The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter III

Eighth Brahmana: The Unqualified Brahman

Then Gārgi gets up once again – the same lady who put questions and was asked to keep quiet and not ask further questions. She is not yet satisfied and again gets up. Now she puts more serious questions than the ones she put earlier.

  1. atha ha vācaknavy uvāca, brāhmaṇā bhagavantaḥ, hanta, aham imaṁ dvau praśnau prakṣyāmi; tau cen me vakṣyati, na vai jātu yuṣmākam imaṁ kaś cid brahmodyaṁ jeteti. pṛccha gārgīti..

Atha ha vācaknavy uvāca, brāhmaṇā bhagavantaḥ, hanta, aham imaṁ dvau praśnau prakṣyāmi:  "Learned men, now I am going to put two questions to this sage. If he is able to answer these two questions of mine, none of you is going to defeat him in argument – tau cen me vakṣyati, na vai jātu yuṣmākam imaṁ kaś cid brahmodyaṁ jeteti. There is no use arguing with him afterwards, if he is capable of answering these two questions that I am going to put now." Pṛccha gārgīti: "Ask, Gārgi," says Yājñavalkya.

  1. sa hovāca: ahaṁ vai tvā, yājñavalkya, yathā kāśyo vā vaideho vā ugra-putraḥ, ujjyaṁ dhanur adhijyaṁ kṛtvā, dvau bāṇavantau sapatna-ativyādhinau haste kṛtvā upottiṣṭhet, evam evāham tvā dvābhyām praśnābhyām upodasthām, tau me brūhīti. pṛccha, gārgi, iti.

Now, she addresses Yājñavalkya directly, and says: "Yājñavalkya; now I cast two questions upon you, as if they are piercing arrows. As if a learned archer, an expert warrior come from Benaras or some kingdom of Videha may string his bow and tie two arrows, pointed and pain-giving, likewise I dart two pointed arrows of questions upon you, just now. Be prepared for them – dvau bāṇavantau sapatna-ativyādhinau haste kṛtvā upottiṣṭhet, evam evāham tvā dvābhyām praśnābhyām upodasthām, tau me brūhīti." Pṛccha gārgi, iti: Yājñavalkya says: "What are these two piercing questions?"

  1. sa hovāca: yad ūrdhvam, yājñavalkya, divaḥ, yad avāk pṛthivyāḥ, yad antarā dyāvāpṛthivī ime, yad bhūtaṁ ca bhavac ca bhaviṣyac cety ācakṣate; kasmiṁs tad otaṁ ca protaṁ ceti.

Now, Gārgi takes up this point and speaks – sa hovāca: yad ūrdhvam, yājñavalkya: "Yājñavalkya; that which is above the heaven; yad avāk pṛthivyāḥ: that which is below the earth; yad antarā dyāvāpṛthivī: that which is between the earth and the heaven; ime, yad bhūtaṁ ca bhavac ca bhaviṣyac cety ācakṣate: that which is identical with whatever was, identical with whatever is and also identical with whatever will be; kasmiṁs tad otaṁ ca protaṁ ceti: in what is this peculiar thing rooted and founded? Is there a basis or a foundation or a support or a substratum for this peculiar thing I am speaking of? This strange something which is above, as well as below, as well as between things; that which was in the past, that which is in the present, and shall be in the future, there is something like that; if there is something like that, on what is it founded as if there is a support?"

  1. sa hovāca: yad ūrdhvam, gārgi, divaḥ, yad avāk pṛthivyāḥ, yad antarā dyāvāpṛthivī ime, yad bhūtaṁ ca bhavac ca bhaviṣyac cety ācakṣate; ākāśe tad otaṁ ca protaṁ ceti.

Then Yājñavalkya says: "Gārgi! This is strung in a subtle ethereal principle. You cannot call it by any other name. That ethereal principle has not the distinction of pervasion of objects. It is subtler than that which pervades. And that which you are speaking of as what is above and what is below and what is between and what is the past, present and future, that is rooted in some undifferentiated something. That undifferentiated reality can be designated as ether. It is not the physical ether; it is an unmanifest ether – avyākrita ākāṣa."

