The Vedanta Sutras, commentary by Sankaracharya (SBE34), tr. by George Thibaut  at sacred-texts.com
To the sacred literature of the Brahmans, in the strict sense of the term, i.e. to the Veda, there belongs a certain number of complementary works without whose assistance the student is, according to Hindu notions, unable to do more than commit the sacred texts to memory. In the first place all Vedic texts must, in order to be understood, be read together with running commentaries such as Sâyana's commentaries on the Samhitâs and Brâhmanas, and the Bhâshyas ascribed to Sankara on the chief Upanishads. But these commentaries do not by themselves conduce to a full comprehension of the contents of the sacred texts, since they confine themselves to explaining the meaning of each detached passage without investigating its relation to other passages, and the whole of which they form part; considerations of the latter kind are at any rate introduced occasionally only. The task of taking a comprehensive view of the contents of the Vedic writings as a whole, of systematising what they present in an unsystematical form, of showing the mutual co-ordination or subordination of single passages and sections, and of reconciling contradictions--which, according to the view of the orthodox commentators, can be apparent only--is allotted to a separate sâstra or body of doctrine which is termed Mîmâmsâ, i.e. the investigation or enquiry κατ᾽ ἐζοχήν, viz. the enquiry into the connected meaning of the sacred texts.
Of this Mîmâmsâ two branches have to be distinguished, the so-called earlier (pûrva) Mîmâmsâ, and the later (uttara) Mîmâmsâ. The former undertakes to systematise the karmakânda, i.e. that entire portion of the Veda which is concerned with action, pre-eminently sacrificial action, and which comprises the Samhitâs and the Brâhmanas exclusive of the Âranyaka portions; the latter performs the same
service with regard to the so-called gñânakânda, i.e. that part of the Vedic writings which includes the Âranyaka portions of the Brâhmanas, and a number of detached treatises called Upanishads. Its subject is not action but knowledge, viz. the knowledge of Brahman.
At what period these two sâstras first assumed a definite form, we are unable to ascertain. Discussions of the nature of those which constitute the subject-matter of the Pûrva Mîmâmsâ must have arisen at a very early period, and the word Mîmâmsâ itself together with its derivatives is already employed in the Brâhmanas to denote the doubts and discussions connected with certain contested points of ritual. The want of a body of definite rules prescribing how to act, i.e. how to perform the various sacrifices in full accordance with the teaching of the Veda, was indeed an urgent one, because it was an altogether practical want, continually pressing itself on the adhvaryus engaged in ritualistic duties. And the task of establishing such rules was moreover a comparatively limited and feasible one; for the members of a certain Vedic sâkhâ or school had to do no more than to digest thoroughly their own brâhmana and samhitâ, without being under any obligation of reconciling with the teaching of their own books the occasionally conflicting rules implied in the texts of other sâkhâs. It was assumed that action, as being something which depends on the will and choice of man, admits of alternatives, so that a certain sacrifice may be performed in different ways by members of different Vedic schools, or even by the followers of one and the same sâkhâ.
The Uttara Mîmâmsâ-sâstra may be supposed to have originated considerably later than the Pûrva Mîmâmsâ. In the first place, the texts with which it is concerned doubtless constitute the latest branch of Vedic literature. And in the second place, the subject-matter of those texts did not call for a systematical treatment with equal urgency, as it was in no way connected with practice; the mental attitude of the authors of the Upanishads, who in their lucubrations on Brahman and the soul aim at nothing less than at definiteness and coherence, may have perpetuated itself through
many generations without any great inconvenience resulting therefrom.
But in the long run two causes must have acted with ever-increasing force, to give an impulse to the systematic working up of the teaching of the Upanishads also. The followers of the different Vedic sâkhâs no doubt recognised already at an early period the truth that, while conflicting statements regarding the details of a sacrifice can be got over by the assumption of a vikalpa, i.e. an optional proceeding, it is not so with regard to such topics as the nature of Brahman, the relation to it of the human soul, the origin of the physical universe, and the like. Concerning them, one opinion only can be the true one, and it therefore becomes absolutely incumbent on those, who look on the whole body of the Upanishads as revealed truth, to demonstrate that their teaching forms a consistent whole free from all contradictions. In addition there supervened the external motive that, while the karma-kânda of the Veda concerned only the higher castes of brahmanically constituted society, on which it enjoins certain sacrificial performances connected with certain rewards, the gñânakânda, as propounding a certain theory of the world, towards which any reflecting person inside or outside the pale of the orthodox community could not but take up a definite position, must soon have become the object of criticism on the part of those who held different views on religious and philosophic things, and hence stood in need of systematic defence.
At present there exists a vast literature connected with the two branches of the Mîmâmsâ. We have, on the one hand, all those works which constitute the Pûrva Mîmâmsâ-sâstra--or as it is often, shortly but not accurately, termed, the Mîmâmsâ-sâstra--and, on the other hand, all those works which are commonly comprised under the name Vedânta-sâstra. At the head of this extensive literature there stand two collections of Sûtras (i. e. short aphorisms constituting in their totality a complete body of doctrine upon some subject), whose reputed authors are Gaimini and Bâdarâyana. There can, however, be no doubt that the composition of those two
collections of Sûtras was preceded by a long series of preparatory literary efforts of which they merely represent the highly condensed outcome. This is rendered probable by the analogy of other sâstras, as well as by the exhaustive thoroughness with which the Sûtras perform their task of systematizing the teaching of the Veda, and is further proved by the frequent references which the Sûtras make to the views of earlier teachers. If we consider merely the preserved monuments of Indian literature, the Sûtras (of the two Mîmâmsâs as well as of other sâstras) mark the beginning; if we, however, take into account what once existed, although it is at present irretrievably lost, we observe that they occupy a strictly central position, summarising, on the one hand, a series of early literary essays extending over many generations, and forming, on the other hand, the head spring of an ever broadening activity of commentators as well as virtually independent writers, which reaches down to our days, and may yet have some future before itself.
The general scope of the two Mîmâmsa-sûtras and their relation to the Veda have been indicated in what precedes. A difference of some importance between the two has, however, to be noted in this connexion. The systematisation of the karmakânda of the Veda led to the elaboration of two classes of works, viz. the Kalpa-sûtras on the one hand, and the Pûrva Mîmâmsa-sûtras on the other hand. The former give nothing but a description as concise as possible of the sacrifices enjoined in the Brâhmanas; while the latter discuss and establish the general principles which the author of a Kalpa-sûtra has to follow, if he wishes to render his rules strictly conformable to the teaching of the Veda. The gñânakânda of the Veda, on the other hand, is systematised in a single work, viz. the Uttara Mîmâmsâ or Vedanta-sûtras, which combine the two tasks of concisely stating the teaching of the Veda, and of argumentatively establishing the special interpretation of the Veda adopted in the Sûtras. This difference may be accounted for by two reasons. In the first place, the contents of the karmakânda, as being of an entirely practical nature, called for summaries such as the Kalpa-sûtras, from which all burdensome discussions of
method are excluded; while there was no similar reason for the separation of the two topics in the case of the purely theoretical science of Brahman. And, in the second place, the Vedânta-sûtras throughout presuppose the Pûrva Mîmâmsâ-sûtras, and may therefore dispense with the discussion of general principles and methods already established in the latter.
The time at which the two Mîmâmsâ-sûtras were composed we are at present unable to fix with any certainty; a few remarks on the subject will, however, be made later on. Their outward form is that common to all the so-called Sûtras which aims at condensing a given body of doctrine in a number of concise aphoristic sentences, and often even mere detached words in lieu of sentences. Besides the Mîmâmsâ-sûtras this literary form is common to the fundamental works on the other philosophic systems, on the Vedic sacrifices, on domestic ceremonies, on sacred law, on grammar, and on metres. The two Mîmâmsâ-sûtras occupy, however, an altogether exceptional position in point of style. All Sûtras aim at conciseness; that is clearly the reason to which this whole species of literary composition owes its existence. This their aim they reach by the rigid exclusion of all words which can possibly be spared, by the careful avoidance of all unnecessary repetitions, and, as in the case of the grammatical Sûtras, by the employment of an arbitrarily coined terminology which substitutes single syllables for entire words or combination of words. At the same time the manifest intention of the Sûtra writers is to express themselves with as much clearness as the conciseness affected by them admits of. The aphorisms are indeed often concise to excess, but not otherwise intrinsically obscure, the manifest care of the writers being to retain what is essential in a given phrase, and to sacrifice only what can be supplied, although perhaps not without difficulty, and an irksome strain of memory and reflection. Hence the possibility of understanding without a commentary a very considerable portion at any rate of the ordinary Sûtras. Altogether different is the case of the two Mîmâmsâ-sûtras. There scarcely one single Sûtra is
intelligible without a commentary. The most essential words are habitually dispensed with; nothing is, for instance, more common than the simple omission of the subject or predicate of a sentence. And when here and there a Sûtra occurs whose words construe without anything having to be supplied, the phraseology is so eminently vague and obscure that without the help derived from a commentary we should be unable to make out to what subject the Sûtra refers. When undertaking to translate either of the Mîmâmsâ-sutras we therefore depend altogether on commentaries; and hence the question arises which of the numerous commentaries extant is to be accepted as a guide to their right understanding.
The commentary here selected for translation, together with Bâdarâyana's Sûtras 1 (to which we shall henceforth confine our attention to the exclusion of Gaimini's Pûrva Mîmâmsâ-sutras), is the one composed by the celebrated theologian Sankara or, as he is commonly called, Sankarâkârya. There are obvious reasons for this selection. In the first place, the Sankara-bhâshya represents the so-called orthodox side of Brahmanical theology which strictly upholds the Brahman or highest Self of the Upanishads as something different from, and in fact immensely superior to, the divine beings such as Vishnu or Siva, which, for many centuries, have been the chief objects of popular worship in India. In the second place, the doctrine advocated by Sankara is, from a purely philosophical point of view and apart from all theological considerations, the most important and interesting one which has arisen on Indian soil; neither those forms of the Vedânta which diverge from the view represented by Sankara nor any of the non-Vedântic systems can be compared with the so-called orthodox Vedânta in boldness, depth, and subtlety of speculation. In the third place, Sankara's bhâshya is, as far as we know, the oldest of the extant commentaries, and relative antiquity is at any rate one of the circumstances which have to be
taken into account, although, it must be admitted, too much weight may easily be attached to it. The Sankara-bhâshya further is the authority most generally deferred to in India as to the right understanding of the Vedânta-sûtras, and ever since Sankara's time the majority of the best thinkers of India have been men belonging to his school. If in addition to all this we take into consideration the intrinsic merits of Sankara's work which, as a piece of philosophical argumentation and theological apologetics, undoubtedly occupies a high rank, the preference here given to it will be easily understood.
But to the European--or, generally, modern--translator of the Vedânta-sûtras with Sankara's commentary another question will of course suggest itself at once, viz. whether or not Sankara's explanations faithfully render the intended meaning of the author of the Sûtras. To the Indian Pandit of Sankara's school this question has become an indifferent one, or, to state the case more accurately, he objects to its being raised, as he looks on Sankara's authority as standing above doubt and dispute. When pressed to make good his position he will, moreover, most probably not enter into any detailed comparison of Sankara's comments with the text of Bâdarâyana's Sûtras, but will rather endeavour to show on speculative grounds that Sankara's philosophical view is the only true one, whence it of course follows that it accurately represents the meaning of Bâdarâyana, who himself must necessarily be assured to have taught the true doctrine. But on the modern investigator, who neither can consider himself bound by the authority of a name however great, nor is likely to look to any Indian system of thought for the satisfaction of his speculative wants, it is clearly incumbent not to acquiesce from the out set in the interpretations given of the Vedânta-sûtras--and the Upanishads--by Sankara and his school, but to submit them, as far as that can be done, to a critical investigation.
This is a task which would have to be undertaken even if Sankara's views as to the true meaning of the Sûtras and Upanishads had never been called into doubt on Indian soil, although in that case it could perhaps hardly be entered
upon with much hope of success; but it becomes much more urgent, and at the same time more feasible, when we meet in India itself with systems claiming to be Vedântic and based on interpretations of the Sûtras and Upanishads more or less differing from those of Sankara. The claims of those systems to be in the possession of the right understanding of the fundamental authorities of the Vedânta must at any rate be examined, even if we should finally be compelled to reject them.
It appears that already at a very early period the Vedânta-sûtras had come to be looked upon as an authoritative work, not to be neglected by any who wished to affiliate their own doctrines to the Veda. At present, at any rate, there are very few Hindu sects not interested in showing that their distinctive tenets are countenanced by Bâdarâyana's teaching. Owing to this the commentaries on the Sûtras have in the course of time become very numerous, and it is at present impossible to give a full and accurate enumeration even of those actually existing, much less of those referred to and quoted. Mr. Fitz-Edward Hall, in his Bibliographical Index, mentions fourteen commentaries, copies of which had been inspected by himself. Some among these (as, for instance, Râmânuga's Vedânta-sâra, No. XXXV) are indeed not commentaries in the strict sense of the word, but rather systematic expositions of the doctrine supposed to be propounded in the Sûtras; but, on the other hand, there are in existence several true commentaries which had not been accessible to Fitz-Edward Hall. it would hardly be practical--and certainly not feasible in this place--to submit all the existing bhâshyas to a critical enquiry at once. All we can do here is to single out one or a few of the more important ones, and to compare their interpretations with those given by Sankara, and with the text of the Sûtras themselves.
The bhâshya, which in this connexion is the first to press itself upon our attention, is the one composed by the famous Vaishnava theologian and philosopher Râmânuga, who is supposed to have lived in the twelfth century. The Râmânuga or, as it is often called, the Srî-bhâshya appears to be
the oldest commentary extant next to Sankara's. It is further to be noted that the sect of the Râmânugas occupies a pre-eminent position among the Vaishnava, sects which themselves, in their totality, may claim to be considered the most important among all Hindu sects. The intrinsic value of the Srî-bhâshya moreover is--as every student acquainted with it will be ready to acknowledge--a very high one; it strikes one throughout as a very solid performance due to a writer of extensive learning and great power of argumentation, and in its polemic parts, directed chiefly against the school of Sankara, it not unfrequently deserves to be called brilliant even. And in addition to all this it shows evident traces of being not the mere outcome of Râmânuga's individual views, but of resting on an old and weighty tradition.
This latter point is clearly of the greatest importance. If it could be demonstrated or even rendered probable only that the oldest bhâshya which we possess, i. e. the Sankara-bhâshya, represents an uninterrupted and uniform tradition bridging over the interval between Bâdarâyana, the reputed author of the Sûtras, and Sankara; and if, on the other hand, it could be shown that the more modern bhâshyas are not supported by old tradition, but are nothing more than bold attempts of clever sectarians to force an old work of generally recognised authority into the service of their individual tenets; there would certainly be no reason for us to raise the question whether the later bhâshyas can help us in making out the true meaning of the Sûtras. All we should have to do in that case would be to accept Sankara's interpretations as they stand, or at the utmost to attempt to make out, if at all possible, by a careful comparison of Sankara's bhâshya with the text of the Sûtras, whether the former in all cases faithfully represents the purport of the latter.
In the most recent book of note which at all enters into the question as to how far we have to accept Sankara as a guide to the right understanding of the Sûtras (Mr. A. Gough's Philosophy of the Upanishads) the view is maintained (pp. 239 ff.) that Sankara is the generally recognised expositor
of true Vedânta doctrine, that that doctrine was handed down by an unbroken series of teachers intervening between him and the Sûtrakâra, and that there existed from the beginning only one Vedânta doctrine, agreeing in all essential points with the doctrine known to us from Sankara's writings. Mr. Gough undertakes to prove this view, firstly, by a comparison of Sankara's system with the teaching of the Upanishads themselves; and, secondly, by a comparison of the purport of the Sûtras--as far as that can be made out independently of the commentaries--with the interpretations given of them by Sankara. To both these points we shall revert later on. Meanwhile, I only wish to remark concerning the former point that, even if we could show with certainty that all the Upanishads propound one and the same doctrine, there yet remains the undeniable fact of our being confronted by a considerable number of essentially differing theories, all of which claim to be founded on the Upanishads. And with regard to the latter point I have to say for the present that, as long as we have only Sankara's bhâshya before us, we are naturally inclined to find in the Sûtras--which, taken by themselves, are for the greater part unintelligible--the meaning which Sankara ascribes to them; while a reference to other bhâshyas may not impossibly change our views at once.--Meanwhile, we will consider the question as to the unbroken uniformity of Vedântic tradition from another point or view, viz. by enquiring whether or not the Sûtras themselves, and the Sankara-bhâshya, furnish any indications of there having existed already at an early time essentially different Vedântic systems or lines of Vedântic speculation.
Beginning with the Sûtras, we find that they supply ample evidence to the effect that already at a very early time, viz. the period antecedent to the final composition of the Vedânta-sûtras in their present shape, there had arisen among the chief doctors of the Vedânta differences of opinion, bearing not only upon minor points of doctrine, but affecting the most essential parts of the system. In addition to Bâdarâyana himself, the reputed author of the
[paragraph continues] Sûtras, the latter quote opinions ascribed to the following teachers: Âtreya, Âsmarathya, Audulomi, Kârshnâgini, Kâsakritsna, Gaimini, Bâdari. Among the passages where diverging views of those teachers are recorded and contrasted three are of particular importance. Firstly, a passage in the fourth pâda of the fourth adhyâya (Sûtras 5-7), where the opinions of various teachers concerning the characteristics of the released soul are given, and where the important discrepancy is noted that, according to Audulomi, its only characteristic is thought (kaitanya), while Gaimini maintains that it possesses a number of exalted qualities, and Bâdarâyana declares himself in favour of a combination of those two views.--The second passage occurs in the third pâda of the fourth adhyâya (Sûtras 7-14), where Gaimini maintains that the soul of him who possesses the lower knowledge of Brahman goes after death to the highest Brahman, while Bâdari--whose opinion is endorsed by Sankara--teaches that it repairs to the lower Brahman only--Finally, the third and most important passage is met with in the fourth pâda of the first adhyâya (Sûtras 20-22), where the question is discussed why in a certain passage of the Brihadâranyaka Brahman is referred to in terms which are strictly applicable to the individual soul only. In connexion therewith the Sûtras quote the views of three ancient teachers about the relation in which the individual soul stands to Brahman. According to Âsmarathya (if we accept the interpretation of his view given by Sankara and Sankara's commentators) the soul stands to Brahman in the bhedâbheda relation, i.e. it is neither absolutely different nor absolutely non-different from it, as sparks are from fire. Audulomi, on the other hand, teaches that the soul is altogether different from Brahman up to the time when obtaining final release it is merged in it, and Kâsakritsna finally upholds the doctrine that the soul is absolutely non-different from Brahman; which, in, some way or other presents itself as the individual soul.
That the ancient teachers, the ripest outcome of whose speculations and discussions is embodied in the Vedânta-sûtras, disagreed among themselves on points of vital
importance is sufficiently proved by the three passages quoted. The one quoted last is specially significant as showing that recognised authorities--deemed worthy of being quoted in the Sûtras--denied that doctrine on which the whole system of Sankara hinges, viz. the doctrine of the absolute identity of the individual soul with Brahman.
Turning next to the Sankara-bhâshya itself, we there also meet with indications that the Vedântins were divided among themselves on important points of dogma. These indications are indeed not numerous: Sankara, does not on the whole impress one as an author particularly anxious to strengthen his own case by appeals to ancient authorities, a peculiarity of his which later writers of hostile tendencies have not failed to remark and criticise. But yet more than once Sankara also refers to the opinion of 'another,' viz., commentator of the Sûtras, and in several places Sankara's commentators explain that the 'other' meant is the Vrittikâra (about whom more will be said shortly). Those references as a rule concern minor points of exegesis, and hence throw little or no light on important differences of dogma; but there are two remarks of Sankara's at any rate which are of interest in this connexion. The one is made with reference to Sûtras 7-14 of the third pâda of the fourth adhyâya; 'some,' he says there, 'declare those Sûtras, which I look upon as setting forth the siddhânta view, to state merely the pûrvapaksha;' a difference of opinion which, as we have seen above, affects the important question as to the ultimate fate of those who have not reached the knowledge of the highest Brahman.--And under I, 3, 19 Sankara, after having explained at length that the individual soul as such cannot claim any reality, but is real only in so far as it is identical with Brahman, adds the following words, 'apare tu vâdinah pâramârthikam eva gaivam rûpam iti manyante asmadîyâs ka kekit,' i. e. other theorisers again, and among them some of ours, are of opinion that the individual soul as such is real.' The term 'ours,' here made use of, can denote only the Aupanishadas or Vedântins, and it thus appears that Sankara himself
was willing to class under the same category himself and philosophers who--as in later times the Râmânugas and others--looked upon the individual soul as not due to the fictitious limitations of Mâyâ, but as real in itself; whatever may be the relation in which they considered it to stand to the highest Self.
