The Vedanta Sutras of Badarayana, Commentary by Sankara (SBE38), tr. by George Thibaut  at sacred-texts.com
20. Or (the passage rather is) an injunction, as in the case of the carrying (of the firewood).
Or the passage is rather to be understood as containing an injunction, not a mere reference.--But, an objection is raised, if we assume it to be an injunction we thereby oppose the conception of the entire passage as a coherent whole, while yet the passage has clearly to be conceived as constituting such a whole, viz. as meaning that while the three branches of the law have for their result the world of the blessed, the condition of being grounded in Brahman has immortality for its result.--True, but all the same we must set aside the conception of the passage as a whole--well founded as it is--and assume it to be an injunction. For it is a new injunction because no other injunction is observed, and as the conception of the other stage of life clearly arises from the passage it is impossible to interpret it as a coherent whole by means of the assumption that it is a mere gunavâda 1.
The case is analogous to that of the 'carrying.' There is a scriptural text (relating to the Agnihotra which forms part of the mahâpitriyagña), 'Let him approach carrying the firewood below (the ladle holding the offering); for above he carries it for the gods.' Now this passage may be conceived as an unbroken whole if we view it as referring to the carrying below only; nevertheless we determine that it enjoins the carrying above because that
is not enjoined anywhere else 1. This is explained in the chapter treating of 'complement,' in the Sûtra, 'But it is an injunction,' &c. (Pû. Mîm. Sû.). In the same way we assume that our passage referring to the different âsramas is an injunctory passage only.
Even if (to state an alternative conclusion) the passage contains references only to the other âsramas, it must be viewed as enjoining at any rate the condition of being grounded in Brahman, owing to the glorification of that condition. The question here arises whether that state belongs to any one comprised within the four âsramas, or only to the wandering mendicant. If now a reference to the mendicant also is contained within the references to the âsramas up to the Brahmakârin (i.e. the three âsramas the text refers to before the passage about the brahmasamstha); then, as all four âsramas are referred to equally and as somebody not belonging to any âsrama could not possibly be called brahmasamstha, it follows that the term 'brahmasamstha' denotes any one standing within one of the four âsramas. If, on the other hand, the mendicant is not comprised within the references to the three âsramas, he alone remains, and this establishes the conclusion that the brahmasamstha is the mendicant only. (We therefore have to inquire which of the two alternatives stated has to be adopted.)--Here some maintain that the term 'austerity' which denotes the hermit in the woods implies a reference to the mendicant also. But this is wrong. For as long as any other explanation is possible, we must not assume that a term which expresses a distinctive attribute of the hermits living in the forest comprises the wandering mendicants also. Both the Brahmakârin and the householder are
referred to by distinctive terms applying to them only, and we therefore expect that the mendicant and the hermit also should be referred to by analogous terms. Now 'austerity' is a distinctive attribute of the hermits living in the woods; for the principal conventional meaning of the word 'austerity' is mortification of the body. The distinctive attribute of the mendicant, on the other hand, viz. restraint of the senses and so on, cannot be denoted by the term 'austerity.' Moreover it would be an illegitimate assumption that the âsramas which are known to be four should here be referred to as three. And further the text notifies a distinction, viz. by saying that those three reach the world of the blessed, while one enjoys immortality. Now there is room for such a distinction if the hermits and the mendicants are separate; for we do not say 'Devadatta and Yagñadatta are stupid, but one of them is clever,' but we say 'Devadatta and Yagñadatta are stupid, but Vishnumitra is clever.' The passage therefore has to be understood in that sense, that those belonging to the three former âsramas obtain the world of the blessed, while the remaining one, i.e. the wandering mendicant, enjoys immortality.--But how can the term 'brahmasamstha,' which according to its etymological meaning may be applied to members of all âsramas, be restricted to the mendicant? and, if we agree to take it in its conventional meaning, it follows that immortality may be reached by merely belonging to an âsrama, and hence that knowledge is useless!--To these objections we make the following reply. The term 'brahmasamstha' denotes fulfilment in Brahman, a state of being grounded in Brahman to the exclusion of all other activity. Now such a state is impossible for persons belonging to the three former âsramas, as scripture declares that they suffer loss through the non-performance of the works enjoined on their âsrama. The mendicant, on the other hand, who has discarded all works can suffer no loss owing to non-performance. Such duties as are incumbent on him, viz. restraint of the senses and the like, arc not opposed to the state of being grounded in Brahman, but rather helpful
to it. For the only work enjoined on him by his âsrama. is the state of being firmly grounded in Brahman, wherein he is strengthened by restraint of the senses and so on--just as sacrifices and the like are prescribed for the other âsramas--and loss he incurs only by neglecting that work. In agreement herewith texts from scripture and Smriti declare that for him who is grounded in Brahman there are no works. Compare 'Renunciation is Brahman; for Brahman is the highest; for the highest is Brahman; above those lower penances, indeed, there rises renunciation;' 'Those anchorites who have well ascertained the object of the knowledge of the Vedanta and have purified their nature by the Yoga of renunciation' (Mu. Up. III, 2, 6); and similar scriptural passages. And Smriti-texts to the same effect, such as 'They whose minds are fixed on him, who have their Self in him, their stand on him, their end in him' (Bha. Gîtâ V, 17). All these passages teach that for him who is founded on Brahman there are no works. From this there also follows the non-validity of the second objection raised above, viz. that the mendicant's reaching immortality through the mere stage of life in which he stands would imply the uselessness of knowledge.--In this way we understand that, although there is a reference to the other stages of life, that which is indicated by the quality of being grounded in Brahman is the state of the wandering mendicant.
This whole discussion has been carried on by the teacher without taking into account the text of the Gâbâlas, which enjoins the other stage of life. But there exists that text which directly enjoins the other stage, 'Having completed his studentship he is to become a householder; having been a householder he is to become a dweller in the forest; having been a dweller in the forest he is to wander forth; or else he may wander forth from the student's state; or from the house; or from the forest.' Nor can this text be interpreted as referring to those who are not qualified for works; for it states no difference, and there is a separate injunction (of the pârivrâgya-state) for those who are not qualified, viz. in the passage, 'May he have
taken vows upon himself or not, may he be a snâtaka or not, may he be one whose fire has gone out or one who has no fire,' &c. That the text does not refer to such only as are not qualified for works, further follows from the fact that the state of the mendicant is meant to subserve the development of the knowledge of Brahman 1, as scripture declares, 'The wandering mendicant, with colourless dress, shaven, wifeless, pure, guileless, living on alms, qualifies himself for the intuition of Brahman.'--From all this it follows that the stages of life for which chastity is obligatory are established by scripture, and that knowledge--because enjoined on persons who have entered on those stages--is independent of works.
299:1 In the clause 'vidhyantarâdarsarnât' I can see nothing more than an explanation of--or reason for--the 'apûrvatvât.' If we viewed the passage as glorifying the brahmasamsthatâ compared to the three branches of the law through the statement of its super-sensuous results (so that it would constitute an arthavâda of the kind called gunavâda), we should indeed preserve the unity of the passage--which is destroyed if we view it as enjoining the different stages of life. But all the same the latter explanation is the true one; for a glorificatory passage presupposes an injunctive one, and as no such injunctive passage is met with elsewhere, it is simpler to assume that the present passage is itself injunctive than to construe (on the basis of it if viewed as a gunavâda) another injunctive passage. (In Ânanda Giri's gloss on this passage--Biblioth. Indica edition--read 'vihitatvopagamaprasaktyâ' and 'stutilakshanayaika°.')
300:1 The ekavâkyatâ is preserved if we take the clause from 'above' as an arthavâda meant to give the reason why in sacrifices offered to the Fathers the firewood has to be carried below. Nevertheless the clause must be taken as a vidhi enjoining the carrying above in all sacrifices offered to the gods, because this particular is not enjoined elsewhere.
303:1 Which has to be acquired in the regular proscribed way of Brahmanical studentship.