AN INTRODUCTION TO VEDANTA SOOTRAM.
वेदान्तविज्ञानसुनिश्चितार्थाः संन्यासयोगाद्यतयः शुद्धसत्त्वाः │
ते ब्रह्मलोकेषु परान्तकाले परामृताः परिमुच्यंति सर्वे│
मुण्डकोपनिषद – 3-2-6
सर्वं हि विज्ञानमतो यथार्थकं श्रुतिस्मृतिभ्यो निखिलस्य वस्तुनः │
ब्रह्मात्मकत्वादिति वेदविन्मतं त्रिरूपतापि श्रुतिसूत्र-साधिता │
All scientific interpretations of the Vedas are valid - being universal.
श्री निम्बार्काचार्य in दशश्लोकी.
The term Vedanta (वेदान्त), also known as Uttara Mimaamsaa (उत्तर मिमांसा), is a combination of two words: veda and anta, which literally means, the ending chapters of Vedic literature. Etymologically Veda (वेद) has a composite meaning, which can be summarized as knowledge (विद ज्ञाने) obtained after deep analysis (विद विचारणे) of all aspects (विद चेतनाख्यान निवासेषु) of everything that exists (विद सत्तायाम) to reach the ultimate goal (विद्लृ लाभे). Anta (अन्त), which literally means end, here implies resolution of all contradictions. Vedic literature has four divisions: Samhitaa (संहिता) dealing primarily with Consciousness (ब्रह्म) and secondarily with the universe (विश्वम), Braahmana (ब्राह्मण) dealing with the same subject with emphasis reversed, Aaranyaka (आरण्यक) dealing with practical applications (उपासना) and Upanishad (उपनिषद), which are selected chapters of the other three. Some statements in these texts appear to be contradictory. The branch that resolves the apparent contradictions of Braahmanas dealing with the physical universe (विश्वम) is called Poorva Mimaamsaa (पूर्व मिमांसा). The branch that resolves the apparent contradictions of the last part of the Vedic literature, i.e., Upanishads dealing with Brahma is called Uttara Mimaamsaa or Vedanta. The books known as Brahma Sootram or Vedanta Sootram compiled by Vedavyasa (वेदव्यास) is the first authoritative text on Vedanta. Shrimat Bhaagavatam (श्रीमद भागवतम), also written by Vedavyasa, is treated as a commentary of Vedanta. Bhagavat Gitaa (भगवत गीता) is the essence of all Upanishads (सर्वोपनिषद सार). Thus, both complement each other.
Vedas classify everything into quadrilateral aspects (चतुष्ट्यम वा इदम सर्वम – कौषितकि ब्राह्मणम 2-1). These are also called the four faces of Brahmaa (चतुर्मुख ब्रह्मा). The four components for action are: desire for action due to realization of a deficiency (ज्ञान जन्य भवेत इछा), planning operation due to knowledge of the mechanism for its rectification (इछा जन्य कृति भवेत), actualization of the time variant process (कृति जन्य भवेत कार्य) and final result that is time invariant (तदेतत कृतमुच्यते). Thus, Brahma sootram has four sections dealing with these aspects leading step by step.
All Vedic discourses start with following four introductory conditions (अनुवन्ध चतुष्टयम):
1. Precise consideration and naming of the subject (विषय or अभिधेय),
2. Necessity of knowing that subject (प्रयोजन),
3. Relationship of this knowledge to the need to be fulfilled (संबन्ध) and
4. The rightful person who can benefit most from such study (अधिकारी).
The four sections of Brahma sootram deal with these four aspects. Shri Chaitanya Mahaaprabhu also accepts this classification (चैतन्य चरितामृत – मध्य – 20/124-126). He advocates total devotion to the Supreme Godhead as the only path to liberation (20/136, 139 ibid). Knowledge without devotion can be of no use (22/17, 18, 21 ibid). Devotion should be only for God (by implication, for no one else) and with a view to seek liberation only (22/35 ibid). Devotion has been defined by Roopa Goswaami as total surrender to Krishna, devoid of other desires and not subjected to knowledge, action, etc. This is also the view of Naarada etc., in the Bhakti Sootras.
