Sri Ram Janam Bhoomi Prana Pratishta competition logo.jpg

Sri Ram Janam Bhoomi Prana Pratisha Article Competition winners

Rāmāyaṇa where ideology and arts meet narrative and historical context by Prof. Nalini Rao

Rāmāyaṇa tradition in northeast Bhārat by Virag Pachpore

Vedānta Darśana

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Out of the six darśanas or systems of philosophy which accept the authority of the Vedas,[1] the last two, the Mīmāṅisā and the Vedānta systems, are directly connected with them. The Mīmāṅsā system tries to reconcile the various Vedic texts that seem to give different directions with regard to the same ritual system. The Vedānta system attempts to make out a coherent philosophy of Brahman[2] from the apparently conflicting statements in the Upaniṣads.

Preamble Sutras[edit]

As per the ancient system of education, the students need to live in the campus of a forest academy along with the teachers. The teaching imparted was in the form of sutras or aphorisms, followed by explanations and discussions. When the learning was to be crammed to the memory, this method of teaching was considered supremely important.

The sutra literature is a classed by itself. As per the norms set for a sutra, it should be ‘alpākṣara’,[3] ‘asandigdha’,[4] ‘sāravat’[5] and yet ‘viśvatomukha’.[6] However, in their anxiety to economize the words, the composers of the sutra-works seem to have so overdone it that bhāṣyas or explanatory commentaries by later writers became necessary. The śrauta, the gṛhya and the dharmasutras form the earliest bunch of sutra literature. The darśanas or the philosophical systems which are of a later period, followed this sutra model since it served their purpose well.


The Vedānta system deals with the Upaniṣads which are the end-portions[7] of the Vedas and also contain the essence[8] of the same. The system is based on three canonical works:

  1. The Upaniṣads
  2. The Brahmasutras of Bādarāyaṇa
  3. The Bhagavadgitā

The Upaniṣads are called ‘śruti-prasthāna’. The Brahmasutras are termed as ‘nyāya-prasthāna’. The Bhagavadgitā is renowned as ‘smṛti-prasthāna’. All these three scriptures are commonly known as ‘prasthānatraya’. ‘Prasthāna’ means a school of philosophy or religion.

The Upaniṣads[edit]

Teachings of the Upaniṣad[edit]

Though a very large number of works by the name ‘Upaniṣad’ are available in print today, orthodox tradition accepts only a handful of them, twelve to fourteen, as ancient and authoritative. The entire edifice of the Vedānta system of philosophy depends upon these few Upaniṣads. The teachings of these Upaniṣads can be classified as follows:

  • Brahman as the ultimate cause of this world
  • Nature of Brahman
  • Evolution of this world and its character
  • Nature of the living beings as individual souls
  • Their relationship with Brahman
  • Their involvement in this world as well as their transmigration
  • The final goal of life
  • The disciplines that help in reaching that goal

Significance of Commentaries on Upaniṣad[edit]

This takes us to the next point, the various Upaniṣadic statements that form the basis for the philosophy of the Brahmasutras. Since some of these statements appeared to contradict one another, Bādarāyaṇa had to undertake the unenviable task of collating them to weave out a homogeneous philosophy. While doing it, he naturally chose the most ancient of the Upaniṣads. Which are those Upaniṣads, Bādarāyaṇa has discussed in these sutras? There is no direct indication in the sutras since they are too laconic. For this we have to depend almost entirely on the bhāṣyakāras or the commentators who fortunately are more or less unanimous in deciphering the same.

In the first 31 adhikaraṇas[9] the major statements that form the viṣaya or viṣayavākya[10] are from the following Upaniṣads, with the number of such sentences noted against them and the nature of attainment of that final goal. Factually the Upaniṣads, as extant today, do not give a coherent picture of these various subjects discussed in them. Since tradition and orthodoxy deem the entire body of the Upaniṣads as one canonical scripture, the Śruti, it became necessary to reinterpret and re-organize their teachings so as to give them a more coherent look. It was exactly this that Bādarāyaṇa attempted and the result was the Brahmasutras.

The Brahmasutras[edit]

Origin of the Brahmasutras[edit]

The work derives its name from the fact that it deals chiefly with Brahman[11] as described in the Upaniṣads, in all its aspects. It is also known by other names as follows:

  1. The Vedānta-sutras, since the subject matter is that of Vedānta or the Upaniṣads
  2. The Sāriraka-sutras, since the ātman living in the śarīra or the body is dealt with in the work
  3. The Uttara-mimānsā-sutras as opposed to the Purva-mīmānsāsutras since it does mimānsā or enquiry into the uttara or latter part of the Vedas
  4. The Bhikṣu-sutras since it is specially recommended for study by the bhikṣus or the sanyāsins

Bādarāyana, the Author[edit]

Nothing is known about Bādarāyaṇa, the author of this celebrated work. Traditionalists identify him with Vyāsa, who might have been his contemporaries. Though his opinions differed from them, he has not criticized their views, probably because they were also Vedāntins of repute, who had accepted the Upaniṣads as the primary authority and Brahman as the highest truth.

About the Work[edit]

The work Brahmasutras is in four adhyāyas or chapters. Each adhyāya is divided into four pādas or quarters. The pādas comprise adhikaraṇas or topics, each composed of sutras. The total number of adhikaraṇas and the sutras, according to Śaṅkara,[12] the earliest commentator, is 191 and 555 respectively. However, variations are seen in this number and also in the readings themselves.

