An email of two aphorisms
The structure of Sūtra and Bhāshya
A common characteristic of a good TED talk and a non-fiction book is that they can bridge the knowledge asymmetry between the speaker and the audience, the writer and the reader, the learned and the learner.
A good speaker will begin with an example, a question or a statement that lays down the theme and objective of the talk. Writers explain their motivation and the objective of the subject matter in the preface of the book. (It’s recommended not to skip the preface!)
In the Indian philosophical system of Sūtra and Bhāshya, the first two aphorisms lay down the objective and definition of the subject matter.
As we learned earlier, each Indian philosophical school originated in a particular Sūtra. These were then analysed and commented on by various thinkers to form elaborative systems in texts called Bhāshya (भाष्य) (commentaries or expositions).
The first aphorism announces the subject of the treatise.
It usually has the following form:
“Now, commences <verb> of <subject>”.
The verb can be teaching/inquiry/investigation.
For example, the first verse of the Yogasūtra says,
“Now, the teachings of Yoga are presented.”
The first aphorism of the Brahma Sūtra:
अथातो ब्रह्मजिज्ञासा ॥१.१॥
Now, then, is the inquiry into the Brahman
We see the same treatment in Mīmāṁsā Sūtra:
अथातो धर्मजिज्ञासा ॥१.१॥
Now, then, is the inquiry of duty (Dharma)
With the subject announced in the first sutra, the author proceeds with the second aphorism to define the nature of the subject.
Patanjali defines Yoga in the second aphorism of Yogasūtra:
Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.
In Brahma Sūtra, Bādarāyaṇa gives a function description of the Brahman.
जन्माद्यस्य यतः ॥१.२॥
The Brahman is that from which comes the origin, preservation, and destruction o this world.
And in Mīmāṁsā Sūtra, Jaimini describes duty:
चोदनालक्षणोअर्थो धर्मः ॥१.२॥
The duty is an object distinguised by a command.
With a clear announcement of the subject and its nature, the Sūtra continues with a systematic categorisation, explanation, and importance of the subject matter in the remaining chapters.
Sūtra, the canonical collection of aphorisms for a particular school, is divided into chapters (adhyāya, अध्याय), with each chapter further divided into sections (pāda) and pāda divided into topics (adhikarana, अधिकरण). The topics contain a sentence (topical text) that describes the subject for investigation (visaya vakya, विषय वाक्य).
In a Bhāshya (commentary on Sūtra), the sentence is further investigated to give a rigorous philosophical argument:
A doubt is raised to decipher the correct meaning or interpretation of the sentence (samasya, समस्या)
A prima facie view is presented (purva paksha, पूर्व पक्ष)
This view is then refuted (uttar paksha, उत्तर पक्ष)
Finally, the conclusion is established (niranaya, निर्णय)
With this structured and logical approach, students acquired an in-depth understanding of the subject. It also helped them develop their philosophical aptitude, which was required in refuting the claims of other schools in a formal debate (Vāda, वाद).
While a systematic exposition of work is the norm in academia, it’s incredible how much we can learn from Sūtras to present our ideas in an orderly, logical, coherent and comprehensible way.