athato brahma jijnasa
athato brahma jijnasa
athāto brahma jijñāsā
"now is the time to inquire about the absolute truth"
By A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

The Vedanta-sutra (1.1.1) states, athato brahma jijnasa: "Now one should inquire about Brahman - The absolute truth, the transcendental, spiritual nature"

SB. Canto 4, Chapter 25, Text 5, Text26, purport:
The first aphorism in the Vedanta-sutra is athato brahma jijnasa. In the human form of life one should put many questions to himself and to his intelligence. In the various forms of life lower than human life the intelligence does not go beyond the range of life's primary necessities--namely eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Dogs, cats and tigers are always busy trying to find something to eat or a place to sleep, trying to defend and have sexual intercourse successfully. In the human form of life, however, one should be intelligent enough to ask what he is, why he has come into the world, what his duty is, who is the supreme controller, what is the difference between dull matter and the living entity, etc. There are so many questions, and the person who is actually intelligent should simply inquire about the supreme source of everything: athato brahma jijnasa.

A living entity is always connected with a certain amount of intelligence, but in the human form of life the living entity must inquire about his spiritual identity. This is real human intelligence. It is said that one who is simply conscious of the body is no better than an animal, even though he be in the human form. In Bhagavad-gita (15.15) Sri Krsna says, sarvasya caham hrdi sannivisto mattah smrtir jnanam apohanam ca: "I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness."

In the animal form the living entity is completely forgetful of his relationship with God. This is called apohanam, or forgetfulness. In the human form of life, however, consciousness is more greatly developed, and consequently the human being has a chance to understand his relationship with God. In the human form one should utilize his intelligence by asking all these questions, just as Puranjana, the living entity, is asking the unknown girl where she has come from, what her business is, why she is present, etc. These are inquiries about atma-tattva--self-realization. The conclusion is that unless a living entity is inquisitive about self-realization he is nothing but an animal.

What differentiates men from animal is the ability of human intelligence to enquire about the Absolute Truth, which animals can not do.

SB. Canto 3, Chapter 5, Text 12, purport:

The first aphorism of Vedanta-sutra is athato brahma jijnasa, i.e., only when one has finished the business of mundane inquiries in the marketplace of sense gratification can one make relevant inquiries regarding Brahman, the Transcendence. Those persons who are busy with the mundane inquiries which fill the newspapers and other such literatures are classified as stri-sudra-dvija-bandhus, or women, the labourer class and unworthy sons of the higher classes (brahmana, ksatriya and vaisya). Such less intelligent men cannot understand the purpose of Vedanta-sutra, although they may make a show of studying the sutras in a perverted way.

The real purpose of Vedanta-sutra is explained by the author himself in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, and anyone trying to understand Vedanta-sutra without reference to Srimad-Bhagavatam is certainly misguided. Such misguided persons, who are interested in the mundane affairs of philanthropic and altruistic work under the misconception of the body as the self, could better take advantage of the Mahabharata, which was specifically compiled by Srila Vyasadeva for their benefit. The great author has compiled the Mahabharata in such a way that the less intelligent class of men, who are more interested in mundane topics, may read the Mahabharata with great relish and in the course of such mundane happiness can also take advantage of Bhagavad-gita, the preliminary study of Srimad-Bhagavatam or the Vedanta-sutra. Srila Vyasadeva had no interest in writing a history of mundane activities other than to give less intelligent persons a chance for transcendental realization through Bhagavad-gita.

SB. Canto 4, Chapter 2, Text 26, purport:
In the Vedanta-sutra also it is stated, athato brahma jijnasa: this human form of life is meant for realization of the Supreme Brahman, the Absolute Truth, or, in other words, human life is meant for one's elevation to the post of a brahmana. The so-called brahmanas, in this materialistic age of Kali-Yuga, are no longer interested in understanding the nature of the Supreme Brahman, although a brahmana means one who has attained knowledge about Brahman. Unfortunately the modern brahmanas, or so-called brahmanas who come in originally brahminical families, have left their own occupational duties, but they do not allow others to occupy the posts of brahmanas.

The qualifications for brahmanas are described in the scriptures, in Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita and all other Vedic literatures. Brahmana is not a hereditary title or position. If someone from a non-brahmana family (for example, one born in a family of sudras) tries to become a brahmana by being properly qualified under the instruction of a bona fide spiritual master, these so-called brahmanas will object. Such brahmanas, having been cursed by Nandisvara, are actually in a position where they have no discrimination between eatables and noneatables and simply live to maintain the perishable material body and its family. Such fallen conditioned souls are not worthy to be called brahmanas, but in Kali-yuga they claim to be brahmanas, and if a person actually tries to attain the brahminical qualifications, they try to hinder his progress. This is the situation in the present age. Caitanya Mahaprabhu condemned this principle very strongly. During His conversation with Ramananda Raya, He said that regardless of whether a person is born in a brahmana family or sudra family, regardless of whether he is a householder or a sannyasi, if he knows the science of Krsna he must be a spiritual master. Caitanya Mahaprabhu had many so-called sudra disciples like Haridasa Thakura and Ramananda Raya. Even the Gosvamis, who were principal students of Lord Caitanya, were also ostracized from brahmana society, but Caitanya Mahaprabhu, by His grace, made them first-class Vaisnavas.

SB. Canto 4, Chapter 24, Text 60, purport:

"By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them."

This verse of Bhagavad-gita explains that the Lord is spread everywhere by virtue of His Brahman feature. Everything rests in Him, yet He is not there. The conclusion is that without bhakti-yoga, without rendering devotional service to the Lord, even an impersonalist cannot understand the brahma-tattva, the Brahman feature. In the Vedanta-sutra it is stated: athato brahma jijnasa. This means that Brahman, Paramatma or Parabrahman should be understood. In Srimad-Bhagavatam also the Absolute Truth is described as the one without a second, but He is realized in three features--impersonal Brahman, localized Paramatma and the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the ultimate issue, and in this verse Lord Siva confirms that ultimately the Absolute Truth is a person. He clearly says: tat tvam brahma param jyotir akasam iva vistrtam.

Philosophers and scientists conduct scholarly research to find the original cause, but they should do so scientifically, not whimsically or through fantastic theories. The science of the original cause is explained in various Vedic literatures. Athato brahma jijnasa.janmady asya yatah. The Vedanta-sutra explains that one should inquire about the Supreme Soul. Such inquiry about the Supreme is called brahma jijnasa.


Vedanta Sutra

Sri Vyasadeva, an incarnation of Lord Krsna, compiled the Vedanta-sutra to enable understanding of the Absolute Truth through infallible logic and argument. Veda means knowledge, and anta means the end, so proper understanding of the Vedic teachings is called knowledge of Vedanta.


Srila Vyasadeva, a powerful incarnation of Narayana, compiled the Vedanta-sutra, and in order to protect it from unauthorized commentaries, he personally composed Srimad-Bhagavatam on the instruction of his spiritual master, Narada Muni, as the original commentary on the Vedanta-sutra. Besides Srimad-Bhagavatam, there are commentaries on the Vedanta-sutra composed by all the major Vaisnava acaryas, and in each of them devotional service to the Lord is described very explicitly. Only those who follow Sankara's commentary have described the Vedanta-sutra in an impersonal way, without reference to visnu-bhakti, or devotional service to the Lord, Visnu. Generally people very much appreciate this Sariraka-bhasya, or impersonal description of the Vedanta-sutra, but all commentaries that are devoid of devotional service to Lord Visnu must be considered to differ in purpose from the original Vedanta-sutra. In other words, Lord Caitanya definitely confirmed that the commentaries, or bhasyas, written by the Vaisnava acaryas on the basis of devotional service to Lord Visnu, and not the Sariraka-bhasya of Sankaracarya, give the actual explanation of the Vedanta-sutra.

A sutra is a statement that expresses the essence of knowledge in a few words. According to the Vayu and Skanda Puranas, sutras are required to be universally applicable and faultless in linguistic presentation. Vedanta sutras are also known as nyaya-prasthana, or fully logical arguments towards conclusive understanding of sruti-prasthana, the Upanisads.

The Vedanta-sutra are also known by various names, including Brahma-sutra, Saririka-sutra, Vyasa-sutra, Badarayana-sutra, Uttara-mimamsa, and Vedanta-darsana, which represent the conclusions on Vedanta sutra of the six schools of classical philosophy. These commentaries on Vedanta Sutra are called bhashyas, and each of the four main Vaisnava sampradays, along with the Mayavadi school, has its own unique bhasya.

"The Lord said, "Vedanta philosophy consists of words spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead Narayana in the form of Vyasadeva.

Purport: The Vedanta-sutra, which consists of aphorisms revealing the method of understanding Vedic knowledge, is the concise form of all Vedic knowledge. It begins with the words athato brahma-jijnasa ("Now is the time to inquire about the Absolute Truth"). The human form of life is especially meant for this purpose, and therefore the Vedanta-sutra very concisely explains the human mission. This is confirmed by the words of the Vayu and Skanda Puranas, which define a sutra as follows:

alpaksaram asandigdham
sara-vat visvato-mukham
astobham anavadyam ca
sutram sutra-vido viduh

"A sutra is an aphorism that expresses the essence of all knowledge in a minimum of words It must be universally applicable and faultless in its linguistic presentation." Anyone familiar with such sutras must be aware of the Vedanta-sutra, which is well known among scholars by the following different names: (1) Brahma-sutra, (2) Sariraka, (3) Vyasa-sutra, (4) Badarayana-sutra, (5) Uttara-mimamsa and (6) Vedanta-darsana.

There are four chapters (adhyayas) in the Vedanta-sutra, and there are four divisions (padas) in each chapter. Therefore the Vedanta-sutra may be referred to as sodasa-pada, or sixteen divisions of aphorisms. The theme of each and every division is fully described in terms of five different subject matters (adhikaranas), which are technically called pratijna, hetu, udaharana, upanaya and nigamana. Every theme must necessarily be explained with reference to pratijna, or a solemn declaration of the purpose of the treatise. The solemn declaration given in the beginning of the Vedanta-sutra is athato brahma-jijnasa, which indicates that this book was written with the solemn declaration to inquire about the Absolute Truth. Similarly, reasons must be expressed (hetu), examples must be given in terms of various facts (udaharana), the theme must gradually be brought nearer for understanding (upanaya), and finally it must be supported by authoritative quotations from the Vedic sastras (nigamana).

According to the great dictionary compiler Hemacandra, also known as Kosakara, Vedanta refers to the purport of the Upanisads and the Brahmana portion of the Vedas. Professor Apte, in his dictionary, describes the Brahmana portion of the Vedas as that portion which states the rules for employment of hymns at various sacrifices and gives detailed explanations of their origin, sometimes with lengthy illustrations in the form of legends and stories. It is distinct from the mantra portion of the Vedas. Hemacandra said that the supplement of the Vedas is called the Vedanta-sutra. Veda means knowledge, and anta means the end. In other words, proper understanding of the ultimate purpose of the Vedas is called Vedanta knowledge. Such knowledge, as given in the aphorisms of the Vedanta-sutra, must be supported by the Upanisads.

According to learned scholars, there are three different sources of knowledge, which are called prasthana-traya. According to these scholars, Vedanta is one of such sources, for it presents Vedic knowledge on the basis of logic and sound arguments. In the Bhagavad-gita (13.5) the Lord says, brahma-sutra-padais caiva hetumadbhir viniscitaih: "Understanding of the ultimate goal of life is ascertained in the Brahma-sutra by legitimate logic and argument concerning cause and effect." Therefore the Vedanta-sutra is known as nyaya-prasthana, the Upanisads are known as sruti-prasthana, and the Gita, Mahabharata and Puranas are known as smrti-prasthana. All scientific knowledge of transcendence must be supported by sruti, smrti and a sound logical basis.

It is said that both the Vedic knowledge and the supplement of the Vedas called the Satvata-pancaratra emanated from the breathing of Narayana, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Vedanta-sutra aphorisms were compiled by Srila Vyasadeva, a powerful incarnation of Sri Narayana, although it is sometimes said that they were compiled by a great sage named Apantaratama. Both the Pancaratra and Vedanta-sutra, however, express the same opinions. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu therefore confirms that there is no difference in opinion between the two, and He declares that because the Vedanta-sutra was compiled by Srila Vyasadeva, it may be understood to have emanated from the breathing of Sri Narayana. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura comments that while Vyasadeva was compiling the Vedanta-sutra, seven of his great saintly contemporaries were also engaged in similar work. These saints were Atreya Rsi, Asmarathya, Audulomi, Karsnajini, Kasakrtsna, Jaimini and Badari. In addition, it is stated that Parasari and Karmandi-bhiksu also discussed the Vedanta-sutra aphorisms before Vyasadeva.

The Vedanta-sutra consists of four chapters. The first two chapters discuss the relationship of the living entity with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is known as sambandha-jnana, or knowledge of the relationship. The third chapter describes how one can act in his relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is called abhidheya-jnana. The relationship of the living entity with the Supreme Lord is described by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: jivera 'svarupa' haya krsnera 'nitya-dasa'. "The living entity is an eternal servant of Krsna, the Supreme God." (Cc. Madhya 20.108) Therefore, to act in that relationship one must perform sadhana-bhakti, or the prescribed duties of service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is called abhidheya-jnana. The fourth chapter describes the result of such devotional service (prayojana-jnana). This ultimate goal of life is to go back home, back to Godhead. The words anavrttih sabdat in the Vedanta-sutra indicate this ultimate goal.

Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi lila 7:10


Sunday Feast Lecture - The Higher Science
Srila Prabhupada
: This Vedanta-sutra was compiled by Vyasadeva, or Krsna's incarnation, or Krsna Himself. So He knows what is Vedanta-sutra. So if you want to understand Vedanta-sutra, then you must understand Krsna. Vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyam. Krsna says also that by studying all the Vedic literature, one has to understand Krsna. And He also confirms... And Vyasadeva explains Vedanta-sutra in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Because He knew that "Vedanta-sutra, being authoritative version of Vedic literature, so many rascals will comment in different way. Therefore I must leave..." That was also done under the instruction of Narada. He wrote personally a commentary on the Vedanta-sutra. That is Srimad-Bhagavatam. Bhasyayam brahma-sutranam vedartha paribrmhitam. The Srimad-Bhagavatam is the right commentary by the author Himself. And the vedartha paribhrmhitam the purpose of Vedas, the scheme of Vedic literature, is explained in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. So the human life..., athato brahma-jijnasa, means, the Vedanta-sutra says, that "This life, human life, is meant for understanding God." Brahma-jijnasa. At least, not understanding, at least inquiring, jijnasa. Jijnasa means inquiring.

Athato brahma-jijnasa. The Vedanta-sutra... You have heard the name of Vedanta. Vedanta means... Veda means knowledge, and anta means ultimate. The ultimate knowledge. Therefore, Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyam: "The ultimate purpose of reading Vedas is to know Me."

So who can read Vedanta philosophy? A very learned scholar he must be, at least, he must be very learned scholar in Sanskrit. He must have sufficient brain substance to understand what are these Vedanta-sutras. Because everything is there in a small aphorism. Just like the first aphorism of Vedanta-sutra is athato brahma-jijnasa. In three words: atha, atah, brahma, jijnasa. Four words. So it contains volumes of philosophy. The next aphorism is janmady asya yatah. Janma, adi, asya, yatah. "From whom," asya, visvasya, "of this universe, cosmic manifestation." From where this cosmic manifestation has come, and where it rests, and where it will dissolve. Janmady asya yatah. In this way, Vedanta-sutra means, gives you the whole purpose of Vedas, knowledge, in small code words. So to understand these code words, one must have very big brain, or very highly standard educational qualification. Then... All the acaryas, those who are controlling Vedic civilization, like Sankaracarya, Madhvacarya, Ramanujacarya, they have all written their commentaries on the Vedanta-sutra. Because unless one explains Vedanta-sutra, he'll not be accepted as an authorized acarya. He's not... Not that anyone can become acarya. He must give explanation of the Vedanta-sutra, prasthana-traya. There is system. So ultimately, Vedanta-sutra, as Krsna says, vedais ca sarvaih. Sarvaih means including Vedanta-sutra. Vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyam. "I am to be understood." Why? Vedanta-krt vedanta-vit ca aham. Vedanta-krt, "I am the compiler of Vedanta-sutra." Vedanta-sutra was compiled by Vyasadeva. He is incarnation of Krsna, Dvaipayana Vyasa. So therefore, it is compiled by His incarnation, so it is compiled by Him. Because His incarnation, He is the same. So vedanta-krt means Veda..., compiler of the Vedanta, and the compiler of the compiler of the Vedanta is vedanta-vit, one who knows Vedanta. Because I have written some book, so I know what is the purpose of writing my book. You cannot know. My purpose you cannot know.