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The Vedanta Treatises

by  Dr. Jyotsna Kamat

First Online: July 04, 2009
Page Last Updated: April 04, 2014

Hinduism in the broadest sense is not only a religion but includes ways of life and philosophy as well. The four Vedas, which are considered revelations and not written by human beings, were evolved more than six thousand years ago. Mainly oral Vedic mantras (reflections that protect) passed on orally, from mouth to ear when writing was centuries away. Slowly the Upanishads took shape to interpret esoteric aphorisms and mantras of  the Vedas. Upanishads are Books of Knowledge and the important ones are ten in number. When Upanishadic knowledge became too vast, condensation was found necessary for the process of understanding God and godliness. Brahmasutras came to be written, which are again in sutra form.

But still, the difficulty with the commoners continued to learn the underlying philosophy regarding God and ways of realizing Him. The Bhagavadgita, popularly known as Gita evolved, which is considered the kernel of Hindu religion and philosophy and an outstanding religious classic in the world. All the three, the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras and the Bhagavadgita form the basics of Vedanta. It means crux or end (veda+anta=end) as the name itself suggests.

There are more than thirty Upanishads out of which ten are considered most authoritative. Upanishads advocate ultimate triumph of human spirit over matter. They spiritually point out the divinity in man, which could be brought with various means and efforts and man can become one with God himself. The little formula, tat tvam si (That, thou art) or soham (I am He) has umpteen dimensions. These are brought out in the Upanishads in the form of anecdotes, dialogues which help interpret esoteric aphorisms of Vedas. Upanishads are most authoritative text and form part of Shruti (sacred literature of Hindus).

The Brahmasutras are aphorisms dealing with nature of Brahman (God) the ultimate reality. They are ascribed to sage Badarayana who probably lived in 500 B.C. He systematized the teachings of Upanishads in the form of sutras, which could be memorized, reproduced and interpreted. Vedic and upanishadic knowledge received new dimension of meta-physical frame at this stage. From Shankarcharaya onward all the great acharyas and Preceptors have written commentaries (Bhashya) on Upanishads, Brahmasutras and Bhagavadgita to advocate their philosophical school.

Most Hindus are familiar with the Hindu sacred book of Bhagavadgita which is summary of ancient Vedic learning. This single text binds Hindus of all castes and creeds together, which they held in great respect. Bhagavadgita or simply Gita forms integral part of Mahabharata epic which is considered as fifth Veda. Its setting on the great battle-field of Kurukshetra is in the form of dialogue form between Arjuna and Krishna. It has dramatic element which provides visualization (battle effects, blowing conches, beating drums and Viswaroopa darshana or cosmic revelation of Krishna). Along with religious and philosophical tenets it relates to realities of life of birth, death, endless struggles and aspirations of human life.

The Upanishads,  theBrahmasutras and the Gita are generally known as Prasthanatraya, threefold treatises of Vedanta, the main pillar of Hindu system of philosophy.

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