Thus Spoke Yajnavalkya
Wealth can buy convenience and comfort but not inner peace. There is a point in consciousness where one realizes that one alone exists without any second or any other. That is a juxtapose beyond all dualities. The attainment of that stage alone gives real final peace. This is the lesson taught by Rishi Yajnavalkya to his wife Maitreyi. It is a classic conversation between this pair. Passages from it are often quoted. The story is in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad.
The great seer Yajnavalkya had two wives, Maitreyi and Katyayani. Of them Maitreyi was a real seeker after truth. She was a brahmavadini, one who discusses the Brahman, the Supreme Spirit, and meditates upon it. Katyayani was, like all other ordinary women, attached to worldly things and busy with household affairs.
After leading a householder’s life for years, the Rishi Yajnavalkya thought of changing the mode of his life and of taking to Sannyasa or the fourth stage in life which is one of complete and final renunciation of the world.
He therefore called Maitreyi to his side one day and said to her, “I am thinking of renouncing the world. I want to be a sannyasi, I wish to detach myself completely from all affairs. I shall leave this home and go to some forest resort. I think it desirable to partition this property between you two before I depart.
Maitreyi said, “Dear one, you are talking of property and its partition. But what would it avail me even if the whole world full of wealth were mine own? Would it make me immortal and take me beyond all sorrow and suffering?”
The sage replied. “No dear, not at all. Your life would be as comfortable as material means and wealth can make it. There is no hope of immortality through wealth.”
Maitreyi then said, “What then have I to do with things that do not give me what I really want? I want to be immortal. I want that which would give me life eternal. Therefore I would urge you to teach me that spiritual knowledge which you possess, rather than talk to me about things material.”
The Rishi felt elated at this spiritual hunger of his dear wife. He took her by his side and endearingly said to her, “You are so dear to me, Maitreyi. You have asked me something that is nearest to my heart. I shall teach you as much as I know of it. Listen to me attentively and meditate constantly upon it.”
He continues, “Dear one, we find in this world that the husband is pleased with his wife and the wife is pleased with her husband. They please each other and love each other not merely because they are in the relation of husband and wife. The husband is not loved for his own sake nor is the wife for her own sake. They both love each other because they find their own selves in each other. They are satisfied with each other because each of them identifies the other with his or her own self. So it is the one’s own soul that is loved and not any other thing. The children are dear to us not for their own sake, not because they are merely children, nor because they are our children, but because we find our own soul in them. Wealth and cattle and all beings around us are dear to us not because they are themselves, but because we find our own soul extended in them or because we can find our own soul in them or through them. The gods and the worlds are dear to us not for their own sake. We do not love them by themselves nor because they are what they are but because we hope to find and realize our own soul, the Atman, through them or by their help. Above all, we love the Vedas, we study them, but it is not for their sake. We love them because we believe that they would lead us to the knowledge of the spirit in us. It is thus for the sake of one’s inner soul, the inner self of things, or the Atman that man loves all other things. That is the uppermost motive of our love for things.
“That spirit, that inner soul of things, is the one thing that really deserves to be seen, to be heard of, to be thought about and meditated upon. O dear Maitreyi, when that spirit, that great self, is seen, heard, thought about, meditated upon and known. The knowledge of the Atman includes the knowledge of all other things. It supersedes all other knowledge. This Atman is the first and the last of things. All this that is visible and invisible is the Atman. When that Atman is known, all else is known.
“When a big drum is being beaten, we cannot catch hold of the waves of sound that vibrate from it. But certainly when we hold and possess the drum itself, we control the sound as well. So too, when the stringed musical instrument is being played upon, the numerous tunes that emerge from it are intangible and cannot be caught hold of. But certainly when we get hold of the instrument itself we can control the tunes and play upon it at will. So too can we know the essence of the multifarious world in all its wild variety only when we know the Atman, the inner soul of things that pervades all things.
“When fire is being lighted with wet fuel, clouds of thick smoke emerge and spread in all directions. So too from this Being of beings, like to its very breath, do issue out the Vedas, the Puranas or old traditions, the histories, the arts and sutras or axioms and numerous expositions.
“Just as the sea is the one repository of all waters on earth and all waters run to the sea, just as all touch is known by the skin, all smell by the nose, all forms are seen by the eye, all sound is heard by the ear, all ideas are conceived by the mind, so too is the spirit the only one repository of all things, towards which all things rush as to a final resting place. All things are known by the spirit and the spirit alone has the power to know all things.
“The spirit is complete and perfect in itself. It has neither an inside nor an outside. It is full of itself and is in the nature of self-luminous consciousness.
“Some say that the spirit in man is no more after his death and the conscious self vanishes once for all.”
At this stage Maitreyi very eagerly put in, “I am very anxious to know about this mystery. You must enlighten me and lead me beyond all ignorance and false knowledge.”
The sage continued, “I am not feeding you on false notions. The soul is imperishable. It is unborn and deathless. It exists by itself and its life is continuous without a break. The spirit being one and indivisible, when it ceases to be in an individualized body, it becomes free from individual limitations. Then it is One and Alone. Where there are two, there is a possibility of one seeing the other, hearing the other, speaking to the other, thinking of the other and so on. This possibility occurs only when there are two things or more, but not when there is only One thing. When the spirit alone, one and indivisible, one without a second, exists, who is to see whom and by what means, who is to hear what and by what sense, who is to touch whom and by what hand, where all is one homogeneous existence, who is to cognize whom? In such a condition, the one exists without the other. That is the Atman, the unknowable, the deathless one. He is the knower of all; how then can we know Him and by what means?”
This is the knowledge of the one Atman as taught by the sage Yajnavalkya to Maitreyi, his wife, on the eve of his departure to the forest for leading a life of perfect renunciation.