Bhagavad-gita-rahasya (or Karma-yoga Shastra)

by Bhalchandra Sitaram Sukthankar | 1935 | 327,828 words

The English translation of the Bhagavad-Gita Rahasya, also known as the Karma-yoga Shastra or “Science of Right Action”, composed in Marathi by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1915. This first volume represents an esoteric exposition of the Bhagavadgita and interprets the verses from a Mimamsa philosophical standpoint. The work contains 15 chapters, Sanskri...

Appendix 3: The Gītā and the Brahmasūtras

Having in this way considered the similarity and the dissimilarity between the Bhagavadgītā and the Upaniṣads, which chiefly deal either with Spiritual Knowledge, or with Devotion, or with Yoga, it is really speaking not necessary to compare the Gītā with the Brahma-Sūtras; because, as Bādarāyaṇācārya has written his Brahma-Sūtras in order to systematically consider the Metaphysical doctrines mentioned in the various Upaniṣads, these Sūtras cannot contain any thoughts which are not in the Upaniṣads.

Still, there is a clear reference to the Brahma-Sūtras at the beginning of the 13th chapter of the Bhagavadgītā, where the subject-matter of the Body and the Ātman is being dealt with, in the words:

ṛṣibhir bahudhā gītaṃ chandobhir vividhaiḥ pṛthak |
brahmasūtrapadaiś caiva hetumadbhir viniścitaiḥ ||
  (Bhagavadgītā 13.4),

That is, the Body and the Ātman have been described "in various ways, in different metres, by different Ṛṣis, disconnectedly; and also definitely and logically in the BrahmaSūtra-padas";

And, if one considers these Brahma-Sūtras to be the same as the present Vedānta-Sūtras, it follows that the present Gītā must have been written after the date of the present "Vedānta-Sūtras. It is, therefore, very necessary to determine which these Brahma-Sūtras are, in order to fix the date of the Gītā.[1] Because, there is no work now available besides the Vedānta-Sūtras, which bears the name of BrahmaSūtras, nor has such a work been referred to anywhere; and it is not proper to say that the Gītā was written after the date of the present Brahma-Sūtras; because, it is traditionally believed that the Gītā is more ancient than these Brahma-Sūtras. Possibly, the phrase "brahma-sūtra-padaiḥ" has been interpreted in the Śāṃkarabhāṣya to mean "the phrases in the Śrutis or the Upaniṣads, which refer to the Brahman", in order to get over this difficulty. But, on the other hand, Ānandagiri, who has written a commentary on the Śāṃkarabhāṣya, and Rāmānujācārya and Madhvācārya, who are other commentators on the Gītā, have said that the words, "brahmasūtra-padaiś caiva" mean the Sūtras "athāto brahmajijñāsā" etc. of Bādarāyaṇācārya;. and Śrīdhara Svāmī interprets them in both ways. We have, therefore, to determine the true meaning of this stanza independently. This stanza mentions TWO DIFFERENT places, where the subject-matter of the Body and the Ātman have been described; for, it says that this subject-matter has been mentioned "in DIFFERENT ways, by different Ṛṣis, DISCON- NECTEDLY," and also (caiva) "definitely and logically in the Brahma-Sūtra-padas"; and this is apparent from the word 'caiva' (i.e., 'and also'). Not only are these two places different, but the first place, namely, the description given by Ṛṣis, is "in different metres, and disconnected, and in different ways"; and, as appears by the third case plural termination of the word 'ṛṣibhiḥ', it has been made by VARIOUS Ṛṣis; whereas, the other description contained in the Brahma-Sūtra-padas is "definite and logical". This is the special difference between the two, which has been brought out in this stanza. The word 'hetumat' appears in various places in the Mahābhārata, and means an ' exposition made according to the method of logicians, by showing reason and conclusion'. Take for instance, the conversation of Sulabhā. with Janaka, or what Śrī Kṛṣṇa said in the Darbar of the Kauravas, when He went there as an ambassador. It is stated in the Mahābhārata itself that the first conversation was 'hetumat' and 'arthavat' (Śān. 320. 191); and that the other one was 'sahetuka' (Udyo. 131. 2). From this, it follows that where pros and cons are discussed, and some unambiguous and definite conclusion has been drawn at the end, that method of dealing with the subject is called 'hetumadbhir viniścitaiḥ'. These words cannot be applied to miscellaneous and inconsistent conclusions drawn in one way in one place and in another way in another place. Therefore, if we have to- maintain the distinction and contrast between "ṛṣibhiḥ. bahudhā vividhaiḥ pṛthak" (i.e., "by Ṛṣis, in different places, indifferent ways, and disconnectedly" ~Translator.) and "hetumadbhir viniścitaiḥ" (i.e., " definitely and logically"—Translator.), it becomes necessary to say that the words "the description, in various ways, by different Ṛṣis, disconnectedly, and in different metres" intend to mean the disconnected and miscellaneous sentences appearing in the different Upaniṣads; and that the words "definite and logically advanced Brahma-Sūtra-padas" signify the description in the Brahma-Sūtras, in which a definite and unambiguous conclusion has been drawn in the end by showing pros and cons. It must also be borne in mind that, as the ideas mentioned by the Ṛṣis in the Upaniṣads were related by them, as they occurred to them, that is to say, disconnectedly, the true import of the Upaniṣads cannot be understood unless the ideas contained in them are harmonised. And, therefore, it becomes necessary to mention the work in which the Upaniṣads have been harmonised with each other by the explanation of reasons and conclusions, at the same time when the Upaniṣads themselves are mentioned.

