by Swami Krishnananda
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.