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The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter II

Fourth Brahmana: The Conversation of Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi on the Absolute Self

The present section is a narration of the conversation that appears to have taken place in ancient times between the Sage Yājñavalkya and his consort Maitreyī.

  1. maitreyī, iti hovāca yājñavalkyaḥ, ud yāsyan vā are 'ham asmāt sthānād asmi; hanta hanta, te 'nayā kātyāyanyāntaṁ karavāṇīti.

Maitreyī, iti hovāca yājñavalkyaḥ: The great Master Yājñavalkya speaks to Maitreyī: ud yāsyan vā are 'ham asmāt sthānād asmi; hanta hanta, te 'nayā kātyāyanyāntaṁ karavāṇīti. "I am going to retire from the life of a householder and enter into the fourth order of life, and therefore am now intending to arrange the division of property between you and Kātayāni before taking to the final stage of life, the life of renunciation." This is the expression of Sage Yājñavalkya to his consort Maitreyī. "Between Maitreyī and Kātayāni, two consorts, I shall make the division of property."

When the idea of property arose, immediately it appeared to have stirred up a brainwave in the mind of the wise Maitreyī. She queries, "You speak of entering the fourth order of life, embracing a new perspective of living altogether, and therefore you propose to divide the property between the two of us here, so that we may be comfortable and happy. Is it possible for us to be happy, ultimately, through property? Is it possible to be perpetually happy by possession of material comfort and property?" This is Maitreyī's question.

The intention of Yājñavalkya to leave secular property to his consorts naturally means that he proposes to leave them in a state of satisfaction and immense comfort. But is this practicable? Can we be eternally happy, unbrokenly satisfied? Can there be a cessation of our happiness at any time? The question simply put is: Is it possible to give immortality through wealth?

  1. sa hovāca maitreyī, yan nu ma iyam, bhagoḥ, sarvā pṛthivī vittena pūrṇā syāt, kathaṁ tenāmṛtā syām iti. na, iti hovāca yājñavalkyaḥ; yathaivopakaraṇavatāṁ jīvitam, tathaiva te jīvitaṁ syād amṛtatvasya tu nāśāsti vitteneti.

Sa hovāca maitreyī, yan nu ma iyam, bhagoḥ, sarvā pṛthivī vittena pūrṇā syāt, kathaṁ tenāmṛtā syām iti: "If I am the owner of the entire earth, the wealth of the whole world is mine, will I be perpetually happy, or will there be some other factor which will intrude upon my happiness in spite of my possession of the values of the entire world?" This is the question. Na, iti hovāca yajñavalkyaḥ: "No," replies Yājñavalkya. "You cannot be happy. You will be very comfortable, as is the case with people who own a lot of wealth, but you would be in the same state in other respects, as is the condition of well-placed people in society. Immortality is not possible through possessions. It is a different status altogether, which has no connection with any kind of relativistic association." Amṛitatvasya tu nāśāsti vitteneti: "There is no hope of immortality through wealth."

  1. sa hovāca maitreyī, yenāhaṁ nāmṛtā syām, kim ahaṁ tena kuryām, yad eva bhagavān veda tad eva me brūhīti.

"Then, what is the good of all this? If one day, death is to swallow me up, and transiency is to overwhelm me, impermanence of the world is to threaten us, and if everything is to be insecure at the very start; if all that you regard as worthwhile is, after all, going to be a phantom; because it is not going to assure us as to how long it can be possessed, how it may not be taken away from us and at what time we shall be dispossessed of all the status that we have in life; if this is the uncertainty of all existence, what good can accrue to me from this that you are bestowing upon me, as if it is a great value?" Sa hovāca maitreyī, yenāhaṁ nāmṛtā syām, kim ahaṁ tena kuryām: "What am I to do with that thing which is not going to make me perpetually happy, immortal, satisfied?" Yad eva bhagavān veda tad eva me brūhīti: "Whatever you know in this context, O Lord, tell me that. Let me be cured of this illness of doubting in my mind, so that I may know what it is that I have to engage myself in if I am to be eternally happy; so that there can be no fear from any source. Is it a possibility? If it is a possibility, what is the method that I have to adopt in the acquisition of this Supreme final satisfaction?" Very wonderful question! Yājñavalkya was highly pleased with this query. "I never expected that you will put this question to me when I am leaving you immense property, bestowing upon you a lot of wealth."

  1. sa hovāca yājñavalkyaḥ, priyā bata are naḥ satī priyaṁ bhāṣase; ehi, āssva, vyākhyāsyāmi te; vyācakṣāṇasya tu me nididhyāsasva iti.

Sa hovāca yājñavalkyaḥ, priyā bata are naḥ satī priyaṁ bhāṣase; ehi, āssva: "So, now I shall speak to you the secret of all these things." Vyākhyāsyāmi te; vyācakṣāṇasya tu me nididhyāsasva iti: "Listen to me with rapt attention. I shall tell you the secret of this great problem that you have posed before me; the question that you have put; the difficulty in the ascent on the part of people to become permanently happy, which is not possible by possession of wealth."

Now, the whole subject is a discourse on the relationship that obtains between eternity and temporality. What you call immortality, is the life eternal; and that which is temporal, is what we see with our eyes. Wealth is a general term which signifies any kind of value, any possession. It may be a physical possession; it may be a psychological condition; or it may be a social status – all these come under wealth, because anything that gives you comfort, physical and social, can be regarded as a property. This is what is known as temporal value. It is temporal because it is in the context of the time process. That which is temporal is that which is conditioned by time. The time process is involved in the possession of values that are called temporal. So, time has a say in the matter of our possessions. We cannot completely defy the law of time and take hold of possessions that we regard as ours. Time is an inscrutable force which is a peculiar arrangement of things in the world. That arrangement is known as temporality.

The arrangement of things is such, in the temporal realm, that things cannot be possessed by anyone. The idea of possession is a peculiar notion in the mind. You know very well how false the idea of possession is. You cannot possess anything except in thought. So, what we call ownership of property, is a condition of the mind. I can give you a very small gross example: There is a large expanse of land, a vast field which is agricultural in itself. Today you say, it is owned by 'A', and tomorrow it is owned by 'B', by transfer of property. Now, what do you mean by this transfer of property? It has never been transferred. It is there in its own place. It has been transferred in the ideas of people. One person called 'A' imagined that it was his, yesterday, and today, another called 'B' thinks in his mind that it is his. Now both ideas, whether it is the idea of 'A' or the idea of 'B', are peculiar, inscrutable conditions which cannot be easily associated with the physical existence of the property known as land. There is no vital connection between the thought of the person and the landed property. There is only an imaginary connection. But, the social arrangement of the idea of ownership is such that it appears to be well-placed. There is an agreement among people that certain ideas should be accepted as logically valid. That is called temporal law. Man-made law is temporal law, and it is valid as long as people who are concerned with it agree that it is valid. But if it is not agreed upon, then the validity of that principle ceases. So, when the acceptance on the part of minds of people, in respect of a principle called ownership, ceases, then the ownership also ceases. For example, there is no ownership in a jungle. The beasts do not possess any property; animals have no idea of ownership; they go anywhere at any time – today the animal is in one place, tomorrow it is in another place. And we, too, live in a similar manner. We are in one place today, and tomorrow in another place. The difference is, we think in a particular manner, whereas animals think not in that manner.

The whole question of ownership, or psychologically put – like or dislike, is a condition of the mind which is an arrangement of psychological values, agreed upon by a group of people who have decided that this should be the state of affairs. So, you can imagine how artificial is the idea of ownership. Nobody can own anything unless it is agreed upon by the concerned people that this idea be accepted. If the idea is not accepted, then the ownership goes, because you cannot swallow the land, or eat the property. It is there physically existent, as something not mechanically related to you, but psychologically a phantom of your mind. This being the case, how can that bring you permanent satisfaction? If a thing can be permanently possessed, you cannot be dispossessed of it. The very fact that one can be dispossessed of a property shows that permanent acquisition is not possible. It is conditionally connected with you in a psychological manner, and it cannot be connected unconditionally. And, what you call permanent happiness is unconditional existence independent of temporal relationship. That unconditional existence is not possible, if it is an effect of a conditional arrangement.

So, eternity that is aspired after, which is what we know as immortality, is something transempirical, and not conditioned by the process of time, and it has nothing to do with the ownership of property. You may possess or you may not possess; it is absolutely immaterial as far as the question of immortality is concerned, because immortality is not dependent upon connection of values external. It is a state of being as such. In order to inculcate the meaning of this great passage, Yājñavalkya tells us:

  1. sa hovāca: na vā are patyuḥ kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavati, ātmanas tu kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavati: na vā are jāyāyai kāmāya jāyā priyā bhavati, ātmanas tu kāmāya jāyā priyā bhavati; na vā are pūtrāṇāṁ kāmāya putrāḥ priyā bhavanti, ātmanas tu kāmāya putrāḥ priyā bhavanti; na vā are vittasya kāmāya vittam priyam bhavati, ātmanas tu kāmāya vittam priyam bhavati; na vā are brahmaṇaḥ kāmāya brahma priyam bhavati, ātmanas tu kāmāya brahma priyam bhavati; na vā are kṣatrasya kāmāya kṣatram priyam bhavati ātmanas tu kāmāya kṣatram priyam bhavati; na vā are lokānāṁ kāmāya lokāḥ priyā bhavanti, ātmanas tu kāmāya lokāḥ priyā bhavanti; na vā are devānāṁ kāmāya devāḥ priyā bhavanti, ātmanas tu kāmāya devāḥ priyā bhavanti; na vā are bhūtānāṁ kāmāya bhūtāni priyāṇi bhavanti, ātmanas tu kāmāya bhūtāni priyāṇi bhavanti; na vā are sarvasya kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavati, ātmanas tu kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavati; ātmā vā are draṣṭavyaḥ śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyaḥ: maitreyī ātmano vā are darśanena śravaṇena matyā vijñānenedaṁ sarvaṁ viditam.

Sa hovāca: na vā are patyuḥ kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavati, ātmanas tu kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavati, etc.: This is a very long passage, all of which brings out the point that the connection which a mind has with any particular object is inscrutable, if it is taken literally. It has an esoteric, deep, profound significance. A mind cannot be really connected with an object if the object is externally placed outside the mind, because the mind and the object are dissimilar in their character. The object is physical; the mind is psychological. The mind is internal; the object is external. The mind is psychological and the object is physical. A connection between these two is unthinkable, and so all affections of the mind, positive or negative, are certain internal operations that occur within the mind and bear no real, vital relation to objects outside. But, why does it appear that they have some connection if the connection is not really there? Why do we appear to be happy in our mind when certain objects are possessed; desirable things are owned by us – as we think – in our minds? What is the meaning of owning, possessing, enjoying, loving, etc.? What is the actual significance of this idea in the mind? Why is it that suddenly there is a surge of happiness in the mind when one feels there is a possession of desirable value? "This happiness arises on account of a confusion in the mind." This is what the Sage Yājñavalkya will tell us.

This is a happiness which is, tentatively, the outcome of a transformation that takes place in the mind, on account of an imagined connection of the mind with the object that is desired for and possessed. The happiness is not the condition of the object that is possessed. It is a condition of the mind. But, that condition which is the prerequisite of the condition of happiness is made possible by a new notion that arises in the mind in respect of the object, which is a very intricate psychological point. Why does such an idea arise in the mind? Why is it that you regard certain objects as lovable and others as otherwise? What is it that makes a particular object desirable, and acceptable, and valuable, and capable of becoming instrumental in creating this satisfaction in the mind? That is a very great secret. How is it possible that a particular, imaginary connection of the mind with an externally placed object can become the source of happiness within? This happens on account of the presence of something else which the mind cannot cognise, and as long as the presence of this particular something is not recognised, there would be sorrow as an outcome, eventually or immediately, as a result of this external relationship. There is a notion in the minds of people that happiness arises on account of the contact of the mind with desirable objects. That this is not true, is a great point that is made out here. Happiness does not merely arise on account of the contact of the mind with an object which is desirable. For this purpose another question may have to be answered. We shall leave aside, for the time being, the question as to how a desirable object becomes instrumental in creating satisfaction in the mind. Why does an object appear desirable at all, is the primary question. Then only comes the question as to how it becomes instrumental in creating happiness.

The desirability of the object is, again, a condition of the mind. It is a perception of the mind in the contour of the object, of certain characters which are necessitated by the mind. The mind is a pattern of consciousness. You may call it a focused form of consciousness, a shape taken by consciousness, something like the shape the waters of the ocean may take in the surge of the waves. A particular arrangement of consciousness in space and time may be said to be a mind, whether it is a human mind or otherwise. This particular arrangement of consciousness is naturally finite. Every particularised shape or form is finite, merely because of the fact that it is so particularised. The particularisation of the mind is the isolation of that character of the mind from other characters which are equally existent elsewhere in other objects. When I say there is such a thing called 'red', it means there can be other things which are not 'red'. So, a particular state of mind becomes finite in its nature on account of other such conditions or different conditions being made possible. So, the finitude of the mind becomes a source of restlessness to the mind. Every restlessness is psychological and is due to a finitude felt in the mind. But this finitude brings about a limitation that is imposed upon itself by the factor that is finitude itself. You want to overstep the limit of the boundaries that are set upon you. So, the mind tries to jump over its own skin, as it were, in trying to grab objects which it imagines to have the characteristics which are the counterparts of what it feels it has lost. The finitude of the mind, it is felt, can be made good by the characters that the mind imagines to be existing in the objects that are desirable. It imagines, for certain reasons, that a particular object, or a particular group of objects, or a certain set of circumstances are made in such a way that they have characters which are exactly the complement, or supplement, or the counterpart, or the correlative of its own finitude. Or, you may say, it is something like a square rod beholding a square hole in its presence, of a similar shape. If the square rod sees a round hole, there cannot be attraction. If the round rod sees a round hole, there can be attraction. There should be a counterpart of values for attraction to arise. One finitude should be believed capable of being made good by another finitude, and then there is attraction.

The world is made in such a way that there are infinite varieties of finitude. And one set of values, which goes to make up the finitude of a particular mind, becomes the source of summoning the opposite of these values which are imagined to exist in another finitude, say, an object. So the world is said to be relative in the sense that everything is related to everything else. Unless a particular finite situation is related to another particular finite situation, which is going to be the complementary aspect of it, there cannot be a sense of fullness. The sense of fullness is the source of satisfaction. Satisfaction and sense of fullness are identical. When you feel incomplete in yourself, you are unhappy; when you feel complete, you are happy. The feeling of incompleteness arises on account of the notion that something is lacking in you. The sense of lack of something arises because there is a sudden emergence of certain notions in the mind, in respect of values, of which it becomes conscious. And so, it cannot be that a particular person will be feeling the same sense of finitude at all times. It does not mean that you will be wanting the same thing throughout your life. The idea of finitude goes on changing as you rise in the process of evolution. As the mind gets transformed gradually, day by day, stage by stage, in the process of evolution, the requirements of the mind also change, and this is why every day you desire different objects, not the same object. You cannot have one particular thing today and be happy forever. That is not possible, because the mind cannot rest in one condition. It cannot rest because there is evolution. There is physical evolution and psychological evolution. Both are taking place simultaneously. So, this perception of a counterpart of the finitude of a mind in a given condition is caused by the desirability of an object felt by the mind. Then what happens? Immediately the mind says, 'Here is the source of my fulfilment', and wishes to come in contact with it as soon as possible so that it may become a part of its being.

The desire of the mind for a particular desirable object is a desire to get united with that object in its being. So, the idea of possession is something very strong, indeed. It is actually a desire to get united with the object, so that you become physically, psychologically whole in being, and not merely in an external relation. This condition is however not possible, as you cannot enter into the being of any object. Therefore, there is not such satisfaction even after the fulfilment of a desire. No desire can be fulfilled eternally, whatever be the effort that you put forth, because it is not possible for you to enter into the being of that object. The intention is good, but it is impracticable. Nobody can enter into the existence of an object, because the object is externally placed in space and time. So, it is a futile attempt on the part of the mind to enter into any object. Then there is a struggle on the part of the mind to possess the object; become the object; make it a part of its being by assimilation of its being into its own. However it is a fruitless attempt, because the operation of space and time will prevent the entry of one into the other. That is why this world is a sorrow, and it shall be a sorrow. There shall be a perpetual effort on the part of people to grab objects and try to enjoy them. But they cannot enjoy them. There can only be a mere appearance of enjoyment, not real enjoyment.

The love that you feel in respect of an object is in fact the love that you feel towards that which is called perfection and completeness. It is not really a love for the object. You have thoroughly misunderstood the whole point, even when you are clinging to a particular object as if it is the source of satisfaction. The mind does not want an object; it wants completeness of being. That is what it is searching for. Thus, when there is a promise of the fulfilment that it seeks, through the perception of an object that appears to be its counterpart, there is a sudden feeling that fullness is going to come, and there is a satisfaction even on the perception of that object; and there is an apparent satisfaction, just by the imagined possession of it together with the yearning for actual possession. So, what is it that you are asking for? You are not asking for any object or thing; you are asking for a condition of completeness in your being. "So, my dear friend," says Yājñavalkya, "nobody is dear. No object can be regarded as lovable or desirable. It is something else that you love and are asking for, but by a notion that is completely misconstrued, you believe that the object is loved."

So, what you love is a completeness of being which is reflected in the condition felt to exist between yourself and the object concerned. You must mark this point. What you love is only the condition that you imagine to be present in the state of the possession of the object. But that state can never be reached, for the reason already mentioned. So, nothing is dear in this world. What is dear is the condition which you intend to create, or project in your own being by an imagined contact with the object. So, not one person is dear in this world, but what is dear is that condition which is imagined to be present after the possession of that object or that relationship.

Now, what are these objects? Every blessed thing. Yājñavalkya goes on with his exposition to Maitreyī: Neither the husband is dear to the wife, nor the wife is dear to the husband. What is dear is a condition which they try to bring about in their mind by that relation. That condition is always missed, and so the happiness expected never comes.

After enumerating many things that are usually conceived as dear and desirable in this world, but which are actually not the source of real satisfaction to a person, Yājñavalkya says, nothing external can give you happiness, because it is not the thing alone that is the source of happiness but something else which is always missing due to a confusion of thought – na vā are sarvasya kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavati, ātmanas tu kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavati: For the desire of the Infinite, which is the Self, everything appears to be desirable. Here, the word ātman is to be understood in the sense of the Totality of Being. It is the Selfhood of all beings, a great subject which we have studied in detail in the Fourth Section of the First Chapter. For the sake of this Supreme Absolute, which is the Self of all things, you are unknowingly asking for 'things'. You have missed the point in asking for the things of the world. So it is a wild goose chase from birth to death, nothing coming forth, ultimately. You come to this world crying, and you go crying, because you have missed the whole point in the tremendous effort that you have put forth throughout your life, entirely for nothing – ātmanas tu kāmāya jāyā priyā bhavati.

Ātmā vā are draṣṭavyaḥ śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyaḥ: "O, Maitreyī, it is the ātman that is to be beheld; it is the ātman that is to be known; it is the ātman that is to be searched for; it is the ātman which is to be heard about; it is the ātman which is to be thought in the mind; it is the ātman which is to be meditated upon. There is nothing else worthwhile thinking, nothing else worthwhile possessing, because nothing worthwhile exists, other than This."

Maitreyī ātmano vā are darśanena śravaṇena matyā vijñānenedaṁ sarvaṁ viditam: "If you can grasp the significance of what this ātman is, you have known everything; and then, you have possessed everything; you have become all things. There is nothing left to desire afterwards. And if this is not to be achieved, what is going to be your fate? Suppose you do not have this knowledge, everything shall leave you one day or the other. Today this goes, tomorrow that goes; and the history of humanity has told us repeatedly that you cannot lay trust upon anything. You have seen things coming and things going; today it is there, tomorrow it is not there. You cannot know what will happen tomorrow, and what will be the status and state of things at any moment of time. Everything shall desert a person if he is bereft of this knowledge. Because they are not a part of his being, how can they be with him always? That which is not 'you' cannot be possessed by you. That which is not 'you' really, cannot be a property of yours. That which is not 'you' cannot be with you always. Therefore it shall leave you. But why do you cry if anything goes away, and there is bereavement, loss, etc.? It is quite natural to lose them; it is exactly as things ought to be. Things which are outside you do not belong to you; therefore it is no use crying over them. What is the difficulty, what is the problem, and why are you worrying about it? If they become 'you' they cannot leave you, because you cannot be dispossessed of yourself. You are dispossessed of only those things which are not yours. This point, you must understand."

  1. brahma tam parādād yo'nyatrātmano brahma veda. kṣatraṁ tam parādād yo'nyatrātmanaḥ  kṣatraṁ veda. lokās tam parādur yo'nyatrātmano lokān veda. devās tam parādur yo'nyatrātmano devān veda. bhūtāni tam parādur yo'nyatrātmano bhūtāni veda. sarvaṁ tam parādād yo'nyatrātmano sarvaṁ veda. idam brahma, idaṁ kṣatram, ime lokāḥ, ime devāḥ, imāmi bhūtāni, idaṁ sarvam, yad ayam ātmā.

Finally the Upaniṣhad says; sarvaṁ tam parādād yo' nyatrātmano sarvaṁ veda: Everything shall leave you if you regard anything as other than you. It is a metaphysical point, a psychological theme, and a practical truth. You cannot forget this. Anything that is outside you cannot belong to you and cannot satisfy you, and it will leave you. So, it shall bring you sorrow. It is a point which is eternally true. All things shall desert you, one day or the other. Even those things which you regard as dearest and nearest, most desirable and valuable, shall desert you and leave you, bringing sorrow, because they do not belong to you.

Yo' nyatrātmano sarvaṁ veda. idam brahma, idaṁ kṣatram, ime lokāḥ, ime devāḥ, imāni bhūtāni, idaṁ sarvam, yad ayam ātmā: "So, Maitreyī," says Yājñavalkya, "It is the ātman that appears as all these things. This is the point that is never grasped by the mind which looks upon objects as independent entities. The ātman is the one Reality that masquerades in various forms and names, but this point is not understood. The mind that is finite, located and lodged in the body, does not understand the fact that finite objects that are outside are only appearances of a single indivisible Reality. So, the finite tries to clings to the finite, not knowing this fact of infinitude that is at the background of these finite forms. If this infinitude that is at the base of these finite forms is to be understood, realised and made part of one's own being, then the realisation accrues." This ātman is all – idaṁ sarvaṁ, yad ayam ātmā.