  1. sa hovāca: namas te'stu, yājñavalkya, yo ma etaṁ vyavocaḥ: aparasmai dhārayasveti. pṛccha, gārgi, iti.

  2. sa hovāca: yad ūrdhvam, yājñavalkya, divaḥ, yad avāk pṛthivyāḥ, yad antarā dyāvā-pṛthivī ime, yad bhūtaṁ ca bhavac ca bhaviṣyac cety ācakṣate: kasmiṁs tad otaṁ ca protaṁ ceti.

"Well; very true! What is this Avyākrita ākāsa? That also must have some basis. Yājñavalkya, I am very much satisfied with your answer," says Gārgi – namas te'stu, yājñavalkya, yo ma etaṁ vyavocaḥ: aparasmai dhārayasveti. pṛccha, gārgi, iti: "Now I put you a further question, consequent upon this answer of yours."

  1. sa hovāca: yad ūrdhvam, gārgī, divaḥ, yad avāk pṛthivyāḥ,  yad antarā dyāvāpṛthivī ime, yad bhūtaṁ ca bhavac ca bhaviṣyac cety ācakṣate  ākāśā eva tad otaṁ ca protaṁ ceti; kasmin nu khalv ākāśā otaś ca protaś ceti.

"This principle which you call unmanifest ether, the undifferentiated background of that which is everywhere, (as a matter of fact, Gārgi is referring to the very same 'Sūtra' of which Uddālaka spoke earlier. This 'Sūtra', or the thread in which everything is strung, is that which is above and below and between and it is the past, present and future. It is rooted in something. That something is an indescribable, unmodified and homogeneous substance, they call it Avyākrita) in what is that rooted? Has it also some foundation?"

  1. sa hovāca: etad vai tad akṣaram, gārgī, brāhmaṇā  abhivadanti, asthūlam, anaṇu, ahrasvam, adīrgham, alohitam, asneham, acchāyam, atamaḥ, avāyv anākāśam, asaṅgam, arasam, agandham, acakṣuṣkam, aśrotram, avāk, amanaḥ, atejaskam, aprāṇam, amukham, amātram, anantaram, abāhyam; na tad aśnāti kiṁ cana, na tad aśnāti kaś cana.

"This foundation is nothing but the Absolute. Beyond that, there can be nothing. That is the immaculate Absolute," says Yājñavalkya. Etad vai tad akṣaram: "It is imperishable. You cannot go on answering questions like this indefinitely, until you get exhausted of description. The final point of all answers to every question is the imperishable Reality. That is the last resort of all thought, all speech and all definition. The great ones say, this is Akṣara – etad vai tad akṣaram, gārgī, brāhmaṇā  abhivadanti, asthūlam: It is not gross, therefore, it cannot be visualised. It is not subtle, because to call it subtle would be to distinguish it from the gross. It is inseparable from that which is called the gross. Therefore, I cannot call it subtle also. It is not gross because it is not visible as an object; it is not subtle because it is not different from the gross. So it is not gross, not subtle – asthūlam, anaṇu. Ahrasvam, adīrgham: You cannot call it long; you cannot call it short, because it is not in space. When it is not in space, how can you measure it and call it of this length, of this measure and that length, etc.? So I cannot call it of this measure or that measure. Neither it is short nor long. It has no distance, no dimensions. Alohitam: It cannot be called as possessed of any colour, because colour is the perception of the eyes. It is an object. And it is already ruled out as being an object of any kind. So it has no colour. It has no connection with anything – asneham. It cannot be associated with anything; it cannot be related to anything. It stands by itself. It cannot be regarded as the cause of anything, also. It does not cast a shadow. It is not the light, as we generally speak of. It is not sunlight, because sunlight casts a shadow. It does not cast a shadow. It is light by itself – acchāyam. Atamah: It is not darkness also, because it sees everything. It is the utmost brilliance that you can think of. It is not space; it is not air; it is not water; it is not earth; it is not an object; it is not individual; it is not you; it is not me – avāyv anākāśam. Asaṅgam: It stands by itself. It has no space. You cannot grasp it through the senses of taste, sight, hearing, etc. – arasam. Agandham, acakṣuṣkam aśrotram: It has no eyes; it sees everything. It has no ears; it hears everything. Avāk: It has no speech, but it speaks, and all the languages are known to it. Amanah: It has no mind; it thinks all things. Atejaskam: It cannot be called brilliance also, ultimately. You call it Light of lights. The ultimate conception of Reality is light. It is not even Light if you designate it as the light which you think of in your mind. It is not a light that shines upon something; it is a Light that stands by its own Self. Aprāṇam: It has no Prāṇa; it does not breathe. It is not an individual being. Amukham: It has no mouth. It has no organs. It has no measure of any kind, sensory or psychological – amātram. It is not inside; it is not outside – anantaram abāhyam. If you say 'inside', it means that it is not 'outside'. If you say 'outside', it means that it is not 'inside'. So, neither is this definition applicable to it, nor that. It has no inside and outside, merely because it is not in space and not in time. It does not consume anything – and it is not consumed by anyone. na tad aśnāti kiṁ cana, na tad aśnāti kaś cana: Neither it wants anything, not is wanted by anybody. Nothing is an object to it, and it is not an object to anyone. Such a mysterious thing is the ultimate Reality of even that foundation, unmanifested substratum of the all-pervading principle. This is the Para Brahman; this is the Absolute; this is All."

