Brahma Knowledge, by L. D. Barnett, , at sacred-texts.com
§ 8. Upanishadic Principles.—These conceptions,
which are conveyed by the Upanishads in very diverse and often mystic and contradictory utterances, may be summed up in three propositions. Firstly, the whole of finite or phenomenal being is evolved from an infinite and unconditioned substrate of absolute reality, Brahma. Secondly, Brahma is pure Thought, absolute Spirit. Thirdly, Brahma is one with the essential thought of each individual subject of thought, the Soul or Ātmā.
Śankara, in following these principles, lays down a broad distinction between Brahma as absolute, unqualified, and indeterminate (nirguṇa), and Brahma as secondary, determined by self-imposed limitations of space, time, and causality (saguṇa). The former is real, and object of real knowledge; the latter is essentially unreal, an illusion arising from the congenital error of the subject of thought, and vanishing away as soon as the latter by enlightenment ceases to conceive the Absolute in forms of determinate thought, and realises his essential unity with it. Thus all objects of thought must be regarded from two standpoints: the first is that of empiric experience, determined by conditions of space, time, and causality; the second is transcendental, admitting the existence of nothing but an absolute unqualified One. Sankara argues from both standpoints without much regard for consistency. He justifies the Upanishadic habit of describing Brahma under
the qualified forms of empirical thought, or as represented by a symbol, as a concession to feebler intellects, which cannot comprehend an abstract and unqualified principle, and are by these representations induced to worship Brahma in his qualified character, and thereby to attain freedom from ignorance and sin, worldly welfare, and "gradual release," krama-mukti (see § 25), whereas the true essence of Brahma is conveyed only by those passages which deny of him all qualification (see especially his commentary on Ch. VIII. i. and on Brahma-sūtra, I. iii. 14 f., III. ii. 11 f.).