Tag Archives: Brahmasutras

Brahma Sutra

Continued from

Who was Badarayana?

Please read on…

Sutra literally means a thread but technically it meant in the ancient Indian context, an aphoristic style of condensing the spectrum of thoughts of a doctrine into terse, crisp, pithy pellets of compressed information that could be easily committed to memory. They are analogous to synoptic notes on a lecture; and by tapping on a note, one hopes to recall the relevant expanded form of the lecture. Perhaps the Sutras were meant to serve  a  similar purpose. A Sutra is therefore not merely an aphorism but a key to an entire discourse on a subject. Traditionally, each Sutra is regarded as a discourse rather than a statement.

Sri Madhwacharya defined Sutra as Pithy, unambiguous, laying out all the essential aspects of each topic, and dealing with all aspects of the question, free of repetitiveness and flaw.

The concept of Sutra was often carried to its extremes. It is said a Sutrakara would rather give up a child than expend a word. The Sutras often became so terse as to be inscrutable. And, one could read into it any meaning one wanted to. It was said, each according to his merit finds his rewards.

Nevertheless, reducing the main tenets of a school of thought into Sutra form by compiling it from its many acknowledged texts was a well accepted mode for rote learning and study. Each school of thought carried its Sutra compiled by a learned Sutrakara. For instance, the Nyaya School had its Sutra by Gautama; Vaisheshika School by Kanada; Yoga School by Patanjali; Mimamsa School by Jaimini and Vedanta School by Badarayana. Besides, there are a number of Sutras on various other subjects. Badarayana’s Sutra is of course the most celebrated of them all.

[ Of all the Schools , the Samkhya did not seem to have a Sutra of its own. ]

The style of presentation adopted by Badarayana set  a model for Sutras that followed. It involved these steps :  the statement of an objection or prima facie view (Purva_paksha); an answer or a rebuttal of that stand (Uttara_paksha); and conclusion (Siddantha).Accordingly, a topic for discussion (Adhikarana) is discussed in five steps or limbs: The formulation of the problem; a reasonable doubt about it; the prima facie view; the answer; and conclusion.

The method adopted by a Sutrakara was to refer to a specific passage in a text, say an Upanishad, by a key word, context or a hint to the topic for discussion. The Sutrakara would follow it by Purva_paksha, Uttara_paksha and his conclusion. He would also hint in a word or two , his reasoning. The genius of the commentator, the Bashyakara was to pinpoint Vishesha Vakya the exact statement in the Vedic text referred to by the sutra; to maintain consistency in treatment – in the context and spirit of the original text; to bring out the true intent and meaning of the Sutrakara’s reasoning and conclusions.

Brahma Sutra investigates the Upanishad teachings about God, the world, the individual soul and its deliverance. It attempts to remove the apparent contradictions that existed in its earlier texts and to bind the doctrine coherently. This, it aims to accomplish in almost 564 individual Sutras. The number of topics discussed (Adhikaranas) and the Sutras accepted by the different commentators vary. For instance, Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhva have each commented on 192; 156 and 222 Adhikaranas out of 555; 545 and 564 Sutras accepted by them, respectively. The differences might be due to splitting certain Sutras or combing certain others.

The topics discussed (Adhikaranas) are classified under four Chapters (Adhyayas) . Each Adhyaya has under it four parts (Paadas).

Chapter One, Samanvaya (establishing harmony) clarifies that the basic purpose of all Upanishads is to reveal Brahman and that all the Vedanta texts talk of Brahman , which is the ultimate reality. Realizing Brahman is the goal of life. It includes an account of the nature of Brahman and its relation to world and individual soul.

Chapter Two , Avirodha (non conflict) discusses and refutes possible objections against Vedanta raised by other schools of thought like Samkhya, Yoga , Vaisheshika, Buddha, Jaina and some atheist schools; and establishes Vedanta’s views. It also gives an account of the nature of dependence of the world on God; and natural evolution from and re-absorption into God. This is followed by discussion on nature of soul, its attributes, its relation to God, body and its own deeds.