When this stanza in the Gītā has been interpreted in this way, it is quite clear that the Upaniṣads and the Brahma- Sūtras were earlier in point of time than the Gītā. There is, of course, no dispute about the most important ones of these Upaniṣads; because, the stanzas from these Upaniṣads are found to have been copied word for word into the Gītā. But, there is room for doubt where the Brahma-Sūtras are concerned; because, although the word 'Bhagavadgītā' has not appeared literally in the Brahma-Sūtras, yet, the Bhagavadgītā is believed by the writers of the Bhāṣyas to have been referred to by the word ' Smṛti ' in some of the Sūtras at least.

The Brahma-Sūtras, which, according to the Śāṃkarabhāṣya, refer to the Bhagavadgītā by the word 'smṛti' are principally the following ones.–

BRAHMA-SUTRAS(chapter, pada, and sutra) GĪTĀ (Chapter and stanza.)
1.2.6, smṛteś ca 18.61, īśvaraḥ sarvabhūtānāṃ etc., (whole stanza)
1.3.23, api ca smaryate 15.6, na tad bhāsayate sūryaḥ etc.
2.1.36, upapadyate cāpyupalabhyate ca 15.3, na rupam asyeha tathopalabhyate etc.
2.3.45, api ca smaryate 15.7, mamaivāṃśo jīvaloke jīvabhūtaḥ etc.
3.217, darśayati cātho api smaryate 13.12, jñeyaṃ yat tat pravakṣyāmi etc.
3.3.31, aniyamaḥ sarvāsāmavirodhaḥ śabdānumānābhyām Gī. 8.26, śuklakṛṣṇe gatī hy ete etc.
4. 1. 10, smaranti ca Gī. 6.11, śucau deśe etc.
4.2.21, yoginaḥ prati ca smaryate 8.23, yatra kāle tv anāvṛttim āvṛttiṃ caiva yoginaḥ etc.

Even if some out of these 8 references are considered ambiguous, yet, in my opinion the fourth (See. Vedānta-Sūtras below. 2.3.45) and the eighth (See. Vedānta-Sūtras below. 4.2.21) are absolutely unambiguous; and it must be borne in mind that on this question the four commentators, Śaṃkarācārya, Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, and Vallabhācārya, are of the same opinion. The sūtra "api ca smaryate " (2.3.45) i.e., "and the Smṛti says the same thing", appears in the Brahma-Sūtras, in the course of the consideration of the mutual inter-relation between the Personal Self (Jīvātman) and the Absolute Self (paramātman), after it has first been definitely stated in the sutra, "nātmā śruter nityatvāc ca tābhyaḥ" (See. Vedānta-Sūtras below. 2.3.17), that the Individual Self is not created from the Highest Self like the other objects in the world; after stating in the sūtra, " aṃśo nānāvyapadeśāt" etc. (2. 3. 43), that the Jīvātman is a 'part' (aṃśa) of the Paramātman, and after giving the authority of the Śrutis by saying "mantra varṇāc ca" (2.3.44) This Smṛti is the sentence "mamaivāṃśo jīvaloke jīvabhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ" in the Gītā (Bhagavadgītā 15.7) according to all the commentators. But the last reference is even more unambiguous than this. I have stated above in the tenth chapter that the two periods of Devayāna and Pitṛyāṇa occupy the six months of the Uttarāyaṇa and the six months of the Dakṣiṇāyana respectively; and that instead of interpreting these phrases as indicating 'time', Bādarāyaṇācārya has interpreted them as meaning the respective deities presiding during those periods of time (Vedānta-Sūtras 4. 3. 4). The sūtra, "yoginaḥ prati ca smaryate" (See. Vedānta-Sūtras below. 4.2.21), that is, "these periods of time are proper in the case of Yogins according to the Smṛti", has been written in answer to the doubt whether the words 'dakṣiṇāyana' and 'uttarāyaṇa', are never to be understood as indicating 'time'; and it has been clearly stated in the Gītā in the following words, that these periods of time are proper for Yogins, namely, "yatra kale tvanāvṛttim āvṛttiṃ caiva yoginaḥ". From these references, one has to say with the commentators that in these two places at least the word 'smṛti' used in the Brahma-Sūtras has reference only to the Bhagavadgītā.

But if one believes that the Brahma-Sūtras have been specifically mentioned in the Gītā, and that the Gītā has been specifically referred to in the Brahma-Sūtras by the word 'smṛti', there arises an inconsistency between the two from the point of view of date of writing; because, as the Bhagavadgītā contains a clear reference to the Brahma-Sūtras, the- Brahma-Sūtras must be looked upon as prior in point of time to the Gītā; and if one interprets the word 'smṛti' in the Brahma-Sūtras as meaning the Gītā, the Gītā becomes earlier in point of time than the Brahma-Sūtras. The same BrahmaSūtras cannot once be earlier in point of time and again later in point of time than the Gītā. Well; if, in order to escape from this difficulty, we interpret the words "brahma-sūtra-padaiḥ", as has been done in the Śāṃkarabhāṣya, then the words "hetumadbhir viniścitaiḥ" become meaningless; and if we say that the word 'smṛti' used in the Brahma-Sūtras refers to some. Smṛti other than the Gītā, then we have to say that all the commentators were wrong; and even if we say that they were all wrong, the fact still remains that we cannot say what work is referred to by the word 'smṛti'. Then, how are we- to get out of this difficult position? In my opinion, there is only one way in which we can escape this difficulty. If we say that the same man who wrote the Brahma-Sūtras also gave their present form to the Bhārata and to the Gītā, the difficulty is solved. It is usual to refer to the Brahma-Sūtras as 'VyāsaSūtras', and Ānandagiri has stated in his commentary on the Śāṃkarabhāṣya on the sūtra, "śeṣatvāt puruṣārthavādo yathānyeṣviti jaiminiḥ" (Vedānta-Sūtras 3.4.2), that Jaimini was the disciple of Vyāsa, who wrote the Vedānta-Sūtras; and in the same way, he has described the Brahma-Sūtras in the opening stanzas of his work in the following terms, namely, "śrīmadvyāsapayonidhir nidhirasau", Vyāsa, the writer of the Mahābhārata, had five disciples named, Paila, Śuka, Sumantu, Jaimini, and Vaisampayana; and I have, on the authority of the present Mahābhārata, referred above to the story that Vyāsa taught the Mahābhārata to them. When one takes both these things together, and considers the matter, one can draw the inference that the work of giving their present form to the original Bhārata and to the Gītā included in it, as also that of writing the Brahma-Sūtras was done by one and the same Bādarāyaṇa Vyāsa. This does not.mean that Bādarāyaṇācārya wrote something new in the shape of the present Mahābhārata. All that I mean to say is that as the Mahābhārata is a very extensive work, some portions of it may have been lost or become disintegrated at the time of Bādarāyaṇa; and that Bādarāyaṇācārya may, therefore, have critically examined different portions of the Mahābhārata which were then available, and either corrected or supplemented them wherever he found the book to be disconnected or incorrect or incomplete, or added indexes etc., and in that way either revived the book or given it its present form. It is well known that even in Marathi literature, Ekanātha has in this way revised the Jñāneśvarī; and there is even a story that as the Vyākaraṇa Mahābhāṣya in Sanskrit literature was once lost, Chandraśekharācārya had to revive it again In this way, one can easily understand how the stanzas of the Gītā are to be found in the other chapters of the Mahābhārata; and the fact of the clear reference to the Brahma-Sūtras in the Gītā and of the reference to the Gītā in the Brahma-Sūtras by the word 'smṛti', is easily explained. As the original Gītā, which is the foundation of the present Gītā, was available even before the time of Bādarāyaṇācārya, it was referred to in the Brahma-Sūtras by the word 'smṛti'; and it is stated in the Gītā, while revising the Mahābhārata, that the subject-matter of the Body and the Ātman has been considered in detail in the Brahma-Sūtras[2]. There are other references in the present Mahābhārata to sūtra-works, similar to the reference to the Brahma-Sūtras in the present Gītā. For instance, in the Aṣṭāvakra-Dik conversation in the Anuśāsanaparva, we find the sentence, "anṛtāḥ striya ity evaṃ sūtrakāro vyavasyati" (Anu. 19.6). Similarly, there are also clear references elsewhere in the Mahābhārata to the Śatapathabrāhmaṇa (Śānti. 318.16–23), the Pañcarātra (Śānti. 339.107), the Nirukta of Yāska (Śānti. 342.71), and Manu (Anu. 37.16). But, as it was not usual for people to learn by heart all the parts of the Mahābhārata, a doubt naturally arises about the extent to which the reference to other books in the Mahābhārata in other places besides the Gītā, can be looked upon as reliable for the purpose of the determination of the date of either. Because, those parts which are not learnt by heart can easily be tampered with by the addition of interpolated stories or stanzas. Yet, in my opinion, there is no reason why we should not take advantage of these other references in order to prove that the reference to the BrahmaSūtras in the Gītā is not a sole, or an unprecedented, and therefore, an unreliable reference.

I have proved above by critically examining the meaning: of the words in the stanza "brahma-sūtra-padaiś caiva" etc., that the Bhagavadgītā contains a reference to the present BrahmaSūtras or Vedānta-Sūtras. But, I think there is another important and forcible reason for this reference to the Brahma-Sūtras having come into the Bhagavadgītā, and that too in the 13th chapter, that is, in the chapter which deals with the subject of the Body and the Ātman. I have already explained in the previous chapters that though the essential principle of the worship of Vasudeva has been taken into the Bhagavadgītā from the Bhāgavata or the Pañcarātra religion, yet, the four-fold (catur-vyūha) theory of the Pañcarātra religion regarding the coming into existence of Saṃkarṣaṇa, that is Jīva (Personal Self) from Vasudeva,. of Pradyumna, that is, the Mind (manas) from Saṃkarṣaṇa,. and of Aniruddha, that is, Individuation (ahaṃkāra) from Pradyumna, is not accepted by the Bhagavadgītā. The Brahma-Sūtras lay down the doctrine that the Personal Self (jīvātman) has not sprung from anything else (Vedānta-Sūtras 2. 3. 17) and that it is an eternal 'part' (aṃśa) of the Highest Ātman, (paramātman), (Vedānta-Sūtras 2. 3. 43). Therefore, Bādarāyaṇācārya has, in the second part of the second chapter, found fault with the Bhāgavata doctrine, by saying that the genesis of Saṃkarṣaṇa from Vāsudeva according to that religion is not possible (Vedānta-Sūtras 2.2.42); and, by arguing that, since the Mind is an organ pertaining to the Personal Self, it is impossible for Pradyumna (Manas) to spring from Jīva (Vedānta-Sūtras 2. 2. 43), because, we never see it happen in the world that the cause or the means spring from the doer, he has to that extent logically refuted the Bhāgavata doctrine. To this, the followers of the Bhāgavata doctrine are likely to reply that they consider Vāsudeva (Īśvara), Saṃkarṣaṇa (Jīva), Pradyumna (Manas), and Aniruddha (Ahaṃkāra) as four equal Jñānins, and look upon the genesis of the one from the other as merely symbolical or unimportant. But, from this point of view, instead of there being one Parameśvara, one gets four Parameśvaras; and the Brahma-Sūtras, therefore, say, that even this reply is not satisfactory; and Bādarāyaṇa has ultimately expressed his opinion that the idea that Jīva has sprung from the Parameśvara is not acceptable to the Vedas, that is, to the Upaniṣads. (Vedānta-Sūtras 2. 2. 44, 45). It is true that the Bhagavadgītā has adopted the principle of Action based on Devotion of the Bhāgavata religion. Nevertheless, the doctrine of the Gītā is that the Jīva has not sprung from the Parameśvara, and is not a 'son' of the Parameśvara, but a part (aṃśa) of the Paramātman (Bhagavadgītā 15.7). This doctrine about the Jīva does not form part of the original Bhāgavata doctrine; and it was, therefore, necessary to explain on what authority it had been based; because, if that had not been done, there was a likelihood of a misunderstanding arising that while accepting the Energistic Devotional principle of the Bhāgavata doctrine, the Bhagavadgītā was also accepting the arrangement of the 'four-folded genesis' (caturvyūha) in that doctrine. Therefore, when there was occasion to refer to the nature of the Individual Self (Jīvātman) in the chapter on the Body and the Ātman, that is to say, in the very beginning of the 13th chapter, it became necessary for the Blessed Lord to explain that "My opinion about the Ātman (kṣetrajña), that is, the Jīva, is not the same as in the Bhāgavata doctrine, but is consistent with the opinion of the Ṛṣis, who have written the Upaniṣads". And thereafter, it became necessary for Him to say in the natural course, that, as different Ṛṣis had given disconnected descriptions in the different Upaniṣads, He accepted the harmonisation of all those opinions in the Brahma-Sūtras (Vedānta-Sūtras 2.3.43). Considering the matter from this point of view, it will be seen that the Path of Devotion in the Bhāgavata doctrine has been adopted in to the Gītā in such a way that the objections taken to that doctrine in the Brahma-Sūtras could be obviated. Rāmānujācārya has in his commentary on the Vedānta-Sūtras given a different meaning altogether to these Sūtras (Vedānta-Sūtras Rā. Bhā. 2.2.42–45). But, in my opinion, these interpretations are stretched, and not acceptable. Thibaut seems to be inclined to accept the view of the Rāmānujabhāṣya; but from the writings of Thibaut, one does not get the idea that he has properly understood the true nature of this discussion.

