by Swami Prajnanananda | 1967 | 318,120 words
Swami Abhedananda was one of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa and a spiritual brother of Swami Vivekananda. He deals with the subject of spiritual unfoldment purely from the yogic standpoint. These discourses represent a study of the Social, Religious, Cultural, Educational and Political aspects of India. Swami Abhedananda says t...
Ladies and gentlemen, the subject of my discourse, I am afraid, is one which may not be interesting to you on account of its being very dry and metaphysical. It is a discourse on the Vedanta philosophy of the Hindus and its teachings as explained in Panchadasi.
Before I proceed with my subject I shall tell you what the meaning of the word ‘Vedanta’ is and how it became the name of a certain school of philosophy in India.
‘Vedanta’ is a Sanskrit compound word of veda and anta. The word ‘Veda’ comes from the Sanskrit root vid i.e. to know. So Veda means literally the ‘act of knowing’ or knowledge. Knowledge is a general term. There may be the knowledge of external things and of things internal; there may be the knowledge of natural things and of things supernatural; there may be knowledge of relative things and of things beyond all sorts of relation, or, in other words, things which we cannot perceive, cannot sense, cannot feel, cannot think of or imagine. The word anta means ‘end,’ or the latter portion of the Vedas. Therefore, ‘Vedanta’ means that portion of knowledge by which we can understand the true nature of those things which are international or mental; which are supernatural or above the gross material side of nature and of things which are above all relations i.e. the Absolute, the universal Soul.
The Absolute is called in Vedanta Brahman. Jnana is another word for knowledge. The term which the Vedantists use for the knowledge of the Absolute is Brahmajnana. So, Vedanta means Brahmajnana or Atmajnana.
Such being the scriptural or literal meaning of the word Vedanta, the scriptural literature of the Hindus which deals with the Brahmajnana, is also called Vedanta. The most ancient part of this scriptural literature which the Hindus believe as revealed, is the Upanishad.
There is another book Bhagavad Gita which contains the doctrines of Vedanta as taught by Sri Krishna to Arjuna before the commencement of the great battle of dharmakshetra Kurukshetra. It is considered by the Vedantists as an authority. These Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita form the real scriptural foundations of the Vedanta philosophy. Upon these foundations is built the huge superstructure of Vedanta by different sages and philosophers who flourished both before and after Sakyasimha, the great founder of the Buddhist faith.
The scattered flowers of the vedantic truth that are to be found here and there in the mass of the simplest form of the Upanishads were collected and placed each in its proper place by Badarayana, so as to form a beautiful bouquet that may please the scrutinizing and truth-seeking eyes of all philosophers of all ages and climes. He put these grand philosophical tenets in short pithy sentences called Vedanta-sutras or aphorisms of Badarayana. These Upanishads, Gita and the Sutras of Badarayana form the three Prasthanas or steps to the realization of the background underlying all phenomena. These three being the basic literature o*f the vedantic school, volumes after volumes of commenteries and annotations were written on them, in prose and in verse by Sankaracharya and his disciplesand other Advaitists who flourished later. Panchadasi is one of these works on the Vedanta philosophy written in verse by Madhavacharya (Sayana), the great commentator of the vedic literature. Few countries have ever produced such a, volumious writer as Madhava. Madhava was at first the prime minister of the King Bukka of South India and he flourished some 400 years after Sankaracharya (eight or ninth century A. D.). Afterwards he renounced his ministership, property, and worldly position and entered the order of Sannyasin. He was initiated into that order by a Sannyasin named Bharati Tirtha and, thenceforth, was called Vidyaranya.
The first six chapters of Panchadasi was written by Bharati-Tirtha, but his sudden and unexpected death left the work to be completed by his disciple who wrote the remaining nine chapters. The word Panchadasi comes from the Sanskrit ‘Panchadasa’ which means fifteen and the book is called Panchadasi on account of its having fifteen chapters. The Panchadasi contains altogether 1530 slokas or verses and is divided into three books, each containing five chapters.
