by Swami Krishnananda
The other day I told you the story of sage Yajnavalkya and explained, in brief, his wonderful teachings as they are recorded in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. His sublime instructions to his consort Maitreyi and to King Janaka were a masterstroke of genius. I hope you all remember this story well and the teaching has registered in your minds.
Today I shall tell you something about another great sage, whose name appears in the Chhandogya Upanishad. This wonderful sage – great master – is a great contrast to Yajnavalkya. Yajnavalkya was, in some sense, a royal person, a majestic, well-known public personality, very controversial, argumentative and pushy in nature. He would not hesitate to establish his point by suitable logical disquisitions. But the other sage was the kind who does not speak, whose existence is not known to people and who lives like a poor nobody, not like a royal personage. This great sage, as we have it in the Chhandogya Upanishad, is known as Raikva. There is a very interesting anecdote in connection with the teaching of this great master, Raikva.
The story is like this. There was a king, well known for his charity and goodness of heart. The king was also a great sage – so great that people compared him with King Janaka himself. When he arrived, they would say, "Oh, Janaka is coming, Janaka is coming!" – that is to say, so wise and learned as Janaka, so highly advanced in spirituality as Janaka, so charitable, good-natured and service-minded as Janaka. All these characteristics of King Janaka were foisted upon this particular king. One day during the summer season, this king was sitting on the terrace of his palace, enjoying the fresh breeze. Two birds were flying across the sky. The interpreters of the Upanishad tell us that these two birds were sages of a different type altogether, who had taken the form of birds and were flying. One bird was in front, the other was behind.
The bird that was behind told the bird that was ahead, "Oh idiot, oh blind one, don't you see that a king is under you, just below you? Don't you know that his radiance is rising up to the sky and it is burning, and you may be burnt if you cross over his head? A great king is there, just underneath, on the terrace of his palace; his spiritual power is rising from his head and it may burn you if you do not watch out. Oh blind one, don't you understand?"
When this was told by the bird to its comrade, the comrade said, "Who is this king about whom you are talking so much, as if he is Raikva with a cart?" It was a kind of derogatory remark that the first bird made about this king, whereas the other bird praised him to such an extent, as if to say anybody who crossed over could be burnt by the king's radiance. But the retort of the first bird was, "Who is this great man that you are talking of, as if he is equal to Raikva?"
The king himself heard this conversation as he was sitting there, on the terrace. He was very much distressed to hear this and thought, "They are comparing me and contrasting me with someone who seems to be greater than I. I never knew that in my kingdom there is somebody greater than I. This is a very important matter for me."
He never slept that night. He was very much disturbed that a derogatory remark has been made about him, contrasting him with somebody about whom he knew nothing and whose name he had not even heard: Raikva. And the bird also added, "Do you know the greatness of this Raikva? If anybody does any virtuous deed in this world the credit of it goes to Raikva." What is the matter? If any one of us does some good deed, the credit will not come to us; it will go to that man, Raikva, who seems to be sitting without doing anything. All this the king heard, much to his own distress.
In the early morning, kings are generally awakened by music and bards who sing the glories of the king. The bards were singing the glories and the greatness of the king, so that by hearing them he would wake up. But the king had not slept.
The king told them, "Shut down! Stop! Whose greatness are you singing, as if I am Raikva? Stop your music! Go and find out who Raikva is. Until that time I shall have no peace of mind."
They did not understand what was the matter with the king. "What are you talking about?" they enquired.
The king replied, "I heard that in my country there is a great person called Raikva, with whom I have been unfavourably compared by someone whose words distressed me very much. Go and find out where this Raikva is."
He sent his sentinels throughout his country, in all directions, to find out where Raikva was.
"What is his greatness? That also is not clear. They simply say he is great – greater than the king himself. But what is the greatness? There must be something in it. It is not clear. Go and find out," said the king.
So the king's messengers ran here and there, to all the towns and villages – everywhere. They could not find anyone by that name. The birds had referred to the sage Raikva as having a cart with him – a cart without bulls, perhaps. Sometimes there are poor people on the streets with their luggage on a cart which they themselves pull, and Raikva was thus described. The messengers of the king came back in despair.
"Your Highness, there is no such person in your country," they told the king.
"No, it cannot be. Did you search for him?"
"We searched in all the towns."
"Fools! Do you think that sages live in towns? Go and find him out in proper places. Do you search for him in cities? Go!" ordered the king.
They went to all corners – here, there, to remote corners of villages, distant regions and forest areas. They found someone sitting under a cart, a very funny-looking, poor, beggarly individual, gazing up at the sky as if he cared for nothing. These messengers humbly went near him and prostrated themselves before him.
"May we know if you are Raikva with the cart?" they inquired.
"Hey, they say like that," Raikva replied. "They say like that."
The messengers said, "The king wants to see you."
Raikva retorted, "I do not want to see the king. I have no connection with the king."
The messengers immediately went back and told the king, "He is there. We have seen him."
Having heard these words from his messengers, the king took large gifts of gold and silver, ornaments and what not. He humbly went to this unknown man, Raikva, falling prostrate before him and requested him, "I am the king of this country. I have heard about you, the great master; I have heard about your greatness. Please teach me what you know."
"Hey, do you want to purchase my knowledge with this gold? Get away from this place! Get away from this place!" Raikva replied.
The king was very shocked. "So everything is null and void; all my efforts are in vain!" he thought.
But the king was determined. He wanted to get initiation from this sage into the wisdom that he possessed, to which was alluded his greatness. So he went a second time – with a larger gift. This time he took the dearest and the most beloved things. Again he prostrated himself before the great master.
"I have come again. Please teach me what you know," requested the king.
This time the sage relented. The instruction, the teaching as we have it in the Chhandogya Upanishad, is very brief. It is not a large discourse or a great commentary. This great master, this sage, was great due to some meditation which he was carrying on. He was proficient in a wisdom, known as vidya, and this particular vidya in which he was proficient is called the Samvarga Vidya. He gave instructions on this method of meditation known as the Samvarga Vidya.
This wisdom of sage Raikva, known as Samvarga Vidya, may be called the art of meditation on the Absorber of all things. 'Samvarga' is 'absorbing'. He was meditating on the Absorber – a very brief word with small significance, but immense meaning is hidden in that one word. How do you become as great as Raikva? You also would like to become as great as him. You can, provided you also commune your consciousness with that principle called the Absorber. When you are in a state of communion with the Absorber, you yourself become the Absorber. If you are in a state of identity with anything, you yourself become that thing. That is the meaning of identity. Whatever be the thing on which you are contemplating deeply, if the contemplation becomes so deep that you have merged yourself in that thing, then you cannot distinguish yourself from that thing on which you are contemplating.
Now, what is this Absorber of all things – Samvarga – with which one's consciousness is supposed to be identified or set in tune with? You have to go back to the earlier sessions of the subject where we concluded in our studies that the ultimate essence of all things is consciousness.
That the essence of all things is consciousness was what we understood earlier, during our studies of the mantras of the Isavasya Upanishad, etc. Inasmuch as it is the Self of all things, which is what we mean by saying that it is the essence of all things, it is the very existence of all things. All the forms, all the names, all the things, every object in this world has a Self inside it – a nucleus, we may call it – which determines and controls the formation of the body of any object in the world. Inasmuch as this central nucleus, this consciousness – we call it the Atman of all things – is the formative force, the formative energy behind the structure of everything in the world, small and big, we may say that the very fate of the formation of things, the structure or the pattern of anything in this world, is decided by the soul of these things, which is the consciousness referred to. Consciousness projects the form and it also withdraws the form. For a particular purpose in the process of the creation of the universe and the evolution of things, this centrality of things manifests a form and also withdraws that form. The manifestation is called creation and the withdrawal is called dissolution.
We can compare this circumstance with what is happening to us in our own personalities. Our consciousness, this 'me', this 'I', this so-called 'person' is the determiner of everything that is happening in this body. The stability, the integrated formation, the organic activity of this body, is due to the central operation of the consciousness which is the so-called 'I' in us. When you say "I am coming", you do not know whom you are actually referring to. Something in an entirety is coming; that is the meaning of saying "I am coming". It is not that some part of the body is coming, like the legs. I am coming, not just the legs. It is not merely the body that is coming; the mind also is coming; the intellect also is coming. You are coming, not merely the intellect, the mind and the body. You are coming; that is what you mean by saying "I am coming". This 'I', this 'you', however you look at it, is an integrated total which decides the very existence and activity of the personality, or the organism, and stabilises it, so that when you walk, you feel that a whole structure blended into a compact wholeness is moving.