Even in the description of the Nārāyaṇīya doctrine, which is made at the end of the Śāntiparva of the Mahābhārata, it is first stated that:

"Vāsudeva IS ALSO (sa eva) Saṃkarṣaṇa, that is, Jīva, or the Ātman" (See Śān. 339.39 and 71 and 334.28 and 29);

And the further descent of Pradyumna from Saṃkarṣaṇa etc. has then been mentioned; and in one place, it is clearly stated that some consider the Bhāgavata doctrine as four-folded (catur-vyūha), others as three- folded (tri-vyūha), others as two-folded (dvivyūha), and others again as single-folded (eka-vyūha), (Śriman Mahābhārata Śān. 348. 57). But instead of accepting these various aspects of the Bhāgavata doctrine, the present Gītā has accepted only that aspect of it, which would be consistent with the opinions of the Upaniṣads.and the Brahma-Sūtras on the question of the mutual inter- relation between the Body and the Ātman; and when this matter is taken into account, one clearly understands why it was necessary to refer to the Brahma-Sūtras in the Gītā..Nay, we may even go so far as to say that the present Gītā has made an improvement in this respect on the original Gītā.

Footnotes and references:


This subject-matter has been considered by the late Mr. Telang; and Prof. Tukaram Ramchandra Amalnerkar B. A. has also published an essay on this subject in 1895.


The Brahma-Sūtras are the most important book on Vedānta, and the Gītā is the most important book on Karma-Yoga, as has been shown by me in previous chapters. Therefore, if my inference that the BrahmaSūtras and the Gītā were written by one and the same person, that is, by Vyāsa, is correct, Vyāsa becomes saddled with the authorship of both these books. I have proved this above by inferential argument.

But in the new edition of the Mahābhārata according to the southern recension, which has been published by Mr. Krishnacarya of Kumbakonam, we find the following 34th stanza in the 212th chapter of the Śāntiparva (in the Vārṣṇeyādhyātma-prakaraṇa) in the description of how the various sciences and histories came into existence at the beginning of the Yuga, namely,

vedāntakarmayogaṃ ca vedavid brahmavid vibhuḥ |
dvaipāyano nijagrāha śilpaśāstraṃ bhṛguḥ punaḥ ||

In this stanza, "vedāntakarmayogaṃ" is a compound word in the singular number. But that has to be interpreted as meaning 'Vedānta and Karma-Yoga'. Possibly the original reading was "vedāntaṃ karmayogaṃ ca", and in writing or in printing, the diacritical nasal sign 'ṃ' in 'ntaṃ' may have been dropped. It is clearly stated in this stanza that Vyāsa obtained the two sciences of Vedānta and Karma-Yoga, and that Bhṛgu obtained the śilpaśāstra (i.e., 'the fine or mechanical arts ' ~Translator.). But, this stanza is not to be found in the edition printed in the Ganpat Krishnaji Press in Bombay or in the Calcutta edition. The 212th chapter of the Śāntiparva in the Kumbakonam edition is the 210th chapter of the Bombay and Calcutta editions. I am very grateful to my friend Dr. Ganesh Krishna Garde for having drawn my attention to this stanza in the Kumbakonam recension. According to his opinion, the word 'karmayoga' in this place refers to nothing else but the Gītā, and the authorship of both the Gītā and the Vedānta-Sūtras is by this stanza given to Vyāsa. Some doubt may arise on this point, because this reading is to be found in only one out of three editions of the Mahābhārata; but it at least proves that my inference about the author of Vedānta being the same as the author of Karma-Yoga, is neither new, nor without authority.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: