The Panchadasi is a standard text on the philosophy of the Vedanta, consisting of fifteen chapters, written by Sage Vidyaranya. Historians and teachers of philosophy sometimes hold that the later portions of this work were written by Bharatitirtha. Whatever be the authorship of this treatise, it stands as an unparalleled compendium expounding the fundamental principles of the Vedanta propounding the non-dual existence of Brahman, the supremacy of the Absolute.
In accordance with the accepted definition of the Ultimate Reality as Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Knowledge-Bliss), the fifteen chapters of the Panchadasi are grouped into three sections of five chapters each, which are designated as Viveka, or Discrimination, Dipa, or Illumination, and Ananda, or Bliss, corresponding to the Existence, Consciousness and Bliss aspects of Reality, which is the theme of the fifteen chapters.
The text purports to point out that the universe finally gravitates to the realization of this great purpose of all life, namely, the experience of Absolute Existence, which is a blend of infinity and eternity, wherein are brought together into the highest fulfilment all the aspirations of the whole of creation. The first five chapters endeavour to discriminate by analysis and understanding (Viveka) the nature of Reality as distinguished from mere appearance, both in the external universe of the five Elements – Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth - and the individual consisting of the five sheaths – Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya – meaning the Physical. Vital, Mental, Intellectual and Causal encasements of the pure Spirit. Incidentally, the sequence of the process of creation is described, in the context of stating the relationship between Brahman and the universe, which involves also an explanation of the specific connection that seems to obtain between the individual percipient and the world of perception. These are highly interesting in-depth analyses and studies which probe into the final structure and substance of all things.
The second set of five chapters throw light (Dipa) on the fact that Consciousness is the supreme principle, the only Reality, which is identical with pure Existence. Here, again, a detailed description is entered into regarding the nature of Isvara (God), Jagat (world) and Jiva (individual), with an outstanding exposition of their mutual action and interaction. The theory of perception, which is a very important field of study in all philosophic circles, is discussed in an entire chapter in this section. Simultaneously, there is a picturesque delineation of the gradational process of the ascent of the individual to its supreme goal, liberation in union with Brahman, the Absolute. A very poignant and candid discourse on the meaning and method of meditation leading to contact with Reality is also a stimulating theme discussed in this section.
The last five chapters go into great detail in expounding the inner constitutive essence of Brahman as unexcelled Bliss (Ananda). Joy is the essence of life. Happiness is the core of all things. Everything struggles in the end for reaching a state of infinite satisfaction. There does not seem to be any other aim or purpose in life, whatever be the movement or the activity with which persons and things seem to be busy in the complex arrangement of the evolution and involution of the universe. That the cause and the effect are finally non-different, that reality and its manifestations cannot be drastically separated one from the other, that God and the world are not two different realities, that the deepest in man is Existence, which is Consciousness and Joy, that all effort at the gaining of knowledge is an adventure in the direction of the union of knowing and being, Consciousness and Existence, that the Self is the source of all happiness, whether the concept of Self is empirically limited to persons, things and relations, or understood in its primary sense of unlimited universality, and that the notion that pleasures come from external objects located in space and time outside as the non-Self is a blatant error, perfection being attainable only in the realization of the Absolute Self, form the enthralling subjects inimitably described by the author in the concluding five chapters.
The Panchadasi is usually, and perhaps invariably, prescribed as a pre-condition of study before one takes up the larger initiations into the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras and the Bhagavadgita, inasmuch as this basic text acts as a fitting introduction to the central doctrines of the Vedanta philosophy in general.
The present book consists of the lectures delivered on the philosophy and the teachings of this great work to audiences of students at the Headquarters of the Divine Life Society.