From what precedes it follows that the Vedântins of the school to which Sankara himself belonged acknowledged the existence of Vedântic teaching of a type essentially different from their own. We must now proceed to enquire whether the Râmânuga system, which likewise claims to be Vedânta, and to be founded on the Vedânta-sûtras, has any title to be considered an ancient system and the heir of a respectable tradition.
It appears that Râmânuga claims--and by Hindu writers is generally admitted--to follow in his bhâshya the authority of Bodhâyana, who had composed a vritti on the Sûtras. Thus we read in the beginning of the Srî-bhâshya (Pandit, New Series, VII, p. 163), 'Bhagavad-bodhâyanakritâm vistîrnâm brahmasûtra-vrittim pûrvâkâryâh samkikshipus tanmatânusârena sûtrâksharâni vyâkhyâsyante.' Whether the Bodhâyana to whom that vritti is ascribed is to be identified with the author of the Kalpa-sûtra, and other works, cannot at present be decided. But that an ancient vritti on the Sûtras connected with Bodhâyana's name actually existed, there is not any reason to doubt. Short quotations from it are met with in a few places of the Srî-bhâshya, and, as we have seen above, Sankara's commentators state that their author's polemical remarks are directed against the Vrittikâra. In addition to Bodhâyana, Râmânuga appeals to quite a series of ancient teachers--pûrvâkâryâs--who carried on the true tradition as to the teaching of the Vedânta and the meaning of the Sûtras. In the Vedârthasangraha--a work composed by Râmânuga himself--we meet in one place with the enumeration of the following authorities: Bodhâyana, Tanka, Dramida, Guhadeva, Kapardin, Bharuki, and quotations from the writings of some of these are not unfrequent in the Vedârthasangraha, as well as the Srî-bhâshya.
[paragraph continues] The author most frequently quoted is Dramida 1, who composed the Dramida-bhâshya; he is sometimes referred to as the bhâshyakâra. Another writer repeatedly quoted as the vâkyakâra is, I am told 2, to be identified with the Tanka mentioned above. I refrain from inserting in this place the information concerning the relative age of these writers which may be derived from the oral tradition of the Râmânuga sect. From another source, however, we receive an intimation that Dramidâkârya or Dravidâkârya preceded Sankara in point of time. In his tîkâ on Sankara's bhâshya to the Khândogya Upanishad III, 10, 4, Ânandagiri remarks that the attempt made by his author to reconcile the cosmological views of the Upanishad with the teaching of Smriti on the same point is a reproduction of the analogous attempt made by the Dravidâkârya.
It thus appears that that special interpretation of the Vedânta-sûtras with which the Srî-bhâshya makes us acquainted is not due to innovating views on the part of Râmânuga, but had authoritative representatives already at a period anterior to that of Sankara. This latter point, moreover, receives additional confirmation from the relation in which the so-called Râmânuga sect stands to earlier sects. What the exact position of Râmânuga was, and of what nature were the reforms that rendered him so prominent as to give his name to a new sect, is not exactly known at present; at the same time it is generally acknowledged that the Râmânugas are closely connected with the so-called Bhâgavatas or Pâñkarâtras, who are known to have existed already at a very early time. This latter point is proved by evidence of various kinds; for our present purpose it suffices to point to the fact that, according to the interpretation of the most authoritative commentators, the last
[paragraph continues] Sûtras of the second pâda of the second adhyâya (Vedânta-sûtras) refer to a distinctive tenet of the Bhâgavatas--which tenet forms part of the Râmânuga system also--viz. that the highest being manifests itself in a fourfold form (vyûha) as Vâsudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha, those four forms being identical with the highest Self, the individual soul, the internal organ (manas), and the principle. of egoity (ahankâra). Whether those Sûtras embody an approval of the tenet referred to, as Râmânuga maintains, or are meant to impugn it, as Sankara thinks; so much is certain that in the opinion of the best commentators the Bhâgavatas, the direct forerunners of the Râmânugas, are mentioned in the Sûtras themselves, and hence must not only have existed, but even reached a considerable degree of importance at the time when the Sûtras were composed. And considering the general agreement of the systems of the earlier Bhâgavatas and the later Râmânugas, we have a full right to suppose that the two sects were at one also in their mode of interpreting the Vedânta-sûtras.
