The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter IV

Second Brahmana: Concerning the Soul

  1. janako ha vaidehaḥ kūrcād upāvasarpann uvāca: namas te’stu yājñavalkya, anu mā śādhīti. sa hovāca: yathā vai, samrāt, mahāntam adhvānam eṣyan rathaṁ vā nāvaṁ vā samādadīta, evaṁ evaitābhir upaniṣadbhiḥ samāhitātmāsi, evam bṛndāraka āḍhyaḥ sann adhīta-veda ukta-upaniṣatkaḥ ito vimucyamānaḥ kva gamiṣyasīti. nāhaṁ tad, bhagavan, veda, yatra, gamiṣyāmīti; atha vai te’haṁ tad vakṣyāmi, yatra gamiṣyasīti, bravītu, bhagavān, iti.

Janako ha vaidehaḥ kūrcād upāvasarpann uvāca: namas te'stu yājñavalkya: Now, another occasion is mentioned here when Janaka was seated on his gorgeous seat. Yājñavalkya comes, and the King gets up from his seat, offers his homage and requests the great Master to instruct him. The King seeks illumination. Namas te'stu yājñavalkya:  "Salutations to you, sage Yājñavalkya. Anu mā śādhīti: Please advise me, instruct me, teach me, give me lessons." Sa hovāca: yathā vai, samrāt, mahāntam adhvānam eṣyan rathaṁ vā nāvaṁ vā samādadīta, evaṁ evaitābhir upaniṣadbhiḥ samāhitātmāsi, evam bṛndāraka āḍhyaḥ sann adhīta-veda ukta-upaniṣatkaḥ ito vimucyamānaḥ kva gamiṣyasīti: Yājñavalkya says: "Your Highness, you want me to give you instructions, to teach you, to provide you with lessons. You are indeed a great person. You are a king; you are an emperor. And just as a person who is to go on a pilgrimage, or a tour, prepares himself very well with all the equipment necessary, so that he may be safe in the journey; likewise Your Highness has equipped yourself with the knowledge of the Vedas and the wisdom of the Upaniṣhads. Having studied them all very well, you have become a very honoured person in this country. You are a very rich person; you are the richest person in the whole country because you are a king and you are respected as such. But I ask you one question. Being so honoured and respected in this whole land of yours, being so rich and well-placed in society, having learnt so much of the Vedas and the Upaniṣhads, do you know what will happen to you after you leave this body? Do you know where you will go?" This, Janaka did not know. "Where will I go after I leave this body?" "If you do not know this, what is the use of your wealth; what is the use of your learning; what is the use of your kingship; what is the benefit you gain with the honour that you have from society? People may respect you, honour you, keep you on a high pedestal, but if you die the next moment, what happens to you? You do not know this. What then is the good of all this knowledge?" Kva gamiṣyasīti. nāhaṁ tad, bhagavan, veda: "Master! I do not know; I cannot answer this question. You please tell me. This is a very serious matter indeed. What will happen to me after death? I do not know? Please tell me, give me this secret knowledge as to what happens to an individual when he casts off the body" – nāhaṁ tad, bhagavan, veda, yatra, gamiṣyāmīti; atha vai te'haṁ tad vakṣyāmi, yatra gamiṣyasīti, bravītu, bhagavān, iti. Yājñavalkya says: "Well, I shall tell you." "Please tell me," requests Janaka.

Now starts a series of studies in this Upaniṣhad which is of great importance from the point of view of the analysis of the self. It has some connection with the theme of the Māndūkya Upaniṣhad, but it is dealt with in a different manner altogether, not in the way in which the Māndūkya Upaniṣhad treats the subject. We cannot understand what will happen to us in the future or after we die unless we know what we are at present, because our future is connected with our present, just as our present is connected with the past. What is the state in which we are in at this moment? What is our condition? If this is clear to us, it may also be possible to have an idea as to what will happen to us in the future. But we have, unfortunately, a very very wrong notion about ourselves, even in the present moment. It is obvious because of the fact that we consider that we are social entities, men and women, coming from various countries, living in various lands, nationals of various places, with physical needs, social requirements and desire for comforts, all based on an erroneous concept of what we are. If we live a socially acceptable well-placed life, that would be a worthwhile life indeed, we believe. Is this our definition of a good life? If so, it is a thorough misrepresentation of facts. The seeming fact that we are individuals is only a phenomenon. It cannot be regarded really as a fact. It is not a fact as such. Our individuality, our personality, our desires and our relationship with people and things – all these are certain conditions through which we are passing temporarily. They are only certain circumstances that have come upon us in the passage of time due to certain associations and various factors which lie mostly beyond the ken of our understanding. Even the existence of our personality, this body of ours, is something very inscrutable. It is positioned by the operation of various forces. To give you only a very gross example, without going deep into philosophical themes, you know very well how much we are influenced by the movement of the planets around the sun, a fact which is physically demonstrable, yet a fact which does not come before the vision of any individual. We do not how much we depend on the movement of the earth round the sun. Suppose the earth moves in the opposite direction from tomorrow, you can imagine what difference it will make to our life. The various other planets which move around the sun also have a tremendous influence upon us. Not merely astronomers of ancient times, but even modern scientists have come to the conclusion that even our physical personality, this bodily individuality can be regarded as nothing but a condensation of cosmic stuff which has been projected by the forces of Nature, and which emanated from the interstellar space, and that the body can be reduced to an ethereal substance so that it loses its substantiality and solidity, a concept to which we cling so much. This is a finding of modern physics, corroborating ancient astronomical discoveries, so that it is just stupidity on our part to imagine that even this physical body is independent and can stand on its own legs. It cannot. It has been controlled over the eons by the movement of planets, and not merely that, ultimately it is only constituted of a small amount of nebular energies that have combined in a particular shape, or form, for certain purposes under certain conditions. So our concept of ourselves, our concept of body and individuality and personality, our notion of society, our notion of the aim of life itself is topsy-turvy. Everything is upside down. Under these conditions of ignorance, how is it possible for any one of us to know what will happen to us after death? That was the condition of Janaka, and that is the state of the mind of most of us.

Yājñavalkya takes the mind of Janaka gradually, stage by stage, first by an analysis of the waking state, then going deeper into the implications of human experience.

  1. indho ha vai nāmaiṣa yo'yaṁ dakṣiṇe'kṣan puruṣaḥ: taṁ vā etam indhaṁ santam indra ity ācakṣate parokṣeṇaiva, parokṣa-priyā iva hi devāḥ, pratyakṣa-dviṣaḥ.

Indho ha vai nāmaiṣa yo'yaṁ dakṣiṇe'kṣan puruṣaḥ: It is the belief of the ancient Masters that in the waking state our self is concentrated in the eye, maybe because of the reason that our mind predominantly acts through the eyes in this state. It is also opined by the Upaniṣhads that the right eye is predominantly active, something which has not been understood properly by people. The activity of the right eye is supposed to be a little more emphasised and a greater stress is laid upon the right eye than on the left one. The left one also will be mentioned subsequently, but presently for the purpose of explaining the collaborative action of the right eye and the left eye, the Upaniṣhads mention that the self is pointedly manifest in the right eye in the waking state, and we call him Indha. The Upaniṣhads call this Puruṣha, this self which is active in the right eye in the waking state, as Indha, meaning illumined or illuminating, or lustrous. Why is this self in the eye called Indha, or radiant, or lustrous? Firstly, the reason may be that the self does not directly operate through the eye. It operates through the mind only, and the mind acts through the senses in respect of objects outside. There is a series maintained, as it were, in the activity of the personality in connection with the objects outside. The deepest, innermost propelling energy is the Self, or the ātman, of course. It gets entangled, connected with the personality, and then becomes the individual soul, Jīva. This Jīva-consciousness is the basis for the activity of the mind, and the mind, borrowing the consciousness of the ātman through the manifested form of it as Jīva, acts through the sense-organs, particularly the eye in the waking state, because it is the eye that is mostly active in the waking condition, as we all very well know. It is very eager to contact objects, very enthusiastic always. It is very curious to see various things, to find out what are the objects which it can desire and obtain, and because of the enthusiasm that is charged through the eye, it is supposed to be illumined with the activity of desire. For that reason also, it can be called Indha. The other reason is that the presence of an object outside is necessary for the activity of the senses. If the objects do not exist, the senses cannot act. The light of the senses, particularly of the eye, depends upon the connection of the eye with the object, and so it is lustrous, or radiant on account of the presence of the object in front of it, the proximity of its corresponding object. So this Puruṣha in the right eye, the Self manifest in the right eye is called Indha, which means radiant.

Dakṣiṇe'kṣan puruṣaḥ: taṁ vā etam indhaṁ santam indra ity ācakṣate parokṣeṇaiva, parokṣa-priyā iva hi devāḥ, pratyakṣa-dviṣaḥ:  This Indha is called Indra by a change of accent. The Upaniṣhad says that gods do not like to be called directly by their names. No respectable person likes to be called by his or her own name. So it is said that the celestials do not like to be directly accosted by their own personal names. They dislike immediacy of approach. They always like indirect approach, maybe because of their impersonality. They do not like any personal approach directly. Therefore, Indha, who is radiant, is designated as Indra.

  1. athaitad vāme'kṣaṇi puruṣa-rūpam, eṣāsya patnī virāṭ, tayor eṣa saṁstāvo ya eso'ntar-hṛdaya ākāśaḥ, athainayor etad annam ya eṣo'ntar-hṛdaye lohita-piṇḍaḥ, athainayor etat prāvaraṇam yad etad antar-hṛdaye jālakam iva; athainayor eṣā sṛtiḥ saṁcaraṇī yaiṣā hṛdayād ūrdhvā nāḍy uccarati. yathā keśaḥ sahasradhā bhinnaḥ evam asyaitā hitā nāma nādyo'ntar-hṛdaye pratiṣṭhitā bhavanti; etābhir vā etad āsravad āsravati; tasmād eṣa praviviktāhāratara ivaiva bhavaty asmāc cārīrād ātmanaḥ.

In the left eye also, the same activity is taking place. The right eye and the left eye join together, in a single activity of perception. And symbolically, the functions of the right eye and the left eye are regarded as something which can be compared with the joint activity in a family of husband and wife. They join together in a single focus of attention. Likewise, the principle in the right eye and the left eye join together in activity of perception, and the Upaniṣhad says that they are like symbols of Virāt and His Śakti. The Virāt and His Force are manifest in the right eye and the left eye, respectively. Athaitad vāme'kṣaṇi puruṣa-rūpam, eṣāsya patnī virāṭ, tayor eṣa saṁstāvo ya eso'ntar-hṛdaya ākāśaḥ: The propulsion for the activity of this twofold consciousness, Virāt and His Śakti, manifest through the right eye and the left eye, comes from the heart. It is the heart that is the root of this perception, and so, when the activity of perception is withdrawn, the mental sensation goes back to its abode, its own source. The mind returns to its source. The mind it is that is active through the right eye and the left eye in the waking state, and when that activity ceases for any reason whatsoever, the mind goes back to its source. So this joint activity of the right eye and the left eye gets absorbed into the heart, in the ether of the heart – hṛdaya ākāśaḥ.

Athainayor etad annam: When the mind withdraws itself into the heart, it does not require any other external food to maintain itself. That means to say, it does not stand in need of objects of sense. In the waking state it needs objects outside and it cannot exist without them. But in the internal state where it gets withdrawn, after the waking condition is over, it does not stand in need of any external food. When you are dreaming or you are asleep, you do not require the support of anything outside. You can stand by your own self, internally, by some energy that is in your self.

Ya eṣo'ntar-hṛdaye lohita-piṇḍaḥ, athainayor etat prāvaraṇam yad etad antar-hṛdaye jālakam iva; athainayor eṣā sṛtiḥ saṁcaraṇī yaiṣā hṛdayād ūrdhvā nāḍy uccarati: The Upaniṣhad here tells us some intricate physiology or anatomy of the heart. In the heart there is a space, as it were, which we call the ether of the heart, into which the mind withdraws itself when it is fatigued of external activity of the waking condition. This fleshy substance that we call the heart is constituted of various parts. It has a parietal, and that parietal of the heart may be regarded as the enclosure, the abode for the  mind to lie down in peace and restfulness. And inside this heart there is a network of nerves, or nerve currents. This network is the passage for the movement of the mind inside the heart for the fulfillment of its own wishes during the dream state through dream images, wishes which it could not fulfil in the waking state for certain reasons. In this passage the nature of a nerve current is described in the following manner. Yathā keśaḥ sahasradhā bhinnaḥ evam asyaitā hitā nāma nādyo'ntar-hṛdaye pratiṣṭhitā: Suppose there is a hair of the head, a very thin hair, and suppose you divide this hair into a thousand parts lengthwise. What would be the thinness of that fraction of the hair? The hair itself is so thin; you can hardly see it. One-thousandth part of that hair is, perhaps, the comparative thickness of this nerve which is in the heart, through which the mind is moving. So subtle is that nerve. And these nerves in the heart, through which the mind moves in dream, are called Hitās – hitā nāma nādy. They are very conducive to the mind. So they are called Hitās. Nādyo'ntar-hṛdaye pratiṣṭhitā bhavanti; etābhir vā etad āsravad āsravati; tasmād eṣā praviviktāhāratara ivaiva bhavaty asmāc cārīrād ātmanaḥ. In this condition of the location of the mind in the nerves of the Hitās inside the heart in the dreaming state, there is no need for any physical food. You enjoy ethereal food in the state of dream, and you are as happy in dream as you are in waking, though you have nothing physical to contact.

Now, when the self enters its deepest abode, passing beyond the states of waking and dream, it gets connected with all its natural associates from whom it was disconnected due to its special attachment to the body and its waking individuality. In the waking state we are practically dissociated from all the friends of the universe. We stand alone, unbefriended, due to our intense egoism which identifies itself with the body and assumes a false importance with the erroneous notion that it does not stand in need of anybody's help. This is the principle of egoism, the essence of personality. The universe is a friend, and it is constituted of innumerable types of forces, all of which are our benefactors. But the ego does not want this benefit. It is not intending to take help from anyone outside itself. Nothing can be so unreasonable as this ego. It has no logic except its own, and suffering is the consequence of this sort of dissociation, which is patently seen in waking life. In all the efforts that we make for the purpose of achieving desired ends in life, there is only sweating, toiling and anxiety and a feeling of frustration in the end. It is rarely that people go to bed with a feeling that something worthwhile has been done. The reason is, the tying up of our efforts to the ego which is the ruling principle of the body. The ego cannot succeed, though it does think that it can succeed. This ego is boiled down to an ethereal permeating substance; very, very fine and tenuous in the state of dream and even more so in the state of sleep. What happens in this condition of getting down into one's depths, away from the affirmations of the ego and the vehemences of the body, is that the universal Prāṇic energies, forces of Nature themselves, become the limbs of one's cosmic body.

The Prāṇas are not only inside our bodies. They are powers which operate throughout the universe. And so, the vital Prāṇa that is sustaining the whole world, all creation, becomes part and parcel of one's being, and sustenance comes from all sides when the ego subsides temporarily. This is what happens when we enter into sleep. It is because of the fact that we dissolve our personality, practically, in sleep and stand open to the reception of energies and powers from outside, that we get up refreshed from sleep, even without dinner, without lunch, without breakfast. Without any kind of nourishing element in sleep, we get up as if we have eaten well. Tired people wake up with a freshness of personality. From where has this freshness come? You have not taken any tonic, any medicine or any foodstuff during sleep. You have only closed your eyes and forgotten yourself. The mere fact of the forgetfulness of yourself has become the source of sustenance and energy to your being. The energy has come not because you had something with you in sleep. You had nothing. The energy has come merely due to the fact that you had forgotten yourself. The forgetfulness of personality is the secret of success. Conversely, the more you affirm your personality, the farther you are from the possibility of success in life. So, the Prāṇas become the wings of the bird of consciousness in the state of sleep, and they become the directive principles.

  1. tasya prācī dik prāñcaḥ prāṇāḥ, daksiṇā dig dakṣiṇe prāṇāḥ, pratīcī dik pratyañcaḥ prāṇāḥ, udīcī dig udañcaḥ prāṇāḥ, ūrdhvā dig ūrdhvāḥ prāṇāḥ, avācī dig avāñcaḥ prāṇāḥ: sarvā diśaḥ, sarve prāṇāḥ, sa eṣa neti nety ātmā agṛhyaḥ na hi gṛhyate; aśīryah, na hi śīryate; asaṅgaḥ na hi sajyate; asito na vyathate; na riṣyati abhayaṁ vai, janaka, prāpto'si, iti hovāca yājñavalkyaḥ. sa hovāca janako vaidehaḥ, abhayaṁ tvā gacchatāt, yājñavalkya, yo naḥ, bhagavan, abhayaṁ vedayase; namas te'stu; ime videhāḥ ayam aham asmīti.

Tasya prācī dik prāñcaḥ prāṇāḥ, daksiṇā dig dakṣiṇe prāṇāḥ, pratīcī dik pratyañcaḥ prāṇāḥ, udīcī dig udañcaḥ prāṇāḥ, ūrdhvā dig ūrdhvāḥ prāṇāḥ, avācī dig avāñcaḥ prāṇāḥ: sarvā diśaḥ, sarve prāṇāḥ: Every direction becomes a vital force for you. Whatever you touch, becomes your friend. And any air that blows from any direction becomes the force that sustains you. The eastern direction becomes the energy that flows to you from the east. It is not merely a direction of space. Empty space does not exist. So, what we regard as empty space or merely a direction in the horizon is not merely that. It is an emptiness only to our incapacitated vision. It is a fullness by itself and aplenty with energy, Prāṇa-Śakti. All space is filled with Prāṇa. It is not a void or an annihilate. And so, energy begins to flow from the eastern direction; energy begins to flow from the western direction; energy flows from the southern direction; energy comes from the north; from the top and from the bottom. From ten directions, energy enters you the moment you become open to its inflow into your being, because of the subsidence of your ego. There is no effort needed on our part to get anything in this world, ultimately. Or, the effort that is necessary is simple, that is, to become open to the inflow of things that are already there, that inundate everything, that flood all corners and are ready to serve us wherever we are. The universe is never poor. It is always rich. It is never bereft of resources. On the contrary, we seem to be poor, poverty-stricken, emaciated and forsaken for faults which are obvious in us, namely, the fault of the ego which affirms its own importance while its value is really zero. Its existence is a strain and great distortion, on account of which it suffers. The ego suffers right from birth to death. It is always in a state of anxiety. But when this ego dissolves in the deeper abode which it reaches in sleep, leaving the waking condition, the directions themselves become the nourishing and energising forces. Very strange indeed! You do not require persons; you do not require celestials to come and help you. Even the quarters, even the directions, even space itself will sustain you with the energy which is embosomed in itself. Sarvā diśaḥ, sarve prāṇāḥ: Every corner of the world is full of energy, and it is energy that you breathe into your nostrils and withdraw into your own being. Strength incarnate do you become on account of your openness to the inflow of forces outside, once the ego steps aside.

The secret of this is the ātman within, ultimately. Why is it that space should protect you; that Prāṇa should flow into you, merely because you descend into the subliminal levels of your own being? The reason is that at the bottom there is the ātman which is the all. It is not the Prāṇa, as an independent activity, that works. What you call the Prāṇa, the energy, the Śakti, is nothing but the ātman that works. All energy is ātmā-Śakti, ultimately, and so it is your proximity to the ātman that gives you the refreshing feeling in sleep. The energy that you seem to imbibe or acquire in sleep, the joy that you feel there, the reluctance to wake up from sleep because of the fullness that you experience there, the feeling of completeness and the feeling of being embraced, as it were, by all the friendly forces of Nature, are all due to your proximity to the ātman in deep sleep. That innermost level, you are about to contact in the state of sleep. Why 'about to contact'? You have already contacted it. You have touched it, and it has given you a pleasant shock. That shock is the bliss that you experience in sleep. And what is that principle called the ātman which you are touching in the state of deep sleep, going down below the waking condition of your personality? That, the Upaniṣhad says – sa eṣa neti nety ātmā agṛhyaḥ – nobody can say what it is. No one knows where you have gone in sleep. And it is impossible to say as to how it is that you gain so much joy and strength from that source. It cannot be described. It can be described only by a negative definition 'it is not this', 'it is not this'. It is not the body; it is not any friend of the world; it is not an object of sense; it is not the Prāṇas as you think of as moving in the physical body; it is not even the senses; not the mind, not the intellect. It is nothing that you can think of. It is something transcendent. That something is therefore other than what you see with your eyes, think with your mind, understand with your intellect; other than anything you regard as existing in this world. It is transcendent Being. So, it can be defined only as 'what it is not', and not as 'what it is'. No one knows what it is. We can say, 'it is not this', but we cannot say 'it is this' – neti nety ātmā. Agṛhyaḥ na hi gṛhyate: Who can grasp it? No sense can grasp it; no mind can grasp it; no understanding or intellect can grasp it. It is ungraspable; that is the ātman. Aśīryah, na hi śīryate; asaṅgaḥ na hi sajyate; asito na vyathate; na riṣyati: It is a repetition of what has already been mentioned earlier. It is ungraspable, unattached to things and impossible to contact in any manner in the ordinary sense. It does not come into contact with any thing. It has no dual outside itself. It has no sorrow. It never knows what sorrow is.

"Janaka! You have attained to this fearless state," says Yājñavalkya. Abhayam vai, janaka, prapto'si: "Fearlessness is Brahman, and you have reached that fearless abode of Brahman. By your enquiries, by your studies, by your contemplations, by your searches, by your absorptions and meditations, you have reached that supremely fearless abode of Brahman, O King," says Yājñavalkya. Sa hovāca janako vaidehaḥ, abhayaṁ tvā gacchatāt, yājñavalkya: "Great Master! May this fearless abode also be a blessing to you." Janaka is immensely pleased. So he reciprocates the grace that has been bestowed upon him by the sage by saying: "May that fearlessness be yours too. May that Divine Absolute bless us both. Yo naḥ, bhagavan, abhayaṁ vedayase; namas te'stu: Prostrations to you. I am deeply blessed to hear all this from you. Ime videhāḥ ayam aham asmīti: Here is the kingdom of Videha at your disposal, and I am here as your servant." Everything has been surrendered by the disciple to the Guru. "The kingdom is here; you take it, and you take me also as your slave. This knowledge that you have given to me is more than all this wealth that I have in the form of this empire and my own personal self."