Pasupata (saivism) system reviewed by Sri Vyasadeva in his Vedanta Sutra

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Govinda Bhashya: Adhikaraṇa 7: Pāṣupata System Reviewed (From 2nd pada, chapter 2 of Vedanta Sutra)

Viṣaya [thesis or statement]: The author (Sri Vyasadeva) now refutes the opinions of sectarians like the followers of Paśupati [Śiva], Gaṇeśa and Sūrya. The Paśupatas maintain that cause and effect, yoga [meditation], discipline [vidhi] and the end of pain are five categories revealed by the great Lord Paśupati Himself to break the bonds of the conditioned soul, here called paśu [animal]. In this system Paśupati is the operative cause, and mahat and the rest are effects. The yoga is the concentration, meditation etc. through oṁkāra. The vidhi is the discipline of bathing three times a day etc., while the end of pain means release or mokṣa. These are the five categories of the Paśupatas. Similar to this doctrine are the teachings of the followers of Gaṇeśa and Sūrya, who hold these deities to be the operative cause, and prakṛti and time to be the causes of creation of the world through the operative agency of these deities. By worshiping these gods the soul gains proximity to them, and there accrues complete cessation of all pain, which is mokṣa.

Saṁśaya [arisal of doubt]: Now are these systems of the Paśupatas and the rest reasonable?

Pūrvapakṣa [antithesis]: The pūrvapakṣin maintains that this system is reasonable, because we see in ordinary life also that an agent like a potter is only the operative cause of the pot that he makes; he is not its material cause. God, therefore is only the operative cause of the universe, not its material cause. The mater of the creation is supplied by the eternal prakṛti, and the disciples laid down are also reasonable and practical.

Siddhānta [Vedic conclusion]: This is not the right view, as the author shows in the next sūtra.

Sūtra 2.2.37


patyuḥ – the doctrine of the three patis or lords; asāmaṅjasyāt – because of untenableness.

The teaching of Paśupati also is not right, because of its inappropriateness.

The word na [not] is understood in this sūtra. The doctrine taught by Paśupati is not right because it is inappropriate; that is, it is opposed to the Vedas. The Vedas teach that the one God, Nārāyaṇa, is the sole cause of the creation of the world, while other deities like Brahmā, Rudra, etc. are His creations. It teaches that mokṣa [release] depends upon bhakti [devotional service], jñāna [knowledge], and the proper performance of the duties of varṇāśrama-dharma [the four occupational divisions and four spiritual orders of human life] as taught by Nārāyaṇa in the Vedic scriptures. As we find in the Mahā-Upaniṣat [1.1-2]:

“Thus say the sages how creation arose. Nārāyaṇa alone existed in the beginning. There were neither Brahmā nor Īśāna, nor water, nor fire, nor moon; nor heaven nor earth, nor the stars nor the sun. He being alone, did not rejoice; so He entered into meditation. From Him thus meditating, there arose sacrifice and the hymns of the Vedas. From Him arose fourteen Puruṣas and one daughter: namely, the ten Indriyas and Manas, the eleventh; Tejas, the twelfth; Ahaṁkara the thirteenth, and Prāṇa the fourteenth. Fifteenth is the daughter called Buddhi. From Him arose the five tan-mātras and the ten mahābhutas. From Nārāyaṇa thus meditating there arose from His forehead Sūlapāṇi [Śiva], having three eyes and holding Śrī, truth, brahmācārya, austerity, dispassion, etc.” This shows that the four-faced Brahmā arose from Nārāyaṇa, and also Paśupati [Śiva]. We also find the same version in the Nārāyaṇa-Upaniṣat [1.1]:

“Now verily Nārāyaṇa the Puruṣa desired “Let Me create offspring.” From Nārāyaṇa was produced Prāṇa, Manas and all the sense organs. From Him arose space, air, light, water and earth, the support of all. From Nārāyaṇa arose Brahmā, from Him arose Rudra, from Nārāyaṇa was produced Prajāpati, Indra, the eight Vasus, the eleven Rudras, the twelve Ādityas, all the Devatās, all Ṛṣis, all Vedic hymns; all beings verily are produced from Nārāyaṇa and they merge into Nārāyaṇa.”

