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The texts of Vedanta

The literature on Vedanta has developed over several centuries and, if compiled, would represent thousands and thousands of pages with commentaries on the main texts and also commentaries of commentaries. The Vedas, source book of Vedanta, and other important books such as Bhagavad Gita are in Sanskrit. However, different translations and independent commentaries are now available in many Indian regional languages like Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, etc. and also in English.

We would like to introduce the main three texts of Vedanta that a contemporary student of Vedanta is expected to go through.

The Upanishads 10 :
Upanishads are the main source of Vedanta literature. They constitute the "Knowledge Section" (or jnana kanda) of the Vedas. The word Vedanta means, 'that which is located at the end of the Vedas'. Since Upanishads are mostly found at the end portion of each of the four Vedas, they are referred to as Vedanta texts. The subject matter of the Upanishads is to reveal the true nature of the individual, the world and the cause of the world. The Upanishads have an evolved method to teach the vision of non-duality, that one thing, which is the ultimate reality of oneself and the world. The Upanishads are therefore the source books of Vedanta and also embedded in them is the method of teaching this vision.

The other section of the Vedas, the section on rites (or karma kanda), is also a means of knowledge but whose subject matter is universal ethical order, dharma. It reveals means and ends like prayers and rituals, to reach heavenly worlds or to accomplish desirable ends in this life itself. It also reveals the existence of the law of karma that gives an individual several lives and situations that he or she has to go through until one has knowledge of reality.

The Vedas are the most ancient body of knowledge or sacred scriptures we have in humanity. Vedas have not been authored by any individual and their origin, according to the tradition, is traced back to Isvara, the cause of the world, that is the source of all knowledge. Hence, the Vedas are considered to be revealed to the ancient sages, the seers or rishis.

The Upanishads are in the form of dialogues which is the most appropriate method to unfold the subject matter. Indeed a dialogue allows for the questions and doubts of the student to be expressed, as the teacher gradually develops and reveals the teaching. Interestingly, the dialogue can be between a father and his son, like in Chandogya Upanishad, or husband and wife like in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad or between a teacher and a group of students in Prasna Upanishad.

The ten main Upanishads are Isha, Kena, Mundaka, Taittriya, Mandukya, Prasna, Katha, Chandogya,
Aitareya and Brhadaranyaka.
These Upanishads are qualified as main only because Sankara wrote a commentary on them. Sankara occupies a central position in the tradition of Vedanta because he left us on palm leaves a monumental work among which are his commentaries on these Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.

The Bhagavad Gita :
The Bhagavad Gita does not belong strictly speaking to the category of the texts revealed (Sruti or 'what is heard' or the Vedas) and is part of the Smrti ('what is remembered' and authored by human beings) like the Puranas, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The Bhagavad Gita is the central portion of a well-known epic, the Mahabharata. For the Vedanta tradition, it enjoys the same status as an Upanishad 11 since it deals with the same subject matter. In addition to unfolding the reality, the Gita emphasizes on the maturity of the student. It highlights the human predicament and analyzes in length the role of values and ethics, action, meditation, devotion as means to gain the maturity necessary to understand the vision of Vedanta. In that sense, it is particularly valuable to the modern student of Vedanta.

The Brahma Sutras 12 :
The Brahma Sutras authored by Vyasa in form of aphorisms or sutras, is an analytical text studied after the study of the Upanishads. Sankara has written an extensive commentary on Brahma Sutras, with an introduction called "Adhyasa Bhasyam" that is considered to be a literary masterpiece. Brahma Sutras not only analytically expose the vision of all the Upanishads but also defend its position by refuting the views of the prominent schools of philosophy existing at those times namely Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisesika, and some schools of Buddhism.

The other texts studied in the tradition of Vedanta are the following:
Texts authored by Sankara or attributed to him (Upadesasahasri, Vivekacudamani, Atma Bodha, Tattva Bodha, Daksinamurtistotra, Aparoksanubhuti,Satasloki, Vakyavrtti, Sarvavedantasiddhantasarasamgraha, Drk Drsya Viveka)
Texts written by the direct disciples of Sankara, like Suresvara (Naiskarmya Siddhi, two commentaries on Sankara's commentaries on Taittriya and Brhadaranyaka Upanishad), Padmapada (Pancapadika), Totaka (Srutisarasamuddharana)
Texts from other Vedanta teachers like Gaudapada, the teacher of Govinda, who in turn was the teacher of Sankara , are also considered to be integral part of study of Vedanta. Gaudapada wrote a famous commentary on Mandukya Upanishad in the form of verses called "Mandukya Upanishad Karika", which Sankara himself further commented upon. The book "Pancadasi" authored by Vidyaranya is another example of a widely studied text on Vedanta. 


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