which is only confirmed by the Bhāgavatam and the Vālmiki Rāmāyaṇa.
- There are innumerable purāṇic verses, several of which Shankaracharya cites in the Viśṇu sahasranāma bhāṣya to the effect that the trimūrtis ought not to be differentiated. And that he who differentiates them will be roasted in the lowliest hells. If these sources are said to be from ‘tāmasik’ purāṇas, then the attribution of tāmasatva to Veda vyāsa, the acclaimed author of these purāṇas, is unavoidable. The Padmapurāṇa, in its section on the praise of the 12th canto of the Bhāgavatam says that ‘he is the true, great, vaiṣṇava who holds Hari, Hara and Durga to be non-different and that they are verily Brahman.’ The question would arise as to why there are several references to the difference across the trimūrtis, sometimes even saying Viṣṇu is the progenitor of Brahmā and Rudra and sometimes that Rudra is the one from whose two shoulders originated Vishnu and Brahmā (in the Mahabharata), that Nārāyaṇa’s invincibility in any battle, even with Rudra, is because of a boon conferred upon the former by the latter as a result of a great penance by Nārāyaṇa aimed at Rudra (Mahābhārata Drona parva)? The reply is simple: it is beyond the capacity of some people to comprehend the Tattva that it is one Brahman that in fact is responsible for the three functions. There is need to provide an occasion for such lower adhikārins to contemplate, upāsana, on individual deities and hence the specifying of the three deities for the three functions. This ‘breaking down’ of the One Brahman into three is resorted to for this purpose alone. Only Advaitins can understand such nuances.
- There is the Praśnopaniṣad reference 2.9 where the Upaniṣad itself says that it is one power, called prāṇa, prajāpati (which is generally accepted as Brahmā, hiraṇyagarbha), that appears as Rudra, the destroyer and the protector. The advaitic commentator on Shankara identifies it as Viṣṇu: ‘viṣṇvādirūpeṇa’. So we have the upaniṣad pramāṇa for the trimurti abheda.
- There are some, who are ignorant of Advaita, evidently non-advaitins, who try to gloss over the countless references in the Upanishads, for instance the Atharvaśikhā, the Praśnopaniṣat, the Maitrāyaṇi, and innumerable purāṇas and the Mahābhārata about the non-difference of the trimurtis as an instance of ‘pāramārthika’ abheda. This extremely weak argument suffers from two strong defects: (a) the idea of ‘pāramārthika’ abheda is admitted only in advaita and if they say this, then they are giving up their stance that ‘the śruti, smṛtis and purāṇa, itihāsas never teach advaita.’ In fact those schools came up only with this premise. (b) the ‘pāramārthika’ abheda in advaita is never on individual basis but on the total creation. For instance in the Tat tvam asi, the ‘tat’ is the cause of the entire creation of sentient and inert. The jīva consciousness is identified with this ‘tat’. The ‘pāramārthika’ abheda is never achieved by singling out Hari and Hara or the trimurtis. Those who have no exposure to the Advaita śāstra by a study under a qualified, traditional āchārya but have to depend only on translations, self-study and dictionaries, will never be able to grasp the above idea. For knowing that the incarnations Rāma, Kṛṣṇa and Narasimha are non-different really, one need not go to the advaitic ‘pāramārthika’ abheda. It is common knowledge, in the vyāvahārika itself, as even non-advaitins hold, that these three are only incarnations of Viṣṇu and thereby are not different really. In fact the Dvaitins declare that seeing a real difference across these incarnations of Viṣṇu will spell eternal samsāra. In the same way, as the Mahābhārata has taught: ‘Rudra and Nārāyaṇa are One Tattvam appearing as two’ or as the Skandopaniṣat teaches ‘śivā and viṣnu are each other’s heart and form’, even in the vyavahāra it is well known that it is one Brahman, in order to execute the creation, sustenance and dissolution functions takes the forms of brahmā, viṣṇu and rudra. The three are not in any real way different from each other, even as Rāma and Kṛṣṇa are not.
Thus, the very second Brahmasūtra ‘janmādyasya yataḥ’ is an irrefutable pramāṇa for the trimūrti abheda. Veda Vyāsa does not differentiate between the three functionaries; he calls all of them ‘brahman’, the knowledge of which ‘brahman’ is what is enjoined in the first sūtra: athāto brahmajiñāsā. The third sūtra too reinforces that theme alone. There are references in the puraṇas for Brahmā, the four-faced, being the originator-disseminator of the veda at the beginning of creation. So are references to Śiva being the source of the Veda. All these apparently contradicting statements have to be resolved only by taking recourse to the above brahmasūtra: janmādyasya yataḥ and śāstrayonitvāt.
Om Tat Sat