The Upanishads do not contain any ready-made consistent system of thought. At first sight they seem to be full of contradictions. Hence arose the necessity of systematizing the thought of the Upanishads. Bâdârayana, to whom the authorship of the Brahma-Sutras or Vedânta-Sutras is ascribed, is not the only one who had tried to systematize the philosophy of the Upanishads. From the Brahma-Sutras itself we find that there were other schools of Vedânta which had their own following. We find the names of Audulomi, Kâsakristna, Bâdari, Jaimini, Kârshnâjini, Âsmarathya and others mentioned. All this shows that Bâdarâyana’s Sutras do not constitute the only systematic work in the Vedânta school, though probably the last and best. All the sects of India now hold this work to be the great authority and every new sect starts with a fresh commentary on it —without which no sect can be founded in this country.
The Author and Date of the Sutras
About Bâdârayana, the author of the Sutras, very little is known to-day. Tradition, however, identifies him with Vyâsa, the author of the Gita and the Mahâbhârata. Sankara, however, in his commentaries refers to Vyâsa as the author of the Mahâbhârata, and the author of the Sutras he refers to as Bâdarâyana. Perhaps to him these two personalities were different. His followers, Vâchaspati, Ânandagiri and others identify Vyâsa and Bâdarâyana, while Râmânuja and other commentators on the Sutras attribute it to Vyâsa.
Deussen infers from the cross references in the works of Jaimini and Bâdarâyana that they may have been combined by a later editor into one work, and provided with the cross references.
This combined work, he says, was commented upon by Upavarsha op whose work the commentaries of Sahara on the Purva Mimâmsâ and Sankara on the Uttara Mimâmsâ rest. Sankara’s commentary on 3.3.53 gives support to this last view and it also explains the popular idea that the two Mimâmsâs form one Sâstra. This combined work might well have been arranged by Vyâsa, the author of the Mahâbhârata. Or it may be that he had written them himself according to the views that were traditionally handed down as Bâdarâyana’s. This latter view easily accounts for the reference to Bâdarâyana by name in the Sutras. That such a thing was not uncommon in ancient India is established by Cole-brook 011 the authority of Indian commentators of Manu and Yâjnavalkya. Max Müller also says that Bâdarâyana and other similar names are simply eponymous heroes of different philosophies.
In support of the view that the two persons are one it can be pointed out that there existed in the time of Panini Sutras known as Bhikshu-Sutras which are identified by Vâchaspati with the Vedânta-Sutras. The subject-matter of the Vedânta-Sutras being Brahman, the knowledge of which is pre-eminently meant for Sannyâsins, it might well be called Bhikshu-Sutras. Pânini in his Sutras ascribes these Bhikshu-Sutras to Pârâsarya, the son of Parâsara, i.e. Veda-Vyâsa, who was also called Bâdarâyana as he had his Âshrama at Badari in the Himalayas. That the Vedânta-Sutras and Purva Mimâmsâ-Sutras must have existed before Pânini can also be inferred from the commentary on both of them by Upavarslia who is said to be the Guru of Pânini in the Kathâ-saïit-sâgar, though we must admit it cannot be conclusively proved that the two Upavarshas are one and the same person.
The identity of the Vedânta-Sutras and the Bhikshu-Sutras would no doubt fix the date of the Sutras very early, before Buddha, and a question may arise how such an early work could have referred to various other schools of philosophy of a much later date and refuted them. In this connection we must not forget that the author of the Sutras does not refer to any founder of the different schools by name. He even does not use the technical terms of the different schools as they are known to us to-day. During that great philosophical ferment which followed at the close of the Upanishadic period various metaphysical views were held which later developed in definite channels. Therefore the fact that Bâdarâyana is acquainted with certain systems of thought which later came to be associated with certain names does not show that Bâdarâyana was later than these persons. These later names were by no means the original founders of these systems of thought, but only gave definite shape to some particular thought that was found in that mass of philosophical speculations which existed in that period. Bâdarâyana could anticipate even the Buddhistic and Jaina schools, for Buddha and Mahâvira also were not the founders of any altogether new schools of philosophy but imbibed much of the thought current in the country at the time. There was no revolutionary departure in their philosophy, but it was their great personality that shaped the history of India for centuries. As regards Jaina thought we know definitely that it existed from even before the tirre of Parswanâth (8th or 9th century B. C.). In fact all these systems must have belonged to the same period of philosophical ferment which preceded the rise of Buddhism. Thus a writer of the Vedânta-Sutras before Buddha may well be acquainted with the different schools of philosophy refuted in the Tarkapâda of that book, though they might not have existed in the form in which we know them to-day or in the form in which they have been refuted by Sankara.
Moreover, that the Vedânta-Sutras were known to exist before Buddha can also be made out from the Gitâ. The date of the Gitâ and the original Mahâbhârata, of which the Gitâ is a part, can be fixed before the time of Buddha. Both of them are pre-Buddhistic, for they contain no reference to Buddha and Buddhism. Quotations from both are found in Bodhayana who belongs to 400 B.C. The language of the Gitâ also seems to belong to a period before Pânini. He is also conversant with the epic characters. So we can well say that the Gitâ and the Mahâbhârata were known before Buddha. Now we find a clear reference to the Brahma-Sutras, in Gitâ 13.4), where the word ‘Brahma-Sutra-padaih’ occurs. This is a definite reference to the Vedanta-Sutras.
The full text runs as follows:
“This has been sung by the Rishis in various ways and in different metres and definitely and logically by the words of the Brahma-Sutras.”
Tilak argues in his Gitâ-Rahasya that the first half refers to teachings which are disconnected and unsystematic and therefore refers to the Upanishads, while the later half to something definite and logical—a difference that is clearly brought out by this stanza and therefore refers to the systematized thought in the Vedânta-Sutras. Max Müller too is of opinion that the Vedânta-Sutras belong to an earlier period than the Gitâ and in the text just quoted he finds a clear reference to the recognized title of the Vedânta or Brahma-Sutras. Indian commentators on the Gitâ like Râmânuja, Madhwa and others identify the Vedânta-Sutras in this passage of the Gitâ.
But if the Vedânta-Sutras be of an earlier date than the Gitâ, how could it contain references to the Gitâ? In Sutras 2. 3. 45 and 4. 2. 21 all the commentators quote the same text of the Gitâ, and there seems to be no doubt that they are right. These cross references show that the author of the Gitâ had a hand in the present recension of the Sutras. This is also made clear by the rejection of the fourfold Vyuha of the Bhâgavatas both by the Gitâ and the Sutras and the great predominance given to the Sânkhya school in both. The Gitâ accepts the Sânkhya view of creation but modifies it to some extent and makes the Pradhâna subservient to the Supreme Brahman which is non-dual. In the Vedânta-Sutras also the author refutes the dualism of the Sânkhyas. Otherwise he has no objection to accepting the Pradhâna or Prakriti as a principle dependant on the Supreme Lord (vide 1. 4. 2-3). Sankara in his Bhâshya on these Sutras makes this quite clear.
From what has been said above we find that there are strong grounds for believing that the Vedânta-Sutras must have existed before Buddha and that if Bâdarâyana and Veda-Vyâsa are not one and the same person as tradition holds, the latter must have had a hand in the present recension of the Sutras, though it is very difficult to say to what extent— whether it was by way of merely revising the original Sutras of Bâdarâyana or writing them down in toto after the teachings of Bâdarâyana.