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Commentary on the Panchadasi

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Discourse 1

Chapter 1: Tattva Viveka – Discrimination of Reality
Verses 1-5

The first two verses of the first chapter of the Panchadasi constitute a prayer to Swami Vidyaranya’s Guru. In all ancient texts, the Guru is offered prayer first. This is a tradition which has been followed always, and the Panchadasi author also followed this respected tradition.

Namaḥ śrī śaṅkarānanda guru pādāmbu janmane, savilāsa mahā moha grāha grāsaika karmaṇe (1). Sankarananda was a great sannyasin under whom Vidyaranya appears to have studied. Sankarananda wrote, to our knowledge, two great works, one which is called Atma Purana, an epic type of description of the contents of the Upanishads. Actually, the authorship goes to Sankarananda, the great master. The other book by Sankarananda is “Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita”. Very few people read that commentary; it is very tough and technical. This Sankarananda, the great master, is now offered obeisance. “Prostrations to the lotus feet of the Guru Sri Sankarananda, who is engaged in the great function of the destruction of that crocodile which harasses people everywhere in the form of illusion, delusion and ignorance, and dances in ecstasy in the form of this created world.” This is a prayer to the Guru mentioning thereby the power of the Guru in dispelling ignorance. ‘Sankara’ has also been interpreted by the commentator as one who brings sam. Samkaroti‑iti sankara. Sam is blessedness, peace, auspiciousness. Kara is one who brings it. It may be Lord Siva, or it may be the Supreme Being Himself who brings us blessedness, auspiciousness and ultimate peace. So it may be a prayer to the almighty God also. We may take it in that sense, or take it as a prayer to the Guru Sankarananda, whose power is here delineated as the capacity to destroy the ignorance of disciples.

Tat pādāmbu ruha dvaṅdva sevā nimarla cetasām, sukha bodhāya tattvasya vivedo’yaṁ vidhīyate (2). Now the author says he is engaging himself, in the first five chapters, in the description of an important subject, called viveka or discrimination. The first five chapters are all designated viveka, or discrimination of something from something else. The middle five chapters are designated as dipa or illumination consciousness. The last five are designated as ananda or bliss. “I shall endeavour to write a textbook on the discrimination of reality, as distinguished from unreality, for the benefit of students who always wish to have easy textbooks, not with technicalities galore and very hard to understand. I shall free this text from unnecessary technicality and make it easy to understand – sukha‑bodhaya. It is for students who are free from mala vikshepa avarana, that is, their minds are cleansed from the usual dross of attachments to things, desire and attachment – students who are devoted to this Guru Sankarananda.” It may be, therefore, a textbook that has been specially written for the edification of other students who were also listening to the discourses of the great master Sankarananda; or it may mean all devotes of God. We can take it in either sense.

The viveka or the analysis, the discrimination that is spoken of here, is actually the analysis of consciousness. The very beginning verses go directly into the subject without beating about the bush and giving us introductory passages or telling stories, etc. It goes to the very heart of the matter. The impossibility of denying the existence of consciousness is the main subject in the initial verses. We may doubt everything. We may even deny everything, but we cannot deny consciousness – because it is consciousness that is doubting and it is consciousness that is denying things. When all things go because of the denial of all things, then what remains? There remains the consciousness of having denied everything and the consciousness of doubting all things.

Even if we feel that we do not exist – we are annihilated or we are dead, for instance – even then, we will feel that at the back of our imagination of the annihilation of our personality there is a consciousness of the annihilation of personality. Even if we say that there is only a vacuum, and there is nil, and finally nothing exists in the world, there is a consciousness that affirms that nothing exists. Hence, it is impossible to obviate the predicament of a consciousness interfering with all things.

The first verse is engaged in a very interesting analysis of it being not possible to have duality, finally. If there are many objects of perception, as we have in the waking condition, there is a necessity for us to comprehend these multifarious objects in a single act of consciousness – or, we may say, conscious perception.

There are many trees in the forest, many stars in the heavens. Who is it that is aware of the manifoldness of the stars and the trees? How can we know that one thing is different from another thing unless there is an awareness that brings these two different objects together in a single comprehension transcending both items of difference? If A is different from B, it is not A that is knowing that A is different from B, because A is different from B as it has already been asserted; therefore, A cannot know that there is B. Nor can B know that there is A because it is not possible for B to know A, as B is different from A. There being no connection between A and B, neither A can know B, nor B can know A. Who knows that A is different from B? That knowing principle cannot be A, and it cannot be B. So the differences in the world, the dualities of perception, the multitudinous‑ness and the variety of things is capable of being known by a consciousness that is not involved in any of the objects of perception. This is the aim of the first initial philosophical verse, to place in perspective, the third aspect ie the knowing principle.

Śabda sparśā dayo vedyā vaici tryāj jāgare pṛthak, tato vibhaktā tat saṁvit aika rūpyānna bhidyate (3). Sabda sparsa – there are five objects of cognition or perception: sound, touch, form or colour, taste, and smell. The eyes cannot hear. The ears cannot see. But there is someone who sees and hears at the same time. We can sometimes see, hear, touch, smell and taste at the same time, though the five functions differ from one another. One sense organ cannot perform the function of another sense organ. The ear cannot even know that there is such a thing called eye, etc. How does it become possible for someone to know that there are five kinds of perception?

That ‘someone’ is none of these perceptions. The one who knows that one perception is different from another is none of these. It is not the eye, it is not the ear, it is not any of these senses that proclaims, "I know, I see, I hear," etc. This consciousness, which is essential for the perception of the unity that is behind the variety of sense functions, has to be different from the sense functions. Vibhakta means ‘different from’; ‘variety’ means vaichitrya. In the waking condition jagara, the variety of perception of objects, is made possible on account of the variegated functions of the sense organs. We know this very well. It does not require much of an explanation. Yet, it does not require much time for us to appreciate that the knower of the difference of these functions cannot be any one of these functions. That knower is awareness, pure and simple – consciousness, samvid. On account of the transcendence and the unitary character of consciousness above the diversity of the senses, consciousness has to be established in the waking condition as existing, transcending, ranging above the sense functions. We will realise that this is the state of affairs in dream also - tatha svapne in the next verse.

Tathā svapne’tra vedyaṁ tu na sthiraṁ jāgare sthiram, tad behdo’tastayoḥ saṁvid ekarūpa na bhidyate (4). The difference between waking and dreaming is that waking looks like a longer experience, and dream is often considered to be shorter in comparison with waking. But that is a different matter. In the same way as we have diversity of perception in waking, there is diversity of perception in dream also. In dream we also have mountains and rivers and people, and all kinds of things. How do we know them? We have got a dream eye, dream ear, dream taste, dream touch, and so on. The mind in dream manufactures a new set of senses which are not the waking senses; and these sense organs specially created by the mind in the dreaming condition become the sources of the diversity of perception of dream objects. Even here, in order to know that there is a variety and diversity of objects in dream, there has to be a consciousness. Just as in the case of waking, the consciousness in dream is different from the variety we see in dream.

Also, the same person wakes and the same person dreams. On the one hand, consciousness is different from the variety of objects and the sensations thereof; and on the other hand, consciousness is different from waking and dreaming. It is not involved either in waking or in dreaming because it knows the difference between waking and dreaming. We know that we dreamt; we know that we are awake. Who are we that make this statement that waking is different from dream?

So consciousness does two things at the same time. It distinguishes between objects and transcends the objects by standing above them. Secondly, it distinguishes the states of consciousness (waking, dream and sleep) and stands above them as turiya – that is, the fourth state of consciousness.

The difference between waking and dream is only a question of shorter or longer duration, though in dream also we can have long durations of experience. But in comparison with the waking, we find that we slept for a few minutes and had a long dream; and a few minutes are very short in comparison with the twenty-four hours of waking. So apart from the fact of the difference in duration between waking and dream, the consciousness operating behind the senses of perception both in waking and dream is identical.

Supot thitasya sauṣpta tamo bodho bhavet smṛtiḥ, sā cāva buddha viṣayā’vabuddhaṁ tattadā tamaḥ (5). In waking, we have one kind of consciousness. In dream, we have another kind of consciousness. In sleep, we do not have any kind of consciousness. There is a darkness, a kind of ignorance in the state of deep sleep. But it is surprising that we all know that we were awake, we were dreaming, and we were sleeping. Granted, there was a kind of consciousness in waking, as it has been explained, and there was also the same consciousness operating in dream. But there was no consciousness in sleep. How did we know then, that we have slept? Knowledge of having slept cannot be there unless consciousness was there.

In waking, there are physical objects before consciousness. In dream there are mental objects before consciousness. The object before consciousness in sleep is ignorance; a cloud‑like covering over consciousness is the object. The consciousness knows that it knew nothing. It is a negative kind of consciousness. It is worthwhile analysing into the circumstance of our being aware that we slept, because sleeping is an absence of consciousness. And the fact of our having slept coming to us as a memory thereafter is something interesting.

We know what memory is. Memory, or remembrance, is the aftermath of a conscious experience that we had earlier. We remember a thing after having experienced a thing before; and if we did not have any kind of experience at all, the memory of it would not be there. So to assert that we slept yesterday, we must have had an awareness of having slept. But unfortunately, awareness of having slept is not possible because during sleep the consciousness did not actually ‘know’ the condition of sleep. We have to analyse by a fact of inference that consciousness must have been there because unconscious experience is unknown. All experience capable of a remembrance or memory afterwards has to be attached to consciousness.

By an act of inference, when we see muddy water in the Ganga, we infer that it must be raining upstream. And so in a similar manner we infer – not by direct experience, of course - by inference we realise and affirm that consciousness must have been there in deep sleep also – but for which fact, memory of sleeping would not be there afterwards.

So what follows from this? Consciousness was in waking, dream and sleep continuously. This is the reason why we feel we are the person who was awake; we are the same person that dreamt; we are the same person that slept. It does not mean somebody is waking, somebody else is dreaming, and yet somebody else is sleeping. It is not three different persons doing that. One continuous identity of personality is maintained by consciousness.

So what is the analysis now? Consciousness is continuously present in all the three states and, therefore, it constitutes a fourth state. It is not any one of the states. If consciousness were completely absorbed and identified with waking only, it would not be working in dream. And similarly, if it had been exhausted in one of the other conditions, dream or sleep, it would not have known other conditions. Inasmuch as consciousness knows all three conditions, it shows that it is none of the three conditions. It is a fourth state of consciousness, a transcendent element in us, or a transcendent element which we ourselves are. We are that transcendent consciousness, basically. We are not that which is involved in waking, dream and sleep. We are consciousness. This is the analysis here by examining the conditions of waking, dream and sleep.

Inasmuch as consciousness alone was there in sleep, we have to know something about what kind of consciousness it was. It could not be a consciousness that was in some place only, in a particular location. The peculiar character of consciousness is that it cannot be located in a particular place. It cannot be only in one place. It has to be everywhere. If consciousness is assumed to be present in one place only, there must be somebody to know that it is not elsewhere. Who is telling us that consciousness is only inside the body and it is not elsewhere? Consciousness itself is telling that.

It is necessary for consciousness to overstep the limits of its bodily encasement in order to know that it is only inside. We cannot know that there is a limitation of something within a fence unless and until we also know that there is something beyond the fence. The consciousness of finitude implies the consciousness of the Infinite. The impossibility of dividing consciousness into parts, fragments, and locating it in particular individuals makes it abundantly the Infinite that it is.

So we are actually entering into the infinite consciousness in the state of deep sleep; but because of the potentials of our karmas, prarabdha, etc., which cover our consciousness as darkness – the unfulfilled desires, the unconscious layer, as it is called in psychoanalysis – because of this covering, we do not know what is happening to us. We are actually on the lap of Brahman in that state of deep sleep. But blindfolded we go, and therefore it is as good as not going.

Consciousness has been analysed in these three verses as firstly, distinct from objects of perception; secondly, distinct from the three states; thirdly, infinite in nature. Such is the grandeur of our essential being. We are basically infinite consciousness. This is the reason why we ask for endless things. We want to possess the whole world. Even if we become kings of the earth, we are not satisfied because the Atman inside is infinite. It says, "Do you give me only the earth? I want the skies." If you give the sky, it will say, "I want further up." That is the asking for infinitude.

The Atman is also eternity. It is not bound by time. Therefore, we do not want to die. That desire to be immortal, the desire not to die, the desire to be existing for all time to come, endlessly, is the eternity in us that is speaking. Therefore, every one of us is basically infinite and eternal, whose nature is consciousness; and it is Absolute because of the infinitude of its nature.