So also in the Ṛg Veda [10.125.1-8] we find:

“I travel with the Rudras and the Vasus, with the Ādityas and all gods I wander. I hold aloft both Varuṇa and Mitra, Indra and Agni, and the twin Aśvins. I cherish and sustain high-souled Soma and Tvaṣṭā, I support Pūṣan and Bhāga. I load with wealth the zealous sacrificer who pours the soma-juice and offers his oblations. I am the Queen, the gatherer of treasures, most thoughtful, first of those who merit worship. Thus the gods have established Me in many places, with many homes to enter and abide in. All eat the food that feeds them through Me alone—each man who sees, breathes, hears the word outspoken; they know it not, but yet they dwell beside Me. Hear, one and all, the truth as I declare it. I verily announce Myself and utter the words that gods and men alike shall welcome. I make the man I love exceedingly mighty; make him a sage, a Ṛṣi, and a Brāhmaṇa. I bend the bow for Rudra, that his arrow may strike and slay the hater of devotion. I rouse and order battle for the people, and I have penetrated earth and heaven. My home is in the waters, in the ocean. Thence I extend over all living creatures, and touch even heaven with my forehead. I breathe a strong breath like the wind and tempest, while I hold together all existence. Beyond this wide earth and beyond the heavens I have become so mighty in My grandeur.”

Similarly in the Yajur Veda [Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4.4.21-22]:

“Let a wise seeker of Brahman, after he has discovered Him, practice wisdom by meditating on Him. The knowers of Brahman seek to understand Him by study of the Veda, by sacrifice, by gifts, by fasting. He who knows Him becomes a Muni.”

ātmā vā are draṣṭavyaḥ śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyaḥ

“It is the Self which must be observed, heard about, thought of and meditated upon with fixed concentration.” [Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4.5.6]

So also the Smṛti-śāstra declare the same truth over and over again, following in the footsteps of the Vedas.

No doubt in some places the Vedas and the Smṛti-śāstra use the words Paśupati, Ganeśa, Sūrya etc. and describe them as the ‘ruler of all,’ etc. But in those places these words are to be taken in their etymological sense as applying to Nārāyaṇa. Thus Paśupati would mean “Lord of all souls,” Ganeśa would be interpreted “the Lord of Hosts,” and Sūrya would mean “the Lord of the wise,” just as in the Veda the word Indra is the name of the Supreme Lord, being derived from the root inda, ‘to rule.’ Thus all the Vedas and the Smṛtis actually describe Nārāyaṇa, the Supreme Brahman, and not any lower deity. Therefore the proper interpretation of the Vedic texts is that the real creator is the Supreme Brahman.

īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ


anādir ādir govindaḥ


“Kṛṣṇa who is known as Govinda is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal blissful spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin and He is the prime cause of all causes.” [Brahma saṁhitā 5.1]

The sectarians like the Paśupatas and the rest have established the existence of a particular deity as the Lord simply by logic and arguments. But reasoning must be according to certain worldly rules, therefore it cannot establish the existence or nonexistence of God, because it is impossible that the Lord is merely the operative cause of the world, without being the material cause as well, for then His connection with the world cannot be established. In ordinary worldly life we see that a potter, who is merely the operative cause of the pot, has a certain connection with the clay, the material cause with which he fashions the pot. What is that connection of the Lord with the souls and the pradhāna, with which He creates the world? The next sūtra shows that the sectarians cannot establish that connection.

Sūtra 2.2.38


sambandha – connection; anupapatteḥ – because of the impossibility; ca – and.

[The Lord can have no] connection as creator of the world, because of the impossibility [of such a connection.]

The sectarians hold that a Lord is without a body, consequently such a Lord can have no connection with matter and spirit. An embodied being, like a potter, can have such a relation with the clay because he has a body. Thus this theory cannot establish a connection between the Lord and the creation, because they imagine Him to be formless.

Sūtra 2.2.39


adiṣṭhāna – having a position; anupapatteḥ – because of the impossibility; ca – and.

A bodiless Lord cannot create the world, because He cannot occupy a position.

