Commentary on the Panchadasi
by Swami Krishnananda


Discourse 23

Chapter 6: Chitradipa – Light on the Analogy of a Painted Picture
Verses 19-35

Ghaṭā vacchinna khe nīraṁ yat tatra prati bimbhataḥ, sābhra nakṣatra ākāśo jalākāśa udīryate (19). In a pot or a vessel, space appears to be limited to the area of the pot or the vessel. If water is poured into it, that space inside the pot gets reflected through the water. Also, the entire sky at the topthe stars and the firmamentgets reflected. This phase that is so reflected through the water in a pot is called jalakasha, or water ether. In the context of its being reflected in water in a pot, it is an illustration of the nature of the jiva, or the individual, which also is a limited reflection of the all-pervading Kutastha Atman Consciousness in the limited pot of the intellect getting reflected through all the impressions, vasanas, and potentials of desires and actions.

Thus, this jiva, this individual, is on the one hand limited in quantity due to its getting circumscribed to the location of this body and the intellect; and on the other hand, it is also a reflection. It has a dual defect. Qualitatively it is inferior to the original because it is a reflection; it is also quantitatively inferior to the original because it is located in one placewithin the walls of the bodyand it does not appear to be outside at all. Such a condition is jiva consciousness, jalakasha.

Mahākāśasya madhye yat megha maṇḍala mīkṣyate, prati biṁba tayā tatra meghākāśo jale sthitaḥ (20). In that universal space, the vast sky above, we see clouds. Through these thinly spread-out clouds, we also see the sky reflected. The sky in its purity is not seen, but it is seen as conditioned by the description of the clouds, both in quantity and quality. That space, that all-pervading sky which is reflected through the spread-out clouds, is known as meghakasha, comparable to Ishvara, who is a reflection of Brahman Consciousness through the universal sattva quality of prakriti.

Meghāṁ śarūpa mudakaṁ tuṣārā kāra saṁsthitam, tatra kha pratibiṁbo’yaṁ nīratvāt anumīyate (21). We can infer the reflection of the sky in the water particles of the clouds because of the fact that water particles in thinly spread-out clouds act as a kind of reflecting medium, like a mirror. When the clouds are very thick, the reflection is not there. They must be a very thin, faintly visible sheet through which the sky can be reflected. That is meghakasha, comparable to Ishvara.

Adhiṣṭhāna tayā deha dvayā vacchinna cetanaḥ, kūṭa vannir vikāreṇa sthitaḥ kūṭastha ucyate (22). That Consciousness which is at the root of our personality, our very being, adhisthana, the substratum of both the gross and the subtle bodies, that Consciousness that is at the root of both the physical and subtle bodiesthat is to say, the physical, the vital, the mental and the intellectual bodiesthat Consciousness which gives an appearance of intelligence and reality to these bodies is independent of them; and that independent Consciousness lying at the back of these two bodies is called Kutastha, immutable Consciousness.

Kūtasthe kalpitā buddhiḥ tatra cit prati biṁbakaḥ, prāṇānāṁ dhāraṇāt jīvaḥ saṁsāreṇa sa yujyate (23). This intellect, which is the reasoning faculty in the individual, is the medium through which the Kutastha, the immutable Consciousness of the Atman, is reflected; and this reflected Consciousness gives life and vitality to the whole body. We feel we are alive. We are living, moving, and are conscious. This feeling arises in us on account of the vitality and the intelligence of the immutable Consciousness inside getting reflected through the medium of our individuality, which is the intellect, or reason. This reflected Consciousness goes by the name of jiva, and it is this that entangles itself in samsara, worldly entanglement.

Jala vyomnā ghaṭākāśo yathā sarvas tirohitaḥ, tathā jīvena kūṭasthaḥ so’nyo nyādhyāsa ucyate (24). The pure ether that is inside a pot is obscured by the presence of a medium, such as water, that fills it. The water entirely covers the pure ether that is inside the pot. In a similar manner, this jiva that is the individuality, or the finitude of ours, obscures the innermost Consciousness that is all-pervading. The space that is all-pervading appears to be located inside a pot. That was mentioned several times. Now it is said that even this little space in the pot cannot be seen properly. It gets obscured on account of the water in it, a material medium that prevents our perception of the pure ether. We have this kind of medium in our individualitythe intellect, the reasoning faculty, the individual consciousness. It obscures the awareness of the larger Consciousness that is behind, as water obscures the presence of ether.

Ayaṁ jīvo na kūṭasthaṁ vivinakti kadācana, anādira viveko’yaṁ mūlā’vidyeti gamyatām (25). This jiva can never know that there is a Kutastha. We are jivas; we are psychophysical individuals, as it is called. We can never know that we have an Atman inside us. A hundred times, a thousand times it is being told to us that we have a universal Atman in the root of our being, but we can never apprehend it.

In our daily life, there are no indications in us that the Atman exists. The identity of this Consciousness of the Kutastha with the limiting adjuncts is so intense that the one is mistaken for the other. This limitation is identified with the Consciousness, and we feel only the limitation consciousness as identical with ourselves. The universal Consciousness is obliterated completely from our perception and experience. The Atman, for all practical purposes, does not exist in our life. It is as good as not existing because we are wholly occupied with the identification of Consciousness with the reason, the mind, the functions of the inner organ with all its impressions of past karmas, unfulfilled desires, and so onumpteen things. Thus, we are completely handicapped from knowing that there is anything above us or beyond us.

Anādira viveko’yaṁ mūlā’vidyeti gamyatām. This inability on our part to know that there is an Atman inside us is called anadi avidya, the original ignorance. Mula avidya, the root ignorance, the power of distraction by which we are pulled in the direction of things outside, prevents the inwardness of consciousness. We are always outwardly consciousconscious of this body and the world outsideand are never for a moment conscious of anything that is inside us. This is the work of avidya.

Vikṣepā vṛtti rūpābhyāṁ dividhā’vidyā vyavasthitā, na bhāti nāsti kūṭastha ityā pādan māvṛtiḥ (26). Ignorance, or avidya, works in two ways: obscuration and distraction. Avriti, or avarana, is the Sanskrit word for obscuration, veiling. A curtain is hung, as it were, just on the face of this universal Consciousness. That is avarana, or the covering of Consciousness by the veil of ignorance. What happens is, we do not feel that anything exists at all. It is a feeling that nothing exists. That is avarana, or a veiling of Consciousness.

But this ‘nothingness consciousness’ becomes an objective consciousness when the universal Consciousness passes through the aperture of the manifestations of this very avidya known as intellect, etc. Just as a potential disease can become an actual disease and a passive person can become a violent person, this nothingness consciousness may become an active objective consciousnesswhich it does. That is called vikshepa, or distraction, by which we are given a double blow by avidya. It is a blow on one cheek by not allowing us to know that anything exists at all; the reality is obscured. And there is another blow on the other cheek which makes us feel that what is not there is really there. The unconsciousness of what is there is the veil; the consciousness of what is not there is the distraction. So we can imagine our predicament, where we stand.

Ajñānī viduṣā pṛṣṭaḥ kūṭasthaṁ na prabudhyate, na bhāti nāsti kūṭastha iti buddhvā vadatyapi (27). When an ignorant man is asked whether he knows the Atman, he replies, “I do not know anything about the Atman. I have never seen the Atman. I do not know the Atman. I do not know the Kutastha. Neither is it known to me, nor can I even recognise its existence.” The Existence and Consciousness aspects of the Kutastha are obliterated by the action of avidya, which functions dually as avarana and vikshepa, veil and distraction.

Svaprakāśe kuto’vidyā tām vinā katha māvṛtiḥ, ityādi tarka jālāni svānu bhūtir grasatya sau (28). This avidya is a very peculiar and notorious principle whose nature cannot be easily ascertained. If avidya, or ignorance, is self-conscious, there cannot be a covering. The covering or veiling of the reality by avidya is possible only when it is not self-conscious. The veil itself is not conscious; it is not intelligence. So we cannot attribute self-consciousness or self-luminosity to avidya, which acts as a veil.

But without this avidya, there cannot be a veil. How do we know that there is a veil? We say that there is a veil over Consciousness. The knowledge that there is a veil over Consciousness implies some connection of Consciousness with this veil. If it is a total aberration of Consciousness, if it is an entire negation of it and just darkness per se, there cannot be an idea that there is such a thing called darkness.

“I knew nothing in sleep.” Now, this statement implies that avidya, which is the so-called darkness or nothingness that covers the Consciousness in sleep, can become the object of some sort of awareness, on account of which it is that we have a memory later on of having slept soundly earlier in the day. It has a peculiar eluding, chameleon-like quality. It has no consciousness of its own; therefore, it covers. It is not totally disconnected from Consciousness; therefore, it enables us to have a memory of having slept, and enables us to know that there is such a thing called ignorance. It enables us to make a statement that we do not know anything. So here again avidya is a peculiar trickster. It plays a trick and will not allow us to catch it, just as we cannot know the true colour of a chameleon. Only direct realisation can enable us to ascertain what this avidya is.

