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Sutras also known as Shastras are supplemental texts which are short but potent phrases revolving around the Upanashadic literature.

There are six Sutras / Shastras and their main objective is to realise God. The knowledge in these Sutras / Shashtras is from four Vedas which every Rishi has told in his respective Sutra / Shashtras.

First, there is the Mimamsa sutra that was written by the sage Jaimini who was a student of Vyasadeva about 5,000 years ago. Mimamsa means solutions through critical examination, and was originally expounded by Jaimini in the twelve chapters of his Mimamsa Sutra. It clarifies the Vedic principles so a person can focus on the ways for attaining a good life now and in the next. This system was traditionally called Purva Mimamsa, representing the early revered thought. This is in relation to the study of Vedanta since Mimamsa was considered the preliminary understanding of Vedanta philosophy. On the other hand, Vedanta is also called Uttara Mimamsa, meaning the conclusion and higher teachings of the Mimamsa philosophy, because the Vedas are regarded as self evident scriptures that reveal divine knowledge.

The Mimamsa system emphasizes the importance of action in terms of ritual, worship, and duty or dharma as the means of reaching liberation from karma and the cycle of repeated birth and death. It explains the essential Vedic issues and describes the eternal nature of the Vedic texts as part of the same spiritual energy as God, which are manifested on earth through the minds of the great sages. It then continues to clarify the accurate use of the Vedic mantras for the attainment of happiness and material facility. Mimamsa is basically a systematized code of rules for the Vedic rituals and worship used along with the Vedas and explains the purpose and meaning of the rituals. It is especially meant to help householders regulate and spiritualize their daily lives, while Vedanta is meant more for those who had grown tired of materialistic existence and are ready to retire and seriously engage in spiritual pursuits. Dharma is considered to be those moral activities that harmonize individual life with cosmic life.

The Nyaya Sutra presents the Vedic system of logic as established by the sage Gautama. This was written in a question and answer format, like many of the Vedic Sutras. Nyaya is a school of logic which regards doubt as a prerequisite for philosophical inquiry. All other Indian systems of philosophy use the Nyaya system of logic as a foundation for reasoning and debate.

The five principles of the Nyaya system are:

The ultimate purpose of the Nyaya system, which is closely linked to the Vaisheshika system, is to use this process of logic to establish the ultimate truth, or God, the Supreme Reality, and to show the spiritual platform is all that is truly desirable and not the temporary material creation. It is meant to help one achieve liberation from karma and material existence by properly understanding reality, or the difference between matter and spirit. Nyaya accepts that the only way to liberation is to obtain knowledge of the external world and understand its relationship with the mind and self. Through logical criticism, one can discriminate between truth and illusion and applying such understanding in daily life, rid oneself of suffering and attain liberation. Additionally, this system of logic was developed to prove the validity of its principles by analysis and argument to counter the criticism of the Buddhists, Jains, and Charvakas. However, the Nyaya system was empirical and mostly relied on perception, inference, comparison, and testimony as its means of acquiring knowledge.

The Vaisheshika Sutra, written in a question and answer format, was the first work written on this philosophy by Kanada. Prasastapada later wrote a definitive commentary on this sutra entitled Svartha Dharma Samgraha. The name Vaisheshika comes from vishesha, which means uniqueness or particularity. Therefore, the Vaisheshika system is a study of the uniqueness and qualities of existence, such as the elements, atoms, their interactions, as well as the soul. But it accepts only two independent sources of knowledge, which are perception and inference. It is a sutra that helps show the futility of life in the temporary worlds of maya, and the need for understanding God and to become free from all karma so that liberation can follow. However, the knowledge within this sutra is unnecessary if one already knows that understanding God and regaining one’s devotional love is the real goal of life.

The Vaisheshika Sutra contained several ideas:

Vaisheshika attempted to integrate philosophical theories with moral and spiritual attitudes or dharma which would lead people to good in this life and the next. However, it did not bring the Supreme Being to the point of ultimate reality, but as merely an agent of release from karma and repeated birth and death. Therefore, the Vaisheshika philosophy is not complete in its understanding of the Absolute Truth or of material nature.

The Vaisheshika theory states that, merely by interactions between atoms, the elements are formed and thus, the world and all objects within appear. However, this is refuted by the Vedanta Sutras. For example, if atoms are simply inert matter, then atomic combinations could not properly take place without some higher directional force. The Vaisheshikas say, this force is the unseen principle but fail to explain fully what it is, where it resides, or how it works. They also say that atoms and relationships between the atoms of the elements as earth, water, air, etc., are eternal, but, this would mean that any form composed of atoms would also be eternal, such as the material world and all that is in it. However, anyone can see that this is not the case since everything is always changing and breaking apart. Even the Vaisheshikas accept the fact that all bodies and forms composed of atoms are temporary. In this way, we can recognize the contradictions in the atomic theory of the Vaisheshikas.

