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About the Book:
India's wisdom, one may say, attained its maturity in the Vedanta - the end or culmination of veda (knowledge). Vedanta may be seen as the finest fruit on the tree of India's wisdom, for it brings the seeker that ultimate knowledge that ushers in the gift of self-fulfilment (ananda). Over the centuries, brilliant saint-scholars like Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva have interpreted the Vedanta in different ways. The philosopher-poet Narayana Guru belongs to this class of noted exponents of the Vedanta. And his Vedanta Sutras is a masterpiece in his attempt to restate the original Upanisadic teaching of non-dual Reality - his most succinct expression of that message. This book presents these sutras along with a highly-perceptive commentary that elucidates the Guru's interpretation of the Vedantic concept in a brilliant style.
Narayana Guru's Vedanta Sutras reveal the essential message of the Vedanta in 24 beautifully-fluent sutras. His simple and direct revaluation and restatement of the Vedanta, in general, has been found to be comprehensive and contemplative in its insight, reconciling the superficial disagreements of the Vedantic schools and restoring the pristine vision of the Upanisadic sages. In this scientific age, his work has often been acclaimed for its relevance. His Vedanta Sutras, compact yet profound in manner, is yet another example of this.
The thoroughly-engrossing commentary of Swami Muni Narayana Prasad is a unique effort. Its hallmark is his clear avoidance of exegesis with greater reliance on his personal conviction. Swami Muni Narayana Prasad places Narayana Guru on par with the sutrakaras like Badarayana, Jaimini, Gautama and Kanada with this beautiful elucidation.
About the Author:
Swami Muni Narayana Prasad, an internationally-acclaimed figure, is Head of the Narayana Gurukula, a Guru-Disciple foundation started by Nataraja Guru, the disciple-successor of Narayana Guru. In 1960, he became a disciple of Nataraja Guru, and he was initiated as a renunciant in 1984. He has travelled all around the world imparting lessons and has spent three years in Fiji teaching Indian Philosophy. He was the editor of the Publication on philosophy, The Gurukulam for twelve years and continues to be one of its chief contributors. He has a number of published works to his credit, some of which in English include Functional Democracy - A Failure in India, Basic Lesson on India's Wisdom, Karma and Reincarnation, and Commentaries on the Taittiriya, Katha, Kena, Prasna, Mundaka and Aitareya Upanisads.
A common factor linking living beings on earth is that they naturally turn away from painful experiences. In human beings this natural impulse to turn from painful towards more pleasurable states is expressed as a quest for happiness. Man, however, uniquely among living species, has the ability to question the meaning of happiness and the meaning of his own being.
In the cultures of both East and West such questions have always provoked philosophical thought and religious expressions which in earlier times were one and the same thing. They became two, in the West, only after the so-called 'dark ages' when a general aversion developed, especially among thinkers, towards religion in the aftermath of the Inquisition. In the East, however, they have remained inseparable. Therefore Indian religious scriptures are, in essence, philosophical works.
In the West the different schools of philosophy derive from different sources. But the schools of Indian philosophy all derive from one primary source, the Vedas. Each of these schools places emphasis on particular aspects of the Vedas. Nyaya gives primacy to the categories of existence, voiseeika to the nature of basic substances, Samhkhya to the evolutionary aspect of nature, Yoga to practical discipline, Purva Mimanhsa to Vedic rituals, and Uttara Mimanhsa, or Vedanta as it is more commonly known, to the acquisition of knowledge of Ultimate Reality. All these schools, however, have the attainment of enlightenment as their common objective. None of them claim to have originated the teachings they propound. None of the proponents is thought to be the originator of the school he is associated with. The origin of each is attributed to a line of masters stretching back to the mists of the past ages. Each current master therefore claims to be only the most recent exponent of an already-existing teaching.
Historians consider that India's wisdom attained its maturity in Vedanta. It is perhaps for that reason that a number of specific sub-schools developed from it; those of Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Vallabha, Nimbarka and Caitanya, to name the most prominent of them. These, in fact, are not distinct schools of different thoughts but are different interpretations of the one and same message of the Upanisads propounded in the Brahma- Sutras of Badarayana. Their different interpretations had, however, in the long passage of time, rendered the message of the Upanlsadic rsis vague and difficult to understand, so that a simple and direct restatement of it became necessary.
This necessity was fulfilled by Narayana Guru with his teachings and his written works. His Vedanta-Siltras are his most succinct expression of the original Upanisadic teaching of non-dual Reality. They do not comprise a linear progression of ideas and concepts concerning Reality, but expand from a central assertion - that one Self alone exists and it is that Absolute Reality. As the circle expands from that central point the centre is regarded from different standpoints, each throwing some fresh light on the nature of the seeker and the self-enquiry.
The Guru's concluding sutra is a re-assertion of his opening statement and it is the major point reiterated throughout this commentary. It is a teaching coming from an ancient source to which a great body of scripture, literature and commentary is attached, all providing some particular points of view regarding the existence of Brahman. It is a teaching of truth that may be known in self-luminous inner-awareness, a truth expressible in three words from the Chandogya Upanisad. - tat tvam asi- meaning, That Thou Art.
Narayana Guru's disciple, successor and founder of Narayana Gurukula, Dr. Natarajan, who became Nataraja Guru, translated much of the Guru's work into English and wrote commentaries on it. But these sutras did not come to light untill 1978, after Nataraja Guru's death in 1973, and so he did not have the opportunity to write a commentary on them. As a disciple of Nataraja Guru and at the instance of Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati, the present guru and head of Narayana Gurukula, it became my lot to undertake that task.
I wrote the original commentary in my mother tongue, the Malayalam language, and then translated it myself into English or 'Manglish' (mangled Malayalam/English) as our friend Dan Arbeid, the UK representative of Narayana Gurukula, prefers to call it. As part of his own dedicated service to the cause of spreading Narayana Guru's teaching, he has re-translated it into 'Queen's English'. It is not the Indian custom to express thanks verbally as it separates, as it were, the thanker and the thanked - a separation opposed to the essence of the advaita philosophy of this work. Dan Arbeid's contribution is sincerely appreciated in that light.
A further work I have undertaken, as a companion to this one, is a comparative study of the Vedanta interpretations of Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva. That study as well as this commentary of the Vedanta-Sutras are dedicated to the Guru with the hope that they will further his endeavours and assist the reader seeker towards Vedanta's goal.
All life is one; only its living forms are multiple. That in which they live, breathe and have their being and which lives and breathes in them, is one unbounded timeless existence. It is the reality underlying life and all else. To know this one causal reality and its wondrous self-revelation in its effects constitutes wisdom.
To seek, find and know the real nature of oneself and the world is the ultimate human achievement transcending and subsuming all others where individualized life experience is concerned. Its attainment corrects the errors of man throughout his history in understanding existence, and the mistaken views of dogmatic religion and mechanistic materialism which have conditioned his mind and kept from him the knowledge of his true nature. Gaining that knowledge brings him the gifts of wisdom which enable him to live free of fear, desire and anger, fulfilled in life and at peace with himself and the world.
This wisdom, too, is one. Through the course of human history there have always been some few enlightened visionaries, a few saints and seers, whose mission has been to restore to light the perennial knowledge of ultimate reality which, over the long passage of time, becomes lost to view. The interpretations of their vision have, of course, been expressed in the particular language and context of the time, culture, religion and social environment in which they lived. Inevitably, those expressions have differed very much, but they have all proclaimed the same oneness of reality.
Narayana Guru was one such exceptional seer and sage, a knower of reality gifted with mystic insight. His background is that of lndia's Hindu culture. He was born in 1854 in a village near Trivandrum in the south-west Indian state of Travancore, now part of modem Kerala. His father, a teacher, was a scholarly man versed in Astronomy, Sanskrit and Ayurvedic medicine; his mother was a simple, graceful, kindly woman endowed with beauty and sensibility. Nanu, as he was then called, was acquainted with the Hindu scriptures and with the expressions of perennial wisdom contained in them at an early age. In his youth he mastered Sanskrit and became conversant with the doctrines of the Vedanta philosophy expounded by the great Upanisadic rsis (seers). While still a young man he took the path of samnyasa (renunciation) and undertook the austere life of a mendicant monk. In early middle age he attained enlightenment and quietly began to teach. He was soon recognized to be a very great guru by an ever-growing number of devotees. His life and teachings soon began to assert an enormous and enduring influence in South India inspiring many great social, economic and educational improvements there, especially for the lowly poor and oppressed of Travancore. He died in Tranvancore in 1928. We know him today, first and foremost, as a spiritual teacher in the Vedanta tradition, a Vedantic rsi. His teaching is a revision and restatement of Vedanta’s central message of the non-dual nature of existence. As Dr. Paul Deussen so eloquently puts it in his Outline of the Vedanta System: "On the tree of Indian wisdom, there is no fairer flower than the Upanishads and no finer fruit than the Vedanta philosophy.'?
Veddnta is one of the six systems of Indian philosophy which may together be described as a staircase of six flights in the edifice of human understanding. It is the topmost flight of that ascent leading the seeker of wisdom to a conclusive certainty concerning the two most fundamental questions of life: "Who am I?" and "Whence this world?" Gaining that knowledge brings the gift of self-fulfilment (ananda) and awareness that the final goal of wisdom-seeking has been attained. Thus Vedanta may truly be said to be the finest fruit from the fairest flower on the tree of India's wisdom.
Originally the word Vedanta was a name applied to the Upanisads in general, the Upanisads being the concluding sections of the Vedas, India's four most ancient scriptures. Later the name came to be used more specifically to indicate the philosophy derived from the Upanisads. The word combines two Sanskrit words, veda meaning knowledge, and antameaning end or conclusion. It therefore means the end or culmination of knowledge.
The Upanisads, the Brahma-Sutras and the Bhagavad- Gita together constitute the doctrinal foundations of Vedanta. The Brahma-Sutras are a systematic exposition of the essential teachings of the Upanisads through logic and reasoned argument. The Bhagavad-Gita is a section of the epic Mahabharata in the form of a dialogue between Krsna, an avatara and supreme wisdom teacher, and his disciple Arjuna, a princely warrior. It, too, proclaims the essential teaching of the Upanisads. The Upanisads are, therefore, seen to be the primary sources of Vedanta.
The work known as the Brahma-Sutras is attributed to the rsi Badarayana. It is not certain when the work known as Badarayana's Brahma-Sutras was composed, but it is generally held to be more than two thousand years old. That it pre-dates the Bhagavad-Gita is clear from references to it in the latter work" and, as has been observed, the many commentaries on it during this long period of time. It stands as the seminal source of all polemics developed in the later history of Vedanta, especially after the time of Sankara in the first millennium. The polemical form of its text influenced later commentators to adopt that style of presentation in their own work. Subsequently, during the course of many years, different schools of Vedanta came into being which based themselves on the interpretations of particular commentators. Each school disputed the views of the other schools, finding support for its own views by appropriately citing verses and passages from selected scriptures. Their disputes were carried on to later periods, during which a large and controversial body of literature was generated. This growing body of literature had the greatest contribution from the schools of the Advaita (non-dualism) of Sankara, the Visistadvaita (qualified non-dualism) of Ramanuja, and the Dvaita (dualism) of Madhva. In all, there are some twenty one definitive commentaries on the Brahma-Sutras, each claiming to represent the meaning intended by Badarayana. These, with their conflicting arguments, succeed in thoroughly confusing the modem student of Vedanta. Actually, in their eagerness to project and justify their own points of view, the different commentators and their followers, in course of time, ended up obscuring the very clarity and purity of the vision of the Upanisadic rsis. Such was the state of Vedantic speculation towards the end of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century.
It was at that time, in the latter years of the British Raj, that Narayana Guru undertook the task of re-valuating and restating the Vedanta as appropriate to a modem age of science and technology. Although essentially an advaitin (non-dualist) he did not solely subscribe to and support the Sankara school of non- dual philosophy, nor did he oppose the teachings of other schools. Indeed, some of the hymns he composed are apparently dualistic, and yet they convey his non-dual vision. He saw that Absolute Reality comprehends the immanent and the transcendent together, and that both duality and non-duality are valid perceptions from different standpoints. His comprehensive vision and contemplative insight reconciles the superficial disagreements between the different Vedantic schools. It restores the pristine vision of the Upanisadic rsis. In this age of scientific revelations his revision and restatement of Vedanta is all the more relevant and timely.
Prologue by Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati
The 24 Sutras
Appendix: Works of Narayana Guru