Prasthanatrayi Swaminarayan Bhashyam (Study)

by Sadhu Gyanananddas | 2021 | 123,778 words

This page relates ‘Vedic Darshana Tradition and the Prasthanatrayi Shastras’ of the study on the Prasthanatrayi Swaminarayan Bhashyam in Light of Swaminarayan Vachanamrut (Vacanamrita). His 18th-century teachings belong to Vedanta philosophy and were compiled as the Vacanamrita, revolving around the five ontological entities of Jiva, Ishvara, Maya, Aksharabrahman, and Parabrahman. Roughly 200 years later, Bhadreshdas composed a commentary (Bhasya) correlating the principles of Vachanamrut.

3. Vedic Darśana Tradition and the Prasthānatrayī Śāstras

What are Śāstras?

śāsti ca trāyate ca iti śāstram’—that which rule and protect us are called scriptures.

anekasaṃśayocchedi parokṣārthasya darśakam |
sarvasya locanaṃ śāstraṃ yasya nāstyandha eva saḥ ||

Śāstras uproot doubts and clarify principles that are difficult and subtle. Śāstras are the true eyes of man. Without them we are blind. In this chapter, we will acquaint ourselves with the three foremost of the many Hindu śāstras. Collectively known as the prasthānatrayī, these three śāstras have been stamped with philosophical treatises.


Prasthāna means a śāstra that establishes principles, and the suffix trayī denotes the quantity of three. The three śāstras which comprise the prasthānatrayī are the Upaniṣads, Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā, and Brahmasūtras. These śāstras are named Prasthāna because it is only through them that philosophical principles are established (Prasthāpana). Hindu Sanātana saṃpradāyas have always established, supported, and promoted their philosophical principles using the Prasthāna Śāstras. This unique tradition started in ancient times. Ācāryas such as Śaṃkarācārya, Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Nimbārkācārya, Vallabhācārya, Rāmānaṃdācārya and others, have written commentaries on these śāstras. Similarly, commentaries on these three śāstras have also been written in the Svāminārāyaṇa Saṃpradāya. The three Prasthān śāstras are set to be considered as the supreme authority in matters of philosophical debate amongst followers of Hindu Sanātana Dharma.[1]

1. The First Prasthāna: The Upaniṣads

The Vedas are the oldest documented manual of mankind. It constitutes a way of life that leads humans to the ultimate bliss of the supreme reality. The Vedas are classified into four parts- Saṃhitā, Brāhmaṇa, Āraṇyaka, and Upaniṣad. The ant (last part) of Veda is called Vedanta. In this manner, the entire Vedanta system is based on the Upaniṣad. In this way, Upaniṣads are assessed as a great treasure of mankind by the great personalities of the world.[2] The Upaniṣads are based in the Vedas. They are a specific part of the Vedas. Therefore, ‘na kaścid vedakartā’ there is no creator of the Upaniṣads. Moreover, ‘anādinidhanā divyā vāk’ they are a concise collection of the profound philosophical principles of the Vedas. That is why the Upaniṣads are also known as Vedanta.

The philosophical definition of Upaniṣad is as follows:

upaniṣadyate prāpyate jñāyate brahmavidyā anayā iti upaniṣad’—

‘The source from where we can get brahmavidyā is Upaniṣad.’

Today, we find more than 108 Upaniṣads. But the ten principal Upaniṣads are:

īśa-kena-kaṭha-praśna-muṇḍa-māṇḍukya-tittiriḥ |
etareyaṃ ca chāndogyaṃ bṛhadāraṇyakaṃ daśa |

“The ten Upaniṣads are Īśa (Īśāvāsya), Kena, Kaṭha, Praśna, Muṇḍaka, Māṇḍukya, Taittarīya, Aitareya, Chāndogya, and Bṛhadāraṇyaka.”

The essence of the Upaniṣads is brahmavidyā:

yenākṣaraṃ puruṣaṃ veda satyaṃ provāca tāṃ tattvato brahmavidyām” (Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad 1/2/13).

“That by which Akṣara and Puruṣa are known in their actuality is brahmavidyā.”

This is the definition of brahmavidyā.

2. The Second Prasthāna: Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā

The Bhagavad Gītā is the second prasthāna of Vedanta. It is encompassed within the Mahābhārata. Since the Mahābhārata is a historical text on Indian culture and tradition and the Bhagavad Gitā resides within it, the Gitā is also identified as a historical text. The Gitā consists of the 18 chapters that follow the 25th chapter of The Mahābhārata’sBhishmaparva’. The Gitā is comprised of 700 verses distributed over these 18 chapters (adhyāyas). Within the text Dhritarashtra recites one verse, Sanjaya recites 41, Arjuna 84, and Śrī Kṛṣṇa recites 574 verses.

