Sri Vyasadeva, an incarnation of Lord Krsna, compiled the Vedanta-sutra to enable understanding of the Absolute Truth through infallible logic and argument. Veda means knowledge, and anta means the end, so proper understanding of the Vedic teachings is called knowledge of Vedanta.
A sutra is a statement that expresses the essence of knowledge in a few words. According to the Vayu and Skanda Puranas, sutras are required to be universally applicable and faultless in linguistic presentation. Vedanta sutras are also known as nyaya-prasthana, or fully logical arguments towards conclusive understanding of sruti-prasthana, the Upanisads.
The Vedanta-sutra are also known by various names, including Brahma-sutra, Saririka-sutra, Vyasa-sutra, Badarayana-sutra, Uttara-mimamsa, and Vedanta-darsana, which represent the conclusions on Vedanta sutra of the six schools of classical philosophy. These commentaries on Vedanta Sutra are called bhashyas, and each of the four main Vaisnava sampradays, along with the Mayavadi school, has its own unique bhasya.
"The Lord said, "Vedanta philosophy consists of words spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead Narayana in the form of Vyasadeva.
Purport: The Vedanta-sutra, which consists of aphorisms revealing the method of understanding Vedic knowledge, is the concise form of all Vedic knowledge. It begins with the words athato brahma-jijnasa ("Now is the time to inquire about the Absolute Truth"). The human form of life is especially meant for this purpose, and therefore the Vedanta-sutra very concisely explains the human mission. This is confirmed by the words of the Vayu and Skanda Puranas, which define a sutra as follows:
astobham anavadyam ca
sutram sutra-vido viduh
"A sutra is an aphorism that expresses the essence of all knowledge in a minimum of words It must be universally applicable and faultless in its linguistic presentation." Anyone familiar with such sutras must be aware of the Vedanta-sutra, which is well known among scholars by the following different names: (1) Brahma-sutra, (2) Sariraka, (3) Vyasa-sutra, (4) Badarayana-sutra, (5) Uttara-mimamsa and (6) Vedanta-darsana.
There are four chapters (adhyayas) in the Vedanta-sutra, and there are four divisions (padas) in each chapter. Therefore the Vedanta-sutra may be referred to as sodasa-pada, or sixteen divisions of aphorisms. The theme of each and every division is fully described in terms of five different subject matters (adhikaranas), which are technically called pratijna, hetu, udaharana, upanaya and nigamana. Every theme must necessarily be explained with reference to pratijna, or a solemn declaration of the purpose of the treatise. The solemn declaration given in the beginning of the Vedanta-sutra is athato brahma-jijnasa, which indicates that this book was written with the solemn declaration to inquire about the Absolute Truth. Similarly, reasons must be expressed (hetu), examples must be given in terms of various facts (udaharana), the theme must gradually be brought nearer for understanding (upanaya), and finally it must be supported by authoritative quotations from the Vedic sastras (nigamana).
According to the great dictionary compiler Hemacandra, also known as Kosakara, Vedanta refers to the purport of the Upanisads and the Brahmana portion of the Vedas. Professor Apte, in his dictionary, describes the Brahmana portion of the Vedas as that portion which states the rules for employment of hymns at various sacrifices and gives detailed explanations of their origin, sometimes with lengthy illustrations in the form of legends and stories. It is distinct from the mantra portion of the Vedas. Hemacandra said that the supplement of the Vedas is called the Vedanta-sutra. Veda means knowledge, and anta means the end. In other words, proper understanding of the ultimate purpose of the Vedas is called Vedanta knowledge. Such knowledge, as given in the aphorisms of the Vedanta-sutra, must be supported by the Upanisads.
According to learned scholars, there are three different sources of knowledge, which are called prasthana-traya. According to these scholars, Vedanta is one of such sources, for it presents Vedic knowledge on the basis of logic and sound arguments. In the Bhagavad-gita (13.5) the Lord says, brahma-sutra-padais caiva hetumadbhir viniscitaih: "Understanding of the ultimate goal of life is ascertained in the Brahma-sutra by legitimate logic and argument concerning cause and effect." Therefore the Vedanta-sutra is known as nyaya-prasthana, the Upanisads are known as sruti-prasthana, and the Gita, Mahabharata and Puranas are known as smrti-prasthana. All scientific knowledge of transcendence must be supported by sruti, smrti and a sound logical basis.
It is said that both the Vedic knowledge and the supplement of the Vedas called the Satvata-pancaratra emanated from the breathing of Narayana, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Vedanta-sutra aphorisms were compiled by Srila Vyasadeva, a powerful incarnation of Sri Narayana, although it is sometimes said that they were compiled by a great sage named Apantaratama. Both the Pancaratra and Vedanta-sutra, however, express the same opinions. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu therefore confirms that there is no difference in opinion between the two, and He declares that because the Vedanta-sutra was compiled by Srila Vyasadeva, it may be understood to have emanated from the breathing of Sri Narayana. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura comments that while Vyasadeva was compiling the Vedanta-sutra, seven of his great saintly contemporaries were also engaged in similar work. These saints were Atreya Rsi, Asmarathya, Audulomi, Karsnajini, Kasakrtsna, Jaimini and Badari. In addition, it is stated that Parasari and Karmandi-bhiksu also discussed the Vedanta-sutra aphorisms before Vyasadeva.
The Vedanta-sutra consists of four chapters. The first two chapters discuss the relationship of the living entity with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is known as sambandha-jnana, or knowledge of the relationship. The third chapter describes how one can act in his relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is called abhidheya-jnana. The relationship of the living entity with the Supreme Lord is described by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: jivera 'svarupa' haya krsnera 'nitya-dasa'. "The living entity is an eternal servant of Krsna, the Supreme God." (Cc. Madhya 20.108) Therefore, to act in that relationship one must perform sadhana-bhakti, or the prescribed duties of service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is called abhidheya-jnana. The fourth chapter describes the result of such devotional service (prayojana-jnana). This ultimate goal of life is to go back home, back to Godhead. The words anavrttih sabdat in the Vedanta-sutra indicate this ultimate goal.
Srila Vyasadeva, a powerful incarnation of Narayana, compiled the Vedanta-sutra, and in order to protect it from unauthorized commentaries, he personally composed Srimad-Bhagavatam on the instruction of his spiritual master, Narada Muni, as the original commentary on the Vedanta-sutra. Besides Srimad-Bhagavatam, there are commentaries on the Vedanta-sutra composed by all the major Vaisnava acaryas, and in each of them devotional service to the Lord is described very explicitly. Only those who follow Sankara's commentary have described the Vedanta-sutra in an impersonal way, without reference to visnu-bhakti, or devotional service to the Lord, Visnu. Generally people very much appreciate this Sariraka-bhasya, or impersonal description of the Vedanta-sutra, but all commentaries that are devoid of devotional service to Lord Visnu must be considered to differ in purpose from the original Vedanta-sutra. In other words, Lord Caitanya definitely confirmed that the commentaries, or bhasyas, written by the Vaisnava acaryas on the basis of devotional service to Lord Visnu, and not the Sariraka-bhasya of Sankaracarya, give the actual explanation of the Vedanta-sutra.
Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi lila 7:10
Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.