There is a less popular, yet highly informative scripture by name ‘Panchadasi’. This is different from the Supreme “Panchadasi mantra’ of Lalithambigai, though there is a striking similarity in their names. This scripture is authored by Shri Vidyaranya Swami during post Shankara Period. He is said to have headed the famous Shringeri Math during 1377 and 1386. This scripture dealing with advaita vedanta could have authored by him around this period.
This scripture consists 1622 verses categorised under 15 chapters. The scripture is named as Panchadasi, based on its 15 chapters. Lalithambigai’s Panchadasi mantra is so called because of its 15 bijas. The 15 chapters are broadly classified into three groups. The first group is known as ‘viveka-panchaka’ the discriminative knowledge to differentiate between real and illusion. The second one is ‘deepa-panchaka’ dealing in the highest level of consciousness known as the Brahman. The third group is ‘ananda panchaka’ that deals with bliss. From the arrangement of chapters, it is apparent that bliss is possible only if one has the highest kind of knowledge, leading to the highest type of consciousness. It deals extensively on the practical aspect of advaita philosophy. Writings on advaita mostly consist of arguments and affirmations in favour of this non-duality (advaita) and this scripture is one of the known exceptions to this.
Basically this scripture assumes the persona of a guru, by providing extraordinary inputs. It teaches many methods to differentiate between the real and the unreal. It analyses the three stages of consciousness – awake, dream and deep sleep and points out how the real exists in all the three stages without any modifications and the unreal undergoes modifications in each of the three stages. It also talks about the five sheaths that cover the real Self. The subtlest matter, the Self stands covered by the gross matters such as physical, vital, mental and the intellectual sheaths. This aspect has been discussed in detail in Understanding our gross body. It says ‘The Self knows all that is knowable. There is no one to know it. It is consciousness or knowledge itself and is different from the known and the unknown (III.18)”. This ancient work repeatedly emphasises that the highest level of consciousness is the Supreme Self. “The cognition ‘This is a pot’ is due to cidabhasa, but the knowledge ‘I know the pot’ is derived from Brahman consciousness (VIII.18)”. It describes the Brahman as ‘witness, consciousness, changeless, without faults and eternal’.
It takes for example a drama theatre. The Brahman is compared to the lights in the stage. The lights shine irrespective of the actors are in the stage or not. The light does not undergo any change along with the changing artists on the stage and the light continues to shine ever after the show ends. “Consciousness is eternal, for its non-existence can never be experienced. But the non-existence of duality is experienced by consciousness before the duality assumes manifestation” says this scripture. There can be no better explanation than this for understanding the importance of consciousness, the Supreme awareness. It further says that bliss has different levels and the highest level of bliss is the god of creation, Brahma. But it says that Brahman-bliss is beyond comprehension. It explains the behaviour of an enlightened man. “The enlightened man when praised or blamed by the ignorant does not praise or blame them in return. He behalves in such a way as to, awake the knowledge of the real entity amongst the ignorant. In this world he has no other duty except awakening the ignorant. He always feels fully satisfied and thinks like this: ‘Blessed am I, blessed, for I have the constant vision of myself. The bliss of the Brahman shines clearly to me. I am free from the sufferings of the world. My ignorance has fed away, I know not where. I have no further duty to perform. I have now achieved the highest that one can aspire to. There is nothing to compare with my great bliss. I am blessed, again and again blessed’”. Now he is full of joy that is perfect and total. It is to be recalled that Buddha walked around the famous ‘Bodhi Tree’ consecutively for seven days immediately after his realisation. The scripture describes the Brahman as sat-cit-ananda (existence-consciousness-bliss). However it points out that these are only attributes of the Brahman and do not form part of the Brahman, stressing the fact that the nirguna Brahman is devoid of attributes.
How is it that one Reality appears as the world of plurality? It says that maya plays its role in causing such an illusion. The scripture does not simply endorse the theory of maya. It talks about revealed experience and reasoning of the ordinary men. They do not doubt about maya, but for the realised one it is unreal. It says that maya is that which is not. Maya is neither real nor unreal. The world of plurality appears in the Brahman on account of maya only. It advocates not probing more into maya. The more we probe, deeper becomes its mystery. Instead it says that one should transcend maya that really helps in crossing all the known hurdles. It also talks about the transmigratory nature of the soul that is embedded with karma. The author advocates the tool of meditation to attain the stage of ‘jivan-mukta’ for those who do not make attempts to gain the Supreme knowledge. The body of a jivan-mukta is the residue of karmas (prarabdha) that are responsible of the present gross body.