Controlling something is a function of embodied beings. An embodied being like a potter can control the clay and produce effects like pots, by virtue of occupying a particular position. A disembodied being cannot do this. It may be objected that the soul is in principle a disembodied being, yet he rules the sense organs and the body, without any particular position, so a disembodied Lord may rule pradhāna. The next sūtra replies to this argument.

Sūtra 2.2.40

karaṇavaccenna bhogā’dibhyaḥ

karaṇa-vat – like the instruments of the senses; cet – if; na – not; bhogādibhyaḥ – on account of enjoyment, etc.

If [it be said that the Lord rules matter] as the soul rules sense organs, [we reply that] it cannot be so, because the soul has to undergo the experiences of pleasure and pain [owing to his karma, but not so the Lord.]

You cannot say that matter exists in pralaya and the Lord creates the world with it, controlling it just as the soul controls the sense organs, because the connection of the soul with the body is so that he may undergo certain experiences of birth and death, pleasure and pain, to get the rewards of his karmas. But in the case of the Lord, there is no such karma. Then why should the Lord have any connection with pradhāna in order to create the world? If you say that His connection is similar to the connection of the conditioned soul to his senses, then the Lord would come under the control of the material energy and be subject to birth and death just like the conditioned soul. This is no idea of God at all.

The sectarian Paśupata may say, “Let us admit then that the Lord also has some kind of karma, some kind of adṛṣṭa, good karma and good adṛṣṭa, and that it is on account of such karma that the Lord gets the body by which He creates the universe. Just as we see a mighty monarch, owing to his great merit, gets a body by which he can rule over an extensive empire.” This theory is open to the objection raised in the next sūtra:

Sūtra 2.2.41

aṅtavattvamasarvajñatā vā

aṅtavattvam – finiteness; asarvajñatā – lack of omniscience; vā – or.

If the Lord has karma, however high and refined it may be, then He would be either a finite being, or not possessing omniscience.

If the Lord has a body on account of some karma from His previous actions, then He would be finite like any ordinary soul, nor would He be omniscient, for only one who is not subject to karma can have omniscience. The Paśupatas claim that their Lord is eternal and all-knowing; therefore a contradiction arises in their theory. The Paśupata may say, “But this objection applies to your theory also, for you believe that God is a personality.” To this we reply that our theory of a personal Brahman is not open to this objection, because we do not believe in this on account of any reason and arguments, but because of the revelation of the scriptures. 

The sacred revelation describes Brahman with personal attributes, and we never try to reconcile this description with reason. In other words, we take the words of the scriptures to be axiomatic, and everything else is derived from them by a process of deductive logic. We have already shown this in Sūtra 2.1.27.

The holy Bādārāyaṇa does not show any disrespect to the mighty deities like Paśupati or Gaṇapati or Dināpati; all that he means is that these three patis or lords are not independent agents, as their worshipers misconceive, but work under the will and direction of the Supreme Brahman. The author of the sūtras refutes only the mistaken notion of the worshipers in attributing perfect independence to their deity. Since they are agents of Brahman, demigods or lords, we acknowledge that they deserve all reverence and worship, but we do not forget their subordinate position to Brahman, the Supreme Lord.

guṇābhimānino devāḥ

sargādiṣv asya yad-bhayāt

vartante ‘nuyugaṁ yeṣāṁ

vaśa etac carācaram

“Out of fear of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the directing demigods in charge of the modes of material nature carry out the functions of creation, maintenance and destruction; everything animate and inanimate within this material world is under their control.” [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 3.29.44]

These five sūtras are meant to refute the sectarian doctrine of these patis or lords. The word pati is mentioned in Sūtra 2.2.37 without any distinctive attribute, to apply to all three patis, namely the lord of the soul, the lord of the hosts, and the lord of the day. Other commentators hold that these five sūtras are meant to refute the argumentative philosophers and rationalists, who try to establish the existence of God by mere reason without revelation.

Hare Krishna 


↑ Govinda Bhasya by Srila Baldeva Vidyabhushana Acarya: Adhyaya 2 translation by Kushakratha dasa (ACBSP)



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