By Swami Harshananda
Pañcadaśi literally means ‘a work of fifteen chapters’.
All the three major schools of Vedānta called as Advaita, Viśiṣṭādvaita and Dvaita, though based on the prasthānatraya, also have special treatises called ‘Prakaraṇagranthas’ which can be termed as the textbooks of those schools. The Pañcadaśi of Vidyāraṇya Muni, who was the pontiff of the Śāradā-Maṭha of Sṛṅgerī from A. D. 1377 to 1386, is one such work of the Advaita school. It is a voluminous work of 1571 verses spread out in fifteen chapters. Hence it is named as Pañcadaśi, pañcadaśa meaning fifteen.
Overview of Pañcadaśi
These fifteen chapters have been grouped into three pentads:
- Vivekapañcaka - It is dealing with the discrimination of the real from the unreal.
- Dipapañcaka - It expounds the nature of the Self as pure consciousness.
- Ānandapañcaka - It is dwelling on the bliss-nature of Brahman.
These three pentads have for their theme as the three aspects of Brahman. It is an elegant work written in a simple style, though dealing with a tough subject. There is only one Sanskrit commentary, Tātparyadīpikā, by Rāmakṛṣṇa about whom nothing is known.
Content of Pañcadaśi
A brief account of the contents of this treatise are:
It is Tattvaviveka having 65 verses. This chapter deals with the nature of the following:
- Ātman - the Self
- Prakṛti - Mother Nature
- The five bhutas - elements like the earth and water
- Pañcīkaraṇa - quintuplication of the elements
- Pañcakośas - five sheaths
- The meaning of the mahāvākya tat tvam asi
It is called as Pañcamahābhutaviveka. It has 109 verses. Apart from a detailed treatment of the five fundamental elements and their products, this section also deals with the nature of māyā, its characteristics and effects.
It is called as Pañcakośaviveka. It has 43 verses. The pañcakośas or the five sheaths like the annamayakośa or the sheath of food that cover the nature of the ātman, and the real nature of the ātman as sat-cit-ānanda and also the ultimate identity of the jīvātman with Brahman are the topics discussed here.
It is Dvaitaviveka having 69 verses which deals with the following topics:
- Creation of the world by īśvara or God
- The relation of the jīva with īśvara and also the world
- Division of dvaita into two varieties
- What is to be abandoned and what is to be accepted
It is called Mahāvākyaviveka having 8 verses. This short chapter delineates the method of interpreting the four mahāvākyas or ‘great sentences’ taken from the Upaniṣads.
It is called as Citradipa. It has 290 Verses. If the first five chapters of this work contained the suffix ‘viveka’ in their titles because they dealt with viveka or various types of discrimination that help in understanding the principles of the Advaita school better, the next five chapters from the 6th to the 10th, contains the suffix ‘dīpa’ which means it throws light on the subtler aspects of the same school. In this chapter which is quite exhaustive, comparison is made between the various stages of a citra and the degrees of manifestation of Paramātman as cit antaryāmin and so on.
It is called as Trptidipa which has 298 verses. This is also a long chapter. Whatever tṛpti or satisfaction a being gets in any experience, is due to the presence of the ātman only. However, infinite tṛpti can be got only through the knowledge of Brahman.
It is called as Kutasthadipa which has 73 verses. The word ‘kuṭastha’ refers to the undifferentiated and pure consciousness. Just as the sunlight lights up a wall whereas the same, reflected from a mirror appears brighter, similarly the kuṭastha lights up both the outside world and the buddhi or the intellect. Ultimately, it is different from both the outside world and the jīva inside, who is only a reflection of consciousness. However, it should be known that this kuṭastha and Brahman are one and the same.
It is called as Dhyānadīpa which has 158 verses. This chapter states that upāsanā or meditation on the knowledge gained through a correct understanding of the scriptures, though indirect, can also lead to mokṣa or liberation. Incidentally, the forms of God such as Viṣṇu and so on, are accepted as real for the purpose of meditation since they are sanctioned by the scriptures.
It is called as Nātakadipa which has 26 verses. The lamp in a dancing hall or the stage of a theatre, lights up everything, by its mere presence. But it is not affected in any way by the happenings on the stage. Similarly the real Self, the ātman, called ‘sākṣicaitanya’ or ‘witness-consciousness’, also reveals all the activities of the body-mind complex without itself undergoing any change. This is the gist of this chapter.
It is called as Yogānanda. It has 134 verses. The spiritual felicity arising out of the realization of Brahman is the subject-matter of the five chapters 11 to 15. Hence the word ‘ānanda’ is used in the titles. There is an experience of ānanda or bliss in the suṣupti or deep-sleep state. This also is an aspect of the bliss of Brahman. Far greater is the degree of such bliss in the samādhi or super-conscious state. This is the gist of this chapter.
It is called as Atmānanda. It has 90 verses. The concept that everyone loves or likes another person or object is for his own sake, as described by the sage Yājñavalkya in the Brhadāranyaka Upaniṣad is expounded here.
It is called as Advaitānanda which has 105 verses. Brahman is ānanda or bliss. Jagat or the world is an apparent product of that Brahman and hence is identical with It. The śakti or māyā which produces this world-appearance in Brahman cannot be defined. When this world is ignored as asat, its true nature as Brahman is realized. To put it in another way, when nāma and rupa are considered as important, Brahman appears as a real jagat. When they are ignored and only the basic stuff is noticed, Brahman as sat-cit-ānanda is experienced.
This chapter is called as Vidyānanda. It has 65 verses. Vidyānanda is the bliss got out of the knowledge of Brahman. It has four aspects:
- Absence of sorrow
- Attainment of all desires
- The feeling that one has fulfilled all the duties of life
- The sense of having achieved all that is to be achieved in life
This is the essence of this chapter.
This section is called as Viśayānanda. It has 35 verses. Based on the statement in the Brhadāranyaka Upaniṣad, the author accepts that the happiness one gets out of the contact of the sense organs with the sense-objects is also an aspect, though a poor one, of Brahmānanda or bliss of Brahman. The reflection or the experience of this bliss, however, depends on the degree of purity of the mind.
After describing the three kinds of meditation on Brahman, the work ends with a short prayer which has voluminous treatise on Advaita Vedānta is held in high esteem by scholars because of its lucidity and depth.
- ↑ Prasthānatraya means the three basic works.
- ↑ He lived in the 14th century A. D.
- ↑ At present it is in the Karnataka State.
- ↑ These three aspects are sat, cit and ānanda.
- ↑ Sat-cit-ānanda means the existence-consciousness-bliss.
- ↑ Jīvātman means the individual soul.
- ↑ Brahman means the Supreme Soul or the Absolute.
- ↑ Jīva means the individual soul.
- ↑ Dvaita means the consciousness of duality.
- ↑ Dīpa means the light or lamp.
- ↑ Citra means drawing or painting.
- ↑ Paramātman means the Supreme Self.
- ↑ Cit means pure consciousness.
- ↑ Antaryāmin means the inner controller.
- ↑ Ātman means Self.
- ↑ Lamp means dipa.
- ↑ Brhadāranyaka Upaniṣad 4.5.6
- ↑ Śakti means power.
- ↑ Asat means unreal.
- ↑ Nāma means names.
- ↑ Rupa means forms.
- ↑ Brhadāranyaka Upaniṣad 4.3.32
- ↑ Happiness means ānanda.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore