Monday, January 14, 2013

Sage Yagnavalkya


Saint  Yagnavalkya
By
P.R.Ramachander




         Yagnavalkya (He who puts  Yajna as  a dress , implying he who performs Yajnas as easily as  changing of a dress)  is one of the greatest  of the   Vedic sages. He was the son of Devaratha (also known as Vajasani or Brahmaratha)  and a Sishya(disciple ) of sage Vaisampayana who himself was a student of sage Veda Vyasa. His mother   was Sunanda , the daughter  of sage Sakala. He also had a sister  called Kamasri. Yagnavalkya due to his great knowledge was extremely proud  . Once sage Vaisampayana committed a great sin(Brahmahathya) . He requested  his disciples to do several religious ceremonies so that  , he could get rid of his sin. Then Yagnavalkya told him , that this was  not necessary as , he himself can do all that  is necessary  to make his Guru to get rid of his sin.  Sage Vaisampayana got very angry   and told  his disciple Yagnavalkya to return all  that he has taught him.  Sage Yagnavalkya due to his great power vomited all  that he learned from his guru. His Guru ordered  his other disciples to become thithiri birds(partridges) and eat all that   was vomited by Yagnavalkya. The Yajur veda   taught by sage Vaisampayana   was there after  called  the Krishna(black)  Yajurveda.
                     At that  time Yagnavalkya did not have any Veda with him. Yagnavalkya then did great  Thapas(Penance addressed   to  Lord Sun.)  Lord Sun appeared to him in the form of a horse   and taught   him  the completed Yajur veda.  Since  Lord Sun have   to travel daily  on his chariot  , it seems this Yajur veda   was taught  in the background of  the canter  of the horses. Some people are of the opinion , that  because of this the  proper tone in reciting the Veda  in this case  is not there.  Since it was taught by Sun God  ,  this Yajur veda is known as  “Shukla Yajurveda”  . It is also known as Vajasaneya Yajurveda. (Vaji  in Sanskrit means horse). Yagnavalkya divided this Vajasaneya Yajurveda again into fifteen branches, each branch comprising hundreds of Yajur Mantras. Sages like Kanva, Madhyandina and others learnt those and Śukla Yajurveda branched into popular recessions’ named after them. There  are many Brahmins who follow the Shukla Yajurveda both in   Andhra Pradesh and in Tamil Nadu as well in North India.  There is belief that  due to the fact that  Yagnavalkya   vomited the Vedas taught to him , he did not have Vedas  with him  for some time period. Some of those who follow Krishna Yajurveda   do take bath  at the noon(the time when Yagnavalkya   did not have Vedas) . The followers of Shukla Yajur Veda   also believe   that Krishna Yajur Veda  is tainted  because  it grew out of the vomit  eaten by the Thithiri birds.
   Sage Yagnavalkya  had two wives viz Maithreyi and  Kathyayani(Daughter of sage Bharadwaja) . He has written(compiled ) some immortal books  in the  Vedic period   apart from the Shukla Yajurveda.   The most famous and well known is the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.(great forest of knowledge)  This is one of primary Upanishads and is considered as one of the oldest Upanishad. One of the important section of this Upanishad is that  of the conversation between Yagna valkya   and his wife  Maithreyi..When Yagnavalkya became  old he decided   to undertake Vana prastha asrama   and divided  his   wealth in to two equal parts to be given to his wives. The  following  is first  conversation that   took place   between Maithreyi  and Yagnavalkya :-

“"Maitreyi" said Yagnavalkya, "see, I am indeed about to go forth from
this state. Come, let me make a final settlement for you and for
Katyayani."

Then Maitreyi said: " Sir, if this entire earth filled with its
riches were mine, would I thereby be immortal?"

"No," said Yagnavalkya. "You would live the life of the wealthy.
There is no hope of attaining immortality through wealth."

Then said Maitreyi: "What am I to do with what does not offer me
immortality? Tell me indeed that which you know!"

Then Yagnavalkya said: "Ah! You are already my beloved, and what you
are saying touches me! Come, sit down. I will explain to you, And
while I am explaining, meditate on it."

