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By Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur

Published in The Harmonist (Sree Sajjanatoshani)


Background of Vedanta

Question of Time: -- The Factor of Time is an inseparable ingredient of every theme on the qualitative plane. Every existence is traced in the units of Time and it will be natural to enquire when and from which quarter and by whom this particular school of thought has been brought to light. This question dealt with by Vedanta has arisen in the individual soul of man since his attaining puberty of receiving Knowledge. So it hinges upon ascertaining the halcyon days of civilization when human Knowledge determined man’s real self. Critics have already come forward with fixing the date of Vedanta after the ritualistic activities of the Indians of early days, as Vedanta itself discloses a rationalistic aspect apart from attending to the homestead performances.

Scriptures of Yore and their Apparently Contending Hymns: -- The Vedas are recognized in some quarters as the oldest of books, not only of India but of the whole world. They incorporate at the same time later productions of treatises dealing with Gnostic activities. These rationalistic old books go by the name of ‘Upanishads,’ whereas the old hymns are collected under the name of ‘Samhitas’. The word ‘Upanishad’ is acknowledged to have the supreme seat in the hymns of the Veda and they are placed at the very top of Gnostic productions. The derivative meaning of the word ‘Upanishad’ discloses the fact of enquirers before the instructors, so as to reveal a special feature of the Vedas which is termed ‘Apaurusheya’ or not written by any human agent. Critics would advance their surmise that no historical tracing of the author has been justified to have such non-designative authorship.

The Upanishads as well as the hymns of the collected part of adorative songs towards different subjects of worship are designated by the name of “Shruti” or recollection of what they heard before when scripts were not in vogue. The normal demeanour of determined self has to receive sounds which are but symbolical representations of thought. This sort of imparting knowledge first characterized the shape of the Vedas or store-house of knowledge in emblematic forms. As the intellectual aspects of the Vedas are many in number and apparently conflicting statements are found in them, a necessity was felt of putting them together in an assimilated form in the shape of aphorisms. We shall deal later on with the divisions and sub-chapters and ‘Adhikarans’ (Themes), etc.

The back-ground of the Vedanta System is found in the Upanishads which are opposed to thoughts found elsewhere so that, contradictions had also to be met with when dealing with questions. The rationalistic aspect when judged by different individuals with varied tastes was bound to end in a decisive combat with the result of victory of one and defeat of the others. The ‘Puranas and Pancharatras’ dealt with the explanations of the aphorisms that led in the direction of positive interpretation.

The chroniclers would tell us that the Upanishads came into existence after the hymns of the Samhitas and before the advent of aphorisms, Puranas and Pancharatras. And if they are to be put in the standard of time, they may be traced back to a date three millenniums of solar years back from the present age, if not earlier. So the aphorisms of Badarayana were composed before the present Puranic and Pancharatrik interpretation as well as before the advent of the Mahabharata.

The Aphorisms did not cement the conflicting hymns of the Upanishads, but they mention the different thoughts of treatises of Ashmarathya, Kashakrtsna, Badari and Audolomy, besides thoughts of five different systems of Indian Philosophy. The rationalistic arrangement of the Aphorisms gave vent to the new System of Shakyasimha and Vardhamanagnatiputra. Though these cannot claim precedence, some hasty scholars want to consider their age as just preceding the writings of the Aphorisms.

The apparently contending hymns of different Upanishads have caused doubts in the minds of rationalists who have come forward with their respective arguments. The Aphorisms played a good part to justify or to reconcile the conflicting thoughts of diverse schools. The dominating influence of Aphorisms has done a great deal of good to settle the combatants’ views. The bona fide readers are the best judges to decide the successful arrangement of the Aphorisms.

Preceptorial Lineage of the Author: -- The history of India has supplied us with the combating spirit dominating the rationalistic period on account of different agents and they have been singularly met by the progenitor of the succeeding schools of religion and the authorship has been ascribed to Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa.

