Commentary on the Panchadasi
by Swami Krishnananda

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Discourse 8

Chapter 2: Pancha Mahabhuta Viveka – Discrimination of the Elements
Verses 19-34

This Second Chapter and the following one, the Third, have two different purposes. The Second Chapter analyses the nature of universal intelligence as distinguishable from the five elements which constitute the whole universe—earth, water, fire, air, ether. Towards that end, we are moving through this long introduction commencing with the definition of Ultimate Existence as Pure Being: One alone without a second. From this, certain controversial ideas arise which the author takes into consideration, especially in relation to those doctrines which consider non-existence as the beginning of things, and not Existence as the beginning of things.

Nothingness is the original condition of all things. Shunyata is the Sanskrit word for it. Nil, zero, vacuum, nothingness is the original state of things. All the world will be reduced to a vacuum when dissolution takes place, or when the effects are resolved into their causes. The idea behind this is that the world is as much a vacuum as its cause is. The Madhyamika doctrine, which is a section of Buddhist philosophy, emphasises this aspect of the original nothingness of all things and, incidentally, also the nothingness of everything that is apparently visible to the eyes. This question is taken up by the author of the Panchadasi, with which we proceed.

Idaṁ sarvaṁ purā sṛṣṭer-edam-evā-dvitīyakam, sad-ev-āsīn-nāma-rūpe nāstām-ity-āruṇer-vacaḥ (19). Aruni, which is the name of Uddalaka, the teacher of Svetaketu in the Sixth Chapter of the Chhandogya Upanishad, says that in the beginning, all this was Existence, pure and simple, One alone without a second. Sad-ev-āsīn: Existence alone was. Nāma-rūpe nāstām: The names and the forms of the world did not exist. The whole world of perception is constituted of name, form and action. Inasmuch as names and forms could not be there in the origin of things because they were created later on in terms of the manifestation of space and time—names and forms cannot be there unless there is space and time, and in Pure Existence, space and time cannot be there—therefore, it is concluded that there were no names and no forms whatsoever, no categorisation into particulars in the original state of Being, which was One alone without a second. It has no internal differentiation, external variety or any kind of contact with anything.

There are different kinds of variety or separateness, which will all be denied in the nature of the Ultimate Being. We know there are things called differences in this world. A branch of a tree is different from another branch of a tree. Within the tree itself, there is internal difference. One branch is not like another branch, one twig is not like another twig, and even one leaf is not like another leaf. There is also internal difference in our body. The hands are different from the legs, the legs are different from the nose, and so on. This difference that is observed within the body of a single entity is called svagata bheda. Svagata means internal variety, as is the case with the difference we see among the branches of a tree.

Vṛkṣasya svagato bhedaḥ patra puṣpa phalādi-bhiḥ, vṛkṣān tarāt sajātīyo vijātīyaś-śilāditaḥ (20). A leaf is different from a flower, a flower is different from a fruit, etc., in a tree. This is a difference that is internal to the organism of the tree. But one tree is different from another tree. This is not internal difference, but external difference. The hands may be different from the feet of the same person, but one person is different from another person. This is called vijatiya bheda, external differentiation. Svagata bheda is internal differentiation, as among the limbs of the body; vijatiya bheda is differentiation between contraries, totally different things, as between one tree and another tree, though of the same species. One person is different from another person, notwithstanding the fact that all persons are of the same species. But there can also be difference of variety in species. A tree is different from a stone. Here, the difference is between the species itself. Firstly, it is svagata bheda, internal differentiation within oneself. Secondly, it is external differentiation among the same species. Thirdly, it is differentiation between different species, like a tree and a stone. So there are three kinds of difference which we can imagine in our minds.

But none of these differences can apply to Pure Existence. Pure Being is indivisible in its nature. The indivisibility of its character prevents any kind of internal differentiation within itself. It has no limbs. We cannot say that one part of Existence is different from another part of Existence as one limb is different from another limb of the body. Therefore, internal differentiation is not possible in Existence.

External differentiation is also not possible, such as itself being different from another of its own species, because there is no species equal to Existence. It is unique by itself. Hence, the external type of differentiation also does not apply. The third variety, which is the difference of variety of species, also does not apply to Pure Being because while there can be a stone outside a tree, there cannot be anything outside Pure Being, externality not being there. Thus, the three kinds of difference are denied in Pure Being.

Tathā sad-vastuno bheda trayaṁ prāptaṁ nivāryate, aikyā vadhāraṇa dvaita prati ṣedhai stribhiḥ kramāt (21). We have refuted the possibility of there being any kind of difference within or without Pure Existence. Why? Aikyā vadhāraṇa dvaita prati ṣedhai stribhiḥ kramāt: One alone without a second. These three terms, ekam, eva, advaita, deny three kinds of difference. ‘One alone’, ekam, refutes the possibility of internal variety. ‘Alone’ refutes the possibility of external differentiation. Advaita, ‘secondless’, refutes the third possibility of difference from another species. This one phrase refutes three kinds of difference: One alone without a second. Thus is the instruction of the great Sage Uddalaka to his disciple Svetaketu, as we have it elaborately described in the Sixth Chapter of the Chhandogya Upanishad.

Sato nāva yavāś śaṅkyās tadaṁśasyā nirūpaṇāt, nāmarūpe na tasyāṁśau tayo radyā pyanud bhavāt (22). We should not even dream that there can be limbs inside Existence because then limbs must exist, and there cannot be a differentiation in Existence itself, as if there are parts of Existence. Tadaṁśasyā nirūpaṇāt: We cannot think that perhaps there are varieties or differentiations within Pure Existence because we cannot conceive fraction, divisibility, part, segmentation, in indivisibility.

Nāmarūpe na tasyāṁśau: Names and forms, the variety of creation, cannot be regarded as part of Existence because they did not exist prior to creation. Tayo radyā pyanud bhavāt: They have not started; they have not even originated to be. Therefore, names and forms, which constitute the substance of this world, cannot be associated with this Universal Existence in any manner whatsoever, and should not make us feel that perhaps the names and the forms and the variety of this creation may introduce a kind of difference. Such a thing is not possible.

Nāmarūpo dbhava syaiva sṛṣṭi tvāt sṛsṭitaḥ purā, na tayo rudbhavas tasmāt niraṁśaṁ sad yathā viyat (23). Creation is nothing but the manifestation of name and form. When designation, epithet and concretised presentations of forms arise, we begin to feel that creation has started. Creation is nothing but variety, which is essentially form and designation. But such a thing could not be there prior to creation. Hence, we should not associate the differentiating characters of name and form with Existence, which was there even prior to the commencement of creation. Na tayo rudbhavas: There was no origin of names and forms then. Therefore, what do we conclude? Niraṁśaṁ sad yathā viyat: As space is divisionless and it is homogeneously spread out, so Pure Existence is homogeneous and undivided in its nature. Niraṁśaṁ, without any kind of part within itself.

Sadantaraṁ sajātīyaṁ na vailakṣaṇya varjanāt, nāma rūpo pādhi bhedaṁ vinā naiva sato bhidā (24). If there is some Existence second to that Existence—another Existence different from the Existence we are considering—then we can say that there is variety in the same species. But such a thing is not possible, as we have already noted—na vailakṣaṇya varjanāt—because specification of Existence as constituting something other than itself is not possible. There cannot be any kind of difference of one Existence from another Existence since two Existences cannot be there, because even the difference imagined between two so-called Existences has to be existing. The imagined difference between two Existences should be existing; therefore, Existence is uniform.

Nāmarūpo pādhi bhedaṁ vinā naiva sato bhidā. The differentiations that we are thinking of in our mind are only in terms of name and form. We are repeating it again and again. Because of the fact that names and forms could not be there prior to creation, no difference of any kind can be imagined in Pure Existence.

Vijātīya masattattu no khalva stīti gamyate, nāsyātaḥ prati yogitvaṁ vijātīyāt bhidā kutaḥ (25). Anything that is other than Existence is non-existence; therefore, it is a non-entity. We cannot imagine that something can be there outside Existence, because that which is imagined to be outside Existence is other than Existence, equivalent to non-existence. So we should not bother about anything external to Existence as it is only affirming non-entity, which has no sense at all.

Nāsyātaḥ prati yogitvaṁ: There is no opposition to Pure Existence. Contrary to Existence, nothing can be; opposed to Existence, nothing can be; and second to Existence, nothing can be. Vijātīyāt bhidā kutaḥ: What to speak of the difference between Existence and something other than Existence. That is, three types of difference are denied here in respect of Pure Being.

Ekamevā dvitīyaṁ sat siddha matra tu kecana, vihvalā asadevedaṁ purā sīdityā varṇayan (26). People cannot conceive of Pure Existence because the mind always objectifies whatever it thinks. Even after hearing a thousand times that Existence cannot be divided, that it has always to be divisionless, the conscious mind, which always imagines its contents as something standing outside, brings into force the argument that Existence is divided as between the subject and the object, between the perceiver and the perceived, or that it is a content of somebody’s awareness.

The German philosopher Hegel said that Pure Existence is equal to non-existence. To say that Existence alone is, is another way of saying that non-existence alone is, because his idea is that we cannot conceive Existence in the mind except as an object or a content of itself. Anything that we think, even when we assert Existence, is a part of our thinking process. But if we say it is a part of the thinking process, it becomes divided between the subject and the object, and then it ceases to be universal. The moment we say it is not an object at all—it is not a content of the mind—it becomes a featureless, meaningless non-entity, as it were, because of its not being a content of anybody’s awareness. This is a peculiar argument that arises due to inexperience. Intellectual philosophy is not enough. We must have direct experience of this truth by intuition, which Hegel did not have.

Something like this is also the argument of the nihilist philosophers who say that the relativity of things, the factor of one thing hanging on another thing, denies the substance of anything. Everything in the world is conditioned by everything else; nothing is independent by itself. The existence of one thing is possible on account of the existence of something else. If that is the case, nothing is absolutely existing; therefore, there is no such thing as Absolute Existence. What finally exists? Zero, nil, vacuum—that is Ultimate Reality. This is one kind of argument.

Magnasy-ābdhau yathā-kṣāṇi vihvalāni tathāsya dhīḥ, akhaṇḍaika rasaṁ śrutvā niṣpracārā bibhetyataḥ (27). The author says that as a person drowned in deep waters cannot open his eyes and see anything, a person whose mind is expected to drown itself in the ocean of Existence closes his eyes and begins to see darkness in front of him, rather than Pure Existence. The waters in which we are drowned cannot be seen with our eyes because we have closed our eyes, because we are inside. Similarly, people who try to conceive Pure Existence with their understanding suddenly close the eyes of their consciousness and imagine that it is like darkness—as a person with closed eyes inside the water may think that there is nothing inside, while it is all water. Akhandaikarasa, undivided essence, is the original nature of things. Akhanda is undivided; ikarasa is pure essence. Undivided pure essence is the nature of Ultimate Existence.

By hearing this, the mind is baffled. It is unable to contain this thought. How is it possible to expect the mind, which is a located, cognising entity, to comprehend within itself that which is everywhere and inclusive of even itself? The mind is included even within the principle of Existence; therefore, the mind cannot conceive it. This is the reason why the intellect becomes baffled and we begin to feel that Existence is like non-existence.

Gaudapada Acharya in his Mandukya Karika says that if we put children in an empty space and nobody is there in front of them, they will cry because they are afraid. If we place a child in the wilderness where there is nobody to be seen and there is nothing outside, it will start crying. The child is crying not because it is afraid of something that is there. It is afraid because there is nothing there. It is crying because of the fear of non-entity, rather than the fear of entities.

Gauḍācāryā nirvikalpe samādhā vanya yoginām, sākāra brahma niṣṭhānām atyantaṁ bhaya mūcire (28). Gaudapada Acharya, the great Guru of Sankaracharya, says that when we enter into nirvikalpa samadhi, or abstract meditation where the mind itself is dissolved in the equilibrium of pure awareness, it sees nothing in front of it, and gets frightened. There is agitation of the consciousness in the same way as the child is agitated because it can see nothing in front of it. The fear arises on account of there being no object in front, not because of the presence of something. Usually, fear arises on account of the presence of something outside. This is a peculiar kind of fear arising out of there being nothing at all. Such a kind of predicament of there being nothing outside Pure Existence is the reason why baffled minds imagine that non-existence is the origin of things, instead of Pure Existence: sākāra brahma niṣṭhānām atyantaṁ bhaya mūcire.

This yoga which Gaudapada Acharya mentions is called asparsa yoga. It is a yoga, or union, of no union. Yoga is contact; asparsa is non-contact. It is the contact of no contact. We do not come in contact with Brahman, and yet we come in contact with it in some way. Generally, contact is of one thing with another thing, but here, consciousness which is contacting Brahman is not something outside Brahman; therefore, we cannot say consciousness is contacting Brahman. It is the Self contacting itself. It is, therefore, a non-contactual contact. Hence, it is called asparsa yoga—wherein placed, the mind is frightened. It cannot any more conceive such a state, and it cannot stand there for more than a minute.

Asparśa yogo nāmaiṣa durdarśas-sarva-yogibhiḥ, yogino bibhyati hy-asmād-abhaye bhata darśinaḥ (29). This is very difficult to attain. Ordinary so-called yogis cannot attain that state of total immersion in utter universality where the mind also gets dissolved. Durdarśas-sarva-yogibhiḥ: Ordinary yogis cannot attain to that state. Yogino bibhyati hy-asmād: Even yogis are frightened to hear of this transcendent state; abhaye bhata darśinaḥ: because they see fear where there is really no cause for fear.

Bhagavat pūjya pādāśca śuṣka tarka paṭūnamūn, āhur mādhyamikān bhrāntān acintye’smin sadātmani (30). Bhagavatpada Acharya is Acharya Sankara. He, in his commentaries, in his writings, refers to these arguments which are bereft of substance—empty quibbling of the Madhyamikas and the relativists who begin to affirm the existence of non-existence. They do not know what they are speaking about; and this happens to them because of the incomprehensibility of the Absolute, the unthinkability of universality.

Anādṛtya śrutiṁ maurkhyād-ime bauddhā tamasvinaḥ, āpedire nirāt matvam anumānaika cakṣuṣaḥ (31). One of the nihilist arguments is that the Self does not exist; there is no such thing as Self-consciousness. This assertion is totally contrary to scriptural arguments such as in the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita. They imagine that they know everything. By pure argument and the force of logical analysis of the relativity of things, they come to an unfounded conclusion that ultimately not only is there nothing in the universe, there is not even the thinker—not even the person who affirms that there is nothing.

The feasibility of this argument is very clear. When the doubter denies and doubts himself, the negation of a thing is also negated. First of all, it is negated. Existence is negated. It is converted into non-existence: only non-existence was. Now, inasmuch as non-existence was, the person who makes that statement is also non-existent, which means the argument fails. So there is a self-contradiction in the very statement “Non-existence was” instead of “Pure Existence was”. This is the fate of people who rely purely on dry logic without having internal experience.

Śūnyam-āsīd iti brūṣe sadyogaṁ vā sadātamatām, śūnyasya na tu tadyuktam ubhayaṁ vyāha-tatvataḥ (32). When you say that nothingness is, do you mean to say that nothingness is associated with Existence, or that nothingness is independently existing? There are only two possibilities. The so-called nothingness that you are affirming has either to be associated with Existence, or it is by itself Existence. Now, you cannot associate non-existence with Existence, because they are contraries. As light and darkness cannot be brought together, Existence and non-existence cannot come together. Therefore, the possibility of the association of non-existence with Existence is ruled out.

Now you may say that non-existence exists. If that is the case, what is your great argument? You are saying that non-existence exists, and we are telling you the same thing: there is Existence. You may call it by any name you like, but you cannot define it as some particular thing like non-existence, because Existence is a generality of foundation for anything that you can talk of, think of or imagine in the mind and, therefore, to say that non-existence exists is not to introduce a duality between non-existence and Existence; actually, you are refuting your own argument and denying the meaning of non-existence. You are virtually falling on Pure Existence only.

Na yuktas tamasā sūryo nāpi cāsau tamomayaḥ, sac-chūnyayor-virodhi tvāt śūnyam āsīt-kathaṁ vada (33). As sunlight cannot be associated with the darkness of night, you cannot associate Existence with non-existence. The sun is neither associated with darkness, nor is he himself darkness. In a similar manner, there is such a contradiction between light and darkness. The same is the case with the contradiction between non-existence and Existence. How on Earth could you imagine the association of non-existence with Existence, or assert the existence of non-existence as different from Existence? It is virtually affirming the very same position that we have been maintaining, that Existence alone was—sad eva, saumya, idam agra āsīd (C.U. 6.2.1), which the great Uddalaka proclaimed many years back.

Viyadāder nāmarūpe māyayā suvikalpite, śūnyasya nāmarūpe ca tathā cet jīvyatāṁ ciram (34). The nihilists may say that universally spread-out objects, such as space, appear to be visible and perceptible on account of the illusion of there being name and form for them. We see space, for instance; we can know there is space there. It has not really got name and form, but we assume some sort of name and form in it as extendedness, depth, infinity, and so on. It is pure illusion that has been foisted upon an otherwise non-existent infinity or extension which is space.

The siddhantin speaks to the opponent: If you say that even the categorisation of non-existence as something different from Existence is due to the association of descriptive characters of non-existence, then we are agreeable to your argument. We will remove the descriptive characters of name and form from non-existence, and we will have only Existence remaining. So in any way, in any circumstance, with any argument whatsoever, wherever you go, you are cornered into the acceptance of the fact that the ultimate reality is Pure Being, and the great statement of Uddalaka stands valid forever and ever. Sad eva, saumya, idam agra āsīd: Pure Being is the only reality.