The preceding considerations suffice, I am inclined to think, to show that it will by no means be wasted labour to enquire how Râmânuga interprets the Sûtras, and wherein he differs from Sankara. This in fact seems clearly to be the first step we have to take, if we wish to make an attempt at least of advancing beyond the interpretations of scholiasts to the meaning of the Sûtras themselves. A full and exhaustive comparison of the views of the two commentators would indeed far exceed the limits of the space which can here he devoted to that task, and will, moreover, be made with greater ease and advantage when the complete Sanskrit text of the Srî-bhâshya has been printed, and thus made available for general reference. But meanwhile it is possible, and--as said before--even urged upon a translator of the Sûtras to compare the interpretations, given by the two bhâshyakâras, of those Sûtras, which, more than others, touch on the essential points of the Vedânta system 1. This
will best be done in connexion with a succinct but full review of the topics discussed in the adhikaranas of the Vedânta-sûtras, according to Sankara; a review which--apart from the side-glances at Râmânuga's comments--will be useful as a guide through the Sûtras and the Sankara-bhâshya. Before, however, entering on that task, I think it advisable to insert short sketches of the philosophical systems of Sankara as well as of Râmânuga, which may be referred to when, later on discrepancies between the two commentators will be noted. In these sketches I shall confine myself to the leading features, and not enter into any details. Of Sankara's system we possess as it. is more than one trustworthy exposition; it may suffice to refer to Deussen's System of the Vedânta, in which the details of the entire system, as far as they can be learned from the Sûtra-bhâshya, are represented fully and faithfully, and to Gough's Philosophy of the Upanishads which, principally in its second chapter, gives a lucid sketch of the Sankara Vedânta, founded on the Sûtra-bhâshya, the Upanishad bhâshyas, and some later writers belonging to Sankara's school. With regard to Râmânuga's philosophy our chief source was, hitherto, the Râmânuga chapter in the Sarvadarsanasamgraha; the short sketch about to be given is founded altogether on the Srî-bhâshya itself.
What in Sankara's opinion the Upanishads teach, is shortly as follows.--Whatever is, is in reality one; there truly exists only one universal being called Brahman or Paramâtman, the highest Self This being is of an absolutely homogeneous nature; it is pure 'Being,' or, which comes to the same, pure intelligence or thought (kaitanya,
gñâna). Intelligence or thought is not to be predicated of Brahman as its attribute, but constitutes its substance, Brahman is not a thinking being, but thought itself. It is absolutely destitute of qualities; whatever qualities or attributes are conceivable, can only be denied of it.--But, if nothing exists but one absolutely simple being, whence the appearance of the world by which we see ourselves surrounded, and, in which we ourselves exist as individual beings?--Brahman, the answer runs, is associated with a certain power called Mâyâ or avidyâ to which the appearance of this entire world is due. This power cannot be called 'being' (sat), for 'being' is only Brahman; nor can it be called 'non-being' (asat) in the strict sense, for it at any rate produces the appearance of this world. It is in fact a principle of illusion; the undefinable cause owing to which there seems to exist a material world comprehending distinct individual existences. Being associated with this principle of illusion, Brahman is enabled to project the appearance of the world, in the same way as a magician is enabled by his incomprehensible magical power to produce illusory appearances of animate and inanimate beings. Mâyâ thus constitutes the upâdâna, the material cause of the world; or--if we wish to call attention to the circumstance that Mâyâ belongs to Brahman as a sakti--we may say that the material cause of the world is Brahman in so far as it is associated with Mâyâ. In this latter quality Brahman is more properly called Îsvara, the Lord.
Mâyâ, under the guidance of the Lord, modifies itself by a progressive evolution into all the individual existences (bheda), distinguished by special names and forms, of which the world consists; from it there spring in due succession the different material elements and the whole bodily apparatus belonging to sentient Beings. In all those apparently, individual forms of existence the one indivisible Brahman is present, but, owing to the particular adjuncts into which Mâyâ has specialised itself, it appears to be broken up--it is broken up, as it were--into a multiplicity, of intellectual or sentient principles, the so-called gîvas (individual or personal souls). What is real in each
giva is only the universal Brahman itself; the whole aggregate of individualising bodily organs and mental functions, which in our ordinary experience separate and distinguish one giva from another, is the offspring of Mâyâ and as such unreal.
The phenomenal world or world of ordinary experience (vyavahâra) thus consists of a number of individual souls engaged in specific cognitions, volitions, and so on, and of the external material objects with which those cognitions and volitions are concerned. Neither the specific cognitions nor their objects are real in the true sense of the word, for both are altogether due to Mâyâ. But at the same time we have to reject the idealistic doctrine of certain Bauddha schools according to which nothing whatever truly exists, but certain trains of cognitional acts or ideas to which no external objects correspond; for external things, although not real in the strict sense of the word, enjoy at any rate as much reality as the specific cognitional acts whose objects they are.
The non-enlightened soul is unable to look through and beyond Mâyâ, which, like a veil, hides from it its true nature. Instead of recognising itself to be Brahman, it blindly identifies itself with its adjuncts (upâdhi), the fictitious offspring of Mâyâ, and thus looks for its true Self in the body, the sense organs, and the internal organ (manas), i.e. the organ of specific cognition. The soul, which in reality is pure intelligence, non-active, infinite, thus becomes limited in extent, as it were, limited in knowledge and power, an agent and enjoyer. Through its actions it burdens itself with merit and demerit, the consequences of which it has to bear or enjoy in series of future embodied existences, the Lord--as a retributor and dispenser--allotting to each soul that form of embodiment to which it is entitled by its previous actions. At the end of each of the great world periods called kalpas the Lord retracts the whole world, i.e. the whole material world is dissolved and merged into non-distinct Mâyâ, while the individual souls, free for the time from actual connexion with upâdhis, lie in deep slumber as it were. But as the
consequences of their former deeds are not yet exhausted, they have again to enter on embodied existence as soon as the Lord sends forth a new material world, and the old round of birth, action, death begins anew to last to all eternity as it has lasted from all eternity.
The means of escaping from this endless samsâra, the way out of which can never be found by the non-enlightened soul, are furnished by the Veda. The karmakânda indeed, whose purport it is to enjoin certain actions, cannot lead to final release; for even the most meritorious works necessarily lead to new forms of embodied existence. And in the gñânakânda of the Veda also two different parts have to be distinguished, viz., firstly, those chapters and passages which treat of Brahman in so far as related to the world, and hence characterised by various attributes, i.e. of Îsvara or the lower Brahman; and, secondly, those texts which set forth the nature of the highest Brahman transcending all qualities, and the fundamental identity of the individual soul with that highest Brahman. Devout meditation on Brahman as suggested by passages of the former kind does not directly lead to final emancipation; the pious worshipper passes on his death into the world of the lower Brahman only, where he continues to exist as a distinct individual soul--although in the enjoyment of great power and knowledge--until at last he reaches the highest knowledge, and, through it, final release.--That student of the Veda, on the other hand, whose soul has been enlightened by the texts embodying the higher knowledge of Brahman, whom passages such as the great saying, 'That art thou,' have taught that there is no difference between his true Self and the highest Self, obtains at the moment of death immediate final release, i.e. he withdraws altogether from the influence of Mâyâ, and asserts himself in his true nature, which is nothing else but the absolute highest Brahman.
Thus Sankara.--According to Râmânuga, on the other hand, the teaching of the Upanishads has to be summarised as follows.--There exists only one all-embracing being called Brahman or the highest Self of the Lord. This being is
not destitute of attributes, but rather endowed with all imaginable auspicious qualities. It is not 'intelligence,'--as Sankara maintains,--but intelligence is its chief attribute. The Lord is all-pervading, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-merciful; his nature is fundamentally antagonistic to all evil. He contains within himself whatever exists. While, according to Sankara, the only reality is to be found in the non-qualified homogeneous highest Brahman which can only be defined as pure 'Being' or pure thought, all plurality being a mere illusion; Brahman--according to Râmânuga's view--comprises within itself distinct elements of plurality which all of them lay claim to absolute reality of one and the same kind. Whatever is presented to us by ordinary experience, viz. matter in all its various modifications and the individual souls of different classes and degrees, are essential real constituents of Brahman's nature. Matter and souls (akit and kit) constitute, according to Râmânuga's terminology, the body of the Lord; they stand to him in the same relation of entire dependence and subserviency in which the matter forming an animal or vegetable body stands to its soul or animating principle. The Lord pervades and rules all things which exist--material or immaterial--as their antaryâmin; the fundamental text for this special Râmânuga tenet--which in the writings of the sect is quoted again and again--is the so-called antaryâmin brâhmana. (Bri. Up. Ill, 7) which says, that within all elements, all sense organs, and, lastly, within all individual souls, there abides an inward ruler whose body those elements, sense-organs, and individual souls constitute.--Matter and souls as forming the body of the Lord are also called modes of him (prakâra). They are to be looked upon as his effects, but they have enjoyed the kind of individual existence which is theirs from all eternity, and will never be entirely resolved into Brahman. They, however, exist in two different, periodically alternating, conditions. At some times they exist in a subtle state in which they do not possess those qualities by which they are ordinarily known, and there is then no distinction of individual name and form. Matter in that state is unevolved (avyakta); the
individual souls are not joined to material bodies, and their intelligence is in a state of contraction, non-manifestation (sankoka). This is the pralaya state which recurs at the end of each kalpa, and Brahman is then said to be in its causal condition (kâranâvasthâ). To that state all those scriptural passages refer which speak of Brahman or the Self as being in the beginning one only, without a second. Brahman then is indeed not absolutely one, for it contains within itself matter and souls in a germinal condition; but as in that condition they are so subtle as not to allow of individual distinctions being made, they are not counted as something second in addition to Brahman.--When the pralaya state comes to an end, creation takes place owing to an act of volition on the Lord's part. Primary unevolved matter then passes over into its other condition; it becomes gross and thus acquires all those sensible attributes, visibility, tangibility, and so on, which are known from ordinary experience. At the same time the souls enter into connexion with material bodies corresponding to the degree of merit or demerit acquired by them in previous forms of existence; their intelligence at the same time undergoes a certain expansion (vikâsa). The Lord, together with matter in its gross state and the 'expanded' souls, is Brahman in the condition of an effect (kâryâvasthâ). Cause and effect are thus at the bottom the same; for the effect is nothing but the cause which has undergone a certain change (parinâma). Hence the cause being known, the effect is known likewise.
Owing to the effects of their former actions the individual souls are implicated in the samsâra, the endless cycle of birth, action, and death, final escape from which is to be obtained only through the study of the gñânakânda of the Veda. Compliance with the injunctions of the karmakânda docs not lead outside the samsâra; but he who, assisted by the grace of the Lord, cognizes--and meditates on-him in the way prescribed by the Upanishads reaches at his death final emancipation, i.e. he passes through the different stages of the path of the gods up to the world of Brahman and there enjoys an
everlasting blissful existence from which there is no return into the sphere of transmigration. The characteristics of the released soul are similar to those of Brahman; it participates in all the latter's glorious qualities and powers, excepting only Brahman's power to emit, rule, and retract the entire world.
The chief points in which the two systems sketched above agree on the one hand and diverge on the other may be shortly stated as follows.--Both systems teach advaita, i.e. non-duality or monism. There exist not several fundamentally distinct principles, such as the prakriti and the purushas of the Sânkhyas, but there exists only one all-embracing being. While, however, the advaita taught by Sankara is a rigorous, absolute one, Râmânuga's doctrine has to be characterised as visishta advaita, i.e. qualified non-duality, non-duality with a difference. According to Sankara, whatever is, is Brahman, and Brahman itself is absolutely homogeneous, so that all difference and plurality must be illusory. According to Râmânuga also, whatever is, is Brahman; but Brahman is not of a homogeneous nature, but contains within itself elements of plurality owing to which it truly manifests itself in a diversified world. The world with its variety of material forms of existence and individual souls is not unreal Mâyâ, but a real part of Brahman's nature, the body investing the universal Self. The Brahman of Sankara is in itself impersonal, a homogeneous mass of objectless thought, transcending all attributes; a personal God it becomes only through its association with the unreal principle of Maya, so that-strictly speaking--Sankara's personal God, his Îsvara, is himself something unreal. Râmânuga's Brahman, on the other hand, is essentially a personal God, the all-powerful and all-wise ruler of a real world permeated and animated by his spirit. There is thus no room for the distinction between a param nirgunam and an aparam sagunam brahma, between Brahman and Îsvara.--Sankara's individual soul is Brahman in so far as limited by the unreal upâdhis due to Maya. The individual soul of Râmânuga, on the other hand, is really individual; it has
indeed sprung from Brahman and is never outside Brahman, but nevertheless it enjoys a separate personal existence and will remain a personality for ever.--The release from samsâra means, according to Sankara, the absolute merging of the individual soul in Brahman, due to the dismissal of the erroneous notion that the soul is distinct from Brahman; according to Râmânuga it only means the soul's passing from the troubles of earthly life into a kind of heaven or paradise where it will remain for ever in undisturbed personal bliss.--As Râmânuga does not distinguish a higher and lower Brahman, the distinction of a higher and lower knowledge is likewise not valid for him; the teaching of the Upanishads is not twofold but essentially one, and leads the enlightened devotee to one result only 1.
I now proceed to give a conspectus of the contents of the Vedânta-sûtras according to Sankara in which at the same time all the more important points concerning which Râmânuga disagrees will be noted. We shall here have to enter into details which to many may appear tedious. But it is only on a broad substratum of accurately stated details that we can hope to establish any definite conclusions regarding the comparative value of the different modes of interpretation which have been applied to the Sûtras. The line of investigation is an entirely new one, and for the present nothing can be taken for granted or known.--In stating the different heads of discussion (the so-called adhikaranas), each of which comprises one or more Sûtras, I shall follow the subdivision into adhikaranas adopted in the Vyâsâdhika-ranamâlâ, the text of which is printed in the second volume of the Bibliotheca Indica edition of the Sûtras.
xiv:1 The Sûtras in which the gñânakânda of the Veda is systematised go by various names, being called either Vedânta-sutras, or Uttara Mîmâmsâ-sutras, or Brahma-sûtras, or Sârîraka Mîmâmsâ-sutras.
xxii:1 The name of this writer is sometimes given as Dramida, sometimes as Dravida. In the opinion of Pandit Râma Misra Sâstrin of the Benares College--himself a Râmânuga and thoroughly conversant with the books and traditions of his sect--the form 'Dramida' is the correct one.
xxii:2 Viz. by Pandit Râma Misra Sâstrin. As the Pandit intends himself to publish all the traditional information he possesses concerning the history of the Bhâgavatas and Râmânugas, I limit myself in the text to stating the most relevant results of my study of the Srî-bhâshya and the Vedârthasangraha.
xxiii:1 Owing to the importance of the Sankara-bhâshya as the fundamental work of the most influential Hindu school of philosophy, the number of topics, which might be discussed in the introduction to its translation is considerable. But p. xxiv the limitation of the space at our disposal necessitates a selection, and it can hardly be doubted that, among the possible tasks of a translator, that of ascertaining how far the teaching of Sankara agrees with that of Bâdarâyana, and, further, how far either of them represents the true doctrine of the Upanishads, is the one first to be. taken in hand.--Some other topics, such as a detailed account of Sankara's teaching according to the bhâshya, an enquiry as to the books and authors quoted by Sankara, &c., have, moreover, been treated not long ago in a very thorough fashion by Dr Deussen in his 'System des Vedanta.'
xxxi:1 The only 'sectarian' feature of the Srî-bhâshya is, that identifies Brahman with Vishnu or Nârâyana; but this in no way affects the interpretations put on the Sûtras and Upanishads. Nârâyana is in fact nothing but another name of Brahman.