Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara

Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara

Brahma Sūtras according to Shankara is the fundamental work of Vedānta Sūtras of Bādarāyaṇa with commentaries of Śaṅkarācārya, the famous Advaita Vedanta teacher and saint of 8th century, the propounder of non-duality of eternal, omnipresent Brahman and the embodied Jīva. 

The text presented here has been translated from Sanskrit and put together by a great Sanskrit scholar and spiritual teacher Swami Vireshwarananda (1892- 1985), the 10th President of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission from 1966-1985. It is not just a word-by-word translation, which could seem too literal, but it is structured and explained where necessary for easy reading and study according to interpretations given by Śrī Śankara.

Why is it important to read and study Vedānta Sūtras (often named Brahma Sūtras)?

Vedānta means the wisdom of old brought to us in holy Upanishads. But we know that in Upanishads the teaching is not well structured, often may be interpreted differently and there are many of them. Brahma Sūtras of Bādarāyaṇa is the most authoritative and ancient attempt to bring together and systematise the most important tenets and arguments from Upanishads in a one work consisting of short, easy memorisable aphorisms.

While even Brahma Sūtras in their current form may be hard to understand for ordinary people, it is considered a great honour and blessing to receive their teaching explained by great enlightened, God-inspired spiritual masters of old, the founders of spiritual and philosophic traditions and lineages, which are significant up to present days! In this understanding we read and contemplate on the commentaries of Śaṅkarācārya given to Brahma Sūtras.


Brahma Sutras: Chapter 1 Pāda 1

Topic 1 - The Inquiry into Brahman and its Pre-requisites

Topic 2 - Definition of Brahman

Topic 3 - Brahman cognisable only through the scriptures

Topic 4 - Brahman the main purport of all Vedānta texts

Topic 5 - The First Cause is An Intelligent Principle

Topic 6 - Concerning “the Self consisting of bliss”

Topic 7 - The Person in the Sun and the Eye is Brahman

Topic 8 - The Word ‘Ākāśa’ (ether) to be Understood as Brahman

Topic 9 - The word Prāṇa to be understood as Brahman

Topic 10 - The word ‘light’ to be understood as Brahman

Topic 11 - Indra’s instruction to Pratardana

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 1 Pāda 2

Topic 1 - The Being consisting of the mind is Brahman

Topic 2 - The eater is Brahman

Topic 3 - The two that have entered the cavity of the heart are the individual soul and Brahman

Topic 4 - The person within the eye is Brahman

Topic 5 - The ruler within is Brahman

Topic 6 - That which cannot be seen is Brahman

Topic 7 - Vaiśvānara is Brahman

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 1 Pāda 3

Topic 1 - The Resting-place of Heaven, Earth, etc. is Brahman

Topic 2 - The Bhūman is Brahman

Topic 3 - Akṣara is Brahman

Topic 4 - The Highest Person to be meditated upon is the Highest Brahman

Topic 5 - The ‘small Ākāśa’ is Brahman

Topic 6 - That which shining, everything shines is Brahman

Topic 7 - The person of the size of a thumb is Brahman

Topic 8 - The right of the gods to the study of the Vedas

Topic 9 - The right of the Śudras to the study of the Vedas discussed

Topic 10 - The Prāṇa in which everything trembles is Brahman

Topic 11 - The ‘light’ is Brahman

Topic 12 - The Ākāśa which reveals names and forms is Brahman

Topic 13 - The Self consisting of knowledge is not the individual soul but Brahman

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 1 Pāda 4

Topic 1 - The Mahat and Avyakta of the Katha Upanishad do not refer to the Sānkhya’s categories

Topic 2 - The Tri-coloured Ajā of the Śvetāśvatara Upanishad is not the Sānkhya’s Pradhāna

Topic 3 - The fivefold five people of Brih. 4. 4. 17 are not the twenty-five Sānkhya’s categories

Topic 4 - There is no contradiction in the scriptures as regards the fact that Brahman is the First Cause

Topic 5 - He who is the maker of the sun, moon, etc., is Brahman and not Prāṇa (the vital force) or the individual soul

Topic 6 - The Self to be seen through hearing etc. is Brahman

Topic 7 - Brahman is also the material cause of the world

Topic 8 - The arguments which refute the Sānkhyas refute also others

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 2 Pāda 1

Topic 1 - Refutation of Smṛiti that are not based on the Śrutis

Topic 2 - Refutation of the Yoga philosophy

Topic 3 - Brahman, though of a different nature from the world, can yet be its cause

Topic 4 - The line of reasoning against the Sānkhyas is valid also against others like the Atomists

Topic 5 - The distinctions like enjoyer and enjoyed do not contradict the truth which is oneness

Topic 6 - The non-difference of the effect from the cause

Topic 7 - Refutation of the objection that if Brahman were the cause of the world, then It and the Jīva being really one, Brahman would be responsible for creating evil

Topic 8 - Brahman though destitute of material and instruments is yet the cause of the world

Topic 9 - Brahman though without parts is yet the material cause of the world

Topic 10 - Brahman’s power of Māyā established

Topic 11 - Brahman’s creation has no motive behind except a sportive impulse

Topic 12 - Partiality and, cruelty cannot be attributed to Brahman

Topic 13 - Brahman endowed with all attributes necessary for creation

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 2 Pāda 2

Topic 1 - Refutation of the Sānkhya’s theory of the Pradhāna as the First Cause

Topic 2 - Refutation of the objection from the Vaiśeṣika standpoint against Brahman being the First Cause

Topic 3 - Refutation of the atomic theory of the Vaiśeṣikas

Topic 4 - Refutation of the Bauddha Realists

Topic 5 - Refutation of the Bauddha Idealists

Topic 6 - Refutation of the Jainas

Topic 7 - Refutation of the doctrine that God is only the efficient, not material, cause of the world

Topic 8 - Refutation of the Bhāgavata or the Pāñcharātra school

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 2 Pāda 3

Topic 1 - Ether is not eternal but created

Topic 2 - Air springs from ether

Topic 3 - Brahman is not created

Topic 4 - Fire created from air

Topic 5 - Water Created From Fire

Topic 6 - Earth Created From Water

Topic 7 - Brahman as the creative principle residing in the preceding element is the cause of the subsequent element in the order of creation

Topic 8 - Reabsorption takes place in the inverse order to that of creation

Topic 9 - The mention of the mind, intellect, and organs does not interfere with the order of creation and reabsorption, as they are the products of the elements

Topic 10 - Birth and death are primarily spoken of the body, and metaphorically of the soul

Topic 11 - The individual soul is permanent, eternal, etc.

Topic 12 - The nature of the individual soul is intelligence

Topic 13 - The size of the individual soul

Topic 14 - The individual soul as agent

Topic 15 - The soul is an agent only so long as it is connected with the Upādhis

Topic 16 - The soul in its activity is dependent on the Lord

Topic 17 - Relation of the individual soul to Brahman

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 2 Pāda 4

Topic 1-8

Topic 1 - The organs are produced from Brahman

Topic 2 - The number of the organs

Topic 3 - The organs are minute in size

Topic 4 - The chief Prāṇa (vital force) also is created from Brahman

Topic 5 - The chief vital force is different from air and sense functions

Topic 6 - The minuteness of the vital force

Topic 7 - The presiding deities of the organs

Topic 8 - The organs are independent principles and not modes of the chief Prāṇa

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 3 Pāda 1

Topic 1 - The soul, when passing out of the body at death is enveloped with fine particles of the gross elements

Topic 2 - The souls descending from heaven have a residual Karma, which determines their birth

Topic 3 - The fate after death of those souls whose actions do not entitle them to go to the lunar world

Topic 4 - The soul in its descent from the moon does not become identified with ether etc. but attains similarity of nature

Topic 5 - The entire descent of the soul takes only a short time

Topic 6 - When the souls enter into plants etc. they only get connected with them and do not participate in their life

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 3 Pāda 2

Topic 1 - The soul in the dream state

Topic 2 - The soul in dreamless sleep

Topic 3 - The self-same soul returns from Suṣupti

Topic 4 - The nature of a swoon

Topic 5 - The nature of the Supreme Brahman

Topic 6 - ‘Not this, not this’ in Brih. 2.3.6. denies the gross and subtle forms of Brahman given in Brih. 2.3.1. and not Brahman Itself

Topic 7 - Brahman is one without a second, and expressions which apparently imply something else as existing are only metaphorical

Topic 8 - Īśvara the giver of the fruits of actions

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 3 Pāda 3

Topic 1 - The Vidyās with identical or similar form met with in the scriptures, or in different recensions of the scriptures are one Vidyā

Topic 2 - Particulars of identical Vidyās mentioned in different places or Śākhās are to be combined into one meditation

Topic 3 - Vidyās having really different subject-matter are separate, though in other respects there are similarities

Topic 4-5

Topic 4 - Specializing the ‘Om’ of the Udgītha Vidyā is apt, as ‘Om’ is common to all the Vedas

Topic 5 - Unity of the Prāṇa Vidyā

Topic 6 - In all the meditations on Brahman qualities like ‘Bliss’ etc., which describe Its nature, are to be combined into one meditation, and not others

Topic 7 - Kath. 1.3.10-11  simply aims at teaching that the Self is higher than everything else

