Sunday, 2 October 2016

Brahma Sutras

Prasthana Thraya – 1

Prasthana Thraya, is the name collectively given to the three authoritative basic texts of the Vedanta Darshana.  They are Brahma Sutras, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. We shall see each one of them briefly in this and succeeding blogs, starting with Brahma Sutras, the most important and also the most difficult to grasp of the three.

Brahma Sutras is authored by Sage Veda Vyasa and is also variously known as Vedanta Sutrani and Sariraka Sutrani. This work is in sutra form. Sutra is a brief statement packed with ideas. A sutra should be concise, clear, unambiguous dealing with essentials only with no verbal frills. Brahma Sutras has 555 sutras divided into four chapters, adhyayas, with each chapter being subdivided into four sections each, known as padas. Each of these sections are further subdivided into adhikaranas or topics and there is in total 191 adhikaranas. The adhikaranas are not uniform and consist of five factors each: visaya (subject matter), samsayah (doubt), purva paksha (objections of other systems), Siddantha (conclusion of Vedantins) and sangathih (the link between previous and present topic).  With this brief introduction we shall take a bird’s eye-view of Brahma Sutras.

First Chapter
The First chapter comprises 134 sutras in 39 adhikaraṇas.  It is called Samanvayā-dhyāya, Samanvaya meaning consistency. It attempts to establish consistency in various statements concerning Brahman in various Upanishads. The chapter itself starts with the sutra “Athatho Brahmajijnasa” which translates into “Now, therefore the desire to know Brahman”. A correct, doubt-free understanding of Brahman is important as that alone leads to freedom from samsara, leading to moksha, liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Brahman alone is the ultimate cause of this universe. He alone is the upadhana karanam (material cause) and nimitha karanam (intelligent cause) for this universe,.  He is transcendant as well as immanent in this world. He is Anandamaya, full of eternal bliss. The only source of knowledge of this Brahman is the Upanishads. Brahma jnanam is not one of the means of liberation; it is the only means of liberation. Vedantic study is not the one of the means of Brahma jnanam; Vedanta is the only means of Brahma jnanam. Vedanta is an independent and unique pramanam. Vedanta deals with Brahman alone and nothing else. Brahma jnanam is jivatma, Paramatma aikyajnanam i.e. the knowledge of the basic identity of Jiva with Brahman. In this chapter the contradictory views of Sankhya philosophy and Purva Miimamsa regarding Brahman’s role in creation are also analysed and refuted.

Second Chapter
The Second chapter contains 157 sutras spread over 47 adhikaranams and is called Avirodha-dhyaya, avirodha meaning non-contradiction or non-conflict. Contradiction is a defect in the teaching and here it is shown that teaching of Brahman in Brahma Sutra is defect free. Here three types of seeming contradictions i.e. with Sruthi, Smrithi and Yukthi (logic) are analysed and negated. The second chapter is heavily logic-oriented as it tries to establish that there are there are no logical contradictions in the Vedanta system. Here it examines and dismisses not only the refutations of other darshanas like Sankhya and Vaiseshika but also of other schools of philosophy, Buddism and Jainism, as well.  In the second chapter, the teaching of the first chapter is reconfirmed and defended.  This was done by negating all the possible objections and establishing that there is no virodhah for the view established in the first chapter. In the second pada of this chapter the fallacies of other non-Vedantic systems are exposed.  This critical review enhances our reverence for Vedanta system and enthrones in our mind the Vedantic teaching.

Third Chapter
The third chapter is called Sadhana-dhyaya and is the longest, with 186 sutras spread over 67 adhikaraṇas. This chapter deals with the spiritual sadhanas required to gain Brahma Vidya. In the first two padas the two fundamental requirements, Vairagyam(dispassion) and Mumukshutvam(intense desire for moksha) are emphasised. The first pada talks about the doctrine of reincarnation, the departure of the soul from the physical body, and its going back to the earth and of Panchagnividya. This is done in order to create Vairagya or indifference to sensual enjoyments herein and hereafter. Second pada highlights Jnana Yoga sadhana by analysing Tat pada, Tvam pada and Aikyam in the MahavakhyaTat Tvam Asi”. In this connection it describes all the glorious attributes of the Supreme Brahman, His Omniscience, Omnipotence, etc., in order to create mumukshutvam making Brahman the sole object of quest. This pada discusses all the three states of Jiva;  waking, dream and deep sleep, to show they are only illusory and to establish the identity of Jiva and Brahman as the fourth state, Turiya. In third pada various upasanas are discussed as a means of attaining Brahma Jnanam by making intellect subtle and developing Chitta Ekagratha, one-pointed focussed mind.  
Upasanas are methods of meditation of Saguna Brahman on various symbols or Pratikas such as Vaisvanara or Virat, Sun, Akasa, Food, Prana and Mind. These symbols are props for the mind to lean upon in the beginning. The gross mind is rendered subtle, sharp and one-pointed by such upasanas which are called Vidyas. Fourth pada has Karma Yoga as its central theme. Ashrama karmas are discussed as the prime component of Karma Yoga. As a part of sannyasa ashrama duty, sravanam, mananam and nididyasanam are also highlighted. Duties of various ashramas; sannyasa, brahmacharya etc. are discussed in detail.  Rituals as part of Karma Yoga help to purify the mind. Such a purified mind when made subtle through upasana becomes fit to absorb Brahma Jnanam, through the process of sravana, manana, nididyasana.

Fourth Chapter
The fourth chapter has 78 sutras spread over 38 adhikaranas and is the smallest chapter. This chapter is called Phala-dhyaya as it discusses the benefit or fruit of Brahma Jnanam which is mukthi or liberation. This chapter discusses all the three types of mukthi; Jivan mukthi, Krama mukthi and Videha mukthi. The first pada discusses how one attaining Brahma Jnanam has his Sanchitha karma liquidated and attains Jivan mukthi. The Jivanmuktha attains Videha mukthi when Prarabhdha karma is liquidated through exhaustion. The second pada describes Devayana, also called arciradimarga, the path by which Saguna Brahma upasaka Jiva who has practised severe spiritual disciplines like tapas, sraddhā and brahmacarya, and also the Saguna Brahma upasana, travels to Brahmaloka after death.  Third and fourth padas describe how the upasaka Jiva getting Brahma Jnanam in Brahma loka, attains mukthi there and this type of mukthi is called krama mukthi. The work ends with the sutra, “anavṛttiḥ sabdat, repeated twice for emphasis, meaning `There is no return, since the scriptures declare so'. This means that the Jiva reaching the Brahmaloka thus will not return to this mundane existence. 


  1. Hi Uncle
    We should some time have a chat over the subject in person.


  2. As usual great elucidation. Congrats.