The Authority of Brahmasutra


Parthasarathy Desikan

In the XIII chapter of the Gita, Sri Krishna talks to Arjuna about the knowledge that the wise have about the human body. Kshetrajnas know the human body to be a very special field, the Kshetra. They know not only what gross and subtle components it is made up of, but also the purpose and significance of all its functions and its evolution, as well as how it should be used wisely.

The Avatara of the Infinite could have said his piece without giving reference to anyone else. He remembers that the place and time of His Upadesha was not the beginning of all Kshetras and kshtrajnas. He cites to Arjuna the Rishis, the chhandas of the Vedas and the conclusive and reasoned texts of the Brahmasutra. Which is why all Acharyas of the Vedantic traditions have written commentaries of not the Upanishads alone, nor the Gita alone, but also the Brahmasutra, to which the Gita refers with deference.

The text attributed to Badarayana called Brahmasutra or Shariririka Sutra indeed occupies the foremost position of authority in the system of Vedanta. Shankara whose commentary of it is the earliest of the ones now available, explicitly states that there were many commentaries available already when he took it up for study.

The Sutras have been designed elegantly but do offer some difficulties. The same difficulties also enabled flexibilities in interpretation. Except a few of the Sutras, most do not indicate the theme of discussion or the line of thought adopted. Thus, they do invite varied interpretation, as it were. Since Shankara’s time, many commentaries have appeared in the scene, notably from Bhaskara, Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhva and Vallabha, all of whom differed from Shankara to varied extents, but who along with Shankara provided an impregnable base for Sanatana Dharma.

Ramanuja, for instance, is credited to have elegantly elucidated the Sutras in a theistic style, asserting the metaphysical eminence of Brahman, without the supplementary thesis of world denial and the denial of the individuality of the finite selves. He promulgated knowledge of Brahman as arising from Karma-yoga and maturing in Bhakti. Before writing his commentary known as Sri Bhashya, he studied ancient documents on the Sutras such as the works of Bodhayana, Tanka and Dramida, mastered the then current schools of philosophy to perfection, soaked himself in the Vedic literature, particularly the Upanishads, acquired an authentic understanding of the commentaries of Shankara, Bhaskara and Yadavaprakasha. He got the essence of the Advaitic classics of the masters such as Mandana Mishra, Padmapada, Sureshvara, Vachaspati Mishra, Vimuktatman and Prakashatman and shaped his own vision of Vedanta.

I am not going to go into any detail of the Ramanuja tradition of Vedanta in this blog, except to state that Sri Bhashya is indeed a seasoned critical reconstruction of the philosophy of the Upanishads with apt use of other supplementary scriptures. The reconstruction presents Brahman, the ultimate reality as the transcendent repository of all perfections and holding as its own embodiment the totality of finite existence, sentient and insentient. Through the blissful communion or pathway known as Bhakti, facilitated by a life of virtue and founded on assured philosophical understanding, Jivas attain the eternal experience of Brahman, identified by Ramanuja with SrimanNarayana with all that the experience can bring to the individual Jiva, this being the supreme ecstasy of living in the Paramatman.

Swami Viresvarananda of Sri Ramakrishna Math, in his introduction to the Mission’s English edition of Sri Bhashya, concludes with Sri Ramakrishna’s own reflections, based on his realization of Brahman in the form of Mother, his personal deity. The Master is fully reconciled to nonduality as well as to experiencing Brahman in the form of Kali Mata.

“That which is Brahman is Shakti and that again is the Mother…After attaining perfect Knowledge one realizes that they are not different. They are the same, like the gem and its brilliance…. But you cannot realize this non-duality before the attainment of perfect Knowledge. Attaining perfect Knowledge, one goes into Samadhi, beyond the twenty-four cosmic principles. Therefore, the principle of ‘I’ does not exist in that stage. A man cannot describe in words what he feels in Samadhi. Coming down, he can give just a hint of it. I come down a hundred cubits as it were, when I say ‘Om’ after a Samadhi. Brahman is beyond the injunctions of the Vedas and cannot be described. There neither ‘I’, nor ‘you’ exists.”

It is Swami Viresvarananda’s contention that the Upanishads do not teach any particular doctrine. They teach different doctrines, which can all be chosen and developed by Acharyas who are inclined to various views. As an advaiti himself, he believes that duality, qualified monism and monism represent various stages in the evolution of a spiritual seeker. Theoretical physicists who seek spiritual truth will understand how it need not be a stepwise ascension from duality to nonduality, but a simultaneous awareness. It is this awareness that has been responsible for the development of bhakti in a spectacular way among the Bharatiyas. Depending upon the spiritual need felt and Grace incident in context, the aspirant’s sadhana may go in either direction. There is indeed a non-duality between duality and non-duality

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3 Replies to “The Authority of Brahmasutra”

  1. The 'I' is real. The only way to get rid of 'I' is to not interact with anything or anyone at all. But in that case we become like an idol in temple. We become virtual. We are no longer real.

    Once we become virtual, it is upto people interpret us in the way they want. Like the infinity to which addition or subtraction does not matter, any of those interpretations of the real do not matter to us the virtual.

    There is duality because Real and Virtual are different. There is special duality because Real thinks it originated from Virtual. There is no duality because Real thinks it is part of the Virtual.

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