Bhagavad Gita
  Brahma Sutras

Brahma Sutras

An article by Sri Swami Sivananda, the founder of Divine Life Society


Hari Om! Salutations to Sri Vyasa, the Avatara of Vishnu, the wise Badarayana and Sri Krishna Dwaipayana.

Vedas consist of three portions viz., the Karma-Kanda which deals with sacrifices or ceremonial rites, the Upasana-Kanda which treats of Upasana (worship) and the Jnana-Kanda which deals with knowledge of Brahman. Karma-Kanda represents the feet of a man, Upasana-Kanda the heart, and the Jnana-Kanda the head. Just as the head is the most important portion of a man, so also the Upanishads which treat of the knowledge portion of the Vedas is the head of the Vedas. Hence it is said to be the Shir (head) of Vedas.

Mimamsa means the investigation or enquiry into the connected meaning of the sacred texts. Of this Mimamsa two branches have been recognised, the Purva Mimamsa (earlier) and the Uttara Mimamsa (the latter). The former systematises the Karma-Kanda—the portion of the Vedas which pertains to action and sacrifices and which comprises the Samhitas and the Brahmanas; the latter systematises the Jnana-Kanda i.e., that part of the Vedas which includes the Aranyaka portion of the Brahmanas and the Upanishads. Jaimini is the author of the Purva Mimamsa. Sri Vyasa (Badarayana or Krishna Dwaipayana), the Guru of Jaimini, is the author of the Brahma Sutras otherwise known as the Vedanta Sutras. The study of Brahma Sutras is a synthetic study of the Upanishads. It treats of the Vedanta Philosophy.

The Vedas are eternal. They were not written by any individual. They came out from the breath of Hiranyagarbha (Lord Brahma). Vedanta is the end or gist of the Vedas. It deals with the knowledge portion. Vedanta is not mere speculation. It is the authentic record of transcendental experiences or direct and actual realisation of the great Rishis or Seers. Brahma Sutras is the Science of the Soul.

The Need and Purpose

Sutras are concise aphorisms. They give the essence of the arguments on a topic. Maximum of thought is compressed or condensed into these Sutras in as few words as possible. It is easy to remember them. Great intellectual people only, with realisation, can compose Sutras. They are clues or aids to memory. They cannot be understood without a lucid commentary (Bhashya). The commentary also is in need of further elaborate explanation. Thus the interpretations of the Sutras gave rise to various kinds of literary writings such as Vrittis (gloss) and Karikas. The different Acharyas (founders of different schools of thought) have given their own interpretations of the Sutras to establish their own doctrines. The Bhashya of Sri Sankara on Brahma Sutras is known as Sareeraka Bhashya. His school of thought is Kevala Adwaita. The Bhashya of Sri Ramanuja who founded the Visishtadwaita school is called Sri Bhashya. The commentary of Sri Nimbarkacharya is known as Vedanta Parijata Saurabha. Sri Vallabhacharya expounded his system of philosophy known as Suddhadwaita (pure monism) and his commentary on the Brahma Sutras is known as Anu Bhashya.

Sanskrit is very elastic. It is like Kamadhenu or Kalpataru. You can milk out of it various kinds of Rasas according to your intellectual calibre and spiritual experiences. Therefore different Acharyas have built different systems of thought or cults by interpreting the Sutras in their own ways and became founders of sects. Madhva founded his own system of Dwaita. The cults of Vishnu known as Bhagawat or Pancharatra and those of Siva, Pasupata or Maheswara have interpreted Brahma Sutras in accordance with their own tenets. Nimbarkacharya interpreted the Vedanta system from the standpoint of Bhedabheda-Dwaitadwaita. He was largely influenced by the teachings of Bhaskara who flourished in the first half of the ninth century. The theory held by Bhaskara and Nimbarka was held by the ancient teacher Audulomi. Badarayana himself refers to this theory in his Brahma Sutras.

There are more than fourteen commentaries on the Brahma Sutras. Sri Appayya Dikshita rendered the commentary of Sri Sankara more clear by his Parimala, Sri Vachaspathimisra by his work Bhamati and Sri Amalananda Samswati by his Kalpataru.

The erroneous identification of the body with the pure Atman is the root cause for human sufferings and miseries, for births and deaths. You identify yourself with the body and say: "I am fair, dark, stout or thin. I am a Brahmin, I am a Kshatriya, I am a doctor." You identify yourself with the senses and say: "I am blind, I am dumb." You identify yourself with the mind and say: "I know nothing. I know everything. I became angry. I enjoyed a good meal. I am suffering from this disease." The entire object of the Brahma Sutras is to remove this erroneous identification of the Soul with the body which is the root cause of your suffering and miseries, which is the product of Avidya (ignorance) and help you in the attaimnent of the final emancipation through knowledge of Brahman.

The Upanishads seem to be full of contradictions at first. They do not contain consistent system of thought. Sri Vyasa systematised the thoughts or philosophy of the Upanishads in his Brahma Sutras. The Sutras reconcile the conflicting statements of the Upanishads. In reality there are no conflicts for the thinker. The different views expressed in the Upanishads represent the different stages of the development of thought. Audulomi and Asmarathya also did this work in their own way and founded their own schools of thought.

Brahma Sutras and the Acharyas

Those who wish to study the philosophy of Vedanta should study the Ten Classical Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras. All Acharyas have commented on Brahma Sutras. This is a great authority for every philosophical school in India. If any Acharya wishes to establish his own cult or sect or school of thought, he will have to write a commentary of his own on Brahma Sutras. Then only it will be recognised.

The five great Acharyas—Sri Sankara, the exponent of Kevala Adwaita or uncompromising monism; Sri Ramanuja, the exponent of Visishtadwaita or qualified monism; Sri Nimbarka, the exponent of Bhedabheda Vada; Sri Madhva, the exponent of strict dualism or Dwaita Vada; and Sri Vallabha, the exponent of Suddhadwaita Vada or pure monism—agree that Brahman is the cause of this world and that knowledge of Brahman leads to Moksha or the final emancipation, which is the goal of life. They also emphatically declare that Brahman can be known only through the scriptures and not through mere reasoning. But they differ amongst themselves as to the nature of this Brahman, the state of the soul in the state of final emancipation, the means of attaining It and Its causality with reference to this universe.


According to Sri Sankara there is one Absolute Brahman Who is Satchidananda, Who is of an absolutely homogeneous nature. The appearance of this world is due to Maya—the illusory power of Brahman—which is neither Sat nor Asat. This world is unreal. This world is a Vivarta or apparent modification through Maya. Brahman is the only Reality. The individual soul has limited himself through Avidya and identification with the body and other vehicles. Through his selfish actions he enjoys the fruits of his actions. He becomes the actor and enjoyer. He regards himself as atomic and as an agent on account of Avidya or the limiting Antahkarana. The individual soul becomes identical with Brahman when his Avidya is destroyed. In reality Jiva is all-pervading and identical with Brahman. Ishvara or Saguna Brahman is a product of Maya. Worship of Ishvara leads to Krama Mukti. The pious devotees (the knowers of Saguna Brahman) go to Brahma Loka and attain final release through highest knowledge. They do not return to this world. They attain the Nirguna Brahman at the end of the cycle. Knowledge of Nirguna Brahman is the only means of liberation. The knowers of Nirguna Brahman attain immediate final release or Sadyomukti. They need not go by the path of Gods or the Devayana. They merge themselves in Para Brahman. They do not go to any Loka or world. Sri Sankara’s Brahman is Nirvisesha. Brahman (Impersonal Absolute) without attributes.


According to Sri Ramanuja Brahman is with attributes (Savisesha). He is endowed with all auspicious qualities. He is not merely intelligence itself, but intelligence is also his chief attribute. He contains within Himself whatever exists. World and individual souls are essential real constituents of Brahman’s nature. Matter (Achit) and soul (Chit) form the body of the Lord, Lord Narayana, who is the Inner Ruler (Antaryamin). Matter and souls are called modes of Him (Prakara). The individual souls will never be entirely resolved in Brahman. According to Ramanuja Brahman is not absolutely one and homogeneous. The individual souls undergo a state of Sankocha (contraction) during Pralaya. They expand (Vikasa) during creation. Sri Ramanuja’s Brahman is a Personal God with attributes. The individual soul of Ramanuja is really individual. It will remain a personality for ever. The soul remains in Vaikuntha for ever in a state of bliss and enjoys the divine Aishvarya of Lord Narayana. Bhakti is the chief means to final emancipation and not Jnana. Sri Ramanuja follows in his Bhashya the authority of Bodhayana.


According to Sri Nimbarkacharya Brahman is considered as both the efficient and material cause of the world. Brahman is both Nirguna and Saguna. The universe is not unreal or illusory but is a true manifestation or Parinama of Brahman. (Sri Ramanuja also holds this view. He says, "Just as milk is transformed into curd, so also Brahman has transformed Himself as this universe.") This world is identical with and at the same time different from Brahman, just as the wave or bubble is the same and at the same time different from water. The individual souls are parts of the Supreme Self. They are controlled by the Supreme Being. The final salvation lies in realising the true nature of one’s own soul. This can be achieved by Bhakti (devotion). The individuality of the finite self (Jivatma) is not dissolved even in the state of final emancipation. Sri Ramanuja also holds that the Jiva assumes the divine body of Sri Narayana with four hands and enjoys in Vaikuntha the divine Aishwarya of the Lord.


The philosophy of Sri Vallabhacharya is Suddha-Advaita or pure monism, because he does not admit Maya like Sankara, and believes that the whole world of matter and souls is real and is only a subtle form of God. Those who bring Maya for the explanation of the world are not pure Advaitins, because they admit a second to Brahman. Vallabha holds that Brahman can create the world without any connection with such a principle as Maya, but Sankara traces the universe to Brahman through the power of Maya. Hence the philosophy of Vallabha is called pure monism or Suddhadvaita.

Vallabha says that the entire universe is real and is subtly Brahman. The individual souls and the world are, in essence, one with Brahman. Jiva, Kala (time) and Prakriti or Maya are eternal existences, but they have not separate existence apart from Brahman.

Vallabha’s religion is a religion addressed to the worship of Vishnu in the form of Krishna. It was derived chiefly, like the system of Chaitanya, from the Vaishnava philosophy propounded by Ramanuja. It is centred round the conception of a personal and beneficent God who is Sat-Chit-Ananda. Lord Krishna is the highest Brahman. His body consists of Sat-Chit-Ananda. He is called Purushottama.

Vallabha’s followers worship Bala-Krishna (Krishna as a lad). They have Vatsalya-Bhava (the attitude which regards God as a child). Vallabha lays great stress on Pushti (grace) and Bhakti (devotion). Maha-Pushti is the highest grace or Anugraha which helps the aspirants to attain God-realisation.


Madhva makes an absolute distinction between God, and animate and inanimate objects. God is the only independent Reality. The animate and inanimate objects are dependent realities. Madhva’s Vedanta is the doctrine of absolute differences. It is an Atyanta-Bheda-Darsana. He insists on live great distinctions (Pancha-Bheda), viz., (i) the distinction between God and the individual soul, (ii) the distinction between God and matter, (iii) the distinction between the individual soul and matter, (iv) the distinction between one soul and another, and (v) the distinction between one material thing and another. Madhva’s philosophy is a philosophy of distinction.

In Madhva’s system of philosophy, Hari or Vishnu is the Supreme Being. The world is real. Difference is true. All the Jivas are dependent on Hari, the Lord. There are grades of superiority and inferiority among the individual souls. Liberation is the individual soul’s enjoyment of its innate bliss. This is Moksha or the final emancipation. Bhakti, or devotion, without faults, is the means of attaining Moksha. Perception, inference and the scriptures are the three Pramanas, or ways of knowledge. Hari is knowable only through the Vedas. Worship of Lord Krishna as taught in the Bhagavata Purana is the centre of his religion. This is the quintessence of Madhva’s teachings.


You may ask why do such great realised souls hold different views, why have they started different cults or systems. The highest philosophy of Sri Sankara which bespeaks the identity of the individual and Supreme Soul cannot be understood by the vast majority of persons. Therefore Sri Madhva and Sri Ramanuja started their Bhakti cult. The different schools are different rungs in the ladder of Yoga. The student must place his foot step by step and finally reach the highest peak of perfection — the Kevaladwaita realisation of Sri Sankara. As temperaments are different, different schools are also necessary to suit the taste, capacity and stage of evolution of the aspirant. Therefore all schools and cults are necessary. They have got their own place and scope.

The views of various Acharyas are all true in respect of the particular aspect of Brahman dealt with by them, each in his own way. Sankara has taken Brahman in His transcendental aspect, while Sri Ramanuja has taken Him chiefly in His immanent aspect. People were following blindly the rituals during the time of Sri Sankara. When he was preparing his commentary he had in view the purpose of combating the baneful effects which blind ritualism produced. He never condemned selfless service or Nishkamya Karma Yoga. He condemned the performance of rituals with selfish motives.


Sankara Bhashya is the oldest of all commentaries. It upholds Suddha Para Brahman or the Supreme Self of the Upanishads as something superior to other divine beings. It propounds a very bold philosophy and declares emphatically that the individual soul is identical with the Supreme Self. Sankara’s philosophical view accurately represents the meaning of Badarayana. His explanations only faithfully render the intended meaning of Sri Vyasa. This is beyond doubt and dispute.

Students of Kevaladwaita School of Philosophy should study the Sareeraka Bhashya of Sri Sankara which is profound, subtle and unique. It is an authority which leads to the right understanding of the Brahma Sutras. The best thinkers of India, Greece, Germany, England and America belong to this school. It occupies a high rank in books on philosophy. Adwaita philosophy is the most sublime and the grandest philosophy of the Hindus.

You can understand the Brahma Sutras if you have a knowledge of the twelve classical Upanishads. You can understand the second chapter if you have a knowledge of Sankhya, Nyaya, Yoga, Mimamsa, Vaiseshika Darshan and Buddhistic school too. All these schools are refuted here by Sri Sankara. Sri Sankara’s commentary is the best commentary. Dr. Thibut has translated this commentary. "Brahma Sutras" is one of the books of Prasthanatraya. This is an authoritative book on Hindu Philosophy. The work consists of 4 Adhyayas (chapters), 16 Padas (sections), 223 Adhikaranas (topics), and 564 Sutras (aphorisms). The first chapter (Samanvayadhyaya) unifies Brahman, the second (Avirodhadhyaya) refutes other philosophies, the third (Sadhanadhyaya) deals with practice (Sadhana) to attain Brahman and the fourth (Phaladhyaya) treats of fruits of Self-realisation. Each chapter contains four Padas. Each Pada contains Adhikaranas. Each Adhikarana has a separate question to discuss. The first five Adhikaranas of the first chapter are very very important.

Glory to Sri Vyasa Bhagavan, son of Parasara, the mighty sage, a Chiranjivi who has written all Puranas and also divided the Vedas. May his blessings be upon you all!

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