Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Vedaanta
A Study of
The Brahma-Suutras with the Bhaasyas of
Samkara, Raamaanuja, Nimbaarka, Madhva, and Vallabha.
by V.S.Ghate.
Bhankarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, (Third Edition), 1981.

Trying to give a particular definition to Hinduism is impossible and try to reduce it even to one system is nothing but a joke. Though the present day scholars on Hinduism, (thanks to the Indological studies as well as political awakening based on Hindutva) in general agree with this point, yet in the last century and even in the early part of this century Hinduism is considered noting but Vedaanta 1 and that too of advaidic Vedaanta of Sri Samkara school. Though several Indian scholars (like P.V.Kane—yet to be documented) may not agree on such point, yet that was the thought commonly prevailed among the Westerners. But to our surprise even in the early part of this century people like Dr. Ghate boldly refuted such idea and this book is one such an attempt. Though the premature death of Dr.Ghate deprived a scholar on Indological studies, yet this thesis which he submitted in 1918 as a thesis for the Doctorate of the Paris University on the doctrine contained in the Brahmasuutras of Baadaraayana not only an interesting but useful work.

First of all we are thankful to Sri V.G.Paranjpe who brought forth this book based on the original draft of this thesis by Dr.Ghate in English which he care fully edited (with some liberties, as he himself acknowledges in his preface to the first edition). This book is of great help for any one to understand the very doctrine of Vedaanta which is impossible without the help of commentaries. Though bulk works on Brahmasuutras and their Principal Commentaries are available (e.g. Dr. B.N.K. Sharma, three volumes), yet Dr. Ghate's work helps a lay man to have a basic understanding of Brahmasuutra particularly with a critical analysis on the principle commentaries of the great acharyas of the school of Vedannta (Sri Samkara, Sri Ramanja, Nimbaarka, Sri Madhva, and Sri Vallabha).

After giving a brief but useful introduction to the three periods of Sanskrit philosophy (of Vedic, Upanisadic and Post-Vedic, pp.4-20) the author gives a helpful summary of the five major school of Vedanta (pp.21-37), which really helps one to understand their respective commentaries on the Brahmasuutras. Particularly the points on which these five schools of Vedaanta agree and wherein Samkara's doctrine is distinguished from the rest as well as the common futures of the four Visnuite schools along with Madhva's school which stands apart from the rest of the four of Visnuite schools is very helpful to remember precisely on this most difficult subject.

But the more interesting as well as difficult part both to read and understand is the analysis (Ch. III, pp. 53-155) in which the author skillfully analysis the various interpretations by the five great acharyas. With out some real interest as well with some basic Sanskrit knowledge one will find it difficult to understand this analysis itself. This difficult task bring home to our mind the Herculian task of reading all the five major commentaries as well as to understand the Sutra itself.

All the major orthodox schools in Indian Philosophical as well religious system wrote commentaries on Prasthaanattryi (refer the exact word and document the meaning of this word from Tilak's Gita) viz., Upanisads, Brahmasuutras and Bhavadgita. But the major difficulty in it is that each acharya try to read his own system in them to prove that his school of thought alone has the authority of the canon viz. The three prasthaanas. And among the three, Upanisads being considered the old "and to say that idealism represents the real teaching of the Upanisads because it is contained in a certain Upanisad which is relatively old and that the Upanisad is relatively old because it contains a view of things with which philosophy should commence, is nothing, but a logical see-saw" (p.9) Because, "the Upanisads are nothing but free and bold attempts to find out the truth without the slightest idea of a system; and to say that any one particular doctrine is taught in the Upanisads is unjustifiable in the face of the fact that in one and the same section of an Upanisad, we find passages one following the other, which are quite opposed in their purport. (p.9).

And now Brahmasuutra, which forms one among the six orthodox systems in post-Veidc period along with Saamkhya alone "are the only ones of strictly metaphysical importance" (p.12) to the philosophical part of Hinduism. Even here "It is the Vedaanta alone that has appropriated to itself the name `Anupanisada' doctrine, since it is the only system which seriously concerns itself with explaining and reconciling the various divergent metaphysical portions of the Upanisads and since it alone regards the Upanisads as the highest authority, not only in theory but in practice" (p.12) But "the suutra literature2 in India presents a phenomenon met nowhere else. The desire to express as much meaning as possible in as few words as possible and to provide most convenient and compressed manuals, which could be easily committed to memory and, at the same time, which could easily bring to the mind a complete sense by applying to them as it were certain keys of interpretation, was sometimes carried too are, so that instead of attaining the intended purpose it often produced the contrary results. Thus, for instance, we have a number of unintelligible, apparently meaningless word-groups, which cannot be understood at all without the help of a voluminous commentary, which, after all may not represent properly what was really meant by the writer of the sutras." (p.41)

This being the difficult task to understand the Upanisad and Vedanta, try to reduce to one's own particular system confuses one who tries to understand the major teaching of Hinduism. Though there is a long tradition of interpretation on every Indian Scripture, yet they remained popular within a particular sampradaya. And most of the followers of the respective sampradayas might be knowing the other schools of thought which claim the same Vedic authority, but only from the point of their own respective acharyas who founded their sampradaya. Though we thankfully acknowledge the Western Indological studies which broke certain boundaries even among the Indian scholars to understand the doctrine of the other schools of thought with which they are not agreeing in their own respective setting, yet the Western scholarship also several time remained blind while try to give one common title to Hinduism. And Dr. Ghate in his Author's preface clearly says the main reason for writing this thesis as, "If this venture of mine succeeds in arousing some interest in Sanskrit philosophy, and more particularly in removing the idea which is now current in Europe that the sum of the Vedaanta is to be found in the system of Samkara, I shall consider that my labour will not in vain".

After reading this valuable work one has to accept with Dr. Ghate that "It may be true that if one insists on drawing a system from the Upanisads, replete as they are with contradictions and divergences, Samkara has succeeded the best, because his distinction of esoteric and exoteric doctrines like a sword with two edges can easily reconcile all opposites such as unity and plurality, assertion of attributes and their negation, in connection with one and the same being; but this is one thing and to say that the Upanisads taught Samkara's doctrine is quite another thing." (p.9) and the same is applicable to Samkara's commentary on Brahmasutras. But Dr. Ghate is careful in pointing out that "the method followed in the treatment of the subject (of this thesis) would appear to be reasonable and in strict conformity with the rules of western criticism" (p.vii), as he knows that though the traditional Indian criticism may acknowledge the difference of opinion but won't dare to refute any acharya as they are considered by common people as beyond reproach by virtue of their knowledge and devotion to their sampradaya.

(This point is to be added in a relevant place )The general outline (pp.38-52) "regarding the nature, the contents, the arrangement, and the method of treatment of the Sutras" (p.52) helps us to have a brief understanding of the obscure Sutra literature in general and Brahmasuutra in particular.

The climax of this book is the conclusion (pp. 156-70) which release one's mind after reading the analysis. It is surprising to note that not remaining a product of his own time as well as place (Mahaaraastrian) as "Many eminent scholars, along with the orthodox people especially about Mahaaraastra, hold that the Vedaanta of Samkara represents the true teaching of the Upanisads; and that the other so called orthodox systems as well as the other schools of Vedaanta, while they lay claim to be based on the Upanisads, are all so many developments by a kind of degeneration of the original doctrine (of the Upanisads) [p.7], Dr. Ghate boldly says that "Thus we are quite justified in arriving at the conclusion that Samkara's doctrine is out of count so far as the sutras are concerned, whatever be its value as a philosophical system, and whatever be its merit as an attempt to draw a system from the Upanisads. "(p.162). This he can say authoritatively as he takes all pain to analysis Samkara's commentaries not only with other commentaries, but even pointing out several efforts undertaken by the acharya to read his own system in the Sutras. For example after analysing Adhyaaya II, Paada 3, Suutra 43 (sutras 43-53) the author points out, "Whenever there is an opposition like this between passages asserting difference and those asserting non-difference, he (Samkara) always cuts the gordian knot by saying that the passages asserting non-difference represent the truth and are to be understood literally; whereas those asserting difference only refer to the popular notions of things and they are there only to be refuted and to make room for the passages asserting non-difference. This all plurality is delusion; while unity is the only reality...Thus Samkara finds himself in a dilemma" (p.94)3

Though the author after fulfilling his major task of proving that Samkara's system is not THE VEDAANTA based on Brahmasuutras, refuse to give his own conclusion as which School of Vedanta is the correct one. But after giving thireen "very probably formed part of the Suutrakaara's doctrine" (p.166) places the school of Nimbaarka as the first system close in their race and concludes, "All these instances of the employment by the Suutrakaara of vague and general words, not capable of being explicitly defined, lead us to believe that the suutras, though they were in the first instance intended to formulate a system from the Upanisads, reconciling the contradictions which meet us at every step, represent a stage of transition from the freedom and absolute want of systems of the Upanisads to the cut and dry systematisation of the commentaries....The further formulation of the particular dogmas found in the later Vedaanta is absolutely unknown to the suutras." (p.169)

Though the last few lines Dr. Ghate are made in the context of Brahmasuutras on which different Vedaanta schools of the later times enunciated their particular dogma, yet it is applicable to any system which tries to read its own dogma on any given Scripture under any religious system because, "It needs hardly to be remarked that the more advanced a system is in the degree of systematisation and the elimination of contradiction, the farther removed it is from the system of the suutras (or scriptures) whatever that be" (p.170)

Dayanand Bharati, December 5, 1996, Varanasi.


1.The Uttara-miimaamsaa .... more popularly known as the Vedaanta, is the only system of philosophy properly so called, which has excercised the greatest influence over Hindu thought; and even at the present day, if it is possible to describe the philosophic thought of Hindus in general by one name, it is Vedaanta. It is to be remembered, however, that the name Vedaanta does not signify one system only.... It comprehends several systems differing from each other essentially in points of metaphysical doctrine, ranging from absolute idealism down to dualism, at the same time having some important features which are common and which may be the reason of their being designated by a common name, besides the fact of their professing to be based on the Vedaanta or Upanisads." (p.17)

2. A Sutra-collection as the source and authority of a philosophical doctrine is not peculiar to the Vedaanta alone; for we know that the other five orthodox schools also, all of them, claim to be based upon Sutra-collections attributed to some sage of mythical fame, supposed to be the originator of the doctrine in question"-p.41

3. It is difficult to quote even few here as almost in his analysis of every Adhikarana, the author points out very clearly the dilemma and inconsistency of Samkara.

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