Svānu bhūtāva viśvāse tarkasyā pyana vasthiteḥ, kathaṁ vā tārkikaṁ manyaḥ tattva niścaya māpnuyāt (29). If we say that direct experience is not possible and logic is also futile, there will be no way of knowing anything in this world. Either we should have the power of proper reasoning of a positive nature which will give us some kind of indirect knowledge of what is happening, or we should have direct experience or realisation. If we deny both aspects and say that neither logic is possible nor experience is practicable, we will then be in the same old condition of ignorance. Spiritual progress will not be possible.

Logical arguments, ratiocination and intellectual study are finally not of any utility in Self-experience, but they give support to us in the sense that they can lead us to a higher experience in the form of an indication of what is above them. The limited consciousness indicates that there is something that is beyond limitation. The finitude that we are experiencing is suggestive of something that is not finite. In that sense reason is helpful, though by itself it is not ultimately valid.

Buddhyā rohāya tarkaścet apekṣeta tathā sati, svānu bhūtyanu sāreṇa tarkyatām mā kutarkyatām (30). Arguments of any kind should not go against scriptural ordinance. Every kind of logical deduction should be in the direction of a positive attainment of Truth. We should not be led to nihilism, regressus ad infinitum, circular reasoning, vicious arguments, etc. That is not proper argument. All logic should be a proper deduction from accepted premises, and they should be positive in the sense that they will lead us to Truth; otherwise, what is the use of arguing? Where is the need for logic and argumentation? Why should we apply our reason at all, if that is not going to lead us to any conclusion? Uncontrolled and unbridled reasoning will take us to no conclusion. Well-conducted reasoning will lead us to a kind of conclusion that will indicate the nature of Truth. All logic has to be based on the veracity of self-experience or scripture.

Svānu bhūtira vidyāyām āvṛtau ca pradarśitā, ataḥ kūṭastha caitanyam avirodhīti tarkyatām (31). Taccet virōdhi keneyam āviṛtir hyanu bhūyatām, vivekastu virodhasyāḥ tattva jñānini dṛśyatām (32). There are two kinds of consciousness, defined in two ways, namely, svarupa jnana and vikshepa jnana, vritti jnana. The knowledge of the Atman that we have in the state of deep sleep is not adequate to destroy the ignorance that is there in sleep. It is universality, and therefore it will not act. Ignorance can be destroyed only by the action of Consciousness. Just as an ocean that does not have any kind of contact with anything will not move in any particular direction, the universality of Consciousness that is in the state of deep sleep will not destroy the ignorance in sleep. This ignorance can be destroyed only by vritti jnana, actual meditative consciousness.

Consciousness that is otherwise universal has to be focussed as a direct action along the lines of concentration on a single thought of the Universal. Only when there is activity of consciousness is there a possibility of the dispelling of ignorance. In Vedanta this distinction is made between general consciousness and particularised consciousness. General consciousness cannot destroy ignorance, because it does not act. There is no rajas; nothing is possible there. The destruction of ignorance is possible only when action is associated with Consciousnessthat is, meditation.

Pure universal Consciousness is not opposed to ignorance. What is opposed to ignorance is vritti jnana, or the action of Consciousness through the reason and the process of meditation. Vivekastu virodhasyāḥ tattva jñānini dṛśyatām: Viveka—discrimination, direct meditationis the opposition of avidya.

Avidyā vṛta kūṭasthe deha dvaya yutā citiḥ, śuktau rūpya vada dhyastā vikṣepā dhyāsa eva hi (33). This dual body, deya-dvaya, the gross and the subtle bodyor rather, this body complex, we may sayis superimposed on the Kutastha Atman just as the quality of silver is superimposed on mother-of-pearl.

We know what mother-of-pearl is. It is a kind of shell, also called nacre. When it is kept in sunlight, it shines, and from a distance, it looks like a piece of silver. As the appearance of non-existent silverness is superimposed on the existent shell which is the mother-of-pearl, and the existent shellness is superimposed on the non-existent silverness, there is a mutual superimposition taking placeunreality getting superimposed on reality, and reality getting superimposed on unreality. It is the reality of the mother-of-pearl getting superimposed on the perceived silverness that is the reason why we feel that the silver is real. If the nacre or the shell was not there, the silver would also not be visible. So the reality that we attribute to the perceived silverness is due to the actual reality of its backgroundnamely, the mother-of-pearl. Conversely, the silverness is superimposed on the mother-of-pearl and we seem to feel that the mother-of-pearl itself has become silver.

In a similar manner, superimposition takes place in our own person. The bodies, the koshas, are superimposed on the Kutastha Atman. “I am existing.” This statement that we sometimes make is a confusion of two factors. What is really existing is not clear when this statement is made. It is like saying that we are seeing silver. We are seeing the mother-of-pearl, not the silver, but the possibility of seeing the silver could not be there if the mother-of-pearl was not there. So two factors are necessary; appearance and reality are both essential to perceive appearance.

This body complex, the five sheaths, are said to be real, and we feel their existence. “I am tall.” “I am short.” “I am hungry.” “I am tired.” “I am thinking.” “I am understanding.” “I am sleeping.” These statements that we make are associated with the five sheaths. The five sheaths have to exist first of all in order that we may make any statement in regard to them. They appear to exist on account of the existence aspect of the Kutastha Atman being superimposed on them. The sheaths themselves are an airy nothing. They are an accretion that has grown on Consciousness. They have no substance, but they appear to have substance in the same way as silver in the nacre appears to have a substantiality. Thus, “I am existing” is a confused statement where there is a mix-up of two qualities: the Pure Existence aspect of the Consciousness of the Kutastha getting mixed up with the tentative physical or psychological I-consciousness over which it is superimposed.

Similarly, when we say “I am existing” there is a converse superimposition. The finitude of this physical complex is superimposed on Consciousness. On the one hand, the Existence aspect of Consciousness is superimposed on the sheaths, which is why we feel that the sheaths are existing and are alive, and everything is well with them. But the other side is that we feel we are finite and limited, sitting in one place only. That is the finitude of the body getting superimposed on the universal Consciousness. This is called mutual superimposition. The universal Consciousness is superimposed on the finite body, and then the finite body appears to be existing. On the other hand, the finitude of the body is superimposed on Consciousness, and then Consciousness appears to be finite and we make a statement: “I am existing. I am Mr. so-and-so.” This Mr. so-and-so does not exist, really speaking. It is a hallucination, a mix-up that has been conjured up by a superimposition of two factors; and if we separate the two, we will find that this personality vanishes into thin air, and we will cease to exist in one moment if discrimination arises in us.

Idamaṁ śaśca satyatvaṁ śuktigaṁ rūpya īkṣyate, svayaṁ tvaṁ vastutā caivaṁ vikṣepe vīkṣyate’nyagam (34). We say “This is silver” when we see some shining piece in front of us. The thisness does not appear to be silver. Thisness is actually an indication of that which is really there. So when we say “This is silver” the demonstrative pronoun ‘this’ appears to be connected to the mother-of-pearl, rather than to the silver.

Idamaṁ śaśca satyatvaṁ. The reality of the silver consists in the thisness or the real existence of the mother-of-pearl, and it is seen shining, as it were, in the imagined silver. Svayaṁ tvaṁ vastutā caivaṁ vikṣepe vīkṣyate’nyagam. In a similar manner, the real I Consciousness, which is attributable only to the Universal Being, is transferred to the finitude of the body-mind complex, similar to the transference of the mother-of-pearl’s existence to the imagined silver.

The universal Consciousness is the real I; the body is not the I, the mind is not the I, this visible person is not the I. The real I is that which says, “I am what I am. I am that I am, indescribable universality.” That is the real I which says, “I am coming.” Who are you? I. Who is that inside? I. This I is actually the retort coming from the Universal that is inside us. But when we open the door, it is not the Universal that is opening it; it is the finitude over which the Universal has been superimposed.

Nīlapṛṣtha triko ṇatvaṁ yathā śuktau tirohitam, asaṅgā nandatā dyevaṁ kūṭasthe’pi tirohitam (35). The concave or triangular shape and the greenness, etc., of the shell is transferred to the imagined silver, and the silver appears to have that concave or triangular shape. Like that, the immutable, blissful Atman inside, this Kutastha Atman, is superimposed on the body and gets obscured by the consciousness of the body. The silver consciousness obscures the mother-of-pearl consciousness. Similarly, this body-mind complex consciousness obscures the real universality that is within us. That is what has happened to us.