(‘aphorisms [dealing with] Brahman’)


The system of education in ancient India required the students to live in the campus of a forest academy along with the teachers. The teaching imparted was, almost always, in the form of sūtras or aphorisms, followed by explanations and discussions. At a time when committing things to memory was considered supremely important, this method suited admirably.

The sūtra literature is a class by itself. As per the norms set for a sūtra, it should be ‘alpākṣara’ (consisting of minimum number of letters), ‘asandigdha’ (without doubt as regards the meaning), ‘sāravat’ (must contain the essence of the subject) and yet ‘viśvatomukham’ (reflect all aspects of the same). However, in their anxiety to economise the words, the composers of the sūtra-works seem to have so overdone it that bhāṣyas or explanatory commentaries by later writers became necessary.

The śrauta, the gṛhya and the dharma sūtras form the earliest bunch of sūtra literature. The darśanas or the philosophical systems which are of a later period, followed this sūtra model since it served their purpose well.

Vedānta Darśana

Out of the six darśanas or systems of philosophy which accept the authority of the Vedas (the basic scriptures of Hinduism), the last two—the Mīmāṁsā and the Vedānta systems—are directly connected with them. Whereas the former tries to reconcile the various Vedic texts that seem to give different directions with regard to the same ritual system, the latter attempts to make out a coherent philosophy of Brahman (God, the Absolute) from the apparently conflicting statements in the Upaniṣads.


The Vedānta system, as its very name implies, deals with the Upaniṣads which are the end-portions (anta = end) of the Vedas and also contain the essence (anta = core or essence) of the same. The system itself is based on three canonical works: the Upaniṣads, the Brahmasūtras and the Bhagavadgītā. The Upaniṣads are called ‘śrutiprasthāna’, the Brahmasūtras, ‘nyāyaprasthāna’ and the Bhagavadgītā, ‘smṛtiprasthāna’, the three together being termed ‘prasthānatraya’. ‘Prasthāna’ means a school of philosophy or religion.

The Upaniṣads

Though a very large number of works going 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 the Upaniṣads may, broadly speaking, 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 being 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 and the nature of attainment of that final goal.

It is a fact that 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 reorganise their teachings so as to give them a more coherent look. It was exactly this that Bādarāyaṇa attempted and the result was the Brahmasūtras.

The Brahmasūtras

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

  • The Vedāntasūtras, since the subject matter is that of Vedānta or the Upaniṣads;
  • The Śārīrakasūtras, since the Ātman living in the śarīra or the body is dealt with in the work;
  • The Uttaramīmāṁsāsūtras (as opposed to the Pūrvamīmāṁsāsūtras) since it does mīmāṁsā or enquiry into the uttara or latter part of the Vedas;
  • The Bhikṣusūtras since it is specially recommended for study by the bhikṣus or the saṁnyāsins.

Bādarāyaṇa, the Author

Nothing is known about Bādarāyaṇa, the author of this celebrated work. Tradi-tionalists identify him with Vyāsa, the author of the Mahābhārata and the purāṇas. The work is generally assigned to the period 500 B. C.-200 B. C. by the Indian and some Western scholars. However there are other scholars who consider the two to be different and assign Bādarāyaṇa to the period A. D. 200.

About the Work

The work Brahmasūtras is in four adhyāyas or chapters. Each adhyāya is divided into four pādas or quarters. The pādas comprise adhikaraṇas or topics, each composed of sūtras.

The total number of adhikaraṇas and sūtras, according to Śaṅkara, the earliest commentator, are 191 and 555 respectively. However, variations are seen in this number as also in the readings themselves. Splitting one sūtra into two, fusing two sūtras into one or adding the last word of a sūtra to the beginning of the next are some of the reasons for such variations in the readings. Such alterations in the structure of the sūtras have contributed to divergent interpretations also. Not only that, divergent views have also arisen due to one school considering a particular sūtra as stating the pūrvapakṣa (the prima facie view, the objection or doubt) and another school accepting the same sūtra as the siddhānta (the theory propounded by the author of the work).

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

  1. viṣaya or topic;
  2. viśaya or saṁ-śaya, doubt;
  3. pūrvapakṣa or opponent’s view;
  4. siddhānta or established conclusion and
  5. saṅgati or connection between the different sections.

The number of sūtras in any adhikaraṇa depends on the nature of the subject under discussion. Thanks to the ambiguity in the sūtras, the titles and the number of the adhikaraṇas vary from commentator to commentator.

While Nimbārka (13th century A.D.) has the minimum number of adhikaraṇas (151), Madhuvā (A.D. 1238-1317) has the maximum (223).

The purport of the sūtra itself is determined by the commentators as per the principle of ṣaḍvidhaliṅgas or six characteristic signs. They are: upakrama and upasaṁhāra (the beginning and the end), abhyāsa (repetition), apūrvatā (novelty), phala (objective), arthavāda (eulogy) and upapatti (logicality).

True to its name, the work Brahma-sūtras, deals primarily with Brahman as the highest truth, by realising which, a person transcends transmigratory existence. The one and only authority for the existence of Brahman as also for its true nature is the śruti, the jñanakāṇḍa part (section dealing with the knowledge of Brahman/ Ātman) 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 that he is, 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—the various Upaniṣadic statements that form the basis for the philosophy of the Brahma-sūtras. Since some of these statements appeared to contradict one another, Bāda-rāyaṇa 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 the statements of which, Bādarāyaṇa has discussed in these sūtras? There is no direct indication in the sūtras themselves since they are too laconic. For this we have to depend almost entirely on the bhāṣyakāras or the commentators who, fortunately for us, are more or less unanimous in deciphering the same.

In the first 31 adhikaraṇas (as per Śaṅkara) the major statements that form the viṣaya or viṣayavākya (subject matter) are from the following Upaniṣads, with the number of such sentences noted against them:

Chāndogya (14), Bṛhadāraṇyaka (5), Kaṭha (4), Taittirīya (2), Muṇḍaka (3), Praśna (1) and Kauṣītaki(2).

Apart from these, sentences taken from the Śvetāśvatara, the Aitareya and the Jābāla have also been discussed.

While analysing the purport of the various passages from the Upaniṣads, Bādarāyaṇa has quoted the opinions of other teachers also. They are: Ātreya, Āśmarathya, Auḍulomi, Kārṣṇājani, Kāśa-kṛtsna, Jaimini and Bādari. Almost all these names appear in the earlier works like the śrauta-sūtras and the gṛhyasūtras. It is likely that some preceded Bādarāyaṇa and others like Jaimini might have been his contemporaries. Though he differed from them, he has not criticised 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

The contents of the work may now be summarised as follows:

First Chapter

The first chapter comprising 134 sūtras in 39 adhikaraṇas has been called Samanvayādhyāya, (samanvaya = harmony) since it attempts to harmonise the principles dealt with in the various Upaniṣads.

The work starts with the famous sūtra athāto brahmajijñāsā (‘Now, therefore, the desire to know Brahman’). 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. 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.

It is Brahman alone who is the ultimate cause of this world and not prakṛti or pradhāna as the Sāṅkhyas 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 eyes is also Brahman. He is also designated as ākāśa, prāṇa, bhūmā and akṣara. The being described as ‘aṅguṣṭha-mātra puruṣa’ (the person of the size of the thumb) is also really Brahman and not the jīva or the individual soul. So also does the word Ātman refer to him.

Bādarāyaṇa quotes the opinions of Āśmarathya, Auḍulomi and Kāśakṛtsna in the fourth pāda of this chapter. Āśmarathya thinks that the jīvātmas are both different and non-different from Brahman (or Paramātman) even as the sparks of fire are both identical with and different from fire. Auḍulomi opines that the jīvas 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 (material cause) and the nimitta kāraṇa (efficient cause) for this world.

Second Chapter

Designated as Avirodhādhyāya, this chapter with 157 sūtras 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 (secondary scriptures like the Bhagavad-gītā and Āpastamba Dharmasūtras) and tarka (logic and reasoning). The opposition of schools like that of Sāṅkhya is fallible. There is no contradiction among the various statements in the Upaniṣads dealing with subjects like creation. This is the burden 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 other schools.

One of the important factors discussed here is the relationship between the kāraṇa (the cause) and the kārya (the effect). The Sāṅkyan view known as ‘Satkāryavāda’ states that the kārya or the effect pre-exists (sat = existing) 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 (= asat) effect is newly produced. In the former case, the effect pre-exists in the upādāna-kāraṇa (the material cause) and in the latter, the nimitta-kāraṇa (the efficient cause) 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, for 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 very 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 Jains, the Pāśupatas and the Bhāgavatas, like the Pañcarātras have also been critically examined and dismissed.

Third Chapter

The third chapter is called Sādhanā-dhyāya and is the longest with 186 sūtras 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 Ātman or Brahman as independent of karmas or rituals and duties prescribed for the various āśramas (stages of life like brahmacarya or saṁnyāsa) as also prāyaś-cittas (expiations) and so on.

Fourth Chapter

Known as Phalādhyāya this chapter is the shortest with only 78 sūtras 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 or of gods.

One who is interested in mokṣa or liberation has to practise śravaṇa (listening to the scriptures describing the nature of Ātman [Brahman] and allied disciplines until realisation). 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 (karma accumulated over several lives) gets destroyed. Āgāmī-karma, karma done after realisation is rendered fruitless. The prārabdha-karma, the karma that has already started this body and yielding the results, has to be exhausted only by experiencing it.

The jīvas who have practised severe spiritual disciplines like tapas (austerity), śraddhā (devoted faith) and brahmacarya (celibacy), as also vidyās like meditation on Brahman will travel, after death, by the arcirādimārga or the path of light comprising light, day, bright fortnight and so on, and reach the Brahmaloka from which there is no return. There are divine guides called ‘ātivāhikās’ 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, ‘anāvṛttiḥ śabdāt,’ repeated twice for emphasis, (‘There is no return since the scriptures declare so.’) meaning that the jīva reaching 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, Auḍulomi and Bādari in this regard have also been cited.

The Philosophy of Bādarāyaṇa

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

The one and only pramāṇa (source of knowledge) that Bādarāyaṇa accepts while expounding the Vedānta system is Śruti or the Vedas, especially the jñāna-kaṇḍa part or 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 Manusmṛti and the Mahābhārata including the Bhagavad-gītā can also be depended upon in so far 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 yataḥ, 1.1.2) makes him the uncaused cause, the ground of sustenance and involution of the world. He is both the material and efficient cause for 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 (ether), vāyu (air) 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 aṁśa (part) of Brahman or his ābhāsa (reflection) has not been stated clearly though the views of other Vedāntins like Āśmarathya, Auḍulomi 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 Ātman/Brahman leading to jñāna, or experience of the same, the jīva attains liberation. The Śrutis give equal importance to the perfor-mance of karma or prescribed actions and tyāga or renunciation of the same, though the performance of duties prescribed for the respective āśramas (stages of life) has been stressed even for the spiritual aspirant. The fruits of the various upāsanās or meditations practised by a jīva accrue to him by the grace of Īśvara (Brahman as the ruler of the created world).

On attaining the knowledge of Brahman all the sañcita karma (accumulated past karma) of the jīva will be destroyed. He will live as long as the prārabdha karma (karma already fructified) lasts. But, the karma does 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 (the path of light or of the gods) 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 of course, always there.

In conclusion it can be affirmed that Bādarāyaṇa, in these sūtras, teaches a kind of advaita (Brahmādvaita?).

He does not admit the existence of either the jīvas or the world, as indepen-dent of or different from Brahman. Since he has accepted the Upaniṣads as the supreme authority and since 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-svarūpa (pure consciousness without any attributes) and saviśeṣa (with attributes)—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

The Vedas have been the foundation of Hindu religion and culture for millennia. The philosophy of Vedānta based on the Upaniṣads has held sway over the intelligentsia for centuries. Hence, it is but natural that the Brahmasūtras of Bāda-rāyaṇa 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 Bādrāyaṇa 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 the Vedānta over them. Of course, they were equally keen to establish their own school of Vedānta also.

Of the several bhāṣyas or commen-taries 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 (1.3.28; 3.3.53) 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 Brahmasūtras may be useful to the students of Vedānta philosophy:

Bhāṣyakāra Period School of Vedānta
1. Śaṅkara A.D. 788-820 Advaita
2. Bhāskara A.D. 996-1061 Bhedābheda
3. Yādavaprakāśa A.D. 1000 Bhedābheda
4. Rāmānuja A.D. 1017-1127 Viśiṣṭādvaita
5. Madhva A.D. 1238-1317 Dvaita
6. Nimbārka Latter half of 13th century Dvaitādvaita
7. Śrīkaṇṭha A.D. 1270 Śaiva-viśiṣṭādvaita
8. Śrīpati A.D. 1400 Bhedābhedāt-maka-viśiṣṭādvaita
9. Vallabha A.D. 1473-1531 Śuddhādvaita
10. Śuka A.D. 1550 Bhedavāda
11. Vijñānabhikṣu A.D. 1550 Ātma-brahmaikya-bhedavāda
12. Baladeva A.D. 1725 Acintya-bhedābheda

A brief summary of the more important of these schools may now be given. Since the schools propounded by Śaṅkara, Rāmānuja and Madhva are more well-known and gained precedence over the others, they will be taken up first.


Śaṅkara’s darśana or philosophy as revealed in his bhāṣyas on the Bhagavad-gītā, the ten ancient Upaniṣads and the Brahmasūtras is now well-known as Advaita Vedānta. The oft-quoted and famous verse ‘brahma satyaṁ jagan mithyā jīvo brahmaiva nāparaḥ’ (‘Brahman alone is real; this world is only an illusory appearance. The jīva is verily Brahman and is not different from him.’) gives this philosophy in a nutshell.

Śaṅkara categorises Brahman into two aspects: Para-brahman and Apara-brahman. Where the Upaniṣadic statements deny all limiting adjuncts like name and form, created by avidyā or ignorance of his essential nature to Brahman, 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 Apara 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’ (superimposition). 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 antaḥkaraṇa (the ‘inner organ’ or mind). The jīva, though nitya (eternal), śuddha (pure), buddha (awakened) and mukta (free), appears as kartā (the doer) and bhoktā (the experiencer) due to the limitations imposed by the antaḥkaraṇa.

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 Brahmasūtras. However, he is emphatic about sadyomukti or instant liberation, here and now, simultaneously with the rising of jñāna or knowledge. Such a mukti is also called jīvanmukti, liberation even while living.


Rāmānuja’s commentary on the Brahmasūtras is known as Śrībhāṣya. Apart from this, he has also composed two more, smaller, works on the Brahma-sūtras, the Vedāntadīpa and the Vedānta-sāra. The former, being a later work, contains some additional explanations.

Rāmānuja’s Śrībhāṣya is stated to follow in the footsteps of the more detailed Bodhāyana-vṛtti as also the works of some earlier Vedāntins like Brahmanandī and Dramiḍācārya whose works are not available now.

Rāmānuja accepts Brahman as the highest and independent reality. However Brahman includes in himself cit (the sentient beings, the jīvas) and acit (the insentient prakṛti or nature). These two are also real, but under the absolute control of Brahman. Brahman—also called Īśvara by him—includes them, is immanent in them and also transcends them. Hence, Rāmānuja’s system is called ‘Viśiṣṭādvaita,’ advaita or non-duality of Brahman, the Absolute, but ‘viśiṣṭa’ 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 (Sarveśvara) who is the ruler of all. He is antagonistic to all evil. He possesses infinite auspicious qualities. He is Omniscient and Omnipotent. The creation, subsistence and reabsorption 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. And, the jīvas are infinite in number. Some jīvas called ‘nitya’ are ever free. Others who are now ‘baddha’ or bound, can attain mukti through bhakti and prapatti (devotion and surrender) 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 practise 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 Sarvamūla. The short and terse bhāṣya on the Brahmasūtras, the Aṇubhāṣya a brief treatise on the same, in verses, Nyāyavivaraṇa and the Anuvyākhyāna are the four works on the sūtraprasthāna. His is a philosophy of realism and a monotheistic theology cente-ring on devotion to Viṣṇu or Nārāyaṇa.

According to him Brahman, identified with Viṣṇu (Nārāyaṇa) 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 categorises the jīvas into three groups: muktiyogyas, nityasaṁsārins and tamoyogyas. The first group is capable of attaining mukti or liberation. The second group, being interested only in the crass pleasures of the world and not a whit in moral regeneration or spiritual elevation, eternally go through the rounds of births and deaths. The third group, the damned sinners that they are, degenerate into lower births and suffer 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-Śaṅkara schools of Vedānta which did not agree with Śaṅkara’s brand of advaita based on māyāvāda, the theory of the unreality of the world. He is a strict Vedāntin in the sense that he takes his stand on the Upaniṣads and the Brahma sūtras. His commentary on the latter expounds his philosophy.

Bhāskara advocates the acceptance of the direct meaning of all the passages of the Upaniṣads without distinction. He presents a Brahman who has innumerable auspicious attributes, but, without any particular form. He has a twofold power—the bhoktṛśakti (the power of the enjoyer) and the bhogyaśakti (the power of the enjoyed). Using these two powers he 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 the minds—which are real. These upādhis, though real, are not nitya or eternal. They are to be considered as 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 kāryārūpa or effect, of Brahman, and hence real.

As regards the sādhana, Bhāskara recommends performance of scripture-ordained duties without desire for their fruits and the practice of meditation on Brahman as 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 Brahmasūtras. 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: Brahman, cit and acit. While Brahman is the controller or niyantṛ, cit (the sentient being, the jīva or the souls) is the enjoyer, bhoktṛ and acit (the insentient nature, prakṛti) is the enjoyed, bhogya.

Acit is of three kinds: prākṛta or what is derived from prakṛti or primal matter; aprākṛta or what is not derived from a non-material substance of which the world of Brahman is made and, kāla or time.

They are different from one another in their svarūpa or nature. But the cit and the acit are paratantra-tattvas, dependent realities.

Nimbārka adopts the view that the bheda (difference) and the abheda (non-difference) are both equally real. They co-exist 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 casual state or when manifested. They retain their individuality even during salvation or dissolution of the universe.

Brahman is personal, possesses a celestial body, 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 (knower), kartṛ (doer) and bhoktṛ (enjoyer) 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—naraka or the hell for the sinners, svarga or heaven for the virtuous and apavarga or release for 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-svarūpa-lābha, becomes similar in nature, except for the power of creation.

The other sādhanās recommended are: scripture-ordained work, knowledge, devotion and surrender to God, as also strict obedience to the spiritual teacher.


Vallabha’s philosophy is known as Śuddhādvaita. He is said to have written two commentaries on the Brahmasūtras, the Bṛhadbhāṣya and the Aṇubhāṣya, of which the former is not available now. The latter is up to the 33rd sūtra of the second pāda of the third adhyāya (3.2.33). 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 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, (being, awareness and bliss). He has three forms: Parabrahman, Puruṣottama or Kṛṣṇa; Antaryāmin, the indwelling spirit of all the living beings and Akṣara-brahman which is the object of meditation and the abode of Kṛṣṇa. It is this Akṣara that appears as prakṛti (insentient nature, the matrix of all created objects) and puruṣa (sentient soul, the jīva), but is beyond both. While Puruṣottama is the highest, Akṣara is an expression of his.

This Akṣara, again, appears in three more forms: kāla (time), karma (action) and svabhāva (nature).

Kāla or time is suprasensible 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 (with and without attributes). 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 (‘sat’), the souls reflect the consciousness also (‘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 jīvas 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: puṣṭi, maryāda and pravāha. The first are the chosen ones enjoying the grace of God, and ardently devoted to him. The second study the scriptures, perform the rites prescribed as ordained duties and also cultivate devotion. They attain God in course of time. 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 possible ways.

Vallabha 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: maryādā-bhakti and puṣṭi-bhakti. The former is formal devotion to be practised as described in the scriptures and has to be cultivated by self-effort. The latter 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 the name ‘puṣṭi-bhakti’. Consequently, Vallabha’s system is also called ‘Puṣṭi-mārga.’ Emphasis on the worship of Bālakṛṣṇa, (child Kṛṣṇa) and sevā or service to him, find an important place in the mode of sādhanā taught by him.


Baladeva is an important teacher of the Bengal school of Vaiṣṇavism developed by Śrīkṛṣṇa Caitanya (A.D. 1485-1533). The philosophy of this school is known as Acintyabhedābheda.

Govindabhāṣya is his commentary on the Brahmasūtras, Siddhāntaratna being another work that expounds this philo-sophy. 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 possessed of 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: parāśakti (higher power), aparāśakti (lower power) and 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 spontan-eous 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 (meditation) is one form of bhakti, it is through premābhakti (intense devotion) that God can be realised. Performance of duties purifies the mind. Study of the scriptures is an aid in the path of sādhanā. However, it is ultimately by the grace of God alone that he can be realised and salvation attained. The freed soul resides in the same world as the Lord and in his proximity, attains his nature and attributes. However, it retains its separate identity.

Baladeva does not admit of jīvanmukti or liberation while living in the body here.

The Brahmasūtra Literature

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

On the Śāṅkarabhāṣya, three ṭīkās or subcommentaries are available in full: Bhāmati of Vācaspatimiśra (A. D. 840), Nyāyanirṇaya of Ānandagiri (A. D. 1260) and Ratnaprabhā of Rāmānanda (17th century).

The one by Padmapāda (A. D. 820), a direct disciple of Śaṅkara, called Pañca-pādikā deals with the first four sūtras (1.1.1-4) only. This was commentated upon by Prakāśātman (A. D. 1200) in his Pañcapādikā-vivaraṇam. There is a gloss on this called Tattvadīpanam by Akhaṇḍā-nanda Muni (A. D. 1350). All these commen-taries collectively, have created the Viva-raṇa-prasthāna, a special school of Advaita Vedānta, in the post-Śaṅkara period.

As opposed to this, the Bhāmatī-prasthāna was developed by Amalānanda (13th century A. D.) in his Kalpataru on the Bhāmatī and Appayya-dīkṣita (16th century A. D.) in his Parimalā, on this Kalpataru.

Mention may also be made of a few other works on the Brahmasūtras, con-sidered to be more important than others: Saṅkṣepaśārīrakam of Sarvajñatma Muni (A. D. 900), Vivaraṇaprameya-saṅgraha of Vidyāraṇya (A. D. 1350), Brahmasūtra-dīpikā of Śaṅkarānanda (14th century A. D.) and Brahmatattvaprakāśikā of Sadāśiva-brahmendra (18th century A. D.).

Comparatively speaking, the Brahma-sūtra literature of the other schools of Vedānta, is not so voluminous though it is in no way inferior in its quality and its erudition.

After creating his magnum opus, the Śrībhāṣya, Rāmānuja wrote two more treatises on the Brahmasūtras entitled Vedāntadīpa and Vedāntasāra. The Śrībhāṣya has only one ancient commentary the Śrutaprakāśikā of Sudarśanasūri (13th cent. A. D.) On this, Vedāntadeśika (A. D. 1268-1369) wrote a gloss called Tattvaṭīkā.

Apart from his bhāṣya (generally called the Madhvabhāṣya) on the Brahma-sūtras, Madhva wrote the Aṇubhāṣya in verses, giving the gist of the various adhikaraṇas of the work. Rāghavendra-tīrtha (A. D. 1598-1671) 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 Tattvadīpikā. Tattvaprakāśika of Jayatīrtha (A. D. 1365-1388) and Tātparyacandrikā of Vyāsarāya (A. D. 1481) 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 Brahmasūtras.

Nimbārka’s commentary on the Brahmasūtras, known as the Vedānta-pārijāta-saurabha, has been expounded further by Srīnivāsa (13th cent. A. D.) in his Vedānta-kaustubha which again has been explained further by Keśava Kāśmīrin (15th cent. A. D.) in his Vedānta-kaustubha-prabhā.

The other commentaries which have drawn the attention of the Vedāntic scholars are the Vijñānāmṛta-bhāṣya of Vijñāna-bhikṣu (A. D. 1550) and the commentary Sūkṣma on Baladeva’s Govinda-bhāṣya.

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 Brahmasūtras—which itself is a systematic exposition of the philosophy of the Upaniṣads—has influenced all the important aspects of Hindu religion and culture, including the modern Hindu movements.