Vedas Introduction

Vedas Introduction

There is a popular tendency to identify Vedänta with the writings of Çré Çaìkarä exclusively. This tendency is not quite justifiable . All Äcäryas who have written commentaries on the Upaniñads, Vedänta-sütras and Bhagavad-gétä are Äcäryas of Vedänta.

The question, however, will arise whether Çaìkara’s interpretation of the Vedänta alone is not sufficient. Many find it sufficient, but several others may not. It is for this reason that within three centuries after Çaìkara, the voice of dissent was heard from Bhäskara and afterwards by a sucession of Vaiñëava teachers headed by Çré Rämänuja.

[The accounts given are from the phenomenalistic way of studying religions that is, from the point of view of their followers and not of critics. Hence no attempt is made here to give any ontological or value judgements on these systems of thought].

[Naturaly the Vaiñëava teachings will contain radical criticisms of Çaìkara’s philosophy, not because criticism is the essence of philosophical development, as each successive school is either a rejection or an elaboration of the doctrines propound.

* …a few bold attempts were made to explore new avenues of thought under the nominal suzerainty of the Veda. The Ästika Darçanas like Pürva Mémäàsä and the Nyäya-Vaiçeñika and Säìkhya were nothing but the responses to the needs of the hour.

The Mémämsä and the Nyäya-Vaiçeñika were barren and cold in the spiritual sense of the term. The Pürva-Mémäàsä had somewhat abolished God; the Nyäya and Vaiçeñika threatened to solve all problems of the world by the method of “agreement and difference”. The Säìkhya had demonstrated the superfluity of God for metaphysics and the Yoga gave but a grudging place to Him (éçvara-praëidhänädvä).

* The ideology of the Upaniñads did not penetrate the masses and in course of time there was a powerful wave of material philosophy, Jainism, Agnosticism and Atheism. The spread of Cärväka, Jain and Buddhist doctrines shook the foundations of Vedic belief and authority. 

The Cärväka soon became world-wide (lokäyata). It had an irresistible appeal to the hedonistic instincts of the masses.

* Buddhism:

The Buddhist appealed to the more cultured section of the people, which had a inveterate faith in the concepts of right and wrong and inculcated a strict code of ethics, to remove all impurities and facilitate the attainment of Nirväëa. “The magesty of God and prestige of Previdence pale into insignificance before the principle of Karma and the noble eightfold Path. Not a hair can drop from the head without the decree of Karma. A God who can neither adapt nor alter, neither produce nor modify is no God at all. The Buddhist denied the authority of the Vedas, rejected the institution of Varëas and took care to avoid profiless metaphisical discussions. It was essentially psychology, logic and ethics and not metaphysics”.(Radhakrishnan) 

“Buddhism was more concerned with the believers’ moral needs than with any intellectual interpretation of the world. Not the Universe and the nature of its cause was the theme of inquiry; but the character of human experience, its dangers and variety”.(Carpenter, Theism in Medieval India

* Jainism:

The austere heights to which they carried their doctrine of Ahiàsä, the more elaborate and rigorous system of their Ethics, the acceptance by them of the the soul as a permanent entity in contrast to Buddhism, and the more colorful conception of Kaivalya put forward by the Jains, and the weight and prestige of royal patronage which they too gained before long, also tended to ensure the progress of the Jainism.


* The need of the Vedänta-sütra:

Cärväka, Buddhism and Jainism were a methaphysical objection against to the plurality of gods of the Hinduism.

The Buddhists opposed the view of a sentient first cause of the Universe which would itself remain uncaused. The Jains had, for their own reasons, repudiated a Creator-God and so did the Cärväka. The iconoclastic fervor of the Materialists, the Sceptics and some the followers of Buddhism had destroyed all grounds of certitude. The Saptabhaìgénaya of the Jains was an open invitation to Scepticism. In these circunstances, the reality of the world and its values could hardly be upheld.

What was wanted was a brief authoritative pronouncement on the philosophy of the Vedaçästra, a manual of self-defence and self-preservation, capable also of a striking dialectical refutation of all heretical views. This the Vedänta Sütras of Vedavyäsa undertook to supply.


* Upaniñads:

The theme of the Upaniñads is jïäna. They condemn the narrow view which is responsible for the rites and sacrifices with the sole object of getting large returns of outward good in this and another life. They set themselves resolutely against the mechanical conception of Dharma and Karma of the Brähmaëas. But they are not explicit about ‘work as worship of God’, though the idea may be traced to Éça Up.1.

While the Mantras merely sang the glories of the gods and the Brähmaëas elaborated the sacrifices whereby to please them, and the Äraëyakas meditated on their deep significance, the Upaniñads turned attention to the actual problems of religion and philosophy and questions of the interrelation of the data of life here with the life beyond, the nature and limitations of personality, of the ultimate destiny of man, his relation to the world of experience, the status of the gods and the necessity for assuming a Transcendental Principle underluing all phenomena and its relationship to the embodied spirit.

While the Mantras and the Brähmaëas dealt with God as an external Being, the Äraëyakas turned attention to the immanent aspect of the Deity. In the Upaniñads the attention is now shifted to the inner immortal self.

The Upaniñads asume two spritual principles: the individual and the Universal: the Ätman and Brahmn, the psychic and the cosmic.

Indian commentators pledged to the belief in the infalibility of the 

scriptures, have, nturally, assumed that the Upaniñads have but one system to propound, one doctrine to teach. On this assumption, they have proceeded to unify the divergent and often hopelessly irreconcilable utterances of the Upaniñads into a single system. The Advaita of Çaìkara, the Viçiñtädvaita of Rämänuja and the Dvaita of Madhva, are all the outcome of such attempts. Each one takes his stand on texts or groups of texts that appear to him to represent and agree with the truth arrived at by him after deep independent reflection on the problems of philosophy.

* The Upaniñads agree in maaking Brahman the ultimate source of the world of matters and souls. Brahman is the ‘Jagad-yoni’. But considereing the variety of their theories on the subject, it is difficult to determine in what precise sense it is so.

1) There are passages which tend to make It the sole and whole explanation of the Universe, its efficient (nimitta) as well as material (upädäna) cause:

  1. a) (Muëò. Up. I.1.7) yathä sadaù puruñät keçalomäni tathäkñarät sambhavatéha viçvam
  2. b) (Chänd. Up. III.14.1) sarvaà khalv idaà brahma taj-jaläniti
  3. c) (Chänd. Up. VI.2.3) tad aikñata bahu syaà prajäyeya
  4. d) (Båh. Up. II.4.6) idaà brahma

2) There are again traces of another view that Matter exists from eternity, which God fashions but does not create. This is characteristic of the Säìkhya philosophy and is adopted by the Seçvara-Säìkhya of Pataïjali.

3) It is sometimes admitted, by implication, that God creates the Universe out of nothing as it were:

  1. a) (Taitt. Up. II.7) asad vä idam agra äsét tato vai sad ajäyat
  2. b) (Taitt. Up. II.6) tat såñövä tadevänu präviçat
  3. c) (Aitareya Äraëyaka II.4.1) sa ékñta lokän nu såjä iti
  4. d) (Båh. Up. I.2) naiveha kiïcanägra äsit
  5. e) (Taitt. Araë. X.1.1) yataù prasutä jagataù prasuté toyena jévän vyasasarja bhümyäm

(This corresponds to the Christian viewpoint which does not seem to have been paralleled in any of the Indian schools).

4) There is a fourth view that both Matter and Souls coexist with God though always dependent upon Him:

  1. a) (Båh. Up. III.7.13-14) yas tamasi tiñöhastabho ’ntaro yamayati

ya ätmani tiñöhan ätmänamantaro yamayati

  1. b) (Çvet. Up. V.5) yac ca svabhävaà pacati viçvayoniù

päcyäàç ca sarvän pariëämayedyaù

  1. c) (Çvet. Up. I.9) jïäjïau dvävajau éçänéçau

The act of creation, on this view, would be an emanatory process of making manifest what is unmanifest, the endowing of matter and souls with name and form by the Deity:

(Chänd. Up. VI.3) anena jévenätmanä anupraviçya näma-rüpe vyäkaraväëi

This view has confirmation in the Puräëas, the Païcarätra and the Gétä (13.20 prakåtià puruñam caiva), and became the basis of the Viçiñtädvaita and the Dvaita systems.


* The Upaniñads generally assume that ‘creation’, on the whole, is a real process, in whatever way it may be effected. The entry of the Creator into His creation, is also frequently referred to:

(Taitt. Up. II.6; Båh. Up. I.4; Chänd. Up. VI.2) tat såñövä tad evän apräviçat

There are, however, passages which give room for the later doctrine of Illusion (mäyäväda):

(Chänd. Up. VI.2.1) ekam evädvitéyam

(Båh. Up. IV.4.19) neha nänästi kiïcana

(Båh. Up. IV.3.15) asaìgo hy ayaà puruñaù

(Ved. Sü. XVII.31) néhäreëa prävåtäù

(Båh. Up. IV.5.19) ayam ätmä bhahma

(Chänd. Up. IV.1.4) måttiketyeva satyam


Radhakrishnam repudiates “the popular view which identifies the Upaniñadic doctrine with an abstract monism which reduces the rich life of this world to an empty dream.”


* As regards the goal of human effort, the Upaniñads agree that it is a return to the Absolute.

(Kaöha Up. II.3.18) brahma präpto virajo ’bhüdvimåtyuù 

There are texts which represent the highest stage in monistic doctrine and there are others which presuppose a frank dualism in release.


There are texts which place certain irrevocable limitations on the freedom and sovereignty of the release and subject them to the sway of God. These texts seem to imply that there is no sense of individuality and hence no possibility of action in mokña:

(Muëò III.2.9) brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati

(Éça Up. 7) tatra ko mohaù kaù çoka ekatvam anupaçyataù

(Muëò. Up. III.2.7) pare ’vyaye sarva eké bhavanti

(Praçna Up. IV.10) sa sarvaçaù sarvo bhavati

(Muëò. Up. III.2.8) yathä nadyaù syandamänäù samadre ’staà gacchanti vihä/

tathä vidvän puëya-päpe vidhuya niraïjanaù


(Båh. Up. IV.5.15) yatra hi dvaitam iva bhavati

(Chänd. Up. VII.24.1) yatra nanyat paçyati nanyac chånoti

(Båh. Up. II.4.12) na pretya saàjïästi

These  would appear that on attaining release, the mukta rests in the contemplation of his own bliss and reality and has no thought for any others:

(Chänd. Up. VII.24.1) sve mahimni pratiñöhitaù. There is no object-consciousness.

But the subject-consciousness is denied:

(Båh. Up. I.4.10) tad-ätmänam eväved ahaà brahmäsméti

(Taitt. Up. III.10.6) ahaà viçvaà bhuvanam abhyabhaväm

(Båh.Up. IV.5.14) avinäçé vä are ’yam ätmä anucchitti dharmä

The survival of the human personality is definitely assumed:

(Muëò. Up. III.1.3) niraïjanaù paraà sämyam upaiti

(Taitt. Up. II.1.1) so ’çnute sarvän kämän saha brahmaëä

(Taitt. Up. III.10.5) etat säma gäyannäste hävu hävu

(Chänd. Up. VIII.12.3; VIII.5.3; VIII.2.1-10) 

The need for worshipping the Deity and earning Its grace are beginning to be recognised:

(Muëò. Up. II.2.3) çaraà hy upäsäniçitaà samindhate

(Éça Up. 1) tena tyaktena bhuïjétäù

(Kauñitaki III.9) eña hy eva sadhu-karma kärayati yaà ebhyo lokebhya unninéñate

(Kaöha I.2 23) yam evaiñavånute tena labhyaù tasyaiña ätmä vivånute tanuà sväm

(Muëò. Up.) jïna-prasädena viçuddha-sattvaù

(Kaöha II.2.13) eko bahunäà yo vidadhäti kämän

* The question of  the enjoyment of certain pleasures by the release:

(Chänd Up. VIII.2.6) sa tatra paryeti jakñatkéòan; sa yadi pitå-loka-kämo bhavati; sa yadi gandhamälyaloka-kämo bhavati…

* The epistemological

Scroll to Top