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Commentary on the Panchadasi

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Discourse 15

Chapter 3: Pancha Kosha Viveka – Discrimination of the Five Sheaths
Verses 11-23

All that we appear to be in our own selves, such as the body, the vital breath, the mind, the intellect and the causal body, have been proved to be outside consciousness. These apparent sheaths of personality are not our essential nature. They are contents of consciousness, but they are not consciousness itself. They stand outside consciousness; therefore, they are known by consciousness as existing. Consciousness knows that there is a body and that there are other similar sheaths, but there is no one who can know consciousness. It stands by itself, unrelated to anything else – pure subjectivity, totally independent, and immortal in its nature.

When we gradually isolate the association of consciousness with the five sheaths, we may feel that there is nothing left afterwards. If we analyse the detached state of consciousness as isolated from the five sheaths, we will not be able to know that there is a consciousness at all. When all things have gone, nothing remains. We will feel that nothing in us remains, because everything that we considered ourselves to be has gone. We have been under the impression throughout our lives that we are this body, and if it has gone, we have also gone; so, we cannot come to any other conclusion other than, that when we eliminate from consciousness all contact with the five sheaths, we will arrive at some kind of self-annihilation, as it were.

The feeling of nothingness, or a kind of vacuum within ourselves, arises on account of our habit of being conscious only of something, and never being adequately self-consciousness. All our consciousness is ‘of’ something. There is a word ‘of’. “I am aware of something.” But who are ‘we’? That is the question. We are aware of something. Are we that thing of which we are aware? Are we the object which is the content of our awareness? Can we say that we are the object? If not, what are we?

The thing that is aware is different from that of which one is aware. The body, the vital breath, the mind, intellect and the causal body are known by consciousness; therefore, they stand external to consciousness. How could we be outside our own self? We cannot be anything other than what we really are. And yet, because of the habit of consciousness getting identified with what it knows, and there being nothing here, in this case, of which it can be aware, there is a temporary lull and the negation of all existence, as it were; and we feel deprived of the very support even to think.

It is not that there is nothing. There is everything there. It is only the inability of the mind to think its own source. We are unable to assert that there is something other than the five sheaths – because there is no means of knowledge adequate enough to be aware of what there is, that is independent of the five sheaths. How can we know – by what means can we know – whether there is something or not, independent of the five sheaths? The faculty of knowledge – which is the reason, the mind and the intellect – comes under the sheaths, which have been eliminated.

So the highest faculty of knowledge is also gone. Therefore, there is a feeling of nothingness. When the faculty of knowledge itself has gone, knowledge of everything has also gone. So it is that we feel a kind of darkness, a kind of emptiness, as if we have ceased to be, while really we are very, very much there – only, as they say, due to the excess of light, everything looks dark. If the light frequency rises beyond a certain limit, we will see only pitch darkness, and light will not be there. Only a low frequency light can be caught by the retina of our eyes.

Nanu deham upakramya nidrā nandānta vastuṣu, mā bhūdā-tmatvam-anyastu na kaścid-anubhūyate (11). The disciple is telling the Guru, “I am not seeing anything, if everything has gone. If the five sheaths have gone, I don’t see anything there.”

Bāḍhaṁ nidrādayaḥ sarve’nubhūyante na cetaraḥ, tathā’pyete’nubhūyante yena taṁ ko nivārayet (12). The Guru says, “My dear boy, you are saying that you know nothing, but do you know that you know nothing? Or do you not know even that? Are you aware that you are not aware of anything? Do you know the contradiction involved in your statement? You said, ‘In deep sleep I did not know anything’; but are you making a statement that you did not know anything? Who is making this statement? You are aware of the fact that you are not aware of anything. This is what you are not able to catch. So even in the deep sleep state, where abolition of consciousness apparently takes place, there is something remaining which makes you subsequently feel that you did sleep.” Even the negation of consciousness requires a consciousness to negate it and, therefore, nobody can negate consciousness. It is an untenability.

Svaya-mevā-nubhūti-tvād-vidyate nānu-bhāvyatā, jñātṛ-jñānān-tarā bhāvāḍ-ajñeyo na tva-sattayā (13). We are unable to locate the existence of something independent of the five sheaths on account of there being no process of knowing. This is a mass of knowledge, but not a process of knowledge. In our normal waking condition, there is a process of knowledge. Somebody is there, knowing that there is something which is to be known. And also, there is a process which is the intellect operating in connection with the subject of knowledge and also the object outside. But where the knower alone is, as the very essence of consciousness, how would that knower know anything other than itself? Therefore, the apparent fear that nothing seems to be there upon the elimination of contact with the five sheaths arises because the knowledge process has been shut out, together with all the faculties that caused this process of knowledge. There is no knowledge of anything there; it is only a sea of knowledge.

On account of there being no distinction between the knower and the known, between the seer and the seen, it is impossible for anyone to know that anything is existing there at all. The apparent non-existence of things is a consequence that follows from the absence of the usual empirical processes of knowledge, and not that knowledge is not there.

Mādhuryādi-svabhāvānām-anyatra sva-guṇār piṇām, svasmin-stad-arpaṇā-pekṣā no na cā-stya nyadar pakam (14). Sugar, which is very sweet, can make other things sweet. But it does not require any other substance to make itself sweet. In a similar way, consciousness can render consciousness to other things which have no consciousness, but nobody can give consciousness to consciousness. Nobody can know consciousness. Consciousness can know everything, but the things which consciousness knows cannot render any assistance to consciousness. It is independent, as sugar does not require the assistance of something else in order to make it sweet.

Arpakāntara-rāhityepi astyeṣāṁ tat svabhāvatā, mā bhūttathā’nubhāvyatvaṁ bodhātmā tu na hītyate (15). Even if there is no element which can increase the sweetness of sugar, the sweetness of sugar continues. Even if there is no object of which consciousness may be aware of, still consciousness remains, independent of objects.

The usual identification of consciousness with objects and the wrong notion that knowledge is always of something other than consciousness is the reason why we feel helpless when we eliminate the object from pure subjective awareness. After eliminating all things, even going to the extent of accepting that there is nothing whatsoever after the elimination of the five sheaths, there remains the consciousness that makes this statement. So there is an undeniable reality at the back of all things, even if we suppose for a moment that we ourselves do not exist. If we can stretch our imagination to that extent and strongly imagine that we do not exist, we will feel that there is a consciousness which is affirming that we do not exist. So nobody can go behind consciousness. It is the last, ultimate residuum of reality.

Svayaṁ jyotir-bhavateṣa puro’smād bhāsate’khilāt, tameva bhāntam-anveti taḍ-bhāsā bhāsyate jagat (16). Self-luminous is consciousness, like the sun. The sun is self-luminous. It does not require another candle to illumine it. No oil lamp is necessary to increase or reveal the light of the sun. Self-conscious and self-luminous is consciousness. It knows not only others, but it knows itself also. It is self-conscious, and also other-conscious. It is aware that it is there, and it is aware that other things also are there.

This is a quotation from the Katha Upanishad and the Mundaka Upanishad. Na tatra sūrya bhāti, na candra-tārakam (Katha 2.3.15, Mundaka 2.2.11): In that state of absolute luminosity, the sun and the moon and the stars do not shine. All the greatest radiance that we can think of in this world is like darkness before that supernal light. All the light that we can imagine in our mind is borrowed light – borrowed from that eternal light. The eternity itself does not require any light from the world. All light comes from that Supreme Being, and by Itself It is self-luminous. The whole world is illuminated by Its existence.

Yenedaṁ jānate sarvaṁ tatkenānyena jānatam, vijñātāraṁ kena vidyāt-śaktaṁ vedye tu sādhanam (17). Yajnavalkya, the great seer of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, is quoted here in this verse. He declares that, “Where there is another, other than oneself, one can see the other. Where there is something other than oneself, one can hear the other, touch the other, taste the other, smell the other, and so on. Where there is nothing outside one’s own consciousness, what will be seen there in front of oneself? Who will see what? Who will hear what? Who will touch what? The universality of consciousness precludes any possibility of knowing that something is there outside.

While all things can be known by the knower, who can know the knower? If we say that the knower is known by another knower behind – the consciousness that knows the world is perhaps having another consciousness behind it – then who will be aware of that second consciousness? So we can go on arguing indefinitely by way of an infinite regress, where we will come to no conclusion. There is a consciousness behind consciousness; ultimately there is only consciousness, and nothing else.

Who can know That, with the help of which everything else is known here? Who can know the knower? Vijñātāraṁ kena vidyāt-śaktaṁ vedye tu sādhanam: Knowledge is possible only when there is something other than the principle of knowledge. When the principle of knowledge has flooded the whole cosmos, who will know what? There is just pure Eternal Subjectivity, the nature of consciousness.

Sa vetti vedyaṁ tat sarvaṁ nānyas tasy-āsti veditā, viditā-viditābhyāṁ tat pṛthag-bodha-svarūpakam (18). All that is to be known is known by it. That which cannot ordinarily be known by available means of knowledge also is known by it. Even the apparently unknowable is known by It. Vidita and avidita are the terms used in the Kenopanishad. Vidita is that which is known; avidita is not yet known. The not-yet-known may also be that which cannot be known.

The fact that we are asserting that something is incapable of being known implies our having known it in some way. The negation of the knowledge of something is indirectly an acceptance of the possibility of knowing something, because no one can deny a non-existent thing. It must be there in some form; else, nobody will make a denial of it.

It is a universality that is covering the entire existence, part of which is the object of our empirical knowledge and the larger part of it is left unknown to empirical means of knowing – unknown because of the fact that our faculties (intellect, mind, etc.) have a limited area of action. Their jurisdiction is limited. They cannot go beyond the horizon of knowledge. That is the reason why we seem to know very little, and even that little that we know seems to be faulty knowledge. It is not a genuine and ultimately reliable thing.

But here is one principle behind us that is enveloping all things, outside as well as inside. By enveloping things outside, it becomes the source of the knowledge of objects externally there; and being inside everything, it becomes the source of knowledge itself. It connects the object with the subject because of its all-pervasiveness. It knows all things because it exists as the knower in each individual. It is the pure subjectivity in us and, therefore, it is the knower of all things.

On account of its universality, it also becomes the connecting link between the knower and the known. For the same reason, it also becomes the object itself, even as one single mass of water (which is the ocean) is at the back of the rising of one wave and another wave, wherein one collides with the other and also acts as the medium of the connection of one with the other. The one wave is the ocean; the other wave is also the ocean. The action of colliding is also the ocean because of the ocean being there at the back, at the bottom of the two waves.

So is the case with this collision of consciousness, if we can put it in that way. The subjectivity aspect of it becomes the knowing principle, the objectivity aspect of it becomes the object of knowledge, and the link that is there as necessary for the purpose of knowing anything at all is also itself, as the ocean is between the two waves.

Bodhe’pya-nubhavo yasya na kathañcana jāyate, taṁ kathaṁ bodhaye-cchāstraṁ losṭaṁ nara-samā-kṛtim (19). After having said so much, if we say, “I cannot understand what consciousness is,” it is impossible to instruct us. The author says if a person is more like a stone rather than an intelligent individual, what kind of instruction can be imparted to that person? Despite there being a direct perception of consciousness in daily life – which is obvious because of the very fact of knowing things – yet we put a question, “Where is consciousness?”

How could we put a question, “Where is consciousness?” unless we are already conscious of the question that we are raising? So the question becomes redundant. We cannot instruct a person who is unable to argue properly in a syllogistic manner, and who is like a person who has a tongue putting a question whether there is a tongue or not – because if there were no tongue, the question itself would not have arisen; he would not have spoken a word. So is the person who puts a question, “Is there consciousness?” If consciousness had not been there, he would not have even spoken. Even the question would not have arisen.

Jivhā me’sti na vetyuktiḥ-lajjāyai kevalaṁ yathā, na budhyate mayā bodho boddhavya iti tādṛśī (20). It is a meaningless, absurd question to ask whether the tongue exists or not because if the tongue is not there, how would we speak? Similar is this absurdity behind the question of whether consciousness can be known or not. It is directly known, and is at the background of even the question whether it can be known or not. It is at the background of even the doubt whether it exists or not. Therefore, any attempt at refuting the ultimate existence of consciousness is impossible.

This consciousness is the Atman. This is the pure Self. And inasmuch as it is not in one place only, it is not your Atman, my Atman and somebody else’s Atman. It is the Atman of every little atom in the cosmos. Therefore, it is the universal Atman. Because of the universality of the Atman, we call it Brahman, the Absolute. When Brahman is conceived as the subjective principle of individuals, it is called Atman. When the Atman is known as an all-pervading Universal Principle, we call it Brahman. Therefore, Atman is Brahman.

Yasmin-yasminn-asti loke bodhas-tat-tad-upekṣaṇe, yad-bodha-mātraṁ tad-brahmeti-evaṁ dhīr-brahma-niścayaḥ (21). Here the author gives a practical suggestion for daily routine. We can eliminate the involvement of consciousness in objects by a little bit of concentration in daily life.

If you are aware that there is a tree in front of you, try to put a question to your own self: “Who is it that is aware that there is a tree in front?” Eliminate the objective aspect of the tree being there as something outside in space and time. Eliminate even the process of knowing, which also is in space and time. Also eliminate all the five sheaths through whose medium the consciousness seems to be aware that there is a tree outside. Go inside gradually, stage by stage: from the tree, withdraw into the process; from the process, withdraw into the perceptive organs; from the organs, go inside into the mind; from the mind, go into the intellect, and finally to that which is causing the intellect to shine.

The intellect and the mind are like mirrors. A mirror has no light of its own. A mirror does not shine by itself; it shines only when light falls on it. Similar is the case with the intellectuality, or the rationality, or the intelligence of the intellect. The intelligence in the intellect is the light that is shed on it, as on a mirror, by the Atman that is within, but because of the confusion that has taken place between the Atman and the medium which is the intellect, we begin to feel that we know things.

By a careful analysis of the objectivity involved in knowledge, we can go into the deeper subjectivity of it. This is the practice that we have to carry on every day in order that we may not get involved unnecessarily in the world of objects. This is called Brahma-niscayah, the ascertainment of the existence of Brahman. Every minute we have to be conscious that Brahman exists. It is another way of saying consciousness exists – not merely consciousness of mine or yours, but consciousness as such.

All knowledge, whether it is of a positive nature or a negative nature – by affirmation or negation, whatever it be – all knowledge is a manifestation of a principle that defies definition in any type of language. It is Brahma-niscayah.

Pañca-kośa parityāge sākṣi-bodhā-vaśeṣataḥ, sva-svarūpaṁ sa eva syāt-śhūnyatvaṁ tasya durghaṭam (22). If we go deeper and deeper, from the physical body inwardly until we reach the causal body, and then eliminate contact even with the causal body itself, with great power of discrimination we will realise that we are there as an uncontaminated awareness.

The condition of deep sleep is a great instance here on the point. Ordinarily this kind of elimination of objectivity from consciousness is difficult. It is like peeling one’s skin. We cannot do that. It is part of our body. How will we do it? So objects have become so much a part of our consciousness that this talk of eliminating objectivity from consciousness is impractical for all ordinary persons, unless there is assiduity behind the practice; and the success will be there only after years and years of such a practice.

It is only in deep sleep that we can have some inkling of the possibility of our being totally independent of connection with objects. Here is a practical illustration before us that we were there, isolated from objects of every kind in the world. Even if we were an emperor, a ruler of the whole world, with all the wealth of the continent – what does it matter? We have been isolated from it in deep sleep. All the glory of which people are generally proud vanishes in one second when they go to sleep because all this external glory is a foisted association. It is not the true nature of oneself. In spite of there being no food to eat, nothing to drink, no money to touch, no friends to talk to, nothing that we can call our own – in that condition we are so happy, while we are miserable when we have so many things in the waking world. With all the appurtenances of life, people are grief-stricken, while with nothing available in sleep, we are very happy. Therefore, the possession of objects is not the source of happiness. The non-possession is the source of joy – so that when we possess nothing, not even the body, we remain as isolated, uncontaminated bliss. We have been in that state in deep sleep, but we never go into the mystery of what is happening to us. We get up in the morning, and what do we do? We plunge into the daily activity which was left unfinished the previous day. So the earliest activity of ours is work only, and then there is no thought of what actually happened to us in deep sleep.

In the early morning it is necessary for us to sit quiet for a few minutes and put a question to our own self, “Where was I for so many hours when I was not aware of myself? Was I aware? No. Was I existing? Yes.” In what condition were we existing?

We did not exist in sleep as an emperor of the world. We did not exist as a rich person or a poor person, neither as a healthy person nor as a sick person, neither this nor that. What was it that we were existing as? That is our essential nature. If contemplation of this kind can be carried on for a long time, we will really be detached from the world and we will want nothing afterwards. Everything will come to us spontaneously.

Asti tāvat-svayaṁ nāma vivādā-viṣaya-tvataḥ, svasminn-api vivādas-cet prativādy-atra ko bhavet (23). The conclusion, therefore, is: There is such a thing as the Self. All this study has led us to the conclusion that there is such a thing called the Self. It has to be there, and it is there. It must be there; it is very clear that it is there. It is not the object of argument, doubt or any kind of disputation because argument, doubt and disputation are conducted by the very consciousness about which we are carrying on this disputation. Therefore, indubitable, indisputable, and firmly established certainty is this Self which is not in possession of consciousness, but is itself consciousness. The Self is not conscious; the Self is consciousness. The very substance of the Self is consciousness. If we can doubt our own Self, then who can instruct us? Who can teach us?

No one doubts one’s own Self. No one thinks, “Do I really exist?” Nobody feels like that. The certainty that is there at the back of one’s feeling of one’s own existence is the proof of the Self being there. And the possibility of existing even independent of the five sheaths in deep sleep is proof enough of it being consciousness. So what is established now is that there is the Self – and it is Pure Consciousness.