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The Vedanta Sutras of Badarayana, Commentary by Sankara (SBE38), tr. by George Thibaut [1896] at

14. The order (in which the elements are retracted into Brahman) is the reverse of that (i.e. the order in which they are created); this is proved (by its agreement with observation).

Having considered the order of the creation of the elements we now proceed to consider the order of their retractation.--The question here is whether their retractation takes place in an indefinite order, or in the order of the creation, or in the inverse order. That the origin, the subsistence and the retractation of the elements all depend on Brahman, scripture declares 'That from whence these beings are born, that by which when born they live, that into which they enter at their death.'

The pûrvapakshintains that the retractation of the elements is not bound to any definite order, because scripture contains no specific information on the point. Or else, he says, let him who wishes to know the order of the retractation accept the order of creation, since the latter is expressly mentioned in the texts.

To this we reply that the order of retractation must be viewed as the reverse of the order of creation. For we see

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in ordinary life that a man who has ascended a stair has, in descending, to take the steps in the reverse order. Moreover we observe that things made of clay, such as jars, dishes, &c., on being destroyed pass back into clay, and that things which have originated from water, such as snow and hailstones, again dissolve into water. Hence we rightly assume that earth which has (according to scripture) sprung from water passes back into water when the period of its subsistence comes to an end, and that water which has sprung from fire passes back into fire. In this way each particular effect passes back into its immediately antecedent cause--each cause being of a subtler nature than its effect--until in the end the last cause is refunded into Brahman, the ultimate and most subtle of all causes. It certainly would be irrational to assume that an effect, passing over its immediate cause, should at once refund itself into the cause of the cause. Smriti also declares that the order of retractation is the order of origination inverted, 'The earth, the basis of the world, is dissolved into water, O divine Rishi, the water into fire, the fire into air.' The order of creation is indeed stated in the sacred texts, but that statement refers to creation only, and can therefore not be extended to retractation. We, moreover, cannot even desire to apply the order in which the elements are created to their retractation also since it is clearly unsuitable in the latter case. For, as long as an effect subsists, it is impossible to assume the dissolution of the cause, since on the dissolution of the latter the effect also cannot exist. On the other hand, we may assume a continued existence of the cause although the effect be destroyed; for that is actually observed in the case of clay (and the things made of it).

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