Brahma Sūtras by Rāmānuja | Śrī Bhāshya

Brahma Sūtras by Rāmānuja | Śrī Bhāshya

Śrī Bhāshya is the commentary by Śrī Rāmānuja on the Brahma Sutras of Bādarāyaṇa alias Vyāsa; and these Sutras form one of the earliest summary on the later portion of the Veda, known as the Upanishads or the Jñāna Kāṇda – the portion of Vedas dealing with Wisdom, as opposite to the Karma Kāṇda or the earlier portion of Veda dealing with offerings to various Devas and rituals for gaining material and spiritual prosperity.

2.  The Veda is the highest authority among the Hindus, and holds the same position in their estimation, as the New Testament does in the estimation of the Christian world.

There is, however, a difference between them:

While the New Testament was admittedly written by different authors, the Veda was never written by anyone:

It has been handed down without interruption from teacher to student, and its texts have consisted of the same words in the same order as at present. In this sense they are said to be eternal.

3.  What the Veda teaches:

It points out to everyone the means to the goals which he has in view; and these goals are different for different individuals:

If they identify themselves with their bodies, the enjoyments which they seek will be of the sensual kind, i.e., what appeals to the senses. This is known as Sensual, i.e., enjoyment here and now.

If they learn that they are other than bodies, they will be disgusted with the pleasures of this world, as they are attained with effort; and are alloyed with pain.

They will seek a superior kind of enjoyment, and will be willing to take very great trouble to procure it and to wait for its coming. This is known as Spiritual, i.e., enjoyment there, i.e. in Svarga (Heaven).

This has its own defect; for it is short-lived and in most cases, those who go there have to serve the heaven-dwellers. When the good karma, which took them to Svarga, is expended, they return to the earth-world.

If after wide experience, they are disgusted with this kind of enjoyment also, they will begin to enquire whether there is not enjoyment of a still superior kind, which will endure forever.

They will learn that there is such enjoyment, forever. They will learn that there is such enjoyment, which is called the Supreme Good.

All these fruits, which man may seek— Sensual, Spiritual and Supreme — are known as Puruṣārtha (that sought by an intelligent being). To distinguish the last from the others, the term parama —highest — is added to the term.

Each of these kinds of enjoyment has its appropriate means, which are pointed out in the Veda:

The means for attaining Sensual and Spiritual are offerings of various kinds to devatās, and they are described with great detail in the earlier portion of the Veda.

The means to reach the Supreme is various modes of meditation on Brahma, and this is dealt with in the later portion.

All these means are collectively known as Hita.

The Veda then gives instruction in regard to truth, the goal to be striven for and the means thereto, i.e., in regard to Tattva— Hita—Puruṣārtha.

Most men are unable to look far ahead, and they prefer the Sensual or Spiritual and the portion of the Veda, which deals with them, therefore comes first.

4. The texts of the Veda are not always clear; and the meaning that is first conveyed is not always correct. The Veda being one work, it has to be interpreted in such a manner that one text may not conflict with the others.

A critical examination is therefore necessary, and this was undertaken by three Ṛishis (those who see far beyond ordinary men) - Jaimini, Kāśakṛtsna and Bādarāyaṇa.

They embodied the result of their examination in Sūtras,—short condensed, yet clear statements in prose:

The Sūtras of the first two rishis deal with the earlier portion of the Veda, and those of the third with the later portion or Upanishads.

The examination of the teaching of the Veda as a whole is known as Mimāṁsa, the examination of the earlier portion being Pūrva Mimāṁsa and that of the later portion being Uttarā Mimāṁsa. Both enquiries or Mimāṁsas form one work.

For, the subject of enquiry is the same in both, viz., the Veda; the same mode of enquiry is pursued in each and the same result is reached, viz., a correct understanding of its contents.

The Brahma Sūtras are a continuation of the Mimāṁsa Sutras.



1. Brahma Sūtras of Bādarāyaṇa are 545 in number, and are divided into four chapters, each of which is sub-divided into four sections.