  1. etasya vā akṣarasya praśāsane, gārgi, sūryācandramasau vidhṛtau tiṣṭhataḥ; etasya vā akṣarasya praśāsane, gārgi, dyāvāpṛithivyau vidhṛte tiṣṭhataḥ; etasya vā akṣarasya praṣāsane, gārgi, nimeṣā, muhūrtā, ahorātraṇy, ardhamāsā, māsā, ṛtavaḥ, saṁvatsara iti. vidhṛtās tiṣṭhanti; etasya vā akṣarasya praśāsane, gārgi, prācyo'nyā nadyaḥ syandante śvetebhyaḥ parvatebhyaḥ, pratīcyo'nyāḥ, yām yāṁ cā diśam anu; etasya vā akṣarasya praśāsane, gārgi, dadato manuṣyāḥ praśaṁsanti; yajamānaṁ devāḥ, darvīṁ pitaro 'nvāyattāḥ.

"By the command of this Being, everything functions in this world, O Gārgi. It is not a command like that of a boss, by word of mouth, or even by gesture. Its command is merely its Existence. It merely is, and orders by the very Being that it is. It does not act in the way in which others act. Its action and its Being are identical, so we cannot use such epithets as action, thinking, speaking, etc. in regard to it. We do not know how to describe it. Etasya vā akṣarasya praśāsane, gārgi, sūryācandramasau vidhṛtau: If the sun does not fall on your head, and if the moon is following its own course in orbit, if these stellar regions are held together in their proper positions, it is because of the Existence of this Being. Etasya vā akṣarasya praśāsane, gārgi, dyāvāpṛithivyau vidhṛte tiṣṭhataḥ: The earth and the heaven and the intermediary atmosphere are held together in position on account of the Existence of this Being. Etasya vā akṣarasya praṣāsane, gārgi, nimeṣā, muhūrtā, ahorātraṇy, ardhamāsā, māsā, ṛtavaḥ, saṁvatsara iti. vidhṛtās tiṣṭhanti: All this distinction that you call in time, as year and month and day and night, etc. and hours and minutes and what not – all these distinctions assume a meaning on account of the operation of this Being in a very subtle manner. Etasya vā akṣarasya praśāsane, gārgi, prācyo'nyā nadyaḥ syandante: The rivers flow in different directions because of the operation of this Being only. Everything conducts itself in its proper course, in harmony with the law of this Being, and if that were not to be, there would be complete chaos. Śvetebhyaḥ parvatebhyaḥ, pratīcyo'nyāḥ, yām yāṁ cā diśam anu; etasya vā akṣarasya praśāsane, gārgi, dadato manuṣyāḥ praśaṁsanti; yajamānaṁ devāḥ, darvīṁ pitaro 'nvāyattāḥ: When you do a charitable act, it is said that it is a good act. Why is a charitable act, a good act? Because of the law of this Being that operates. Otherwise, there can be nothing called goodness. When you worship divine beings, celestials, we say it is a devotional act. Why is it a devotional act? Because of the law of this Being that acts. When you offer libations to ancestors, it is regarded as an auspicious rite because of the reward that comes out of it. And the reward of any action is possible only because of the inexorable Law of this Being that is the Supreme Absolute."