In the first chapter the true nature of the unconditioned Brahman is explained. We can never define this unconditioned Brahman, because every thought of the human mind or seasoning faculty will be under some condition or relation while Brahman transcends them all. Brahman is beyond space and time, beyond thought and beyond all human expressions. It is not to be the object of our consciousness. Our mind cannot approach it. It is beyond all human expressions. It is indescribable and unspeakable. Human mind cannot, however, rest satisfied unless it reaches that state where all human search after truth ceases. It is a state where all desires for transitory and worldy things vanish, where peace and happiness reign through all eternity and where all qualities of ego and non-ego end, and the whole universe merges into one ocean of universal consciousness.
After realizing that superconscious state of perfect bliss and unity the vedantic sages declare in a trumpet voice before the world:
vedāhametaṃ puruṣaṃ mahāntam ādityavarṇaṃ tamasaḥ parastāt |
tameva viditvātimṛtyumeti, nānyaḥ panthā vidyate ayanāya ||
“I have reached that one conscious Being, effulgent with divine light and beyond the limits of darkness. Knowing Him alone one attains that state which is beyond the reach of death. There is no alternative course to it.”
These ancient sages began to coin different words to give a clear idea what they realized in the superconscious state. Most of these words are of negative categories (neti-mulakam). Its Attributes are all in the negative form. It is without colour, without form, without smell, etc. Very few words in the affirmative have been accepted as correct to represent the Absolute or Brahman. Words are relative and they carry with them a conditional sense. But Brahman is unconditional. So, we must be cautious while using the words for describing the unconditioned. Words should then be used not in their relative sense, but in their absolute sense. Suppose, if we use existence, intelligence and bliss to describe Brahman, we must take their meanings not as used ordinarily, but in their absolute sense or in the language of Panchadasi not in their vachyartha but in their lakshyartha. Therefore Brahman is described in Panchadasi as sat-chit-ananda, pure existence-consciousness-bliss. It is also established in this chapter that the soul of man is in reality a part and parcel of the Brahman, conditioned by the illusive nature of maya which makes it appear different from the Brahman, individualizes it and forces it to think, feel, perceive, sense, and do all sorts of work.
What is this maya? It is a name given by the Vedantists to that eternal energy whose manifestations are the. phenomena and the universe. This maya acting upon the ocean of Brahman, produces waves which we call the organic and in-organic phenomena of nature. She evolves and manifests herself as atoms and molecules. She attracts them, combines them so as to produce all the elements and constructs out of them myriads of suns, moons, stars and solar systems. Even the greatest minds stand stupefied in dumb astonishment when they try to think of that supreme power whose inkling has evolved this gigantic manifestation. Maya creates division—division between the individual self and the Brahman. The projection or the world-appearance is due to only maya or nescience. This maya or Prakriti has three gunas or qualities, sattva, rajas and tamas. The broad and general sense of the word maya, as expressed in Panchadasi, is Prakriti and the word maya has been used in a little restricted sense.
Panchadasi divides Prakriti into maya and avidya:
tamorajaḥ—satvaguṇā prakṛtirdivividhā ca sā |
satvaśuddhyaviśuddhibhyāṃ māyāvidye ca te mate || 1.15-16
When sattava guna or the power by which we can know things as they are, is not overcome by rajas (activity) and tamas (ignorance), and on the other hand, sattva prevails our rajas and tamas, then only Prakriti is called maya. When sattva guna is overcome by rajas and tamas, the Prakriti is called avidya. The sattva is described as a pure reflecting substance that has the power of catching the image of Brahman and reflecting its rays as a mirror reflects and casts the rays of the same on all sides.
This maya together with the image of Brahman reflected therein is Isvara or the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe. Isvara of Vedanta is the same God as different nations worship and pray to in different names. He is allpervading, all-powerful, all-knowing and all-merciful.
The image or reflection of Brahman in avidya is the jiva or the conditioned Brahman in man. This jiva because of his impure sattva has got partial knowledge and with it he tries to gain fuller knowledge. In Vedanta, therefore, jiva is called prajna or partial knower while Isvara is all-knowing. This jiva or individual soul gets the name prajna when he assumes avidya as his karana-sharira or causal body. Panchadasi teaches that there are three bodies of every man: (1) the sthula-sharira, the gross material body; (2) the sukshma-sharira, the subtle body and (3) the karana-sharira, the casual body.
