The Bliss of Satchidananda: Adi Sankara’s Commentary on the Brahma Sutras
by Vijaya Rajiva on 22 Apr 2017 5 Comments

The significance of the word Bliss (Ananda) in Satchidananda is that the Bliss of Brahman (also described as Satchidananda in Hinduism) is present in every facet of the universe. This is the point stressed by Adi Sankara in his Commentary. It is significant both in Badarayana’s Brahma Sutras and in Adi Sankara’s commentary because they both reject the Sankhya theory that the Bliss referred to as Anandamaya pertains to the bliss of the samsarin (the transmigratory individual jiva).


Their arguments are varied and here we shall look at them. It has to be remembered that of all the philosophical systems that did not accept the Veda, the Sankhya alone accepted the authority of the Veda and indeed used the Veda to buttress their theory of two independent realities, the inactive but conscious Purusha and the active but non intelligent Pradhana (Prakriti or Nature). We have seen that this dualism was rejected by Adi Sankara.[1]


The Bliss of Anandamaya is a reference to the bliss of Brahman /Satchidananda /Paramatman (Supreme Self) which is all pervasive in the universe. Hence, all beings, living and non-living, participate in this bliss at each and every level from the lowest to the highest, with the highest level being the Bliss of Brahman.


All beings participate in this Bliss:

The individual jiva is composed of 5 sheaths.


Hence, for the individual jiva (the individual human being), its four-fold sheaths (koshas) are upheld by the fifth kosha, the Anandamaya kosha. The individual jiva is comprised of the five-fold levels of Being, the 5 koshas:

1. Annamaya Kosha (food level)

2. Pranamaya Kosha (energy level)

3. Manomaya Kosha (mind level)

4. Vijnananamaya Kosha (intellectual level)

5. Anandamaya Kosha (Supreme Bliss level)


Each level has its inner aspect derived from the Supreme Bliss level. Each level’s interior is the highest Self. In the fifth level alone is it completely and fully the highest Self alone. Brahman is referred to as the Self and as it is present in every level, there are references to the Self of each level.


(1) “The Taittiriya-upanishad, after having enumerated the Self consisting of food, the Self consisting of vital airs, the Self consisting of mind, and the Self consisting of understanding, says, ‘Different from this which consists of understanding is the other inner Self which consists of bliss” (p.64).[2]


The Sankhya opponent maintains that the reference to the highest Self is a reference to the samsarin, the transmigrating soul. Adi Sankara replies, following Badarayana in the sutra above, that the word ‘bliss’ is repeatedly applied to Brahman in the Taittiriya Upanishad. The reference is not to the secondary Self in the series. The highest Self is the innermost Self of all the Selfs in the series.


Further, the word ‘anandamaya’ denotes ‘abundance’:


(2) “That Brahman does abound in bliss follows from the passage (Taittiriya Up. II 8), where, after the bliss of each of the different classes of beings, beginning with man, has been declared to be a hundred times greater than the bliss of the immediately preceding class, the bliss of Brahman is finally proclaimed to be absolutely supreme. Maya, therefore denotes abundance” (p. 67).


(3) The Veda, says Sankara, declare Brahman to be the cause of bliss (p.67):

“For he alone causes bliss” (Taittiriya Up. II,7)


“For he who causes bliss must himself abound in; just as we infer in ordinary life, that a man who enriches others must himself possess abundant wealth. As, therefore, maya, may be taken to mean ‘abundant’, the Self consisting of bliss is the highest Self”. (p. 67) So Sankara continues to argue that the highest Self is indeed Brahman.


(4) A further argument he puts forward for maintaining that the Self consisting of bliss is the highest Brahman not the individual samsarin (transmigrating jiva) is that the Veda states that all moving and non-moving things originated from Brahman which stays in recess, and the series of different selves from annamaya onwards, it is the inmost of all of them until the final highest Self:


“The Taittiriya Upanishad II,I states that Brahman possesses the qualities of true existence, intelligence, infinity. After that it is said ‘that from Brahman there sprang, at first the ether and then all other moving and non-moving, and that, entering into the beings which had emitted, Brahman stays in recess, inmost in all; thereupon, for its better comprehension, the series of different Selfs ….. are enumerated, and then finally the same Brahman which the mantra had proclaimed, is again proclaimed in the passage under discussion. . . .” (p. 68).


(5)   In Sutra 18 Badarayana points out that desire is mentioned in the Veda as belonging to the Anandamaya. Sankara comments thus:

“Since in the passage ‘he desired, may I be many, may I grow forth’, in the chapter treating of the anandamaya (Taitti.Up.II,6), the quality of feeling desire is mentioned, that which is inferred, i.e. the non-intelligent pradhana assumed by the Samkhyas, cannot be regarded as being the Self consisting of bliss and the cause of the world” (p. 70)


(6) In rejecting the Sankhya position that the fifth kosha refers to the individual jiva, Sankara points out that “to assume that the Self consisting of food, and so on, are not Brahman is quite proper, because after each of them an inner Self is mentioned. After the Self of bliss, on the other hand, no further inner Self is mentioned, and hence it must be considered to be Brahman itself” (p. 72).


Sankara is clear that the Self consisting of bliss cannot denote either the Pradhana (Prakriti) or the individual jiva, as the Sankhya maintains (p.71). The highest Self in the series is the tail and support of the other four koshas (p.73).




This segment of the Commentary can be usefully summed up by Sankara’s quotation from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: ‘All other creatures live on a small portion of that bliss’ (Bri.Up.iv,3,32, p.74).




1. Vijaya Rajiva ‘The Being of Satchidananda: Adi Sankara’s Commentary on the Brahma Sutras’ (Vijayvaani, March 23, 2017).

2. All quotations are from George Thibaut, Vedanta Sutras Part 1, The Sacred Books of the East at Google Books, vol. 34 (Editor: Max Muller) Oxford University Press, pp. xxxii-xxxvi.

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