Commentary on the Panchadasi
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 27

Chapter 6: Chitradipa – Light on the Analogy of a Painted Picture
Verses 78-100

Aṇur mahān madhyamo veti evaṁ tatrāpi vādinaḥ, bhaudhā vivadante hi śruti yukti samā śrayāt (78). There is a lot of controversy in regard to the definition of the Atman. It does not mean that every school of thought holds the same view. Some think the Atman is atomic in nature, some feel it is universal in its nature, some feel that it is medium-sized, etc. These are the various opinions held by different systems of thinking.

Aṇuṁ vadan tyānta rālāḥ sūkṣma nāḍī pracārataḥ, romṇaḥ sahasra bhāgena tulyāsu praca ratyayam (79). The doctrine which considers the Atman to be of the size of an atom is called the Antarala doctrine. Because of the fact that through the immensely large number of nerve currents it moves in a very, very subtle form, it should be considered as very subtle, very atomic indeedbecause in the Upanishads it is said that the Atman pervades the whole body and penetrates through all the nerve currents which are very subtle, and it is impossible to conceive the subtlety of these. Therefore, it is possible (according to these people) that the Atman’s nature is minute, especially as the Upanishads many times say it is subtle like an atom.

Aṇoraṇīyā neṣo’ṇuḥ sūkṣmāt sūkṣma taraṁ tviti, aṇutva māhuḥ śrutayaḥ śataśo’tha sahasraśaḥ (80). Smaller than the atom, subtler than the minutest particlesuch are the scriptural statements of the Upanishads. These statements make people feel that perhaps the Atman is atomic or minute in size. The scriptural statement is quoted here. Many are the scriptures and statements which make out that the Atman is subtler than the subtlest, more minute than the smallest conceivable particle of an atom; nothing can be as subtle as that, and no atomic particle can be smaller than that. This is corroborated by the Srutis, the Upanishadic statements.

Bālāgra śata bhāgasya śatadhā kalpitasya ca, bhāgo jīvaḥ sa vijñeya iti cāhā’parā śrutiḥ (81). One of the statements in the Upanishads is quoted here. If a hair is split lengthwise a hundred times, one can imagine how fine it will be, how subtle it will be. Sometimes the definition goes even further than this. The little hair is split into a hundred lengthwise pieces, and each of these one hundred pieces is again split into one thousand pieces; through that the Atman passes. Such is the jiva consciousness, impossible to conceive in gross terms. This is a quotation from the Upanishads.

Digambarā madhya matvam āhurā pāda mastakam, caitanya vyāpti saṁdṛṣṭeḥ ānakhāgra śrute rapi (82). In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad it is said that the Supreme Being penetrates everything right from the head to the foot, to the nail-ends; and also because of the pervasion of the consciousness through the whole body, it is supposed to be as big as the body itself. It is of medium size. This is one of the schools of Buddhism, called Digambara. Unless the Atman is of the size of the body, it cannot envelop the body and make the body get identified with itself and also get itself identified with the body. We feel that consciousness pervades the whole body, and we cannot feel its presence outside; it is confined to the encasement of the body. This is the reason why one is able to feel that it is perhaps limited to the bodily structure only, and it is of the size of the body.

Sūkṣma nāḍī pracārastu sūkṣmai ravayavair bhavet, sthūla dehasya hastā bhyāṁ kañcuka pratimoka vat (83). Though medium is the size of the Atman, as adumbrated by thinkers of this kind, they also explain how it is possible for a medium-sized Atman to enter into the minutest subtle nadis. The comparison or illustration that they give is that just as we thrust our hands into the sleeve of a shirt, the Atman can enter into the little tiny nadis, or nerve currents, in spite of the fact that it is medium in size.

Nyūnādhika śarīreṣu praveśo’pi gamāgamaiḥ, ātmām śānāṁ bhavettena madhya matvaṁ viniścitam (84). It is also believed that the Atman takes the size of whatever body it identifies itself with. In ants, it is only of the size of an ant. In other creatures, it is of the size of that kind of creature. It can be as big as an elephant when it identifies itself with an elephant, and it is of the size of the human body when it is identified with the human body. Therefore, it has a shape, or a size, which is not fixed. It expands or contracts according to the identification which it establishes with the particular body in which it enters in various stages in the processes of transmigratory life.

Sāṁśasya ghaṭa vannāśo bhavatyeva tathā sati, kṛta nāśā’kṛtā bhyāga mayoḥ ko vārako bhavet (85). There is a defect in all these doctrines because whether the Atman is conceived as atomic in size, or medium, or very smallas small as the size of the nerve currentswhat follows from this definition is that Consciousness becomes mortal; it will perish. The Atman would be subject to destruction if it is conceived as finite. Even if it is as large as an elephant, it is finite nevertheless. It should not be limited to any particular location. Finitude is the character of anything outside which something exists. If the Atman has something outside it, it would be finite, even if it is as large as space itself. The consciousness of there being something outside it will make it finite. Therefore, as a pot breaks, the Atman also will break if, according to these doctrines that have been adumbrated, it is regarded as finite in its nature.

Also, perishability of the Atman is inconceivable because the jiva would be destroyed; there would be no beginning or end for it. Suddenly the jiva has assumed a body for no reason whatsoever, because we have assumed no prior existence on account of the finitude of Consciousness. Also, all the good deeds that we have done in this world will not be rewarded. We will die together with the body, and all our good deeds will also perish if the Atman is not to continue after the death of the body.

There is an explanation for the assumption of certain particular bodies by different individuals, and why the experiences of people differ from one another and there is an impulsion to do good actions in this world. Because of these reasons, it is necessary to assume the prior existence of the Atman, and also the posterior existence of it. If the prior existence is not accepted, it would mean that people are suffering or enjoying unnecessarily, for no reason whatsoever. An effect will follow without a cause. And if it does not exist after death, all our good deeds are futile. Why should we work hard in this world if tomorrow we are going to pass away, and if with our passing, all our good deeds also pass? This predicament will follow on the assumption of the finitude of the Atman; therefore, it has to be considered as infinite in nature.

Tasmā dātmā mahā neva naivāṇur nāpi madhyamaḥ, āsāśavat sarvagato niraṁśaḥ śruti saṁmataḥ (86). Therefore, we refute all these doctrines mentioned earlier and conclude that the Atman is endless, infinite, unending and eternal in its nature. It is not atomic in size, nor is it possible to say that it is of medium size. It is not of the size of the body that it assumes. The Atman’s assumption of the size of the body is an apparent predicament, as space may appear to assume the shape of a pot in which it appears to be located. All-pervading, like space, without parts, is this Atman. This is declared by the Srutis, the Vedas, and the Upanishads.

Ityuktvā tadviśeṣe tu bhaudhā kalahaṁ yayuḥ, acidrūpo’tha cidrūpaḥ cidacidrūpa ityapi (87). Even if it is granted that the Atman is infinite, what is its essential characteristic? Some say it is consciousness in its essentiality. Some say consciousness is only a quality of the Atman, thereby concluding that the essential nature of the Atman is other than consciousness. What is other than consciousness would be unconsciousness. The Mimamsaka doctrine of ritualism often holds this peculiar doctrine of the unconscious nature of the Self and its assuming consciousness only by coming in contact with the mind, on account of karmas that it did in the past. Some say that it is consciousness, some say it is unconsciousness, some say it is a mixture of both. It has a quality of consciousness as well as unconsciousness, as a firefly may sometimes shine or sometimes not shine.

Prābhākarā stārkikāśca prāhu rasyā cidātmatām, ākāśavat dravyam ātma śabda vat tad guṇa ścitiḥ (88). Prabhakara is a doctrine of Mimamsa. The Vedic ritualistic doctrine is called Mimamsa. One school of these Mimamsakas holds that consciousness is a quality or an attribute. It is a spark of illumination that arises from the contact of the Atman with the mind after it has taken birth through the body. By itself, it is a universal unknowingness. The Prabhakaras, or the Mimamsakas, consider the Atman as also one of the substances, whereas the Vedanta does not regard the Atman as a substance; it is not a thing at all. As space has sound as its quality, these people consider consciousness to be the quality of the Atman.

Icchā dveṣa prayatnāśca dharma dharmau sukhā sukhe, tat saṁskā rāśca tasaite guṇā ściti vadī ritāḥ (89). Not only that, these Mimamsakas and Naiyayikas, logicians of ancient times, have another doctrine of the nature of the Atman, that it is practically the jiva, or the individual consciousness, that they are speaking of, though they appear to be defining the Atman as such. Firstly, they think that the Atman is a substance. Secondly, it is believed by them that it is characterised by desires, love and hatred, effort, consciousness of righteousness and unrighteousness, and it experiences pleasure and pain. All the properties that follow from such experience also are considered as qualities of the Atman.

Actually, the Mimamsakas are mistaking the individual self for the Universal Self. This definition of the Atman having qualities such as desire, etc., cannot apply to the Universal Being. So there is a confusion of definition in the case of the Mimamsaka doctrine, which has to be rejected.

Ātmano manasā yoge svādṛṣṭa vaśato guṇāḥ, jāyante’tha pralīyante suṣupte’dṛṣṭa saṁkṣayāt (90). The Mimamsaka doctrine is continued here. When the Atman comes in contact with the mind on account of certain potencies of the previous actions of earlier births continuing, the consciousness comes in contact with the mind in different ways so that sometimes it is very intelligent and sometimes it is not intelligent. The increase or decrease of the intelligence of people is attributed to the increase or decrease in the virtuous deeds that people performed in earlier days, and it is completely abolished, as it were, in the state of deep sleep.

Citimatvāt cetano’yaṁ icchādveṣa prayatnā vān, syāt dharma dharmayoḥ kartā bhoktā duḥkhādi mattvataḥ (91). Pure Consciousness, we have to repeat once again, is the nature of the Atman. The Naiyayikas somehow add that it has desire and also effort as part of its quality. There is experience of joy and sorrow; therefore, they think that the agency consciousness as well as the enjoyer consciousness is to be attributed to the Atman only.

The Mimamsa doctrine is very much involved in the concept of deedsgood deeds and bad deeds. The whole of this doctrine is nothing but an expatiation of what is goodness and what is badness, what is dharma, what is adharma, etc. Righteous deeds produce a peculiar transparent potency in a future birth, on account of which consciousness comes in contact with the mind in the form of a superior intelligence. It feels “I am doing”, and it also feels “I am enjoying”. These doctrines also attribute kartritva, or agency in action, and bhoktritva, or the feeling of enjoyership of the fruits of action, to the Atman which is otherwise universal in its nature.

Yathā’tra karma vaśataḥ kādā citkaṁ sukhādikam, tathā lokāntare dehe karmaṇe cchādi janyate (92). All the happiness in this world, according to this doctrine, is like a flash. It is momentary in its nature. Perpetual contact with consciousnessthat is to say, perpetual contact of the Atman with the mindis not possible because, according to this doctrine, the contact is brought about by the effect of karmas of the past. Inasmuch as a uniform type of action is not performed by anyone in any particular birth, it is not possible to expect that a uniform experience can be had in the life that follows afterwards.

We do not have the same kind of experience every day throughout our life. The argument of these doctrines is that the variety that we pass through in experience in this world is due to the variety of deeds that we did in the past, in earlier lives. Somehow or other, they do not want to leave this doctrine of karma being the cause of our experiences of every kind, identifying the whole experience with the Pure Atman itself.

Evaṁ ca sarvagasyāpi saṁbhavetāṁ gamāgamau, karma kāṇḍaḥ samagro’tra pramāṇa miti te’vadan (93). They are called Karma Kandans. Purva Mimamsa is called Mimamsa proper, and Uttara Mimamsa is also a Mimamsa by itself, but it is also called by the name of Vedanta doctrine. Purva Mimamsa is the theme that is discussed here.

The idea of this kind of definition of the Atman is given by the Mimamsakas, who involve in the conclusion that the all-pervading Atman also has coming and going. Birth and death cannot be attributed to that which is infinite in nature; and if we say that it is not infinite, it will be perishable. The consequences of the assumption of finitude of the Atman are very serious. What is the seriousness? There would be finitude, and we cannot explain how experiences originate at all without causes behind them. Also, what it is that impels us to feel that they will continue in the next birth also?

