Monday, March 21, 2011

Badarayana - Author of Vedanta Sutras

Badarayana is a very celebrated name in the world of Indian scriptures. His name is mentioned any number of times; yet hardly anything is known about him.
Badarayana is recognized as the compiler, Sutrakara, of the Brahma Sutras (an exposition on Brahman) also called Vedanta Sutra, Sariraka Mimamsa Sutra and Uttara Mimamsa Sutra. Tradition identifies him with Veda Vyasa the compiler of the Vedas; and he is addressed as Vyasa-parasarya though there is no adequate proof to support that. According to some, since Vyasa was born on an island amidst Badara (Indian jujube) trees, he acquired the name of Badarayana as one of many names.
However the Acharyas -Shankara, Ramanuja, Bhaskara and Yamuna address him as Badarayana and do not seem to associate him with Vyasa. They refer to his work as Sariraka Mimamsa or Vedanta Mimamsa. Shankara holds Badarayana in very high regard and addresses him as Bhagavan. Badarayana, it is suggested, might have lived anytime during 500 to 200 BCE.Prof. SN Dasguta opines he lived around 200 BCE.
Brahma Sutra is the most authoritative exposition of the Vedanta. But it was not the first. Badarayana cites the views of the earlier scholars such as Audulomi, Kaskrtsna, Badrai and Asmarthya. But Badarayana, undoubtedly, is the most respected exponent of Vedanta. He is the final authority on the subject; though he is interpreted variously. Each commentator interpreted according to his understanding of the text. Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra (Nyaya Prasthana) along with Upanishads (Smrithi Prasthana) and Bhagavad-Gita (Smrithi Prasthana) constitutes the Prasthana Trayi or the three cannons of Vedanta. These three texts are the pristine springs of Vedanta philosophy. No study of Vedanta is complete without the study of the Prasthana treya. Brahma Sutras should be studied after completing the study of Upanishads under the guidance of a teacher.
There is also a view that Upavarsha could be another name for Badarayana. This view is not well supported. It looks highly unlikely. In any case let us talk a bit about Upavarsha. Again, Upavarsha comes through the mists of ancient Indian traditions and not much is known of him. We come to know him through references to his views by Shankara and others. He was an intellectual giant of his times. He is credited with being the first to divide the Vedic lore into Karma_kanda (ritualistic section) and Jnana_kanda (knowledge section).He advocated the six means of knowledge (cognition) adopted later by the Advaita school. He began the discussion on self-validation (svathah pramanya) that became a part of the Vedanta terminology. He also pioneered the method of logic called Adhyaropa-Apavada which consists in initially assuming a position and later withdrawing the assumption, after a discussion. Upavarsha is also known as the author of a commentary on Brahma Sutra titled”Sariraka Mimamsa Vritti”, now lost.
Shankara has great reverence for Upavarsha and addresses him as Bhagavan, as he does Badarayana; while he addresses Jaimini and Sabara, the other Mimasakas, only as Teachers (Acharya). Upavarsha’s time is surmised to be prior to that of Panini the great Grammarian, around 200 BCE.
Mimamsa was regarded one body of doctrine consisting twenty sections; the first sixteen of which named Purva Mimamsa (earlier Mimamsa) ascribed to Jaimini and the last four sections regarded as Uttara Mimamsa (later Mimamsa) credited to Badarayana. Both the compilers, most likely, were contemporaries.
There is however a sharp contrast in the emphasis, treatment and views of the two sages. Badarayana crystallizes the Upanishad thought and provides a framework for enquiry into the nature of the Absolute (Brahman). Jaimini on the other hand inquires into the ritualistic aspects of the Vedas and emphasizes that worldly well being and heavenly rewards are the objectives of a householder; and that the rituals alone lead to the attainment of that highest objective. Badarayana, in contrast, does not stress on rituals and holds the final liberation (mukthi) as the goal of the seeker.
Jaimini hardly involves God (Isvara) into his scheme of things. He clings to the prescriptive and liturgical aspects of Vedas setting aside their esoteric message. He generally ignores the Upanishads. His follower Sabara described the non-human origin of the Vedas in terms of the anonymity or inability to remember the authors of the Vedas. There was therefore a fear; the ascendency of the Mimamsa might encourage atheism.
Badarayana, on the other hand, relied primarily on the Upanishads as the most meaningful portions of the Vedas. He assigned them the status of highest authority and the most valid means of knowing. They are Shruthis, the Revelations, the supersensory intuitional perceptions of the ancient Rishis, he stressed. 
It was Badarayana who initially recognized Upanishads as the crowning glory of Vedic thought and strived to uphold the authority of the Upanishads and to place God in the center of the scheme of things. Badarayana’s efforts and anxieties were driven by an urgent need to rescue knowledge and freethinking from the encircling swamp of ritualistic texts and practices; as also from the ascending atheistic tendencies. His work represents a vigorous response to the challenges and demands of his times; and Brahma Sutra achieves that task amply well.
What in effect Badarayana was trying to accomplish was to drive away the strangling influences of rituals, dogma and atheism from Indian spiritual scene; and to bring back the Upanishad spirit of enquiry , intuition, knowledge, reason , open-mindedness and its values of life. It was for that good–tradition Sampradaya, Badarayana was yearning. Brahma Sutra was an instrument to achieve those cherished objectives. Badarayana and his efforts represent the most important phase in the evolution of the Indian philosophy.
Both Badarayana and Shankara were responding to the exigencies, demands and challenges of their times, which, as the fate would hate have it, were astonishingly similar, if not identical. They set to themselves similar tasks and priorities; and nurtured similar dreams and aspirations. Shankara made a common cause with Badarayana, his forerunner, separated by history by over 1,200 years. That is the reason many consider Shankara the logical successor to Badarayana.
If Badarayana, whoever he was, set in motion the process of recovery of the tradition of the ancients, Sampradaya; it was Shankara who carried it forward. Shankara greatly influenced by Badarayana, recognized Upanishads as the summit of Vedic thought. The importance attached to Brahmanas appeared to him rather misplaced. Shankara then set himself the goal to recover the correct tradition, the Sampradaya. Shankara aptly referred to Badarayana, each time, with enormous reverence and addressed him as Bhagavan, Sampradaya_vit, (the knower of good tradition) and Vedanta _Sapradaya_vit, one who truly understood the traditional import of the Upanishads.

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