Commentary on the Panchadasi
by Swami Krishnananda

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Discourse 9

Chapter 2: Pancha Mahabhuta Viveka – Discrimination of the Elements
Verses 33-52

The relationship between Existence and non-existence was held to be impossible. Na yuktas tamasā sūryo nāpi cāsau tamomayaḥ, sac-chūnyayor-virodhi tvāt śūnyam āsīt-kathaṁ vada (33). The sun is neither associated with darkness, nor is he himself an embodiment of darkness. In such a case, how would it be possible for anyone to say that there was such a thing called non-existence? How could it be meaningful to assert that, once upon a time, there was non-existence? Non-existence cannot be conceived. The moment it is conceived, it becomes Existence. If it cannot be conceived, it is not there. So the affirmation of a thing which is contrary to common sense and the principles of logic should not be admitted into the field of a reasonable way of understanding the great statement of the Upanishad, sad eva, saumya, idam agra āsīd ekam evādvitīyam (C.U. 6.2.1): One alone, without a second, was.

Viyadāder nāmarūpe māyayā suvikalpite, śūnyasya nāmarūpe ca tathā cet jīvyatāṁ ciram (34). It may be argued that things such as space appear to be perceptible on account of the association with names and forms falsely foisted upon them—such as dimension, colour, depth, etc. There is no measurable dimension of space; also, space has no conceivable depth, and it has no colour. In spite of its being of this nature, common-sense perception seems to hold the view that there are these characteristics in space. They are falsely assumed. If non-existence also is conceived in a similar manner and its untenability is due to the association of negative characters, then we ask you to remove those negative characters, and then what remains is the positive character of non-existence. Minus ‘non’, only Existence remains.

Sato’pi nāma rūpe dve kalpite cet tadā vada, kutreti niradhiṣ ṭhāno na bhramaḥ kvatcit īkṣyate (35). Even the concept of Existence is sometimes objectified. For instance, when we say the world exists, we forget that we are also a part of the world and, therefore, we cannot make a statement like that. Yet, we assume a sort of subjectivity of consciousness in our own selves. We feel that we are the perceivers of something which is not our own selves, and which we call the world. This is, again, an instance of foisting characteristics of externality onto a thing which is not really external. The world is not an external object. It is not outside us, and yet we see it outside. This is a mistake that we commit, an error in the very structure of perception.

In a similar manner, if we say that non-existence has been properly conceived, we again ask the question: “Where does non-existence exist?” Which is the adishthana or the substratum of non-existence? It must exist somewhere. Even non-existence, in order that it may have any significance, must be existing. If it is existing, it is no more non-existence. So the argument of the nihilist is refuted.

Sadāsī diti śabdārtha bhede vai guṇya māpatet, abhede punarukti syāt maivaṁ loke tathekṣaṇāt (36). The statement of Uddalaka in the Upanishad is sad eva asid: Existence alone was. Now the objector raises a question: “Why do you say ‘Existence was’, as if it is not now? What is the purpose of the teacher making this statement in this manner, sad eva asid, as if it was there once upon a time?”

To this, the answer is that it is only a metaphorical way of expressing a fact which requires to be properly understood by the mind of an ordinary human being. The objection is that ‘Existence’ and the verb following it, asid, or ‘was’, are to be separated as two different connotations, and then there would be duality; and if we say that the verb is identical with Existence, it would be tautological. It is like saying “What is, is is” or “What was, was was”. What was, was; what is, is. This is called a tautological argument. So we are involved in a repetitious way of describing a thing in a way which the word ‘sentence’ seems to connote—namely, sat asid. Asid is a Sanskrit word. It is the past tense of asti, ‘exists’. Existence existed. That seems to be the meaning. We should not make statements like that because nobody says “Existence existed”. That is a repetitious way of making a statement, called tautological. So either it is a tautology or it is characterised by duality. The word asid, or ‘existed’, should not be there.

The answer is that every sentence requires a verb. We cannot merely make a statement with one word: Existence. The teacher cannot convey any sense to the student by saying, “My dear boy, Existence.” A sentence has to be uttered, and whenever a sentence is formed, there is a subject and a predicate. There is a noun and a verb; otherwise, the sentence does not convey any sense. So to create meaning in the statement, the Guru uses a verb. It is not intended to create duality, nor is it intended to be tautological, but it is only a metaphorical way of expressing a sentence which cannot be grammatically expressed in any other manner.

For instance, statements such as “The deed is done”, “The speech is spoken”, “The burden is borne” are not to be considered as tautological. “The deed is done.” Do we not say that? It has a meaning of its own. “The deed is done” means the deed has been executed. The great teacher Uddalaka has employed that same means of expression when he said “Existence alone was” as is employed in these other common expressions.

The idea of ‘was’, or the past tense, is to take into consideration the standpoint of the student. Students are likely to feel that the world has been created, and that it is filled with names and forms that have an origin, and that before the origin of names and forms in the form of this world, there were no names and forms. What was there then? Pure Existence was. It does not follow that Existence is not now. It is even now, but from our standpoint of an acceptance of there being such a thing called creation in terms of name and form, it is to satisfy our curiosity and sentiment that statements of this kind are made: Existence was. Existence was, in the sense that there was only Existence, minus association with name and form as they appear to be now in the form of the world of perception. So for our elucidation and instruction such statements are made, but they are not to be taken literally. Any illustration should not be stretched beyond limits. The superimposition of Brahman has taken place over the world, we say. As the snake is superimposed on the rope, the world is superimposed on Brahman. This analogy is only intended to convey the act of superimposition, but it does not mean that the world is long like a snake or curled like a rope, and so on. That is called an extension of an illustration beyond the permissible limit.

In a similar manner, we have to understand the intention of the author when he says that Existence was. The spirit of the argument is more important than the letter. We should not linguistically, grammatically construe the meaning of that sentence and say it is tautological, or it implies duality, and Existence could not be a past tense, it should be universal, and so on. It is correct, but the student cannot understand it. In educational policy, the student’s point of view is more important than the teacher’s point of view.

Kartavyaṁ kurute vākyaṁ brute dhāryasya dhāraṇam, ityādi vāsana viṣṭaṁ pratyā sītsadi tīraṇam (37). As we say “The deed is done”, etc., so it was said by Uddalaka “Existence was, and Existence alone was” because there was no time at that time. During creation, there was no time. Time is an evolute. Time is something that proceeded later on as an effect. In Pure Existence, prior to the manifestation of name and form, there was no time. “Once upon a time, in ancient days, God alone was, Existence alone was.” Statements of this kind imply the timelessness of God, the non-temporality of Existence.

Kālābhāve pure tyuktiḥ kāla vāsanayā yutam, śiṣyaṁ pratyeva tenātra divitīyaṁ nahi śaṁkyate (38). When we say “Originally, God only was” the term ‘originally’ means beyond time. For the elucidation of the student who is not able to understand anything except in terms of visible objects, creation, name and form, etc., such statements are made. So please understand the spirit in which it is said and do not take it literally.

All argument, all questioning is on a dualistic basis. We cannot have a non-dualistic question or a non-dualistic answer. Codyaṁ vā parihāro vā kriyatām dvaita bhāṣayā, advaita bhāṣayā codyaṁ nāsti nāpi taduttaram (39). Chodya is a question. Parihara is an answer. It is only in the language of duality that we raise questions, because questions are raised in the form of sentences. As sentences are divided into the subject and the predicate, the very question implies a duality in a grammatical proposition, and the answer also has to be given in a sentence, in a similar manner. So any kind of question, whether philosophical, metaphysical or religious, is based on the concept of duality on account of the fact that expression is not possible unless consciousness is rooted in duality. So is the case with the answer. But in pure indivisibility, no question arises, and no answer is necessary.

In the beginning, there was a total equilibrium of forces. This is what the Nasadiya Sukta of the Veda tells us, which is quoted here in the 40th verse. Tadā stimita gambhīraṁ na tejo na tamastatam, anākhya manabhi vyaktaṁ sat kiñcit avaśiṣyate (40). Originally, what was there? It was pure stability, profundity, stillness, absence of any kind of movement, no light, no darkness. We cannot know what was there. It is impossible to describe, impossible to conceive. There was Pure Being as the potential of future creation.

