[Advaita-l] Pancikarana vs. Trvrtkarana (Analysis)

Sundaresan, Vidyasankar (GE Infra, Water) vidyasankar.sundaresan at ge.com
Thu Jul 23 11:47:49 CDT 2009

>Please excuse my ignorance of this matter -- and perhaps that of other
>Is all this argument built on the fact that Shankara's (very terse)
Pancikarana v.1
>speaks of five elements in one context, and Chandogya 6.3.4 mentions
only three
>of them in another context (creation of the devati) ? (The Chandogya
>discussed akasha several times in earlier chapters.)
>Please enlighten me. It's not by any means the first time that this
question has
>arisen on this site.. 

Dear Michael (and others who may be mystified by this exchange!),

The following is not for those who do not want to get involved in the
nitty-gritties of
discussing old texts. A lot of it may seem like arguing over how many
angels can
dance on a pin head, but it is not so. Unless we delve into the texts,
we will never
really appreciate the advaita tradition properly.

This entire discussion is indeed based on the variant accounts of five
and three elements in the vedAntic texts. To gain an insight into the
topic, let us
leave aside the text called pancIkaraNa for the time being and
concentrate on the
upanishad and brahmasUtra texts.

Please check
for some of the textual references I will make below. 
Briefly, the crux of the matter is this. A principal argument made in
the vedAnta
tradition relates to omniscience - what is that knowledge through which
comes to be known? In the chAndogya upanishat, uddAlaka poses this
to Svetaketu and proceeds to teach him via an account of creation,
in the precept, "tat tvam asi". The important point to note here is that
this account
starts with Existence (sat) and proceeds to creation of tejas, ApaH and
Here tejas stands in for agni (fire) and annam for pRthivi (earth). The
does refer to AkASa in other places, but not in the context of
sequential creation.

However, other upanishat texts talk of the creation of AkAsa and vAyu
prior to the
creation of the other three elements, e.g. taittirIya upanishat.
Naturally, when 
searching for a consistent teaching putting together all these texts, a
doubt arises
- are these two sources in conflict with each other? if so, can they be
or not?, if so, what form would that reconciliation take? ... ... 

The brahmasUtra takes up this discussion in what is called the viyad
It affirms that there is scriptural mention of the origin of AkASa and
vAyu, so these
two are also created entities and that they arise from brahman. 

So far, so good. The next level of the problem arises when one examines
these two
accounts in greater detail. chAndogya goes on to describe a process by
which the
three elements tejas, ap and annam are divided up and intermixed. This
is what is
called trivRtkaraNa. The taittirIya does not refer to any such
intermixing of the five
elements, nor of the three elements mentioned in the chAndogya. The
does not raise this as an issue, but in another adhikaraNa, the word
is used. 

The explicit mention of the intermixing of five elements to constitute
the universe is
not seen in any of the principal upanishat texts, but it is mentioned
(as per the 
testimony of many scholars) in the mahAbhArata, one of the primary smRti
In the tradition.

So now, there can be further questions - does the author of the
brahmasUtra accept
the origination of five elements but only an intermixing of three? If
so, why do two
elements remain separate? Or does the author of the brahmasUtra extend
the logic
of intermixing to all five elements? This may or may not have been a big
issue in the
time of Sankara bhagavatpAda and his disciples, but certainly by the
time of
madhusUdana sarasvatI, it was a topic that needed to be set to rest.
This 15th-16th
century advaitin clearly thinks that as five elements are accepted as
having been
created, then we must logically accept that all five get intermixed in
the constitution
of the universe. In support, he quotes the bhagavatpAda as having said
pancamahAbhUtAni" - a phrase which is found only in the prakaraNa text
pancIkaraNa. Sankara does speak of the  creation of the five elements in
other places
too, e.g. upadeSasAhasrI, but it is only in the text called pancIkaraNa
that the term
"pancIkRta" is to be found. No other text, to my knowledge (admittedly
meager), talks
of the intermixing of five elements.

Fast forward to the 19th-20th century - academic scholarship questions
the attribution
of almost all prakaraNa texts, including pancIkaraNa, to Sankara
bhagavatpAda. That
is the take-off point for the current discussion. As to whether
pancIkaraNa is an
extension of trivRtkaraNa or whether trivRtkaraNa is a special case of
pancIkaraNa, to
a large extent, that is a fruitless discussion in my view. However,
studying in what
respect Sankara applies a "samAna nyAya" to both descriptions is
something that
leads to very important insights into his advaita focus. As I mentioned
earlier, I will save
that for a later post, as it will involve a somewhat detailed analysis
and discussion of his
bhAshya on the chAndogya upanishat.

Best regards,

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