Prasthānatraya of Vedānta

The Upaniads, the Bhagavadgītā, and the Brahmasūtra are known as the prasthānatraya – the triple foundation/cannon of Vedānta. Prasthāna means ‘foundation’ and thus, these three constitute the three foundations of – Śruti – revelation, Smti – remembrance, and Nyāya – reason. They are respectively known as, the Upaniṣads or Śruti-prasthāna, the Bhagavadgītā or Smti-prasthāna, and the Brahmasūtra or Nyāya-prasthāna.

Vedas are referred to as Śruti, and since the Upaniṣads form part of the Vedas, their name as Śrutiprasthāna is justified. The Bhagavadgītā stands next to the Upaniṣads with reference to authoritativeness, and is considered almost an equal. Bhagavadgītā or ‘Song of the Lord’ – contains the message of Lord Kṛṣṇa to the humanity. It forms part of the epic, the Mahābhārata, which is a Smti or remembered text. Thus, Bhagavadgītā is known as the Smtiprasthāna. The Brahmasūtra represents the standpoint of reason because; it sets forth the Vedāntic teachings in a logical order. It is also calledUttara-Mīmāsā-Sūtra since it is an enquiry into the final sections of the Vedas; Vedānta-Sūtra since it is the aphoristic text of Vedānta; Śārīraka-Sūtra since it is concerned with the nature and destiny of the embodied jīva; and Bhiku-Sūtra since those who are most competent to study this are the Sannyāsīs, or renunciates who are bhikus.

Thus, we see that the basic sourcebook of Vedānta, and its basic doctrine is based upon Śruti, and supported by Smti and reasoning (Nyāya). In light of this, the central teaching of all three sourcebooks will be posited to be one and the same, i.e. Brahman. 

Difference between Veda & Vedānta:

Vedānta is a body of teaching found at the end of the Veda. The Vedas, four in number gveda,Yajurveda (again divided into Kṛṣṇa-Yajurveda and Śukla-Yajurveda), Sāmaveda, and Atharvaveda,and each divided into two sections “conventionally”.  The first section deals with i) dharma – religious ethics that includes karma – religious actions, ii) artha – other special actions to achieve security, and iii) kāma – pleasures. This section, called the karmakāda is very bulky, understandably so, since it deals with human desires and actions required fulfilling those desires.

The last section of the Vedas is called jñānakāda, the knowledge section. It is very much shorter because the subject matter is a single desire for iv) moka – freedom from the sense of limitation. The fulfillment of that desire is not through actions, which are many, but through knowledge, which is singular with regard to the particular thing to be known.

Subject Matter of Vedānta:

Therefore, although it may appear strange, but the subject matter of the Vedānta is completely different from the subject matter of the Vedas. While the first three puruārthas namely – dharmaartha andkāma are the subject matter of the VedasVedānta that is the Upaniṣads deals only with the ultimatepuruārtha, i.e. moka. This will be clear if we use anubandha-catuṣṭaya method.


The four essential factors of any treatise are grouped as anubandha-catuṣṭaya. They are viaya, prayojanam, adhikārī and sambandha.

i) Viaya:  the subject matter. In Vedānta, the subject matter is moka – freedom, whereas in the Vedas, the subject matter is all the other three pursuits – dharma, artha, and kāma.

ii) Prayojanam: the purpose. The karmakāda portion of the Vedas describes varieties of rituals and sacrifices, as the means to fulfill various desires entertained by an equally large number of people. In contrast, the jñānakāda that contains the Upaniṣads, the knowledge of identity between the jīva and Brahman is the main[1] topic. The pursuit here is moka – freedom from the sense of limitation.

iii) Adhikārī : the eligible person. A student of Vedānta is vastly different from a student of the Vedas. Swami Sadānanda (15th century) defines the adhikārī as one who has completed studying the Vedas and has performed immense charity – asmin janmani janmāntare vā and is sādhana-catuṣṭaya-sampanna. In fact, now he/she wants to know the vastu, and the relationship between him/her and the Lord if he is there, and the overwhelming world around him/her – jīva, jagat and Iśvara.

iv) Sambandha:

i)  between Śāstra & Subject Matter = Pratipādaka-Pratipādya. The Upaniṣads or the Vedāntic texts play the part of the revealer (pratipādaka) while the subject matter is the revealed (pratipādya). Thus, the relation between the text and the purpose however is the same in case of the Vedas and Vedānta.

ii)  between Subject matter & Knowledge = Sādhana-Sādhya or Pramāa-Prameya.

iii) between Jñānam & mokSādhana-Sādhya (but no time gap involved. Jñānam is moka.)

The Philosophy of Vedānta:

vedānto nāma upaniat pramāam. The study of Upaniṣads is not a mere intellectual exercise. Just as the eyes are the only means to know the form and colour, a pramāam, Upaniṣad is the only means, to know the Truth of myself, to get out of this constant buffeting of sorrow and pain, and the incessant cycle of birth and death, which is the common lot of the mortal. ‘tarati śokam ātmavit’  is the promise ofŚruti.

It is with this spirit of a quest that the study of the Upaniṣads is approached. The very purpose of human life is vitiated if it ends without this knowledge.

Kenopaniad says:

iha ced avedīt atha satyam asti |

na ced iha avedīt, mahati vinaṣṭi | Ke.Up.-II.5

Meaning – ‘If one has known here (in this human incarnation), then there is truth (this life is fructified); if one has not known, the indeed huge is the loss.

Bhadārayaka says almost the same thing in Yājñavalkya-Gārgī-saṃvāda:

y o va etad akara  gārgi aviditvā asmāt lokāt praiti, sa kpaa |

atha ya etad akara gārgi viditvā asmāt lokāt praiti, sa brāhmaa | B.Up.-III.8.10

Meaning – “whoever, O Gārgi ! leaves this world without knowing this (Truth) is a miser (because s/he did not use his/her mind/brain to know). But, he/she who leaves this world after knowing this (Truth) is a Knower of Truth.”

Śravaa, manana, nididhyāsana of the Upaniṣad alone, done with śraddhā at the feet of a competent Teacher, is enough to make the adhikārī student grasp the meaning of the mahāvākya upadeśa – tat tvam asi after which there is no question of sorrow. Moka is here and now.


Swāmini Ātmaprajñānanda Saraswati is a Vedāntācāryā and Vyākaraṇācāryā. She teaches Vedānta and Pāṇini in Ārsha Vidyā Vikāś Kendra at Bhubaneswar. She is the author of three published books – Nomenclature of the Vedas , Ṛṣikās of the Ṛgveda and Om: The Sound Symbol.


About MSR

I am a Healthcare products manufacturer & exporter and also a healthcare counselor. The areas of my interest include Spirituality, Philosophy, Science, Engineering, Humanities, History and Sports.

Posted on July 1, 2014, in Religion and Spirituality, Veda and Scientology. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: