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The Pancadasi: A Schematic Overview

by Dr. Haramohan Mishra
12th December 2015

A great question produces a profound answer. The Pancadasi begins with a great question, a question regarding the nature and meaning of experience consisting of the knower and the objects of knowledge. Objects are not discrete independent fragments; they are perceived as values such as sound, touch, and sight etc, in their consciousness-specific context. They cannot be perceived otherwise. The relation between drk and drsya, the seer and the seen forms the basis of all metaphysical problems. Preference for one or the other gives rise to the sharply contrasting metaphysical theories such as realism, idealism and phenomenalism. Notwithstanding one’s preferences, it is observed that the object is always dependent on the subject for its revelation. However, Consciousness is not object-bound; it does not vary with the variation of objects and their modal and temporal alterations. With the gradual transcendence of the objects and the time frame through which they are grasped, the knower becomes “Knowledge” itself, the pure and unbound Consciousness.

Since it defies changes and remains as such forever, it is sat or existence; the ever existent becomes “Existence” itself when it is free from the limiting adjuncts, the names and forms. It is cit or Consciousness, being the revealer of all through the states like waking, dreaming and slumber recurrently experienced every day. Even through numerous births and deaths with passing away of old bodies and encasement in new bodies, occurring  in the unfathomable cosmic time, it remains unchanged. Being free from the upadhis, it is no more a property or an activity of the conscious, but the absolute “Consciousness” itself, beyond the limits of space and time. Being the source of love and happiness, it is “Bliss” itself. Love for the Self is natural to all. It is not to be confused with the self indulgence of the hedonists, as there, unlike that of the Advaitins, the source of happiness is the objects of enjoyment outside the Self. Since others are loved for the Self but the Self is not loved for others, it is said to be of the nature of ananda or bliss. Consciousness is neither a quality nor an activity; it is the “Reality”, the basis of the jiva and the jagat, of all the beings and their sole revel and confinement, the world.

Although the jivas are Brahman themselves, they do not know their own nature owing to avidya which is both microcosmic and macrocosmic, viewed from different standpoints, and undergo the whirls of birth and death and pains and sufferings. It is a wonder that Consciousness which is antagonistic to ignorance also provides its basis. According to Advaita explanation, it is the vrtti jnana which destroys avidya, not svarupa jnana. It is plausible that ignorance can only abide in Consciousness but not in the unconscious, though it is neither a natural nor an adventitious quality of the former. Vidyaranya’s acumen can be easily noticed in the very outset, in his clear and explicit presentation of a philosophical problem, which he goes on resolving in the subsequent chapters under the main schematic divisions, the three pentads, the viveka pancaka, the dipa pancaka, and the ananda pancaka corresponding to the three aspects of Brahman, existence, consciousness and bliss. Verily he begins with the self-evident Consciousness which is the same as atman and deduces its nature as “reality” and “bliss” from its self-certitude and Self-hood.

In the first pentad, the five chapters on discrimination, topics discussed are the nature of Reality as atman-Brahman, the possibility of ignorance and bondage, process of manifestation of the world, pancikarana, the five elements, the five kosas, the four states of consciousness such as waking, dream etc., the twofold duality and discrimination of tat and tvam through the mahavakya. However the main thrust is to prove the inviolability of the ‘Real’, sat through the variables, the objects, along with their ever changing temporal and spatial frame-work. The Pancadasi adduces sruti, yukti (reasoning) and anubhuti (experience) to prove its standpoint. The empirical evidence is the basis of inquiry which is adduced time and again. It is subjected to reasoning and is evaluated against the framework of Advaita with its established concepts and theories.   Without any dialectics, but with convincing logic, clear and consistent discourse, it expounds the truth of Advaita.

In the first chapter Tattvaviveka or Pratyaktattvaviveka, Vidyaranya differentiates the Self from the objects experienced in three stages of waking, dream and deep sleep. He adopts the method of anvaya and vyatireka to show that with the non-apprehension of the physical, subtle and causal bodies respectively in the three successive higher stages viz. dream, deep sleep and turiya, the Self continues unabatedly as their revealer. Isolating the Self from the three bodies, as the slender inner shoot, isika in the munja grass from the external coverings, it remains as pure Consciousness. Brahman becomes Isvara with maya as upadhi and jiva with avidya as upadhi. The jivas being intent upon the external, having lost the inner vision, act for enjoyment, thus, fall into the whirlpool of recurrent births and deaths. The aim of the scriptures is to awaken them to their real nature and to make them free.