The Nasadiya Sukta of the Vedas says: nāsad āsīn no sad āsīt tadānīṁ nāsīd rajo no vyomā paro yat (N.S. 1). There was neither existence nor non-existence, because there was nobody to conceive the factor of existence or non-existence. Nobody was there to say that existence was; nobody was there to say that nothing was. Therefore, in the absence of any kind of awareness of there being either this or that, it could not have been described in any other manner except as neither existence nor non-existence. Pure Being, as such, was.

Nanu bhūmyā dikaṁ mā bhūt paramāṇ vanta nāśataḥ, kathaṁ te viyato’sattvaṁ buddhimā rohatīti cet (41). A question arises. We can imagine this subtlety to which all physical objects such as elements can be reduced. They can be reduced to such subtlety that they may be not there at all, for all practical purposes. They get reduced to powder, dust, atoms, forces, so that the gross elements are not there. So we can conceive of such a state of affairs where the visible physical objects, such as the five elements, become invisible to the senses. Can it be said that space is also of the same nature? How can we say that space is an inconceivable object? How do we conceive space? Does space exist, or does it not exist? The existence of space has been accepted on account of its being visible to the eyes and our feeling that there is spatiality, or room, around us. There is a consciousness of room around us; therefore, we feel that there is space. Or because of the fact that we can see some greater distance apart from us, we feel that there is space, though it is actually bereft of any kind of concreteness or solidity.

Atyantaṁ nirjagad vyoma yathā te buddhi māśritam, tathaiva sannirākāśaṁ kuto nāśrayate matim (42). The question was raised as to how Pure Existence could be conceived in the mind. It is conceived in the same way as space is conceived. Though space is not an object of perception and yet it is considered as an object of perception by the senses, Pure Existence is not an object of perception and yet it can be conceived in such a manner as to include the perceiving consciousness also, and yet remain as a temporally conceivable object—as space is in front of the sense organs.

Nirjagad vyoma dṛṣttaṁ cet prakāśa tamasī vinā, kva dṛstaṁ kinca te pakṣe na pratyakṣaṁ viyat khalu (43). All these arguments are connected with the nihilists. We are going on arguing over the same point again and again. They all pinpoint the question of nihilists asserting that there is such a thing called non-existence, and Advaitins want to refute that position because the question of non-existence does not arise. So in connection with that, a further argument is raised.

Empty space, which is said to be a perceptible object, is really not a perceptible object. It appears to be perceptible on account of light and darkness. If there is no association of space with light and darkness, there will also be no perceptibility of space. So the concept that space can be conceived or perceived is not true. In a similar manner, we can say that non-existence is also not a conceivable or perceivable concept. It is impossible to have any notion of non-existence, either as a perceptible object or as a conceivable one. Pure Existence is uncontaminated by the notions of space, time and object.

Sadvastu śuddhan tvasamābhiḥ niścittair anubhūyate, tūṣṇīṁ stitau na śūnyatvaṁ śūnya buddheśca varjanāt (44). When we are calm and quiet in our own selves, withdrawn inward, without any kind of distraction or disturbance in our mind, we are fully contented and perfectly happy. When we are seated in that calm and quiet mood in our own room, without any disturbance from outside, we feel a sense of purity of Existence in us. If we sit calm and quiet in a particular posture for a long time—seated in an asana or in a meditation pose for some time, half an hour, one hour without shaking the body, with the spine, neck and head erect in one column—we feel that we are slowly beginning to expand our dimension into a largeness greater than, wider than the body. We even feel that we are something like a big mountain sitting there—a heavy weight, stable, unshakable—and we are Pure Being, uncontaminated with externality. Even in our own psychological state we can have some sense of Pure Existence, provided that we can purge our mind of desires and be able to sit alone for some time, free from anxieties of any kind, which are the characteristic of the mind. Tūṣṇīṁ stitau na śūnyatvaṁ śūnya buddheśca varjanāt: Pure non-existence cannot be conceived. Again the author says the same thing.

Sad buddhi rapi cennāsti māstvasya sva prabhat vataḥ, nirmanaskatva sākṣi tvāt san mātraṁ sugamaṁ nṛṇām (45). Consciousness of Existence should not be construed in the sense of some intelligence or intellect conceiving the object outside. It is not buddhi or our understanding that is asserting the existence of Existence, because Existence is Self-conscious: sva prabhat. All objects in the world require the intelligence of the perceiver or the understander in order that they may be known; but in the case of Existence, the perceiver is not necessary.

As a matter of fact, no perceiver can perceive Pure Existence. Who can perceive Existence? Not any individual, inasmuch as Existence includes all individuals. Then who is conscious of Existence? Existence itself is conscious of Existence. It is Pure Existence being conscious of itself. Sat becomes Chit: sva prabhat. This is an experience that we too have, when we are free from anxieties, distractions of rajas, and we remain as pure witnesses in our deepest consciousness.

Mano jṛmbhaṇa rāhite yathā sākṣī nirākulaḥ, māyā jṛumbhaṇataḥ pūrvaṁ sattathaiva nirākulam (46). The pure witness consciousness in us is seen to be stable, calm and contented within itself, provided that the mind does not expand itself into the region of its desires and anxieties. Free from desires and all the psychological impurities of the mind, the pure witnessing consciousness will be in the state of contentment and never get disturbed by anything else. In a similar manner, Pure Existence was uncontaminated by names and forms before the origin of maya shakti. Maya is the power of Ishvara. It is the cosmic sattva of prakriti which becomes the body, as it were, of Ishvara consciousness; and before the manifestation of maya took place—that is to say, before Brahman Consciousness got reflected through the pure sattva of prakriti—there was Existence, pure and simple, in the same way that before consciousness in the individual got reflected or identified with the avidya, it was very happy. We also can have an inkling of Pure Existence if we exert a little bit to free our mind from thoughts of every kind and be true to our own selves. “To thine own self be true.”

Nistatvā kārya gamyāsya śaktir māyā’gni śaktivat, na hi śaktiḥ kvacit kaiścit budhyate kāryataḥ purā (47). There is a power of God called maya, a shakti. It is difficult to understand what this shakti is. When we say that God has power, maya shakti, we are likely to imagine that shakti is different from the owner of that shakti. “God wields maya.” When we make statements of this kind, we are likely to wrongly assume that God is wielding something externally, such as an instrument, a fountain pen, a weapon, etc. None of the illustrations hold good. Shakti, or the power of something, is inseparable from the thing in which shakti inheres.

Na hi śaktiḥ kvacit kaiścit budhyate kāryataḥ purā. We cannot know the existence of the power of a thing unless the power is manifest. For instance, there is a strong person. We cannot know the extent of the power of that person unless that power is manifest in action. So is the case with maya shakti, or the great universal power of God, whose operations cannot be known unless they are actually revealed. By themselves, they are identical. Siva and Shakti are said to be androgynous, as it were, an inseparable bipolar existence, which is very much adumbrated in Tantra philosophy especially.

Na sadvastu sataḥ śaktiḥ na hi vahneḥ svaśaktitā, sadvilakṣaṇa tāyāṁ tu śaketeḥ kiṁ tattva mucyatām (48). The power of Existence is not Existence itself, just as the power of a person is not the person itself; nor is it that the power is standing outside the person. We cannot keep the person here and the power of the person somewhere else, nor can we say that the power is the same as the person. When a strong man comes, we do not say the strength is coming. We say the person is coming. The strength can come only when the person is there. The power, or strength, or shakti, is such an inscrutable association that it cannot be considered as either different from or identical with the owner of it. It is not the same as Existence.

The heat of fire is not the same as fire, yet the heat of fire cannot be separated from fire. The heat of fire is not fire, and yet it is not separable from fire. Such is the case with the maya of Ishvara. It is not identical with Ishvara, and yet it is not separable from Ishvara. Sadvilakṣaṇa tāyāṁ tu śaketeḥ kiṁ tattva mucyatām. In this inscrutable position in which we find ourselves in the definition of maya, or shakti, what are we supposed to do?

Śūnyatva miti cet śūnyaṁ māyā kārya mitīritam, na śūnyaṁ nāpi sadyādṛk tādṛktva miheṣyatām (49). We may say that it is a non-existence. Power independent of the owner of the power is like shunya—non-existence. It cannot be said to be non-existent because it manifests itself. It acts. Its manifestations can be seen, as the power of a bulldozer can be seen when it moves. It can crush, it can break, and so on. When it is not moving, its shakti, or power, is absorbed into itself. Therefore, the power of a thing is not non-existent. It is not shunya. It is a kind of manifestation which can be best described as inherence. The colour of a flower is inherent in the flower. It is a characteristic of the flower which cannot be separated from the flower, and yet the flower is different from the colour. The flower is a substance in which the quality of colour inheres; and inherence being such a thing that it cannot be isolated from the thing in which it inheres, the inscrutability of inherence arises. Maya is, therefore, inscrutable power; it is neither Existence nor non-existence, nor a combination of Existence and non-existence. Sad-asad-vilakshana: It is quite different from the concepts of both Existence and non-existence.

Nāsadā sīnno sadāsīt tadānīṁ kiṁ tvabhūttamaḥ, sadyogā ttatmasaḥ sattvaṁ na svatasta nniṣe dhanāt (50). Again the author is quoting that ancient text of the Rigveda, the Nasadiya Sukta. “Neither existence was, nor non-existence was,” says the great mantra of the Veda—which is to say, indescribable was that state where the power of God remained unmanifest. Creation did not yet take place.

Nāsadā sīnno sadāsīt tadānīṁ kiṁ tvabhūttamaḥ: Darkness prevailed. It is a kind of darkness which could not be perceived by anybody. In the absence of any kind of distinguishability, we call it darkness. Sadyogā ttatmasaḥ sattvaṁ na svatasta nniṣe dhanāt: Even darkness must be existing. It is a condition which is neither existence nor non-existence. As light was not there to illuminate anything, we could not have defined that condition either as existence or as non-existence, neither light nor darkness. This is the Nasadiya Sukta of the Veda.

The power of a thing, therefore, does not create duality. The strength of a person does not make a distinction between the person and the strength. The maya shakti of God does not create duality between Ishvara and maya. Many critics hold that maya is a dual principle, that the moment we introduce a system called maya, we are unnecessarily interfering with God’s indivisibility, and it looks as if there is something outside God. There is no such thing. We are not introducing divisibility or duality in God when we say that there is such a thing called maya shakti in Ishvara. It is like saying that there is power in that man. When we say that there is power in that man, we are not introducing duality in the concept of the individuality of that person. It is a description of the power or the potentiality of that person, indistinguishable from the person himself.

Ata eva dvitīyataṁ śūnya vanna hi gaṇyate, na loke caitra tat shaktyor jīvitaṁ likhyate pṛthak (51). When we want to pay salary to a person, we do not pay part of the salary to the person and another part to his ability: so much for your ability, and so much for you. They are identical. The ability of a person manifest in work is what draws salary. Therefore, there is an obvious identity of the ability of a person, or the power of a person, with the person himself as is seen in drawing salary, etc.

Śaktyā dhikye jīvitaṁ cet vardhate tatra vṛddhi kṛt, na śaktiḥ kiṅ tu tat kāryaṁ yuddha kṛṣyā dikaṁ tathā (52). We may say that the salary increases by the increase in ability. When the power of a person to execute work increases, the salary also increases. It does not mean that the power has increased. He has manifested the power in a larger degree when certain conditions arose. That is the reason why he draws more salary. His power is still there. He has not increased the power. One cannot increase the power of one’s own self. It is a quantum that is equilibrated; but it is manifest fully or partially, as the case may be. So when we manifest it a little, it is capable of drawing very little income. When we fully manifest our power, we draw more salary.

Thus, power is not capable of division within itself, nor is it capable of division between itself and the person owning it. It is identical, notwithstanding the fact that we feel that power is a quality inherent in the substance in which it inheres. In the same way we have to understand the relation between Ishvara and maya. Maya is not something that exists; maya is a word that we use to explain the inscrutability of the manner in which God creates the world.