Commentary on the Panchadasi
by Swami Krishnananda

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Discourse 16

Chapter 3: Pancha Kosha Viveka – Discrimination of the Five Sheaths
Verses 21-37

Yasmin-yasminn-asti loke bodhas-tat-tad-upekṣaṇe, yad-bodha-mātraṁ tad-brahmeti-evaṁ dhīr-brahma-niścayaḥ (21). Whatever be the object of consciousness in the process of perception, it should be incumbent upon the seeker of Truth to eliminate the consciousness aspect in perception from involvement in the object aspect of perception. There is an element which is the seen aspect; and there is another which is the seer aspect. Since the seen cannot become the seer, and the seer cannot become the seen, the conjunction of the two in the act of perception should naturally be considered as a sort of confusion taking place between the characteristics of the seeing consciousness and the seen object. The element of externality should be dissociated from consciousness, and the element of consciousness should be dissociated from the object. This is a difficult technique, but it is a very useful method: the dissociation of consciousness from objects.

Pañca-kośa parityāge sākṣi-bodhā-vaśeṣataḥ, sva-svarūpaṁ sa eva syāt-śhūnyatvaṁ tasya durghaṭam (22). The dissociation of the five sheaths – the physical, vital, mental, intellectual and causal – from one’s own conscious experience will land one in a state of pure featureless transparency of consciousness. And it should not be imagined that if the sheaths are eliminated from perception or experience, there would be nothing left, because the consciousness of nothing is an impossibility. Consciousness must exist nevertheless.

Asti tāvat-svayaṁ nāma vivādā-viṣaya-tvataḥ, svasminn-api vivādas-cet prativādy-atra ko bhavet (23). There is such a thing called self. Every thing, every person, every living being in the world asserts its selfhood. There is a self-identity upheld by everyone. Nothing would like to become another thing. Even vegetation like a plant or a tree would not like to be interfered with in its desire to maintain itself as that particular thing, whatever it is. The crawling insect would like to be a crawling insect only. If we tell it, “I will convert you into an elephant,” it will not want it; an insect is an insect. The self-identity that a little creature, even a crawling ant, maintains is as vehement and as important to it as a mountainous mammoth would affirm in regard to its own self.

Nobody would like to become another person. What I am, I am; and what you are, you are. Neither can I be you, nor can you be me. One element cannot be another element. Every atom distinguishes itself from every other atom. This is the character of self-identity, or what we call selfhood. The self never wishes to become a not-self. This is the whole thing. A is A; A cannot be B. Such a thing called the self must exist, and it does exist.

Asti tāvat-svayaṁ nāma vivādā-viṣaya-tvataḥ: There cannot be any argument in regard to that, because any argument for or against will be an affirmation of the self once again – because whoever argues will be the self. And there is nothing beyond that. Svasminn-api vivādas-cet prativādy-atra ko bhavet: Who can doubt one’s own self? The doubter must exist, and that existence is the self.

Svāsattvaṁ tu na kasmai-cid-rocate vibhramaṁ vinā, ata eva śrutir-bādhaṁ brūte cā-sattva-vādinaḥ (24). Except in a state of delusion and complete chaos of thought, nobody would like to annihilate oneself. One cannot even imagine the non-existence of one’s own self. The possibility of self-annihilation is the worst of things that one can imagine because it is contrary to the deepest root of our being. Neither would one wish self-annihilation, nor one would be able to imagine such a possibility. Ata eva śrutir-bādhaṁ brūte cā-sattva-vādinaḥ. The sruti of the Upanishad, therefore, contradicts any such possibility of the assertion of a non-entity, or vacuum, as the Ultimate Reality.

The Upanishad quoted here is the Taittiriya Upanishad, which says asaḍ-brahmeti ced-veda svayam-eva bhaved-asat, ato’sya mā bhūḍ-vedyatvaṁ sva-sattvaṁ tvabhyu peyatām (25). Whoever affirms the non-existence of Brahman would himself become non-existent, because that is the affirmation of the non-existence of one’s own self. So we cannot deny God and then exist safely here. When God goes, we also go together with it. The denier of God will also go with the object that is denied.

The character of ‘being known’ cannot be found in the Self. It is never the known thing. It is a pure Knower. Let all things be known; but that which is the Knower of all things cannot itself be known. What kind of thing is the Self then? Neither is it of this kind, nor is it of that kind. What sort of definition can apply to the Pure Self?

Kīdṛk-tarhīti-cet-pṛccheḍ-īdṛktā nāsti tatra hi, yad-anī-dṛg-atādṛk-ca tat-svarūpaṁ viniś-cinu (26). The Self is neither this nor that, because any kind of characterisation as ‘this’ or ‘that’ would be to attribute some quality to the Self which does not belong to it. Any definition of a thing is in terms of qualities that actually do not belong to that thing. The distinction of one thing from another thing in a definition is carried on by the association of certain qualities with that object – qualities which do not inhere in it, that belong to something else.

When we say some object is blue, the knowledge that something is blue can arise only when there are objects in the world which are not blue. If the whole universe is blue, there will be no perception of blueness. Therefore, the definition of an object in terms of quality has relevance by excluding characteristics which do not belong to itself – neither this, nor that. No such definition is possible in the case of the Atman.

Yad-anī-dṛg-atādṛk-ca tat-svarūpaṁ viniś-cinu: Know that which is neither of this character nor that character. How would we know that? The methods will be described in the forthcoming chapters.

Akṣāṇāṁ viṣaya-stvī-dṛk-parokṣas-tādṛg-ucyate, viṣayi nākṣaviṣayaḥ svatvān-nāsya parokṣatā (27). When we say, “This is something,” we are referring to something which is visible to the eyes. When we say, “That is something,” we are referring to something which is not visible to the eyes. Nearness and remoteness of objects are indicated by the demonstrative pronouns ‘this’ and ‘that.’ But the Self cannot be regarded either as something remote or as something near. It is not remote because it is very near. But because of its universality, it looks like something remote.

Viṣayi nākṣaviṣayaḥ: That which is the seer of things cannot become the object of perception. Svatvān-nāsya parokṣatā: As it is the Self, it cannot be a remote object; and inasmuch as it is the Self, for the very same reason, it also cannot be an object of sensory perception. Neither is it a far-off thing, because of it being the soul of all beings, nor is it the perceptible object, because it is the perceiver itself. This is an intriguing character of the pure Selfhood.

Avedyo’pya-parokṣo’taḥ sva-prakāśo bhava-tyayam, satyaṁ jñānam-anantaṁ ceta-astīha brahmā-lakṣaṇam (28). Even if the Self is unknowable for reasons mentioned, it is capable of direct experience. Mediately, it cannot be known; immediately, it can be known. Mediate knowledge is that knowledge we acquire through the instrumentality of the sense organs. Immediate knowledge is that which we acquire independent of the operation of the sense organs. That is called insight. ‘Intuition’, ‘anubhava’ are the terms used for this kind of non-mediate direct apprehension.

Avedyo’pya-parokṣo’taḥ sva-prakāśo bhava-tyayam. Though unknowable for the sense organs, the Self is knowable for other reasons because it is self-luminous. It does not require illumination from any other proof of knowledge. The Self, which is light in its essential nature, sheds its radiance to the sense organs; and with that borrowed light, the senses become conscious of that which is outside – the world, the objects, etc. But the Self is light itself. It does not require the assistance of any other instrument to know itself. Self-knowledge is knowledge of the Self, by the Self. It needs no other assistance.

Satyaṁ jñānam-anantaṁ ceta-astīha brahmā-lakṣaṇam: The Taittiriya Upanishad has defined Brahman, the Absolute, as satyam jnanam anantam. Truth, knowledge, infinity is Brahman. Ultimate Truth is Brahman because it is unchangeable. Perishability is the character of untruth. Relativity is the character of untruth. Externality and objectivity is the character of untruth. Truth is all-pervading, self-luminous, non-relative, absolute. And because of its being the Universal Reality, it is also conscious. And because it is conscious of the universality of its being, it is also freedom.

Because of the freedom that is the nature of the true Self, which is all-pervading, it is bliss, ananda. Only when we are free will we be happy. And the greater is the freedom, the greater also is the joy that we will feel. The ultimate freedom is only in the experience of direct, Universal Selfhood. It is in that state that we have the immensity of the experience of eternal bliss. This is the characteristic of Brahman: astīha brahmā-lakṣaṇam.

Satyatvaṁ bādha-rāhityaṁ jagad-bādhaika-sākṣiṇaḥ, bādhaḥ kiṁ-sākṣiko brūhi na tva-sākṣika iṣyate (29). That which cannot be contradicted in the three periods of time can be regarded as Truth. Anything that passes away sometimes cannot be regarded as Truth. Today something is; tomorrow it is not there. That cannot be called Reality at all. In that sense, we will not find anything that is true in this world. Even the world has a beginning, and one day it will pass. Therefore, nothing in this world can be regarded as finally true. It has a past, it has a future, and it has only a temporary present. The whole creation is of this nature. It is not the Ultimate Being. What is Ultimate Being? That which is uncontradicted in the three periods of time – past, present and future – that is satya, Truth. Satyatvaṁ bādha-rāhityaṁ: Non-contradiction is the test of Truth, according to logic.

Jagad-bādhaika-sākṣiṇaḥ, bādhaḥ kiṁ-sākṣika: that which reigns supreme as the witness of all the changes taking place in the cosmos. Who can be a witness of that greatness? This eternity reigned supreme even before the origin of time. Even before creation, God did exist. And who can define that Being, since all definition is in terms of things seen by us – things in this world?

Witness consciousness is the nature of the Self. It is the consciousness that is behind all kinds of perceptions, memories, feelings, etc. When all feelings, all apprehensions, all volitions cease, that survives. That persists. Even an imagination to the extent of the cessation of the whole of creation will be witnessed by a consciousness which is equally large.

The world is vast; creation is vast enough. To conceive such a vastness as space and time, there must be a consciousness which cannot be less vast than space and time. A little finite spark of consciousness cannot apprehend the vastness of space and time. We can imagine even infinitude. How could we, with a little mind working inside our skull, imagine what is endlessness unless there is a potentiality of endlessness in our own self? Our mind is basically endless because it is a medium through which endless consciousness reflects itself.

Apanīteṣu mūrteṣu hyamūrtaṁ śiṣyate viyat, śakyeṣu bādhite-ṣvante śiṣyate yattadeva tat (30). When we eliminate earth, water, fire, air, etc., we will find only empty space remains. We can stretch our imagination and feel the earth has gone, water has gone, fire has gone, air has gone. We will find space remains. We cannot feel that space also does not exist, because all thought is conditioned by space and time.

In the same way as there is a residuum of space consciousness when all the other elements are eliminated by the rejection process, we will find that there is something remaining cosmically operative when all perceptible objects, including the five elements, are done away with. When the whole cosmos is not there in front of us, there will be a consciousness that knows the absence of cosmos. That consciousness is cosmic consciousness, which is the nature of the Self.

Sarva bādhe na kiṅcic-ceḍ-yanna kiṅcit-taḍeva tat, bhāṣā evātra bhidyante nirbādhaṁ tāva-dasti hi (31). When everything goes, the objector will again say that there does not appear to be anything remaining at all; nothing remains. But as we already mentioned, it appears that consciousness of nothing is itself consciousness, so do not bring in that point again and again.

Ata eva śrutirbādhyaṁ bādhitvā śeṣaya-tyadaḥ, sa eṣa neti netyeātmeti-atad-vyāvṛtti rūpataḥ (32). The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says neti-neti. Brahman cannot be known by any positive definition. We cannot say, “It is like this,” because it is not like anything that we have seen in the world. Then how can we define it? By eliminating everything that is possible of conception – ‘not this’: It is not that which can be seen with the eyes; it is not that which can be heard with the ears; it is not that which can be tasted with the tongue; it is not that which can be sensed in any manner whatsoever. It is not that which we think in our mind; it is not that which our intellect is arguing about. Thus we eliminate all the possible objectivity and conceptualisation. Let something remain after eliminating all thought, all feeling, all volition, and all objects. Something will remain. Concentrate on that residual basic Being.

Idaṁ-rūpaṁ tu yadyāvat-tat-tyaktuṁ śakyate’khilam, aśakyo hyanidaṁ-rūpaḥ sa ātmā bādha-varjitaḥ (33). We can eliminate all things that we can see with our eyes. “I don’t want this, I don’t want that. I shall leave this, and I shall go elsewhere. I shall have that thing.” We can go on eliminating, relatively speaking, things in this world, and move to some other thing. But here is a kind of elimination that is expected of us, which is elimination of all things. It is not moving from one place to another place. It is not rejecting something and acquiring something else. It is an elimination of all possible conceptualisation and objectification, including this body-consciousness.

Objectification does not mean only the consciousness of that which is far away. Even this body is an object because we can see it. We can sense it; we can feel it; we can touch it. Inasmuch as sensation is the means of knowing the existence of this body, the body also should be considered as an object. So when the elimination process of objectivity is carried on, it does not mean that we ignore the world and cling to our body. When the world goes, our body also has to go with the world, because the body is constituted of the same five elements as the world. When the world has gone, this body also has gone with it.

What remains is pure awareness of the fact of everything having gone away. The consciousness of ‘everything having gone’ remains. We will not be non-existent. We will be aware that something is there, but not this body. We have already studied in the earlier chapters that we are wrongly imagining that we are this physical sheath and other sheaths by a confusion of characters. It is only in the state of deep sleep that we are having some inkling as to the fact that there is a chance of our existing independent of the sheaths. Minus all the sheath-consciousness, we are existing in the state of deep sleep. It is only there that we are able to have some idea as to what we are really; but in all other states we are confused with identity of the physical sheaths and other sheaths.

Siddhaṁ brahmaṇi satyatvaṁ jñānatvaṁ tu pureritam, svayam-evā-nubhū-titvā-dityādi-vacanaiḥ sphuṭam (34). What do we conclude now? The establishment of the existence of Brahman is certain. We have attained the certainty and an incontrovertible truth of there being such a thing called non-relative Being. While everything is relative, there is something non-relative in order to be aware that things are relative. We say the whole world is relative. But that thing which knows the relativity of things itself is not relative. Change does not know itself. The knowledge of change arises on account of there being something which does not change.

We cannot know motion unless we ourselves are not in a state of motion. If everything was moving and everything was relative, there would be no one to know that something is moving and something is relative. The consciousness of the transitoriness of things and the relativity of objects itself cannot be relative. Else, there would be no one to say that things are relative or something is transient. Such a certainty has been established.

Siddhaṁ brahmaṇi satyatvaṁ jñānatvaṁ tu pureritam. We have already concluded that our nature is Pure Consciousness.  Svayam-evā-nubhū-titvā-dityādi-vacanaiḥ sphuṭam. In earlier sections we have repeated the same truth that the Self is Consciousness. This has been the subject of study right from the first chapter. Self Consciousness means the Self being Consciousness itself in its essence. It does not shine due to some other factor being associated with it. It is not like a bulb shining. A bulb does not shine; it shines because of some other thing moving through it. But the Self does not require any other externalised association, for it is that flame which requires no oil or wick. Eternity is the radiance of the Self.

Na vyāpitvāt dyeśato’nto nityatvān-nāpi kālataḥ, na vastuto’pi sārvātmyād-ānantyaṁ brahmaṅi tridhā (35). It is not limited either by space, time, or object. There are things in the world which can be found in one place, but they cannot be found in other places. Such things which can be seen in one place only and not in all places are said to be limited by space. There are certain things which can be found in certain conditions – in some season, for instance. We cannot see them always; this is the limitation by time. And certain things are totally different from certain other things; that is limitation by objectivity. Things are limited in three ways: by space, time, and object. That we are in one place and not in another place is limitation by space. That we are at some time but not always is limitation by time. That we are somebody and not somebody else is limitation by personality, individuality, objectivity.

These limitations do not obtain in Brahman. Brahman is all-pervading; therefore, it is not limited by space. It is there endlessly, timelessly; therefore, it is not limited by time. It is pervading all things; therefore, it is not limited by any object. Neither space, time, nor objectivity can limit Brahman. Always it is unlimited, in every way.

So the infinity of Brahman is of three kinds – spacelessness is one kind of infinity, timelessness is another kind of infinity, and objectlessness is the third kind of infinity – whereas we are limited in all the three ways. We human beings, individuals, are the direct contradiction of this Ultimate Reality because we are bound by space, time, individuality, and the body.

Deśa-kālāyna-vastūnāṁ kalpita-tvācca māyayā, na deśādi-kṛto’ntosti brahmā nantyaṁ sphuṭaṁ tataḥ (36). “Endless is Brahman,” is what we have said because the problem has arisen on account of there being something called space outside; and as we know, time goes together with space. When we think of space, time also comes there – as it happens in dream, for instance.

How did space arise in dream? Where was the time factor in dream? How did things appear to be outside us in dream? There was no space, actually speaking. The distance that we see between ourselves and an object outside in dream is a false imagination of the mind. One can feel, in dream, that one is caught in a forest and a tiger is pursuing; and the person in dream runs and climbs a tree. The tiger is a modification of the mind of the dreamer. The fright also is a modification of the mind of the dreamer. The tree also is manufactured by the very same mind. The tree is different from the tiger and one’s own self, and that difference also is created by the same mind. The action of climbing the tree also is a mental activity. This is an illustration to show how things are in this physical world also, though it is an empirical reality, in contradistinction with the dream reality.

Even as the individual mind has wrongly projected a space in dream and imagines a tree or a tiger, an elephant or a mountain, and gets caught in the false joys and sorrows of the dream life, so the scriptures say the Cosmic Mind is dreaming, as it were, this whole world. And you and I are the dream objects of this Cosmic Mind. We have friends and enemies even in dream. We see many people, big societies in dream. Do we not see people in dream? All those persons, all the things, all the objects that we see in dream are manufactured by our dreaming consciousness. The externality, the totality, the integrality, the reality – all these things in dream are actually the big drama that is played by the waking consciousness. When we wake up, all these things get merged into the waking mind, and we do not see any one of them in the waking state.

So is the principle of Self-realisation. This Cosmic Mind dreams, as it were, this vast world of difference – of space, time and objects, including our own selves. When the consciousness of objectivity is withdrawn, the individual minds merge into the Cosmic Mind, and that is the real waking from this dream of the world. There we will find no world at all. All this great wonder, this dramatic performance of this earthly life will vanish into thin air, just as all the problems of the dream world vanished in a second when we woke up into waking consciousness. So too, the entire earth-consciousness will vanish when our individual mind merges into the Cosmic Mind, which is called ‘the real waking’.

Satyaṁ jñānam-anantaṁ yad-brahma tad-vastu tasya tat, īśvaratvaṁ ca jīvatvam-upādhi-dvaya-kalpitam (37). We shall take up this subject tomorrow.