Commentary on the Panchadasi
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 22

Chapter 6: Chitradipa – Light on the Analogy of a Painted Picture
Verses 1-18

The Sixth Chapter is called Chitradipa. This is a very important chapter of the Panchadasi, and very long, which lays practically the foundation for the whole philosophy of Vedanta. Philosophically, it is the most important of all the chapters. It has to be studied with great concentration.

Yathā citra paṭe dṛṣṭam avasthānāṁ catuṣṭayam, para mātmani vijñeyaṁ tathā’vasthā catuṣṭayam (1). The creation of the world is a process, something like the process involved in the painting of a picture. There are four stages in painting a picture; similarly, there are four stages in creation. This is the comparison between a painting and creation, which is illustrated here.

Yathā dhauto ghaṭṭi taśca lāñchito rañjitaḥ paṭaḥ, cidantar yāmī sūtrātmā virāṭ cātmā tather yate (2). The first stage in painting a picture is to have a cloth, a canvas. The second stage is to stiffen it with starch, because a piece of cloth with holes between the interwoven threads would not be suitable for the purpose of painting. The cloth has to become thick and impervious to the ink. For that purpose, the cloth is stiffened with a smearing of suitable starch. This is the second stage in painting.

In the third stage in painting, the artist draws a pencil sketch or a light sketch in some form on this stiffened canvas, which is barely visible and indistinctly cognisable as to its real features. We have some idea as to what is coming up when we have a perception of this faint outline that the artist has drawn on the canvas. This is the third stage.

The fourth stage is the fair copy. The lines that have been drawn are filled with ink in different colours as would be necessary to present the requisite picturesque scene. The variety, the beauty and the attraction of the picture is in the manner of the spreading of the ink in the requisite proportion. This is the fourth stage in painting, and then the painting is complete.

Likewise, there are four stages in the process of creation. Just as a background of cloth is necessary for painting a picture, an eternal, unchangeable background is necessary for even the appearance of such a thing called the world. An appearance cannot be there unless there is a reality behind it, and even falsity is so defined on account of its relationship with the truth from which it is distinguished. There is an all-pervading, unchangeable background which, as we have studied earlier, is Pure Consciousness. That is the first stage in creation. It has to exist, as the cloth has to exist.

The second stage here in this process of creation is the stiffening of the cloth, as it were. The Consciousness that is universal gets stiffened, as it were, by the concentrated will of the Cosmic Being. The featureless transparency of the universality of Consciousness gets concentrated with the stuff of the futurity of creation. This is what we call the will of God.

In Pure Being, there is no question of will. It is just Existence as such. In the second stage, there is a determination in Consciousness as to the nature of the creation that is to take place in the future. The third stage is the drawing of the outlines; that is the faint picture of the cosmos that can be seen in the state of Hiranyagarbha. The stiffened form is Ishvara; the Pure Consciousness is Brahman.

Thus, Brahman manifests itself as Ishvara. Ishvara becomes Hiranyagarbha, where the subtle cosmos can be faintly seen as an outline drawn to present the actual shape of the visible cosmos. The actual shape is not visible in the Sutratma, Hiranyagarbha. Only a faint outline is seen. The fourth stage is the gross manifestation of the universe with all the variety, the grandeur, the beauty and majesty. All the colours and the phantasms that we see in this cosmos is God filling in the variety of ink, as it were, on this outline that He has drawn in the state of Hiranyagarbhaprior to which there was a will to do, prior to which there was the background of the Absolute. So these are the four stages of creation, almost similar to the four stages of the painting of a picture.

Svataḥ śubhro’tra dhautaḥ syāt ghaṭṭito’nna vile panāt, maṣyā kārair lāñchitaḥ syāt rañjito varṇa pūraṇāt (3). The cloth is pure, uncontaminated by any kind of starch, etc. It becomes a little different from what it is in itself by the smearing of the starch, and it becomes a feature of an indistinct nature when it is in the form of outlines. It becomes a concrete, presentable picture when colour is filled into it.

Svataś cidantar yāmī tu māyāvī sūkṣma sṛṣṭitah, sūtrātmā sthūla sṛṣṭyaiva virāḍi tyucyate paraḥ (4). By itself, Consciousness is Pure Absolute, Pure Being. Pure Brahman becomes the potential cosmos, as if the universe is sleeping. Our potentiality is in the condition of deep sleep. The manifested form is in the waking condition. The subtle outline is in the dreaming condition. So we, too, pass through four stages every day.

The eternal Consciousness that we really are, on which we fall, as it were, in the state of deep sleep, is Pure Being. That darkness, that potential of future action which is the sleeping condition, is the second stage. The outline of future action in dream is the third stage. The actual perception of the world in waking is the fourth stage. So cosmically, as well as individually, there are four stages. In the Vedanta philosophy the four stages are designated as Brahman, Antaryami or Ishvara, Hiranyagarbha or Sutratma, and Virat or Vaishvanara. These terms are well known to us.

Brahmādyāḥ stamba paryantāḥ prāṇino’tra jaḍā api, uttamā dhama bhāvena vartante paṭa citra vat (5). All kinds of things can be seen in the picture. There are human beings, gods, mountains, flowing rivers, sky, shining stars, the sun and the moon. Actually, they are not there. There is only ink, yet we can see a beautiful face, a beautiful landscape, how the rising sun looks in the picture. We enjoy it. The rising sun is not there; only the ink is there, but it looks like the rising sun.

In a similar manner, all the wonders in creation, right from the creative principle of Brahma down to the lowest green grass in the meadow and a particle of sandright from that supreme creative principle down to the littlest atom in the worldall beings, in all the variety of species and gradations of reality in the categorisation of high and low, etc., are presented in this picture which Brahman has painted over itself.

Citrārpita manuṣyāṇāṁ vastrā bhāsāḥ pṛthak pṛthak, citrā dhāreṇa vastreṇa sadṛśā iva kalpitāḥ (6). People painted in a picture wear different types of clothing. We can see someone tying their cloth in one way, and another person dressing himself or herself in another way. Varieties of dress, presentations, embellishments are seen on the various people in the picture. Do we not see them? They look so variegated, multifarious, that we actually believe in the reality of these objects. We cannot take our eyes away from a beautiful painted picture. It may be a Renoir or a Michelangelo, as the case may be. We go on gazing and gazing and gazing, and never tire of gazing.

Are we gazing at the ink? Are we gazing at the cloth? Wonderful is the creation! The beauty of the presentation is what attracts the mind, but where does that beauty arise? Where does it lie? What is it that attracts us in a painted picture? Is it the cloth that attracts us? Is it the starch that attracts us? Is it the outline of ink that attracts us, or is it the colours of the ink? Ink cannot attract us, nor can the outline of the pencil sketch, nor can the starch or the cloth. What else is there in the picture which attracts our attention and stuns us, practically? It looks as if life is there.

This also applies to the cinema in our own modern times. There is nothing there except a canvas, a hanging cloth, and a shadow of movement. But nobody believes that it is that. These persons seem to be really there. They speak to us, they stir our emotions, they distress our mind. They can change the very life of a person, such is the power of these illusions. Illusions can change our life itself. Our real life changes by the perception of unreal things. How is it possible?

Here is a great philosophy. Are we really perceiving an unreal thing, a non-existent thing? If this is the case, we are fools of the first water. How could we be affected so seriously by seeing that which is not there? There are no mountains, no people, no clothes, no sun, no moon, no stars. Knowing that, why are we looking at it? We are seeing something there which is not the ink. How can we see something which is not there? This is the mystery of creation.

The attraction that we feel for things in the world is not because Brahman is there in all things. We are not attracted to Brahman. Brahman is not seen at all. We do not see Virat, we do not see Hiranyagarbha, we do not see Ishvara; but except these things, there is nothing in the world. The whole of creation is Brahman, Ishvara, Hiranyagarbha, Virat, but none of them attract us. There is nothing to attract us, because we do not see them. We see something else. We see the colour, the dress, the variety, the contour, the presentation, and something which is mysterious. That mystery is the meaning of creation.

Pṛthak pṛthak cidā bhāsāḥ caitanyā dhyasta dehinām, kalpyante jīva nāmāno bhaudhā saṁsa rantyamī (7). An individual, or a jiva, is a peculiar formation arisen out of the reflection of Pure Consciousness on the intellect of individuality. The Pure Consciousness is the same in all cases, but the medium of reflection differs from one person to another person; and because of the media differing from person to person, we see different people in the world who look different, think differently, behave differently, and require things in different manners.

Many people exist in this world. This manyness is due to the manyness in the variety of the structure of the reason or the psyche of the individuals, through which one Consciousness reflects itself in many ways, as one uniform ink spread over a single cloth can create a picturesque scheme of a variety of things, while the variety is not there; it only seems to be there. Endless variety can be seen in a picture, though there is only ink and cloth.

In a similar manner, the intellect and consciousness are the reason for the differences among individuals, and this law applies to every species of being, right from an ant up to an elephant, or even to the gods in heaven. The subtlety, grossness and structural pattern of the intellect, through which Consciousness manifests itself, differs, and then it is that we feel that there are varieties of living beings.

The variety is an action of the structural peculiarity of the medium through which Consciousness passes in different individuals. And because of this variety, the individuals get stuck. Consciousness gets identified with the intellect, as it were, and becomes egoism, ahamkara, I-consciousness, body-consciousness, mind-consciousness, etc.; and then individuals enter into the world of suffering. Samsara is the name of this kind of entanglement.

Vastrā bhāsa sthitān varṇān yadvadā dhāra vastra gān, vadantya jñāstathā jīva saṁsāraṁ cit gataṁ viduḥ (8). When ignorant children look at a picture, they think that the people are actually sticking to the cloththat the cloth itself has become the people appearing to be there, painted on the cloth. In a similar manner, ignorant people imagine that this world is actually sticking to God, or Pure Consciousness.

The cloth does not even know that there is ink on it, and it does not see the beauty. Perhaps if there was a mechanism which would enable our mind to enter into the screen in the cinema, we would not see the picture. We must be outside it, and at a particular distance. Both these conditions have to be fulfilled; otherwise, we cannot see what is happening there. Suppose we are inside the screen itself, by some means; we will not see the dancing pictures. So is the futility of attributing the activity of the world to God, as it is futile to attribute the dancing pictures in a cinema to the screen which is behind them, though without it they cannot dance.

Citrastha parvatā dīnāṁ vastrā bhāso na likhyate, sṛṣṭistha mṛttikā dīnāṁ cidā bhāsas tathā na hi (9). In the picture, mountains are not dressed with saris, clothes, etc.; clothes are there only for human beings. In a similar manner, chidabhasa, the reflection of Consciousness mentioned in the case of the jiva, is not to be seen manifest in inanimate things like stone, earth, etc. Consciousness is not reflected in stone, in inanimate objects. It is feebly felt as the breathing process in plants, as instinct in animals, and as actual intellect only in the human being; but the actual sattva guna is in the gods residing in heaven.

Saṁsāraḥ parmārtho’yaṁ saṁlagnaḥ svātma vastuni, iti bhrāntira vidyā syāt vidyayaiṣā nivar tate (10). This samsara is real; this world is exactly as it is visible to the eyesthese buildings, these colours, these phantasms, these varieties, these pictures of this world that attract our sense organs every day. The feeling that they are absolutely real is called bondage. This is the outcome of avidya, or ignorance of the nature of Reality. This ignorance can be dispelled only by vidya, or true knowledge. This chapter is dedicated to elucidating the ways and means of acquiring the knowledge by which we can dispel this ignorance through which it is that we see the variety of creation, though really it is not there.

Ātmā bhāsasya jīvasya saṁsāro nātma vastunaḥ, iti bodho bhavet vidyā labhyate’sau vicāraṇāt (11). The belief in the variety of creation as it is presented to the sense organs is called avidya, or ignorance. What is knowledge? Vidya, or knowledge, is the conviction that bondage is not attributable to Pure Consciousness, as the five sheaths do not stick to Pure Consciousness in the state of deep sleep. We exist independently of the five sheaths. In a similar manner, God is independent of the variety of creation; and our soul, the Atman, also is free from bondage. This knowledge is called vidya.

Sadā vicārayet tasmāt jagat jīva parāt manaḥ, jīva bhāva jagat bhāva bādhe svātmaiva śiṣyate (12). Every day we have to spend a lot of time in thinking deeply over this important matter that will enable us to know the distinction between God and creation, and their proper relationship. Cosmically, the relation between God and creation, and individually, the relation between the Atman and the five sheaths, are to be clear before our mind. The relation between Consciousness and the five sheaths has been explained in the Third Chapter. Now, in this Sixth Chapter, we learn something about Ishvara.

Nāpratīti stayor bādhaḥ kintu mithyātva niścayaḥ, no cet suṣupti mūrcchādau mucyetā yatnato janaḥ (13). Another point driven into our mind again and again, as was done earlier, is that the non-perception of the world is not freedom from bondage. It is the perception of the unreality of creation that is the freedom from bondage. There is no harm in seeing the mirage looking like water, but running after it as if it is water is ignorance. Even when we know that it is a mirage and we do not run after it, it is still seen. Even after we have seen that it is only a rope and not a snake, it will nevertheless look like a snake. The only difference will be that we have understood that it is a rope and not a snake. The water in the mirage will still appear even to the person who knows that it is not water.

Similarly, even for a wise person, the world may be visible. Even a jivanmukta will see the world, but he will know that it is not there, and therefore he will not be attached. If mere non-perception of a thing is freedom, we would be freed in deep sleep, in a coma, or in a swoon. We could get liberation without any effort if the mere non-perception of things could be regarded as freedom, as happens every day in deep sleep. But this is not so. Non-perception of the existent thing is not freedom. The recognition of the unreality of an existent thing is freedom. Let it be there, but we do not get attached to it on account of knowing what it is made of, really speaking. Perception itself is not bondage; the ignorance attached to the perception is bondage.

Paramātmā vaśeṣo’pi tat satyatva viniścayaḥ, na jagat vismṛtir no ceñ jīvan muktirna saṁbhavet (14). The unreality of the world is, at the same time, an affirmation of the reality of God. When the forms and names are brushed aside as finally not valid in this process of creation, we will get awakened to the consciousness of the background. When we do not see the ink, we will then see the cloth. Even in a cinema we can see the screen behind the film if we concentrate our mind properly. We have to adjust our eyes in such a way that we refuse to focus on the dancing pictures, and then we can see the cloth in spite of the movements.

In a similar manner, we can see the consciousness of the Absolute pervading all things, notwithstanding the fact that there is a variety of names and forms. This condition of seeing the variety and yet being conscious of the Universal Being at the same time is called jivanmukti.

Parokṣā cāparo kṣeti vidyā dvedhā vicārajā, tatra parokṣa vidyāptau vicāro’yaṁ samāpyate (15). Indirect knowledge and direct knowledge are two kinds of knowledge, two kinds of vidya, as the Mundaka Upanishad has told us. The higher knowledge is called direct knowledge, or it is sometimes known as immediate knowledge. The lower knowledge is called indirect knowledge or mediate knowledge.

When direct knowledge is attained, all our suffering ceases, and our effort at investigation into the nature of things also ceases. There is nothing for us to do afterwards, once direct knowledge appears. Indirect knowledge is that knowledge we obtain of things in the world through the media of the instrument of perception. Eyes are necessary, ears are necessary, light is necessary; so many things are necessary to know that a thing is there outside. That is called mediate knowledge. As there is a medium between the perceiver and the perceived, this is lower knowledge. But when we actually become the object itself by entering into it, that is direct perception. Actually, it is not perception; it is the actual being of the object itself. There we are really liberated.

Asti brahmeti ced veda parokṣa jñāna meva tat, ahaṁ brahmeti ced veda sākṣātkāraḥ sa ucyate (16). God exists. This is one kind of knowledge. But what does it matter to us if God exists? In what way are we different by knowing this? Merely knowing and being convinced that God exists is one kind of knowledge, but it is indirect knowledge through the understanding, through the reason, through the intellect, through knowledge acquired by study. Liberating knowledge is not merely the conviction that Brahman exists, but that we are inseparable from it. Direct realisation is necessary, and not merely knowing that something exists there. Entry into the very substance of Brahman is freedom. Merely knowing that it exists is not sufficient, though the conviction that it exists is a help in the gradual movement of our mind towards actual realisation.

Tat sākṣāt kāra siddhyartham ātmatattvaṁ vivicyate, yenāyaṁ sarva saṁsārāt sadya eva vimucyate (17). For the purpose of the direct realisation of the Supreme Atman, we now engage ourselves in a study of this great subject of Ishvara, jiva and jagatGod, the individual and the worldwhich is the theme of this Sixth Chapter. By a deep study of this subject, a profound contemplation on it and making this knowledge part and parcel of our very existence in life, we shall be liberated perhaps in this life itself.

Kūṭastho brahma jiveśau ityevaṁ cit catur vidhā, ghaṭākāśa mahākāśau jalākāśā bhrakhe yathā (18). Consciousness manifests itself as four different phases of experience. The Consciousness that is independent of the five sheaths as the witness of the five sheathsfor instance, as we have it in the state of deep sleepis Kutastha. Independently existing, immutable Consciousness at the background of the five sheaths is Atma-tattva, Kutastha Chaitanya; that is one phase. Brahman is the universal Existence with no connection to any part of creation. Jiva is the very same immutable Kutastha Consciousness getting identified with the five sheaths. Ishvara is the universal Brahman appearing through the pure sattva guna property of prakriti.

As we have noted earlier, the pure sattva of prakriti is ubiquitous, all pervading. It is like a clean mirror spread out everywhere in space, and the whole sky is reflected there. That becomes Cosmic-conscious. Ishvara, therefore, is the Cosmic-conscious principle arising as a feature on account of universal Brahman getting reflected through the pure sattva of prakriti. So there are four varieties of manifestation: Brahman and Ishvara cosmically, Kutastha and jiva individually.

Ghaṭākāśa mahākāśau jalākāśā bhrakhe yathā. The illustration to make this point clear is given here. The pure immutable Atman is like space in a pot. It looks limited, but it is not really limited. The vast space outside is Brahman. If there is water in a pot and space is reflected in that water, we would call it individual consciousness, jivanot pure space, but reflected space in the water which we have filled in the pot. Ishvara is something like the whole sky reflected in thin clouds that we see during the rainy season. The pure sky is Brahman. The sky inside the pot is Atman. The pure sky reflected in an all-pervading screen of thin cloud is Ishvara. The Kutastha, the pot ether that is reflected through water filled in the pot, is the jiva. This is a fourfold illustration to clarify what is meant by saying that there are four phases of the manifestation of Consciousness as Brahman, Ishvara, Kutastha and jiva.