not this", from the Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad, which many people (such as Sankaracharya and his school) have wrongly interpreted
to mean that the Supreme Brahman
of all attributes.
Ramanuja's comments, written in the course of his commentary on Brahma-sutras 3.2.21:
21. For the text denies the previously declared so-muchness; and declares more
It is impossible to understand the text `not so, not so' as negating those distinctions
of Brahman which had been stated previously. If the text meant that, it would
be mere idle talk. For none but a person not in his right mind would first teach that all the things mentioned in the earlier
part of the section are distinctive attributes of Brahman--as which they are not known by any means of proof--and thereupon
his own teaching. Although among
the things mentioned there are some which, in themselves, are known through other means of proof, yet they are not thus known
to be modes of Brahman, and others again are known neither in themselves nor as modes of
The text therefore cannot merely refer to them as things otherwise known, but
gives fundamental instruction about them. Hence, the later passage cannot be meant as a sheer negation, but must be taken
as denying the previously described 'so-muchness' of Brahman; i.e., the passage denies that limited nature of Brahman which
would result from Brahman being viewed as distinguished by the previous stated attributes only. The word
"so" refers to that limited nature, and the phrase "not so" therefore means
that Brahman is not distinguished by the previously stated modes "only".
This interpretation is further confirmed by the fact that after the negative
phrase, further qualities of Brahman are declared by the text: "For there is not anything higher than this -- not so. Then
comes the name, the True of the true; for the prANas are the true, and the is the True of them."
This means that other than Brahman which is expressed by the phrase `not so'
there is nothing higher, i.e., there is nothing more exalted than Brahman either in essential nature or in qualities. And of that Brahman the name is `True of the True'. This name is explained in the
next clause, `for the prANas,' etc. The term prANas here denotes the individual souls, so called because the prANas accompany
them. They are the 'true' because they do not, like the elements, undergo changes
implying an alteration of their essential nature. And the highest Self is the
'True of the true' because while the souls undergo, in accordance with their karma, contractions and expansions of knowledge, the highest Self which is free from all sin knows of no such alternations. He is therefore more eminently 'true' than they are.
As thus, the complementary passage declares Brahman to be connected with certain
qualities, the clause 'not so, not so' (to which that passage is complementary) cannot deny that Brahman possesses distinctive
attributes, but only denies that Brahman's nature is confined to the attributes previously stated.