Splitting one sutra into two, fusing two sutras into one or adding the last word of a sutra to the beginning of the next are some of the reasons for such variations in the readings. Such alterations in the structure of the sutras have contributed to divergent interpretations also. Not only that, divergent views have also arisen due to one school considering a particular sutra as stating the purvapakṣa[13] and another school accepting the same sutra as the siddhānta.[14]

Parts of Adhikaraṇas[edit]

As already stated, each pāda of the various adhyāyas, comprises several adhikaraṇas or topics. An adhikaraṇa must have five parts connected in a graded manner. They are:

  1. Viṣaya or topic
  2. Viśaya or sanśaya, doubt
  3. Purvapakṣa or opponent’s view
  4. Siddhānta or established conclusion
  5. Saṅgati or connection between the different sections

Determining Factors for Numbers of Sutras[edit]

The number of sutras in any adhikaraṇa depends on the nature of the subject under discussion. It is determined by the ambiguity in the sutras, the titles and the number of the adhikaraṇas vary from commentator to commentator. While Nimbārka[15] has the minimum number of adhikaraṇas[16] Madhva[17] has the maximum.[18]

Connotation Behind Each Sutra[edit]

The purport of the sutra itself is determined by the commentators as per the principle of ṣaḍvidhaliṅgas or six characteristic signs. They are:

  1. Upakrama and upasaṅhāra - It is the beginning and the end.
  2. Abhyāsa - It delineates repetition.
  3. Apurvatā - It denotes novelty.
  4. Phala - It refers to the objective.
  5. Arthavāda - It means the eulogy.
  6. Upapatti - It signifies the logicality.

Contents of Brahmasutras[edit]

True to its name, the work Brahmasutras deals primarily with Brahman as the highest truth, the only independent truth, by realizing which, a person transcends transmigratory existence. The one and the only authority for the existence of Brahman and also for its true nature is the Śruti, the Jñānakāṇḍa part[19] of the Vedas comprising the Upaniṣads. This knowledge of Brahman can never be obtained by logic and reasoning which depend upon the puny human intellect. Since the intellect depends upon the knowledge gained by the senses and since Brahman, the pure consciousness, is beyond the ken of the senses, the Śruti as revealed to the ṛṣis is the only source for knowing him.

This takes us to the next point of the various Upaniṣadic statements forming the basis for the philosophy of the Brahmasutras. Since some of these statements appeared to contradict one another, Bādarāyaṇa had to undertake the unenviable task of collating them to weave out a homogeneous philosophy. While doing it, he naturally chose the most ancient of the Upaniṣads. There is no direct indication about these ancient Upaniṣads in the sutras since they are too laconic. This can be deciphered entirely through the bhāṣyakāras or the commentators who, fortunately for us, are more or less unanimous in deciphering the same.

Reference from the Upaniṣads[edit]

In the first 31 adhikaraṇas[20] the major statements that form the viṣaya or viṣayavākya[21] are from the following Upaniṣads, with the number of such sentences noted against them:

Sr. No. Name of the Upaniṣads Number of Sentences Noted from it
1 Chāndogya Upaniṣad 14
2 Brhadāranyaka Upaniṣad 5
3 Kathā Upaniṣad 4
4 Taittiriya Upaniṣad 2
5 Mundaka Upaniṣad 3
6 Praśna Upaniṣad 1
7 Kausitaki Upaniṣad 2

References from Other Teachers[edit]

Apart from these, sentences taken from the Svetāśvatara, the Aitareya and the Jābāla Upaniṣads have also been discussed. While analyzing the purport of the various passages from the Upaniṣads, Bādarāyaṇa has quoted the opinions of other teachers also. They are:

  1. Atreya
  2. Āśmarathya
  3. Auḍulomi
  4. Kārṣṇājani
  5. Kāśakṛtsna
  6. Jaimini
  7. Bādari

Almost all these names appear in the earlier works like the śrautasutras and the gṛhyasutras. It is likely that some preceded Bādarāyaṇa and others like Jaimini might have been his contemporaries. Though he differed from them, he has not criticized their views, probably because they were also Vedāntins of repute, who had accepted the Upaniṣads as the primary authority and Brahman as the highest truth.

A Brief Synopsis[edit]

The contents of the work are as follows:

First Chapter[edit]

The First chapter comprises of 134 sutras in 39 adhikaraṇas. It has been called Samanvayādhyāya, since it attempts to harmonize[22] the principles dealt with in the various Upaniṣads. The work starts with the famous sutra athāto brahmajijñāsā.[23] Since the knowledge or experience of Brahman leads to mokṣa or freedom from transmigration, it is very necessary to have a correct understanding of Brahman. Keeping this in view, the treatise deals with the various statements in the well-known Upaniṣads concerning Brahman. The major points describing about Brahman is as follows:

  • Brahman is he from whom this world came into existence, in whom it inheres and to whom it returns at the end of a cycle of creation.
  • The only source for the knowledge of this Brahman is the Śruti or the Upaniṣads.
  • Brahman alone is the ultimate cause of this world and not prakṛti or pradhāna as the Sāñkhyas aver, since it is insentient. An insentient cause can never think or will and produce such a perfectly designed universe.
  • This Brahman is ānandamaya, full of bliss.
  • He is transcendent as well as immanent in this world, including the jīvātmas or the individual souls.
  • The being of light that exists in āditya or the sun and our own eyes is also Brahman.
  • He is also designated as ākāśa, prāṇa, bhumā and akṣara.
  • The being described as ‘aṅguṣthamātra-puruṣa[24] is also really Brahman and not the jīva, or the individual soul.
  • Even the word Atman refers to him.

Bādarāyaṇa quotes the opinions of Āśmarathya, Audulomi and Kāśakṛtsna in the fourth pāda of this chapter. These views can be quoted as:

  • Āśmarathya thinks that the jīvātmas are both different and non-different from Brahman or Paramātman just as the sparks of fire are both identical with and different from fire.
  • Audulomi opines that the jivas are different from Brahman in the state of bondage but become one with him in the state of liberation.
  • Kāśakṛtsna, however, considers the two to be identical, since it is Brahman that has become the jīva also.

Though the views of these teachers are stated, Bādarāyaṇa does not give his own opinion or preference. The last part of this chapter asserts that Brahman is both the upādānakāraṇa[25] and the nimittakāraṇa[26] of this world.

Second Chapter[edit]

Designated as Avirodhādhyāya, this chapter with 157 sutras distributed among 47 adhikaraṇas applies itself to dispel any virodha or contradiction that may confront this philosophy of Vedānta. Vedānta is not opposed to smṛti[27] and tarka.[28] The opposition of schools like that of the Sāṅkhya is fallible. There is no contradiction among the various statements in the Upaniṣads dealing with subjects like creation. This is the main purport of the teaching of this chapter.

Out of the several non-Vedāntic systems of philosophy that existed during Bādarāyaṇa’s time, the Sāṅkhya system was the most powerful. Hence it has been given special attention while refuting the other schools. One of the important factors discussed here is the relationship between the kāraṇa[29] and the kārya.[30] The Sāṅkhyan view known as ‘sat-kārya-vāda’ states that the kārya or the effect pre-exists[31] in the kāraṇa or cause.

In the process of creation, it just gets manifested and is not newly produced, since something real can never be produced from the unreal. On the other hand the Vaiśeṣika school accepts the ‘asat-kārya-vāda,’ according to which the previously non-existent[32] effect is newly produced. In the former case, the effect pre-exists in the upādāna-kāraṇa[33] and in the latter, the nimitta-kāraṇa[34] is constant. Bādarāyaṇa accepts these views partially and declares, on the basis of the Upaniṣads, that Brahman is ‘abhinna-nimitta-upādāna-kāraṇa,’ both the material and the efficient cause of this world. Hence this world is non-different from Brahman. The objection that this world consists of insentient objects and hence cannot be the product of the sentient Brahman does not hold good, since the Śruti, the highest authority in such matters which are beyond the powers of the ordinary human intellect, declares it to be so.

Brahman has no selfish motive in creating this world, since he is self-contented. There is neither partiality nor cruelty in this creation since justice is meted out to the jīvas according to their karmas or deserts. The purpose of creation of this world is to help the jīvas to attain ānanda or bliss by getting established in Brahman, the Bliss- Absolute. Apart from the Sāṅkhya school, the other schools like those of the Vaiśeṣikas, the Buddhists, the Jainas, the Pāśupatas and the Bhāgavatas like the Pāñcarātras have also been critically examined and dismissed.

Third Chapter[edit]

The third chapter is called Sādhanādhyāya. It is the longest of all chapters having 186 sutras spread over 67 adhikaraṇas. Though called thus, the topics discussed are diverse. They are:

  • Transmigration of the jīva into other bodies
  • Dream-creations of the jīva
  • Its experiencing the deserts of karma by the will of īśvara or God
  • Various vidyās or meditations mentioned in the Upaniṣads and clarifications regarding them
  • Collating of a vidyā when described differently in different Upaniṣads
  • Knowledge of the Atman or Brahman as independent of karmas or rituals
  • Certain clarifications regarding the rituals and duties prescribed for the various āśramas[35]
  • Prāyaścittas[36]
  • Others

Fourth Chapter[edit]

This chapter is known as Phalādhyāya. It is the shortest with only 78 sutras and 38 adhikaraṇas. The main topic discussed is the journey of the jīva after death to Brahmaloka by the ‘arcirādimārga’ or ‘devayāna’, the path of light of gods. One who is interested in mokṣa or liberation has to practise śravaṇa[37] and allied disciplines until realization. The various upāsanās or meditations described in the Upaniṣads aid the jīva in the process of attaining mokṣa. On attaining brahmajñāna or knowledge of Brahman, sañcita-karma[38] gets destroyed. Āgāmī-karma, karma done after realization, is rendered fruitless. The prārabdha-karma, the karma that has already started in this body and is yielding results has to be exhausted only by experiencing it.

The jīvas who have practiced severe spiritual disciplines like tapas,[39] śraddhā[40] and brahmacarya,[41] and also vidyās like meditation on Brahman will travel by the arcirādimārga or the path of light comprising light, day, bright-fortnight after death and reach the Brahmaloka from which there is no return. There are divine guides called ‘ātivāhikas’ who take the jīva through the various stations of light to the Brahmaloka.

Anomalies in the descriptions concerning the details of the arcirādimārga have been set right through proper interpretations and arguments. The work ends with the declaration, anāvrttih śabdāt, repeated twice for emphasis on:

‘There is no return, since the scriptures declare so’.

It means that the jīva reaching the Brahmaloka will not return to this mundane existence. Descriptions of the nature of the muktapuruṣa, the liberated soul, are given at the appropriate places. The views of Jaimini, Audulomi and Bādari in this regards have also been cited.

The Philosophy of Bādarāyana[edit]

Bādarāyaṇa wrote the Brahmasutras to systematize the teachings of the Upaniṣads into a coherent philosophy. However, since the sutras are short and terse, it becomes quite a job to find out what exactly is his own philosophy as revealed through this work. Even with the help of the sutras which seem to be more unambiguous than the others, an attempt may now be made to portray the same.