There is one more view on the subject matter of the four chapters. What is commonly understood as ‘liberation’ (मोक्ष or मुक्ति) is freedom from the cycles of birth and death. There are two ways to approach it: Self-induced liberation (परामुक्ति) or Non-Self induced liberation (अपरा मुक्ति). The former follows the knowledge route (ज्ञानयोग or बुद्धियोग or सांख्ययोग), while the later follows devotional route (भक्ति योग or उपासना योग). Non-attachment (निष्कामकर्मयोग) is a part of the former, as it leads to detachment (कर्मसंन्यास) and then to knowledge. The Self-induced liberation (परामुक्ति) has two divisions: phased liberation (क्रममुक्ति) and instant liberation (सद्योमुक्ति). Phased liberation requires long practice. Instant liberation has two divisions: total renunciation (क्षिणोदर्क) and all embracing (भुमोदर्क). In the former, everything including food is given up while meditating on the Godhead and identifying the Self with Universal (कैवल्यमुक्ति – गीता–2/55-59). In the later case, total non-differentiation is practiced till death, so that there is no concept of “others” (विदेहमुक्ति– गीता – 2/61, 70-71). Such a person treats gold and stone equally like the legendary Trailanga Swami.
Liberation through devotion is Non-Self induced (accepting the duality of individual or जीव from the Universal ब्रह्म – and trying for unification - hence called so - अपरा मुक्ति). It has four divisions: attaining the same plane or sphere as the Universal (सालोक्य), attaining proximity to the Universal (सामीप्य), attaining same form as the Universal (सारूप्य), and total identification with the Universal (सायुज्य). The four sections of Brahma sootram deal respectively with these four aspects. The first section deals with the plane of the Universal (सालोक्य). The second section deals with attaining proximity to the Universal (सामीप्य) through synthesis of various apparently contradictory views. The third section deals with various mechanisms to approach the Universal (सारूप्य). The last section deals with the final result of total identification with the Universal (सायुज्य).
SUBJECT MATTER OF THE FOUR CHAPTERS:
The first chapter deals with precisely naming the subject (विषय). This is also harmonization (समन्वय or संबन्ध) between the Universe (विश्वम) and Brahma (ब्रह्म) described differently in various Upanishads to precisely define our need for God realization. This becomes clear from Brahma Sootram 1-1-2 – जन्माद्यस्य यतः. All commentators have interpreted the word अस्य to mean the Universe (विश्वम) because the word जन्म has been interpreted to mean something created from a cause (उत्पत्ति). However, the word जन्म also means appearance in a different form (प्रादुर्भाव) – an act of Brahma. All actions (क्रिया) need some operation (व्यापार), which reveals the transformation of one into various forms (स्फुरण) in a sequence (क्रम). Such transformations (स्फूरता) are of two types: as immutable Self (अहं in अध्यात्म) and as ever-mutating non-Self (अदस in अधिदैव and इदं in अधिभुत). Self (अहं) is conscious (चेतन) and related to Brahma (चिद्रुपं हि सदा सत्यं नाचिद्रुपं कदाचन) as all observations end with an unchanging (अक्रमदर्शी) universal self identification as “I know...” (अहं जानामि...) about different objects (वाक or अर्थ) and/or concepts (भाव). इदं is related to the Universe (विश्वं – जगन्न भावो नाभावो भावाभावो विलक्षण), and inert (जड) as it continuously evolves in time (क्रमदर्शी).
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says; the subject here is devotion (भक्ति), because only that can take our minds away from the worldly sufferings. Devotion, is defined by Narada as the love for another (सा तु परप्रेम रूपा). Available texts have published it wrongly [सा तस्मिन परमप्रेम रूपा or सा त्वस्मिन पर(म)प्रेम रूपा] possibly under the impression that the word ‘love for another’ may be confused with adultery (परकिया प्रेम). This contradicts the views of Narada, who in the 83rd Sootra of his treatise on Bhakti declares himself as “fearless of the prattle of people” (जनजल्पनिर्भयाः). Brevity should not be compromised for dirty minds. Further, तस्मिन or अस्मिन does not make any sense, as it is incomplete without an anticipatory (साकांक्ष) complement (like यस्मिन or कस्मिन), whereas the word तु indicates specific determination (तु विनिश्चये). They interpret अस्मिन to mean “in This”, without referring to who or what is signified by it (पर). Similarly, they interpret तु as ‘but’ without reference to any context. Since by definition, a Sootra must be unambiguous (असंदिग्धं) and universal (विश्वतोमुखं), their interpretation cannot be correct. Devotion is not restricted only to God, but can equally apply to the Nation, father, mother, teacher, etc., or the 11 forms described by Naarada in his 82nd Sootra. Thus “love for another” is the correct definition of devotion. Shaandilya also uses the word पर, though he supplements it with God (परानुरक्तिरीश्वरे), love for Whom is its extreme manifestation. If he meant devotion only for God, the word पर becomes superfluous, which is against the structure of a Sootra (स्वल्पाक्षरं). Here the text implies harmonization (समन्वय) between the devotee (part of विश्वम as जीव – Gita 7/4-5) and the Supreme Lover (ब्रह्म as कृष्ण). Thus, Mahaprabhu says, it is a book of devotion (भक्ति) for God realization.
The second chapter of Vedanta Sootram, according to सर्वदर्शन संग्रह of सायण माधव, deals with rationalization and synthesis (अविरोध) with other branches to determine the unified mechanism or process for God realization. Thus, this chapter discusses various other philosophies not to find fault in them, but to synthesize all views, though the commentators have tended to wrongly criticize other views because of sectarian consideration. This is against the Vedic dictum एकम सद्विप्रा वहुधा वदन्ति. Starting point and ending point of all branches of Vedic philosophy are different. This gives the appearance of contradiction like the description of the proverbial elephant by the six blind persons, who touched its different limbs and accurately described these differing from each other. Unless one has seen the elephant, he will find these statements as contradictory. But for one who has seen the elephant, there is no contradiction. Naarada also says the same thing (तस्मिंस्तज्जने भेदाभावात - Sootra 41).
Mahaprabhu says; Vedanta describes understanding about universal love (पुरुषार्थ शिरोमणि प्रेम महाधन) that is the necessity (प्रयोजन) for reading Vedanta. This statement may be questioned, as love is not one of the four essential goals of all living beings (पुरुषार्थ) described in scriptures:
1. Synchronization with natural principles so that Nature is harmonized (धर्म),
2. Generation and effective utilization of essentials and provision for emergencies (अर्थ),
3. Procreation functions, and recreation and relational aspects (काम) and
4. Liberation from worldly bondage (मोक्ष).
Definition of Love: To understand the views of Mahaprabhu, we have to understand what is love? Brahma, the Supreme Consciousness, is Omnipresent and Omniscient. Living beings also are a part of Brahma, but not omnipresent. This limitation, limits their knowledge. Whenever they cannot understand something due to such limitation, mind hangs at that point like a computer. Sometimes mind waver from object to object (क्षिप्त), at other times it hangs (मूढ), yet at other times, it may get a partial explanation and move to other subjects to hang again elsewhere (विक्षिप्त). [When such experience repeats for certain objects – repeatedly or sporadically - these create a bond (मोह) between person and the objects, which can be attractive (राग) or repulsive (द्वेष) based on whether the past experience was harmonious (सुख) or uncomfortable (दुःख). If it is harmonious, it generates attachment (अनुराग).] Sometimes we may prefer to think only about such harmonious objects or concepts (एकाग्र). Ultimately, we may be deeply immersed in it forgetting everything else (समाधि). These are the five mental states (चित्तवृत्ति) described by Patanjali in his Yoga Sootram 1-2. The mental states are regulated by the five fundamental interactions of nature (अंतर्याम, वहिर्याम, उपयाम, यातयाम, उद्याम) that generate five different states (नित्यगति, सम्प्रसाद गति, यज्ञ गति, साम्पराय गति, उरुगाय प्रतिष्ठा). These mental states are known in modern science as alpha, beta, theta, delta waves and gamma wave coupling which stabilizes memory (प्रतिष्ठित भवति).
When we perceive something which harmonizes favorably with our memory, it generates an inertia (संस्कार) drawing from related experiences, which continues thereafter till it is destroyed by pain (कष्ट), getting the object of desire (प्राप्ति) or knowing everything about the object of desire (ज्ञान). Continued attachment for something is called अनुराग, अनुरक्ति or प्रेम. When the attachment is for someone held in high esteem, it is called devotion (भक्ति). If the attachment is for someone held lower in order, it is called fondness (वात्सल्य). If the attachment is for someone considered equal, it is called friendship (मैत्री). All these are the attachment of one conscious being towards another conscious being. If such attachment is for some inert object including male/female body or gold, money, wine, etc, it is called lust (काम). If all these four types of continued attachments are concentrated in one place, it is called love (रति).
Love is possible only in two cases: with God or with own husband/wife. For this reason, Naarada describes love as immutable (अमृतस्वरूपा च). He goes on to declare that those who are in love do not have any desire for anything else: they are free from grief or hatred; they do not rejoice over or do they exert themselves for anything (यत प्राप्य न किंचित वाञ्छति न शोचति न द्वेष्टि न रमते नोत्साही भवति). Anything that has a physical form is mutable. Love being a mental construct, is unphysical – hence not mutable. Relation with other male/female does not fulfill the above criteria as neither all four conditions for love are satisfied nor the symptoms described by Naarada are seen in them - hence it is lust for the inert body only (जाराणामिव - according to Naarada – सूत्र 23). Further, Naarada adds; the primary devotee follows only one (भक्ता एकान्तिनो मुख्याः - 67 ibid). Hence Bhartrhhari says: choose any one God and between having one wife or no wife (एको देवो केशवो वा शिवो वा. एका नारी सुन्दरी वा दरी वा). Amaruka also says the same thing (कोयं काहमिति प्रवृत्तसूरता जानाति या नान्तरं. रन्तु सा रमणी स एव रमणः शेषौ तु जाया पति). Jayadeva and Ramakrishna exemplified this when they saw God in their respective wives. Since love - being creative and anti-destructive - encompasses synchronization with natural principles to harmonize with Natural principles (धर्म), and leads to liberation from worldly bondage (मोक्ष) through taking mind away from other subjects, it combines two essential goals of all living beings (पुरुषार्थ) described in scriptures.
The third chapter of Vedanta Sootram deals with actualization (ब्रह्मविद्या साधन) process through both knowledge (विद्या) and devotion (भक्ति). Here the different commentators have approached it (संवन्ध) in different ways. All through our lives, we carry out many functions. But what is the end result? As Bhartrhhari says: we could not satisfy our desire but quest for it tired us; we could not excel through penance but are feeling guilty for our wrong actions; time did not end but our time is going to end; our desire has not weakened but we have become weak (भोगा न भुक्ता वयमेव भुक्ताः, तपो न तप्तं वयमेव तप्ताः, कालो न यातो वयमेव याताः, तृष्णा न जीर्णा वयमेव जीर्णाः). Mahaprabhu says; the topic (विषय or अभिधेय) here is the realization of Godhead through the processes described in texts like the Vedas and Shrimad Bhaagavatam because when we are immersed fully in the service of our loved one (कृष्णमाधुर्य सेवाप्राप्ति), we forget other worldly miseries and wither out our past actions without generating new inertial effect (संस्कारशुन्य).
Naarada also says spiritual realization is its own reward (Sootra 26 and 30). He goes on to add, after getting a big kingdom, or a palatial mansion, or excellent food, our quest for property or home or food does not end (31 to 33 ibid). But after getting love, we do not desire anything else, because all desires are centralized in one place (सा न कामयमाना निरोधरूपत्वात – 7 ibid). He clarifies that love does not deny anything, but only confines our mind by taking it away from worldly affairs, as well as knowledge and activities related to them (निरोधस्तु लोकवेदव्यापारन्यासः - 8 ibid). Here the commentators have defined the word न्यासः as consecration. But it requires someone else to do that and the texts do not refer to any such agency doing consecration. Hence the word न्यासः (नि पूर्वक अस धातु - अस गति दीप्ति आदानेषु) means negation of motion, expression or transfer.
In fact, the Vedanta Sootram at 3-2-24 clarifies it further (अपि संराधने प्रत्यक्षानुमानाभ्याम). However, starting from Shankara (संराधनं भक्तिर्ध्यानप्रणिधानानुष्ठानम) to Ramanuja (भक्तिरूपापन्नमेवोपासनं संराधनं तस्य प्रिणनमिति), Nimbarka, Bhaskara, Ballabhacharya, Baladev; all have interpreted this in a way (आराधन) that does not explain its total implication. The word राधन means all round accomplishment (संसिद्धि). The prefix आ makes it आराधन, which implies gradual progress towards total accomplishment. The prefix सं would imply total-total accomplishment (सं संसिद्धि), which is normally faulty being repetitive (पुनरावृत्ति दोष). Thus, it must have some other meaning. Such use can be explained only through instantaneous all round urge (वीप्सा), in which case, repetition is allowed. Thus, the word संराधने implies instantaneous all round urge for total accomplishment like that of Vilwamangal and not gradual accomplishment implied by the commentators.
Whatever mortal efforts we may take, it cannot reveal immortal Brahma (उपायजाल न शिवः प्रकाशयेत). Can we find the Sun by searching with a lamp (दीपेन किं भाति सहस्रदिधिती)? If one continues the quest for It intensely (विचिन्तयेत नित्यं उदार दर्शनं), Divine grace appears in a flash (स्वयंप्रकाशः शिवमाविशेत क्षणात). All of us have experienced it in a limited way. We may be thinking about something for a long time. Suddenly, the answer is revealed to us in a flash. It is instantaneous - not a continued process. Similarly, God’s grace is revealed in a flash, not in a continued process. Naarada also opines that we can reach the ultimate desirable state by the grace of Noble souls or a little Grace of God (मुख्यतस्तु महत्कृपयेव भगवत्कृपालेशाद वा – सूत्र 38).
Further, all commentators have interpreted प्रत्यक्षानुमानाभ्याम to imply the Shruti (Vedas) and the Smrhti (स्मृति) respectively, which is not correct. In all branches of Vedic philosophy, Vedic injunctions are treated as realization from authoritative sources (शव्द प्रमाण) and not by direct perception through external sense organs (प्रत्यक्ष). Vedas contain knowledge, which has to be realized by the intelligence due to blessings of God. Similarly, Smrhti (स्मृति) is the authoritative injunction by the sages (ऋषि) based on their experience and dictates what should or should not be done (इति कर्तव्यता). It is not inference (अनुमान), as inference is based on direct evidence through external sense organs. The words प्रत्यक्षानुमानाभ्याम implies, direct evidence and inference show that, if anyone having instantaneous all round urge for total accomplishment chooses the right path, she/he reaches her/his goal at an opportune time. This chapter discusses those paths.
The last chapter of Vedanta Sootram deals with the outcome (फल) – liberation or realization of Godhead (मोक्ष). This also describes the entitlement for practicing devotion (अधिकारी). Normally the question arises, how can we be sure that if we follow any or all of these paths, we will attain liberation? But before that, let us discuss why should we try anything at all? The answer is: no one wants to be unhappy. Everyone searches for happiness. But what is happiness?
Happiness is defined as a continued harmonious perception that is:
1. Not disturbed by pain (यन्न दूःखेषु संभिन्न),
2. Does not evaporate (न च ग्रस्तमनन्तरं), and
3. Is related to an object of desire (अभिलषितमाप्नोति).
Such a state is impossible to be achieved. If you are happy eating some food or sleeping, after a limit, you must give up. If it is reading a book, the last page will invariably come. We want something, but get something else. Thus, the universe is full of sorrows. We can only try to minimize the sorrow. According to Kanaada, mind acts mechanically and thought (भावना) is the inertia (संस्कार) of mind (which, like mechanical inertia, is generated after some external impulse is received; by drawing related similar experiences from memory and getting modified in the process). Like the mechanical inertia stops with friction or gravitational pull, thought ceases:
1. Due to intense pain (कष्ट) when the thought is diverted,
2. After getting the object of desire (प्राप्ति) or
3. After understanding the nature of the object of thought (ज्ञान).
The last two conditions as getting everything one desires or having all knowledge about everything are almost impossible. Its partial attainment is not happiness as defined above, as the craving remains, which starts inertia of mind about not getting the desired object or knowledge leading to sorrow (अशान्तस्य कुतः सुखं – गीता 2/66). The first one – pain - frequently occurs and diverts our thought to start a different inertia to continue the chain and pain. Thus, one way out is to minimize our perception of different external objects by focusing on selected objects. This is the devotional aspect. Another way is the knowledge aspect – knowing about the nature of the physical world - unification of fundamental aspects of everything (ब्रह्मैवेदं सर्वं). The other aspect of getting the object of desire has to be abandoned, as desire leads to sorrow (Gita 2/62-63, 66).
