Brahma Sutras

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Brahmasutras or Vedantasutras

The Brahmasutras by Badarayana or Veda Vyasa are also known as Vedantasutras or Vyasasutras. They are the sacred philosophical book of sutras or aphorisms that summarize the teachings of the Upanishads. The Brahmasutras have 550 sutras arranged in four parts, dealing with the Ultimate Reality or Brahman, atman, jagat, maya and mukti or moksha. The sutras are very short statements, sometimes consisting of only two or three words. They cannot be understood properly without a profound teacher of a living tradition or a commentary (bhashya) of the great, erudite acharya.

The Brahmasutras are one of the three most important works of Indian philosophy, called the Prasthanatrayi. The Upanishads are called Shrutiprasthana, the Brahmasutras are Nyayaprasthana and the Bhagavad Gita is Smrutiprasthana. Prasthana means a treatise.

The Brahmasutras are a work of philosophy based on logic or Nyaya, whereas the other two are based on Shruti and Smruti traditions respectively. The Brahmasutras were a part of the ancient oral tradition of the Vedanta system. Their sutras were memorized by students and the meanings were explained by authorized teachers.

The Brahmasutras begin with the sutra, "Athato Brahma jignasa", which means, "Now then [let us have] an enquiry about Brahman" and concludes with the sutra, "Anavruttihi sabdat, Anavruttihi sabdat," which means, "Not returning back in samsara in the mundane world – which means the attainment of mukti."

In the first chapter (or pada) there is a discussion on Brahman as the sole and supreme cause of all things and rejection of other philosophical systems (i.e., Sankhya, etc.) that do not accept Brahman to be the Supreme Reality.

In the second chapter, arguments for the rejection of Sankhya continue from the first chapter. The Bhagavata system is mentioned at the end.

The third chapter deals with jivatma. There is also a discussion on the state of dreams, dreamless sleep, meditation and types of knowledge of Brahman.

The fourth chapter continues discussing the topic of meditation and it ends with the description of conditions of a knower of Brahman after his death.

The Brahmasutras say that Vedic authority is the highest in matters of moksha. The Brahmasutras became so popular that almost all the renowned acharyas wrote their commentaries on them. The first commentary available to us is that of Adi Shankaracharya who wrote the Shankarabhashya to establish his own school of Kevaladvaita Vedanta.

Some of the acharyas who have written commentaries on the Brahmasutras are as follows:

CommentatorSampradaya or School of VedantaName of Bhashya on the Brahmasutras
Adi ShankaracharyaKevaladvaitaShankarabhashya
BhaskaracharyaBhedabhedaBrahmasutra bhashya
RamanujacharyaVishishtadvaitaShribhashya
NimbarkacharyaDvaitadvaitaVedantaparijata-saurabha
MadhvacharyaDvaitaBrahmasutra bhashya
VallabhacharyaShuddhadvaitaAnubhashya
BaldevacharyaAchintyabhedabhedaGovindabhashya
ShripatiDvaitadvaitaShrikarabhashya

The above mentioned eight well-known schools of Vedanta are but a few of the many important ones. Each of the acharyas explained the most diverse philosophical and theological views in their interpretation of the very same aphorisms. They have the liberty to interpret, because the sutras are brief, containing mostly two, three or four Sanskrit words which have more than two or three meanings.

Undoubtedly the Brahmasutras have influenced all important aspects of Hindu philosophy, religion and culture, including the modern Hindu movements.