The first chapter establishes Brahma as the only cause of the evolution, sustenance and dissolution of the Universe, the cause being both operative and material.

The second chapter confirms this conclusion by removing every objection that may be urged against it.

The remaining chapters deal respectively with the means by which Brahma may be reached, and with the nature of the goal.

The first two chapters are concerned with what already exists—i.e., Brahma, while the last two chapters relate to what has to be brought about—i.e., the means and the goal.

Each section discusses a number of topics. The Sūtra or Sūtras dealing with one topic form an Adhikaraṇa or sub-section.

In each of them a Vedic text is taken; the views which may be held regarding it are examined and a final decision is arrived at.

The first or superficial view is known as Pūrva Pakṣa, and the final decision as Siddhānta.

The number of sub-sections is 156.

2. It will be convenient to the reader to take a bird’s eye-view of the contents of the Sūtras.

The first four sub-sections are preliminary, and remove four objections which bar the proposed enquiry. The objections are—

(i) As the Upanishads state what is, but do not direct the doing of an action, they can convey no meaning;

(ii) The definition given of Brahma is faulty,

(iii) As Brahma can be known from inference, there is no need to examine the Veda; and

(iv) The statements made therein being mere praise, there is no guarantee that what is stated is true.

3.  In the next three sub-sections creation texts are examined to see who Brahma is.

Taking first the Sat Vidyā, (Chapter VI of the Chāṇḍogya), it is shown that Prakriti (matter) cannot be the Being enquired:

For “He willed, I will become many” (Ibid., VI, 2-3) and evolved successively as fire, water and earth. This clearly indicates an intelligent Being.

In the Ānanda vallī, the world- cause is stated to be Ānandamāyā, i.e., possessing by His nature, Bliss in a degree beyond thought or speech (IV, 1); and this mark separates Him from the Jīva, whether bound or free.

Sub-section 7 draws attention to an exquisitely brilliant body with lotus-like eyes, in which He appears both in the sun and in the eye as seen by yogis. A Being answering this description is Nārāyaṇa Himself.

This body is not one made by karma; for this Being is said to have risen above all evil; which term evil (pāpa) includes both good and bad deeds.

4.  The remainder of Chapter I, except of five sub-sections, examines twenty-three passages taken from different places, and decides that reference is made in them all not to a Jīva nor to a product of matter, as contended by the Sānkhya, but to Brahma Himself.

This examination is needed in support of the- conclusion already drawn.

The sub-sections are grouped into four sections, as the marks on which the first view is based are very indistinct in the first section; indistinct in the second; and distinct in the third; and as in the fourth passages resemble the descriptions in Sānkhya books.

Of the omitted sub-sections, three deal with the fitness of the devas for Vidyās in general, and for the particular Vidyā known as Madhu vidyā, and with the unfitness of the Śūdra for all Vidyās.

The fourth affirms that Brahma is material, as well as the operative cause of the Universe.

The last sub-section concludes by referring to the arguments set out in the preceding Sūtras for explanation of passages, which have not received special attention.

5.  Chapter II, Section I. The conclusion stated in the first chapter that Brahma was both the operative and material causes, brings a host of opponents upon the author.

(i) The first objection is that the Sānkhya and Yoga Sūtras should not be ignored, as they were purposely written to elucidate the Vedānta.

The reply is that the works of Manu and Parāśara, which are consistent with the Vedanta, are available; while the works of Kapila and Hiraṇyagarbha, which conflict with it, should be rejected.

(ii)  The Vaiśeṣikā, the Buddhism and the Jains come forward, and however much they may cut one another’s throat, they join hands in attacking the author for not accepting evolution from minute atoms.

The author dismisses them contemptuously with the remark that mere speculation cannot lead to a final result.

(iii)  The Sānkhya re-appears and contends that there must be similarity between the cause and the effect; and that this does not obtain between Brahma and the universe.

