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The Sutra System: The Fundamental Instrument of Realizing Ruta


In the previous paper, we saw that the Srishti-Sthiti-Laya relationship forms the bedrock of our Universe of Life in the Bharateeya Parampara. It has its origins in the Vedas. We seek the Universe to be in a state of Sthiti all the time. Sthiti is dynamic stable equilibrium, roughly translated in English. The dynamic of this Universe is represented by Ruta. The paths of the Universe that represent this dynamic, always in Sthiti, are the paths of Ruta or the Ruta paths. Dharma is that infinite collection of actions that keep the Universe in Ruta paths in its inevitable dynamic state. We also recognized the Chaturvidha Purushartha as the fundamental framework of life in the Bharateeya Parampara. We clearly saw that in the plane of Purushartha everybody is equal. We envisioned how the Kula-Jati-Varna organization made it possible for an individual to realize Purushartha for oneself in the backdrop of the Srishti-Sthiti-Laya. We acknowledged the change brought out by forces outside of the civilization that posed a challenge to the Kula-Jati-Varna framework. In this context, we reimagined them to face these realities in the Modern World.

We made another critical observation that requires elaboration and resolution. We noted that it requires a Rishi to see the paths of Ruta clearly and navigate the  Universe of Life in these paths of Ruta. However, this conceptualization poses a problem. Is the Universe of Life forever subjugated to the feet of Rishis? And to what extent? Are we to depend on Rishis for the organization of life at all levels including daily life? How is the society, polity and governance to function and operate? Is the agency taken away from the individual and the society? What are the instruments available to one in order to lead a respectable life? Can such a life be autonomous or always subservient? Is that even just? Can there ever be genuine equality (granted by Purushartha) if the central principle of Ruta requires the navigation, apart from the leadership, of a Rishi? What does this even mean to daily life one wonders, which must be led with ease and peace without recourse to the complexity of philosophy and universal realities? Fundamentally, how does the society meaningfully, sustainably and justly operate with Ruta being a fundamental, universal principle and reality.

Thankfully, Bharateeya Parampara evolved an Architecture of Life that minimized this complexity for the society. It has resolved this in favour of the individual and the society with the Rishi performing his/her role quietly and nonchalantly. Just as Ruta distinguishes our world view, it is the Sutra that distinguishes the Architecture of Life in the Bharateeya Parampara and helps us resolve the challenge posed by Ruta requiring a Rishi.

To understand this, we must understand the world of Sutras or Aphorisms that represent a Principle in a concise computational form.

The Sutras in the Bharateeya Parampara

It is quite well known that Bharateeya Parampara shaped the world of Sutras. In this section, we introduce 3 Sutra books with specific examples. Through those examples we shall present the form of an individual Sutra whereas those books are a collection of Sutras in a specific domain.

For our purpose of understanding a Sutra, let us consider Shulba Sutras. We quote from Wikipedia. “The Shulba Sutras are part of the larger corpus of texts called the Shrauta Sutras, considered to be appendices to the Vedas. They are the only sources of knowledge of Indian mathematics from the Vedic period. Unique fire-altar shapes were associated with unique gifts from the Gods. For instance, “he who desires heaven is to construct a fire-altar in the form of a falcon”; “a fire-altar in the form of a tortoise is to be constructed by one desiring to win the world of Brahman” and “those who wish to destroy existing and future enemies should construct a fire-altar in the form of a rhombus”.

Let us now consider how a specific Sutra is represented. We quote once again from Wikipedia.

1.9. The diagonal of a square produces double the area [of the square].

1.12. The areas [of the squares] produced separately by the lengths of the breadth of a rectangle together equal the area [of the square] produced by the diagonal.

1.13. This is observed in rectangles having sides 3 and 4, 12 and 5, 15 and 8, 7 and 24, 12 and 35, 15 and 36.

It is not just the Dharmasutras and the Grihya Sutras which contain examples of Sutras. Acharya Panini’s Ashtyadhyayi too is a collection of Sutras. Let us now quote specific examples from Ashtadhyayi. We refer to chapter 3, Chapter 2 of Ashtadhyayi of Srisa Chandra Vasu. Let us consider the first 5 Sutras.

