Posted in Sri Bhashyam

The Context of Sri Bhashyam

The Supreme Lord, or the Parama Purusha, filled with compassion on seeing humanity who have become tired of their births in the Universe and who are afflicted with three kinds of sufferings (tApa traya) and who are hence burning with a desire to find out a means for freedom from the cycles of births and affliction, revealed the Vedanta Sastra which will show them the path to freedom in the form of realization of the Supreme Self, namely Himself (Sriranga Stavam, Sloka 1).

Among the 14 Vidyas or Vidyastanas, the Brahmavidya is the most sacred one capable of destroying completely in a moment the fruits of all karmas, good and bad, acquired during thousands of births. (Bhagavad Gita 10-32; Mundaka Upanisad 1-1-4; Vishnu Purana 6-4).

That means, for obtaining liberation, one has to know the Parama Purusha in reality. The knowledge that enables one to realize the Supreme Lord (or the knowledge which has as its object, the realization of the Supreme Lord) as indicated by the scriptures, is called Brahmavidya or Paravidya.

The fruits associated with the acquisition of this Paravidya are two fold: aihika, referring to fruits that are permanent and amushmika, referring to fruits (including svarga loka prApti) which are impermanent.

This Paravidya is embedded in the Upanisads. However, there are a number of contradictory statements in the upanisads. To reconcile them and arrive at their truths, Sage Vyasa composed the Brahmasutras. While these Sutras clearly indicate the ideas, they lack the exposition that would make them comprehensible by all people. Hence, they had to be commented upon – a task that was taken up by various preceptors starting from Bodhayana, Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Nilakantha etc. Of these various commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, the one by Bhagavad Ramanuja is called the Sri Bhashyam.

Ramanuja lived in tumultuous times characterized by confusions regarding certain theoretical aspects of the Upanisadic philosophy.  The schools of thought prevailing in those times had varied opinions on the nature of the individual soul and the Super soul, what constituted liberation and other matters of philosophical importance. It is in this historical context that Bhagavad Ramanuja came up with his Visishtadvaita philosophy as a solution that, in addition to reconciling the differences in opinions, would appeal to a spiritual seeker’s intellect and emotionality.

The original source of Ramanuja’s commentary is Bodhayanavritti, a work carried out by Bodhayana rishi. From later day works like Srutaprakasika, we are also able to infer that philosophers such as Dramida and Kuhadeva have written commentaries on the sutras from a Visistadvaitic perspective.

Before commenting on the Brahma sutras of Badarayana, Ramanuja makes a declaration that his commentary upon the wordings of the sutras will be in strict adherence to their denotation, without torturing the text. In essence, he conveys that he would explain the meanings according to the elements of grammar (‘prakrti’ or the root and ‘pratyaya’ or the suffix added to the root). By stating

bhagavadbOdhAyanakritam vistIrNAm brahmasUtravrittim pUrvAcAryA: sancikshipu: tanmatAnusareNa sUtrAksharANi vyAkhyAsyantE

upfront, Ramanuja declares:

1. That his commentary would be in lines with the interpretation of the purvacharyas or the ancient masters propagating this sampradaya;

2. That the masters of yore had abridged the lengthy explanations of Bodhayana on the Brahma Sutras. Those former teachers are listed as Dramida, Brahmanandi (Tanka) and others. Also, by alluding to the abovementioned teachers, Ramanuja automatically excludes Sankara and other later day commentators on the Brahmasutras.

In the above declaration,

tanmatAnusArENa signifies that the explanations of later writers are untrustworthy and hence, not to be taken into account. By this, Ramanuja declares that he would not impute his own views on the Sutras;

SutrAksharAni refers to the literal meanings of the words, thereby admitting that the profound meanings that are suggested are not possible of being described thoroughly;

VyAkyAsyanthE means that the commentary would neither be very brief nor very elaborate. He would attempt to state the meanings clearly in addition to indicating how the terms have to be split and how the terms have to be understood.


[1] ‘Sri Bhashya Prakasika’ by Srinivasacharya. Madras Government Oriental Manuscripts, Series No: 48.

[2] Notes from Sri Ramanuja Group (Bhakti List) email archives available on the Internet

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