  1. sa yathā dundubher hanyamānasya na bāhyān śabdān śaknuyād grahaṇāya, dundubheś tu grahaṇena dundubhy-āghātasya vā śabdō gṛhītaḥ.
  2. sa yathā śaṅkhasya dhmāyamānasya na bāhyān śabdān śaknuyād grahaṇāya, śaṅkhasya tu grahaenaṇ śaṅkha-dhmasya vā śabdō gṛhītaḥ.
  3. sa yathā vīṇāyai vādyamānāyai na bāhyān śabdān śaknuyād grahaṇāya, vīṇāyai tu grahaṇena vīṇā-vādaṣya vā śabdō gṛhītaḥ.

By these three illustrations, sage Yājñavalkya tells us that the effect cannot be known unless the cause is known, because the effect is a manifestation of the cause in some proportion. You cannot understand the nature of any object in this world unless you know wherefrom it has come. But you try to understand the why and wherefore of things by merely beholding them with the eyes. Whatever be the extent of your observation in the best laboratory conceivable in the world, you cannot understand things, because whatever is observed through even the subtlest instrument, even the best microscope, etc., is an effect, not a cause. It is a product of certain circumstances. The conditions that have been responsible for the effectuation of these forms that you are observing are transcendent, and therefore they are invisible. Unless the cause behind the form that is visible is perceived, the form cannot be really known. If you are intent upon knowing the nature of any object, you must know its relation to something else. And that something else is connected to another thing, and so on and so on, until you will be surprised to realise that everything is connected to everything else in such a way that nothing can be known unless everything is known. So, it is not possible to have complete knowledge of any finite object unless the Infinite itself is known. You cannot know the structure of even a sand particle in the beach unless the whole cosmos is known ultimately, because it has got infinite relationships to various types of atmosphere of which it is a product. So it will take you up to the limit of the Infinite if you try to understand the inner, inscrutable majesty of even a grain of sand.

To understand this, the great Master Yājñavalkya gives us three illustrations. Just as the sound that is made by a percussion instrument cannot be properly identified if the instrument itself is far away and not visible to the eyes, but whose sound is heard by you from a distance, unless you catch the source thereof; just as you cannot identify the rhythm produced by the blowing of a conch unless you have the capacity to grasp the totality of the sound by actually perceiving the conch that is being blown at any particular time; just as you cannot understand the symphony produced by a Vina or a stringed instrument, for instance, merely by hearing one note unless you are able to connect all the notes in a harmonious symphony, so is the case with all these things in this world. You cannot know anything. They are each like one note in the symphony or the music of the universe. How can you know the beauty of the music by merely hearing one note? That note is connected to many other notes. And when every note is harmoniously related to all other notes to which it is related, and all the notes are grasped at one stroke in one single harmonious symphony, that becomes music; it is beautiful. But if only a twang is heard or one tick is heard, it makes no sense; it is not music. Likewise with any object in this world. It is one twang, one tick, one sound which is really connected to a vast arena or gamut of a symphony that is universally expansive. Unless that total expanse or continuity is grasped by the mind at one stroke, which means to say that unless the infinite Being behind the finite objects is grasped by the consciousness, no finite object can be known fully, nothing can be understood perfectly. Therefore, nothing can give you satisfaction. There is no hope of immortality through any possession in this world, is the conclusion of Sage Yājñavalkya.

The sage Yājñavalkya says that the nature of effects cannot be known unless their cause is known. It is futile on our part to investigate into the nature of any finite object without correlating its form and context with the causes which gave rise to its present form, in a series which cannot be comprehended by the mind. Every link in a chain is connected with every other link. The pull or force exerted by the topmost link is felt by the lowermost link even if the chain be millions of miles in length, irrespective of the fact that the lowest link might not have even seen the very existence of the topmost link. The presence of that topmost link will be felt by the pressure it exerts through the age-long length of the chain, of which the lowermost link is a finite part. Even so is the nature of all finite things in the world, and we cannot understand the nature of anything, unless we are in a position to understand everything at the same time. Either you know everything, or you know nothing; that is the truth of all experience. There is no such thing as knowing something, because that something is a false aspect of the organic connection with which it is related. Minus its relation, its very existence is not worth cognition at all.

The nature of finite objects is very peculiar. They are constituted of the circumstances in which they are placed, so that you cannot separate the circumstances and the nature of the thing itself. It is not true that the circumstances are 'outside' and the thing is 'inside'. It is a false conclusion, again, which the mind makes in its untutored attitude towards things. The circumstances are a part of the existence of a thing. And these circumstances are not mere conceptual notions in the mind; they are vital energies, powers. Even space is not an emptiness, as you know very well. It is as 'solid' as a rock, for example, because under conditions which can be experimented upon, even the most 'solid' of things can be converted into an ethereal substance. So, the circumstance of space around an object is not an unimportant aspect that can be separated from the existence of an object. But, the incapacity of the senses to perceive non-physical objects and non-physical conditions creates a false impression in the mind that the circumstances are completely isolated from the existence of an object. This is why we make independent notional judgments about things, distancing them from the conditions in which they are involved, which are ultimately cosmic conditions. The point made out in the Upaniṣhad, in this passage, is that without the knowledge of the Absolute, not even the smallest of things can be understood.

  1. sa yathārdra-edhāgner abhyāhitāt pṛthag dhūmā viniścaranti, evaṁ vā are'sya mahato bhūtasya niḥsvasitam, etad yad ṛgvedo yajurvedaḥ sāmavedo'tharvāṅgirasa itihāsaḥ purāṇam vidyā upaniṣadaḥ ślokāḥ sūtrāny anuvyākhyānāni vyākhyānāni: asyaivaitāni sarvāṇi niḥśvasitāni.

Now, the next passage tells us everything proceeds from the Absolute, proceeds in a very peculiar manner, not easily understandable by individual minds. So, the manner in which things are supposed to proceed from the Supreme Being can be explained only through certain analogies, by comparisons, by visible examples. All knowledge is a partial aspect of the Supreme Absolute, which is Knowledge Itself. It is not knowledge in the sense of an information about things, but the very existence of all things which is inseparable from the knowledge of things. And so, any knowledge or wisdom that is worth mentioning is a fraction, a spark, a ray, of the Supreme Absolute. Even the highest geniuses of the world cannot be compared with a ray of that eternal profundity of knowledge. Everything comes from that. How does it come? We cannot understand how anything can come from the Absolute. We can only give some analogical comparative illustrations, and the Upaniṣhad employs here the comparison of smoke arising from fire. Sa yathārdra-edhāgner abhyāhitāt pṛithag dhūmā viniścaranti: Just as when you burn wet fuel, smoke may arise from its burning process, everything may be said to proceed in this manner, as it were, from the Supreme Being – a continuous emanation. It has to be called a curious emanation, as that which emanates has the potential character of that from which it emanates. We are always to remember what we have studied earlier, that the nature of the cause is always present in the existence of the effect. So, the effect, which is knowledge, is a fraction of the appearance of the plenum of wisdom which is the Para-Brahman, the Absolute. Everything comes from That.

Evaṁ vā are'sya mahato bhūtasya niḥsvasitaṁ: From the aspiration, as it were, of this eternal, infinite Reality, all the knowledge of this world has come. Just as when you breathe out there is a breath coming from your nostrils, the Absolute breathes, as it were, this wisdom of all His creation. And, all this wisdom of the world put together cannot be equated with a fraction of It. It will be another aspect of this mystery which is mentioned in the following passages.

The wisdom of the Veda, which is regarded as eternal knowledge, can be compared to the aspiration of the Absolute. Etad yad ṛgvedo yajurvedaḥ   sāmavedo'tharvāṅgirasa itihāsaḥ purāṇam vidyā upaniṣadaḥ, etc: All the four Vedas and all that is contained in them; anything that is implied in the Vedas, the eternity that is embosomed in the Vedas – all these things are emanations from the Absolute. And what else? Everything that is of that nature and everything that is capable of being connected with Vedic knowledge, such as the Itihāsās, Purāṇas, Vidyā, all arts and all branches of learning, secret teachings, verses and poetic compositions, aphorisms, commentaries, anything that you can call knowledge, in whatever way, whatever manner, whatever form – all that is contained there. Everything has come from there.

Asyaivaitāni sarvāṇi niḥśvasitāni: The substantiality of all that can be regarded as of highest value in the world is the substantiality of that magnificent Being – Mahato bhūtasya niḥsvasitam. The breath, as it were, of this eternal, breathless Reality is this vast manifestation. As everything that can be considered as an effect is located in the cause in some way or the other, so are all things located in the Absolute in some way or the other. This is interestingly stated in a longish passage that follows.

  1. sa yathā sarvāsām apām samudra ekāyanam, evaṁ sarveṣāṁ sparśānām tvag ekāyanam, evaṁ sarveṣām sarveṣāṁ gandhānāṁ nāsike ekāyanam, evaṁ sarveṣāṁ rasānāṁ jihvā ekāyanam, evaṁ sarveṣāṁ rūpāṇāṁ cakṣur ekāyanam, evaṁ sarveṣām sarveṣāṁ śabdānāṁ śrotram ekāyanam, evaṁ sarveṣāṁ saṁkalpānāṁ mana ekāyanam, evaṁ sarvāṣāṁ vidyānāṁ hṛdayam ekāyanam, evaṁ  sarvāṣāṁ karmaṇāṁ hastāv ekāyanam, evaṁ sarvāṣāṁ  ānandānām upastha ekāyanam, evaṁ  sarveṣām sarveṣāṁ visargāṇām pāyur ekāyanam, evaṁ sarveṣāṁ adhvanām pādav ekāyanam, evaṁ sarveṣāṁ vedānāṁ vāg ekāyanam.

Sa yathā sarveṣām apām samudra ekāyanam: The ocean is the repository of all waters. Every water can be found in the ocean. Evaṁ sarveṣāṁ sparśānām tvag ekāyanam: The touch-sense and everything that we regard as meaningful from the point of view of tangibility is located in the skin. Evaṁ sarvāsāṁ rasānāṁ jihvā ekāyanam: Every kind of taste can be located ultimately in the structural pattern of the tongue, or the palate. Evaṁ sarvāsāṁ gandhānāṁ nāsike ekāyanam: Every smell, every odour, every type of fragrance is located in the structure of the nostrils. Evaṁ sarvāsāṁ rūpāṇāṁ cakṣur ekāyanam: Every colour, every form, everything that is visible, is located in the structure of the eyes. Evaṁ sarvāsāṁ śabdānāṁ śrotram ekāyanam: Every sound, whatever it be, is located in the structure of the ears. Evaṁ sarvāsāṁ saṁkalpānāṁ mana ekāyanam: Every thought, every feeling, anything that is cogitated is ultimately located in the mind. Evaṁ sarvāsāṁ vidyānāṁ hṛdayam ekāyanam: Every feeling, every kind of intimation connected with the knowledge of things, is in the heart of a person. Evaṁ sarvāsāṁ karmaṇāṁ hastāv ekāyanam: Every action, the capacity to grasp things, is located in the energy of the hands of a person. Other organs also are mentioned in this manner, making out that all activities of the senses are capable of being traced back to the structure of the senses, so that if you know the nature of the sense-organs concerned in any particular action, whether it is the action of knowledge or merely of locomotion, etc., you can know everything connected with that particular organ. Likewise, you can know all things if you can locate their origin, from where they proceed.

Again, we have to recapitulate what we have said previously, that it is not an easy affair to go back to the final cause of things, because you may be able to perceive the immediate cause of any particular phenomenon, but the ultimate cause cannot be easily discovered, as we are limited by the capacity of the mind and the sense-organs. Whatever the mind can think and the senses can cognise or perceive – these only are the realities to us as human beings. So, even the minutest investigation into the nature of the cause of any phenomenon, or event, or object, cannot be regarded as ultimate, because the ultimate cannot be comprehended by the mind or the senses due to their own limitations in space and time. But, if it could be possible in some mysterious manner, if the ultimate cause could be discovered, then we would be at once in the presence of a flash of illumination wherein everything is presented before the mind's eyes instantaneously, at one stroke, as it were.

  1. sa yathā saindhava-khilya udake prāsta udakam evānuvilīyeta, na hāsya udgrahaṇāyeva syāt, yato yatas tv ādadīta lavaṇam eva, evaṁ vā ara idam mahad bhūtam anantam apāraṁ vijñāna-ghana eva; etebhyo bhūtebhyaḥ samutthāya, tāny evānuvinaśyati; na pretya saṁjñāsti, iti are bravīmi, iti  hovāca yājñavalkyaḥ.

Sa yathā saindhava-khilya udake prāsta udakam evānuvilīyeta: Another illustration is given here to make out the nature of the Supreme Being from whom all knowledge proceeds. If you dissolve a little piece of salt in water, what happens? The salt becomes one with the water. You may take any part of that water, it will taste salty, and you cannot find out where the salt is. It has become one with the water; it is everywhere in the water.

Na hāsya udgrahaṇāyeva syāt, yato yatas tv ādadīta lavaṇam eva evaṁ vā ara idam mahad bhūtam anantam apāraṁ: Just as any part of that water in which salt is dissolved will taste of salt only, because of the pervasive character of the salt that has got dissolved into the water, so is the Infinite Being. How? Idam mahad bhūtam anantam apāraṁ vijñāna-ghana eva: It is a mass of knowledge; it is a solidity of wisdom; it is a substantiality of what we regard as the highest Consciousness; that is this ultimate Reality. Wherever you touch, it is that which is touched, and wherever you taste anything you are tasting that only, and anything that is seen anywhere is naturally that only. Whatever be the corresponding object of a particular sense-organ, it is the form of That which is seen. And the mind thinks nothing but That, not knowing it is so doing – vijñāna-ghana eva.

Etebhyo bhūtebhyaḥ samutthāya, tāny evānuvinaśyati; na pretya saṁjñāsti: This consciousness which is solid Reality ultimately, the substantiality of the whole universe, appears to localise itself in the body of individuals by entering into the process of permutation and combination of the elements earth, water, fire, air, ether, etc. A particular combination in some percentage of these five elements becomes a body, an embodiment. When consciousness enters this particular formation of the elements, it is what we call the individual, the Jīva, or a particular finite body. It arises in this form and dissolves itself in this form, as it were, as long as it is connected to this formation of the elements. The birth of the individual and the death of the individual are described here as being the consequence of the association of consciousness with the formation of the five elements in a certain proportion. It is the elements, the five elements which combine in certain ways, under different conditions, that are responsible for the objects of sense, as we call them. Animate or inanimate, whatever may be – all the objects, all the bodies are really the elements in some shape, colour and tangibility. They appear to have a value, a worth, and meaning, because of the entry of consciousness into them. And when the formations change, when there is a different type of formation of the elements, that is called the death of the individual. It is not a death really; it is a transformation, a reformation of the particular form into which these elements have been cast by the need of that unit of consciousness which is called the Jīva. When this consciousness gets entangled in the forms of the elements, it is called birth. When it is freed from them, it is called liberation. When it is freed from the elements, it will not be conscious of any particular thing – na pretya saṁjñāsti.

Yājñavalkya tells Maitreyī that when there is total isolation of consciousness from all its associations in the form of these permutations and combinations of elements called the body, there would be no particular consciousness. There would be no feeling, hearing, touching, smelling, – nothing particular whatsoever, no consciousness at all. So bluntly says Yājñavalkya, without commenting on the meaning of this statement, "After dissolution, there is no awareness." This is what is meant by this pithy statement – na pretya saṁjñāsti. Iti are bravīmi, iti hōvāca yajñavalkyaḥ: "Maitreyī, this I tell you. Try to understand it."

  1. sa hovāca maitreyī, atraiva mā bhagavān amūmuhat, na pretya saṁjṇāstīti. sa hovāca, na va are'ham mohaṁ bravīmi, alaṁ vā are idaṁ vijñānāya.

Maitreyī is surprised: "How is it? You are saying that It is an ocean of wisdom, a mass of knowledge, substantiality of everything that is consciousness, and now you say there is no consciousness! When there is an absorption of consciousness into itself and freedom from its entanglement with the elements, you say It knows nothing. How is it possible that It knows nothing, while It is All-knowledge?" "You do not understand what I say," tells Yājñavalkya to Maitreyī. "I have not confused you by saying this, nor have I mystified you in this contradictory statement. Your idea of knowledge is misconstrued. You have your own definition of knowledge, and from that point of view, from that standard of judgment of knowledge, you seem to perceive a contradiction in my statement, that after freedom from entanglement there is no consciousness in spite of the fact that it is an ocean of Consciousness."

Our concept of knowledge is well known. It is not real knowledge; it is the ass's knowledge; it is the donkey's knowledge; it is the animalistic perception that we usually call knowledge. The contact of the mind with objects in a particular manner, under given conditions, is called knowledge. But, this knowledge comes and goes according to the circumstances of the objects of particular knowledge of the senses. So, to us, knowledge means knowledge of something. This connecting link 'of' is very important. Whenever we speak of knowing, we always say 'knowing what'. So, there must be something which is known, and we speak of knowledge of something, studying something, awareness of something, illumination of something. Everything is 'of' something. Thus, we are always accustomed to connect knowledge with a content or object which is apparently external to knowledge. This strange relationship between object and the knowledge of that object is the subject of a philosophical controversy known as the conflict between the idealistic and realistic theories. How does knowledge arise, is a very great subject – 'philosophy'. Whether it arises by the location of the object in a particular manner, or is it the object that is responsible for the knowledge of the object, or whether it is the mind that knows the object that is responsible for the knowledge of the object, that, however, is another subject altogether.

So, Yājñavalkya tells us: Your notion of knowledge is involved in the concept of the isolation of the object of knowledge from knowledge, so that there cannot be knowledge unless there is an object; and when I tell you that there is no such thing as knowledge of an object in that condition where consciousness is absolved completely from all contact with the formation of the elements, you are not able to understand what I am saying. Why?

  1. yatra hi dvaitam iva bhavati, tad itara itaraṁ jighrati, tad itara itaram paśyati, tad itara itaram śrṇoti, tad itara itaram abhivadati, tad itara itaram manute, tad itara itaraṁ vijānāti. yatra tv asya sarvam ātmāivābhūt, tat kena kaṁ jighret, tat kena kam paśyet, tat kena kaṁ śṛṇuyat, tat kena kam abhivadet, tat kena kam manvīta, tat kena kaṁ vijānīyāt? yenedam sarvaṁ vijānāti, taṁ kena vijānīyāt, vijñātāram are kena vijānīyād iti.

Where there is an object of knowledge, well, naturally it can be known. Where there is something other than the eye, the eye can see. Where there is something outside the nose, the nose can smell, that is true. Where the sound is outside the ear, the ear can hear the sound. Where the spoken word is outside the speech itself, one can speak about something. Where the thought is different from the object that is thought, it is possible to think. Where the object of understanding is different from understanding, it is possible to understand that object.

Where there is an object of knowledge, well, naturally it can be known. Where there is something other than the eye, the eye can see. Where there is something outside the nose, the nose can smell, that is true. Where the sound is outside the ear, the ear can hear the sound. Where the spoken word is outside the speech itself, one can speak about something. Where the thought is different from the object that is thought, it is possible to think. Where the object of understanding is different from understanding, it is possible to understand that object.

Yatra tv asya sarvam ātmāivābhūt: "But where understanding only is, and the object of understanding is not there, what is it that you understand? If this situation could be envisaged for the time being, if a condition can be conceived of where the object of knowledge has melted into the knowledge itself, what could be the knowledge which one can be endowed with? That which is to be known has melted into the knowledge itself; it has become part of the knowledge, so knowledge is filled with the substance of the object which it knows, so much so, there is no more an object as such – how can you then say that there is the knowing of anything? Because that 'anything' which you speak of as the object of the knowledge has become knowledge itself, so there is then no such thing as knowing 'anything', and therefore it is, O Maitreyī, that I said no such thing as knowing exists there and it does not know anything." Sarvam ātmāivābhūt: Where everything is the Self of knowledge, what does that Self know, except its own Self? Tat kena kaṁ jighret, tat kena kam paśyet, tat kena kaṁ śṛṇuyat, tat kena kam abhivadet, tat kena kam manvīta, tat kena kaṁ vijānīyāt? Who is to see what, where the object of perception has become a part and parcel of the process of perception itself?

Yenedam sarvaṁ vijānāti, taṁ kena vijānīyāt: Everything is known by the knower, but who is to know the knower? If the knower is to be known, there must be a second knower to that knower, and the second knower can be known by a third knower, the third by a fourth, the fourth by a fifth, and so on. You go on scratching your head, you cannot know the knower. How can the knower be known? We have already designated the knower as the 'Knower' and you cannot now call it the 'known'. Therefore there is no such thing as knowing of Knowing, or knowing of Knower. Knowing of objects only is there before liberation. With liberation, that object has become part of knowing itself; It has become one with the Knower. The Knower alone is; there is no such thing then as 'knowing'. Therefore, as I told you, Maitreyī, it is not possible to have cognition and perception and mentation and understanding, in the usual sense, in that Absolute which is Supernal Felicity of Plenum – vijñātāram are kena vijānīyād iti.

Now, this subject is continued later on in the Yājñavalkya Kanda of the same Upaniṣhad. It abruptly stops here, and takes up a new subject which has some remote connection but not immediate connection. The immediately connected passage will come later on: Yad vai tan-na paśyati, paśyam vai tan-na paśyati, etc. Yājñavalkya will be speaking to the Emperor Janaka where he says: "When I tell you that It does not see anything, it does not mean that It does not see anything, It sees everything. While It does not know anything, It knows everything; while It does not see anything, It sees everything," etc. This will be mentioned later on as a part of the exposition of this mystical statement of Yājñavalkya in the particular Brāhmaṇa known as the Maitreyā Brāhmaṇa. 

Now a subject that is in a way connected with this topic is taken up in the subsequent section. The reason why you cannot have perceptual knowledge or cognitional awareness in the totality of things is because of the fact that everything is connected with everything in that knowledge. You cannot look upon something and judge a thing independently in a condition where everything is connected with everything. You cannot have a standard of judgment in a situation where that which is judged has become one with the standard of judgment itself. This interdependence of things and interconnectedness of values is discussed in a very famous aspect of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka knowledge called the Madhu-Vidyā, which is supposed to be given by Sage Dadhyaṅṅ.