The last one is the cause of the other two bodies, or, in other words, it contains the seeds of the subtle and the gross bodies.
māyābimbo vaśīkṛtya tāṃ syāt sarvajña īśvaraḥ |
The jiva or the individual soul with his sukshama-sharira subtle body is called Taijasa: “prā[ś?]astatrābhimānenaitajasatvaṃ pratipa[??]te |” and “sākāraṇaśarīraṃ syāt prā[?]statrābhimāna[??]n”. The subtle body contains the antahkarana (antaḥkaraṇa) the internal organ or the mind in its different manifestations, the five jnanendriyas or instruments of knowledge: the senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching, five karmendriyas or instruments of action: power of seizing, moving, speaking, excreting and generating, and the five pranas. The prana is the life-sustaining power or the vital energy in us. Although it is one, it has five different names on account of the five different functions it performs. While working in the upper part its name is prana, and that which moves the lower part is apana. When it performs digestive function it is samana, and when it is the cause of bringing down food from the alimentary canal to the stomach it is udana. Again, it is vyana when it works through the canals of the body.
The gross body dies as the physical instruments, but the jiva or inner man can never die or lose his powers, impressions and thoughts. The jiva of the Inner man goes to heaven or hell, or to any other He assumes different bodies, and wherever he goes, he carries with him his subtle body, which is the seed of his gross body. All these divisions, differentiations and limitations, says Panchadasi, are imposed on the Atman. They are false like maya; they have no independent status. They cannot bring any change in the unchangeable, just as the apparent redness of a crystal cannot affect its genuine whiteness and transparency when a red object is placed near it. The qualities of the changeable are often attributed to the unchangeable. This process is called the superimposition. The superimposition or adhyasa is caused by avidya. The jiva conditioned by avidya and entangled in the meshes of the three bodies, thinks himself as actor (karta) and enjoyer (bhokta). As long as these two ideas of being actor (kartritva) and enjoyer (bhoktritva) will remain in the jiva, he will have to go on with his work and enjoy the fruits coming therefrom. Even after the death of the body he still retains the ideas of doer (kartritva) and enjoyer (bhoktritva). These two ideas will bring forth desires as their offspring and as long as these desires will remain, they will create new bodies. So Panchadasi says: ‘When one can transcend the sense of self, as well as bring under control the desires, this can be defined as shokapanodana (śokāpanodana). And the pleasure and satisfaction one derives from it may be defined as tripti (tṛpti) and harsa (harṣa).
In Sanskrit the desires are called desires or vasanas. The desires or vasanas for work and enjoyment are the causes of our birth and re-births. If these desires remain in us, we shall be born again and again. As these desires or vasanas are the roots of all our works or karmas, good or bad, jiva cannot escape from reaping what he has sown. So, he enjoys pleasure and pain which are the results of his works, good or bad. Thus fettered by the trammels of karma, jiva moves on from one body to another enjoying or suffering the good or bad results of his own deeds.
Is there no end to this process of births and re-births? Can we not be free from the inevitable law of karma? So, the author of Panchadasi himself raises these questions:
nadyāṃ kīṭā ivāvartādāvartāṃtaramāśute |
vrajanto janmano janma labhante naiva nirvṛtim || 30 ||
sat karma paripākāt te karuṇā nidhinoddhṛtā |
prāpya tīratarucchāyāṃ viśrāmyanti yathāsukham || 31 ||
As a small insect falling into the current of a river passes from one whirlpool to another and does not find a resting place, so the individual soul passes from one birth to another without finding rest or peace. But if any kind-hearted man seeing the miserable plight of the rapid current and places the insect under the shade of a tree on the bank, it escapes the ever-running current of the water. Similarly, the jiva can escape the continuous recurring births and deaths, if any God-realized man shows him the path to freedom and peace. Following the advice of the realized man () the jiva can be liberated from the pangs and cares of the deceitful world.
Then comes the spiritual practice or sadhana. Nowhere we can find in world’s history, except in India, that the highest metaphysical conception has formed the basis of a religion. The religion of Vedanta is not merely theoretical, but also practical. It is the realization of the universal soul in the individual self. It is being and becoming one with that eternal existence.
The union with the supreme pure consciousness forms the keynote of the vedantic religion. Vedanta proclaims that the oneness with Brahman is the ultimate end of human life. It is the be-all and end-all of our individual existence. It is the final goal of all searches after Truth. What becomes after regaining the state of oneness is described in the following lines:
bhidyate hṛdayagranthiśchidyante sarvasaṃśayāḥ |
kśīyante cāsya karmāṇi tasmin dṛṣṭe parāvare ||
When man reaches that state of oneness, all knots of desires are tom asunder, all doubts and questions are solved for ever, and all works with their fruits are transcended.
But how to attain such a state of oneness or freedom? To this Vedanta answers that by right knowledge of Brahman or Brahmajnana we can obtain oneness with the Brahman, and consequently the absolute freedom. And as before day-light the darkness of night disappears, so the darkness of false knowledge (mithya-pratyaya) vanishes before the light of jnana or right knowledge.
Vedanta says that this world is the manifested form of maya. These phenomena are nothing but the apparent waves in the ocean of Brahman. We live and move and have our being in Brahman. These names and forms (nama-rupa) are the maya or nescience. They are the cause of creation: “nāmarupā[?]ddhavasyaiva s[?]ṣṭit[?]āt s[?]ṣṭitaḥ purā”. Really Brahman appears as different only for name and form, otherwise it is pure and one without the second—“ekame[?]dvitīyam” Panchadasi also says: “nāmarūpopādhibhedaṃ [?]inā naiva sato bhidā”, truly speaking,
Brahman is never affected by, time and space. It is unchangeable amidst the changeful and deceitful world.
Panchadasi also mentions:
pravahatyapi nīre'dhaḥ sthirā prauḍha śilā yathā |
nāmarūpānyathātve'pi kūṭasthaṃ brahma nānyathā || 98 ||
As a rushing stream cannot dislodge a huge stone, likewise Brahman remains unaffected amidst the changes of names and forms (nama-rupa). Name and form have their ground upon Brahman. Without the support of Brahman they cannot exist.
Panchadasi describes this as:
niṣchidre darpaṇe bhāti vastugarbhaṃ bṛhadviyat |
saccitghane tathā nānājagadgarbhamidaṃ viyat || 99 ||
As in a mirror one can see the reflected images of every object, likewise everything having a name and a form is revealed by Brahman.
In truth, every paiticle of matter in the universe is Brahman conditioned by name and rupa i.e. name and form. This vision of Brahman is called in Vedanta samyag-darsana or direct and right knowledge. This samyag-darsana is acquired by vichara or proper analysis of the true nature of things and by realizing Brahman which is sat-chit-ananda or existence-intelligence-bliss.
To describe the necessity of vichara, Panchadasi says:
brahma yadyapi śāstreṣu pratyaktvenaiva varṇitam |
mahāvākyai stathāpyetat durbodhamavicāriṇaḥ || 20 ||
Although the individual soul has been described as Brahman in the mahavakyas or the great vedic words, yet it is very difficult to understand for them who do not practise vichara or the proper analysis of spirit and matter—jada and chaitanya.
What these mahavakyas are and what do they mean? The mahavakyas are the great words which contain the fundamental ideas of Vedanta. Panchadasi also deals with these mahavakyas and explains them in an explicit way. They are four in number:
(1) Tattvam-asi (tattvamasi), Tat means ‘that’ i.e. Brahman and the individual self is denoted by tvam, i.e. ‘thou.’ So, Tat-tvam-asi means ‘That Thou art’ or the self is Brahman.
(2) Aham Brahmasmi (ahaṃ brahmāsmi) i.e. I am Brahman.
(4) Prajnanam Brahman (prajñānaṃ brahma) i.e., the pure consciousness is Brahman.