The Sankhya philosophy is another system. The principal aim is to analyze the distinctions between matter and spirit. The study of the twenty four material elements was originally developed as a complex science by Lord Kapila, as elaborated in Srimad Bhagavatam. But later, there was another Kapila who presented an atheistic Sankhya system. Therefore, in other schools of this system, the existence of God is considered irrelevant. This is because the universe is regarded as a system of cause and effect. In other words, the cause of the universe is that which is eternal but ever changing, or prakriti, the ever changing material energy. God is eternal and non changing, so, within this atheistic view of Sankhya it is considered that God cannot be the cause of the universe. Obviously, there are limitations in this analysis, such as not defining where prakriti came from and how could prakriti, which is inert, form the material universe without any guidance, and so on. So, gradually, there were additional arguments that again led to an acceptance of God in the philosophy of Sankhya.

The original Sankhya system, as explained in Srimad Bhagavatam by Lord Kapila, acknowledges matter and spirit as two separate principles of reality. Thus, genuine Sankhya introduces a dualistic philosophy more developed than the previous three systems discussed so far. Sankhya analyzed such factors as purusha and prakriti (spirit and matter), the creation and development of matter through excitation of the purusha (origin of mankind), how the world evolved, how the modes of nature operate and affect us, how ahankara (false ego) causes our identification with matter and bondage to the material world, the five organs of action and five senses of perception, the subtle elements, the gross elements, etc.

The goal of this system is to understand that the real self is eternal and free, but because of ignorance the soul identifies with what is temporary and, therefore, suffers. Through this kind of analysis of the material world it is expected that one will realize the difference between matter and spirit and attain freedom from false identification. After this stage is attained, release from existence in the material world is reached through spiritual training, meditation on the real self and Superself and the practice of yoga.

Yoga is the next system, which is the application of the Sankhya system. Sankhya is the theory, and Yoga is the practice. Yoga, which is essentially theistic, was known many years before Patanjali. Although he is often given the credit for it, he merely codified it in his Yoga Sutras. The complete system of Yoga is very complex and has many steps to it, each of which must be perfected before one can go on to the next step. The purpose of Yoga is to suspend the flickering nature and internal dictations of the mind. Yoga is also to attain relief from the pain that exists from such things as ignorance, which brings attachment, which then leads the way to fear and hatred, as well as the fear of death. The practice of Yoga and renunciation is for bringing freedom from such pains and suffering. Although the basis of this system may be quite popular, few people can actually reach the higher levels of self-Realization through this process in this day and age.

The sixth sutra is the Vedanta Sutra. When it comes to Vedanta, many commentaries on it revolve around the Brahman. The Brahman generally means the all-pervading, self-existent power. The word "brahman" is based on the root word "brah", which means vastness, power or expansion. It also denotes the Supreme Being, as well as the atman, the living being, who, when freed from the body, becomes situated on the level of Brahman, or the spiritual nature. The concept of the Brahman was, for the most part, first elaborated in the Upanishads. Therein we begin to find descriptions from which our understanding of it grows. It is described as invisible, ungraspable, eternal, without qualities, and the imperishable source of all things.

It is explained that Shankara’s advaita doctrine was based on the famous passage in the Chandogya Upanishad (6.10.3), tat tvam asi, meaning “That thou art.” He taught that “thou and that” were not to be regarded as object and subject, but as identical, without difference (a-bheda), like the real self (atman). Thus, anything that was variable, like the body, mind, intellect, and ego are objects of knowledge and not the atman.

These concepts were more fully explained on the basis of the Vedanta sutras. The Vedanta sutras are a systemization of sutras or codes for understanding Vedic knowledge. Tthey are short codes that are later to be explained by the spiritual master, guru or spiritual authority. By themselves, without further explanations, it is not easy to fathom their depths. So it is these commentaries that contain the additional information about such things as the Brahman.

Vedanta means the conclusion of the Veda or end of all knowledge. Vedanta is also known as Uttara Mimamsa, or later examination, and is a companion to the Purva Mimamsa, or preliminary examination. The Purva Mimamsa deals with the early portions of the Vedas and the Uttara Mimamsa deals with the latter portions. The Vedic tradition, unlike other religions and philosophies, is rooted in such remote antiquity that its origin cannot be fully traced. The Vedic literature explains that it exists in the form of eternal spiritual vibrations and is present both within and outside the universal creation.

Vedanta has been the most influential of the seven main systems of Eastern philosophy. Though the name Vedanta is often taken to indicate the impersonalist, nondual or Mayavada school of thought, it is essentially dualistic theism, but various commentaries have interpreted it to mean different things. It was the Sariraka-Bhasya commentary by Shankara that established the Vedanta as a nondualistic philosophy, meaning that the ultimate reality is but one. In this regard, the Brahman and the Atman (individual souls) are identical, and the Brahman is the Absolute Reality from which everything manifests and back into which everything merges. This interpretation has gained much respect and influence, but is not the only or ultimate viewpoint of Vedic literature.

The Vedanta sutras are like short, condensed bits of information used as reminders for the spiritual master in his discussions on Vedic philosophy with a student or disciple. Each line, therefore, is meant to be elaborated upon by the spiritual master for the understanding of the student.

Vedanta means “the end of knowledge,” or the final conclusion of the Vedic philosophy. The Vedanta sutras are also called the Brahma sutra, Sariraka, Vyasa sutra, Vedanta darshana, Uttara mimamsa, as well as Badarayana sutra. Vyasa and Badarayana are two names for the same person who is considered to be the author and compiler of the major portions of Vedic literature.

The Vedanta sutras are divided into four chapters with four divisions each. In each division the theme within is stated, reasons for it are given, examples are supplied to uphold the presented facts, the theme is then explained further for clearer understanding, and finally authorized quotations from the Vedas are supplied to support it. In this way, the information is given in a format meant to show the authenticity and reliability of the Vedic viewpoint.

The first two chapters discuss how the material world manifested from the Supreme and the relationship between the living entity and the Supreme. The third chapter explains how one engages in the prescribed duties to perform and how to act according to the loving relationship we have with the Lord. The fourth chapter describes the result of such devotional service (or bhakti), which is ultimately to attain liberation or return to the spiritual world.

The first verse of the Vedanta sutras states: “athato brahma jijnasa”, which means, “Now is the time to inquire about the Absolute Truth.” Why is it time? Because we are presently in the human form of life and should utilize it properly since only in the human form do we have the intelligence and facility to be able to understand spiritual reality. In animal forms, the living entities cannot understand such things because they do not have the brainpower. So we should not waste this human form of life by pursuing only the animalistic propensities, such as eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Therefore, the Vedanta sutras begin by stating that now is the time for us to understand the Absolute Truth.

The Vedanta sutras, however, being written only in codes, can be somewhat vague and requires a commentary to elaborate and explain the aphorisms. Practically speaking, some of the codes are fairly unclear for anyone who is not experienced in Vedic philosophy. And since Vedanta comprises the purport of the Upanishads which contain knowledge of both the personal and impersonal aspects of the Absolute, therefore, which commentary on the Vedanta sutras one reads can make a big difference. Some commentaries sway toward the impersonal understanding of the Absolute, while other commentaries sway toward the personal Realizations. Obviously, to reach a mature understanding in this regard, one needs to comprehend both of these viewpoints. In fact, it is stated that unless one understands all the features of the Absolute Truth, namely, the impersonal Brahman, the localized Paramatma or Supersoul and ultimately the Supreme Personality of God, one’s knowledge is imperfect.

After studying the previous portions of the Vedic literature, only when we arrive at this Brahma sutras or Vedanta sutras of Srila Vyasadeva do we find an emphasis on doing Bhakti Yoga, or devotional activities, for realising God. This means that God is ultimately the Supreme Person from whom there is the imminent loving exchange that can be attained by lovingly surrendering to Him. That devotion and emotional absorption in God is the process for becoming free from the illusory attraction and attachments to the material world. This paves the way for genuine liberation from worldly existence.

There have been many commentaries written on the Vedanta sutras. The most influential were by such famous acharyas as Shankara, Bhaskara, Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Vallabha, Madhva, and Baladeva. So, let us review a few of these to get a better view of the development of the advaita and dvaita philosophies.

The other subsidiary portions of the Vedas previously mentioned in the Vedangas have additional texts that further explain that section of Vedic knowledge. For example, the Kalpa sutras, which elaborate on the many kinds of rituals, are divided into four kinds, namely:

The Shrauta Sutras explain the rituals the priests engage in, and the details of performing a Vedic yajna, or ceremony, according to the particular branch of the Veda with which it is connected. It covers the large and royal rituals performed by kings, such as the ashvamedha or rajasuya, to the ordinary ones performed by a family, such as the agnishtoma, agnihotra, or the pitri yajna for the dead relatives.

The Grihya Sutras describes the general and ritualistic social traditions that are usually observed by householders for their upliftment. These include such things as the performance of daily worship, study of scripture, or installing a Deity in a temple. Also, how to greet a guest, do rituals for moving into a new house or timely samskaras for giving a name to a child or the ritual for a child’s first hair cutting, a youth’s acceptance of a Vedic order, or the marriage ceremony.

The Dharma Sutras deal with the different disciplines or duties of a person, from common individuals up to the king. This includes duties of people in the four orders of life (from birth up-to renunciation, or brahmacari student to sannyasa), along with duties of a man to his family and society, or duties of a married couple to each other and their children, or duties of a king to his subordinates.

The Shulba Sutras were only a portion of the broader system of mathematics found in the Kalpa sutras. These consisted of arithmetic and algebra as well as geometry. In fact, geometrical instruments dating back to 2500 BC have been found in the Indus Valley, which was also a part of Vedic society. The Pythogorean theorem was already existing in the Shulba Sutras before Pythagorus presented it. This means he may have only learned of it through his travels in India rather than inventing it himself.

Vedic mathematics is found in the Shulba Sutras, which means codes of the rope since particular lengths of rope were used to make exact measurements. The Shulba sutras had 1180 branches and give mathematical details on size and shape of altars for the fire rituals and the place where such ceremonies would take place. These mathematical codes are said to have been compiled from the 8th to the 5th century BC, however such codes probably existed far earlier than this. It is figured that the original Indian mathematical developments arose from the needs of their religious ceremonies that required altars of precise measurement. This started to gain significance when the sages began to emphasize the use of external processes of worship and ritual as an additional means to attain internal awareness and spiritual progress. In other words, they were not interested in math outside of what it could do for them spiritually. The Shulba Sutras show the earliest forms of algebra as used by the Vedic priests.

It was the Vedic system that developed the decimal system of tens, hundreds, thousands, etc., and how to take the remainder of one column of numbers over to the next. The numeral system of nine numbers and a 0 made calculations very easy. Without the invention and use of 0, many of the mathematical advancements that have been made in the West would not have been possible. These numbers were developed from the Brahmi script and became popular after 700 AD, spreading into Arabia. They became known as the Arabic numerals because the Europeans, who had adopted them, got them from the traveling Arabians. Yet the Arabians called them “Indian figures” (Al-Arqan-Al-Hindu) because they had received them from India. Because of this it was called the India art (hindisat). Thus, the system of math that we all use today had its start in Vedic India.

Further developments in mathematics in India by its mathematicians, such as Brahmagupta (7th century), Mahavira (9th century), and Bhaskara (12th century) in such areas as algebra and trigonometry were not known in Europe until the 17th and 18th centuries. In fact, many of the great inventions made in Europe that we take for granted today, would have been impossible if they had been stuck with their cumbersome Roman numerals, and without the advanced system of mathematics that came from India.

The Anukramanika is another book in the same category as these sutras and relates the contents of the Vedas. It consists of 1180 books for the 1180 Vedic branches. It lists all of the Vedic Gods and their associated mantras, and all the sages who composed them. So this works like a summary of the Vedic books.

Beyond these are many other texts that include the Sraddha kalpa, Pitrimedhasutras, Parisistas, Prayogas, Karikas, etc., all of which deal only with Vedic rituals.

A later text that also deals with the Vedic rituals is the Rigvidhana by the sage Shaunaka. This book gives explanations on the usage of many of the verses or hymns in the Rig Veda. The precise chanting of particular verses produces specific magical or quick results, such as overcoming one’s enemies, getting rid of disease, protecting oneself from ghosts, and many other things. The Rigvidhana indicates which verses, and the procedure if necessary, to be used to accomplish their various effects.

Additional topics, such as alchemy, are also dealt with, or architecture as found in the Sthapatyaveda, or erotics as found in the Kama Sutra.

India also had a long agricultural heritage that went back to before 3700 BC, and had the first written texts on the topic. One of the oldest books is the Krishi Parashara (c. 400 BC), which means “Agriculture by Parashara”. This has been translated by the Asian Agri-History Foundation in Secunderabad, India. This book gives lists of tools to be used, ways of predicting rain by using basic astrology with climate conditions, methods of good farming management for the high yield of crops, management of cattle, along with advice on seed collection and storage, etc.

Another text on agriculture was the Kashyapiyakrishisukti by Kashyapa (c. 700-800 AD). This describes the means of producing certain crops, cattle management, soil properties, laying out gardens, means of irrigation, marketing, ways of support from the government, as well as mining, and even a personal code of conduct for farmers.

The Vrikshayurveda (The Science of Plant Life) by Surapala was another book that appeared later (c. 1000 AD). This dealt with the application of Ayurveda to various kinds of trees. However, it also contained knowledge of raising orchards, seed management, selection of soil, ways of irrigation, finding groundwater, using fertilizers, dealing with plant diseases and so on. These books recommend practical ways of efficient farming while preserving the world’s resources and environment, along with the means by which humanity can achieve the essential aims of life, such as dharma, artha, kama and moksha (religion, economic development, sensual fulfillment, and liberation through spiritual advancement) which are all things that we should still consider today.


Rameshwar Prasad invites you to the Wonderful Spiritual World

  

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