  • The one and only pramāṇa[42] that Bādarāyaṇa accepts while expounding the Vedānta system is the Śruti or the Vedas, especially the Jñānakānda part of it, viz., the Upaniṣads. He considers the words of the Vedas as nitya or eternal.
  • Logic and reasoning, which can always be unsettled by superior ones, can never be relied upon in determining the transcendental truths like the ultimate cause of the world.
  • Smṛtis or secondary scriptures like the Manusmrti and the Mahābhārata including the Bhagavadgitā can also be depended upon insofar as they do not contradict the Śruti.
  • The Śruti declares Brahman as the origin of this universe, the primary, nay, the only truth. In fact, the very definition, Janmādyasya yatah Brahmasutras 1.1.2</ref> makes him the uncaused cause, the ground of sustenance and involution of the world.
  • He is both the material and the efficient cause of the world. He needs no external implements or assistance and can transform himself even as milk is transformed into its products. He evolves himself into ākāśa, vāyu and other products by willing the same and he is associated with every stage of creation up to the last.
  • Since it is Brahman that has evolved into this world, this world is non-different from him, even as an unfolded cloth is non-different from the same which was earlier folded.
  • The activity of creation is a līlā or effortless sport for Brahman. But, since it is done as per the karmas of the unredeemed jīvas, one should not attribute partiality or cruelty to him, seeing the good and evil that exist here.
  • As regards the jīva or the individual soul, Bādarāyaṇa defines him as a ‘jña’ or knower, a being endowed with consciousness. He has no birth or death. He is eternal and atomic in size.
  • Whether the jīva is an aṅśa[43] of Brahman or his ābhāsa[44] has not been stated clearly though the views of other Vedāntins like Āśmarathya, Audulomi and Kāśakṛtsna have been given.
  • The relationship between the jīva and Brahman has been likened to the snake and its coiled-up state, or light and its source. Thus the question whether they are different or identical has been left unanswered.
  • By meditation on Atman/Brahman leading to jñāna, or experience of the same, the jīva attains liberation.
  • The Śrutis give equal importance to the performance of karma or prescribed actions and tyāga or renunciation of the same, though the performance of duties prescribed for the respective āśramas[45] has been stressed even for the spiritual aspirant.
  • The fruits of the various upāsanās or meditations practiced by a jīva accrue to him by the grace of Iśvara.[46]
  • On attaining the knowledge of Brahman, all the sañcita-karma[47] of the jīva will be destroyed. He will live as long as the prārabdha-karma[48] lasts. But, the karma done after attaining knowledge will not affect him.
  • The jīva who has reached the acme of meditation while living, will after death, travel by the arcirādimārga or devayāna[49] and reach Brahmaloka from which there is no return to this world. There, he will be one with Brahman, non-different from him. The various attributes predicated of Brahman get manifested in the liberated jīva.
  • Caitanya or consciousness being his essential nature is always there.

It can be concluded affirmatively that Bādarāyaṇa teaches a kind of advaita.[50] He does not admit the existence of either the jīvas or the world as independent of, or different from, Brahman. Since he has accepted the Upaniṣads as the supreme authority and the other teachers like Bādari whom he has quoted, also did the same, he has not contradicted them. Both the views, that Brahman is nirviśeṣa-cinmātra-svarupa[51] and saviśeṣa[52] seem to be acceptable to him. Obviously he has tried to reconcile the various, apparently conflicting, views expressed in the Upaniṣads and explain them rather than formulate his own philosophy.

The Commentators and Their Works[edit]

The Vedas have been the foundation of religion and culture for millennia. The philosophy of Vedānta based on the Upaniṣads has held sway over the intelligentsia for centuries. Hence, the Brahmasutras of Bādarāyaṇa has attracted the attention of the distinguished scholars over the years, who have enriched the Vedānta literature by their brilliant expositions. All these commentators have evinced great respect for Bādarāyaṇa and his monumental work. They have tried to critically examine all the other schools that were important during their days and to prove the superiority of Vedānta over them. They were equally keen to establish their own school of Vedānta also.

Of the several bhāṣyas or commentaries available to us today, that of Śaṅkara is the earliest. There might have been quite a few bhāṣyas composed by the earlier writers. It can however be stated with certainty that Upavarṣa, to whom Śaṅkara refers in his commentary[53] must have been one such. Bodhāyana, another commentator, referred to as ‘Vṛttikāra’ by Rāmānuja, is sometimes identified with this Upavarṣa though there is no unanimity regarding it.

The following list of commentators who have left bhāṣyas directly on the Brahmasutras may be useful to the students of Vedanta philosophy:

Sr. No. Bhāṣyakāra Period (A.D.) School of Vedānta
1. Śankara 788-820 Advaita
2. Bhāskara 996-1061 Bhedābheda
3. Yādavaprakāśa 1000 Bhedābheda
4. Rāmānuja 1017-1127 Viśiṣtādvaita
5. Madhva 1238-1317 Dvaita
6. Nimbārka Latter half of 13th century Dvaitādvaita
7. Śrīkaṇtha 1270 Śaiva-Viśistādvaita
8. Śrīpati 1400 Bhedā-bhedātmaka-Viśiṣtādvaita
9. Vallabha 1479-1544 Śuddhādvaita
10. Śuka 1550 Bhedavāda
11. Vijñānabhikṣu 1550 Ātma-brahmaikya-bhedavāda
12. Baladeva 1725 Acintya-bhedābheda

Since the schools propounded by Śaṅkara, Rāmānuja and Madhva are more well-known and have gained precedence over the other, they will be taken up first.


Śaṅkara’s darśana or philosophy as revealed in his bhāṣyas on the Bhagavadgitā, the ten ancient Upaniṣads and the Brahmasutras is now well-known as Advaita Vedānta. The often quoted and famous verse mentioned below gives this philosophy in a nutshell.

Brahma satyarh jagan mithyā jlvo brahmaiva nāparah’ which means ‘Brahman alone is real; this world is only an illusory appearance. The jīva is verily Brahman and is not different from him.’

Śaṅkara categorizes Brahman into two aspects:

  1. Para-brahman
  2. Apara-brahman

Where the Upaniṣadic statements deny all limiting adjuncts to Brahman like name and form, created by avidyā or ignorance of his essential nature, he is Para, the higher, Brahman. On the other hand, where these statements describe him as endowed with name, form and several attributes, it is the Apāra or the lower Brahman that is referred to. It is the latter that is the cause for the creation of this world, its sustenance and its dissolution.