The reply is that the similarity as understood by the opponent is not uniform; for a scorpion comes forth from a handful of cow-dung, and a wasp from a worm.

(iv)  The Vaiśeṣikā -now appears on the scene, and urges that Brahma cannot evolve as the universe, as the cause and the effect are always distinct. His arguments are criticised, and the Sat Kārya theory is established.

A bystander, who hears this decision, comes forward to say that if this be so, Brahma, and the Jīva being one, the evolution should be entirely different, and not be a matter of great disadvantage to Himself as the Jīva.

The author replies that Brahma is different from the Jīva, and that He is one with the Jīva in the sense of forming an aggregate evolves from the subtle to the gross condition.

(v)  The remaining objections consist of four items:

(a)  The potter, though with a lump of earth before him, and though capable of making it into various articles, is yet helpless without his wheel and rod.

Is not Brahma equally helpless in the absence of the necessary instruments? For before creation they did not exist.

Reply: Being omnipotent, He evolves independently of help, as milk changes into curd, and water changes into ice.

(b)  The potter’s lump of earth is either wholly expended in the making of vessels, or a portion remains unworked up; and this alternative is possible, as it is divisible.

Is Brahma fully expended, when He becomes the Ātmā of every aggregate, or is any portion left over? The latter alternative is out of the question, as He is indivisible.

Reply: He is the Ātmā of every aggregate, and has also a separate existence; for it is so taught. In a matter, which is wholly beyond the senses, the facts should be accepted as they are stated by the Veda. Being a unique Being, He should not be tested by what is seen in the world.

(d) The potter works to earn his livelihood. Why does Brahma work? Is it not stated that He has everything that one can ever desire to possess?

The reply is that it is mere play.

This does not, however, imply partiality and cruelty on His part—partiality in making some Jīvas as devas, others as men, and still others as beasts or plants and trees; and cruelty in making them suffer misery now and tortures in hell hereafter:

The reply is that He is a common agent, and rules impartially, giving to each what he has earned by his own karma.

6. Chapter II, Section 2. In this, the author carries war into the opponent’s camp, and exposes their faults, in order that one may not be deluded into thinking that there is something of value in their systems.

He examines them in order:

1. Sānkhya system
2. Vaiśeṣikā
3. Sautrāntika and Vaibhāṣikas
4. Yogacharas system.
5. Mādhyamikas theory
6. Ārhata (Jain) system
7. Pāśupata system.

In the last sub-section, he defends the Pāñcharātra, the teaching given by Īśvara Himself to several individuals at different times, and shows that the objections raised against it are due to misunderstanding.

7.  Chapter II, Sections 3 and 4. In these, the question of evolution is examined from the point of view of the products:

It is shown that everything evolves from Brahma, except the Jīva, - ether and air, and the instruments of the Jīva, the mind, the five sense organs, the five organs of motion and prāṇa.

(ii)  It is also shown that the five elements evolved directly from Him, and it is affirmed very clearly that the meanings of words are primary, not secondary, when they denote Brahma

(iii)  This evolution is known as Samashti - creation without diversity. In the evolution, which followed it also, known as Vyashti, i.e., creation with diversity, it is He that works, but through His agent Brahma.

(iv)  Some minor matters are dealt with. The number of senses is eleven, including the mind; these and prana are of minute size; prana is a product of air; but it is neither air nor its activity; it is an instrument of the Jīva, but not like the mind and the senses; for, its function is to regulate the vital processes; and though its activities are five-fold, it is regarded as one.

8.  Section 3, Sub-sections 4 to 6. These deal with the Jīva, and come in incidentally in connection with the question whether he is made like Ether (Ākāśa) or not.

First, the view of the Sānkhya, that the Jīva is merely Jñāna (self-revealed) and not a knower, and the view of the Vaiśeṣikā that he possesses the attribute Jñāna only as an accident are refuted, and it is shown that he is both self-revealed, and is by nature the owner of the attribute Jñāna.

In support of this conclusion, it is proved that he is atomic in size, that he abides in the heart, and knows everything with the attribute Jñāna, which spreads all round him within the body.

It is also shown - that he acts, and is a responsible agent; but that this capacity is limited by the control of Brahma.

The author refutes the Sānkhya’s view, that the Jīva does not act, having nothing to gain by action, and that what acts is matter in the form of the mind.

His responsibility is not, however, incompatible with control by Brahma. For, He First looks to the Jīva’s resolve: “I will do this” and then accepting it, moves him.

As the world-ruler He gives to each a body, and the mind and the sensory and motor organs, and confers on him the capacity to control them.

He gives him the Veda to know what karma is good and what is evil.

He supports him by His presence within him, and except in the first choice he co-operates with him, every action being done by both. In so far as He does these things, He treats all alike and is thoroughly impartial.

The Jīva, being thus helped, begins to do good or evil deeds, as his desire prompts him; and Brahma rewards or punishes him as he deserves.

9.  Chapter III. This chapter deals with the means by which the Jīva may attain release; but disgust should first be created for his condition of bondage and a yearning to reach Brahma.

Section 1 has the first object in view. When the Jīva goes after death to Svarga, he goes in a subtle body fashioned out of the last earthly body; and he returns in the same body, which forms the nucleus of the new earthly body.

All his past karma is not expended; but he returns with a load of what has not yet matured (Sub-section 2).

Even this short-lived enjoyment is denied to most Jīvas, who quickly return to earth-life. All those who do not enter a mother’s womb to be reborn are of this class (Sub-section 3).

Sub-sections 4 to 6 explain that on the return journey the Jīva in his subtle body is merely in contact with various things, such a contact as prevents his being recognised.'

If he were a devatā controlling them, or had a body made of these materials, he might have had enjoyment of a sort; but this is denied; and he is said to be in a sleepy condition.

If he were born as a plant or a tree, he might be useful to men and accumulate merit; this also is denied. This is sufficient to make any one be disgusted with material existence, if he turns his attention to the matter.

10.  Chapter III, Section 2. The object of this is to create in the Jīva a yearning to reach Brahma:

He creates a dream-world to the sleeping Jīva, as reward or punishment for karma of a petty kind. As his Inner Ruler he receives him during deep sleep and gives him a short respite from the turmoil of the day (Sub-sections 1 and 2).

This union of the Jīva with his Maker is not final release; For he soon resumes his previous name and form (Sub-section 3).

The next sub-section shows Brahma to be free from all imperfections and to be the seat of every estimable quality. Though this is clear from numerous texts, several misconceptions have to be removed. These are— 

 (i)  He must suffer pleasure and pain like the Jīva, as he is within his body.

It was pointed out in Chapter I, section 2, sūtra 8, that not being the owner of the body, He remained unaffected. It is now urged that the Jīva’s body, being in every way undesirable, entry into it, even of His own choice, must pollute Him.

The reply is that this does not happen, as there are express statements to that effect.

(ii)  As the maker of diverse names and forms, He himself is Brāhmaṇa, Kṣattriya and so on, and becomes subject to the performance of all the duties pertaining to them; this is bondage.

The reply is that though He takes the forms and names, He is practically without them; i.e., He is free from their effects.

(iii)  Being Himself Jñāna (self-revealed), he cannot possess qualities.

The reply is that the text relied on merely makes an affirmation; and that no denial is implied. If he be accepted as Jñāna on the authority of one text, He should be accepted as the seat of good qualities on the authority of other texts.

The denial of attributes in a Brihadāraṇyaka text means that the forms expressly taught in that place are not His only forms.

It is next shown that no being is higher than He, and that it is He who gives all fruits, not only release, but even worldly enjoyment. (Sub-Sections 7 and 8).

11. Chapter III, Section 3. The instruction conveyed in the two preceding sections should make one anxious to begin Brahma Vidyā, and this is considered in this section.

The first question is whether two or more places in the Upanishads teach the same Vidyā.

This is determined by four marks—the form of the injunction, the substance of the meditation, the fruit promised and the name of the meditation. If these be the same, the Vidyā is one.

This test is applied to the following Vidyās:

1. Udgītha Vidyā
2. Dahara Vidyā
3. Prāṇa Vidyā
4. Purusha Vidyā
5. Vaiśvānara Vidyā
6. Śāṇḍilya Vidyā
7. Other Vidyās

The remaining sub-sections deal with the following topics common to all Vidyās:

(a) Those attributes, without which Brahma cannot be recognised, should form the subject of meditation in all cases (sub-section 4). This conclusion is extended to the negative attributes enumerated in Muṇḍaka (I, 1-6). (Sub- Section 14).

(b)  As the meditator also enters into the meditation, he should think of himself as he would be in release i.e., as possessing eight qualities in common with Brahma (Sub-section 21).

(c)  Along with the principal meditation, there should be two subsidiary ones—

1. on the Devayāna (the path by which the freed Jīva goes up,) and

2. on the separation of his good and bad deeds, when meditation is established, and on the transfer at his death of the good deeds to his friends, and of the bad deeds to his enemies.

The transfer takes place at the point of death, but not some portion then and the remainder on crossing the virajā.

The subtle body, in which he travels, though not originated by Vidyā, is yet retained under its power as the necessary means of the journey (Sub-sections 11,12 and 13).

(d)  The Brahma Vidyās are not the same, though the object meditated on is Brahma in all of them; for the form of meditation is not the same, but differs in each case (Sub-section 24).

But as the fruit of all is the same, viz., the getting out of the beginningless karma-stream, and the enjoyment of Brahma, it is left to each to choose any one Vidyā.

In the case of other fruits, which are limited, the combination of many means is intelligible; but Brahma is a fruit which is in no way limited (Sub-section 25).

12. Chapter III, Section 4. In this section, the helps to Brahma-Vidyā are examined; but first the relative importance of Vidyā and Karma (Yāgas enjoined in the earlier portion of the Veda) is fully discussed.

The helps to Vidyā are of four classes:

(a)  The duties of one's stage of life prescribed by the Veda. (Sub-section 5).

(b)  Control of the mind and the rest stated in the text:

Hence, one who knows this, controls the mind, controls the senses, withdraws from prohibited and fruit-yielding actions, bears with equanimity whatever comes, and preserves a serene mind, and thus equipped he sees Supreme Ātma in himself’.

The helps of the first kind do not conflict with the control of the mind, as they relate to different matters. The former variety relates to what is enjoined, and the latter to everything else.

Nor will the performance of karmas continue evil tendencies, if they be performed as worship of Brahma; for it has the reverse effect (Sub-section 6).

(c)  Control in the matter of food. This is a particular form of the control already prescribed; but its importance deserves special mention (Sub-Section 7).

(d)  Three duties mentioned in the text—

Hence, one who has learned the Veda should attain pāṇditya; having done this, he should be like a child and do meditation; having acquired pāṇditya and child nature, he should become Muni”.

The term pāṇditya means such a grasp of Vedic learning, as will make one separate the wheat from the chaff, and produce disgust for worldly things.

To be like a child is to abstain from parading one’s greatness;

and to become a muni is ever to dwell on the object of meditation, whenever one is disengaged, the object being to prevent the mind from turning to worldly matters.

13.  In Chapter I, Section 4, sub-sections 7 to 9, the fitness for Vidyā was examined, with reference to the main division of Jīvas as devas and men, and the sub-division of men into castes (varṇas).

It is now considered with reference to the stages of life. Men in all stages are fit, as also the widower, who remains outside. Examples of such men are found in Bhīshma and Raikva.

But one, who has fallen from the stages other than that of the house-holder, remains ever unfit, however much he may expiate his fall by penance (Sub-section 10).

14.  Chapter IV, Section 1. The last chapter deals with the fruits of meditation; but the form of meditation is first described. It was not considered in Chapter III, Section 3, its proper place, in order to show that a loving meditation is itself a fruit. The meditation should be continuous.

(ii) Brahma should be thought of as the Ātmā of the meditator, i.e., as one who rules him from within. For, this is the truth, and he must realise his position in release as dependent on that Being, and as existing only for Him.

The meditation should be in the sitting posture. No other condition is prescribed.

The point to be remembered is that the place, time and conditions selected should be such as will be conducive to one-pointedness. It should be continued up to the moment of departure from the world.

15.  The fruits of meditation are of four classes:

Separation of karma from the meditator,
his rising through the blood vessel going from the heart to the top of the head,
his journey along the path known as Devayāna, and
his enjoyment in the highest heaven.

Sub-sections 7 to 11 deal with the first variety. When meditation is established, past karma is destroyed, and future karma will not pollute the meditator. This is a very merciful dispensation.

If all past karma were to be wiped out by enjoyment, there would be no release whatever; for such wiping out the possession of a body would be necessary; and in that body the making of more karma would be inevitable.

The non-attachment of future karma should be restricted to such as take place in sleep, and without intention (Sub-section 7).

What has been stated is limited to the past karma, which has not begun to yield fruit.

If all karma were intended, then the body should be thrown up at once; but its continuance for some time is a fact. The body therefore continues till prārabdha, i.e. karma, which has begun to yield fruit, is wiped out. (Sub-section 9). 

16.  Chapter IV, Section 2. This deals with fruits of the second class; but before considering them, it should be known for certain that the Jīva to be released departs at all from his body.

The rising from the body is described in sub-sections 1 to 4,6 and 7, and happens in this manner:

The tongue and other senses unite with the mind; the mind with senses unite with prāṇa, this unites with the Jīva, and with him unites with the five elements of his body in a subtle form; and the whole unites with Brahma in the heart.

As in the case of sleep the departing Jīva derives comfort after the turmoil of the earth-life which has come to end.

So far the rising from the body is common to all Jīvas. Here begins the difference:

The Jīva to be released rises along the blood vessel going from the heart to the head. By the grace of Brahma the end of the heart begins to shine, and he is able to see the entrance into the blood-vessel (Sub-section 8).

He then journeys to the Sun along his rays, which connect this world and the sun, as a road connects two villages (Sub-section 9).

There is no restriction in his case as to the time of departure; it may be the day or the night; the six months of the sun’s northward progress or the other part of the year.

These restrictions apply to one who is to be re-born; but in the case of the Jīva to be freed there is delay only till his body is thrown up. He has no more karma to be wiped out, and there is therefore no need for another earth-life (Sub-sections 10 and 11).

17.  Chapter IV, Section 3. This deals with the third variety of the fruits:

It decides that there is but one path known as the Devayāna, and settles who are the beings that take the freed Jīva on, and in what order.

The last sub-section shows where the freed Jīva is carried. The rishi Bādari was of opinion that he is taken to the creative agent Brahmā, and this view is refuted.

18.  Chapter IV, Section 4. This shows that the freed Jīva attains his true nature, including the full expansion of his attribute Jñāna.

He realises his oneness with the Brahma, and thenceforward he has no interest except in cooperating with him and serving Him.

He is not merely Jñāna (Self-revealed), but attains the eight qualities in common with Him. One of these is the capacity to compass anything by mere willing.

He may take one or more bodies, as he needs for His service. If he does so, he may create such things as are required, as he did in the waking condition during bondage.

If he does not take up any body, he derives enjoyment from things created by Brahma, as he did formerly in the dream condition.

He has the same enjoyment as He Himself; and there is nothing excluded from such enjoyment, and the degree of bliss attained is the same.

Finally, there is no return to this earth life;

for having become all-knowing, there will be no desire on his part to do so; nor will Brahma send him away, after all the trouble that He took to bring him to Himself. The bliss endures forever.