In the second chapter, discriminating the five elements, their qualities and the sense organs through which they are grasped, he states that the differences among the elements and objects are due to nama and rupa since before creation there was only sat or Reality undifferentiated by the three types of bheda. Refuting the nihilism of the Buddhist Sunyavadins by showing the impossibility of niradhisthana bhrama, he even ridicules them as persons whose senses have been blurred being drowned in deep sea for which they cannot see the truth. The very statement of the nihilists “There was void before creation” is untenable since existence implied by “was” cannot be meaningfully conjoined with “sunya”. In the exposition which follows he refutes the contention of the Naiyayikas that satta (reality) is the universal property residing in all real things which is attested by  such knowledge as “The akasa is real” “The air is real” etc. He says that it is not that satta resides in the so called elements as property but they are, on the other hand, conjured on the Real, Brahman through the reversing power of maya. Since the Real is more pervasive it is the dharmin where as akasa and others are dharma. The relation of dharma-dharmi is illusory but not real.
In the third chapter, he discriminates the Self from the five kosas in the same method and shows that since the Self as Consciousness knows all and is never perceived as an object, it is self-refulgent or svayam jyotih which cannot be doubted. It is signified by the terms svayam and pratyak and cannot be expressed as “this” or “that”. In the fourth chapter, he differentiates between the duality created by Isvara and the duality projected by the jiva. The duality created by Isvara is common to all and cannot be eliminated; emancipation is attained only by the negation of jiva dvaita which is really the bondage and by knowing the empirical world, Isvara dvaita to be false. Vidyaranya categorically differentiates Advaita from the idealism of the Vijnanavadins, since, according to him, external objects lying outside are indispensable for moulding the vrtti. The mainstream Advaita view is this that the external objects exist independent of the mind of the perceiver, but they are not real, since they are superimposed on Brahman-Consciousness. So they belong to a different ontological stratum, the vyavaharika satta, in contrast to the pratibhasika satta of the illusory objects such as the rope-serpent, shell-silver etc. In the fifth chapter, he states in a nutshell the meaning of the mahavakya tattvamasi which is further explained in detail in the sixth chapter.             
The second pentad, dipa pancaka, concerns chiefly the aspect of consciousness or knowledge beginning with a cosmic paradigm given in the Upanisads, the fourfold division, the pure Consciousness or cit, antaryami, sutra and virat, from subtler to grosser realities, explaining it with the example of a painting. From the macrocosmic standpoint, in a reverse order, they represent the four stages, waking, dream, sleep and the turiya. It seems that these four states provide the basic paradigm for the Advaita phenomenology and rightly the Pancadasi begins with an analysis of them.  In a different classification, the Brahman-kutastha and Isvara-jiva classification is devised for greater clarity and assimilation. Kutastha-Consciousness is the substratum of the appearance of the jiva and Brahman-Consciousness is the substratum of that of the world; in reality, they are one and the same. Recognition of one’s own reality as kutastha sublates the world and jiva-hood. However, Vidyaranya remarks, non-perception is not sublation or badha; it is the comprehension of their illusoriness which is really sublation.

In connection with this, in the sixth chapter, he refutes various theories of the Self upheld by other schools, from the Lokayatas to the Sunyavadins. He also describes different conceptions of God upheld by different schools and shows their limitation. Theists from the worshippers of plants and stones to the sublime Yoga philosophy are deluded with regard to Isvara; and from the materialist Lokayatas to the upholders of the exalted Sankhya philosophy – all are confused in their conception of jiva. From the discursive point of view, maya is anirvacaniya or falsity, but from a cosmic vision, it is the incomprehensible Sakti working immanently in phenomena, wonder being its texture. For the realized, it is unreal; for the persons engaged in philosophical reasoning, it is indescribable; and for the common man , it is real. It projects the false appearance of Isvara and jiva on the uncondiioned caitanya without affecting the latter’s real nature. Maya is not only indeterminable in the sense of sad-asad-vilaksana, it is also durghata-eka-sarira.  It makes impossible a possible by creating fluidity in water, heat in fire and hardness in the stone. Not only maya, its creation, the world is also indeterminable. If all the learned men try to determine the nature of the world, they have to encounter ignorance in some stage or other. His unique manner of treating maya as the cosmic power is the revival of a tendency latent in the writings of Sankara and Suresvara which was unfortunately lost sight of in the works of the latter Advaita exponents.
In the seventh chapter diverse topics such as three uses of the word aham, seven stages of the jiva, bhaga laksana in the mahavakya, the meaning of anubhava vakya, the necessity of phalavyapti in the case of Brahmanubhava, the usefulness of upasana, the inevitability of prarabdha even for the knower of Brahman and his composure even when undergoing prarabdha are discussed. The main intention is to show that contentment attained through Brahmanubhava never diminishes even within the oddities and unwelcome experiences of life. However, it is not easy to reach this state. He quotes the famous line of the Yogavasistha to show its rarity-“It is more difficult to control the mind than drinking up the whole ocean, uprooting the mighty sumeru and eating the blazing fire”.

