Hindu Philosophy-3: Sutras and Bhasyas

Sutras, in Hindu Philosophy, refer to the orginal text/treatise of the philosophy. Typically Sutras are very succinct, and in verse form. Sutras literally means a rope or thread, and more metaphorically refers to an aphorism/collection of such aphorisms in the form of a manual. Btw, according to Wikipedia, the word “Suture” derives from Sutra!!! More here

Sutras are not easily understood and often, are open to interpretation. As such, they require systematic study, elaboration and interpretation.

Such elaboration/interpretation is the purpose of a “bhasya”. A Bhasya is a commentary on the original sutras and help one understand the original Sutras. The same sutra may have many bhasyas authored by different scholars at different points in time. However, as is to be expected, some bhasyas are considered more authentic/important than the rest. Often, bhasyas on the same Sutra differ in their interpretation of the Sutras. So, even within the same school of philosophy, one can find differences.

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For instance, the Nyaya School of Philosophy derives from the “Nyayasutras” authored by the Sage Gautama (not to be confused with Gautama, the Buddha) sometime between 300 BC-550 BC. This book is in 5 chapters, with a total of 528 sutras

The Nyayasutra has commentaries by Vatsyayana (400 AD), Udayana (984 AD), Gangesa (1200 AD). Sometimes commentaries are themselves so significant, that they lead to a new school/sub-school of philosophy, with its own subscribers. The “Tattvacintamani”, which was Gangesa’s commentary on the Nyayasutra, led to a modern school of Nyaya philosophy, now known as Navya-Nyaya.

More popularly, the original treatise of the Vedanta School of Indian philosophy is the “Brahma Sutra” or the “Vedanta Sutra”, a treatise by Badarayana. However, there are numerous Vedanta Schools such as the Advaita Vedanta (primarily based on the commentaries of Shankaracharya), the Dvaita Vedanta (primarily based on the commentaries of Madhvacharya) and the Vishistadvaita(primarily based on the commentaries of Ramanuja).

These Vedanta schools agree on some points, and differ on others. At the same time, they all claim to be faithful to the Vedanta Sutras. This is not to indicate the fallacy of such a claim, it is to indicate how open to interpretation some Sutras/sections of some Sutras can be.

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Posted on September 10, 2005, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Nice write up — I often want to start on learning Sanskrit, and reading things as they were – read the Sutras, and Upanishads, and form my own understanding, as opposed to an understanding of an interpretation.

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