The practical and spiritually elevating philosophy of Akshar-Purushottam revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830 CE) in the early nineteenth century is a unique contribution to the annals of Sanãtana Hindu Dharma. It is rooted in the Vedas and is also contained in the Prasthãntrayi: the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gitã and Brahmasutras...
THE SECOND PRASTHÃN:
THE SHRIMAD BHAGAVAD GITÃ
The Bhagavad Gitã is the second prasthãn in the prasthãntrayi. From philosophers of India to those throughout the whole world, all have realized this shastra to be a means to gain a direction in life. After contemplating on it they have surrendered to it, and have never tired of praising it with utmost wonder. For example:
The Gitã is the greatest treasure of mankind. Reading sentences like ‘सर्वभूतस्थमात्मानं सर्वभूतानि चात्मनि।’ (Gitã 6/29) my heart becomes overjoyed. – Emerson
This small book contains the solutions to all the problems of my life. – Henry David Thoreau
For ethics to reach the pinnacles of greatness the Gitã’s precepts are second to none. – Warren Hastings
The mother who gave birth to me has passed away. But in troublesome times I have learnt to go to Mother Gitã. There is no room for depression for a person who becomes a devotee of the Gitã. He always remains blissful. I wish that the Gitã not only be taught in government schools, but in each and every educational institution. It should be a shame for a single Hindu boy or girl not to know about the Gitã. – Mahatma Gandhi
My body has been nourished by my mother’s milk, but more than that, my heart and intellect have been nourished by the milk of the Gitã. – Vinoba Bhave
GITÃ: COMPOSED BY VYASA IN THE MAHÃBHÃRATA
Let us bear in mind that the Bhagavad Gitã is a historical shastra of India. It is not an imagined or concocted fable invented for the purpose of giving counsel. This shastra has been included in the Bhishma Parva of the Mahãbhãrata, which contains eighteen parvas in total and is written by Shri Badarayana Vyasa. The twenty-fifth chapter (adhyaya) of the Bhishma Parva is the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gitã.
THE FORM OF THE BHAGAVAD GITÃ
Containing 18 chapters, this shastra consists of 700 shlokas. Of these, 1 shloka is spoken by Dhritarashtra, 41 by Sanjaya, 84 by Arjuna and 574 by Shri Krishna.
THE STYLE OF THE BHAGAVAD GITÃ
The Gitã is a discourse. A divine discourse between an incarnation of God and a devotee. Therefore it is a dialogue. This dialogue has been composed in verse using poetic metres like anushtup and others. From a literary point of view the Gitã is full of poetic virtues: melody, depth of meaning and propriety. This may be the reason why it has become the poem that truly touches man’s heart.
The Gitã is the third discourse in the Mahabharata. The Mahãbhãrata itself is a discourse between Vaishampayana and Janmejaya. Within that discourse we find the discourse between Sanjaya and Dhritarashtra. Within that discourse, Sanjaya speaks of the discourse between Shri Krishna and Arjuna. In this way the Gitã is the pre-eminent discourse of this triplet of discourses in the Mahãbhãrata.
THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF THE BHAGAVAD GITÃ
‘इतिहासपुराणाभ्यां वेदं समुपबृंहयेत्’, ‘To clarify and nourish the meanings of the Vedas by means of history and the Puranas.’ In accordance with this traditional principle, the work of the Gitã is to clarify and nourish the meanings embedded in the Vedas and Upanishads. So it can be said that brahmavidyã, regarding the forms of Brahman and Parabrahman that have been mentioned in the Upanishads, has been further clarified in the Gitã. The only difference is that the philosophy that has been given in the Upanishads is paroksh (indirect), whereas in the Gitã it is pratyaksh (direct). For this important reason the Gitã, as well as being presented as the shastra of brahmavidyã, has also been presented as a ‘Yoga Shãstra’. Yoga means attachment or communion. This is a shastra that joins or attaches one with the manifest form of Paramãtmã. Perhaps that is why the manifest form of God, which possibly may not be understood from the Vedas and Vedantas, etc., even after an in-depth study, has been explained in the Gitã very clearly, without hesitation, repeatedly, and resolutely. Hence, it has been said for the Gitã, ‘सर्वोपनिषदो गावो दोग्घा गोपालनन्दनः। पार्थो वत्सः सुघीर्भोक्ता दुग्घं गीतामृतं महत्॥’, ‘The entire Upanishads are like a cow, Krishna is the milkman, Arjuna is the calf on seeing which milk flows into the udders of the cow, and the milk of that cow is the nectar-filled Shrimad Bhagavad Gitã, which the intelligent devotees also drink.’
Also in the Gitã are: valiant talks that make cowards courageous; precepts regarding ãtmã-consciousness that abolish body-consciousness; calmness even in the midst of the ferociousness of the worldly ocean; extraordinary clarification of the roots of bondage – sattva, rajas and tamas; the gunãtit state (brãhmi-sthiti) of the pure ãtmã above those three gunas; the brãhmic state; the devotion that has to be offered to Paramãtmã once one has attained that state and clear guidance regarding that devotion, etc. What isn’t there in the Gitã? Truly, the Gitã is an ocean in a pitcher.
The Gitã follows the Upanishads. Therefore it is known as the smruti-prasthãn. Many commentaries have been written on this smruti-prasthãn. Bhagwan Swaminarayan has also given the Bhagavad Gitã a place amongst his eight principal shastras (Shikashapatri 94). In his discourses he has from time to time quoted references from it. In some places he has given original and profound meanings of some shlokas. He has time and again recited the Gitã and has had it recited. That is why we find that in the Swaminarayan Sampradaya much literature has been written based on the Gitã. This in itself shows the spiritual value of this shastra.
Now let us acquaint ourselves with the third prasthãn.
THE THIRD PRASTHÃN:
The Brahmasutras are the third prasthãn of the prasthãntrayi. Shri Badarayana Vyasa, the son of Parashara, is the author of this shastra. This shastra has been written and based on the shrutis of the Upanishads and the smruti shastras.
THE NAME ‘BRAHMASUTRAS’
Sutras that describe Brahman and Parabrahman are the Brahmasutras. In other words ‘brahmasutras’ are those in which brahmavidyã (which describes Brahman and Parabrahman as in the precepts of shastras like the Upanishads and the Gitã) has been logically proved and decorated.
THE FORM OF THE BRAHMASUTRAS
This shastra has been written in sutras. त्व्अल्पाक्षरमसन्दिग्घं सारवद् विश्वतो मुखम्। अस्तोभमनवद्यं च सूत्रं सूत्रविदो विदुः॥’, ‘That which has just a few syllables, doesn’t contain big sentences, is able to contain the essence of what is to be said, is not confusing, etc. are attributes of a sutra.’ Maharshi Vyasa has written this shastra according to these attributes, thus it is a sutra-shastra. The shastra comprises four chapters (adhyãyas), each of which has four sub-divisions called pãds, each pãd consists of sub-topics called adhikarans. Each adhikaran consists of one or more sutras.
THE STYLE OF THE BRAHMASUTRAS
The style of the Brahmasutras is based on logic. The principles that have been taught in the Upanishads have been presented here in a logical manner. In the whole shastra, whenever a principle has to be clarified or proved, the author first establishes the point of discussion, then presents the possible doubts, putting contrary ones first. Thereafter, refuting them with strong logical arguments, he presents the right argument. Then, finally, he announces the conclusion. Due to this rational style, the Brahmasutras have become famous as the tark-prasthãn. Also, as the extremely detailed and extremely profound principles of Vedãnta are discussed in this shastra in an intellectual debate form, this shastra is studied and discussed more by scholars than by lay readers.
THE BRAHMASUTRAS AS VEDÃNTA-DARSHAN, UTTARA-MIMÃNSÃ
Sãnkhya-darshan established by Maharshi Kapil, Yoga-darshan established by Maharshi Patanjali, Nyãya-darshan established by Maharshi Gautam, Vaisheshik-darshan established by Maharshi Kanad, and Purva-mimãnsã established by Maharshi Jaimini are five well known darshans in India. Each darshan’s sutra-shastra, written by their acharyas, is also renowned. In this same sequence of darshans is Maharshi Vyasa’s Brahmasutra.
The Upanishads are called vedãnta, and since their principles are shown here they are also known as Vedãnta-darshan. Furthermore, this has been written after the Purva-mimãnsã (the prior-mimãnsã), sutras written by Shri Jaimini based on rites and rituals. Therefore, these sutras are also known as the Uttara-mimãnsã (the latter-mimãnsã).
THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF THE BRAHMASUTRAS
The brahmavidyã that has been expounded in the Upanishads has again been proved here in a logical form. If we take an overview of the shastra we find that in the first chapter decisive conclusions have been given on who is the creator of the world? Why it was created? Who is the supporter of everything? Who is omniscient? Who controls all? Why? And other questions which have baffled the minds of men throughout history. Sometimes doubts that are raised from the shruti mantras themselves are also solved.
The second chapter is prominently refutational. Here, doctrines that are contradictory to Vedic Sanãtana principles (like that of nirbij Sãnkhya and Yoga) are thoroughly tested with logic. The logical flaws, misunderstandings, misconceptions, or hindrances to moksha are pointed out in the contradictory doctrines. Then, using true arguments the principles that are in accordance with the shrutis are authentically declared true. As a result the principles have become more sturdy, powerful and effective.
The third chapter of the Brahmasutras is a chapter on endeavours. Ultimate moksha is the goal of all spiritual aspirants. Upãsanã – devotion to Paramãtmã – is the chief endeavour to attain that goal. Here, we find the method of that devotion explained. Moreoever, one who wants to offer devotion to Paramãtmã must attain the state of akshar or brahman. How can one perfect this endeavour which has been established in the shrutis and smrutis? For this, how should one’s relationship with the brahmaswarup guru be? How should one control one’s mind and senses? Also, other matters regarding spiritual endeavour have been presented here with extreme clarity, resoluteness and responsibility.
The fourth chapter has been called ‘the chapter of results’. The result of all endeavours, the form of supreme moksha, has been expounded here. That which the Upanishads have called the route of archi, etc., the path by which muktas who attain moksha move towards Akshardham, has been explained here. Declarations in which way a mukta attains a divine body and experiences supreme happiness for eternity doing the darshan and devotion of Parabrahman in Akshardham have been given here.
Truly, having created such a shastra based on logic, Maharshi Vyasa has given today’s scholars a direction of true thought.
In this way we have briefly described the prasthãntrayi: The Upanishads, Shrimad Bhagavad-Gitã and Brahmasutras. Now in later issues we will see how eternal principles have been established from these three prasthãns.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas