7 Stages of Enlightenment (Panchadasi by Swami Vidyaranya)

(Following excerpts are from book Inquiry to Existence by James Swartz, chapter 7. Whole text is actually from Panchadasi by Swami Vidyaranya. James provided some commentaries for legibility.

We will go through these stages in detail in class.)

Seven stages can be distinguished with respect to the realization of the Self: ignorance, veiling, projection, indirect knowledge, direct knowledge, cessation of grief and perfect satisfaction.

The Jiva/individual (reflected awareness) is affected by these seven stages. The first three causes bondage. The last four cause liberation.

A. Bondage – Stages 1 to 3

“Ignorance is the stage characterized by, “I do not know who I am”, and is the cause of the indifference to truth sustained by lack of inquiry.

  1. Ignorance (agnanam)

    At this stage a person thinks she/he is her/his thoughts and takes the world to be real. He doesn't know that he doesn't know there is a self, much less that he is it.
    Thoughts like, “The self does not exist” or “The self cannot be known” typify veiling. They persist when inquiry is not conducted along scriptural lines.

    Unconscious incompetence. “I don't know what I don't know”.

  2. Denial, veiling, concealment (avaranam) is expressed ignorance.

    He/she takes himself to the reflected self, thinks the Self is an object and says that because he can't experience it, it doesn't exist.

    Or he accepts the idea that it exists and tries to experience it by doing certain practices. If he experiences what he thinks is the self he will think he has “got it” when “getting it” is knowing that you are not the doer/enjoyer, the one that gets it.

    He does not understand that he needs to be taught and tries to read his way to liberation, interpreting the teachings according to his own lights. Interpreting the teachings is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Inquiry – discrimination of the self from its reflection – is a rigorous impersonal practice dictated by the scripture.‌

    Conscious competence. “I know that I don't know”.

  3. Projection, erroneous notions, are called vikshepa.

    He hears that there is a self,but has no idea what it is and develops all sorts fantasies about it. He thinks he is a doer and struggles to experience it, but gets frustrated and suffers a sense of unworthiness on account of his incompetence at achieving it.

I am a samsari” (stage 3), “I know the Self” (stage 4), “I am the Self” (stage 5), “I am free of suffering” (stage 6) and “I am fulfilled” (stage 7) are stages that belong to the waking-state Jīva, not to Awareness. The first two stages, “There is no Self“, and “The Self cannot be known” also belong to Jīva in its unmanifest form as Prajna, the sleep-state Jīva.

The ancient teachers say that ignorance is not possible without aware-ness, but ignorance belongs to Jīva because it identifies with ignorance. It says, “I don't know who I am“.

B. Liberation, Stages 4 to 7

  1. Indirect knowledge (prokshajnanam)

    The individual hears about Vedanta,becomes curious about it and develops some faith in it. He learns that the self exists, but often believes that is an inconceivable object only attained by “great masters”, but he persists.

  2. Direct knowledge (aparokshajnanam or anubhuti)

    He realizes that he cannot experience the Self as an object, because he is always experiencing it as the conscious Subject.

  3. Freedom from limitation (mokṣa)

    The knowledge, “I am the Self,” negates the doer/enjoyer, and seeking stops because he understands that the fullness he is obviates the need to worry.

  4. Total fulfillment (tripti)

    He/she realizes that he accomplished everything that needs to be accomplished and is completely satisfied. (Satisfied with “what-is”, including forces of Sattva, rajas, tamas).

The fourth and fifth stages, indirect and direct knowledge, respectively negate the idea that the self does not exist and that is not experienced. Indirect knowledge negates the misconception that awareness does not exist. Direct knowledge destroys the idea that awareness is not manifest or experienced.

When the obscuring principle is destroyed by direct knowledge, both superimposed individuality – the idea that I am person – and the notion of doership are destroyed.

When the idea of duality is destroyed by the knowledge of non-duality, a profound sense of satisfaction arises and wipes away suffering.

The scripture quoted at the beginning of this chapter refers to Stages 5 and 6: direct knowledge and freedom from doership.

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