Chapter Three, Sadhana (the means) describes the process by which ultimate emancipation could be achieved. A strong yearning for attaining Brahman and distancing from worldly involvements are considered essential. It declares that with right knowledge (Brahma Vidya),  Moksha can be attained here and now.

Chapter Four, Phala (fruits or benefits) talks of the fruits or the benefits of Brahma Vidya. It discusses the state that is achieved in the final emancipation. While a Saguna upasaka goes to other realms of experience, the person of true knowledge realizes his true nature right here and fulfills his life.

Badarayana commences his work with the most repeated and most discussed statement “Athaatho Brahma Jignasaha”  (अथातो ब्रह्मजिज्ञासा) perhaps to say ”Then, therefore let us examine the subject of Brahman”. Tomes have been written discussing the possible intent and meaning of the ordinary looking two words – then, therefore; and setting out to postulate on Badarayana’s intent in commencing his work with these specific words; refuting explanations put forth  by other commentators ; and explaining the basis for his own reasoning. A great extents of the commentaries are , therefore, taken up, both  by the explanations on what is explicit in the Sutra, and  by elaborations on what is implied and unsaid in the Sutra.

What is remarkable about Brahma Sutra is that each commentator came up with his version of the intent and meaning of the Sutra; and differed from the views of the rest of the commentators. Each one  declared his interpretation was the truest interpretation of them all.

Apart from issues such as the status of the phenomenal world; and the nature and means to the liberation of the individual, the moot point of disagreement among the commentators was the status and relation between the individual soul (jiva) and Brahman. The possibilities were that Brahman and jiva could be:

(a) Identical; (b) Identical but qualified; (c) Not Identical and (d) Identical and yet Non Identical.

Each of these lines of possibilities (but declared by its profounder  as the only certainty ) gave rise to a school of Vedanta. Such schools sprang up and have since flourished.  This phase of development  is termed as the Scholastic Phase of Vedanta, which commenced in about Eighth century A.D. Each of these schools gave raise to  its sub classifications.

In other words, the schools of Vedanta prevalent today are of a comparatively recent origin. They started springing up about 1,200 years after Badarayana compiled his Brahma Sutra. Each school found its justification in the Brahma Sutra and yet each differed from the other interpretations.

The intervening period, from 5th or 4th centuries BCE to about 8th century AD does not appear to have witnessed such scholastic developments. It all started with Shankara and his celebrated Vedanta Sutra Bashya, a commentary on the Brahma Sutra. Most of the other schools often  appeared  to be  just reacting  to Shankara’s position on the Brahma Sutra.

The following is a very brief indication of some main schools of Vedanta, in a concise form.

Shankara: Advaita

(Identity) Brahman alone is real- One without a second- transcends all attributes. Brahman and the individual soul are essentially identical. The difference is only apparent, caused by Avidya, ignorance .World is not an illusion. It is relatively real. Brahman is absolutely real. Liberation involves in realizing one’s identity with Brahman, through elimination of ignorance. Purpose of life is to realize Brahman.

Ramanuja: Vishistadvaita

(Qualified Identity) It is oneness of God with attributes or Vishesha. Brahman is the Supreme Person Narayana endowed with all auspicious attributes. He alone exists, everything is his manifestation or attributes. Individual soul is part of Brahman and hence similar but not identical. Brahman, matter and individual souls are distinct but mutually inseparable entities. Loving devotion and surrender to Narayana is the only path to Moksha, liberation and is possible with the grace of God. Moksha consists in jiva remaining in undisturbed bliss in presence of Narayana in Vaikunta. Jiva lives in fellowship with the Lord. Moksha does not involve destruction of the individual self.

Madhavacharya ; Dvaita

(non Identity) Brahman is identified with Vishnu, the all important and Supreme One endowed with all auspicious attributes. He is not impersonal. Bedha or difference is the cornerstone of the doctrine. It is unqualified dualism. There are infinite numbers of jivas, which are point-like and each jiva is separate from the other; and jivas are separate from God and depend on God for being and becoming. Reality is described as a fivefold distinction-between God and jiva; God and matter; jiva and jiva; jiva and matter; and matter and phenomena. The cause of bondage is the Will of the Supreme and ignorance of jiva. Liberation is release from cycle of births and deaths; and is possible with devotion to Vishnu and comes through the mediation of Vayu. Liberated jiva does not lose its identity. It is entitled to serve the Lord.