There is another reason for seeking liberation. All actions can be divided into two categories:
1. Perpetually evolutionary actions, which are deterministic (like chemical interactions or time evolution) and generate fixed or predictable inertia till entropy, where the participant does not act like a cat carrying the kitten holding it gently through the neck, and
2. Conscious actions based on freewill, which leads to unpredictable inertia due to uncertainty inherent in the process and the effect like a small monkey clinging to its mother, as she jumps around. If the child gives up even slightly, it will fall and get injury.
The former is also like floating of a wooden log on the sea, which is effortless. The later is like swimming in the sea with effort - the moment you give up, you are drowned. The problem becomes compounded when the effects of freewill becomes non-linear directed-composite-actions. All actions involving freewill can be divided as follows:
1. A sequence of initial preparatory phase (प्रक्रम – for example, collecting ingredients necessary for cooking).
2. The components of a routine repetitive action (अभिक्रम – processing the ingredients for cooking). These two are collectively called subsidiary actions for a purpose (क्रत्वर्थकर्म – cooking itself).
3. A combination of such subsidiary actions leads to an essential action (पुरुषार्थ कर्म – eating).
4. A group of such essential actions (eating, working, sleeping, procreating, etc.) constitute a work unit (कर्मव्युह – living being) that can perform (through freewill) directed composite actions to achieve something other than a deterministic perpetual action.
The performers of such directed composite actions are bound by the induced reaction (वद्धजीव) till the inertia generated by their action ceases and they come over to the automated time evolution format (perpetual functioning of their systems that leads to अभ्युदय and ultimately to निःश्रेयस). Other free species (मुक्तजीव) are called perpetually evolutionary species (आश्वत्थिक जीव).
The perpetually evolutionary species (आश्वत्थिक जीव) have two divisions: fixed evolutionary (ब्रह्मआश्वत्थिक) and functional evolutionary (नियतकर्मआश्वत्थिक). The first category is inert like galaxy, Sun, Earth, Moon, atoms, etc, which have fixed orbital positions. Our body is constituted of these. The other category mimics sentiency (like इंद्र, which, according to शतपथब्राह्मण is मध्यप्राण – व्यान in our body or वरुण, कुवेर, etc). It does not have a fixed position and is in perpetual motion (quantum or देवाः). Thus, there is no fixed position in the quantum world (God’s feet does not touch earth – common saying). Our sensory agencies belong to this category. The first category can be perceived directly through sense organs (भावप्रत्यय). The second category is inferred from its effects (उपायप्रत्यय). It has another category called Nature’s components - प्रकृतिलयाः, which reflects immutable consciousness. Both categories are held together by energy (इंद्रप्राण) that arises from a base (आत्मा) to constitute body (पशु). The mechanism is described in शतपथ ब्राह्मणम 14-4-4-1. According to Kanaada, effect terminates action (कार्य नाशयति कर्म). Thus, the trick is not to generate any further inertia of mind and allow the present inertia to carry on till it is exhausted. Fixing our mind at a point through devotion is one of the best ways for this.
Mahaprabhu says; the essence of the fourth chapter is to teach methods of enjoying the nectar of universal love (कृष्णे सेवा करे कृष्णरस आस्वादन). Similar views have been expressed in Bhagavatam (श्रीमद भागवतम – 1-2-7) and Gita – 7-14, 8-14, 9-22, 14-26 and 18-35.
(to be completed)
The four chapters of Vedanta Sootram have four subsections each. The first sub-section of the first section discusses different aspects (अधिकरण)
The first sub-section of the fourth section discusses 13 different aspects of liberation (मोक्ष) in 19 sootras. The second sub-section of the fourth section discusses 10 aspects of after-life processes in 21 sootras. The third sub-section of the fourth section discusses the transit and nature of transition from 9 aspects in 16 sootras. The last sub-section of the fourth section discusses nature of liberation (मोक्ष) from 11 aspects in 22 sootras. Govinda Bhashya by Shrimad Baladev Vidyabhushan discusses these elaborately according to the doctrine of Shri Chaitanya Charitamrita. Since this is the final teaching of the Vedas, the subject is called Vedanta.
