Yajnavalkya Outside the Upanishad
The title of the talk this evening is ‘Yajnavalkya Outside the Upanishad’. He was the first great teacher of Yoga in the Upanishads, the first to teach the doctrine of karma. One of the two oldest Upanishads is thought to be about 600 B.C., so Yajnavalkya would have been at least that far back. There’s an extensive record of his teachings in the Upanishad. But there is also a reference to him in the literature outside the Upanishad and this is in the Jaina literature which is thought to be very early, about at least 300 B.C. There’s a passing reference to some of the great sages of the time who were not of the Jaina school, but they were extremely prolific in what they wrote and they did record with respect and reverence the teachings of some of the great sages of the other schools of the time. There are two references in one of the early Jaina classics. One is the teachings given by one who is not named but is called ‘the sage who carries the staff’. These teachings can be identified with some of the teachings which Yajnavalkya gave in the Upanishad. This is the Jaina account and this gives, because these are the words of a great man of the time, one can say, his central teachings. They’re brief and they give the teachings for which he was famous.
The sage with the single staff taught: “Right action and then clear intelligence is what makes liberation possible. Purusha, the great Self, is invisible, great, eternal, indestructible, unbreakable. It is within all beings and is far superior in every way, as the moon is to the stars.” Now we can see that this description of Purusha is close to what Yajnavalkya says in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: “In truth this great uncreated Self, Atman, is governor of all things, ruler of all, controller of all. It rests in all”. So this is a close parallel and it’s a confirmation that Yajnavalkya was famous for this teaching of the great Purusha, Self, which is within all, governs and controls all.
In the second reference, a name is given which is a dialect, a representation, of the name Yajnavalkya. The teaching is: “Having known that as long as there is desire for the world, there is the desire for wealth. Having known both these for what they are, one should go by the path of the cow.” This is one of the obscurities, but it does refer to a teaching of Yajnavalkya: “Go by the path of the cow, not by the Great Path. It was said by Janavaka, the Arhat, the Great One, the Rishi, the Sage, “He should consider the way, which is in accordance with the essence, which causes fruitful results. Let him obtain pure food, let him not chat to people to get it, nor be angry if he does not get it. He should consider the effects of anger, pride, delusion, and greed in himself and in others. He becomes the enlightened one, the calm one, free from evil, the tamed one, fit for liberation, the foremost. He will never return to samsara, the world of suffering”. Thus said Janavaka.”
We can see that this teaching, with its reference to wealth and the world, is similar to the Brihadaranyaka (3: v: 6): “That which transcends hunger and thirst, grief and delusion and death, knowing this very Self, the Brahmins renounce the desire for home, wealth and the worlds. The knower of Brahman, having known the texts should live as a child. Having known both texts and the child’s state, he should practice meditation. Having mastered meditation, and knowing what is not meditation, he becomes a knower of Brahman.” So this text again is close to what is recorded in the Jaina text, and it means what we already, in fact, know that this is a central teaching of Yajnavalkya.
The central teachings were, that there is the Great Self which is within all and transcends all and that one knows it by right conduct, and then by this renunciation of desire for wealth and the world, and then by this pacification up to meditation. The opponent says, “Well, if he’s a knower of Brahman before he begins studying the texts, mastering the texts and entering the child-like state and practicing meditation, he already knows Brahman. There can be no other knowledge”. Shankara meets this point as he does in so many places, which is often not noticed. He says, “No, knowledge can be disturbed. Although he knows Brahman, he still practices meditation so that the knowledge may become (what he calls) Supreme”. He says in his commentary that sometimes there can be knowledge which is not fully effective because of the perception of differences. And the opponent says, “No. You either know or you don’t know. It’s not a question of Supreme knowledge. You either know or you don’t know.” Various examples are given from that time, but an example from our time is that recently, at the beginning of this year, there is a television serial, which I admit I don’t know, called Coronation Street which has run for about thirty years. At the beginning of this year a popular actress who has been in it twenty-three years was shown in the programme as intending to leave Coronation Street and go and retire in the country. She’s very popular it seems. The television company made a mistake in that they named an actual village, Hartingdon. And in Coronation Street she said farewell to her friends, “Now I’m getting on, I’m going to retire to Hartingdon”. And that weekend, there were not one or two, but a large number of fans of the programme in the village of Hartingdon, asking for her address, for the address of this fictional character from Coronation Street and the television company had to apologise for giving the name of a real village. And they said a lot of our enthusiasts can’t distinguish the story from reality. So they actually went to this village. Now that’s an example. They have clear knowledge. In one sense they know perfectly clearly this is a television programme – that the lines are spoken by actors and actresses and refer to imaginary events – and yet they went to the village and created a considerable disturbance. The villagers were furious at being knocked up and asked where the address was of this actress. So this is a present day example of the fact that knowledge, although it’s clear that they know it’s television – because sometimes they write to the television company to their favourite character – yet that knowledge is clouded.
The point of studying an outside comment on Yajnavalkya is that it gives you the teaching for which he was famous, his central teaching. It’s a very useful thing, and it’s a very important thing, to know what is central teaching of one of the religious sages, or a great man of any kind. Now the same truth, or the same idea, can be put forward in different ways. For instance this: Swami Rama Tirtha says, “God is your own self. Realise that.” And then in more philosophical terms, “Man’s knowledge of God is man’s knowledge of himself, of his own nature. Where the consciousness of God is, there is the being of God, in man therefore. In the being of God it is only thy own being which is an object to thee. What presents itself before thy consciousness is simply what lies behind it”. Then another example: “This is the state, the ideal state: Production activity will become joyous creation. Man will produce things spontaneously, for the sheer pleasure it gives him, as if in play. He will enjoy, without desire to possess or own anything.” Swami Rama Tirtha says the same thing too. “Take to your work not as a plodding labourer, but as a noble priest for pleasure’s sake, as a happy play or a game.”
Now the second one, in both cases, was Swami Rama Tirtha, but the first one was Karl Marx. Karl Marx wrote those: “Production activity will become joyous creation. Man will produce things spontaneously, for the sheer pleasure it gives him, as if in play. He will enjoy without any desire to possess or own anything.” And Karl Marx says, “In the being of God, it is only thy own being.” Now it’s easy to take out these sentences and say “Well, Marx and Swami Rama Tirtha teach practically the same thing”, and one can only do this if one doesn’t know their central position. Their central position is something entirely different.
What is the means to achieve this? The nature of man, according to Swami Rama Tirtha is the universal Self; according to Marx, the true nature of man is man as he is conditioned by the senses, but without the inhuman impulse of greed – this is man’s true nature. The central position is entirely different and the way to achieve this, Karl Marx says, is to incite the different classes against each other. “A wild melee of seizure and destruction of property, promiscuous socialisation of all, including general prostitution of women to the lust of the masses, complete negation of the personality of man, general envy as power, greed establishing itself in another way, infinite degradation.” He saw this as the process which would lead finally to a change in man.
Swami Rama Tirtha’s process, his central position is entirely different. He says: “Have a living faith in the truth, realise the spirit to such a degree that this world becomes unreal to you. Realise this planet is nothing in contrast with the supreme infinite power, the Atman, Self. Realise that, feel that. Light of lights you are, all glory is yours. Feel that and realise it to such an extent that the earth and name and fame, the earthly relations, criticism and flattery all become meaningless to you.” This is a characteristic statement of Swami Rama Tirtha. If you look through the lectures and count these declarations where he says, “Feel this, realise infinity”, you will soon get up to a hundred and then can stop. Here is another one a few pages on: “For one minute throw over desire, chant OM – no attachment, perfect poise, and your whole being is light.” Then later he’ll say, “Assert Godhead, fling into oblivion your little self as if it had never existed. Burst the bubble.”
These are his central teachings and if they’re not included in a presentation of Swami Rama Tirtha then one can easily think, “He was a faintly sceptical philosopher. By the ‘true nature of man’ he simply means the nature of human nature, conditioned by the body and the senses, as he says himself, but without the crashing un-human impulse of greed. Our teacher made a big point of this, he said, “We reverence all the great religious schools”. Shri Dada was called the Saint Universal, but it doesn’t mean that he subscribed to all the fundamental background of those schools or necessarily to their practice. For instance, in the Shri Dada Sanghita – the Heart of the Indian Mystical Teachings – a Sufi teacher is given a speech in which he declares the tenets of his school and Shri Dada hears him, and reveres him as a great devotee. But Shri Dada did not agree with what he calls the ‘shallow concept’ of the Sufis by which the romantic attachment, if it’s unselfishly held for twelve years, will turn into love of God. Shri Dada says, “This is raga, passion, and how can raga change into vairagya”. He calls it the ‘shallow doctrine’. The Sufi is not criticised there, but Shri Dada is silent – he doesn’t repeat it. In the same way with the Christian Fathers, for whom he had a great respect and reverence – when the Christian Father says baptism is absolutely necessary to cleanse the soul of original sin, Shri Dada is silent. He reveres him as a great devotee but he doesn’t agree with the fundamental tenet which the Father has put forward.
Our teacher spoke of Brother Lawrence for whom he had a great respect and a reverence. But with Brother Lawrence again the background and the basis was different from the Yogic basis. Sometimes he’s quoted – and it’s only a report by a third person, but still it’s probably true because it’s not contradicted by what he says elsewhere – that he felt a greater sense of the presence of God when he was engaged outside formal worship. He says, when we continue, from God sometimes a reminder, a stronger sense, warming and firing his soul so strongly at times that he cried aloud, singing and dancing as vigorously as a madman. He expected to have in time some great affliction of body or mind. The worst would be to lose that sense of God which he had had for so long. So he felt that he might lose it. But in his writings and in his letters there is another thing which gradually shows itself, though not formally and officially, a sense that God assured him that He would never completely abandon him. The formal basis was different because Brother Lawrence says, “To worship God in truth means to worship God as Spirit – perfect, infinite; and to worship God in truth means to confess that we are completely separated from him.”
Shri Dada didn’t agree with this basis. He says, “There is a deeper truth which is that the Lord is within.” And, as a matter of fact, in Brother Lawrence’s own experience, which comes out, he begins to speak sometimes in this way, of God as within. Nevertheless, in his worship he often couldn’t keep still and he was compelled to move about. He said that sometimes it kindles so warmly the soul, that he is constrained to temper it with many outward acts. Well, this is another example of a great devotee who was revered and quoted by our teacher, but nevertheless the basis was different, and the practice was on a different basis from that.
Turning to Yajnavalkya’s teachings as given in the Jaina scriptures, an important point is made about the desire for wealth, the desire for home and the desire for the world, which Shankara reads as ‘power’. Shankara points out that Yajnavalkya was rich at this time. The emperor was making tremendous presents to him – a thousand cows meant a considerable amount of capital in India at that time. He doesn’t say then that he gave that up. He remained, but he was free from the desire for it. “Well, how would one know?” Because he was not always talking about it and he could walk away from it, as he did. In Samuel in the Old Testament, it says, “At that time, the voice of the Lord was rarely heard, and the vision of the Lord was never had.” When there’s a sort of check in the spiritual experience, then it’s liable to happen that the secondary things, the spiritual home, the spiritual wealth and then the wealth belonging to a spiritual community begin to assume more and more importance.
In the temple of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus there were eighty-two maidens working on two huge curtains every year, 40 foot wide, 80 foot long. There were six colours, twenty threads and seventy-two strands. And we know the name of the man who was responsible for it, the senior official named Eleazar. This would be a tremendous undertaking, a tremendous feat of organisation – and it was done. But it did mean that the body of the temple became more and more important. Finally when the Romans attacked Jerusalem, a group of fanatics, Jonadistulla, took possession of the temple and then fought against the other defenders of Jerusalem. As one Jewish historian says bitterly, “While the Romans were besieging Jerusalem, the defenders were fighting among themselves. And one of the points on which they fought and killed each other was whether it was right to fight on the Sabbath. They felt the Lord must do a miracle. He would be forced to do a miracle to defend the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord”. But this was not so. They said, “We will wait on the Lord. We’re not perfect and it’s not good for us to be fighting among ourselves in this crisis, but the Lord will have to do the miracle, we wait on His grace”. But Shri Dada says, “No – only through you!” One Buddhist says, “People wait for karma, they say, I’m waiting for the karma, but the karma came long ago – it’s waiting for you.”
The attachment to wealth and home – not necessarily to leave, but to be free from constantly thinking about it and talking about it and able to leave if the time comes. Then the word is ‘power’ – this is the second great point of Shri Yajnavalkya – freedom from the desire for the world, which Shankara reads as ‘power’. A French commentator said rather bitterly, “Unless you misuse your power a bit, there’s no point in having it”, and he gives the example that if you’re the editor of a magazine, people are sending in contributions. It’s quite easy to find out which are the good ones and which are the bad ones – if you’re not a good judge yourself, you can find out quite easily: such and such a writer has taken the literary prize and had been in several anthologies for style and so on. Well, if you just accept the good and reject the bad you’re just a rubber stamp and you get nothing out of it at all. So he says, When you have that power you think, “This may be very good, may be famous – but they’ve got to please ME and I can be difficult!” And he says, “Then you get something out of it!” The inner spiritual experience begins to wane, as our teacher said, “How many of the great temples of China – you go there, but the gods have departed.”
One of the great lines – Zen began with this man here in China, an Indian and he’s called the wall-gazing Brahmin. For nine years he meditated facing a wall. He saw the emperor, the emperor didn’t understand and he walked on. Six times they tried to poison him, but he stopped eating, became aware of it. He lived to one hundred and twenty. The poisoners all died of age or ingrowing venom. Finally in the sixth generation this school of meditation, the Zen school, one of the great ones was a very active and combative man. He began to say, “This practice of meditation, if it’s not based on knowledge it will be detrimental, you will be meditating on falsehood. And if you’ve got knowledge, you don’t need meditation. Knowledge, knowledge – not meditation.” In his school the meditation practice began to wane. When that happened they went in for scholarship, but in a few generations the living experience had died. That sect became a great centre of scholarship. For one generation they had a fantastically wealthy temple and then the emperor – well, emperors get short of money – the emperor struck, and that was the end of that temple and its scholarship. The other Zen schools they didn’t need temples, they didn’t need anything elaborate at all. The teacher and the pupil could be working together side by side in the fields. So although the emperor tried to stamp out Buddhism, and plunder all the wealth – he took the wealth – but he couldn’t find the Zen people. After the persecution had gone down and the emperor had died, then Zen was the only one left.
So the teacher, Shankara, points out that it’s a question of being free from the desire for these things, the hankering desire for these things; not necessarily from the things themselves but he must be able to walk away from them, when it’s necessary to do so.
In the Upanishadic passage we read, one of Yajnavalkya’s main teachings said that the knower of the Self, he knows about learning, he masters the texts, then he enters the childlike state. This is explained by Shankara as, the same as what the Gita gives as, what’s translated as ‘straightforwardness’. It means literally, straight and it’s contrasted with twisted. This virtue comes four times in the Gita, hardly in the Upanishads at all, but it comes four times in the Gita in very important places. In 13:7 there’s a list of the qualities: humility, modesty, harmlessness, patience, straightforwardness, service, purity, steadiness, self-control. In 16th chapter: fearlessness, purity, straightforwardness. In the 18th chapter: serenity, self-restraint, tapas, endurance, purity, forgiveness, straightforwardness; and in the 17th chapter it comes with: straightforwardness, brahmacharya, purity.
Now a former warden of Shanti Sadan said this means being sincere. One example that was given was that it’s very easy to twist a text in an obviously insincere way, but it’s nevertheless possible. You knock your foot and you get a little cut, so you go to the doctor. He doesn’t clean it, he just slaps a plaster on it. Then it becomes infected, it swells up. He just looks at it and says, “It’ll be alright” and he puts another plaster on it. But when the time comes it gets very bad and the doctor says, “Well, the leg will have to come off”. You say, “What! This was just a little cut. What have you been doing?” And the doctor says, “I don’t work for results”. Then you’ve only got one leg, so you decide to sell your little house in London and go and live next to your sister in the country so she will look after you. You’ve only got one leg and it’s difficult, so you give your solicitor power of attorney. But when the time comes to fix the actual contract he wants to get away to a television programme so he just signs, leaving them to fill in the figures, and they fill it in for £20. So instead of the £20000 that you hoped to get, you get £20 for your house and you say to the solicitor, “What were you doing?” and he says, “If it’s your karma to get a given price you’ll get it. Doesn’t matter what I do, if it’s your karma to get £20, you’ll get £20 and that’s what happened”. Similarly he said “Oh well, it’s been a disaster, but if that’s the way the Lord wants it, we accept it.”
Well, all these examples were given by a teacher as examples of insincerity. The texts are used, but actually they’re being used insincerely. In one of the Sufi classics, the example is given where Adam is created and Iblis, who is an angel, and all the other angels are told to bow to Adam, a man. Iblis refuses. He says, “You the Lord have given the ordinance: “You shall not bow down to any other than Me”. I dare not disobey that order.” The Lord, Allah, says to him, “But I am telling you now, bow down to Adam” and Iblis says “I cannot go against your ordinance”. The Lord says, “Then you will be banished to hell”. Iblis says, “Shall I see You from hell?” and the Lord says, “Yes – in your torment you will still see Me. Iblis says, “Then I’m content”.
It sounds very noble, but actually as is pointed out, it’s simply his pride that he won’t bow down to Adam. All this business about obedience to the ordinances and this very high-souled explanation is simply to cover up his pride. The childlike state, Shankara says, is one which does not calculate. He gives two explanations of this in the Brahma-sutras and elsewhere and it’s one where there is no twisting and trying to adapt something to suit himself.
Then the final teaching of Yajnavalkya is, what the very ancient Upanishad quotes, these five steps on the way which are that he is withdrawn. People say, “Oh no, we don’t want to withdraw from the world. We must pay back to the world, because we ourselves receive our living from the world – we must pay back to the world. Not this withdrawal, not this running away from the world”. But actually if we look, and our teacher often pointed it out, if we look at history, we shall see that it is the people of meditation who, in fact, do benefit the world and do something for the world; whereas the others, busy though they are, are often destructive. In the Shri Dada Sanghita, this comes several times that, without an inner spiritual training, the attempts to do good in the world are very often counter-productive.
He’s withdrawn, but as Swami Rama Tirtha used to say, “You go into the roots in meditation, then you come back and the flower’s blossomed. But without the growth in the roots, the flowers won’t show their beauty. He must become calm, he must become tamed”. This word is used in the Jaina text too. It’s one of the shanta danta and it literally means tamed, as though the body were tamed, as though an animal were tamed. This word must have been a major teaching of Yajnavalkya, because it comes in this very ancient Jaina text, which just gives this short description of his teaching. “He becomes calm, tamed, withdrawn, patient and then practicing meditation”.
Some of the schools say, meditation must be practiced all the time, not just sitting in meditation. A man said to Hakuin, the Zen master, “I should be in samadhi all the time, not just sitting; so I should be practicing going about, not sitting here.” Hakuin said, “You’re quite right. Samadhi should be continuous all the time, but with you, as a matter of fact, it is not continuous all the time and until it is you must practice at the formal times as well.”
Samahita: when he’s become calm, tamed, withdrawn, patient and samahita – this means meditating in samadhi. Shankara explains it as withdrawing the senses and the antahkarana and the mind into a single one-pointedness within. Then he sees the Supreme Self as his own self and he sees all in the Self. This is the central teaching of Yajnavalkya. It’s one of the oldest verses, it’s a verse repeatedly quoted by Shri Shankara in his presentation.
Going back to the Jaina description of this sage, the main points which came up there were “He should become free from the desire for world and for wealth”. It doesn’t say freedom from them physically, necessarily, but that he should not be talking about them all the time. He should be able to walk away from them, as our teacher was able to walk away when the venom and the spite in Japan – because he was opposed to the idea of a revolution in India which the Japanese wanted and which he saw would be disastrous – finally led to their attempted assassination. He was able to walk away having fearlessly, most dangerously, proclaimed his views. Finally he was able to walk away; and again he was able to leave a very rich situation in China when the impulse came and to walk way and come to relative poverty here. So to be free from these two. Yajnavalkya says, with these qualities – being able to be calm, tamed, withdrawn, patient and practicing samadhi – “He sees the Supreme Self as his own self. He sees all in the Self.” These are the words of the Upanishad. In the declaration by Swami Rama Tirtha he describes – and it’s characteristic of him – what it is: “Realise this Spirit to such a degree that this world becomes unreal to you. Realise this planet is nothing in contrast with the Supreme Infinite Power, the Atman Self. Realise that, feel that. Light of lights you are, all glory is yours. Feel that and realise it to such an extent that the earth and name and fame, the earthly relations, criticism and flattery become meaningless to you”. We think, “Incredible, incredible” and he gives his method, which again is a characteristic teaching of Swami Rama Tirtha and which comes in hundreds of places, even in those bare books of lectures. “For one minute” he says, “throw overboard your desire, then chant OM. No attachment, perfect poise – and your whole being will be light. Assert Godhead. Fling into oblivion your little self, as if it had never existed. Burst the bubble.”