Nimbaraka charya: Bedhabheda

( identity in difference, dualistic monism) Brahman is the supreme reality, one without a second, the infinite reality. The world and jiva are only partial manifestations of His power. Jiva and world are different from God because they are endowed with qualities and are limited; at the same time they are not different from God because God is omnipresent and all beings exist in God. Souls and God are closely related as waves within water or coils of rope within the rope. They are both distinct and not distinct from Brahman. Salvation is attained by real knowledge and devotion. Salvation consists in the soul realizing its true nature. It attains the state of Brahman but has NO powers of creation, preservation and dissolution of the world.

Vallabhacharya: Shuddadvaita

( Pure monism) It is Pure monism because it does not admit Maya (illusion). Brahman is personal. Krishna, Purushottama, in his Sacchidananda form is Brahman. He is ever playing sport (Leela) from Gokula which is even beyond Vaikunta. World and jiva are one with Brahman in essence and are a subtle form of God. Jiva in Reality is non-dual and it is pure. The embodied jiva is defiled and impure and it must strive towards the pure state through Bhakthi, devotion, love and grace (pusti). It calls for complete surrender to Krishna, Atma nivedana (giving up oneself). The liberated souls are of different kinds. Some dwell in the city of the Lord, while some others develop perfect love for God and become His associates.



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Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Vedanta


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Who was Badarayana?


Badarayana is a very celebrated name in the world of Indian scriptures. His name is mentioned any number of times; yet, hardly anything is known about him.

Badarayana is recognized as the compiler, Sutrakara, of the Brahma Sutras (an exposition on Brahman) also called Vedanta Sutra, Sariraka Mimamsa Sutra and Uttara Mimamsa Sutra.

Tradition identifies him with Veda Vyasa, the compiler of the Vedas; and, he is addressed as Vyasa-parasarya, though there is no adequate proof to support that.

According to some, since Vyasa was born on an island amidst Badara (Indian jujube) trees, he acquired the name of Badarayana as one of his many names.

However the Acharyas – Sri Shankara , Ramanuja, Bhaskara and Yamuna – address him as Badarayana;  and, do not seem to associate him with Vyasa. They refer to his work as Sariraka Mimamsa or Vedanta Mimamsa. Sri Shankara  holds Badarayana in very high regard and addresses him as Bhagavan.

Badarayana, it is suggested, might have lived anytime during 500 to 200 BCE. Prof. SN Dasguta opines he lived around 200 BCE.

Brahma Sutra is the most authoritative exposition of the Vedanta. But it was not the first. Badarayana cites the views of the earlier scholars such as Audulomi, Kaskrtsna, Badrai and Asmarthya.

But Badarayana, undoubtedly, is the most respected exponent of Vedanta. He is the final authority on the subject; though he is interpreted variously. Each commentator interpreted according to his understanding of the text.

Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra (Nyaya-Prasthana) along with Upanishads (Sruti-Prasthana) and Bhagavad-Gita (Smrithi-Prasthana) constitutes the Prasthana Trayi or the three cannons of Vedanta. These three texts are the pristine springs of Vedanta philosophy. No study of Vedanta is complete without the study of the Prasthana treya. Brahma Sutras should be studied after completing the study of Upanishads under the guidance of a teacher.

There is also a view that Upavarsha could be another name for Badarayana. This view is not well supported. It looks highly unlikely.

In any case, let us talk a bit about Upavarsha.

Again, Upavarsha comes through the mists of ancient Indian traditions and not much is known of him. We come to know him through references to his views by Sri Shankara  and others. He was an intellectual giant of his times. He is credited with being the first to divide the Vedic lore into Karma-kanda (ritualistic section) and Jnana-kanda (knowledge section).He advocated the six means of knowledge (cognition) adopted later by the Advaita school. He began the discussion on self-validation (svathah-pramanya) that became a part of the Vedanta terminology. He also pioneered the method of logic called Adhyaropa-Apavada which consists in initially assuming a position and later withdrawing the assumption, after a discussion. Upavarsha is also known as the author of a commentary on Brahma Sutra titled “Sariraka Mimamsa-Vritti”, now lost.

