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Introduction by Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana
satyam jnanam anantam
govindam tam acintyam
hetum adosham namasyamah
Lord Govinda is the Supreme Brahman, the absolute transcendental reality. He is transcendental knowledge. He is the original cause of all causes. He is limitless and faultless. Lord Shiva and all the demigods praise Him. The devotees worship His transcendental form. We offer our respectful obeisances unto Him.
vyudasya vastuni yah parikshayate
sa jayati satyavataye
harir anuvritto nata-preshthah
All glories to Shrila Vyasadeva, the son of Satyavati. Vyasadeva is the incarnation of Lord Hari, and He is very dear to the devotees. With the effulgence of His Vedanta-sutra He has dispelled the darkness of ignorance and revealed the truth.
During the Dvapara-yuga the Vedas were destroyed. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, responding to the prayers of Lord Brahma and the other bewildered demigods, appeared as Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa, restored the Vedas, divided them into parts, and composed the Vedanta-sutra in four chapters to explain them. This is described in the Skanda Purana.
At that time many fools propounded various misinterpretations of the Vedas. Some said that the highest goal of life was to act piously in order to reap the benefits of good karma. Some said that Lord Vishnu is Himself bound by the laws of karma. Some maintained that the fruits of good karma, such as residence in svarga (the upper material planets) were eternal. Some said the jivas (individual living entities) and prakriti (material energy) acted independently, without being subject to any higher power, or God. Some said the jivas (individual living entities) are actually the Supreme Brahman (God), and that the jivas are simply bewildered about their identity, or that the jivas are a reflection of God, or separated fragments of God. Some said that the jiva becomes free from the cycle of repeated birth and death when He understands his real identity as the perfectly spiritual Supreme Brahman (God).
The Vedanta-sutra refutes all these misconceptions, and establishes Lord Vishnu as supremely independent, the original creator and cause of all causes, omniscient, the ultimate goal of life for all living entities, the supreme religious principle and the supreme transcendental knowledge.
The Vedanta-sutra describes five tattvas (truths): 1. ishvara (The Supreme Personality of Godhead); 2. jiva (the individual living entity, or spirit-soul); 3. prakriti (matter); 4. kala (time); and 5. karma (action).
The ishvara is omniscient, but the jiva has only limited knowledge. Still, both are eternal beings, are aware of the spiritual reality, and have a variety of spiritual qualitites. Both are alive, have personality, and are aware of their own identity.
At this point someone may object: "In one place you have said that the Supreme Godhead is omniscient, and in another place you have said that He is knowledge itself. This is a contradiction, for the knower and the object of knowledge must be different. They cannot be the same.
To this objection I reply: Just as a lamp is not different from the light it emanates and it's light is both the object of knowledge and the method of attaining it, in the same way the Supreme Personality of Godhead is simultaneously the supreme knower and the supreme object of knowledge. There is no contradiction.
Ishvara is supremely independent. He is the master of all potencies. He enters the universe and controls it. He awards both material enjoyment and and ultimate liberation to to the individual spirit souls (jivas)residing in material bodies. Although He is one, He manifests in many forms. They who understand the transcendental science maintain that He is not different from His own transcendental form and qualities. Although He cannot be perceived by the material senses, He can be perceived by bhakti (devotional service). He is changeless. He reveals His own spiritual, blissful form to His devotees.
The many jivas are situated in different conditions of existence. Some are averse to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and turn their faces from Him. Such jivas are bound by material illusion. Other jivas are friendly to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and turn their faces to Him. These jivas become free from the two-fold bondage of material illusion, which hides the Supreme Lord's form and qualities, and in this way they become able to see the Suprerme Personality of Godhead face-to-face.
Prakriti (material nature) consists of the three modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Prakriti is known by many names, such as tamah and maya. When the Supreme Personality of Godhead glances at Prakriti, she becomes able to perform her various duties. Prakriti is the mother of many variegated material universes.
Kala (time) is the origin of past, present, future, simultaneity, slowness, quickness, and many other similar states. Kala is divided into many different units from the extremely brief kshana to the extermely long parardha. Turning like a wheel, time is the cause of repeated creation and annihilation of the universes. Time is unconscious. It is not a person.
These four tattvas (ishvara, jiva, prakriti, and kala) are eternal. This is confirmed by the following scriptural quotations:
nityo nityanam cetanash cetananam
"Of all the eternals one (the Supreme Personality of Godhead) is the supreme eternal. Of all conscious entities one (the Supreme Personality of Godhead) is the supreme consicous entity."
——Shvetashvatara Upanishad 6.13
gaur anady anantavati
"Prakriti is like a cow who was never born and never dies."
—Culika Upanishad mantra 5
sad eva saumyedam agra asit
"My dear saintly student, please understand that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is eternal. He is existed before the manifestation of this universe."
—Chandogya Upanishad 6.2.1
The jivas, prakriti, and kala are subordinate to ishvara, and subject to His control. This is confirmed by the following statement of Shvetashvatara Upanishad (6.16):
sa vishva-krid vishva-vid atma-yonir
jnah kala-karo guni sarva-vid yah
"The Supreme Personality of Godhead (ishvara) is the creator of the material universes. He is the creator of everything that exists within the universes. He is the father of all living entities. He is the creator of time. He is full of all transcendental virtues. He is omniscient. He is the master of pradhana (the unmanifested material nature). He is the master of the gunas (three modes of material nature). He is the master of the individual spirit souls residing material bodies (kshetrajna). He imprisons the condiditoned souls in the material world, and He also becomes their liberator from bondage."
Karma (the result of fruitive action) is not a conscious, living person. It is an inert material force. Although no one can trace out its beginning, it has a definite end at some point in time. It is known by the name adrishta (the unseen hand of fate) and many other names also.
These four (jiva, prakriti, kala, and karma) are all potencies of ishvara, the supreme master of all potencies. Because everything that exists is the potency of the Supreme, the Vedic literatures declare: "Only Brahman exists, and nothing is separate from Him." This fact is nicely explained in the four chapters of this book, the Vedanta-sutra.
In the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, which is the perfect commentary on Vedanta-sutra, the Supreme ishvara and His potencies are described in the following words:
samyak pranihite 'male
apashyat purusham purnam
mayam ca tad-apashrayam
"Thus he fixed his mind, perfectly engaging it by linking it in devotional service [bhakti-yoga] without any tinge of materialism, and thus he saw the Absolute Personality of Godhead along with His external energy, which was under full control.*
yaya sammohito jiva
paro 'pi manute 'nartham
"Due to this external energy, the living entitiy, although transcendental to the three modes of material nature, thinks of himself as a material product and thus undergoes the reactions of material miseries.*
"The material miseries of the living entity, which are superfluous to him, can be directly mitigated by the linking process of devotional service. But the mass of people do not know this, and therefore the learned Vyasadeva compiled this Vedic literature, which is in relation to the Supreme Truth."*
dravyam karma ca kalash ca
svabhavo jiva eva ca
na santi yad-upekshaya
"One should definitely know that all material ingredients, activities, time and modes, and the living entities who are meant to enjoy them all, exist by His mercy only, and as soon as He does not care for them, everything becomes nonexistent."*
That Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the commentary on Vedanta-sutra is confirmed by the following statement of Garuda Purana—
artho 'yam brahma-sutranam
"Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the commentary on Vedanta-sutra."*
In this Vedanta-sutra the first chapter explains that Brahman is the real subject matter discussed in all Vedic literatures. The second chapter explains that all Vedic literatures present the same conclusion. They do not actually contradict each other. The third chapter describes how to attain Brahman. The fourth chapter explains the result of attaining Brahman.
A person whose heart is pure, pious, and free from material desires, who is eager is associate with saintly devotees, who has faith in the Lord and the scriptures, and who is peaceful and decorated with saintly qualitities, is qualified to study the scriptures and strive after Brahman.
The relationship between Brahman and the scriptures is that the scriptures describe Brahman and Brahman is the object described in the scriptures. The Vedanta-sutra and other Vedic scriptures describe Brahman as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose form is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss, who is the master of unlimited inconceivable potencies, and who possesses unlimited pure, transcendental attributes. The result of properly understanding the Vedanta-sutra and other Vedic scriptures is that the spiritual aspirant becomes free from all material imperfections, and able to see the Supreme Brahman, Personality of Godhead, face to face.
The Vedanta-sutra is written in adhikaranas, Vedic syllogisms, which consist of five parts: 1. vishaya (thesis, or statement); 2. samshaya (the arisal of doubt in the tenability of the statement); 3. purvapaksha (presentation of a view opposing the original statement) 4. siddhanta (determination of the actual truth, the final conclusion, by quotation from Vedic scriptures), and sangati (confirmation of the final conclusion by quotation from Vedic scriptures).