Commentary on the Panchadasi
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 12

Chapter 2: Pancha Mahabhuta Viveka – Discrimination of the Elements
Verses 78-99

Sadvastu nyeka deśasthā māyā tatraika deśagam, viyat tatrāpyeka deśa gato vāyuḥ prakalpitaḥ (78). The whole of Brahman is not occupied by maya; that is what was stated earlier. Only certain conditioned aspects of Brahman are affected by maya, and space does not occupy the whole of maya. A fraction of Brahman is the location of maya, a fraction of maya is the location of space, and a fraction of space is the location of air. Air is not everywhere in space; it is only in certain locations.

Existence is everywhere. That is Pure Being, Brahman, the Absolute. An aspect of it is covered by maya; an aspect of maya is covered by space; an aspect of space contains air. Vāyuḥ prakalpitaḥ: So vayu occupies a very little space in comparison with Existence, maya and space. The quality of air is described in the next verse.

Śoṣa sparśau gatir vegaḥ vāyu dharmā ime matāḥ, trayaḥ svabhāvāḥ sanmāyā vyomnāṁ ye te’pi vāyugāh (79). The character of absorbing moisture, the drying of things, is one quality of air. Tangibility, touch, or the tactile sense is another quality of air. Drying, touching, speed and motion are the attributes of air, which occupies some fraction of the area of space. It has the quality of Existence because we feel that air exists; but independently, it does not exist. Therefore, it is only a manifestation of maya. It produces sound and, therefore, it also has a quality of space. As existing, it is characterised by the reality of Brahman; as a vacuum by itself, independent of Brahman, it has the character of maya; and as something that produces sound, it is an effect of space.

Vāyu rastīti sadbhāvaḥ sato vāyau pṛthak kṛte, nistatva rūpatā māyā svbhāvo vyomago dhvaniḥ (80). We say, “Air exists.” By a transferring of values from one to the other, Existence, which is the substantive, is here wrongly considered as a predicate when we say “Air exists”. The Existence of air is a mix-up of values which is created by a wrong perception through the sense organs, because Existence actually is an attribute of Absolute Brahman. By identifying the Existence of Brahman with air, we say that air exists. If we separate air-ness from Existence as such, we will find that air is non-existence. By itself, it is not existing. It is a vacuum. It is the quality of maya presenting a form and a name and a picturisation, while actually there is no background for it. It is a phantasm that is created by maya. Also, the sound that the air makes when it moves is borrowed from space, which is the cause of the reverberation of sound. The Existence aspect is pervading all things. Wherever we go, we will find something is existing; we cannot conceive non-existent things.

Sato’nuvṛttiḥ sarvatra vyomno neti pure ritam, vyomānu vṛtti radhunā kathaṁ na vyāhataṁ vacaḥ (81). It was said earlier that space does not follow the other evolutes such as air, fire, etc. That is, the dimension which space has is not to be found in the case of the other elements. Space is spread out in all directions, but air, fire, etc., are not spread out in that manner. So it was said earlier in some other verse that space does not get associated with any of the further evolutes. Space stands by itself, while Existence is associated with every evolute. When this is said, what is intended is that extension, which is the character of space, is not to be found in other subsequent evolutes such as earth, etc., but the other aspect of space, which is reverberation of sound, can be seen in other evolutes also.

Vyomānu vṛtti radhunā kathaṁ na vyāhataṁ vacaḥ. A question is raised here: “Earlier you said that space does not follow the evolutes. Now you say it follows.” The idea is that one aspect of space does not follow; the other aspect of space follows. The aspect of extension does not follow the other elements, but the aspect of sound production follows every other subsequent element.

Chidrā nuvṛttir netīti pūrvokti radhunā tviyam, śabdānu vṛtti revoktā vacaso vyāhatiḥ kutaḥ (82). We have already mentioned that the association of space with anything is twofold: either as an extended something, or as a property which produces sound. So when we say that the other elements have the character of space, we have to take only one quality, namely, sound production, and we should not take the extension aspect of space.

Nanu sadvastu pārthakyāt asattvaṁ cettadā katham, avyakta māyā vaiṣamyāt amāyā maya tā’pi no (83). Do you not think that Existence dissociated from space or air reduces space and air to non-existence? Some objector raises a question: “Can you not conceive air as real by dissociating it from maya—because only when you associate it with maya, a kind of vacuous presentation, it appears to be unreal. Can you not say that air exists independently by itself?”

We have already mentioned that air cannot be regarded as independently real because it has no independent existence except as motion, which is one of its properties borrowed from space, and sound is also borrowed from space, and so the independence aspect is false—because nothing in this world is totally independent. If we consider something, such as air, as independent, it is finite; and if it is finite, it is perishable. Therefore, it cannot be regarded as an eternal substance. It is not real.

Nistattva rūpatai vātra māyātvasya prayojikā, sā śakti kāryayo stulyā vyaktā vyaktatva bhedinoḥ (84). The non-entity aspect of anything is the essential feature of maya. The final non-entity character is the quality of maya, whatever be that object in this world; and this unreality of the product of maya is similar, in the case of both its immediate effects and subsequent effects. The immediate effect is space; the subsequent effects are air, etc. So the unreality which is the nature of maya is to be found not only in the cause which precedes the effect, but also in the effects that follow the cause. Here the word shakti is used. Shakti means maya. The character of cause, which is the maya aspect of things, is to be found in all the effects that it produces. There is finally, therefore, the character of non-entity in all its products, right from space onwards to earth. Whether they are manifest or unmanifest, it makes no difference, because a thing that is not real may be either manifest or unmanifest—as water seen in a mirage. We may perceive it or we may not perceive it; nevertheless, it does not exist there, finally.

The character of water in a mirage in the desert is something that is not to be associated with Existence. It is so even if we perceive it, and it is so even if we do not perceive it. It is the same thing. So perception and non-perception do not make a difference to objects which are ultimately not real.

Sadasatva vivekasya prastu tatvāt sā cintya tām, asato’vāntara bheda āstāṁ tat cinta yātra kim (85). Anyhow, here we are not concerned with the products of maya. We are concerned with the way in which it actually acts and creates an illusion of externality of things, substantiality of things, and independence of things. Maya has three qualities. Firstly, it externalises everything, while the Ultimate Reality is universal. Secondly, it solidifies the non-entity into objects of perception and causes them to be felt by the perceiver as independent by themselves. Independence, externality and objectivity—these are the characters finally foisted upon a non-entity by a peculiar action of the power of God, which we call maya.

Sadvastu brahma śiṣṭoṁśo vāyur mithyā yathā viyat, vāsayitvā ciraṁ vāyor mithyātvaṁ marutaṁ tyajet (86). We have discussed enough about space, and we have also understood something about the character of air. What is it that we have understood? Sadvastu brahma: Existence is Brahman. Everything else that follows from it, such as space, air, etc., is not real. Having driven into our mind the conviction that properties which are outside Pure Existence cannot be regarded as real, we have to finally reject the reality of space and air.

Mithyātvaṁ marutaṁ tyajet: Abandon the concept of the reality of air, as well as the reality of space. In the same way, we have to consider fire. It also does not exist independently. We say, “Fire exists.” Unless Existence is there, fire has no meaning. Minus Existence, there is no fire; and Existence, which is the fire, is borrowed from the Pure Existence of Brahman.

Cintayet vahni mapyevaṁ maruto nyūna vartinam, brahmāṇḍā varaṇe ṣveṣā nyūnā dhika vicāraṇā (87). One-tenth of the area occupied by maya is said to be the area occupied by space. One-tenth of the area occupied by space is occupied by air. One-tenth of the space occupied by air is occupied by fire. Air can be seen moving about everywhere, but we cannot see fire moving about. So it is fractional in comparison with its precedents.

Brahmāṇḍā varaṇe ṣveṣā nyūnā dhika vicāraṇā. In the structure of this Brahmanda, or cosmos, this is the arrangement made among the elements: each succeeding one is less by one-tenth in comparison with the preceding one. One-tenth of the area of Brahman is perhaps occupied by maya. Though we cannot actually measure Brahman, logically we can conceive a fractional aspect of Brahman. So is the case with everything. One-tenth of Brahman is maya. One-tenth of maya is space. One-tenth of space is air. One-tenth of air is fire. One-tenth of fire is water. One-tenth of water is earth. And this earth, which is so much reduced from the original cause, is the source of all the fourteen worlds. So we can imagine how small this universe is in comparison with the Pure Existence which is Brahman.

Vāyor daśāṁ śato nyūno vahnir vāyau prakalpitaḥ, purāṇoktaṁ tāratamyaṁ daśāṁ śair bhūta pañcake (88). One-tenth of air is fire. Friction, motion in air can create heat, and that becomes fire. The Puranas are full of descriptions of the difference that is there among the five elements. In the Srimad Bhagavata Purana especially, it is mentioned that the elements that follow are only one-tenth of the preceding ones. Daśāṁ śair bhūta pañcake. One must read the Third Book of the Bhagavata Purana, where there is a great, grand detail of the process of creation, to understand the details of these things.

Vahni ruṣṇaḥ prakāśātmā pūrvānu gati ratra ca, asti vasniḥ sa nistātvaḥ śabdavān sparśa vānapi (89). The quality of fire is heat, and also it is radiance; it shines. Heat exists, fire exists; and it exists in some place, which is the character of space. It produces sound when it burns with flames, which is also something that is borrowed from space; and it has the character of air, which is motion. All the qualities of the earlier elements can be found in the subsequent one, which is here fire.

What do we generally say? Asti vasniḥ: We say “Fire exists”, by which we identify fire with Brahman. Sa nistātvaḥ: By itself, fire is nistatvah, a non-entity. If we abstract Pure Existence from fire, we will find that it is a non-entity. Śabdavān sparśa vānapi: We can touch fire, and we can hear the sound produced by fire. These qualities are there, no doubt, but they are foisted on Pure Existence, minus which fire is not there, as is the case with space and air.

Sanmāyā vyoma vāyvaṁśair yukta syāgner nijo guṇaḥ, rūpaṁ tatra sataḥ sarvam anyad buddhā vivicyatām (90). Through the power of reason we may analyse the situation of the elements in this manner. Existence, maya, space and air—these condition fire; and fire has a special quality of its own which we cannot see in the preceding elements, namely, visibility. We cannot have visibility of space and air. We cannot see either space or air as an object as clearly as we can see fire. It has visibility and it has radiance; therefore, we can see it. All other characters which are foisted upon it should be separated from it, and finally it is to be regarded as unreal.

Sato vivecite vahnau mithyātve sati vāsite, āpo daśāṁśato nyūnāḥ kalpitā iti cintayet (91). Having understood the non-entity aspect of fire independently, minus Existence, we have to understand the same thing in the case of water. One-tenth of the space occupied by the fire principle is the space occupied by the water principle. Having understood clearly the properties of space, air and fire, and rejecting the reality aspect in them minus Existence, we now consider what water is, which is only one-tenth of the area occupied by fire. We say, “Water exists.” The Existence aspect of Brahman is wrongly associated with water. As we have made the mistake of confusing the substantive with the predicate in the case of the earlier elements, the same mistake we make here also. Existence is an originality; it is not the product of an element, though we wrongly utter sentences such as “Water exists”.

Santyāpo’mūḥ śūnyatattvāh saśabda sparśa saṁyutāḥ, rūpavatyo’nya dharmā nuvṛttyā svīyo raso guṇaḥ (92). Non-entity is the nature of water finally, minus Existence. The quality of water is sound and also tangibility, and also it can be seen and tasted. The special quality of water is that we can taste it, but we cannot taste fire, we cannot taste air, we cannot taste space. All the qualities of water come from the earlier elements which preceded water, but it has its own special quality, which is taste.

Sato vivecitāsvapsu tanmithyātve ca vāsite, bhūmir daśāṁśato nyūnā kalpitā psviti cintayet (93). One-tenth of water is earth; and earth has all the qualities, such as extension, of the earlier elements. We can measure the earth by distance, and we can touch it as we can touch air. We can see it with our eyes, as we can see fire. We can taste substances, material objects, made out of earth.

One special quality of all things made of the earth principle is that we can also smell it. We cannot smell water. There is no smell in water, no smell in fire, no smell in air, and no smell in space. So while the earlier elements have one, two, three or four qualities, the fifth element, which is earth, has five qualities. We can visualise in this particular element, which is earth, all the qualities of the earlier elements plus the character of smell or odour, which is only in the earth principle. As we say “Space exists” and so on, we also say “Earth exists”. But minus Existence, earth is also not really there.

Asti bhūstattva-sūnyā’syāṁ śabda-sparśau sarūpakau, rasaśca parato gandho naijaḥ sattā vivicyatām (94). Sound, tangibility, form, taste and smell are the characteristics of earth. Naijaḥ sattā vivicyatām. What is the essential nature of earth? Remove all the preceding qualities; dissociate earth from Existence itself. We will find there is no such thing as the earth principle. All creation vanishes as mist before the sun if we make this analysis of dissociating these wonderful presentations of the five-elemental world from Existence pure and simple, which is Absolute Brahman.

Pṛthakkṛtāyāṁ sattāyāṁ bhūmir mithyā’vaśiṣyate, bhūmer daśāṁśato nyūnaṁ brahmāṇḍaṁ bhūmi madhyagam (95). Brahmāṇḍa madhye tiṣṭhanti bhuvanāni caturdaśa, bhuvaneṣu vasantyeṣu prāṇidehā yathāyatham (96). The whole cosmos of physical elements is constituted of the earth principle. Fourteen worlds are mentioned in the Puranas. All these are modifications of earth only, by permutation and combination.

Brahmāṇḍa loka deheṣu sadavastuni pṛthak kṛte, asanto’ṇḍādayo bhāntu tadbhāne’pīha kā kṣatiḥ (97). In this Brahmanda, which is the macrocosm, all the realms of beings hang. As beads are strung on a thread to make a garland, so too all the realms of being, the worlds fourteen in number, are strung as beads, as it were, on this thread-like connection of the material principle, physicality, the earth principle.

All living beings, such as we human beings, subhuman creatures, plants—all these created elements are living in this Brahmanda, in this cosmos. So we occupy a very little part, a very little space of this entire creation. The real creation is very big. We know how big this Earth is, and even the entire Earth is not populated by people. A very small part of the Earth is occupied; the major part of the whole globe is water. Oceans are occupying a larger part of the globe than the earth element; and even the earth principle is visible because the real solid matter is not occupied by living beings entirely. What is this Earth, after all? It is such a small speck, as it were, in this astronomical universe; and we are living here like small crawling creatures on the surface of a little patch of the earth principle, not knowing that the cosmos is vaster and vaster as we go higher and higher, until it becomes incomprehensible and most deep, beyond the concept of the mind with all its furthest stretches of imagination.

Brahmāṇḍa loka deheṣu sadavastuni pṛthak kṛte. If we separate the entire cosmos from Pure Existence, we will find that God has created the world out of nothing. There is some point, therefore, in the doctrine of certain religions that God created the universe out of a vacuum, because we have now reduced the whole cosmos to a vacuum. The cosmos, this creation that we are thinking of, is constituted of five elements: space, air, fire, water, earth. By an analysis of their inner constitution, we have found that minus Existence, they do not exist. So like a magician, God has created this cosmos out of nothing. There are magicians who simply open their palm and some reptile will crop up, or a bird will fly out, and so on. Such is the way in which God seems to have conjured up this creation.

God alone is. The world, finally, is not existing. To prove the existence of God solely and totally, and to remove the wrong idea that there is something outside God, this great analysis of the five elements is being conducted by the great author of the Panchadasi. The great effort of analysis is only to prove God’s Ultimate Existence, and that nothing else can be there. The world appears, we may say. Let it appear. After all, it is an appearance, and an appearance is not the same as reality.

Bhūta bhautika māyānām asattve’tyanta vāsite, sad vastva dvaita mityeṣā dhīr viparyeti na kvacit (98). After this investigation into the nature of things, we come to the conclusion that all the elements and the products of these elements are independently, by themselves, non-entities, and the consciousness then fixes itself in the unitary existence of itself. What finally exists is Consciousness. Materiality, externality cannot be there because Consciousness, being indivisible in its nature, has to be infinite. Infinite is Consciousness. As there cannot be two infinites—there can be only one infinite—the world outside Consciousness cannot exist. The whole world is, therefore, a dazzling form of Consciousness itself. The so-called five elements are only appearances of Consciousness itself, both inwardly as well as outwardly.

Sadadvaitāt pṛthagbhūte dvaite bhūmyā dirūpiṇi, tattadartha kriyā loke yathā dṛṣṭā tathaiva sā (99). We have to live in this world in the light of this knowledge. We should not get involved in the appearances of things after having conducted this difficult analysis of the separation of Existence from the five elements. As is befitting under the conditions prevailing, so should we behave in this world. The appearance of space, air, and so on, should not create any kind of muddle in the process of thinking, in terms of the belief in the reality.

We may see a thing but not believe in its reality. It does not mean that just because we see a thing we should get involved in it. Do we get involved in the water that we see in a mirage? Do we want to occupy a room in a building that we see in the clouds? We see clouds looking like buildings, but we know that there is no building there.

So is the case with the jivanmukta purusha, the man of wisdom who has awakened to the consciousness of Pure Existence alone being there, yet he sees the world. As long as the sense organs are operative, the mind is thinking. The wise man may also see the world, but he will see it as a dead snake, not as a living one. He will see it like the water that is in a mirage. He sees it, but does not want to drink it. He is never associated with what he sees. Deluded people, those who are involved in it, run after it. Animals in the desert, seeing apparent water, run in search of that water, and they get exhausted by running. Whatever be the length of the distance that they run in the direction of that mirage water, they will not find the water because as they run in that direction, it recedes further and further, and they get exhausted and die there. So is the case with people in the world. They run after the pleasures of senses. They run and run until they perish, but the pleasures of the world they will not find, because the world is a mirage.