Really speaking, Brahman does not get transformed into this world. The multiplicity of names and forms is only a ‘vivarta,’ an appearance, due to avidyā or ignorance, even as a snake is perceived in a rope in insufficient light. This he calls as ‘adhyāsa’ or ‘adhyāropa’.[54] Through vidyā or discriminative knowledge, ‘apavāda’ or desuperimposition takes place, giving the true knowledge of the reality.

Śaṅkara considers the jīvas as caitanya or pure consciousness, but, circumscribed by the aṅtahkaraṇa[55] The jīva, though nitya,[56] śuddha,[57] buddha[58] and mukta,[59] appears as kartā[60] and bhoktā[61] due to the limitation imposed by the aṅtahkaraṇa.

The Upaniṣadic sentences like ‘tat tvam asi’ teach the essential identity between the jīva and Brahman, as pure consciousness, after eliminating their adventitious qualities. Śaṅkara does accept kramamukti or gradual liberation of the jīva after death, by travelling through the devayāna, to Brahmaloka, as described in the Upaniṣads and the Brahmasutras. However, he is emphatic about sadyomukti or instant liberation, simultaneously with the rising of jñāna or knowledge. Such mukti is also called jīvanmukti, liberation even while living.


Rāmānuja’s commentary on the Brahmasutras is known as Śrihāsya. Apart from this, he has also composed two more smaller works on the Brahmasutras, the Vedāntadīpa and the Vedāntasāra. The former, being a later work, contains some additional explanations. Rāmānuja’s Srībhāsya is stated to follow in the footsteps of the more detailed Bodhāyanavṛtti and also some other earlier Vedāntins like Brahmanandi and Dramidācārya whose works are not available now.

Rāmānuja accepts Brahman as the highest and independent reality. However Brahman includes in himself cit[62] and acit.[63] These two are also real, but under the absolute control of Brahman. Brahman also called īśvara by him includes them, is immanent in then and also transcends them. Hence, Rāmānuja’s system is called ‘Viśiṣṭādvaita,’ advaita or non-duality of Brahman, the Absolute, but ‘viśiṣta’ or qualified by cit and acit. It is similar to a tree with branches, leaves and fruits. Though the tree is ‘one,’ it has internal parts, each part being different from the other parts, the tree itself, however, always remaining as one.

To Rāmānuja, Brahman is the Supreme Person[64] who is the ruler of all. He is antagonistic to all the evils. He possesses infinite auspicious qualities. He is omniscient and omnipotent. The creation, subsistence and re-absorption of this world proceed from him. Rāmānuja considers the jīva or the individual soul as the spirit different from the body, atomic in size and endowed with jñāna or consciousness which contracts or expands. He has a free will. The jīvas are infinite in number. Some jīvas called ‘nityas’ are ever free. Others who are now ‘baddha’ or bound, can attain mukti through bhakti and prapatti[65] and the grace of God. All the liberated jīvas are similar in nature. Spiritual life starts with the performance of the prescribed karmas in the right spirit leading to the purification of the mind. Such a pure jīva becomes fit to practice jñāna and experience his separateness from the body-mind complex. However, it is through bhakti and prapatti that he ultimately attains Brahman through the devayāna and becomes free.


A thorough-going dualist, Madhva has composed 37 works which collectively go by the name Sarvamula. The short and terse bhāṣya on the Brahmasutras, the Anubhāsya a brief treatise on the same in verses, Nyāyavivarana and the Anuvyākhyāna are the four works on the sutraprasthāna. He proposes the philosophy of realism and a monotheistic theology centering on devotion to Viṣṇu or Nārāyaṇa.

According to him Brahman, identified with Viṣṇu[66] is the independent reality. Prakṛti or matter, and the jīvas or souls who are atomic and infinite in number, are coeval realities but entirely dependent on him. Brahman is essentially knowledge and bliss. Though his infinite personality is beyond our conception, out of grace for us, he can take forms which are neither material nor finite. Madhva proclaims the theory of pañcabhedas or five eternal differences between Brahman and the jīvas, Brahman and prakṛti, jīvas and prakṛti, jīva and jīva, and various objects of prakṛti. He categorizes the jīvas into three groups:

  1. Muktiyogyas - This group is capable of attaining mukti or liberation.
  2. Nityasansārins - This group being interested only in the crass pleasure of the world and not a whit in moral regeneration or spiritual elevation, eternally goes through the rounds of births and deaths.
  3. Tamoyogyas - This group of jīvas, the damned sinners that they are, degenerates into lower births and suffers in hell.

The jīvas get liberation through bhakti and the grace of God. In the state of liberation they are not only freed from suffering but also enjoy positive bliss. Differences among the jīvas, however, persist even in the state of liberation.


Bhāskara is the trail-blazer for the post-Saṅkara schools of Vedānta which did not agree with Śankara’s brand of advaita based on māyāvāda, the theory of the unreality of this world. He is a strict Vedāntin in the sense that he takes his stand based on the Upaniṣads and the Brahmasutras. His commentary on the latter expounds his philosophy.

Bhāskara advocates the acceptance of the direct meaning of all the passages of the Upaniṣads without any distinction. He presents a Brahman who has innumerable auspicious attributes, but without any particular form. He has a twofold power, the bhoktṛśakti[67] and the bhogyaśakti.[68] Using these two powers Brahman transforms himself into the acetana or insentient objects and the jīvas or the sentient souls. Though this transformation is real, it does not affect him in any way.