Sri Sri Shankara  has great reverence for Upavarsha; and, addresses him as Bhagavan, as he does Badarayana; while he addresses Jaimini and Sabara, the other Mimasakas, only as Teachers (Acharya). Upavarsha’s time is surmised to be prior to that of Panini, the great Grammarian, around 200 BCE.

Mimamsa was regarded a unified body of doctrine, consisting twenty sections; the first sixteen of which named Purva-Mimamsa (first part of Mimamsa), ascribed to Jaimini; and, the last four sections regarded as Uttara-Mimamsa (later Mimamsa), credited to Badarayana. Both the compilers, most likely, were contemporaries.

There is however a sharp contrast in the emphasis, treatment and views of the two sages.

Badarayana crystallizes the Upanishad thought; and, provides a framework for enquiry into the nature of the Absolute (Brahman).

Jaimini , on the other hand, inquires into the ritualistic aspects of the Vedas; and, emphasizes that worldly well-being and heavenly rewards are the objectives of a householder; and, that the rituals alone lead to the attainment of that highest objective.

Badarayana, in contrast, does not stress on rituals; and ,holds the final liberation (mukthi) as the goal of the seeker.

Jaimini hardly involves God (Isvara) into his scheme of things. He clings to the prescriptive and liturgical aspects of Vedas, setting aside their esoteric message. He generally ignores the Upanishads. His follower , Sabara described the non-human origin of the Vedas in terms of the anonymity or inability to remember the authors of the Vedas. There was therefore a fear; the ascendency of the Mimamsa might encourage atheism.

Badarayana, on the other hand, relied primarily on the Upanishads as the most meaningful portions of the Vedas. He assigned them the status of highest authority and the most valid means of knowing. They are Shruthis, the Revelations, the super-sensory  intuitional perceptions of the ancient Rishis, he stressed.

It was Badarayana who initially recognized Upanishads as the crowning glory of Vedic thought;  strove to uphold the authority of the Upanishads; and, to place God in the center of the scheme of things. Badarayana’s efforts and anxieties were driven by an urgent need to rescue knowledge and freethinking from the encircling swamp of ritualistic texts and practices; as also from the ascending atheistic tendencies. His work represents a vigorous response to the challenges and demands of his times; and , Brahma Sutra achieves that task amply well.

What in effect Badarayana was trying to accomplish was to drive away the strangling influences of rituals, dogma and atheism from Indian spiritual scene; and, to bring back the Upanishad spirit of inquiry , intuition, knowledge, reason , open-mindedness and its values of life. It was for that good–tradition, Sampradaya, Badarayana was yearning. Brahma Sutra was an instrument to achieve those cherished objectives. Badarayana and his efforts represent the most important phase in the evolution of the Indian philosophy.

Both Badarayana and Sri Shankara  were responding to the exigencies, demands and challenges of their times, which, as the fate would hate have it, were astonishingly similar, if not identical. They set to themselves similar tasks and priorities; and, nurtured similar dreams and aspirations. Sri Shankara  made a common cause with Badarayana, his forerunner, separated by history by over 1,200 years. That is the reason many consider Sri Shankara  the logical successor to Badarayana.

If Badarayana, whoever he was, set in motion the process of recovery of the tradition of the ancients, Sampradaya; it was Sri Shankara  who carried it forward. Sri Shankara , greatly influenced by Badarayana, recognized Upanishads as the summit of Vedic thought. The importance attached to Brahmanas appeared to him rather misplaced. Sri Shankara , then set himself the goal to recover the correct tradition, the Sampradaya.

Sri Shankara  aptly referred to Badarayana, each time, with enormous reverence and addressed him as Bhagavan, Sampradaya_vit, (the knower of good tradition) and Vedanta-Sapradaya-vit, one who truly understood the traditional import of the Upanishads




History of Indian Philosophy –vol.1

By Prof.S N Dasgupta .


Continued, please read next :  Brahma Sutra 


Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Sri Sankara, Vedanta


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