There is a great mystery and order that we can observe in the workings of the world. The method which is adopted by the functions of nature seems to be following a sort of law which cannot be violated. The laws of nature are so mathematically precise, so exact to the point of logical perfection, that their existence is incomprehensible without assuming the presence of an integrating Power. This is what Yājñavalkya tells Gārgi in reply to her great question. Everything operates on account of a Supreme Cause, which cannot even be called a mere cause in the sense of an instrumental operator outside the material of the effect. It is a Cause which is interwoven in the structure of the body of the effect, so that it (the Cause) is hidden inside the effect and works from inside. It is not like a carpenter making a table, in which case, also, we may say that the table is the effect and the carpenter is the cause of the table. Not so is this Causal relation here. The hidden presence of the Cause, inextricably involved in the presence of the effect, makes it impossible for the effect to work in a manner contrary to, or different from, the way that is laid down by the principle of the constitution of the Cause. The structure, the constitution of the Cause, is the determining factor in regard to the way in which the effect works. Not only the way in which the effect works but even the shape which the effect takes, the form or body it assumes, together with the activities that it undertakes in any direction whatsoever – all these things seem to be merely an obedience that it shows to the Cause, which exists, not outside it like a boss or a master, but which is its own inner Self or Antāryamin.

The Cause that we are speaking of here is not a master in the sense of a ruler outside, but an Inner Controller, a Regulator, a Force which is organically involved in the existence of everything that can be called the effect – the whole universe. There is, therefore, an organic connection, a vital relationship, a living contact between the Cause and the effect. If there should be such an exact, precise movement of nature, how can that be accounted for, unless there is something which is behind it; some mechanism which can be considered as the cause of this precision that we observe in nature? The precision of nature's working is such that you can even predict what can happen in nature, physically. Calculations are possible in such a manner that we can know when a particular planetary motion will take place even two hundred years or three hundred years beforehand. The prediction of anything, and the determining of any possible eventuality in the future, would not be possible unless there is a vital connection between the present condition and the future. Not only does the present determine the future, but it is in turn determined by the past. The past, present and future, involving the entire working of the Cosmos, is a marvellous machine which surpasses the comprehension of human understanding. How can this be accounted for unless there is a Supreme Intelligence, an Architect of the Cosmos who has fashioned this entire formation which we regard as objects, bodies, etc? The Antāryamin Brāhmaṇa so far has also pointed out that it is not merely the general structure of the universe that is so determined, but even the particular individualities of the content of the universe. Even as the Cause is vitally involved in the existence of the universe as its effect, so is this universe involved, vitally, in an organic connection, with all its effects, such as we, the individuals.

So, there is an internal relationship of the transcendent, the universal and the particular. These three are called in the Antaryāmin Brāhmaṇa as the Adhidaivika, Adhibhautika and the Adhyātmika principles. They are not three different realities. Our existence and activity, even our way of thinking and understanding, our action and reaction – all this is determined by the structure of the universe. And the structure of the universe is determined, again, by something which transcends the nature of the universe in its visible form. And it is because of this inexorable legal connection, logical relationship, that exists internally among the transcendent, the universal and the particular, that anything that we do can produce an effect, or a result. When we think, when we speak, when we act, a result is produced. A result cannot be produced unless there is a connection between that causal factor and the result that is expected. That connection is invisible. This connection, this invisible potency that regulates the nature of the effect in its relation to the cause is what is called Karma, secretly mentioned by Yājñavalkya to his friend, in another context.

All good deeds in this world are so-called because of the goodness of this Law that exists everywhere. It is good because it is universally impartial, absolutely just to the point of logical perception. It has no friend or foe, and it has no necessity for modification of constitution at any time. This Law of the Eternal never changes. It does not need or call for amendments with the passage of time. The circumstances of the lives of people do not call for changes in Eternal Law, as is the case with human law. Circumstances in society call for amendment, but no such amendment is necessary in the Law of the Absolute. It is eternally fixed, because even the necessity for amendment, which has circumstances, apparently, as its cause, are determined by the Law. The so-called change of circumstances in the future is a part of the ordinance that has been fixed already by the Eternal. So, even all possible changes in the future are in the bosom of the Cosmic Reality. There is no such thing as a chaotic indeterminate future possibility which cannot be predicted. This makes it possible for the Eternal Law to be also Omniscient at the same time.

If there is no interconnectedness of the universal principle in past, present and future, there cannot be anything called Omniscience. How can you know what is going to happen in the future if the future is undetermined? If anything can happen in the future, and no one can know what is going to happen at any time in the future, Omniscience is not possible. But the very possibility of Omniscience is a proof of everything being fixed forever, and no change is possible. Such is the grandeur of this Absolute. Yājñavalkya speaks to Gārgi: "And whoever knows this, he alone knows anything worthwhile. Whoever does not know this, does not know anything." Any knowledge, minus the vitality of this Eternal Wisdom, cannot be regarded as worthwhile for ultimate purposes. They have a working utility but are not ultimately valid. The ultimate meaning of a thing lies in its connection with this Eternal Law. If the Eternal is disconnected, everything that may appear utilitarian and valuable will perish one day or the other. The transiency of things, the perishability of nature, and the character of mortality that you see in anything, is due to the severance of the particulars from the universal which has its Law, defined already, but which the individual cannot grasp or understand.

Mortality or death, and perishability and transiency, etc. experienced by us here are actually connected with our lack of awareness or knowledge of that Law of the Absolute. What is required is not a change or a transformation in things, because that is not possible, but a consciousness of what is happening. The impossibility of the human mind to comprehend the pros and cons of all things in their universal interconnectedness creates a false impression in the very same mind that things are indeterminate; things have to be done in this way, that way, etc. There is no such thing called for. What is necessary is an awakening into the fact of this interconnectedness of things. And if this knowledge is not to come forth, any other knowledge is not going to help us.

  1. yo vā etad akṣaram, gārgi, aviditvāsmiṁl loke juhoti, yajate, tapas tapyate, bahūni, varṣa-sahasrāṇy antavad evāsya tad bhavati; yo vā etad akṣaram, gārgi, aviditvāsmāl lokāt praiti, sa kṛpaṇaḥ; atha ya etad akṣaram, gārgi, viditvāsmāl lokāt praiti, sa brāhmaṇaḥ.

Yo vā etad akṣaram, gārgi, aviditvāsmiṁl loke juhoti, yajate, tapas tapyate, bahūni, varṣa-sahasrāṇy antavad evāsya tad bhavati: "Gārgi; there may be many people in this world who perform large sacrifices and give much in charity and do great austerities or penances for years and years together. For thousands of years they may do these virtuous deeds in this world, but if they do not know this secret of the Absolute, then perishable is the effect of all this activity." Even the thousands of years of penance and philanthropy will yield nothing worthwhile in the end. It will fall like withered leaves, with no life in it, if it is disconnected from this Vitality which is the Supreme Absolute. Yo vā etad akṣaram, gārgi, aviditvāsmāl lokāt praiti, sa kṛpaṇaḥ: "Miserable, indeed, is the fate of that person who does not have this knowledge." Wherever he goes, he will have defeat, frustration, suffering, agony and anguish of the mind caused by the disconnection of his awareness from this Reality that is everywhere. Atha ya etad akṣaram, gārgi, viditvāsmāl lokāt praiti, sa brāhmaṇaḥ: "He is called a Brāhmaṇa, or a great knower, who departs from this world, having known this Reality." The goal of life is therefore the realisation of this Supreme Being, and every other activity is an auxiliary to this realisation. Whatever virtue, whatever righteous deeds that we may have to perform as our duty in the different walks of life in the world – all these are only of an auxiliary value, an ordinary utility. They are valuable only because they are passages to the experience and the knowledge of this Ultimate Goal of life. The Ultimate Goal of life is the value of everything in life. It is not ultimate in the sense of a future in time. Again we have to correct this mistake if it occurs to the mind of any person. It is not something that will happen tomorrow, and therefore, it has no connection with what is happening today. It is not ultimate in a temporal or spatial sense. It is ultimate in a logical sense only, not spatial and temporal. It is connected even with the least of our actions, even today at this very moment. So, even the smallest deed that we perform, even the least thought that occurs to our mind, at this very moment today, will have no meaning and no worth if it is disconnected from the Goal for which it is to be directed, of which it is a means. If this point is not remembered in the mind, whatever we do is a waste, and life will not yield the fruit that is expected out of it.