The Bhagavad Gitā is in the form of a dialogue. Within the Mahābhārata, it is nested within two other dialogues. Vaishampāyana is its principal speaker, while Janamejaya listens to his narration. Nested within the dialogue between Vaishampāyana and Janamejaya, is a dialogue between Sanjaya and Dhritarāshtra. Further nested within Sanjaya and Dhritarāshtra’s dialogue is Sanjaya’s narration of the conversation between Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna. Among these three dialogues of the Mahābhārat, the Gitā is considered to be the most significant. Since its discussions are presented in Anuṣṭup and other meters, the Gitā is also understood to be a poetical text.

The aphorism—‘itihāsapurāṇābhyāṃ vedaṃ samupabṛṃhyet’ means the meaning of the Vedas should be clarified and supported historical scriptures and the Purānas. According to this traditional principle, the purpose of the Gitā is to clarify and substantiate the principles established within the Vedas and Upaniṣads. The brahmavidyā narrated within the Upaniṣad is recollected and reaffirmed within the Gitā. As a result, the Gitā is recognized as smritiprasthana.[3]

The glory of the text is said as:

sarvopaniṣado gāvo dogdhā gopālanandanaḥ |
pārtho vatsaḥ sudhīrbhoktā dugdhaṃ gītāmṛtaṃ mahat ||”[4]

‘All the Upaniṣads are like a heavenly cow, Kṛṣṇa milks the cow, Arjuna is like the calf on seeing which milk flows into the udders of the cow, and the milk of that divine cow is the nectar-filled Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā, the clever devotees consume that milk.’

3. The Third Prasthāna: The Brahmasūtras

alpākṣaramasaṃdigdhaṃ sāravad viśvato mukham |
astobhamanavadyam ca sūtram sūtravido viduḥ ||’[5]

“That which is composed of few words, does not contain long sentences, is capable of expressing an essential message and is clear, is called sūtra.”

The first sūtra of the text is “athāto brahmajijñāsā[6] This text elaborates on brahmavidyā -knowledge of the two Brahmans -Akṣarabrahman and Parabrahman -which is described within sacred texts, such as the Upaniṣads and Gitā. Since this text systematically establishes and substantiates brahmavidyā through sūtras, it is known as the Brahmasūtra.

The Brahmasūtra consists of four chapters. Each chapter is in turn divided into four pādas. Each pāda is further partitioned into adhikaraṇas or sub-sections, and finally, each adhikaraṇa contains one or more sūtras. When establishing principles within this text, the author begins by declaring the subject of discussion. He then presents possible doubts and queries regarding the subject by presenting the pūrvapakṣa or opposing position. Upon invalidating the pūrvapakṣa through resilient and reasoned arguments, the author subsequently presents the uttarapakṣa or the proponent's position. He then ends reasserting the concluding principle. Since the text follows a system that is primarily dependent upon reasoning, the Brahmasūtra is identified as the tarkaprasthāna.

We have thus acquired a brief overview of the Prasthāntrayi Upaniṣads, Bhagavad Gītā, and Brahmasūtra. These principal texts highlight Upāsanā -devotion to Paramātman, and brahmavidyā (describes Brahman and Parabrahman which is the chief endeavor to attain the final goal).[7]

Footnotes and references:


Gupta Gopalji, Hinduo ke Dharmagrantha, Hindulogy Books, New Delhi, May-2008, pp.45-53


Max Muller (1823-1900), a famous German scholar, echoed this Sentiment when he said,“If these words of Schopenhauer need any confirmation, I willingly give mine”. Svāmī Vivekānda (1863-1902) commented, “We need strength. Who will give us strength? The Upaniṣads are a treasury of strength. They are capable of giving strength.” Many luminaries have thus studied and experienced the Upaniṣads with astonishment.


Reyna Ruth, Introduction to Indian Philosophy, Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. Ltd Bombay-New Delhi, 1971, pp.37-45


Bhagavad-Gītā- Gītā Māhatmaya/ 6


Goviṃdācārya, Vaiyākaraṇa Siddhānta Kaumudī, Śrīdharmukhollasini-Hindīvyākhyāsamanvitā-4, Caukhambā Surabhāratī Prakāśana, 2016, p. xiv


Brahmasūtras 1/1/1


Kulkarni Chidambara, Vedic Foundations of Indian Culture, The Rsi and The Veda, Shri Dvaipayana Trust Bombay-Dharwar-Banglore, 1973, p.12

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: