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Brahma Sutras

The Brahma sūtras (Sanskrit: ब्रह्म सूत्र), also known as the Vedānta Sūtras (वेदान्त सूत्र), are one of the three canonical texts of the Vedānta school of Hindu philosophy.

The Brahma sūtra is an early exposition of the Vedanta-interpretation of the Upanishads. It is an attempt to systematise the various strands of the Upanishads which form the background of the orthodox systems of thought. It is also called Uttara-Mimāṃsā or the investigation of the later part of the Vedas, as distinguished from the Mimāṃsā of the earlier part of the Vedas and the Brahmanas which deal with ritual or karma-kānda. It is intended to be a summary of the teaching of the Upanishads.[1]


The Brahma Sutras or Brahmasuthra are attributed to Badarayana. While commentators like Adi Shankara treat Bādarāyaņa, the author of the Brahma Sūtra, as the Jnana-Shakti Avatara (knowledge-power incarnation) of God, Vaishnavite tradition identifies him with Krishna Dwipayana Vyāsa, the author of the Mahābhārata. Lexicographers like Hemachandra (A.D.1088-1173) (vide his Abhidhānacintāmaņi - Martyakāņda, 512) support this view. Since he lived along with his disciples and son Śuka, at the Badarī in the Himālayas, he might have used this name in his composition.[2]

Bādarāyana also appears in the Samavidhana Brahmana of the Samaveda.


The Brahma Sūtras are also known by other names: Vedānta Sūtras, Uttara Mīmāmsā-sūtras, Śārīraka Sūtras, Śārīraka Mimāmsā-sūtras. Vaishnavas also call this the Bhikṣu sūtras.

The Brahma Sūtras attempt to reconcile the seemingly contradictory and diverse statements of the various Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gītā, by placing each teaching in a doctrinal context. The word "sūtra" means "thread", and the Brahma sūtras literally stitch together the various Vedanta teachings into a logical and self-consistent whole.

However, the Brahma Sūtras are so terse that not only are they capable of being interpreted in multiple ways, but they are often incomprehensible without the aid of the various commentaries handed down in the main schools of Vedānta thought.

The Vedānta Sūtras supply ample evidence that at a very early time, i.e. a period before their own final composition, there were differences of opinion among the various interpreters of the Vedānta. Quoted in the Vedānta Sūtras are opinions ascribed to Audulomi, Kārshnāgni, Kāśakŗtsna, Jaimini and Bādari, in addition to Vyasa.

These sūtras systematize the jñānakāņda (path of wisdom, as opposed to Karmakāņda, the path of action) of the Veda, by combining the two tasks of concisely stating the teaching of the Veda and argumentatively establishing the specific interpretation of the Veda adopted in the sūtras.

The sūtras also discuss the role of karma and God and critically address the various doctrines associated with Buddhism, Jainism, Yoga, Nyāya, Vaisheshika, Shaiva, Shakta, Atheism, and Sankhya philosophies.


The Brahma Sūtras consist of 555 aphorisms or sūtras, in four chapters (adhyāya), each chapter being divided into four quarters (pāda). Each quarter consists of several groups of sūtras called Adhikaraņas or topical sections. An Adhikaraņa usually consists of several sūtras, but some have only one sūtra.


  • First chapter (Samanvaya: harmony): explains that all the Vedānta texts talk of Brahman, the ultimate reality, which is the goal of life. The very first sūtra offers an indication into the nature of the subject matter. VS 1.1.1 athāto brahma jijñāsā - Now: therefore the inquiry (into the real nature) of Brahman. Since the knowledge or experience of Brahman, leads to moksha or freedom from transmigration, it is very necessary to have a correct understanding of Brahman. Therefore, the treatise deals with the various statements in the Upanishads concerning Brahman. Brahman is the source from whom the 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 Sruti or the Upanishads.[3]

The First chapter consists of 134 sutras in 39 adhikaranas.

  • Second chapter (Avirodha: non-conflict): discusses and refutes the possible objections to Vedānta philosophy. Vedanta is not opposed to Smrti (secondary scriptures like the Bhagavadgita and Apastamba-Dharmasutras) and tarka (logic and reasoning). There is no contradiction among the various statements in the Upanishads dealing with subjects like creation. This is the burden of the teaching of this chapter.The author has critically examined and dismissed the refutations raised by other schools of thoughts, such as the Sankhya, the Jainas, the Pasupatas, the Buddhists and the Bhagavatas like the Pancaratras.[4]
  • Third chapter (Sādhana: the means): describes the process by which ultimate emancipation can be achieved. This is the longest chapter with 186 sutras spread dover 67 adhikaranas. The topics discussed are diverse.[5]
  • Fourth chapter (Phala: the fruit): talks of the state that is achieved in final emancipation. This is the shortest chapter with 78 sutras and 38 adhikaranas. The main topic discussed is the journey of the jiva after death to Brahmaloka by the 'arciradimarga' or 'devayana', the path of light or of gods.[6]


Many commentaries have been written on this text, the earliest extant one being the one by Sri Adi Shankara. His commentary set forth the non-dualistic (Advaita) interpretation of the Vedānta, and was commented upon by Vācaspati and Padmapāda. These sub-commentaries, in turn, inspired other derivative texts in the Advaita school.

Ramanuja also wrote a commentary on the Brahma sutra, called Sri Bhasya, which lays the foundations of the Vishishtadvaita tradition. In this, he firmly refutes the Advaita view as proposed by Adi Shankara in his commentary. Ramanuja's commentary enjoys the status of being titled Sri Bhashya, unlike the other commentaries which are named after their respective authors. It is said that Sharada herself titled the work of Ramanuja as the Sri Bhashyam.[citation needed] [according to whom?][vague]

In the 12-13th century, Madhvacharya wrote commentaries on Brahma Sutras, which describe the supremacy of Lord Vishnu or Narayana. Thus he laid out the foundation for Tatvavaada or Dvaita tradition of Vedanta refuting all the previous commentaries on Brahma Sutras. Madhvacharya's four commentaries on Brahma Sutras are, 1-Brahma Sutra Bhashya, 2-Nyaya Vivarana, 3-Anuvyakhyana, 4-Brahma Sutra Anubhashya. Sri Jayatirtha wrote an extant subcommentary to Madhvacharya's Anuvyakhyana called Nyaya Sudha (Nectar of Logic) which is considered as magnum opus in Madhvacharya's school. Dr Surendranath Dasgupta in his work "A History of Indian Philosophy" (Vol IV) has cited, "In my opinion Jayatirtha and Vyasatirtha present the highest dialectical skill in Indian thought".

Other commentators on the Brahma Sūtras, belonging to other schools of Vedānta, include Bhāskara, Yādavaprakāśa, Keśava, Nīlakaņţha, Vallabha, Vijnanabhiksu, Nimbarka, Baladeva Vidyābhūshaņa and Haridas Shastri.

Role in Vedanta

A thorough study of Vedānta requires a close examination of these three texts, known in Sanskrit as the Prasthanatrayi, or the three starting points. The Brahma sutras constitute the Nyāya prasthāna (न्याय प्रस्थान), or "Logic-based starting point",[7] of the above triplet (Sanskrit न्याय, Nyāya: logic, order). Thus they are also referred to as the Yukti prasthāna, since Yukti (युक्ति) also means reasoning or logic. While the Upanishads (Śruti prasthāna, the starting point of revelation) and the Bhagavad-Gītā (Smriti prasthāna, the starting point of remembered tradition) are the basic source texts of Vedānta, it is in the Brahma sūtras that the teachings of Vedānta are set forth in a systematic and logical order.

The task of reconciling the different Vedic texts, indicating their mutual relations, is assigned to a scripture called the Mimāṃsā (मीमांसा) which means investigation or inquiry. In the orthodox Hindu tradition, Mimāṃsā is divided into two systems, the Purva-Mimāṃsā by Jaimini which is concerned with the correct interpretation of the Vedic ritual and Uttara-Mimāṃsā by Badarayana which is called Brahma-Mimāṃsā or Sariraka-Mimāṃsā which deals chiefly with the nature of Brahman, the status of the world and the individual self. Since it attempts to determine the exact nature of these entities it is also called nirnāyaka-shāstra.


  1. ^ Radhakrishna, Dr. Sarvepalli (1960), Brahma Sutra, The Philosophy of Spiritual Life, p. 21 
  2. ^ Harshananda, Swami, (2008) A Concise Encyclopaedia of Hinduism, Vol.1, p.232
  3. ^ Harshananda, Swami (2009), The Six Systems of Hindu Philosophy, A Primer, p.73
  4. ^ Harshananda, Swami (2009), The Six Systems of Hindu Philosophy, A Primer, p.75
  5. ^ Harshananda, Swami (2009), The Six Systems of Hindu Philosophy, A Primer, p.77
  6. ^ Harshananda, Swami (2009), The Six Systems of Hindu Philosophy, A Primer, p.77
  7. ^

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