Brahma Sutras (also known as Vedanta Sutras) have very profound significance in Vedanta Darshan. They systematize and summarize the spiritual and philosophical teaching of Upanishads. It is considered as Nyaya (Yukti or logic) Prasthana in Prasthanatrayi of Vedanta.

Badarayana (Vedavyasa) has discussed and refuted other doctrines which are in possible objection with Vedanta school like Pradhanakaranavada (Samkhya), Paramanukaravada (Vaisheshiki), probably Yoga, Pancharatra, Buddhism, Jainism etc.

So, I want to ask: What are all doctrines or philosophies discussed (and either supported or refuted) in Brahma Sutras?

  • I think your question is too broad. – Swami Vishwananda Feb 3 '17 at 5:18
  • @SwamiVishwananda Though I expect only the list and may be one line information for each; all the doctrines discussed in BS. – Pandya Feb 3 '17 at 7:57

Here are the main philosophical schools discussed by Vyasa in the Brahma Sutras (which you can read here:

  1. Vedanta: The Brahma Sutras are the defining text of Vedanta school, so in some sense all the Sutras are giving the views of the Vedanta school.
  2. Samkhya: Kapila's Samkhya school seems to have been the most popular school of Hindu philosophy at the time, so Vyasa refutes it in many places in the Brahma Sutras. For instance, here's what Adhyaya 1 Pada 1 says:

    Topic-5: The first Cause Possessed of Consciousness

    1. The Pradhana of the Samkhyas is not the cause of the universe, because it is not mentioned in the Upanishads, which fact is clear from the fact of seeing (or thinking).

    2. If it be argued that the seeing is in a secondary sense, we say, not so, owing to the use of the word Self.

    3. (Pradhana is not the meaning of the word “Self”), because liberation is promised for one who holds on to That.

    4. (Pradhana has not been spoken of even indirectly), because there is no subsequent mention of its rejection, and (because that militates against the assertion at the beginning).

    5. Because of the merger of the individual into his own Self.

    6. Because the knowledge (gathered from the various Upanishads) is the same (as regards Consciousness being the cause).

    7. And because (Brahman is) revealed (as such) in the Upanishads.

    And here is what Adhyaya 1 Pada 2 says:

    Topic-5: The Internal Ruler

    1. The internal Ruler in the divine and other contexts (is the supreme Self), since the characteristics of that (supreme Self) are spoken of.

    2. Neither Pradhana, known from the (Samkhya) Smriti, is the internal Ruler, for qualities that do not belong to Pradhana are spoken of.

    3. The embodied soul also (is not the internal Ruler); for the followers of both the recensions read of this one as different

    Topic-6: The One That is Unseen etc.

    1. The entity, possessed of the qualities of not being seen etc., is Brahman, for Its characteristics are spoken of.

    2. And the other two (viz., the individual soul and Pradhana) are not meant, for there is the mention of the distinctive characteristics (of Brahman) and (Its) difference (from the two).

    3. And because there is a presentation of form

    And here is what Adhyaya 1 Pada 4 says:

    Topic-1: The Inferred Entity

    1. If it be said that even the inferred entity (Pradhana) is revealed to the followers of some recension, we say, not so, for the word is cognized as occurring in a simile illustrating the body. And the Upanishad also shows this.

    2. Rather the subtle (causal state) is meant (by avyakta), for it deserves that epithet.

    3. (Avyakta is not Pradhana) because it is dependent on that (God); (but this avyakta has to be admitted as) it serves some purpose.

    4. And because (avyakta is) not mentioned as an entity to be known.

    5. If it be argued that the Upanishad does mention Pradhana (by the word avyakta), we say: No, for the conscious Self is understood from the context.

    6. And thus there is the presentation of three things alone and the question also is concerned with them.

    7. And like Mahat (avyakta does not signify any Samkhya category).

    Topic-2: The Bowl

    1. (The word aja does not refer to Pradhana), because special characteristics have not been stated as in the case of the bowl.

    2. The aja certainly consists of the elements counting from fire, for some read of them as such.

    3. And since this is an instruction in the form of an imagery, just as in the case of honey etc., therefore there is no incongruity.

    Topic-3: Statement of Number

    1. Not even on the strength of the mention of number can Pradhana have Vedic sanction, because the entities are disparate and they involve an excess.

    2. The vital force and the rest (are the panchajanah), (as is known) from the complementary passage.

    3. For the followers of some recension, the number five has to be made up with light in the absence of food.

    And here is what Adhyaya 2 Pada 1 says:

    Topic-1: Conflict with Smriti

    1. If it be argued (that from the acceptance of Brahman as the cause of the universe) arises the defect of the (Samkhya) Smritis being left without any scope, then not so, for otherwise will arise the defect of other Smritis losing their scope.

    2. And (Pradhana is not the cause) since the others are not met with (in the Vedas and common experience)...

    Topic-3: Difference in Nature

    1. Brahman is not the cause of the universe owing to the dissimilarity in the nature of this universe; and the fact of being so is known from the Vedas.

    2. But this is only a reference to the presiding deities, because of the mention of distinction (between the sentient deities and the insentient organs and elements) and the inherence (of these deities in them).

    3. But it is seen.

    4. If it be said that the effect (in that case) is non-existent (before creation), then not so; for it is merely a negation (without any object to deny).

    5. Since in dissolution there is the predicament of the cause becoming just like that effect, therefore this (theory that Brahman is the material cause) becomes incongruous.

    6. But that cannot be so on account of the existence of supporting illustration.

    7. And because the defects cling to your own point of view.

    8. If it be argued that although reasoning is inconclusive, still it has to be done in a different way, (so as to avoid this defect), then even so there will be no getting away from the defect....

    Topic-9: Wholesale Transformation

    1. (If Brahman changes into the world, then) there will arise the contingency of either wholesale transformation or the violation of the texts about partlessness.

    2. But (this has to be accepted) on the authority of the Upanishad, for Brahman is known from the Upanishads alone.

    3. Because it occurs thus in the case of the individual soul as well and creation of diverse kinds occur in the cases of gods and others.

    4. And because the opponent’s own point of view is equally vitiated.

    And here is what Adhyaya 2 Pada 2 says:

    Topic-1: Samkhya View Refuted (Impossibility of Design)

    1. The inferred one (Pradhana) is not (the cause) owing to the impossibility of explaining the design, as also for other reasons.

    2. And the inferred (Pradhana) cannot be the cause, since the tendency to create (cannot logically arise in it).

    3. If it be claimed (that Pradhana acts spontaneously) like milk and water, then even there (intelligence is the guide).

    4. And (Pradhana is not the cause) since (nothing extraneous to it exists, so that) it has nothing to rely on (for impulsion to or stoppage from action).

    5. And Pradhana cannot change (automatically) like grass etc., (into milk in a cow) for such a change does not occur elsewhere (e.g. in a bull).

    6. Even if (spontaneous modification of Pradhana be) accepted, still (Pradhana will not be the cause) because of the absence of any purpose.

    7. If it be argued that like a (lame) man (riding on a blind man) or a lodestone (moving iron), (the soul can stimulate Pradhana), even then (the defect will persist).

    8. Besides, Pradhana cannot act on account of the impossibility of (the existence of) any relationship of the principal and its subordinates (among the gunas constituting Pradhana).

    9. And even if the inference be pursued otherwise (still the defect will persist) owing to the absence of the power of intelligence (in Pradhana).

    10. And (the Samkhya doctrine is) incoherent because of the contradictions involved.

  3. Yoga: Patanjali's Yoga school is refuted by a single Sutra in Adhyaya 2 Pada 1:

    Topic-2: Refutation of Yoga

    1. Hereby is refuted Yoga.

    What that means is that the arguments used in Adhyaya 2 Pada 1 Sutras 1-2, which were used to refute the Samkhya school, apply equally well to the Yoga school.