Then he said: "It is not for the sake of the husband that the husband
is cherished, my dear, but for the sake of the self that the husband
is cherished. It is not for the sake of the wife that the wife is
cherished my dear, but for the sake of the self that the wife is
cherished. It is not for the sake of sons that sons are cherished, my
dear, but for the sake of the self that sons are cherished. It is not
for the sake of wealth that wealth is cherished, my dear, but for the
sake of the self that wealth is cherished. It is not for the sake of
priesthood that priesthood is cherished, my dear, but for the sake of
the self that priesthood is cherished. It is not for the sake of
warriorhood that warriorhood is cherished, my dear, but for the sake
of the self that warriorhood is cherished. It is not for the sake of
the worlds that the worlds are cherished, my dear, but fort he sake
of the self that the worlds are cherished. It is not for the sake of
the gods that the gods are cherished, my dear, but for the sake of
the self that the gods are cherished. It is not for the sake of
beings that beings are cherished, my dear, but for the sake of the
self that beings are cherished. It is not for the sake of all that
all is cherished, my dear, but for the sake of the self that
everything is cherished. It is the self, my dear Maitreyi, that
should be discerned, be heard, be pondered on, be meditated on.
Indeed, by discerning the self, by hearing it, pondering on it,
meditating on it, all this is known.”
( this is  an excerpt from  http://www.indiadivine.org/showthread.php?t=88931)
The remaining conversation  in which  Yagnavalkya   teaches  Maithreyi  the spiritual knowledge  is  the part  of the Great  Brihadaranyaka   Upanishad  an English translation of which   is available in
http://swami-krishnananda.org/brdup/brhad_II-04.html  )


          Yagnavalkya  is considered as the teacher  to king Janaka.  For  maintaining his family as well as his disciples   he used   to visit  the palace of Janaka  very often. Given below  are   some of the pearls of wisdom that  was transferred   to the  world  during some of  these   visits.

1.How Yagnavalkya   defeated the sages and took away one thousand cows?

   Once king Janaka   conducted a   great Yaga and at that time the  king wanted to find out the greatest sage of the earth. He made an announcement saying   that  he would give the greatest sage  one thousand cows free and also hung a packet  of gold coins in the horns of those  cows. He made an announcement that  anyone who claims   to be the greatest  sage can  take away the cows. No one was bold enough   to do that. Then Yagnavalkya ordered his disciples   to take   away those  cows  to his home. Other saints who had assembled there  questioned Yagnavalkya’s   act. Then Yagnavalkya told them , that  among  the sages assembled there   he was the greatest. Then started  the  rain of questions   from those assembled   sages. Few of these question and answers are  given below:-

Arthabhaga:- “When a person who has  not got divine knowledge  dies, his  senses of knowledge  also die with him. Then how is it possible for him to get into another body?”

Yagnavalkya :- Karma becomes the cause  of his rebirth.

Kaahala:- What have you to say about Brahmam  which is  invisible and  which pervades   everywhere?

Yagnavalkya:- Your  soul is the all pervading Brahmam. To the soul there is neither hunger nor thirst , Fear  or attachment, old age or death. Those who want  to know their soul  , should  give away attachment to family and wealth  and should become saints. These   saints should have wisdom  and knowledge  of the soul.

Sage  Gargi*:-If everything is pervaded  by water , what  pervades  water?
      ( *One of the greatest  lady Vedic sage. She is the author  of Garga  Samitha.)
Yagnavalkya:- By air

Gargi :- What  pervades  air?

Yagnavalkya :- By sky?

Gargi :- What pervades    the sky?

Yagnavalkya  :- World  of Gandharwas

Gargi  :- What pervades  the world of Gandharwas?

Yagnavalkya  :-  The world  of  sun

Gargi:- What pervades   the world of Sun?

Yagnavalkya:- The world of moon.

Gargi :- What pervades  the world of moon?

Yagnavalkya:- The world of stars

Gargi :_What pervades  the world of stars?

Yagnavalkya :-  The   world of gods

Gargi:-  What pervades   the world of Gods?

Yagnavalkya:- The world of Indra

Gargi  :- What pervades  the world of Indra?

Yagnavalkya :- The world of Vinj

Gargi:- What pervades  the world of vinj?

Yagnavalkya :-  The world of HIranyagarbha.

Gargi : What pervades   the world  of Hiranyagarbha?

Yagnavalkya:- You are asking a question  which should not be asked.


Gargi  :- Who is wrap and weft  threads  of everything?

Yagnavalkya:-  It is Brahmam. Do not ask more questions. If you do your head will break in to pieces.

Gargi:- I have two questions to ask. They are  as sharp  as arrows .Which is   that power which is above heavens, below the earth and between these two  and makes   all of them exist like  the warp and the weft?

Yagnavalkya:- It exists in the sky.

Gargi  :- In which power does the sky remain like   a weft   and wrap?

Yagnavalkya:- By the order f the God ,  the sun and the moon never slip from their path. The sky and the earth exist  in places assigned to them. The rivers flow making the farm and fields fruitful.  The being who does not  understand God never  gets   deathlessness, He who dies  without realizing god  is a miser  without any properties whatsoever and the one who realizes  God gets  salvation.


Aaruni:- Who is that  which resides   within everything?

Yagnavalkya :- He who is within the entire universe  and he  who pervades  within all ,   controls the universe.  He is inside everything and controls everything from there. It is not possible to see him. But he sees all. It is not possible to hear him but he hears all. He thinks but is beyond our thought  process.  Within  all beings he exists as the one who sees, hears  and thinks.


SAkalya:- How many Gods are   there?

Yagnavalya:- There are thirty three Gods.  They  are the eight vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adhithyas  , Indra  and Prajapathi.(The Vedic concept of Hindu Gods)

Like this after  answering several questions  Yagnavalkya asked  sage SAkalya one question.viz. Who is being described in the Upanishads? He added, “if you are not able to answer this question, your head will explode   and break in to pieces. SAkalya was  not able to answer the question and died.. Yagnavalkya then asked the assembled sages “How is it,  new leaves come out of a cut tree? How is it that  once a seed is destroyed, a tree  is not able to come out of it? How is that  the person who dies is able to be born again?
None of the sages were  able to answer these questions and sage Yagnavalkya   took the  cows home.

2.Yagnavalkya’s  second visit  to  Janaka’s palace

   After some time sage Yagnavalkya came to the palace of Janaka again. Janaka asked him whether he has come in search of more cows or come to ask more difficult   questions.  Yagnavalkya smiled and told that  it was for both. Here are  some of the things that they   talked   with each other.

Janaka :- Sage  Jina says that Vachana (sentence/advice/ utterance) is Brahmam  Do you agree  with this?

Yagnavalkya :- It is true but did he say  about the body and resting place  of God?

Janaka:- no

Yagnavalkya:-  If it is so , he knows only a quarter  about God. Vachana is the body of God and Akasa(sky) is the  resting place of God. The knowledge of Brahmam depends  on words and the words are   the divine Brahmam.

King Janaka became happy   and  wanted to give one thousand cows to Yagnavalkya.  The sage then told him that  without  teaching the disciple properly ,  the Guru should not take   any compensation. Then Janaka asked the sage   to explain about the knowledge  of Brahman fully. Then Yagnavalkya    told

Like a man is able to reach the place he wants to reach by either  walking  on the road, or travelling in a chariot or a boat, the soul takes  recourse  of Upanishads to attain its aim. Even if one reads Vedas or Agamas , whether he is respected or rich and even if he  becomes  an expert  on Upanishads , if he does not know God , he cannot claim himself to have achieved  his objective of salvation.  Do you know  where  you go , once you leave   your body.

Janaka:- I do not know

Yagnavalkya:- I will tell you. The God of the right eye  is “Indha”(light)  People call it Indra. The  goddess of the left eye  is Indrani  , Indra is the one who eats and Indrani is the food. When one is in the wakeful state  they  move away from each other. And at that time the soul is called  “vaiswanara”. In the state of dream, they join together  and the soul is called “Thiajasa “ at that time. And in the state  of sleeping when there is no activity it is called  “Pragna”.In the fourth state  which is called  “THureeya “ , we are able to achieve much more than the other  three   states  and we would be able to realize  the Parabrahma  only in this state. It is the state of protection which  is beyond the states  of birth and death.

3.The third visit to Janaka

      After  some more time again sage Yagnavalkya visited   the palace of Janaka . Even at that  time some very interesting and informative conversation took place between  the king and the sage

Janaka:-  During day time which light shows us the way?

Yagnavalkya:- Sun
Janaka:- When Sun sets,  which light shows us the way?

Yagnavalkya:-  The moon

Janaka:- If sun and moon are not present then?

Yagnavalkya:- The fire

Janaka:- When sun, moon and fire are absent then?

Yagnavalkya:- Vachana(the word)

Janaka- If even that  is absent?

Yagnavalkya-The light  of the soul (Atma jyothis)
(a more detailed summary of this conversation can be found in

http://www.ocoy.org/dharma-for-christians/upanishads-for-christians/the-brihadaranyaka-upanishad/janaka-and-yajnavalkya-2/


  The king became very happy with these  replies and gave the sage one thousand cows.

   Apart from being the author of Shukla Yajurveda , sage Yagnavalkya has also written  the Yagnavlkya smrithi . This is    a guide  to  day to living for a Hindu. It resembles in many parts   the earlier  composed  “Manu Smrithi”.  The Yājñavalkya Smṛti consists of 1,010 ślokas  (verses). The text is laid out as a frame story in which the sages of Mithila approach Yājñavalkya and ask him to teach them dharma. The majority of the text is then Yājñavalkya's description of dharma, divided into three subtopics: Achara  (proper conduct), Vyavahāra (judicial procedures) and Prāyaścitta (penance). It is available in a downloadable   form in
http://www.hindu-blog.com/2010/09/yajnavalkya-smriti-in-pdf-format-in.html
Though it has several similarities with the Manu smrithi  , it is very much different in many places. Till recently the   division  of property between Hindu family members  of South India   was  based on the commentary  of Yagnavalkya Smrithi called MIthakshara Nyaya.
Yet another great work of the sage  is Sathapatha  Brahmana , which gives in detail the method Vedic rituals    associated  with Shukla Yajurveda.
    This great sage is supposed  to have attained  salvation after  his  vana prastha asram.

1 comment:

Divya Balakrishnan said...

Bhrihadaranyaka upanishad is one of my favourites. You have brought out in English very beautifully.