Topic 8 - The self referred to in Ait. 1.1 is the Supreme Self and consequently the attributes of the Self given in other places are to be included in this Aitareya meditation

Topic 9-10

Topic 9 - Rinsing the mouth is not enjoined in the Prāṇa Vidyā, but only thinking the water as the dress of Prāṇa

Topic 10 - Vidyās in the same Śākhā which are identical or similar have to be combined, for they are one

Topic 11 - The names ‘Ahar’ and ‘Aham’ of the Supreme Brahman as abiding in the sun and in the right eye respectively, given in Brih . 5. 5.1-2, cannot be combined, as these are two separate Vidyās

Topic 12-14

Topic 12 - Attributes of Brahman mentioned in Rānāyaniya-khila are not to be taken into consideration in other Brahma Vidyās e.g. the Śāndilya Vidyā, as the former is an independent Vidyā on account of the difference of Brahman’s abode

Topic 13 - The Purusha Vidyā in the Chāṇḍogya and the Taittirīya are not one

Topic 14 - Detached Mantras like “Pierce the whole (body of the enemy)” etc. and sacrifices mentioned at the beginning of certain Upanishads do not form part of the Brahma Vidyā inculcated in the Upanishads

Topic 15 - The statement made in one of the texts that the good and evil deeds of a person who has attained Knowledge go to his friends and enemies respectively, is valid for all texts where discarding of good and, evil Karma by such a person is mentioned

Topic 16 - The discarding of good and evil by the knower of Brahman takes place at the time of death and not on his way to Brahmaloka

Topic 17 - The knower of the Saguṇā Brahman alone goes by the path of the gods after death and not the knower of the Nirguna Brahman

Topic 18-19

Topic 18 - All the worshippers of the Saguṇā Brahman go after death by the path of the gods to Brahmaloka, and not merely those who know the Panchāgni Vidyā etc., wherein such a path is specifically mentioned

Topic 19 - Perfected Souls May Be Reborn For The Fulfilment Of Some Divine Mission

Topic 20 - The negative attributes of Brahman mentioned in various texts are to be combined in all meditations on Brahman

Topic 21 - Muṇḍaka 3.1.1 and Katha 1.3.1 form one Vidyā

Topic 22 - Brihadāraṇyaka 3.4.1 and 3.5.1 constitute one Vidyā

Topic 23-24

Topic 23 - The Śruti enjoins reciprocal meditation in Ait. Ar. 2. 2. 4. 6 and not merely one way

Topic 24 - Brihadāraṇyaka 5. 4. 1 and 5. 5. 2 treat of one Vidyā about Satya Brahman

Topic 25-26

Topic 25 - Attributes mentioned in Chh. 8. 1. 1 and Brih . 4. 4. 22 are to be combined on account of a number of common features in both the texts

Topic 26 - Prāṇāgnihotra need not be observed on days of fast

Topic 27 - Upāsanās mentioned in connection with certain sacrifices are not parts of them and hence are not inseparably connected with them

Topic 28 - Meditations on Vāyu and Prāṇa are to be kept separate in spite of the essential oneness of these two

Topic 29 - The fires in Agnirahasya of the Brihadāraṇyaka are not part of the sacrificial act, but constitute a separate Vidyā

Topic 30 - The Self is a separate entity from the body

Topic 31-32

Topic 31 - Upāsanās connected with sacrificial acts, e.g. the Udgītha Upāsanā, are valid for all Śākhās

Topic 32 - Vaiśvānara Upāsanā is one entire Upāsanā

Topic 33-34

Topic 33 - Various Vidyās like the Śāndilya Vidyā, Dahara Vidyā, and so on are to be kept separate and not combined into one entire Upāsanā

Topic 34 - Among Vidyās relating to Brahman any one alone should be selected according to one’s choice

Topic 35-36

Topic 35 - Meditations yielding special desires may or may not be combined according to liking

Topic 36 - Meditations connected with members of sacrificial acts may or may not be combined according to liking

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 3 Pāda 4

Topic 1 - Knowledge of Brahman is not subordinate to sacrificial acts

Topic 2 - Sannyāsa is prescribed by the scriptures

Topic 3 - Scriptural statements as in Chh. 1.1.3 which refer to Vidyās are not merely glorification, but enjoin the meditations

Topic 4-5

Topic 4 - The stories recorded in the Upanishads do not serve the purpose of Pāriplavas and so do not form part of the ritualistic acts. They are meant to glorify the Vidyā taught in them

Topic 5 - Sannyāsins need not observe ritualistic acts, as Knowledge serves their purpose

Topic 6 - Nevertheless works prescribed by the scriptures are useful as they are an indirect means to Knowledge

Topic 7 - Restrictions as regards food may be waived only when life is at stake

Topic 8 - The duties of the Āśrama are to be performed by even one who is not desirous of Knowledge

Topic 9 - Those who stand midway between two Āśramas are also entitled to Knowledge

Topic 10 - One who has taken the vow of lifelong celibacy (Sannyāsa) cannot revert back to his former stages of life

Topic 11-12

Topic 11 - Expiation for one who transgresses the vow of lifelong celibacy

Topic 12 - The lifelong celibate who lapses in his vows to be shunned by society

Topic 13 - The meditations connected with the subordinate members of sacrificial acts are to be gone through by the priest and not by the sacrificer

Topic 14 - In Brih. 3.5.1 meditativeness is enjoined besides scholarship and the childlike state

Topic 15-16

Topic 15 - Childlike state means the state of innocence, being free from anger, passion, etc.

Topic 16 - The time of the origination of Knowledge when the Vidyā is practised

Topic 17 - There Is No Difference In Liberation, I.e. In The Cognition Of Brahman—it Is Of One Kind In All Cases

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 4 Pāda 1

Topic 1-14

Topic 1 - The meditation on the Ātman enjoined by the scriptures is to be repeated till Knowledge is attained

Topic 2 - In the meditations on the Supreme Brahman the meditator is to comprehend It as identical with himself

Topic 3 - Where symbols of Brahman are used for contemplation, the meditator is not to comprehend them as identical with him

Topic 4 - In meditations on symbols the latter are to be viewed as Brahman and not in the reverse way

Topic 5 - In meditations on the members of sacrificial acts the idea of the divinity is to be superimposed on the members and not vice versa

Topic 6 - One is to meditate sitting

Topic 7 - With respect to meditation there is no restriction of place

Topic 8 - Meditations are to be observed till death

Topic 9 - Knowledge of Brahman frees one from the effects of all past and future evil deeds

Topic 10 - Good deeds likewise cease to affect the knower of Brahman

Topic 11 - Works which have not begun to yield results are alone destroyed by Knowledge and not those which have already begun to yield results

Topic 12 - Obligatory works are however excepted from the rule mentioned in topic 10

Topic 13 - Sacrificial works not combined with knowledge or meditations also help in the origination of Knowledge

Topic 14 - On the exhaustion of Prārabdha work through enjoyment the knower of Brahman attains

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 4 Pāda 2

Topic 1-5

Topic 1 - At the time of death the functions of the organs are merged in mind

Topic 2 - The function of mind gets merged in Prāṇa

Topic 3 - The function of the vital force gets merged in the individual soul

Topic 4 - The mode of departure from the body up to the way is common to both a knower of the Saguṇa Brahman and an ordinary man

Topic 5 - The merging of fire etc. at death in the Supreme Deity is not absolute merging

Topic 6-11

Topic 6 - The Prāṇas of a knower of the Nirguna Brahman do not depart from the body at death

Topic 7 - The organs of the knower of the Nirguna Brahman get merged in It at death

Topic 8 - The digits (Kalās) of the knower of the Nirguna Brahman attain absolute non-distinction with Brahman at death

Topic 9 - The soul of the knower of the Saguṇa Brahman comes to the heart at the time of death and thence goes out through the Sushumnā

Topic 10 - The soul of a knower of the Saguṇa Brahman follows the rays of the sun after death and goes to Brahmaloka

Topic 11 - The soul of the knower of the Saguṇa Brahman goes to Brahmaloka even if he should die during the southern course of the sun

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 4 Pāda 3

Topic 1-6

Topic 1 - The path connected with deities beginning with that of the flame is the only path to Brahmaloka

Topic 2 - The departing soul reaches the deity of the year and then the deity of the air

Topic 3 - After reaching the deity identified with lightning the soul reaches the world of Varuṇa

Topic 4 - Flame etc. referred to in the text describing the path of the gods mean deities identified with the flame etc., which conduct the soul stage after stage till Brahmaloka is reached

Topic 5 - The Brahman to which the departed souls go by the path of the gods is the Saguṇa Brahman

Topic 6 - Only those who have worshipped the Saguṇa Brahman without a symbol attain Brahmaloka

Brahma Sutras: Chapter 4 Pāda 4

Topic 1-6

Topic 1 - The released soul does not acquire anything new but only manifests its true nature

Topic 2 - The relation of the released soul with Brahman is one of non-separation

Topic 3 - Characteristics of the soul that has attained the Nirguna Brahman

Topic 4 - The soul which has attained the Saguṇa Brahman effects its desires by mere will

Topic 5 - A released soul which has attained Brahmaloka can exist with or without a body according to its liking

Topic 6 - The released soul which has attained the Saguṇa Brahman can animate several bodies at the same time

Topic 7 - The released soul which has attained Brahmaloka has all the lordly powers except the power of creation etc.