On Brahmasutras and VisishtAdvaita

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Wed Oct 1 12:04:19 CDT 1997

On Wed, 1 Oct 1997, Nanda Kumar wrote:

> I've got a couple of questions on the Brahmasutras.
> 1. Are the Brahmasutras, a properly sorted and organised form and
> explanation on the Upanishads?

The stated aim of the brahmasUtras is to organize the teachings of the
upanishads. The source texts are not uniform, and historically, differing
interpretations within the Vedic schools contradicted one another. So
bAdarAyaNa's objective was to iron out the contradictions and present the
central teaching in an organized form. At the very outset, this is
declared, in the sUtras which read SAstra-yoNitvAt and tattu samanvayAt.

> 2. The book which I have on the subject, which is based on Shankara's
> commentary, states that most scholars consider Shankara's commentary
> as 'far fetched' and not faithful to Bhadarayana's original thought. So is it
> the proper book to read?

Ever since George Thibaut said that Sankara misinterpreted bAdarAyaNa, and
that rAmAnuja's thought was closer to the intent of the brahmasUtras, this
opinion has been repeated by many others. It is up to each reader to come
to his own conclusions. Note that Thibaut also said that Sankara was truer
to the teaching of the upanishads than bAdarAyaNa was. That Sankara and
sureSvara explained the upanishadic teaching better than bAdarAyaNa was
also explicitly said by madhusUdana sarasvatI, a 16th century advaita
writer. Curiously enough, given that bAdarAyaNa's intention was to present
the central teaching of the upanishads, if Sankara did a better job
than bAdarAyaNa in doing so, it follows that the teachings of bAdarAyaNa
and Sankara are not all that different from each other.

All the modern scholarly opinions are based on an assumption that the
brahmasUtras intend some sort of bhedAbheda (identity-cum-difference)
doctrine. However, it should be obvious that at its core, the
identity-cum-difference doctrine cannot hold logically. We cannot
logically hold two opposites to be true of the same thing in the same
place and at the same time. rAmAnuja finds one solution to the logical
problem posed by bhedAbheda, and Sankara finds another.

The problem with the opinions of many modern scholars is this. If an
author is faithful to the text he comments on, their opinion is "he is not
an original thinker, and says nothing new." If the author does offer fresh
interpretations, the criticism is, "his interpretation is not faithful to
the intent of the text he comments upon." In other words, if the modern
scholar is uncomfortable with advaita conclusions, then every advaita
author gets one of these two criticisms.

> A question on a different subject.
> Last weekend I met an Iyengar who follows VisishtAdvaita. He said that
> the main purport of that scool of thought is Karma Yoga. But again I read
> in the above mentioned book on the Brahmasutras that both
> Madavacharya and Ramanuja considered Bhakti as the only means to
> realize Brahman. Can somebody knowledgable clarify?

We must not view karma, bhakti and jnAna as mutually exclusive paths. Each
school finds use for all three, at varying stages and with varying
emphases. But as far as madhva and rAmAnuja are concerned, bhakti takes
paramount importance for them.


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