The jīvas in their essential nature are one with Brahman, but get differentiated from him in the state of bondage due to the upādhis or limiting adjuncts; the bodies and minds which are real. These upādhis, though real, are not nitya or eternal. They are to be considered real since they are actually experienced. But, in the state of liberation, they become one with Brahman even as the rivers flowing into the ocean become one with it. Bhāskara considers this world as the kāryarupa or effect of Brahman and hence real. With regards to the sādhana, Bhāskara recommends performance of scripture-ordained duties without any desire for their fruits and the practice of meditation on Brahman and also the jīva’s oneness with him. Since he does not accept a Personal God, there is no place for divine grace in his system.


Nimbārka’s Dvaitādvaita is very similar to the Bhedābheda of Bhāskara. However, being a firm believer in Brahman with form and attributes and the path of devotion, his philosophy is more akin to that of Rāmānuja. Nimbārka’s main work is Vedānta-pārijāta-saurabha which is his commentary on the Brahmasutras. It is rather brief but lucid, since he avoids the dialectical methods or a flowery style.

According to him there are three equally real and co-eternal tattvas or principles which are Brahman, cit and acit. While Brahman is the controller or niyantṛ, cit[69] is the enjoyer, bhoktṛ, and acit[70] is the enjoyed, bhogya. Acit is of three kinds:

  1. Prākṛta or what is derived from prakṛti or primal matter
  2. Aprākṛta or what is not derived from prakṛti but derived from a non-material substance of which the world of Brahman is made
  3. Kāla or time

They are different from one another in their svarupa or nature. But the cit and the acit are paratantra-tattvas, dependent realities. Nimbārka adopts the view that the bheda[71] and the abheda[72] are both equally real. They coexist but do not contradict each other. It is something like the relationship between the sea and its waves or the sun and its rays. Cit and acit, the souls and the universe, exist in Brahman from all eternity and never get separated from him, whether in the causal state or when manifested. They retain their individuality even during salvation or dissolution of the universe.

Brahman is personal, possesses a celestial body, and is full of exquisite beauty and grace. Nimbārka identifies him with Kṛṣṇa and posits Rādhā as his Śakti or consort even as Rāmānuja accepts Lakṣmī as the consort of Viṣṇu-Nārāyaṇa. Brahman is omniscient, the cause of the origin, sustenance and destruction of the universe. He is all-powerful and yet all-merciful. He is gracious to his devotees and helps them have a direct vision of himself.

The jīvas are atomic and infinite in number. Each of them is a distinctive agent, a jñatṛ,[73] kartṛ[74] and bhoktṛ[75] of the karmas he does. They animate the body they live in, even as a small lamp kept in a room lights up the whole room. There are three destinies for the jīvas, they are:

  1. Naraka or hell for the sinners
  2. Svarga or heaven for the virtuous
  3. Apavarga or release for the enlightened ones

Apavarga is attaining the world of Brahman from which there is no return. Constant meditation on Brahman as the inmost self of the jīva or the individual soul is the means of attaining Brahman in Brahmaloka. There he has brahma-svarupa-lābha, becomes similar to him in nature, except for the power of creation. The other sādhanas recommended are:

  1. Scripture-ordained work
  2. Knowledge
  3. Devotion and surrender to God
  4. Strict obedience to the spiritual teacher


Vallabha’s philosophy is known as Śuddhādvaita. He is said to have written two commentaries on the Brahmasutras, the Brhadbhāsya and the Anubhāsya, of which the former is not available now. The latter is up to the 33rd sutra of the second pāda of the third adhyāya[76] only. The book was completed by his son Viṭṭhalanātha. Apart from the prasthānatraya, he holds the Bhāgavata in very high esteem. He wrote a commentary on it also called as Subodhinī, which too remained incomplete. For Vallabha, God the Absolute is Kṛṣṇa whom the Upaniṣads call ‘Brahman’. He is one without a second and is sat-cit-ānanda.[77] He has three forms:

  1. Parabrahman, Puruṣottama or Kṛṣṇa
  2. Antaryāmin, the indwelling spirit of all the living beings
  3. Akṣarabrahman which is the object of meditation and the abode of Kṛṣṇa

It is this Akṣara that appears as prakṛti[78] and puruṣa,[79] but is beyond both. While Puruṣottama is the highest, Akṣara is an expression of his. This Akṣara, again, appears in three more forms:

  1. Kāla - time
  2. Karma - action
  3. Svabhāva - nature

Kāla or time is supra-sensible and is inferred from its effects. It is all-pervasive and the support of all beings. Karma or action is also universal. It manifests itself as different actions of different beings. Svabhāva or nature is that which produces pariṇāma or change. God is both saguṇa and nirguṇa.[80] He cannot be known except through his own grace. Through his māyāśakti, he can become anything at any time. He is both the material and the efficient cause of this world. He creates the world through his own nature and hence the samavāyi-kāraṇa, the inherent cause. Though he exists everywhere in his tripartite nature as being, consciousness and bliss, their manifestation in the created universe differs. Matter reflects only the being aspect being ‘sat’, the souls reflect the consciousness aspect also called as 'cit’ whereas as Brahman, he manifests all the three fully.

Though unmanifest and transcendent in his own nature, by creating the world through his will, he becomes manifest and an object of comprehension. Since this world is a manifestation of Brahman, it is never destroyed but is only withdrawn into him at his will. The jivas or individual souls come out of Akṣara-Brahman like sparks from fire. They are eternal parts of Brahman and are atomic in size. They are of three classes:

  1. Puṣṭi - The first are the chosen ones enjoying the grace of God, and ardently devoted to him.
  2. Maryādā - The second study the scriptures, perform the rites prescribed as ordained duties and also cultivate devotion. They attain God in course of time.
  3. Pravāha - The last are interested only in the worldly life and hence transmigrate constantly. Some of them, due to satsaṅga or good company, may attain God later.