The “Kutastha dipa”, following it, explains lucidly some abstruse concepts of Advaita epistemology which is first methodically explained in the Vivarana and was discussed in the Vivaranaprameyasangraha and in the pratikarmavyavastha in Advaitasiddhi. This prakriya initiated by Prakasatman is taken up by Dharmarajadhvarindra in his Vedantaparibhasa. Vidyaranya in his inimitable style begins with his assertion of the two types of knowledge, one due to cidabhasa and the other to kutastha caitanya as an object illumined by both the reflection of the sun on a mirror and by the sun itself at the same time. Both in the intervals between the cittavrttis and during their absence, the self-luminous kutastha caitanya abides for which it is different from the cidabhasa. The ghatakara vrtti with reflection of caitanya gives rise to such knowledge “This is a pot”, but the reflective knowledge “I know this pot” becomes possible through kutastha or Brahman-caitanya. This second knowledge is termed as anuvyavasaya by the Naiyayikas. Thus, in the empirical uses, the modification of the intellect endowed with the reflection of Consciousness is taken to be knowledge, as a bamboo stick with a piercing iron-head called a kunta or spear.

The next chapter “Dhyana dipa” delineates the process of meditation as it is conducive to the direct knowledge. Those who have agitated mind cannot achieve tattvajnana only through vicara; for them yoga is said to be the chief means because the distractions of the mind can be eliminated by yoga. But for the advanced seekers without distractions, vicara or jnana marga is more suitable as it leads quickly to the desired end. The tenth chapter gives an illustration of the witness which is the same as the kutastha only termed so because of its contact with the things to be witnessed. As a lamp in a dancing hall uniformly illumines the director, the audience and the dancers and even goes on illumining in their absence after the show is over, likewise, the witness reveals the ego, the intellect and the sense-objects; and even continues when they are absent. Realization of one’s own reality as witness leads one to the attainment of unending Brahmaananda which is discussed in the subsequent chapters.                    

The last five chapters, known as ananda pancaka, give a unique and detailed exposition of the concept of bliss with its different manifestations. The Upanisadic concept of Brahman as raso vai sah is the foundational basis of these chapters, but here we get the single largest exposition of ananda among any Vedantic treatises with so much clarity and ingenuity. He not only delineates the Upanisadic concept of ananda but also explains the very dynamics of aesthetic enjoyment with a rare acumen of a psychologist. According to Vidyaranya, there is no ananda anywhere in any form in the world except Brahmananda, its vasana (impression) and its pratibimba (reflection). Ingeniously he has shown that it is not the objects which give happiness, but their attainment directs the mind inward in whose modification reflects the bliss of the Self which gives rise to the relish of delight. Thus visayananda  is nothing but the reflection of Brahmananda. Where there is ananda even though no object of enjoyment is there, it is to be known as the vasana or impression of Brahmanananda. Other types of happiness such as yogananda, atmananda and vidyanada are all variants of Brahmananda. The mechanism of relish of rasa as hinted at the famous rasa sutra of Bharata Muni ‘vibhava-anubhava-vyabhicari-samyogat’  so eagerly adduced by the exponents of poetics and the maxim ‘bhagnavarana citih ava rasah’ can be better understood in the light of this exposition of ananda as given in the Pancadasi.
            The greatness of Vidyaranya Swami lies in his synthesizing approach to Advaita understanding. The tremendous impact of another great work, the Yogavasistha is clearly discernible in his work from which he quotes frequently.  He incorporates yoga and upasana apart from vicara for those who cannot succeed in the path of vicara. For the benefit of the common man he says that a knower of truth can relish both Brahmananda and visayananda simultaneously as a person knowing two languages. Even visayananda can be a door to the attainment of Brahmananda when discriminately pursued. In presenting Advaita in a lucid and catholic manner with an orientation to its practice, the Pancadasi comes to the level of another great work in Indian tradition, the Bhagavadgita.          
The schematic arrangement of the topics into three pentads and fifteen chapters with their elucidative exposition in this work makes it a great work in the Advaita literary tradition. The Vivaranaprameya-sangraha is the shining example of his dialectical skill, but his greatness as an Advaita Acarya in the line of Sankara and Suresvara lies in this exemplary great work, the Pancadasi, which is capable of conferring both enlightenment and emancipation on the genuine inquirer of knowledge and seeker of truth.

Haramohan Mishra




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