  4. Vaisheshika: Kanada's Vaisheshika school is refuted in Adhyaya 2 Pada 2:

    Topic-2: Vaisesika Objection Refuted

    1. Rather (the universe may originate from Brahman) even as the great and long (triads etc.,) originate from the short (dyad) or the inextensive (atom).

    Topic-3: Atoms Not the Cause of Universe

    1. (Whether adrista leads the atoms or conjunction helps them), in either case no action is possible and hence there can be no creation or dissolution.
    2. And (there can be no creation or dissolution) by reason of assuming inherence, for this leads to an infinite regress on a parity of reasoning.

    3. (The atomic theory is inadmissible) for the further reason of (activity etc.,) persisting eternally.

    4. And on account of the possession of colour etc., there will be a reversal (of the nature of the atoms), for this accords with experience.

    5. And (the atomic theory is untenable) because it is defective from either point of view.

    6. This (theory of atom as the cause) is to be entirely ignored, since it is not accepted (by the worthy).

  5. Buddhism: Various Buddhist philosophical ideas is refuted in Adhyaya 2 Pada 2:

    Topic-4: Refutation of Buddhist Realists

    1. Even if the integration be supposed to arise from either of the causes, that will not be achieved.

    2. If it be argued that a combination becomes possible since (nescience and the rest) can be the causes of one another (in a successive series), then we say, no, (for nescience etc.,) can each merely be the cause of origin of another just succeeding.

    3. And because the earlier is negated when the later emerges, (therefore nescience and the rest cannot each be the cause of the next in the series).

    4. (If it be contended that the effect arises) even when there is no cause, then your assertion (of causation) will be stultified; else (if you contend that the entity of the earlier moment continues till the entity of the later moment emerges), the cause and effect will exist simultaneously.

    5. Neither pratisamkhya-nirodha (artificial annihilation) nor an apratisamkhya-nirodha (natural annihilation) is possible, for there can be no cessation (either of the current or of the individuals forming the current).

    6. And (the Buddhist view is untenable) owing to defect arising from either point of view.

    7. And (non-existence cannot be asserted) in the case of Akasa on account of the absence of (its) dissimilarity (with destruction).

    8. And (a permanent soul has to be admitted) because of the fact of remembrance (ie., memory).

    9. Something does not come out of nothing, for this does not accord with experience.

    10. And (if something can come out of nothing, then) on the same ground, success should come even to the indifferent people.

    Topic-5: Buddhist Idealism Refuted

    1. (External objects are) not non-existent, for they are perceived.

    2. And because of the difference of nature (the waking state is) not (false) like dream etc.

    3. (Tendencies) can have no existence since (according to you) external things are not perceived.

    4. And (the ego-consciousness cannot be the abode), for it is momentary.

    5. Besides (this view stands condemned), it being untenable from every point of view.

    It's never mentioned by name though. (The Adhikarana headings are added by the translator for convenience.) But the ideas which later came to be known as Buddhism are what are refuted above.

  6. Jainism: Jain philosophy is refuted in Adhyaya 2 Pada 2:

    Topic-6: Jaina View Refuted

    1. (The Jaina view is) not right since the presence (of contradictory attributes) in one and the same thing is impossible.

    2. Similarly also (arises the defect of) the soul having no all-pervasiveness (or having only a medium dimension).

    3. And the contradiction cannot be avoided even by an assumption of sequence (in the increase and decrease of parts), for still there will be the defects of mutability etc.

    4. The ultimate size attainable (by the soul) being permanent, the other two sizes also must be so; and hence there will be no distinction (among the sizes).

  7. Pashupata: Pashupata Shaivism and the Shaiva Agamas are refuted in Adhyaya 2 Pada 2:

    Topic-7: God Is Not a Mere Superintendent

    1. For the Lord there can be no creatorship, for that leads to incongruity.

    2. And (the incongruity arises) because of the impossibility of a relationship.

    3. And (the position is untenable) because of the impossibility of (Nature) coming under (His) direction. (Or) And (God cannot be proved), since no physical support (adhisthana) is possible for Him.

    4. Should it be argued that God will direct Nature like (a man directing) the organs, then it cannot be so, for that will result in God’s having experiences (of happiness, sorrow etc.). (Or) If a body, equipped with sense-organs, be assumed for God, (we say that) this is not possible; because of (consequent) experiences etc.

    5. God will be subject to finitude or loss of omniscience.

    Most philosophical Shaivites reject the Vedanta school, so not many Shaivites philosophers have had to seriously contend with Vyasa's critique of the Shaiva Agamas. But the Shaiva Siddhanta philosophers Srikantha Sivacharya and Appaya Dikshitar interpret these Sutras to mean that Vyasa accepts some Shaivites and Shaiva Agamas and rejects others.

  8. Pancharatra: The philosophy of the Pancharatra Agamas are discussed in Adhyaya 2 Pada 2:

    Topic-8: Bhagavata View Refuted

    1. (The Bhagavata view that Samkarsana and others originate successively from Vasudeva and others is wrong), since any origin (for the soul) is impossible.
    2. And (this view is wrong because) an implement cannot originate from its agent (who wields it).

    3. Alternatively even if (it be assumed that Vasudeva and others are) possessed of knowledge, (majesty etc.,), still the defect cannot be remedied.

    4. Besides, (in this scripture) many contradictions are met with and it runs counter to the Vedas.

    This translation is written from the viewpoint of the Advaita philosopher Adi Shankaracharya, but Ramanujacharya and others interpret these Sutras as either supporting the Pancharatra Agamas or refuting the Shakta Agamas.

  9. Charvaka: Adi Shankaracharya believes that Vyasa refutes Brihaspati's Charvaka school in Adhyaya 3 Pada 3:

    Topic-30: The Self Distinct from Body

    1. Some deny the existence of the soul, its existence being dependent on the existence of the body.

    2. But this is not so; there is a distinction (between the soul and the body) because consciousness may not exist even when the body exists, as it is in the case of perception.

    But other commentators on the Brahma Sutras think that these Sutras have nothing to do with either the Charvaka school or the existence of the soul.

  10. Purva Mimamsa: Vyasa's shishya Jaimini, the founder of the Purva Mimamsa school, is quoted by Vyasa numerous times throughout the Brahma Sutras, in Jaimini's capacity as a Vedantic philosopher. And also, the Vedanta school is built on a Purva Mimamsa foundation; there was originally a unified Mimamsa Shastra consisting of Jaimini's Purva Mimamsa Sutras, Kasakritsna's now-lost Devata Kanda Sutras, and Vyasa's Brahma Sutras. In fact, the primary purpose of the Brahma Sutras is to apply methods of Mimamsa to the Upanishads. So naturally the Brahma Sutras invoke Mimamsa ideas quite a bit. But there are several Sutras which pertain to disagreements between the Vedanta school and the Purva Mimamsa school. For instance, here is what Adhyaya 1 Pada 1 says:

    Topic-3: Scripture as Source of Knowledge of Brahman

    1. (Brahman is omniscient) because of (Its) being the source of the scriptures. (Or) (Brahman is not known from any other source), since the scriptures are the valid means of Its knowledge.

    Topic-4: Upanishads Reveal Brahman

    1. But that Brahman (is known from the Upanishads), (It) being the object of their fullest import.

    And here is what Adhyaya 1 Pada 3 says:

    Topic-8: Gods

    1. Badarayana thinks that beings higher than those (men) (are also qualified for knowledge), for that is possible.

    2. If it be objected that this (corporeality of the gods) wilt give rise to a contradiction (in the matter of the gods being associated) in rites, then we reply: Not so, for in the Vedas are noticed the assumption of many bodies.

    3. If it be objected that this contradicts the validity of Vedic words, then not so, for the universe arises from this, which fact is proved by direct revelation and inference.

    4. And from this very fact follows the eternality (of the Vedas).

    5. And there is no contradiction, since similar names and forms are repeated even in the revolution of the world cycles, as is known from the Vedas and the Smriti.

    6. Jaimini asserts (that the gods and others have) no competence (for knowledge of Brahman), owing to the impossibility of their competence for Madhu-vidya etc.

    7. Because of the occurrence of the words in respect of a sphere of flight.

    8. But Badarayana upholds the existence of competence (for the gods); for (the requisite for competence) exists (in them).

    And here's what Adhyaya 3 Pada 2 says:

    Topic-8: Fruits of Action

    1. The fruit of action is from Him, this being the logical position.

    2. (God is the ordainer of results) for the further reason that the Upanishads say so.

    3. For these very reasons Jaimini considers virtuous deeds to be the yielder of results.

    4. But Badarayana considers the earlier One (viz., God) (as the bestower of results), because He is mentioned as the cause of even action.

    And here's what Adhyaya 3 Pada 4 says:

    Topic-1: Knowledge not a Subsidiary of Rites

    1. Badarayana thinks that liberation results from this (knowledge of the Self), (as presented in the Upanishads), because the Vedic texts declare so.

    2. Jaimini thinks that since the Self holds a subservient position in rites etc., the mention of the result of knowledge is (merely) in glorification of the agent, as is the case elsewhere.

    3. (This is confirmed) on the strength of what is revealed about the behaviour (of the knowers of Brahman).

    4. (This is so) because the Upanishad declares this.

    5. (This is so), because both knowledge and work follow the Self (when it transmigrates).

    6. (And this is so) because rites are enjoined for one who is possessed of that (knowledge of the Vedas).

    7. And (this follows) from the restrictive texts.

    8. But Badarayana’s view stands unshaken because of the instruction that the supreme Self is even greater (than the agent); for so it is revealed (by the Upanishads).

    9. But the Upanishadic declaration (of conduct) is equally in evidence (proving that knowledge is not subservient to religious acts).

    10. The declaration is not universal.

    11. Knowledge and action are to be divided like a hundred things.

    12. (Engagements in religious actions is prescribed) for him only who has merely recited the Vedas.

    13. (The restrictive texts) do not apply (to the man of knowledge), since the restrictions is made without any specification.

    14. Or rather the consent (accorded) for doing religious acts is meant for the glorification of knowledge.

    15. Moreover, some refrain from (religious) work according to personal predilection.

    16. Moreover, (from knowledge comes) the destruction (of the whole world).

    17. And knowledge belongs to the monks, for they are met with in the Vedas.

    Topic-3: Injunctions for Meditation Not Eulogistic

    1. If it be contended that texts (about Udgitha etc.) are merely eulogistic, because of having been accepted as subservient to ritual acts, then not so, because of the extra-ordinariness (of the texts).

    2. Moreover, (there must be injunctions) on account of the occurrence of words having an injunctional meaning.

    Topic-4: Upanishadic Stories

    1. If it be argued that they (the Upanishadic stories) are meant for the (ritualistic application called) Pariplava, (we say) that this not so, on account of the stories for the Pariplava having been specified.

    2. And because (the stories) become connected (with meditations) through unity of idea in that way, (therefore they are meant for illuminating the proximate knowledge).


  • Amazing Answer Keshav! Just a small addition to the question - does this mean that Brahma Sutra can potentially disagree with (& possibly refute) some (or many) principles of advaitic texts like Avadhuta Gita, Astavakra Gita, Yoga Vashishta etc.?? – Vishwanath N Jan 23 '18 at 13:59

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