Ānandamaya kośo yaḥ suṣuptau pari śiṣyate, aspaṣṭa cit sa ātmaiṣāṁ pūrva kośo’sya te guṇāḥ (94). The Mimamsa is once again taken up for discussion in some detail, where the definition is that the anandamaya kosha is the Atman, and not the physical body, not the vital, mental or intellectual bodies. The Mimamsakas consider the causal body as the Atman because it is more imperishable than the other bodies, which are perishable. The anandamaya kosha does not die even when the body dies.

The anandamaya kosha also has a dual function to perform: consciousness and unconsciousness. Only in the state of deep sleep are we aware that there is such a state as the causal body, the anandamaya kosha. It has the characteristic of consciousness because we begin to realise that we slept. We remember the fact of having slept the previous day. Unless there was consciousness even in the state of deep sleep, a memory of that experience would not have been possible. So consciousness must have been there. On the other hand, it is unconsciousness because if consciousness had been really there, we would have been aware of the fact of sleeping. So in the Mimamsaka doctrine there is a dual function of consciousnessthat the anandamaya kosha sometimes acts as consciousness, and sometimes as unconsciousness.

Gūḍhaṁ caitanyam utprekṣya jaḍa bodha svarūpa tām, ātmano bruvate bhāṭṭā ścit utprekṣo tthita smṛteḥ (95). Bhatta Mimamsakas hold that this Atman is hidden in the anandamaya kosha, and its characteristic or quality is both unconsciousness and consciousness, jada and bodha. Jada means insentiency, and bodha is sentiency. Both these qualities can be found as illustrated in the causal body, manifested in the state of deep sleep.

Bhattas are Purva Mimamsakas of a different type. There are two kinds of Mimamsa doctrines: Prabhakara and Bhatta. The Bhatta doctrine says that consciousness is a partial manifestation of the Atman, the other aspect being unconsciousness. We need not go into all these details.

Jaḍo bhūtva tadā’svāpsam iti jāḍya smṛtis tadā, vinā jāḍyānu bhūtiṁ na kathañcid upapadyate (96). The consciousness of the fact of having slept is not there at the time of sleeping. Therefore, that aspect which prevents us from knowing the fact of sleeping is unconsciousness. But the fact that we remember having slept shows that there is consciousnessdouble consciousness. The Atman has a double function. It can act as consciousness, and it can also act as unconsciousness, as it happens in sleep.

Draṣṭur dṛṣṭera lopaśca śrutaḥ suptau tasas tvayam, aprakāśa prakāśa bhyām ātmā khadyota vat yutaḥ (97). There is a total misconstruing by these doctrines of certain statements of the Upanishad, such as the Brihadaranyaka statement where Yajnavalkya says, “It sees and it does not see.” The idea behind this intriguing statement is that it is Cosmic-consciousness; therefore, it sees everything. “It does not see” means that there is no object in front of it. When it says that the Atman does not see, it does not mean that it is unconscious, as the Mimamsakas hold. There is no question of its seeing everything, because it is there everywhere. It is beholding itself. So Yajnavalkya says, “While it sees, it sees not.” But the Mimamsakas misconstrue this statement, like the Virochana doctrine of the Chhandogya, and conclude that the seeing and the not seeing definition of the Atman given by Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is to be construed in the sense of a double function of the Atmanconsciousness and unconsciousnessas was explained earlier.

Niraṁ śasyo bhayāt matvaṁ na kathañcit ghaṭiṣyate, tena cidrūpa evātmeti āhuḥ sāṇkhya vivekinaḥ (98). Now we cross over all this muddle of Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, etc., empirical doctrines of philosophy, and come to the Samkhya, where we have a little room to breathe.

The Samkhya doctrine rejects all these assumptions of the Nyaya, the Vaisheshika and the Mimamsa. Because of the fact of the partlessness or the impartite nature of consciousness, the Samkhya avers that purusha is the nature of consciousness. To the Samkhya doctrine, purusha is the name of consciousness infinite; infinite consciousness is purusha. Because of the infinitude, it is not possible to say that it has two qualities. Infinite is infinite always. It cannot be infinite sometimes and not infinite at other times. Therefore, the doctrine that the Atman is conscious sometimes and not conscious at other times is erroneous. It is not correct.

From this we cannot conclude that consciousness is absent or it is unconscious at that time. That argument is not feasible here. The reason for our not knowing that we are sleeping is another matter altogether, to be discussed later on. The Samkhyas conclude that the Atman being infinite, purusha being its nature, divisibility of its substance cannot be accepted. Also, it cannot be of two qualities at the same timeconsciousness and unconsciousness simultaneously. What is the nature of the Atman, then? Chidrupa: Pure Consciousness is the nature of the Atman. This has to be hammered into our minds again and again, say the Samkhyavadins.

Jāḍyāṁśa prakṛte rūpaṁ vikāri triguṇaṁ cat tat, cito bhogāpa vargārthaṁ prakṛtiḥ sā pravartate (99). The unconsciousness that we sometimes experience is not to be attributed to the consciousness of the purusha. Prakriti, which has the qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas, with which the consciousness of the purusha gets identified in some manner, is the reason why we often feel unconscious, distracted, etc. When the purusha consciousness somehow or other is juxtaposed with the tamas or the inert quality of prakriti, it appears as if there is no consciousness of anythingas we have in deep sleep. But when the purusha consciousness gets identified with the rajas or distracting medium of prakriti, we run about here and there and we are very active, busy people. It is only when the consciousness is reflected through the sattva of prakriti that it becomes transparent and all-knowing in its nature, and in that condition it is called mahat by Samkhya philosophy.

The modifications that we experience in our life, all the sufferings, all the changes that we undergo, are not to be attributed to the universal Atman. What are these changes, then? These changes are of prakritisattva, rajas, tamas. Our body, all the five sheaths, are constituted only of the three gunas of prakritisattva, rajas and tamasin various proportions. In a very concentrated proportion, the three gunas constitute the physical body. In another proportion, these gunas constitute the other bodies; and all the five sheaths, which are the determining factors of our individuality, are prakriti’s products.

In identifying itself with these five sheaths, consciousness appears to be feeling, wrongly, that it cannot know anything in sleep when it is identified with the anandamaya kosha; and it feels that it is self-conscious, or individuality consciousness is there, when it identifies itself with the ego or the intellect. It has doubts and difficulties when it identifies itself with the mind. It feels that it has vitality in the system when it is identified with the breathing process. And when it is identified with the physical body, it feels that it is this little tabernacle only. Hence, we have to explain why such difficulty has arisen for us. But we should not come to a sudden conclusion that consciousness has two qualities, which is not a fact.

Cito bhogāpa vargārthaṁ prakṛtiḥ sā pravartate: Prakriti is a field of experience of the purusha. We are born into this world for working out our karmas; and this world is nothing but the field of prakriti’s three gunas in certain proportions, in various permutations and combinations. The three gunas of prakriti manifest themselves as this solid world of experience, and this field of action has been presented before us for the purpose of working out our karmaselse, karmas cannot be worked out, because working out of a karma is nothing but passing through certain experiences. Experience is possible only when there is an environment or an atmosphere, and atmosphere is nothing but the field of action, which is prakriti. So prakriti constitutes the field of activity for the experiences of the jiva that has performed various deeds in the past and has to work out the effects of these deeds in the present birth.

Asaṁgāyāḥ citer bandha mokṣau bhedā grahān matau, bandha muktī vyavasthārthaṁ pūrveṣā miva cid bhidā (100). Asanga is unattached. Consciousness is unattached. “This infinite purusha is unattached,” says Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Therefore, the bondage and liberation of that which is unattached is unthinkable. It is not the Absolute Brahman that is being born and is dying. It is not the Infinite Consciousness that is in bondage and seeks liberation. That which is bound and which is seeking liberation is entangled Consciousnessthe very same Infinite that seems to be involved in the five sheathsdue to which fact we appear to be individuals, and due to which Consciousness itself appears to be located in one part.