In this next conversation of Yajnavalkya and Janaka, the first seven verses are a complete unit.
The light of human beings
“Once when Yajnavalkya came to the court of King Janaka, the King welcomed him with a question.
“Janaka said: ‘Yajnavalkya, what serves as the light for man?’
“Yajnavalkya said: ‘The light of the sun, Your Majesty; for by the light of the sun man sits, goes out, does his work, and returns home.’
“Janaka said: ‘True indeed, Yajnavalkya.’
“‘But when the sun has set, what serves then as his light?’ Yajnavalkya said: ‘The moon is then his light.’
“Janaka said: ‘When the sun has set, O Yajnavalkya, and the moon has set, what serves then as his light?’ Yajnavalkya said: ‘The fire is then his light.’
“Janaka said: ‘When the sun has set, O Yajnavalkya, and the moon has set, and the fire has gone out, what serves then as his light?’ Yajnavalkya said: ‘Sound is then his light; for with sound alone as his light, man sits, goes out, does his work, and returns home. Even though he cannot see his own hand, yet when he hears a sound he moves towards it.’ Janaka said: ‘True indeed, O Yajnavalkya.’
“‘When the sun has set, and the moon has set, and the fire has gone out, and no sound is heard, what serves then as his light?’ Yajnavalkya said: ‘The Self indeed is his light; for by the light of the Self man sits, moves about, does his work, and when his work is done, rests.’
“Janaka said: ‘Who is that Self?’ Yajnavalkya said: ‘The self-luminous being who dwells within the lotus of the heart, surrounded by the senses and sense organs, and who is the light of the intellect, is that Self. Becoming identified with the intellect, he moves to and fro, through birth and death, between this world and the next. Becoming identified with the intellect, the Self appears to be thinking, appears to be moving. While the mind is dreaming, the Self also appears to be dreaming, and to be beyond the next world as well as this.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:3:1-7).
This is all quite clear, but it is good note that it is identity with the intellect, the intelligence principle in our makeup that both enables and causes us to move between this world and another, for we think that we are engaging in the functions of the intellect, not realizing that it is but an instrument formed of the three gunas and is not us at all. So we say: “I slept; I woke up; I was dreaming,” and so forth. Another important point is implied here. Notice that Yajnavalkya does not speak of identifying with the body, senses, emotions, etc. This is because the upanishad is intended for the instruction of those who have evolved beyond that type of identity, whose center of awareness is in the intellect, in the highest level of their being. Is this elitist? Absolutely! As Jesus said, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6).
A third point is that the Self is not “beyond the next world as well as this.” That is, It is not subject to coming and going, is neither within nor without any world. It transcends those kinds of designation.
The real “root of all evil”
“‘When man, the individual soul, is born, and assumes relationship with the body and sense organs, he becomes associated with the evils of the world. When at death he gives up the body, he leaves all evils behind.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:3:8).
Yajnavalkya does not say that false identity is the problem, rather that mere birth in a body creates unavoidable association with all the troubles and risks that every embodied being endures. We see this in the life of great avatars and masters: their lives were filled with troubles, and many of them died quite painfully. Why anyone would pray to them to remove troubles and disease is beyond comprehension. Why do the liberated also undergo hardship and even pain? Because they are in a body. This is a basic fact of life. That is why spiritually intelligent people understand that the real sacrifice made by masters of all ages was their incarnation, and everything went on from there. To endure the limitations and dangers of finite existence is a great, even a terrible, sacrifice they undergo at every moment. Yogananda told Swami Kriyananda that whenever he had to come into incarnation and saw the personality he would have to assume, it was like having to put on several wool overcoats on a blisteringly hot day. Being masters inwardly as well as outwardly, the sacrifice never overwhelms them, for they realized the implications of birth before they were even conceived. Since they are always in charge, they do not experience the mental anguish we do, but they go through the entire range of earthly miseries just like anyone else. With them everything is voluntary, for they have no karma to drag them into birth and through all that happens afterward. They walk through life, while we are pushed and pulled along. But for both them and us, to be freed from the compulsion of physical birth is to escape it all. And Atmajnana is the only escape.
The human status
“‘There are two states for man–the state in this world, and the state in the next; there is also a third state, the state intermediate between these two, which can be likened to dream. While in the intermediate state, a man experiences both the other states, that in this world and that in the next; and the manner thereof is as follows: When he dies, he lives only in the subtle body, on which are left the impressions of his past deeds, and of these impressions he is aware, illumined as they are by the pure light of the Self. Thus it is that in the intermediate state he experiences the first state, or that of life in the world. Again, while in the intermediate state, he foresees both the evils and the blessings that will yet come to him, as these are determined by his conduct, good and bad, upon the earth, and by the character in which this conduct has resulted. Thus it is that in the intermediate state he experiences the second state, or that of life in the world to come.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:3:9).
We are either embodied in this world, or disembodied and living in the astral realm. But between the two is the dream state in which we experience both material and astral conditions. For example, we fall off a cliff and experience falling just as we would in the waking state. But when we hit the ground we do not die–it does not even hurt. That is how it is in the astral world. And that is why little children are so fearless and will go right into a life-threatening situation without hesitation–in the astral world it is not threatening at all. It may even be fun.
Once I heard a monastic disciple of Yogananda explain to a group of people that they should not be impatient with the intense reactions of children to pain and frustration. For in the astral world they get anything they want just by wanting it, and they can go anywhere and do anything without pain. So when the situation is different in this world they are terrified and angry. They are also miserable in realizing that they are now in a world in which uncertainty is the only certainty. A friend of mine was once found by her father sitting in the midst of the floor crying bitterly. (She was two years old at the time.) When he asked her what was wrong, she complained that she could not fly. Luckily, he was a metaphysician, so he explained to her that although she could fly in the world she had come from, in this world people could not fly. “Then it’s a dumb world!” she said. “I agree. So do your best not to come back,” was his counsel.
When we leave our bodies we gain a great deal of understanding. We comprehend the life that has just ended and realize its deeper meanings. We analyze it and learn from it. Sometimes we have helpers in doing this. So even though we underwent things on earth with complete non-comprehension, now then see clearly their roots and their purpose. Those who do not know this often ask what good it is for infants and children to reap negative karmas and die young, for they cannot understand. Certainly, in this world they cannot understand, but the moment they are freed from the body they can and do understand. Also, it was their karma to suffer uncomprehendingly. It all works out to perfection, however it seems at the present moment. A religion that does not teach these facts to its adherents is unworthy of anyone’s attention. And a religion that tells people that God wills it all–is doing it to them because He has “a plan”–is a barefaced liar that deserves only contempt. But of course, many people deserve a contemptible religion. That, too, is karma.
“‘In the intermediate state, there are no real chariots, nor horses, nor roads; but by the light of the Self he creates chariots and horses and roads. There are no real blessings, nor joys, nor pleasures; but he creates blessings and joys and pleasures. There are no real ponds, nor lakes, nor rivers; but he creates ponds and lakes and rivers. He is the creator of all these out of the impressions left by his past deeds.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:3:10).
Just see what an incredible power of creative intelligence we all have. Also, even dreams are a matter of karma. Paramhansa Yogananda said that we can work out karma in the dream state.
“‘Regarding the different states of consciousness, it is written: While one is in the state of dream, the golden, self-luminous being, the Self within, makes the body to sleep, though he himself remains forever awake and watches by his own light the impressions of deeds that have been left upon the mind. Thereafter, associating himself again with the consciousness of the organs of sense, the Self causes the body to awake.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:3:11). In all states we are the self-luminous, untouched Witness. And all states are under our control.
“‘While one is in the state of dream, the golden, self-luminous being, the Self within, the Immortal One, keeps alive the house of flesh with the help of the vital force, but at the same time walks out of this house. The Eternal goes wherever he desires.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:3:12). Here is clear teaching that in dream we sometimes leave the body and travel in either this world or the next.
In that state: “‘The self-luminous being assumes manifold forms, high and low, in the world of dreams. He seems to be enjoying the pleasure of love, or to be laughing with friends, or to be looking at terrifying spectacles.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:3:13). This experience is common to all, from the least intelligent to the genius. Yet: “‘Everyone is aware of the experiences; no one sees the Experiencer.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:3:14). That is the riddle we must all solve.
“‘Some say that dreaming is but another form of waking, for what a man experiences while awake he experiences again in his dreams. Be that as it may, the Self, in dreams, shines by his own light.’ Janaka said: ‘Revered sir, I offer you a thousand cattle. Instruct me further for the sake of my liberation.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:3:15).
Free while bound
Even a tethered animal can move about as much as it likes within the bounds of the tether. It is the same with us. So we are never absolutely bound, but always experience a great deal of freedom, even if it is mostly psychological. A lot of what follows is obvious and even common knowledge, so no comment is needed.
“Yajnavalkya said: ‘The Self, having in dreams tasted enjoyment, gone hither and thither, experienced both good and evil, attains to the state of dreamless sleep; then again he comes back to dreams. ‘Whatever he may experience in dreams does not affect him, for the true nature of the Self remains forever unaffected.’
“Janaka said: ‘So it is indeed, Yajnavalkya. I offer you another thousand cattle, revered sir. Speak on for the sake of my liberation.’
“Yajnavalkya said: ‘The Self, having in dreams tasted enjoyment, gone hither and thither, experienced good and evil hastens back to the state of waking from which he started. Whatever he may experience in dreams does not affect him, for the true nature of the Self remains forever unaffected.’
“Janaka said: ‘So it is indeed, Yajnavalkya. Another thousand cattle shall be yours, revered sir. Speak on for the sake of my liberation.’
“Yajnavalkya said: ‘The Self, having in wakefulness enjoyed the pleasures of sense, gone hither and thither, experienced good and evil, hastens back again to his dreams.’
“‘As a large fish moves from one bank of a river to the other, so does the Self move between dreaming and waking.’
“‘As a hawk or a falcon flying in the sky becomes tired, and stretching its wings comes back to its nest, so does the Self hasten to that state where, deep in sleep, he desires no more desires, and dreams no more dreams.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:3:16-19).
The transcendent Self
There now follows one of the most thrilling and exalted passage of the upanishads.
“‘Indeed, the Self, in his true nature, is free from craving, free from evil, free from fear. As a man in the embrace of his loving wife knows nothing that is without, nothing that is within, so man in union with the Self knows nothing that is without, nothing that is within, for in that state all desires are satisfied. The Self is his only desire; he is free from craving, he goes beyond sorrow.’
“‘Then father is no father, mother is no mother; worlds disappear, gods disappear, scriptures disappear; the thief is no more, the murderer is no more, castes are no more; no more is there monk or hermit. The Self is then untouched either by good or by evil, and the sorrows of the heart are turned into joy.’
“‘He does not see, nor smell, nor taste, nor speak, nor hear, nor think, nor touch, nor know; for there is nothing separate from him, there is no second. Yet he can see, for sight and he are one; yet he can smell, for smelling and he are one; yet he can taste, for taste and he are one; yet he can speak, for speech and he are one; yet he can hear, for hearing and he are one; yet he can think, for thinking and he are one; yet he can touch, for touching and he are one; yet he can know, for knowing and he are one. Eternal is the light of consciousness; immortal is the Self.’
“‘When there is another, then one sees another, smells another, tastes another, speaks to another, hears another, thinks of another, touches and knows another.’
“‘Pure like crystal water is that Self, the only seer, the One without a second. He is the kingdom of Brahman–man’s highest goal, supreme treasure, greatest bliss. Creatures who live within the bonds of ignorance experience but a small portion of his infinite being.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:3:21-32).
For some reason Swami Prabhavananda omitted the next verse, perhaps because it had already appeared in the Taittiriya Upanishad in his translation. Here is Swami Madhavananda’s translation:
“‘He who is perfect of physique and prosperous among men, the ruler of others, and most lavishly supplied with all human enjoyments, represents greatest joy among men. This human joy multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy for the manes who have won that world of theirs. The joy of these manes who have won that world multiplied a hundred times makes one unit joy in the world of the celestial minstrels. This joy in the world of the celestial minstrels multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy for the gods by action–those who have attained their godhead by their actions. This joy of the gods by action multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy for the gods by birth, as also of one who is versed in the Vedas, sinless and free from desire. This joy of the gods by birth multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy in the world of Prajapati (Viraj), as well as one who is versed in the Vedas, sinless and free from desire. This joy in the world of Prajapati multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy in the world of Brahman (Hiranyagarbha), as well as of one who is versed in the Vedas, sinless and free from desire. This indeed is the supreme bliss. This is the state of Brahman, O Emperor,’ said Yajnavalkya” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:3:33).
KNOW THE SELF!
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: The Process of Reincarnation
Sections in the Upanishads for Awakening:
- The Isha Upanishad
- The Kena Upanishad
- The Katha Upanishad
- The Past is the Future
- Seeing Death, Seeing Life
- The Good and the Pleasant
- The Way of Ignorance
- The Mystery of the Self
- How to Either Know or Not Know the Self
- From the Unreal to the Real
- Finding the Treasure
- The Transcendent Reality of the Self
- The Immortal Self
- The Indwelling Self
- The Omnipresent Self
- The Sorrowless Self
- Who Can Know the Self?
- The All-Consuming Self
- The Divine Indwellers
- The Chariot
- The Chariot’s Journey
- The Glorious Way
- To Know The Self
- The Power of Enlightenment
- The Infinite Self
- The Dweller in the Heart
- The Birthless Self
- The Shining Self
- The Life-Giving Self
- The Eternal Brahman–The Eternal Self
- The Radiant Self
- The Universal Tree
- Hierarchy of Consciousness
- From Mortality to Immortality
- The Prashna Upanishad
- The Mundaka Upanishad
- The Mandukya Upanishad
- The Taittiriya Upanishad
- The Aitareya Upanishad
- The Chandogya Upanishad
- The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
- The Shvetashvatara Upanishad
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