  • The affix ‘aN’ comes after a verbal root when the object is in composition with it (as an upapada).
  • The affix ‘aN’ comes after the root ‘hvenya’ ’to call’, ‘venya’ ‘to weave’, ‘maanG’ to measure, when the object is in composition with it.
  • The affix ka comes after a verbal root that ends in the long ‘aa’, when there is no upasarga preceding and when the object is in composition with it.
  • The affix ka comes after the root sthaa when in composition with a word ending in a case-affix, as in upapada.
  • The affix ‘ka’ comes after the verbs paribhruj ‘to wash out’ and apanud to drive away, when in composition with the words tund ‘navel’ and shok ‘grief’ as objects respectively.

The objective of the above listing is not to explain these Sutras. It is to illustrate how they represent a specific aspect of the truth of the Universes that they seek to describe/represent. In particular, they are generative Sutras. Using these Sutras, it is possible to construct an object – whatever the object means in their respective universes. At times, these Sutras are too specific and limited in scope. At times, they expand themselves into containing very large parts of the universe and hence they assume the form of a Fundamental Principle/Moola Tatva.

This is the essential thinking unit of Bharateeya Parampara. It is computational and generative in its form. A collection of these principles create a very meaningful object in the universe in which the principle-set operates. A single Sutra, however brilliant it may be, is without that creative power in isolation. A collection of Sutras then becomes creative over and beyond the mere sum of those Sutras.

The Principle or The Sutra or The Aphorism

With this background, let us generalize and define the Principle or Sutra conceptually and then take specific instances to appreciate it better.

The Principle or the Sutra can be described as a fundamental element which represents a universal or an essential aspect within the Universe of Life.

  • Its existence is independent of anything else and in that sense it is axiomatic by nature
  • It may either be an essential Truth or an essential feature that cannot be further divided
  • It may even be an essential operation needed to exist in that universe and one that can be executed in isolation

We have two kinds of Sutras – Conceptual and Operational, although they could be further divided into finer ones.

  • A Conceptual Sutra is one that represents a fundamental reality without recourse to action. Thus,
    • it is the “Truth”.
    • it is perceived by the Sages through immense Tapascharya.
    • one may not be able to see but one may only be able to experience it.
    • it shapes the philosophy and in turn it is shaped by the developed philosophical thought.
    • it requires an inner Drishti of a Rishi to extract it out from the Ruta
    • Eg., Brahma Sutras and Yoga Sutras belong to this Universe

As a result much of the Conceptual Sutra is part of Philosophy. They are the Universal Tatvas. This is where the Rishis play a prominent role. Example:

देशबन्धः चित्तस्य धारणा ॥१॥

deśa-bandhaḥ cittasya dhāraṇā ॥ 1॥

Harmony with your thoughts and the ability to concentrate are attained by aligning the mutable aspects of humankind with a specific subject. [1] ॥ 1॥

तत्र प्रत्ययैकतानता ध्यानम् ॥२॥

tatra pratyaya-ikatānatā dhyānam ॥ 2॥

Allowing your thoughts to flow in an uninterrupted stream results in contemplation (dhyana). [2] ॥ 2॥

  • A Material Sutra is one that is part of the material world.
    • It may either be shaped by Sages or through men of experience.
    • It may still require Tapascharya but of a kind that is accessible to one and all, one that requires perseverance and one that operates in a lower plane.
    • Being in the material world, these principles lend themselves to be felt, seen, validated through material means – hence universally accessible.
    • To create or validate it, one requires scholarship or proficiency that comes through practice.
    • Eg., Large parts of Panini’s Ashtadhyayi belong to this category. It may contain genius insight but operates in the material world.

Dharma Sutras and Smritis are a special category of Sutras that are a combination of Conceptual Sutras as well as Material Sutras.

Sutra as a Paradigm

Shri. Roddam Narasimha in his seminal paper “The Indian half of Needham’s question: some thoughts on axioms, models, algorithms, and computational positivism” has recognized the Sutra as the “way of thinking” in India that distinguishes it from the western way of “model based thinking”. What this means is that the Sutra is the fundamental element of a System in the Bharateeya Parampara. The civilization has elevated this as the Universal Fundamental and one to form the bedrock of the design of any system – be it the design of the social organization, creation of knowledge systems or or a Discipline or the Creation of material.

Putting it abstractly, designing a system in India then amounts to the following

  • Carve a unique collection of fundamental principles essential to represent a system that stands independently.
  • Organize them in a loosely coupled way in their interrelationship.
    • This means each of them has an independent entity and performs action independently without recourse to the other.
    • Should any part of the larger reality be viewed differently, only the corresponding Sutra changes and the rest continue to operate independently.
  • Derive dependent principles
    • Dependent Principles or Sutras are those that require a Fundamental Sutra’s presence
    • Such dependency must be minimal so as to operate with as much freedom
  • Organize every other aspect of the System (such as methodologies, practices and other physical realities) in alignment with any one or subset of these Principles.

The most important element of this organization is the preserved identity of a Sutra within the system, the ability to replace a Sutra and the loose coupling. The system is then realized as a result of the interplay between the Sutras. The system is in existence as the result of the interplay. If one needs to perceive the system in entirety one must be able to imagine the interplay of all Sutras concerned. Through specific Sutras one would then reconstruct the system only minimally through the minimal interplay between specific Sutras possible.

Thus, the Sutra-system presents greatest autonomy to individuals dependending upon one’s ability. A great Rishi or a genius may be able to conceptualize, design and carve an entire system. But such a system must still be in interplay with that single Sutra that a common man may have evolved, respectfully. A single Sutra that evolved outside of the system will have to be incorporated within the system that one envisaged. Alternatively, a society may have collectively evolved a system through Sutras in a distributed manner. No one person may have evolved it entirely. Thus the Rishi may be matched by a Society.

Bharateeya Parampara grew in this interplay between the Sutras realized, conceptualized and practised by various elements of the society. When assorted Sutras aggregated into a critical mass and specific form, it became a discipline practised by the community, polished by experts, studied by scholars and passed from generation to generation by the teachers.

The Sutra and the Ruta

Bharateeya Parampara has established the Sutras as the fundamental element in the organization of life. It is fundamental in two ways. We consider it as the most efficient approach to represent the Universe. In addition, it is the most efficient means to represent both the substance and the dynamic of the universe. The reasons behind this formulation requires elaboration.

  • Bharateeya Parampara perceives the Ultimate Reality as only perceivable and not describable. The Infinite can never be absolutely captured in the Finite World.
  • There are two difficulties in capturing the Infinite – Its enormity (the Vishwaroopa) and its dynamic nature (Gati-sheel).

When Srikrishna showed his Vishwaroopa most people did not dare see him in his entirety and enormity even as he was merely presenting himself in time. The enormity is far too overwhelming for us to hold ourselves to experience it, let alone represent it. However, there is additional complexity,  even as we struggle to perceive the Vishwaroopa in time. Based on our exposition of Srishti-Sthiti-Laya, it is to be remembered that the Sthiti seeks to move in time on the Ruta-paths. The Universe moves to another state way too swiftly. Whatever we capture in the Finite World remains a thing of the past.

As a result, the representation of the Infinite can never be perfect in the Finite World. Perfection requires us to elevate ourselves and part of the Infinite – which is Moksha. The ‘Neti, Neti’ of the Upanishad and the Nasadiya Sukta represent this difficulty of representing the Infinite in Finite.

Representing the Infinite

Despite all these complexities, in the material world that we live in, it is essential to represent the Infinite however imperfect that is. Fundamentally, there are two ways of capturing complex reality. The west has evolved ‘Model’ as an essential means of representing reality. A Model consisting of entities called parts that are organized effectively to create the whole – which is nothing but a replica of the reality. The parts have no significance to themselves without being part of the whole. The parts merge into the whole. They become the proverbial cog in the wheel. They have a function to perform but do not have an independent existence. Replacing such a part in the whole is a complex process – that is costly.

On the contrary, the Sutra-System consists of parts that are as important as the whole. The part is an entity that lives an independent existence as well as being part of a whole. It may be part of multiple whole-s. Whole, in reality, is a result of the interplay between the parts. Thus, the system is a result of the interplay between Sutras which have independent existence. The Bharateeya Parampara considered the Sutra-system as the most efficient and sustainable way of capturing eternal reality. One can more effectively, if not perfectly or completely, strive to represent Infinity in all its dynamics through the Sutra-system.

The advantage of such a system is that

  • Sutras could be continuously added to fine-tune the system to represent the complex infinite reality. One can constantly strive to fine-tune the system.
  • Sutras could be removed and replaced as the Universe changes its course through the Ruta.

In addition, the Sutra is at once the substance that represents a fundamental aspect of the reality as well as the instrument of a system – a nature of essential duality. The substance dimension of a Sutra represents an aspect of the reality – that often appears as part of the very Philosophy as Tatva. The Instrument dimension of a Sutra operates as

  • Individual Performance Eg., Grihya Sutras
  • Knowledge System Design Eg., Panini’s Ashtadhyayi
  • Social or Institution Design Eg., Kula-Jati-Varna

It is this Instrument dimension of a Sutra that presents a way for the individual society to realize Dharma and be on the path of Ruta. It is the collection of Sutras operated independently within an ecosystem that ensures that balance is upheld thus keeping the Universe of Life firmly in the path of Ruta. The genius also lies in the carving of those ecosystems where a collection of Sutras enables people to perform Dharma and be on the path of Ruta.

Thus, the Rishis of India devised a system, mechanism, instrument that enabled the society to navigate itself through the Ruta autonomously. They did not hold the society to ransom in their inability to perceive Ruta. Instead,. At the same time, the Rishis continued their efforts to capture the Infinite in its motion so that they could see the bend in the curve ahead of time. The Sutra system they envisioned is the result of the unique Bharateeya Manas that perceived the Universe of Life as being in dynamic stable equilibrium of enormous complexity and size.

The Sutras and the Ecosystems then result in few other elements to perform Dharma and be in Ruta more effectively.

The Architecture of Life in the Bharateeya Parampara

A summarization of the perspective developed so far is in order. Srishti-Sthiti-Laya is the philosophical fundamental. The Chaturvidha Purushartha is the fundamental framework of life. Moksha connects the two. Ruta is its nature. Dharma enables this connection. Sutra is that operational fundamental that enables Dharma in the path of Ruta.

With this as the background, one can now look at the entire Architecture of Life in the Bharateeya Parampara. It consists of the following elements.

  1. The Philosophy (The Tatva and the Siddhanta)
  2. The Principles (The Sutra)
  3. The Social Organizations – (Kula, Jati, Varna)
  4. The Tradition – (The Sampradaya)
  5. The Practices – (The Shastra Paddhati)
  6. The Customs  (The Achara and Reeti)
  7. The Rituals (The Karma)

Bharateeya Parampara has evolved a very rich and diverse Philosophy in the last few millennia. With an unrelenting commitment to seeking Truth and with very minimum fundamental realities that stand the test of time and experience, Bharateeya Parampara has explored the depths of Philosophy. Each time it comes to the surface it brings a new gem that is full of light and guides the society in the forest of life. The Srisht-Sthiti-Laya, the Purushartha, the Ruta form the basis of all philosophies. Even the Jain and Buddhist philosophies largely operate within this framework.

In this essay, we shall not dwell into Philosophy as there is a reasonable appreciation of what is a Tatva/Siddhanta. One is aware of deep philosophical perspectives in the Vedas followed by Philosophies evolved by different Sampradayas such as Dvaita, Advaita and Vishishtadvaita. The concern of this paper is to present the Sutra as the fundamental operational instrument that compensates the philosophical-fundamental. In addition, the concern is to present a holistic view of the entire Architecture consisting of these elements and explain how they operate together. Subsequently, we shall see how they translate themselves into specific entities within the society. In an additional paper, we shall instantiate the Architecture with specific examples, state certain problems of today and explore how they can be resolved to adhere to the above framework without doing a top-down redesign.

It is in the translation of perceived reality into the Sutras that has made the Bharateeya Parampara create a very robust society with rich daily life that has sustained itself for millennia.

The Tradition (Sampradaya) – The Physical Unit of the Architecture

In another paper, we have seen that the Kula forms the fundamental social organizational unit outside of the family. It enables people to seek Moksha and pursue their Artha and Kama in a Dharmika way. Every Kula-Jati-Varna is associated with

  • A specific aspect of Srishti (a Profession)
  • Unique set of Practices to pursue their own Artha and Kama and to perform the Profession
  • A set of interfaces to live in harmony with other such Kula-Jati-Varna

The concern of this paper is to elucidate what holds this social organization from within. It is the unique set of Practices and Interfaces to perform the Profession and to pursue Purushartha that holds this social unit firmly. And yet again the Sutra is very fundamental to this social unit. The set of Practices and Interfaces are further divided into what serves the Profession externally and what holds the unit together internally. This further translates itself to become

  • The professional practices Eg., Shilpa Shastra
  • The community practices Eg., Devasthana Traditions
  • The personal practices Eg., Grihya Sutras

The Universal Framework of Ashrama – Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha, Sanyasa guides the community practices and the personal practices.

While the Srishti-Sthiti-Laya framework is a Universal Philosophy for all communities, each community further evolves it into specific philosophies. These philosophies Advaita or Agni Purana become more important to one community than others. Together they provide a framework for them to create professional practices, community practices and personal practices. The above are organized in such a manner that there is beauty in daily life realized through them at all stages.

Collectively this schema is called a Sampradaya. A Sampradaya could be at the level of a Kula or Jati and at times Varna. The Sutra is fundamental here too as every practice is organized as a collection of Sutras. The Weaver Community creates a set of Sutras to represent their knowledge – whether they put it on paper or not. The Sutra orientation also helps communities transfer their practical knowledge from one generation to another generation seamlessly. It also makes everybody learn what they can incrementally to one’s capacity.

The Shastra Paddhati or the Sampradaya Practices are articulated in 3 ways

  • The Sutras that describe the Paddhathi
  • The Rituals or the Karma which is nothing but the actual performance of the Sutra
  • The Customs which loosely evolve in alignment with the Sutras and Rituals

The Ritual is both described in the Sutra and left to the creative imagination of the Sampradaya. It is the physicality of the Ritual that binds the common man to the Sutra, to the Shastra Paddhati and to the Sampradaya. The Ritual is the instrument through which the man strives to realize his Purushartha in complete oblivion to the complexity of Ruta.

Further, it is the freedom to create customs according to one’s fascination, desire, collective consciousness of time, perception of beauty, realities of time and space – and change it at will that ensures that a society moves with time in Ruta and changes itself minimally with a sense of continuity.

Summary: The Essentiality of ‘Sutra’

It is of paramount importance to note that the Sutra operates itself at all levels. At the level of Philosophy it operates as a Tatva. The complex Shastras are written as a collection of Sutras. The Sampradaya is defined by the Sutras. The Rituals and Customs are also independently performable and they are in essence Sutras. The Temple Construction Shastras are written in the language of Sutras. Malleability, Flexibility and the need to constantly update seems to be a fundamental concern of Bharateeya Parampara because of its appreciation of Ruta.

Thus, the Bharateeya Parampara has realized a complex Civilization that has continuously changed itself without losing Civilizational Continuity – the Saatatya. In this the civilization has been guided by two factors

  • The need to follow the dynamic of Ruta
  • The need to provide maximum autonomy to the individual and the society

The Sutra or the Principle as the fundamental substance and fundamental instrument are the biggest enablers of this ideal.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shulba_Sutras
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrauta_Sutra
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedas
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_mathematics
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedic_period
https://www.ashtangayoga.info ([1] and [2])

(Image credit: Zee News)


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