Vallabha considers bhakti or devotion as the only means of salvation. By that the jīva is released from the cycle of birth and death and enjoys the bliss of God in all the possible ways. He also holds that the knower of Brahman is absorbed in Akṣara-Brahman and not in Puruṣottama. It is only through bhakti that the latter, the highest aspect, can be attained. He advocates two forms of bhakti:

  1. Maryādā-bhakti - It is formal devotion to be practiced as described in the scriptures and has to be cultivated by self-effort.
  2. Puṣṭi-bhakti - It is attained by the grace of God alone, without one’s effort. ‘Puṣṭi’ refers, not to the physical nourishment, but to the spiritual nourishment got by the grace of God. Hence it is named as ‘Puṣṭi-bhakti’.

Consequently, Vallabha’s system is also called ‘Puṣṭi-mārga’. Emphasis on the worship of Bālakṛṣṇa,[81] and sevā or service to him, find an important place in the mode of sādhana taught by him.


Baladeva is an important teacher of the Bengal school of Vaiṣṇavism developed by Śrīkṛṣṇa Caitanya.[82] The philosophy of this school is known as Acintya-bhedābheda. Govindabhāsya is his commentary on the Brahmasutras, Siddhāntaratna being another work that expounds this philosophy. This school, though deeply indebted to the Dvaita system of Madhva, also differs from it.

According to this school of thought, Brahman the highest reality is Kṛṣṇa, Viṣṇu or Hari. He is the Personal God possessing infinite auspicious qualities, which are ‘acintya’ or beyond our comprehension. He is ‘nirguṇa’ only in the sense that he is beyond the three guṇas of sattva, rajas and tamas. The scriptures are the only authority to reveal him. God has three powers:

  1. Parāśakti - higher power
  2. Aparāśakti - lower power
  3. Avidyāśakti - nescience-power

Through the first, he becomes the efficient cause, and, through the other two, the material cause. When the latter two powers are manifested in gross forms, the universe of souls and matter arises. Creation of the world is a spontaneous act of the Lord. However, he does it as per the karmas of the individual souls. The individual soul is eternal. It is both knowledge and knower, an enjoyer and an active agent, though not independent. It is atomic in size.

Bhakti is the sole and direct cause of salvation. Though dhyāna or upāsanā[83] is one form of bhakti, it is through premābhakti[84] that God can be realized. Performance of duties purifies the mind. Study of the scriptures is an aid in the path of sādhana. However, it is ultimately by the grace of God alone that he can be realized and salvation attained. The freed soul resides in the same world as the lord and in his proximity and attains his nature and attributes. However, it retains its separate identity. Baladeva does not accept jīvan-mukti or liberation while living in the body here.

The Brahmasutra Literature[edit]

Significance of Brahmasutra Literature[edit]

Being the basic text of Vedānta, both in its metaphysical and in its dialectical aspect, the Brahmasutras has attracted the attention of a host of elite scholars over the centuries. Apart from the direct bhāṣyas by the great ācāryas, several sub-commentaries and glosses over them have enriched the Brahmasutra literature. In such literature now available to us, the maximum number of works belong to the Advaita school.

Commentaries on Śāṅkarabhāṣya[edit]

On the Śāṅkarabhāṣya, three ṭīkās or subcommentaries are available in full:

  1. Bhāmati of Vācaspatimiśra[85]
  2. Nyāyanirnaya of Ānandagiri[86]
  3. Ratnaprabhā of Rāmānanda[87]

The one by Padmapāda,[88] a direct disciple of Śaṅkara, called Pañcapādikā deals with the first four sutras[89] only. This was commented upon by Prakāśātman[90] in his Pañcapādikā-vivaraṇam. There is a gloss on this called Tattvadīpanam by Akhaṇḍānanda Muni.[91] All these commentaries collectively, have created the Vivarana-prasthāna, a special school of Advaita Vedānta, in the post-Śaṅkara period.

As opposed to this, the Bhāmati-prasthāna was developed by Amalānanda[92] in his Kalpataru on the Bhāmati and Appayya-dikṣita[93] in his Parimalā, on this Kalpataru. Mention may also be made of a few other works on the Brahmasutras, considered to be more important than others:

  1. Sañksepa-śārirakam of Sarva-jñātma Muni[94]
  2. Vivarana-prameya-sañgraha of Vidyāraṇya[95]
  3. Brahmasutra-dipikā of Śaṅkarānanda[96]
  4. Brahma-tattva-prakāśikā of Sadāśiva-brahmendra[97]

Other Commentaries[edit]

Comparatively speaking, the Brahmasutra literature of the other schools of Vedānta is not so voluminous though it is in no way inferior in its quality and erudition. After creating his magnum opus, the Śrībhāsya, Rāmānuja wrote two more treatises on the Brahmasutras entitled Vedāntadipa and Vedāntasāra. The Śribhāsya has only one ancient commentary, the Śrutaprakāśikā of Sudarśana-suri.[98] On this, Vedānta Deśika[99] wrote a gloss called Tattvatikā.

Apart from his bhāṣya, generally called the Madhva-bhāṣya, on the Brahmasutras, Madhva wrote the Anubhāsya in verses, giving the gist of the various adhikaraṇas of the work. Rāghavendra-tīrtha[100] has written an extensive commentary on this and has named it Tattvamañjarī. Trivikrama Paṇḍita, a disciple of Madhva, has commented upon the bhāṣya of Madhva. It is called the Tattvadipikā. Tattvaprakāśikā of Jayatīrtha[101] and Tātparyacandrikā of Vyāsarāya[102] are the other commentaries on the same.

However, the most celebrated work of the Dvaita school of Madhva is the Nyāyasudhā of Jayatīrtha which is a highly dialectical and yet lucid commentary on Madhva’s Anuvyākhyāna, a work elucidating his own commentary on the Brahmasutras. Nimbārka’s commentary on the Brahmasutras, known as the Vedānta-pārijāta-saurabha, has been expounded further by Śrīnivāsa[103] in his Vedāntakaustubha which again has been explained further by Keśava Kāśmīrin[104] in his Vedānta-kaustubha-prabhā.

The other commentaries which have drawn the attention of the Vedāntic scholars are the Vijñānāmrta-bhāsya of Vijñānabhiksu[105] and the commentary Sukṣma on Baladeva’s Govinda-bhāsya. Apart from these works mentioned here, there are several other treatises and tracts on the various aspects of Vedānta as interpreted by the numerous schools.


There is no gainsaying the fact that the Vedānta system based chiefly on the Brahmasutras which itself is a systematic exposition of the philosophy of the Upaniṣads has influenced all the important aspects of the religion and culture including the modern movements.


  1. Vedas means the basic scriptures of religion.
  2. Brahman means God, the Absolute.
  3. Alpākṣara means consisting of minimum number of letters.
  4. Asandigdha means without doubt as regards the meaning.
  5. Sāravat means must contain the essence of the subject.
  6. Viśvatomukha means reflect all the aspects of the same.
  7. Anta means end.
  8. Anta means the core or essence.
  9. The chapters referred here are from Śaṅkara.
  10. Viṣayavākya means subject-matter.
  11. Brahman means God, the Absolute
  12. He lived in A. D. 788-820.
  13. Purvapakṣa means the prima face view, the objection or doubt.
  14. Siddhānta means the theory propounded by the author of the work.
  15. He lived in 13th cent. A. D.
  16. The number of Adhikaraṇas is 151.
  17. He lived in A. D. 1238-1317.
  18. The maximum number is 223.
  19. Jñānakāṇḍa section deals with the knowledge of Brahman/Ātman.
  20. These adhikaraṇas are from Śaṅkara.
  21. Viṣayavākya means the subject-matter.
  22. Samanvaya means harmony.
  23. Athāto brahmajijñāsā means ‘Now, therefore, the desire to know Brahman’.
  24. Aṅguṣthamātra-puruṣa means the person of the size of the thumb.
  25. Upāḍānakāraṇa means the material cause.
  26. Nimittakāraṇa means the efficient cause.
  27. Smṛti is the secondary scriptures like the Bhagavadgitā and Āpastamba Dharmasutras.
  28. Tarka means logic and reasoning.
  29. Kāraṇa menas the cause.
  30. Kārya means the effect.
  31. Sat means existing.
  32. Non existent means asat.
  33. Upādāna-kāraṇa means the material cause.
  34. Nimitta-kāraṇa means the efficient cause.
  35. Āśramas are the stages of life like brahmacarya or sanyāsa.
  36. Prāyaścittas means expiations.
  37. Śravaṇa means listening to the scriptures describing the nature of Ātman/Brahman.
  38. Sañcita-karma is the karma accumulated over several lives.
  39. Tapas means austerity.
  40. Śraddhā means devoted faith.
  41. Brahmacarya means celibacy.
  42. Pramāṇa means source of knowledge.
  43. Aṅśa means part.
  44. Ābhāsa means reflection.
  45. Āśramas means stages of life.
  46. Iśvara means Brahman as the ruler of the created world.
  47. Sañcita-karma means accumulated past karma.
  48. Prārabdha-karma means karma already fructified.
  49. It is the path of light or of the gods.
  50. Advaita means Brahmādvaita.
  51. Nirviśeṣa-cinmātra- svarupa means pure consciousness without any attributes.
  52. Saviśeṣa means with attributes.
  53. Advaita 1.3.28; 3.3.53
  54. Adhyāropa means super-imposition.
  55. Aṅtahkaraṇa means the ‘inner organ’ or mind.
  56. Nitya means eternal.
  57. Śuddha means pure.
  58. Buddha means awakened.
  59. Mukta means free.
  60. Kartā means the doer.
  61. Bhoktā means the experiencer.
  62. Cit means the sentient beings, the jīvas.
  63. Acit means the insentient prakṛti or nature.
  64. Sarveśvara is the supreme person.
  65. Prapatti means devotion and surrender.
  66. He is Nārāyaṇa also.
  67. Bhoktṛśakti means the power of the enjoyer.
  68. Bhogyaśakti means the power of the enjoyed.
  69. Cit means the sentient being, the jīva or the soul.
  70. Acit is the insentient nature, prakṛti.
  71. Bheda means difference.
  72. Abheda means non- difference.
  73. Jñatṛ means the knower.
  74. Kartṛ means the doer.
  75. Bhoktṛ means the enjoyer.
  76. Śuddhādvaita 3.2.33
  77. It is being, awareness and bliss.
  78. Prakṛti means the insentient nature, the matrix of all created objects.
  79. Puruṣa means the sentient soul, the jīva.
  80. He is with and without attributes.
  81. He is the child Kṛṣṇa form.
  82. He lived in A. D. 1485-1533.
  83. Upāsanā means the meditation.
  84. Premābhakti means the intense devotion.
  85. He lived in A. D. 840.
  86. He lived in A. D. 1260.
  87. He lived in 17th century.
  88. He lived in A. D. 820.
  89. Brahmasutra 1.1.1-4
  90. He lived in A. D. 1200.
  91. He lived in A. D. 1350.
  92. He lived in 13th cent. A. D.
  93. He lived in 16th century A. D.
  94. He lived in A. D. 900.
  95. He lived in A. D. 1350.
  96. He lived in 14th cent. A. D.
  97. He lived in 18th cent. A. D.
  98. He lived in 13th cent. A. D.
  99. He lived in A. D. 1268-1369.
  100. He lived in A. D. 1598-1671.
  101. He lived in A. D. 1365-1388.
  102. He lived in A. D. 1481.
  103. He lived in 13th cent. A. D.
  104. He lived in 15th cent. A. D.
  105. He lived in A. D. 1550.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore

Contributors to this article

Explore Other Articles