This author had to edit the hymns of the Vedas in four different books and had to coach up many disciples to deal with the different branches of knowledge pertaining to the use and practice of the then civilized section of cultured society. His lineage is traced to the progenitor of the human race known as Brahma by the discipular order through the sage Narada, which ascription has been contradicted by the Impersonalist school.

The old history of the country has described the lineage together with the texts of Upanishads which disclose many branches in discipular order from Brahma.


Vedanta and other Schools of Thought

Animism in the Hymns: -- It is a belief among the Philologists that India is the cradle of a civilization where, in days of yore, were inculcated the systems of perpetuating human thoughts in script. And this theory of the primitive culture of a civilized people has been unnecessarily criticised by mala fide misinterpretations of designing people. The original script of intellectual representation has been traced to Brahmi and the devising of Kharousti aided it and developed cultural advancement later on.

The civilization of the Mongolians of Central Asia has exercised a further clarifying influence and added to our knowledge through Shanki scripts which are also found to have been used for the purpose of mathematical tabulations.

The old language of the Aryans has furnished us with the root ’Ana’ and the Hellenic form of the word is found in ’Pneuma’ considered to be identical with Prana or Mukhya-Vaaya. A sentient body which can take initiative has been traced to have a possession of Pneuma by which it is designated as a body known to have animaa or soul. Behind the natural aspect there is a trace of separate existence of spirit in each different phase. This has given rise to polytheism and its followers who maintain diverse Godheads instead of the Supreme Power in the Immanents.

The system of Vedanta does not inculcate this sort of polytheistic ideas. Some henotheistic views are introduced to pacify the animistic thought to some extent. The introduction of the Supreme Power of one Impersonal as substratum, whenever any object of worship is taken into consideration, is an instance. The henotheists do not discourage another member who may have a different turn of mind in establishing another object of worship. The idea of Immanence is sometimes fixed in the Supreme Power and on another occasion the Immanence is separately determined. The Pantheistic determination accepts a synthetical foreclosure of all attributional reference to One, neglecting outward features.

Zend-Avesta and Vandidad: -- The animistic thought in Zend-Avesta and in Vandidad has almost similar consideration like Vedic Samhitas of India except that the terms are apparently different in many cases. The Suras or gods have got opposite specification from the Asuras; whereas, the writings of Zoroaster and his followers differ from the Vedic gods and their utility. The impression of Ahurmajda and Angora Maiynu has a dualistic conception among them like virtue and vice, light and darkness. The phases of gods are known as fire, air, water, etc., like the later gods of Greek and Roman mythology. Vedic India has given to the western lands of Persia their polytheistic gods through Pahlavi books and Gathas which were carried to serve the civilized mythical thoughts of Southern Europe in days of yore.

The Hebraic impressions of the semities more or less reveal a vague idea of the Supreme Integer against all polytheistic impressions of the civilized world as well as the savages. The principle of grouping together in One can be traced from the different entities found in the powerful fountain-head experienced through the senses and they are again analysed by marking different representations coming out from one source; in other words, animism and more or less polytheistic experiences have terminated into the One Supreme Spiritual existence of the Immanence of the Transcendence of Vedanta.

Taoism and Confucianism: -- In China we find Taoism inculcated by Lautze and later on the theory of Confucius went on to inculcate the methodic order of Society. The systems of different countries are all based on the principle of examining the outward feature of this mundane world. But the Vedanta philosophy has gone in a quite different direction to dispel all the apparent sides. The religious views entertained in old days in different countries might not have invaded India to add to more or less polytheistic thoughts, but in order to reconcile all apparently conflicting ideas. The rationalistic hymns traced all manifestations to One purpose of Immanence and easily counteracted the different propositions of polytheistic impressions which served the purposes of different societies.

Nilotic and Semitic Notions: -- The Nilotic achievements and the semitic impressions were much in vogue in the northern part of Africa and Southern Europe, though these have very little to do with their promulgation in Northern India. The ancient sculptors carving emblematic impressions on stone, as well as the preserved mummies would surely go to show an aptitude for establishing an emporium for visitors of Museums, in succeeding years. The semites of the Nilotic region became advocates of one birth instead of examining the separate existence of the spirit apart from the seeming material structure. The story of reflection of the external body is the best specimen of retaining the transformable situation of perishable things; whereas, the ontology of the Permanent is carefully neglected. The society of Vedantists was never dissuaded by these foreign thoughts and some sort of intrusion can be traced in the aphorisms of Vedanta which stultify their critical reasons.


Subject-matter of Vedanta

Arrangement According to Panchaanga Nyaaya: -- The arrangement of the Aphorisms is classified in four principal chapters and each chapter is again divided into four sub-chapters known as Paadas or quarters of the principal heads. Each Paada has dealt with a different subject and this department consists of some aphorisms or a singular aphorism even where five different syllogistic aspects are dealt with. Whenever a theme is under consideration of a particular Adhikarana we observe the five stages of dealing with the subject, viz., Vishaya (subject), Samshaya (doubt), Purvapaksha (opposite argument), Siddhanta (harmonized conclusions) and Sangati (consistency of the conclusion). No subject-matter can be confidently accepted unless it passes through the five processes of logical or rational departments. The different commentators have arranged and treated the subjects in different ways. So the Adhikarans are not accepted in the same line by every commentator. Some Aphorisms are accepted by a particular commentator as Purvapaksha and by another as Siddhanta. So there is a change traceable in dealing with the Aphorisms.

The Subject-matter of different Chapters of Brahma Sutras: -- The four chapters are designated as (1) reconciliation of all Shastras in Scriptures (Samanvaya), (2) consistent reconciliation of apparently conflicting hymns (Avirodha), (3) the process of attaining the Goal (Saadhanaa), and (4) the desired fruit accrued by such procedure (Phala).

The subject-matter of the Adhikaranas is delineated in different ways according to the different views of the commentators. A short list of the principal subjects dealt with in the Aphorisms is furnished below:


Sub-Chapter I: -- The first sub-chapter has dealt with the cause of this universe mentioning Shri Purushottama as the object of our quest as well as with the reconciliation of the apparently contrary interpretations.

Sub-Chapters II and III: -- The second and the third sub-chapters have dealt with the various doubtful misleading interpretations residing in the object.

Sub-Chapter IV: -- The fourth sub-chapter contains a reconciliation of contending thoughts of Saankhya Philosophy.


Sub-Chapter V and VI: -- The fifth and sixth sub-chapters contain refutations of Saankhya inculcations. The sixth is specially meant for the condemnation of the offered oppositions.

Sub-Chapter VII: -- The seventh sub-chapter has traced the functions of souls together with the Origin of the manifestive world and its dissolution and a refutation of opposition offered in connection with the ”Naimittic Avataars”.

Sub-Chapter VIII: -- The eighth sub-chapter deals with the refutation of contending arguments against ’Pneuma’.


Sub-Chapter IX and X: -- The ninth and tenth sub-chapters deal with the nullification of undesirable aptitudes and the positive assertion of desirable aspirations.

Sub-Chapter XI and XII: -- The eleventh and the twelfth sub-chapters are meant to inculcate the respective procedure of dignity and essence to reach the desired Goal.


Sub-Chapter XIII: -- The rest of the sub-chapters have delineated the result of the procedure, of which the thirteenth is a declaration of the result of ritualistic performances.

Sub-Chapter XIV: -- The fourteenth sub-chapter has described the process of different forms of dissociation of the Jiva souls from the body.

Sub-Chapter XV: -- The fifteenth sub-chapter speaks of the way to attain to Brahma-Loka as well as the ascertainment of the aspect of Brahman.

Sub-Chapter XVI: -- The last and sixteenth sub-chapter discerns the majestic aspect of the Final Situation.