A New Commentary on the Prasthantrayi
In the Indian tradition of philosophy, many different beliefs and principles were born out of deep studies and contemplations by great rishis and acharyas. The acharyas contemplated upon the ancient sacred texts of the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and the Bhagavad Gita. They wrote commentaries (bhashyas) on them and established schools of thoughts and sampradayas. Centuries later, these commentaries are still highly valued and remain the basis for philosophical debates and novel elaborations.
Recently, in 2007, with the blessings and inspiration of HH Pramukh Swami Maharaj, Swami Bhadreshdas completed commentaries on the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and the Brahmasutras, popularly known together as the Prasthantrayi. His seminal work is called ‘Swaminarayan Bhashyam’. It is the first ever bhashya or commentary of such proportions in the 21st century. The vice-chancellor of Chandrashekhar Saraswati University, Professor V.S. Vishnu Potty, opines, “In my view, this new interpretation opens our eyes to a new horizon in this field of knowledge in an objective manner. To people of unbiased mindset and free from preconceived notions, this new interpretation is a treatise and has to be highly appreciated, no doubt, with confidence. The whole text seems to be the output of tireless effort which explains comprehensively the Swaminarayan philosophy without slipping from the traditional path of the sacred scriptures. The lucid presentation of the whole work proves the power of intellectual skills of the writer that any seeker of knowledge can easily follow. This work of Swami Bhadreshdas has blossomed into a thought-provoking testament that would strengthen the faith of all followers of the Swaminarayan way of life. This is another jewel that has got itself placed in the ornament of Bhashya to the Brahmasutra which ornaments the neck of mother Upanishad.”
What is the Prasthantrayi?
The Prasthantrayi comprises of three principal shastras: Upanishads, Brahmasutras and the Bhagavad Gita, that take one to the final goal of life, i.e. moksha.
Among the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy: Sankhya, Yoga, Nyay, Vaisheshik, Purva Mimansa and Uttar Mimansa (Vedanta), the Vedanta system is believed to be the crest-jewel. According to tradition, the acharyas interpreted and wrote commentaries on the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and Bhagavad Gita to establish their own schools of Vedantic thought. Of these three texts the Upanishads are of utmost importance, because they are revealed texts. The Brahmasutras provides a systematization of the philosophy of the Upanishads. The Bhagavad Gita is an extremely popular shastra and highly venerated, so it was included into the prasthana group. The main acharyas who wrote bhashyas or commentaries on the Prasthantrayi were Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Nimbarkacharya and Vallabhacharya.
In that same tradition of writing commentaries, Swami Bhadreshdas has written commentaries on the 10 Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahmasutras. All the bhashyas or commentaries by the acharyas reveal profound and sometimes hidden meanings of the sacred texts. The tradition of writing bhashyas is an ancient one. Each commentary by the great acharyas is set in a particular philosophical module. Not all commentaries are called bhashyas. The commentator must have a thorough study of the six systems of Indian philosophy and possess intellectual maturity, clarity of principles and an expertise in the Sanskrit language. Each bhashya reveals the writer’s principle based upon the shlokas in the Prasthantrayi. Every word of each shloka is interpreted and commented upon in accordance to his philosophy. Sometimes, the words interpreted give new meanings that stand the academic scrutiny of other scholars. A bhashya also includes references from other shastras to substantiate the acharya’s own school of thought. In addition, it also raises and satisfies arguments of other Vedantic schools by providing satisfactory references and logical answers to prove one’s own principle. In brief, a bhashya or commentary reveals a new philosophical principle from the three main shastras in a logical, clear and simple manner.
According to the longstanding tradition and method of writing bhashyas the ‘Swaminarayan Bhashyam’ in Sanskrit by Swami Bhadreshdas establishes the philosophy of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, which is known as ‘Swaminarayan Darshan’. Bhagwan Swaminarayan revealed his own philosophy in his discourses, delivered 200 years ago, which was compiled into the Vachanamrut in his time.
What is the 'Swaminarayan Bhashyam'?
Swami Bhadreshdas explains, “For any new academic work, unique and novel contributions are its two main requisites. The principles presented in the ‘Swaminarayan Bhashyam’ are unique and novel. Bhagwan Swaminarayan gave references of the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita in his discourses, and also his own novel interpretations and philosophical explanations to them. His perspectives were found to be valid according to the Upanishads, Gita and the Brahmasutras. Since this was known to H.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj he instructed me to deeply study the Prasthantrayi and write commentaries based on Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s philosophy. This was how I was inspired to write the ‘Swaminarayan Bhashyam’.”
In his Vachanamrut, Bhagwan Swaminarayan has mentioned that jiva, ishwar, maya, Brahman and Parabrahman are the five eternal, ontological realities. The ‘Swaminarayan Bhashyam’ deals with them in detail. It also focuses on the importance and unique identity of Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman. The Bhashya also gives a unique meaning to brahmavidya (spiritual knowledge) by elucidating the knowledge about Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman. It further establishes Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s principle of becoming brahmarup and offering upasana and bhakti to Parabrahman with utmost service.
Relevance of 'Swaminarayan Bhashyam' Today
Swami Bhadreshdas also explains about the importance and benefits of his bhashya in today’s society and scholarly circles. He says, “‘Swaminarayan Bhashyam’ will be helpful to all generations of people in two ways:
“First, it will provide valid answers to life’s profound problems. In our rapidly growing materialistic society it is becoming clear that spirituality will provide solutions to our burgeoning mundane issues. The Upanishads, Brahmasutras and Gita explain that spirituality is brahmavidya or paravidya. The ‘Swaminarayan Bhashyam’ provides clear and unique understandings of brahmavidya. One who understands and imbibes brahmavidya in his life will find lasting solutions to his problems.
“Second, in the history of Indian and Western philosophy the ‘Swaminarayan Bhashyam’ sheds new light altogether, which will inspire scholars in India and abroad to investigate and do further research. ‘Swaminarayan Bhashyam’ will also spark research in exploring new meanings and perspectives to the shlokas and words in the Prasthantrayi.”
To accomplish the ‘Swaminarayan Bhashyam’, Swami Bhadreshdas has rigorously studied Sanskrit and the Shad Darshanas for 25 years. He attained his undergraduate and postgraduate (M.A.) degrees after studying Sanskrit and Shad Darshanas at the Sampoornanand University, Benaras, and the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Mumbai. Thereafter, he accomplished his Ph.D. on the subject of Bhagavad Gita from Karnataka University. The Kavikulguru Kalidas Sanskrit University, Nagpur, awarded him a D.Litt. for his unique commentaries (bhashyas on Prasthanstrayi) and the highest academic honour of ‘Mahamahopadhyay’. The University of Mysore honoured him with the Professor G.M. Memorial Award. Swami Bhadreshdas has also written many research articles and papers on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. He teaches and guides Ph.D. students.
The ‘Swaminarayan Bhashyam’ has been introduced into the academic curriculum at Somnatha University, Gujarat. Scholars at Harvard and Oxford Universities have shown interest in the ‘Swaminarayan Bhashyam’.
With the blessings of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, Swami Bhadreshdas is now studying the Vedas to write bhashyas on them.
“Lucid in style and structured in accordance with the Indian classical tradition, this in-depth and somewhat poetic commentary presents new insights into the secrets of Vedanta in comparison to any previous views on the subject.”
Dr Krishnamurti Shastri,
Member of the Project Committee,
Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya
Vedavidya Pratishthan, Ujjain
“Indeed, this is a delightful, great work by Sadhu Bhadreshdas, a disciple of the revered Pramukh Swami Maharaj, an expert in an array of scriptures and well-versed in the views of great acharyas like Shankara and Ramanuja. With the principles of Vedanta at heart, this poetic prose penetrates the heart and yet adheres to the manner of the traditional commentaries.”
Prof. N.S. Ramanuja Tatacharya
Former Vice-Chancellor of
Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapith,
Tirupati, and profound scholar of Vedant
“I found this a quite well-studied work containing both comparative and critical accounts. It provides word by word meaning, creates doubt and establishes an opposition, and constitutes and proliferates Vedantic principles giving them credibility and reflecting the intellectual aptitude of its commentator. The gamut covered is very vast, and despite that, the commentator has neither missed an important point nor dwelt on any superfluously.”
- Prof. Madan Mohan Agrawal,
Head, Dept. of Sanskrit, Chairman, BRS(Arts) and Dean, Faculty of Arts,
“This commentary’s uniqueness is in its extraordinary quality. Truly each word of this commentary presents and highlights a treasure of Vedic principles which are not seen earlier. This commentary offers new rendering of the eternal Vedic principles. It takes the individual in the Vedanta philosophy to a greater height. An in-depth study of this commentary will certainly take us to a higher altitude of the Vedanta world. It convincingly explains and establishes the eternal truth of the Vedic philosophy revealed by Bhagwan Shri Swaminarayan. It is an unbiased work and has not been written against any other tradition.”
- Dr N. Radhakrishna Bhat,
Head, Dept. of Sanskrit,
Karnataka State Open University, Mysore