yenekṣate śṛṇotīdaṃ jighrati vyākaroti ca |
svādvasvādū vijānāti tatprajñānamudīritam || 1 ||
caturmukhendradeveṣu manuṣyāśvaśvagavādiṣu |
caitanyamekaṃ brahmātaḥ prajñānaṃ brahmamayyapi || 2 ||
paripūrṇaḥ parātmāsmindehe vidyādhikāriṇi |
buddheḥ sākṣitayā sthitvā sphurannahamitīryate || 3 ||
svataḥ pūrṇaḥ parātmātra brahmaśabdena varṇitaḥ |
asmītyaikyaparāmarśastena brahma bhavāmyaham || 4 ||
ekamevādvitīyaṃ sannāmarūpavivarjitam |
sṛṣṭeḥ purādhunāpyasya tādṛktvaṃ taditīryate || 5 ||
śroturdehendriyātītaṃ vastvatra tvaṃ paderitam |
ekatā gṛhyate’sīti tadaikyamanubhūyatām || 6 ||
svaprakāśāparokṣatvamayamityuktito matam |
ahaṅkārādidehāntātpratyagātmeti gīyate || 7 ||
dṛśyamānasya sarvasya jagatastattvamīryate |
brahmaśabdena tadbrahma svaprakāśātmarūpakam || 8 ||
—Ch. V., 1-8
The consciousness existing in connection with, our intelligence is the source of our speech, perception, and desires, etc. It can be defined as the prajnana. The great soul is existing in the gross material bodies of different animals as the ruler of their hearts. Therefore, the great soul is existing within me; also the prajnana and supreme consciousness are existent within me. So, we can deduce that the supreme pure consciousness and prajnana together are Brahman. The supreme consciousness being guided by the phenomenal emanation is existing within gross body as witness of everything. As it is guided by the phenomenal emanation being present within the gross body, so we can define it as self. The word Brahman means the ever-present prime soul. The word asmi means our individual consciousness and reflected consciousness. Therefore, self means individual consciousness. By that we can easily deduce that one who transcends the phenomenal emanation, is Brahman. Before emanation i.e. projection, the supreme soul (Atman) alone existed. It is also existing in the same state now. So, we can define it as tat. We can define our reflected consciousness as tam. Therefore, tat and tam have no difference between them. We ought to know this. The reflected consciousness which is self-luminous can be defined as ayam. It is also known as self, because desires are guiding it. Therefore, we can deduce that this reflected consciousness is known as self and ayam. Brahman is the source i.e. ground of everything. It is self-luminous. Therefore, we can deduce that no difference exists between self and the supreme self, the Brahman.
The mahavakyas expresesd in the form of sutras or aphorisms contain the central truths of Vedanta philosophy. Panchadasi again says:
dehādyātmatvavibhrāntau jāgṛtyāṃ na haṭhāt pumān |
brahmātmatvena vijñātuṃ kṣamate mandadhītvataḥ || 21 ||
As long as there will remain in us “dehātma [????]” as long as we shall mistake the body for the self, it will be impossible for us to realize the true nature of the self as Brahman. The mistake or false knowledge we can get rid of by vichara or discrimination only. Thus according to the teachings of Panchadasi we learn that vichara is the first means which helps the acquirement of samyag-darsana.
The Panchadasi mentions:
sadā vicārayettasmājjagatjjīvaparātmanaḥ |
jīvabhāvajagadbhāvabādhe  svātmaivaśiṣyate || 12 ||
It has already been said that by logical discourse or ratiocination (vichara) we can get the right knowledge (of the Atman) that dispels the darkness of delusion. Therefore, we should determine by ratiocination the nature of the world (jagat), the individual petty self (jiva) and the highest Self (Paramatman). Because knowledge derived from vichara, if it once becomes permanent, nothing can hinder it. It destroys all delusions. With its help only one attains to God-realization even in this life and gets over the fruits of the actions of former life. So the vichara like the thrashing of corns must be continued till the grain of right knowledge appears.
Again Panchadasi states:
anekajanmabhajanāt svavicāraṃ cikīrṣati |
vicāreṇa vinaṣṭāyāṃ māyāyāṃ śiṣyate svayam || 3 ||
“A man follows the path of ratiocination and true knowledge in the world, after spending many past lives in prayer (upasana). By ratiocination, first of all, the nescience is cancelled and then the knowledge of the pure Brahman is regained”.
The false imposition of duality and sorrow upon the non-dual Brahman is called bondage, and the right knowledge of the Brahman is known as salvation or realization. The Panchadasi mentions further that bondage is due to the want of right knowledge and it can be cancelled only by vichara.
Therefore, everyone should determine who is the jiva and who is the Paramatman (Brahman):
advayānandarūpasya sadvayatvaśca [vaṃ ca]? duḥkhitā |
bandhaḥ proktaḥ svarūpeṇa sthitirmuktiritīryate || 4 ||
avicārakṛto bandho vicāreṇa nivartate |
tasmājjīva parātmānau sarvadaiva vicārayet || 5 ||
But, for those who are not so intellectually advanced as to be able to practise this kind of vichara, Panchadasi says:
yo vicāraṃ na labhate brahmopāsīta so'niśam || 54 ||
“He who is not able to make vichara, must meditate upon Brahman within.”
The process of meditation is described as:
āptopadeśaṃ viśvasya śraddhāluravicārayan |
cintayet pratyayairanyairanantaritavṛttibhiḥ || 77 ||
“Believing in the words of the enlightened the faithful disciple should try to abstract his mind from external objects and concentrate upon the self without being disturbed by any other thought. This kind of meditation will make his false knowledge of the soul vanish by and by.”
And when by constant meditation such false impressions as ‘my Self is the body,’ ‘I am born with the body’ and ‘shall die with it’ will disappear, the indivisible Atman will be perceived in its fulness.
Whosoever will realize it, will remain eternally free even in this life. He will be one with Brahman. He will come no more under the bondage of maya or delusion. Then he will act as witness (sakshi) or seer of his mind, body and whole universe.
So Panchadasi says:
vidyāyāṃ saccidānandā akhaṇḍaikarasātmatām |
prāpya bhānti na bhedena bhedakopādhivarjanāt || 31 ||
nirupādhibrahmatattve bhāsamāne svayaṃprabhe |
advaite tripuṭī nāsti bhūmānando'yamucyate [do'ta ucyate?] || 33 ||
After becoming perfect in meditation one attains to the Brahma-vidya. After the perfection in the Brahman knowledge, one can realize the supreme soul. At that time the realized man perceives everything what is in reality. Owing to nescience one perceives the difference between him and Brahman. But after attaining to right knowledge, no distinction is perceived by the realized soul. After one succeeds in dispelling the sense of difference, one realizes the self-revealing light of Brahman. At that time triputi i.e., subject, object and relation, is vanished. That supreme state can be defined as the bhumananda or the highest pleasure and eternal bliss. The fortunate man who attains to this superconscious state, is called a Jivanmukta i.e., one who is liberated in one’s lifetime.
Panchadasi describes the mental state of such a Jivanmukta as,
kṛtakṛtyatayā tṛptaḥ prāptaprāpyatayā punaḥ |
tṛpyanevaṃ svamanasā manyate’sau nirantaram || 290 ||
dhanyo'haṃ dhanyo'haṃ nityaṃ svātmānamañjasā vedmi |
dhanyo'haṃ dhanyo'haṃ brahmānando vibhāti me spaṣṭam || 291 ||
dhanyo'haṃ dhanyo'haṃ duḥkhaṃ sāṃsārikaṃ na vīkṣe'dya |
dhanyo'haṃ dhanyo'haṃ svasyājñānaṃ palāyitaṃ kvāpi || 292 ||
dhanyo'haṃ dhanyo'haṃ kartavyaṃ me na vidyate kiñcit |
dhanyo'haṃ dhanyo'haṃ prāptavyaṃ sarvamadya sampannam || 293 ||
dhanyo'haṃ dhanyo'haṃ tṛptirme kopamā bhavelloke |
dhanyo'haṃ dhanyo'haṃ dhanyo dhanyaḥ punaḥ punaḥ || 294 ||
That is, the Jivanmukta thinks and says: “I have known the supreme Atman, therefore I am happy, I am enjoying highest bliss, therefore I am happy, I am free from the worldly bonds, I am also free from the chains of delusion, therefore, I am happy. I have no obligation to anyone, I have attained that highest) object, for which I was practising so long, therefore I am happy. I am enjoying the sublime bliss, therefore I am the happiest of the happy”.
Footnotes and references:
The word vadha means ‘the falsity of everything knowing their destructibility’ and not ‘the absence of knowledge’ or ‘forgetting them altogether’—“nāpratītistayorbādhaḥ kintu mithyātvaniścayaḥ”. If it be so, then men would attain salvation in. deep sleep or swoon—“no cet suṣuptimūrcchādau mucyetā yatnato jana”. But in deep sleep and swoon the false knowledge or nescience is not corrected.
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