[Advaita-l] Pancikarana vs. Trivrtkarana (analysis)

Bhadraiah Mallampalli vaidix at hotmail.com
Tue Apr 14 14:16:43 CDT 2009

Dear list members, 
I do not have any interest or competence in discussing historical issues or works of post

Sankara scholars. My interest is limited to discussing the placement of these or other prakriyas 

in the overall context with evidence from Sankaracharya's bhashya. With my limited reading, 

I offer following points:

Shruti may use certain multiplication algorithms like trivRtkaraNa, panchikaraNa etc to 

explain how creation can happen or how objects so created interact with each other

and help in further creative activity. 
Discussing Ch.U VI.3, Sankara bhagavatpada explicitly rejects authenticity of any particular version 

of creation. At the same time, Sankara does not reject any individual Shruti story of the type 

'Existence saw, He became many" including ChU.VI.3. 
Sankara finds no conflict in this stand, saying Shrutis say so because a liberated person sees such things. 

E.g., in Br.U. III.ix.28.7, Acharya makes a similar argument:
"Objection: If this bliss is not cognized, such Shruti texts as 'Laughing, playing' etc will be contradicted. 

Reply: No, for such texts only describe actions happening normally, because of the identity of the liberated

man with all (infinite existence). That is to say, because the liberated man is identified with all, 

therefore wherever we observe the laughing etc in the yogins or in the devas the Shrutis merely describe

them as they are with regard to the liberated man, simply on account of his identity with all.."
All you have to do is substitute the statement "laughing, playing" with anything else like 'Existence saw, 

he became many" etc. In other words a realized person may see trivRtkaraNa, panchikaraNa or

whatever at will. Shruti does not need to give every possible example. 
Having given the blanket argument, let us now discuss the technical aspects of trivRtkaraNa and

panchikaraNa, because without answering the specific questoins that came up, our analysis won't be complete.  

Panchikarana may or not be directly mentioned by Shruti, but I believe the underlying 

concept is extensively used. I suspect panchikarana may be a yajurvedic concept, 

because firstly it was found in Tai.Up and Mait.Sam.Up, also because typically the 

adhvaryu treats all objects equally and employs them in yajna as needed. 

The pancha-mahabhutas earth, water, fire, air and space and their derivatives 

are all repositories for the adhvaryu to gather the implements for the yajna.  

Trivrtkarana mentioned in Ch.U.6 seems to be a speciality of Samaveda (please correct 

me if I am wrong, i.e, if found in other vedas). No doubt the five elements are used extensively in 

Ch.U, but the individual combinations and the purposes are different each time. I have not seen 

the five elements used together in Ch.U as 'equals' without intermingling other items or without 

essentializing one element over others. Two notable points observed by discussants so far re: 

trivrtkarana are: 1. omission of vayu and akasha and 2. further splitting into coarse, medium and fine. 

These two issues need to be resolved. 
Easy one first: As for qualities coarse, medium and fine, Ch.U.I.1.2 sets the stage by considering only

what is finer and ignoring what is coarse or medium: 
"Of all beings earth is the essence; of the earth water is the essence ... (the logic continues with: 

plants and herbs, human being, speech, Rgveda, Sama veda... of Samaveda and finally) of the Samaveda 

Uthgeetha is the essence". 
Discussion: All objects in the nature are called "beings" because everything has Prana (especially 

in Samaveda, wherein Prana is the highest deity). Earth and water are mentioned directly. Fire can be 

inferred from its relation to speech. So far we are good, because the fire is finer essence compared to 

water and earth and trivRtkaraNa sequence is intact. Air and space not mentioned at all. 
As per Ch.U I.1.2, the ultimate essence is uthgeetha, which is the syllable AUM. 
Considering Samaveda's stress on the finer essences, I would not give too much importance to the 

coarse and medium materials, other than merely stating the fact that creation involves a big percentage

of coarse matter. We only need to  onlyconcentrate on the finer essences. Ch.U.VI doesn't care what 

happens to gross body at the end, but Sankara says the purpose of trivRtkaraNa mentioned by Shruti 

was to point out how the elements merge back into existence while the person is dying, as it was also 

the same process by which a person acquires jnana (speech merging into manas, and manas merging 

into praNa and praNa merging into fire, and fire into supreme deity). Here again, Sankara rejects any 

movement such as a sensation going up through a nerve as a symbol of brahmajnana, but Acharya 

does not reject Shruti itself (for the same reason specific creation stories or playing etc were not rejected). 
If we presume air and space are included in "all beings", then these two elements are lower than earth. 

But this possibility is ruled out by what follows:   
Ch.U.I.9.1 mentions that akasha is higher than all lokas, and it is the ultimate goal.
Ch.U. I.9.2 mentions that this akasha is the uthgItha. This means AkAsha has the same status as

uthgItha, and it is the essence of all. 

This does not mean air is neglected. On the contrary in Ch.U.IV.1-3 we see Raikva 

declares that air is the ultimate goal. Also, check Ch.U.IV.16 for importance of air. 

So here we have, a neck-to-neck competition between AkAsha and vAyu. After all, prANa is also a vAyu

and prANa has to be placed above AkAsha as per samavedic orientation of Ch.U, which was accomplished

in Ch.U.12-15 which declare that akasha (space), smara (memory), asha (hope) and prana are the 

last four of the highest levels of conditional Brahmans. Smara is related to past and asha is related to future

and praNa is related to present tense as all three are three aspects of kAla (Time). As per Ch.U, space is lower 

and kAla is greater than space (unlike in relativity where time is a fourth dimension, on par with space). 

Within kAla itself present is greater than future, and future is greated than past. (JK rightly guessed that present 

is more important than past or future, but he creates a dualism by denouncing past & future in favor of present). 
While we can safely ignore the coarse and medium levels of all the elements, the hierarchies are some times tricky.

Ch.U.VI says speech is born from fire, and later Ch.U.15.1 mentions speech merges in mind, mind in Prana, 

Prana in fire (agni) and agni in the highest devata. If Prana is the highest, why does it merge into a lower 

entity fire contradicting Ch.U.VII hierarchy? The answer is, for the person who is dyng Prana is the highest, 

but for us outsiders apparently because this person is dying, the body will not have prana any more and the 

heat will soon dissipate. For the individual person who is dying, Prana is the highest, but for us outsiders fire 

is higher than his body which is now devoid of Prana. So when a switch is made from personal level to cosmic

level, the highest level of personal level merges into the lowest level of cosmic level and the journey upwards 

starts again.  
If we compare trivRtkarana to Ch.U.VII hierarchy, speech is way down the hierarchy, following immdediately 

by manas which is perfect, which then merges into the highest deity Prana, and back to fire which is a few
levels lower in Ch.U.VII. But there is no such defect. The fire that was below memory and space was a 

personal level fire within the body. The fire prANA merges into is the pyre. 
To sum up, Samavedic approaches are more process oriented and involve a lot of hair splitting analysis

depending on topic. 
Trivrtkarana is vital to understanding how life is supported and how a person gets brahmajnanam, 

and it derives its philosophical significance directly from Br.U. I.V.3-10, where specifically I.V.8-10 

define the roles of speech, manas and Prana as known, knowable, and unknown. Br.U. just mentions 

the three divisions of knowledge and how each is equally important (being yajurvedic), whereas 

Ch.U.VI.15.1 (being samavedic) explains how the three components of knowledge really interact 

with each other. Please note, the three components of knowledge are not 'equal' by any definition 

of the terms. They are uneven, one greater than the previous, like a chariot running on three wheels 

each of a different size, but they all get "equalized" due to the fact that each component exerts 

its pressure and stretches till the relationship breaks to justify its own existence. 
Each of the numerous models has its own beauty and importance, but personally I see no reason 

to essentialize the analysis into an artificial dispute of one prakriya vs another, and how it multiplies to 

create the periodic table. It is also meaningless to compare across the branches of veda, because the 

orientation is different for each veda. Rgveda's orientation is towards what agni (together with Vishnu) 

sees at different times during yajna and how it initiates a yajna. Yajurvedic orientation is towards what 

needs to be done at any point in yajna and what materials are needed. Samavedic orientation is to explain 

how all this merges back into existence, so they tend to have fewer elements at top. 


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