An Introduction

By Dr. Gururaj Mutalik and BVK Sastry

Vedanta literally means the end part of Vedas, or the conclusions in the traditional sense of a book, or a treatise. Indeed, the metaphysical connotation of Vedanta is simply the essence of Vedic teaching. By the same token, a learned scholar who is well-versed in Vedic teachings is called a Vedantin.

The Upanishads are an integral, important part of the Vedas, numbering from ten to sixteen; these count as the principal Upanishads. There are many more works, which are considered Upanishads, but are not accorded the same status and importance as the principal Upanishads. These works count as the first source of Vedanta. In addition to these, two other sources, the Bhagavad-Gita and Brahma Sutras, considered Shrutis, make up the Vedantic triad, termed Prasthana-Trayee.

Under this theme, there have been special articles on all the three sources of Vedanta.

The nature and style of these three types of Vedantic texts are different. The Upanishads have profound philosophical content built around characters and stories, and are written in delightful, inspiring verse. The Brahma Sutras, composed by Badarayana, who the faithful believe is an incarnation of Vishnu, are cryptic, one-line aphorisms constituting an authentic codification of Vedic teaching. As the article on the Brahma Sutras explains, it is a challenging task to delve into and comprehend the Sutras without the aid of commentaries. The commentators are extraordinary geniuses who built an entire system of metaphysics through their commentaries. While there are about twenty commentators on the Brahma Sutras, ranging from early millenniums to the seventeenth century, the three master commentators who are accorded leading status are Shankara (eighth century AD), a proponent of the Advaita interpretation of Vedanta; Ramanuja (eleventh century AD), the founder of the Vishishta Advaita school of Vedanta; and Madhwa (twelfth century AD), the founder of the Dwaita system of Vedanta. These commentaries were further elucidated by sub-commentators: Vachaspati Mishra (for Advaita), Vedanta Deshika (for Vishista Advaita), and Jayateertha (for Dwaita). The purpose of the Brahma Sutras is to authenticate the precise meaning of Upanishadic teaching and establish its fundamental essence.

The third, and perhaps the most important for practical reasons, is the Bhagavad-Gita, which is read worldwide and needs no introduction. Its ageless wisdom, its practical application to day-to-day life in terms of clarifying one’s duty, and resolving conflicts and confusion, is peerless. While its framework is a battle-side dialogue between a confused Arjuna, a warrior of great repute, and his charioteer, Sri Krishna, the very incarnation of Supreme Divinity, the Gita far transcends its literal context, or its immediate purpose. It is thus acknowledged as the source of perennial philosophy for all of mankind.

This sub-section of our web has articles on all the three subjects with emphasis on the concepts of the Bhagavad-Gita. The web project plans to serialize these from the present four articles to about twenty to cover the entire range of important concepts derived from Bhagavad-Gita texts.