  1. tad vā etad akṣaram, gārgi, adṛṣṭaṁ draṣṭṛ, aśrutam, śrotṛ, amatam mantṛ, avijñātaṁ vijñātṛ, nānyad ato'sti draṣṭṛ, nānyad ato'sti śrotṛ, nānyad ato'sti mantṛ, nānyad ato'sti vijñātṛ; etasmin nu khalv akṣare, gārgi, ākāśa otaś ca protaś ca.

Tad vā etad akṣaram, gārgi, adṛṣṭaṁ draṣṭṛ: "But Gārgi; this great wonder about which I am speaking to you cannot be seen by anybody." It cannot be seen because it is the Seer. How can you see your own eyes? Nobody has seen one's own eyes, because the eye is the seer. How can you comprehend your own mind and behold your own understanding? They cannot be seen because they are the principles which are the subjects of all such psychological actions and functions. "So Gārgi; this Imperishable Absolute is the Seer of everything, but you cannot see It." How can you see It? By becoming It. How can you become It? By assimilating Its character. What is Its character? Non-objectivity. It is a tremendous blow to the mind even to conceive what non-objectivity is – adṛṣṭaṁ draṣṭṛ. Aśrutam, śrotṛ. (to note: written above in sloka #11: adṛṣṭaṁ draṣṭṛ, aśrutam, śrotṛ) It is the Hearer of everything, but you cannot hear it. Amatam mantri: This is a repetition of what was mentioned earlier in another context. It is the Thinker of everything, but it itself cannot be thought by anybody. Avijñātaṁ vijñātṛ: It understands everything, but you cannot understand it. You cannot understand it because it is the Cause and you are the effect. It understands everything because it is the Cause of everything and everything is its effect. Nānyad ato'sti draṣṭṛ: There is no other Seer but That. Nānyad ato'sti śrotṛ: There is no Hearer but That. Nānyad ato'sti mantṛ: There is no Thinker except That. Nānyad ato'sti vijñātṛ: There is no other Understander than That. Etasmin nu khalv akṣare, gārgi, ākāśa otaś ca protaś ca: The unmanifested āvyakrita, ākāsa, the ether supreme, is woven warp and woof, lengthwise and breadthwise, in this Eternal Absolute." Everything is woven in it. You will find even the least of things there, even the minutest and the most insignificant of things can be found in that Supreme Eternal Absolute.

  1. sa hovāca; brāhmaṇā bhagavantaḥ, tad eva bahu manyedhvam yad asmān namaskāreṇa mucyedhvam; na vai jātu yuṣmākam imaṁ kaścid brahmodyaṁ jeteti. tato ha vācaknavy upararāma.

Gārgi, after having listened to this reply, this discourse of Yājñavalkya, speaks to the whole audience: "Friends! Learned men! There is no use of speaking to him further. We should not put any more questions. You must regard yourself blessed if you can be let off by him merely by a salute. You do prostration to him and go away from this place. Nobody can defeat this man in argument. No one can speak like him, and there seems to be nothing which he does not know. So why put further questions?" And saying this, Gārgi Vācaknavy, the great lady saint, the knower of Brahman, occupied her seat.