Vedantic literature enjoys great prestige and the five major schools of Vedanta have contributed their commentaries to explain its meaning. All five branches essentially talk about the same truth from different starting and end points – thus they only appear as different. While all agree that the final goal is avoidance of sorrow and attainment of permanent bliss; and renunciation from worldly affairs is the first step in this regard, the ways to attain this has been described differently. For example, regarding sadhana-tattwa (साधनतत्व), Shankara says, only knowledge of eternal Brahma can lead to liberation (मोक्ष). For this purpose, one must differentiate between permanent and impermanent aspects to attain renunciation of worldly comforts (वैराग्य) and practice servitude (उपासना). Ramanuja says, devotion is the best way for renunciation from worldly affairs. He is much more ritualistic and advocated a five-fold devotional practice – अभिगमन, उपादान, इज्या, स्वाधाय, भगवदनुसन्धान. This is a simple way of keeping the mind focused for common men, which is the first stage of progress. Thereafter, the devotion guides the mind. Madhwacharya has classified devotion into three branches: साधारणी भक्ति, परमा भक्ति, स्वरूप भक्ति. According to him, starting from devotion, one should progress through hearing, speaking and thinking only of Godhead, which will lift the soul towards getting indirect knowledge (अपरोक्ष ज्ञानबल), which will lead to परमा भक्ति and then to स्वरूप भक्ति.
Vishnuswamy follows a much more conceptual and unifying aspect of devotion by treating the object of devotion, mechanism of devotion and the devotee as eternal, exemplified by the devotion of Prahlad for Vishnu as Nrasimha. Nimvarka adds integrity (निष्ठा) to attachment (श्रद्धा) by following the Vedic dictums “श्रद्धा va aapah” and “aapo vai satyam”. Thus he advocates worshiping only one deity – Krishna. According to him, devotion can be of two types: i) apara bhakti; which are only 9 different means (navadhaa bhakti), towards reaching the goal; and ii) uttama bhakti, which is absolute ideal love (prema lakshana) for God through listening and recitation of the names of God. Ballabhacharya classified devotion into two different branches from the perspective of mechanism (sadhana roopa) and goal (sadhya roopa). The second one is absolute ideal love (prema lakshana) for God. Blessing of God is most essential in this process. Approach to devotion can be of two types: idealism (maryada) and fulfillment (pushti). The first is obtained by following scriptural injunctions. The second is obtained only through devotion for Krishna and His followers. He treats the last one (pushti marga) as the best way.
According to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, absolute devotion is the cause for liberation. Though devotion is the path to liberation, it has no specific cause (ahaituki). Only serving noble souls (sadhu seva) and the teacher (guru seva) can lead to devotion and ultimately to liberation. Thus, devotion should be the goal of all worldly affairs. This is blissful (hladini) and the essence of perceiving power (samvit shakti). Thus, by nature, devotion leads to knowledge and bliss (Chaitanya Charitamrita – Madhya - 22). Essentially, it is a simplified version of Yoga of Patanjali (Yoga Sootram 1-2). Similarly, other aspects of the different Vedantic concepts can be harmonized.
Epistemological treatment started with Nyaya Sootram of Gautama, which is the ancient research methodology. He classified the knowables into 16 different categories, the first of which is evidence (pramana), which is defined as the instrumentation of judging the time-invariant aspects of everything in the universe (prama karana) through observation and experiment. He divides evidence into four categories: i) direct evidence (pratyaksha), ii) indirect evidence (paroksha) or inference (anumana), iii) Similarity (upamana), which some treat as a part of ii), and iv) Self realization through some source (Shabda or aparoksha). Other branches extended these according to their requirement. Buddhists curtailed these. Vedanta also deals with it in its own way.
Vedanta recognizes five epistemological categories, viz., (i) Pratyaksha: here knowledge comes based upon faith on one’s own direct sensory capacity, (ii) Paroksha: here knowledge comes from inference coming from other’s sense observation. For example in science we rely on the data collected by others as well as certification of qualified scientists, (iii) Aparoksha: knowledge comes from self, (iv) Adhokshaja: knowledge coming from above the plane of self from the plane of Absolute Truth. It comes of its own accord. We can’t do anything to get it again after it withdraws by any of our own efforts, and (v) Aprakrita: Continuous life in the plane of transcendence. The Vedantic literatures therefore are in the plane of adhokshaja and they are not man made.