Commentary on the Panchadasi
by Swami Krishnananda

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Discourse 3

Chapter 1: Tattva Viveka – Discrimination of Reality
Verses 14-27

Tasya hetuḥ samānābhi hāraḥ putra dhvaniśrutau, ihā nādira vidyaiva vyāmo haika niban dhanam (14). In the case of the father’s indistinct hearing of the voice of his son chanting the Veda, the obstacle to a clear and distinctive hearing of it is the chorus of the voices of other students also mingling with the voice of his son. That is the obstacle in the case of the illustration cited. What is the obstacle in the case of the Atman, which is only indistinctly or partially felt in us, making us feel that we love our own selves, which is possible only if the Self is revealed or manifest in some way? If it is not manifest at all, in any way whatsoever, there would be no love of self. We would deny our self, rather than affirm our self. That is to say that the Self is manifest in some form. But if it is really manifest, we would not love objects of sense. Why do we run after objects if the Self is distinctly felt inside as the source of all bliss? This shows that there is some obstacle covering the Consciousness of the Self, causing an indistinct perception of it, sometimes making it appear that it is revealed as the source of freedom and bliss in us, and at other times making us feel that we do not have any idea of it and are only thinking of the objects of sense.

The cause of the obstacle in this case is avidya, ignorance. Avidya is a word which is difficult to explain. It is something which covers Consciousness, and is explained in many ways. Some people say that avidya consists of a predominance of rajas and tamas over sattva, and therefore, there is no illumination possible when the cloud of this avidya, or ignorance, covers the Consciousness of the Atman. Others say that avidya is the residue of the potentials of all the karmas that one did in the past. In a way, we may say avidya covering the Atman is nothing but our unfulfilled desires, whose impressions we have carried through several previous births. It may be that avidya is the end result of our unfulfilled desires, those desires which we could not fulfil through our different incarnations in the body, or it may be, to explain it in a different way, rajas and tamas clouding sattva. Sattva is indistinctly manifest in dream, so we have a hazy perception of things. Sattva is distractedly yet distinctly manifest in waking, so we can have a clear perception of things in the world. But we do not have any perception in the state of deep sleep. It is covered by pure avidya—an abundance of rajas and tamas activity, minus the appearance of sattva. Ihā nādira vidyaiva vyāmo haika niban dhanam.

Cidānanda maya brahma prati bimba saman vitā, tamo rajas satva guṇā prakṛtir divividhā ca sā (15). There is a thing called prakriti. We have come across this term in our studies of the Samkhya doctrine. In the Vedanta also, this prakriti is accepted, with a little modification of its definition. Brahman is Pure Existence, Consciousness, Bliss—Sat-Chit-Ananda. We have already established this fact. When this Supreme Brahman, which is Sat-Chit-Ananda, is reflected in prakriti, which is constituted of sattva, rajas and tamas gunas, prakriti acts in two ways.

In what way does this prakriti act in a dual fashion? Yesterday we heard that there is, on the one hand, an obliteration of the consciousness of the universality of the Self. That is called the function of prakriti known as avarana, covering. The other aspect of prakriti is vikshepa, which causes the perception of an externality of the world. So it does two things. It covers Consciousness, and then distracts our consciousness in the direction of the perception of objects outside in space and time.

When prakriti operates cosmically and reflects the universal Brahman Consciousness in it, it is called maya. Ishvara is the name given to Brahman revealed, or manifest, or reflected through prakriti’s gunas. When a predominance of cosmic sattva, overwhelming rajas and tamas, reflects the universal Brahman in itself, that reflected consciousness in the universal sattva is Ishvara. The universal sattva itself is called maya. Maya is under the control of Ishvara, but avidya is not under the control of the jiva, or the individual. Avidya controls the jiva, while Ishvara controls maya. That is the difference between Ishvara and the jiva, God and the individual.

Satva śuddhya viśuddhi bhyāṁ māyā’vidye ca te mate, māyā bimbo vaśī kṛtya tāṁ syāstarvajña īśvaraḥ (16). Omniscience is the nature of God, or Ishvara, because Ishvara is a universally spread-out reflection of the Absolute Brahman in the all-pervading, equilibrated condition of the sattva guna of prakriti. As sattva is universally manifest, it has no divisions such as rajas and tamas. Therefore, the reflection through it of Brahman Consciousness, known as Ishvara, is omniscient, knowing all things at one stroke. For the same reason, it is also omnipresent and omnipotent. So God is all power, all knowledge and all undivided presence: omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence. This is the nature of Ishvara, God, Who creates this universe.

But the fate of the individual jiva is different. It is not omniscient; it is not omnipotent; it is not omnipresent. While Ishvara is everywhere, the jiva is in one place only—like every one of us. We cannot be in two places at the same time. Our knowledge is distorted, reflected and conditioned to objects; and we have no power, because avidya controls us. Therefore, the individual jiva is the opposite of Ishvara. While Bliss is the nature of Ishvara, or God, unhappiness, sorrow, grief, suffering is the nature of the individual jiva.

Avidyā vaśaga stvanya stad vaicitryāda nekadhā, sā kāraṇa śarīraṁ syāt prājñas tatrā bhimāna vān (17). This avidya, or the causal body, which is also known as the anandamaya kosha in the individual, is of varieties and not of a uniform nature. The avidya of a human being, the avidya of an animal, the avidya of a plant or a tree, the avidya of stones and inanimate objects are variegated in their manifestation. They cause the variety of the species of individuals, which are 84 lakhs in number. Jivas are 84 lakhs in variety. A lakh means 100,000, and so there are 84 100,000’s. So many incarnations through the varieties of species of beings each one takes, and then one attains the state of humanity. Human beings are the last thread, knot, or terminus of these 84 lakhs. Yet, evolution is not complete with humanity. We have to become divine beings. Merely being human beings is not sufficient, because even in the human being there is the operation of rajas and tamas. Pure sattva does not operate in the individual jiva. Therefore, there is unhappiness and a sense of finitude and limitation. Because of the subjection to avidya which, unlike Ishvara, is predominantly rajasic and tamasic in nature, and which is variegated in all the species of beings, there comes the causal body of the jiva.

The Consciousness that is inherent in and behind this avidya in the causal body is called prajna in the technical language of Vedanta philosophy. Prajna is only a name, which means the Knower Consciousness existing at the back of the totally covering and obscuring avidya as it is manifest in the state of deep sleep, and manifest in other states as well, in different ways. Avidya is not manifest only in sleep. In sleep it acts as complete obscuration, like an eclipse of the sun. But in the dreaming and waking states it manifests through the subtle body and the physical body, due to which we are conscious of our subtle body in dream and conscious of the physical body in waking. That also is an action of avidya because wherever there is externality of perception, there is avidya. Everything involved in this perception of things outside in space and time is working through avidya. It is only in the state of sleep that avidya completely covers Consciousness: sā kāraṇa śarīraṁ syāt prājñas tatrā bhimāna vān.

This Consciousness in the three states—sleeping, dreaming and waking—is known by different names. The Consciousness that is behind the causal body, as manifest in sleep, is called prajna. The same Consciousness operating behind the dream state is called taijasa. The same Consciousness operating behind the waking state is called visva. Visva, taijasa, prajna are the names of the same Atman Consciousness operating behind the screen of the waking condition, dreaming condition and sleep condition.

Tamaḥ pradhāna prakṛte stadbho gāye śrvarā jñayā, viyat pavana tejo’mbu bhuvo bhūtāni jajñire (18). The jivas, or individuals—people like us, human beings—have been born into this body due to our past karmas, the fulfilment of which is to be worked out through this body and through any other body which may be compelled upon us on account of our not living a righteous and good life in this world at the present moment. For the sake of the experience of the past karmas of individuals, a field has to be created because experience is not possible unless there is a field, an area of action. This area of action for the working out of the karmas of the individuals is this vast world which God has created.

The world of God, the creation of God, extends from the time of the will of God to create until God enters and is immanent in every created being. Up to this level, it is all Bliss. It is Virat operating immanently in all beings; and variety is not a bondage there, because it is one Universal Consciousness beholding the variety of its manifestation—right from the will to create until the entry and immanence of this very same Universal Consciousness in all individuals of every species.

But tragedy starts when this individual, which is actually an immanent form of Ishvara Himself, somehow or other, for reasons nobody knows, asserts an independence of itself. It is something like the Biblical story of the fall of Lucifer who arrogantly asserted an independence from God. There is a similar story in the Upanishads, namely, that the individual somehow or other foolishly starts asserting its independence and falls headlong into the mire of sorrow, with head down and legs up, as it were, like Trishanku falling from heaven.

Then what happens? The individual is completely oblivious of the Universal Consciousness which is immanent in it. As the individual falls through the aperture of the distorted screen of this sleeping condition, with it manifests a faculty of individuality, called mind and intellect and sense organs, for creating a heaven in its hell. It says, as the poet tells us, “It is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.” It does not want to serve in heaven. It would rather reign as the president, even if it is in hell. The world is hell, and we are like presidents, ruling the world. And we feel very happy, thinking that all is well with this hell.

This wondrous creation of God is constituted of the elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether in their gross form; and in their subtle form they are sabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa, gandha, to which we made reference yesterday. This is the area of action, the world which God has created for providing individuals an opportunity to fulfil their residual karmas, due to which they have been born into this body.

Prakriti, which is stability and fixity in its nature, is brooded upon. God broods over the cosmic waters, says Genesis in the Bible. It is the very same cosmic waters on which the Cosmic Consciousness broods and manifests Earth and heaven and all the worlds at one stroke for the purpose of the bhoga of the individuals—the individual’s experience of the fruits of its actions, whether good or bad. What are these worlds? They are the five elements—earth, water, fire, air and ether. Such is the creation of God.

Satvāṁśaiḥ pañcabhi steṣāṁ kramād dhīn driya pañcakam, śrotra tvagakṣi rasana ghrāṇākhyam upajāyate (19). The sense organs, the sensations of knowledge—hearing, touching, seeing, tasting and smelling, which are the prominent activities of our sense organs—are created out of the sattva portions of prakriti. Through tamas, the five elements are created. Through the sattva guna of prakriti, independently and individually taken, the sense organs are created as mentioned, and they are the reason for our perception of the world by hearing, by touching, by seeing, by tasting and by smelling. These are the only activities of ours in this world through the sense organs. They are created out of prakriti itself through its sattva guna, while the cosmic physical world is created out of the tamas quality of the same prakriti.

Tai rantaḥ karaṇaṁ sarvai vṛtti bhedena tad dvidhā, mano vimarśa rūpaṁ syād buddhiḥ syān niśca yātmikā (20). The internal organ, called the mind or chitta, is also consti-tuted of the total essence of the sattva gunas of prakriti. Individually taken, this prakriti sattva becomes the cause of the manifestation of the five sense organs. Collectively taken, it becomes the cause of the manifestation of the mind itself, which has four functions to perform, namely, thinking, self-arrogation, memory and intellection—known as manas, buddhi, chitta and ahamkara.

Mano vimarśa rūpaṁ syād. Manas, or the mind, does only the act of indistinct and indeterminate thinking. When we begin to feel that something is there in front of us but we cannot clearly know what it is that is there, it is called indeterminate thinking, which is the work of the mind. But when it is clear to us that it is a man that is standing there, or a tree is there, or a pole is there, that distinct and clear perception is the work of reason, or intellect, which is superior to the mind. Decision and determination are the functions of the buddhi—the intellect, or reason.

Rajoṁ’saiḥ pañcabhi steṣāṁ kramāt karmen indrayāṇi tu, vāk pāṇi pāda pāyupastha abhi dhānāni jajñire (21). We have mentioned what happens with the tamas and the sattva of prakriti. Now there is something left, which is rajas. The rajas of prakriti becomes the cause, individually taken, of the organs of action, which are different from the senses of knowledge. The senses of knowledge are hearing, touching, seeing, tasting and smelling. The organs of action are five more: speaking, grasping with the hands, locomotion with the feet, the genitals and the anus. These are the five organs of action, which are the operative locations of the pranas. The mind is not the cause here. The mind is directly connected with the senses of knowledge, whereas the prana is directly connected with the organs of action. Individually taken, this fivefold rajas guna becomes the organs of action that I mentioned.

Taiḥ sarvaiḥ sahitaiḥ prāṇo vṛtti bhedāt sa pañcadhā, prāṇo’pānaḥ samā naśco dāna vyānau ca te punaḥ (22). But collectively taken, this rajas becomes the prana or the vital energy in us with its fivefold functions of prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana. Prana works when we breathe out. Apana works when we breathe in. Samana works in the stomach, in the navel area, and causes the digestion of food. Vyana causes circulation of blood, and udana takes us to deep sleep and also causes deglutition of food when we eat. It also causes separation of the jiva consciousness from the body at the time of death. This fivefold function of the prana, known generally as prana, is the total cumulative effect of the rajas guna aspect of prakriti.

So we are now fully in possession of the knowledge as to how the tamas, rajas and sattva prakriti work under the control of Ishvara, God, who created the world.

Buddhi karmendriyaprāṇa pañcakair manasā dhiyā, śarīraṁ sapta daśabhiḥ sūkṣmaṁ talliṅga mucyate (23). The subtle body, also called the astral body, is within the body, and it consists of the five senses of knowledge, the five senses of action, the five pranas, together with mind and intellect—totalling seventeen. These seventeen constituents are the substance of the sukshma sarira, that is, the subtle body. Seventeen components go to form the subtle body within the physical body.

Prājña statrā bhimānena taijasatvaṁ prapadyate, hiraṇya garbhatā mīśas tayor vyaṣṭi samaṣṭitā (24). When Consciousness manifests itself as a background of the sleeping condition or the causal body, it is called prajna, as we said. When it is there at the back of the dreaming condition, it is called taijasa. Cosmically, this dreaming condition is animated by the universal consciousness, called Hiranyagarbha-tattva. Individually Hiranyagarbha is the dreaming consciousness, and cosmically it is called by such names as universal prana, sutratma, thread-consciousness. Ishvara is the cosmical counterpart of the sleeping condition, whereas Hiranyagarbha is the cosmical counterpart of the dreaming condition, and Virat is the cosmical counterpart of the waking condition. This is something important for us to remember, even for our meditation.

In meditation, what do we do? We merge the waking consciousness into the Virat universal consciousness, as the total waking condition of the cosmos. We merge the dreaming consciousness in the total causal dreaming condition of the cosmos in Hiranyagarbha. In sleep we merge this causal condition into the universal causal condition of Ishvara. But in all the three states of sleep, dream and waking, we are conditioned, and we remain helpless; forcibly we are driven into these conditions by some factor of which we have no knowledge.

Whereas that is the case with each one of us, a different state of affairs obtains in Virat, Hiranyagarbha and Ishvara. They have no compulsion. That is all freedom. It is all universality. It is all omniscience. It is all omnipotence. God dancing in His own glory, as it were, is Virat, Hiranyagarbha, Ishvara; but the suffering jiva in a concentration camp, as it were, which is this world, is the fate of every one of us.

Hiraṇya garbhatā mīśas tayor vyaṣṭi samaṣṭitā. Vyasti is individual; samasti is total. Individually, we are prajna, taijasa and visva. Cosmically, the same thing is known as Virat, Hiranyagarbha and Ishvara.

Samaṣṭi rīśaḥ sarveṣāṁ svātma tādātmya vedanāt, tada bhāvāt tato’nye tu kathyante vyaṣṭi saṁ jñayā (25). Because Ishvara has an identity of His own Self with everything that He has created, He is called Total Consciousness, or samasti in Sanskrit. Because of the absence of this identity of Consciousness with all things at the same time in the case of the jiva, it is called shakti, or segregated individual. Identity with all things at one stroke is the nature of Ishvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat. Identity with only this particular body, and not with anybody else, is the fate of the jiva, the individual. A great tragedy, a great travesty, a great sorrow has manifest before us as this individuality of ours.

Tad bhogāya puna bhogya bhogā yatana janmane, pañcīkaroti bhaga vān prayekaṁ viyadā dikam (26). Dvidhā vidhāya caikaikaṁ caturdhā prathamaṁ punaḥ, svasve tara dvitīyāṁ śaiḥ yojanāt pañca pañca te (27). It was mentioned that there are five potentials of the five elements—sound, touch, etc. These electrical energies, we may call them, that are at the back as the causative factors of the five elements and are mixed up by God Himself in some proportion, are called panchikarana, or the process of quintuplication, due to which, the physical world of earth, water, fire, air and ether are manifest. Half of the sabda, or the hearing tanmatra, is mixed with one-eighth of each of the remaining four, and therefore, it becomes half in its composition as sabda tanmatra; and one-eighth of it consists of a little portion of the others, namely touch, colour, taste and smell. In a similar manner are the other elements also. For the touch principle, half of it is the touch principle, and one-eighth of the other four are taken into consideration and mixed with this half, and it then becomes vayu, or wind. Sabda becomes space, or sky, as we call it, by this quintuplication process. In the same process, the fire principle becomes fire, or light. In the same process, the taste principle becomes water. The smell principle undergoing the same process of quintuplication becomes the physical earth.

So the five gross elements—ether, air, fire, water and earth—are constituted of some other elements also, and they are not entirely the original potentials wholly manifest in them. It is a peculiar combination and permutation that becomes necessary for the chemical type of combination, as it were, which causes the manifestation of the five gross elements. Thus, on the one side, the whole physical universe has been cosmically created, and on the other side, it has been individually created.