The victory of Yājñavalkya (bṛhadāraṇyaka) continued
Then Uddālaka joined the debate, “Yājñavalkya, I know the sūtra, which encompasses, the here and thereafter, all the worlds. I also know the antaryāmin who controls that sūtra. A gandharva has made it clear that someone who knows this is indeed a brahmajñānin. I’m not here to boast about myself saying ‘I’m a brahmajñānin.’ I just want to confirm your knowledge. Do you know this sūtra? Who is the antaryāmin? Tell us the svarūpa of that. If you are not able to tell, and if you are still taking away the cows, your head shall roll!” Yājñavalkya gave a detailed reply in a majestic voice and concluded, “Gautama (Uddālaka), that antaryāmin is none other than the ātman that resides in you.” Uddālaka was thus silenced.
Gārgi stood up and addressed the gathering of the brāhmaṇas as follows, “O venerable ones, with your permission, I want to ask two more questions. If Yājñavalkya is able to provide satisfactory answers then you should conclude that none can defeat him in this important question related to the brahman.” The erudite assembly agreed. Gārgi continued, “Yājñavalkya, I’ll ask you two questions, just like a warrior who would fix two sharp arrows capable of tormenting the enemy, on to his bow.” Yājñavalkya – equanimity personified – replied, “Gārgi, You can ask” Gārgi asked the first question, “Yājñavalkya, up, down, present, past, future, – all the dualities of this world, where are these established?” Yājñavalkya gave a detailed description and concluded, “All these are established in the avyākṛtākāśa (loosely avyākṛta – the elementary or primary substance from which everything is created, ākāśa – space)” Gārgi proceeded to ask the next question, “I bow down in reverence to you, What is the svarūpa of the entity where this avyākṛtākāśa is established?” Yājñavalkya replied, “Gārgi, that entity is called the akṣara or the brahman. It can only be described by niṣedha (negation). It is neither gross nor subtle, neither small nor big, neither short nor long, it is not the taste, not the smell, it doesn’t possess eyes, ears, there is no inside or outside. It can only be described like this via negation. Since it is devoid of attributes, it cannot be described using such attributes or qualities. It cannot be seen through thoughts or feelings. You can say that it is ‘brahman’ in the sense that it is profound. All the other entities are interwoven in this. Anyone who knows this ‘brahman’ is brāhmaṇa.”
Gārgi addressed the assembly, “O venerable ones, bow your heads, there is none who can defeat Yājñavalkya.” Even after seeing all these events, Śākalya exhibited his foolhardy behavior. He threw a series of questions. It seemed like there was no end. Finally he was destroyed by the tejas of Yājñavalkya.
Yājñavalkya then addressed the gathering, “O brāhmaṇas, I’ve a question for you all. How is one born after he dies?” None could answer his question. A triumphant Yājñavalkya returned to his āśrama.
The dialogue between Yājñavalkya and Maitreyī (bṛhadāraṇyaka)
The cause of dualities like rāgadveṣa (love and hatred) etc is ajñāna (ignorance). A ajñānin doesn’t possess the cittaśuddhi (clarity). He thinks he alone is the doer and the consumer of his deeds and indulges in karma. Any karma with desires leads to worldly confinements. If karma is done without desires, just to propitiate Īśvara the cittaśuddhi follows and it leads to the foundation which is required to realize the ātman. Anyone who attains this through the guru, whose teaching destroys the dualities and leads to the realization, such a person rooted in jñāna need not perform karma in the usual sense. Since the distinctions between the doer, the deed, the instrument and the result are already destroyed he isn’t mandated to do anything. Once someone is a brahmajñānin, saṃnyāsa is already realized. This is called vidvatsaṃnyāsa. Then there is the other path where to realize the brahman one would take up saṃnyāsa as an intermediate step which helps in such an endeavor. This is called vividiṣā saṃnyāsa.
Even though a householder, Yājñavalkya was a brahmajñānin. Thus he was able to impart the knowledge of ātman to the king Janaka. His saṃnyāsa was vidvatsaṃnyāsa indeed. But to illustrate that saṃnyāsa can be an intermediate step to realize the ātman, the conversation between Yājñavalkya and Maitreyī is presented in the Upaniṣat.
Yājñavalkya had two wives, Maitreyī and Kātyāyanī. Maitreyī was interested in realizing the ultimate truth. She constantly thought about the brahman and hence was known as a brahmavādinī. Kātyāyanī came from a different mould. She was more interested in household chores and was not enthusiastic about knowing or realizing the brahman. Yājñavalkya thought of formally taking up saṃnyāsa and become a parivrājaka. He addressed Maitreyī thus, “Maitreyī, I’m planning to renounce the world and take up saṃnyāsa. So I need your permission. I’ll divide my world possessions equally between you and Kātyāyanī.” A prudent Maitreyī thought, “My husband is abandoning all the riches, why would I be interested in that? Why should I not pursue that lofty thing which has led my husband to renounce the world and go in search of it?” She said, “Svāmin! Even if I get more money other than what you are planning to give me, will it lead to immortality? Will it help me escape the clutches of death?” Yājñavalkya was elated when he heard this question. He replied, “Maitreyī, death is inevitable irrespective of the wealth you possess, isn’t it? You too will suffer the same fate. ‘अमृतत्वस्य तु नाशास्ति वित्तेन’ none can desire escaping death through money” Maitreyī said, “Bhagavan! If one cannot escape from death, then what is the use of all these riches? I want to escape the clutches of birth and death and attain immortality. Please instruct me if there is a way to attain this”. Yājñavalkya happily replied, “Maitreyī you are indeed very dear to me. As usual you have spoken something which pleases me. Come here. I’ll explain everything in detail. Listen to me attentively.”
To be continued...
This is the twelfth part of the multi-part translation of the Kannada book "Upanishattina Kathegalu" by Mahamahopadhyaya Vidwan Dr. N Ranganatha Sharma. Thanks to Dr. Sharada Chaitra for granting us permission to translate this wonderful work. Thanks to B. N. Shashikiran for timely and appropriate edits. The original in Kannada can be read here