by Swami Krishnananda
The Panchadasi is a great masterpiece of Swami Vidyaranya. Prior to his sannyasa, he was called Madhava; and his brother was Saiyana. They were two brothers. Saiyana wrote Sanskrit commentaries on all the Vedas – the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. He cannot be regarded as a human being, really speaking. Superhuman work is Saiyana's Sanskrit commentary. The stupendous scholarship that is behind these commentaries on the Vedas would make anyone feel that Saiyana was not a human being. He must have been a superhuman personality, to say the least.
The other brother was Madhava. There is a story behind Madhava. As Madhava before his sannyasa, he wrote many books. It appears that financially they were very poor. All great learned people are financially poor. It is a peculiar irony of fate. They had so much difficulty in maintaining the family. Madhava, it appears, did the Gayatri purascharana a number of times to have a darshan of Devi so that he could be freed from financial stress. After completing several purascharanas, he heard a voice: "You shall not have darshan of me in this birth." He became frustrated and gave up the purascharana. He got initiated into sannyasa and went away.
Immediately the Devi appeared before him. "What was that for which you were thinking of me?"
He replied, "How is it that you now give me darshan, when you had said that you will not give me darshan in this birth."
She said, "This sannyas is another birth that you have taken. That is why I have come."
"But anyhow, I don't want anything. I have taken to sannyas and I want nothing. You can go."
"No, I will not go," Devi said, it seems, "When I come, I must always give and go."
"But I cannot ask for anything as my needs are no more," said Vidyaranya who was Madhava before his sannyas.
The Devi said, "As you want nothing, you shall have everything." And she vanished.
He became omniscient in his knowledge. There is no subject on which Vidyaranya has not written. Every conceivable subject: aesthetics, ethics, civics, morality, dharmashastra, religion, medical science, anatomy, physiology, metaphysics, epistemology; there is nothing on which he has not written. And in every field, his book is the best. In every field, his work is the standard. It shows the mastery of both these brothers. And Vidyaranya is the person responsible for founding the Vijaynagar empire. He acted as the minister to the first kings of Vijaynagar, called Hakka and Bukka. He actually initiated the founding of the Vijaynagar empire, and he worked as a minister, as a spiritual guide, to these kings.
One of Vidyaranya’s great works is the Panchadasi. It is a masterpiece in Vedanta philosophy and spiritual practice. It contains fifteen chapters, which is why it is called Panchadasi. The book by itself has no name; it is named after the number of chapters. Panchadasa is fifteen and panchadasi is a work that contains fifteen chapters. These fifteen chapters are classified into three sections of five chapters each. It is said that the Bhagavadgita, which contains eighteen chapters, is also classifiable into three sections: the first six, the middle six, and the last six. The first five chapters of Panchadasi deal with existence, or sat in Sanskrit. The second five deal with consciousness, or chit. The last five deal with ananda, or bliss. Therefore, the book as a whole is an exposition of sat-chit-ananda – the nature of the Absolute expounded in minute detail in his own novel way.
I think this is the third time that I am taking up study and discourse on the Panchadasi. In one course, when I was speaking in the Bhajan Hall, some people were taking down notes in shorthand. One of them gave me the typed manuscript of these lectures that he had taken in shorthand. I went through it, corrected it, and that book was published in the name of the Philosophy of the Panchadasi.
[Publisher’s note: This series of discourses was given in 1989 after The Commentary of the Bhagavadgita, containing 51 discourses, was completed. This series of a verse-by-verse commentary on the Panchadasi which Swamiji continued for 42 sessions and ended in the seventh chapter.]