Whether one is a deva or a human, a householder or a renunciant, male or female, all must realize brahmavidyã. Everyone desires happiness, and the road to happiness becomes visible only by brahmavidyã. This is repeatedly emphasized in the Upanishads. The Bruhadãranyakaa Upanishad is an example of this.
Through simple dialogues this Upanishad presents many ideas, such as, the clear conviction of a husband like Yãgnavalkya, the rich contemplative knowledge of a wife like Maitreyi, the rational intellect of Gãrgi, and in a single syllable the duties of devas, humans and asuras. Let us take a closer look at some of these.
This Upanishad is found in the Yajur Veda. It is encompassed in the Vãjasaneyi Brãhman of the Shukla Yajur Veda. ‘Bruhad’ means great. Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman are bruhad, i.e., greater than jivas, ishwaras, mãyã and muktas. Since this Upanishad radiates the light of brahmavidyã by explaining the nature of Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman and is reflected and contemplated upon in a forest (aranya) setting, it is named the Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad.
This Upanishad is spread across six chapters (adhyãy), each of which is further divided into sub-chapters called brãhmans.
THE STORY OF YÃGNAVALKYA AND MAITREYI
Yagnavalkya’s son, Yãgnavalkya was a great rishi and had two wives, named Kãtyãyani and Maitreyi. Of the two, Kãtyãyani was more resourceful and was an expert when it came to looking after the house, making a variety of tasty meals, and welcoming and looking after guests. She was well reputed in the surrounding region for her resourcefulness. Maitreyi, however, was different. She was interested in brahmagnãn and had a natural inclination for spiritual contemplation. Both Yãgnavalkya and Kãtyãyani greatly respected her for this.
One day Yãgnavalkya thought of leaving home and renouncing the world. He decided to inform both of his wives of his decision. He met Maitreyi and said, 'मैत्रेयीति होवाच याज्ञवल्क्य उद्यास्यन् वा अरेऽहमस्मात् स्थानादस्मि हन्त तेऽनया कात्यायन्याऽन्तं करवाणीति' – ‘Maitreyeeti hovãcha Yãgnavalkya udyãsyan vã are’hamasmãt sthãnãdasmi hanta te’nayã Kãtyãyanyã’ntam karavãneeti’ – ‘O Maitreyi! I now wish to leave this place. Therefore, I want to share whatever means of livelihood we have – wealth, land, etc. between the two of you. With that you will be able to live comfortably’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 2/4/1).
Hearing this Maitreyi immediately asked, 'यन्नु म इयं भगोः सर्वा पृथिवी वित्तेन पूर्णा स्यात् कथं तेनाऽमृता स्यामिति' – ‘Yannu ma iyam bhagoho sarvã pruthivee vittena poornã syãt katham tenã’mrutã syãmiti’ – ‘O my husband, if the entire world was filled with wealth and given to me, what use would it be? Would I be able to attain immortality, i.e., liberation, with it?’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 2/4/2). Yãgnavalkya had not expected such a question, but the answer was clear. 'नेति होवाच याज्ञवल्क्यः' – ‘Neti hovãcha Yãgnavalkyaha’ – ‘No, Maitreyi,’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 2/4/2), Yãgnavalkya clarified.
‘O my husband, how will we benefit from these means of livelihood that you wish to give us?’ Maitreyi asked.
'यथैवोपकरणवतां जीवितं तथैव ते जीवितं स्याद्। अमृतत्वस्य तु नाशाऽस्ति वित्तेनेति' – ‘Yathaivopakaranavatãm jeevitam tathaiva te jeevitam syãd. Amrutatvasya tu nãsha’sti vitteneti’ – ‘Maitreyi, with these means of livelihood you will be able to live like a wealthy person. But the immortality that you ask for can never be attained by wealth, money, etc., which are just instruments of this world. With them you can accumulate conveniences, but they have nothing to do with liberation’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 2/4/2). Yãgnavalkya thus told her the truth.
Maitreyi’s response even today gives us a glimpse into esteemed values of Indian culture. Maitreyi replied, 'सा होवाच मैत्रेयी येनाऽहं नाऽमृता स्यां किमहं तेन कुर्यां यदेव भगवान् वेद तदेव मे ब्रूहीति' – ‘Sã hovãcha Maitreyi yenã’ham nã’mrutã syãm kimaham tena kuryãm yadeva bhagavãn veda tadeva me brooheeti’ – ‘What am I to do with that which will not give me immortality? Moreover, won’t what you desire to renounce and leave for us, bind us? Therefore, please explain to us the understanding with which you have decided to renounce all of this?’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 2/4/3). True spiritual curiosity could be heard in Maitreyi’s words. Yãgnavalkya was overwhelmed, 'प्रिया बताऽरे नः सती प्रियं भाषसे। एह्यास्स्व। व्या यास्यामि ते व्याचक्षाणस्य तु मे निदिध्यासस्वेति' ‘Priyã batã’re naha satee priyam bhãshase, ehyassva, vyãkhyãsyãmi te vyãchakshãnasya tu me nididhyãsasveti’ – ‘Maitreyi, you are indeed dear to me, but upon hearing your feelings my affection for you has truly increased’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 2/4/3).
Yãgnavalkya explained the uppermost principles of a spiritual life by saying, 'न वा अरे पत्युः कामाय पतिः प्रियो भवति। आत्मनस्तु कामाय पतिः प्रियो भवति।' – ‘Na vã are patyuhu kãmãya patihi priyo bhavati. Ãtmanastu kãmãya patihi priyo bhavati’ – ‘O Maitreyi, I am your husband, but it is not for the desire of a husband that I am dear to you, but Paramãtmã resides in us all, and it is only due to the wish of Paramãtmã that a husband is dear to his wife’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 2/4/5). Moreover, 'न वा अरे जायायै कामाय जाया प्रिया भवति आत्मनस्तु कामाय जाया प्रिया भवति। ' – ‘Na vã are jãyãyei kãmãya jãyã priyã bhavati, ãtmanastu kãmãya jãyã priya bhavati’ – ‘You are my wife, but it is not for a desire of a wife that a wife becomes dear, but Paramãtmã resides in one’s wife as well, and only by the wish of Paramãtmã is a wife dear to her husband’(Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 2/4/5).
In this first sentence, Yãgnavalkya has given a unique perspective on marital relations. Therefore, 'न वा अरे पुत्राणां कामाय पुत्राः प्रिया भवन्ति। ... न वा अरे वित्तस्य कामाय वित्तं प्रियं भवति। ... न वा अरे लोकानां कामाय लोकाः प्रिया भवन्ति। ...' – ‘Na vã are putrãnãm kãmãya putrãhã priyã bhavanti... na vã are vittasya kãmãya vittam priyam bhavati... na vã are lokãnãm kãmãya lokãhã priyã bhavanti...’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 2/4/5). Meaning, whatever one cherishes, whether it is one’s children, wealth, or other people is all due to Paramãtmã. Yãgnavalkya then summarizes everything he has said in one sentence, 'न वा अरे सर्वस्य कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवति। आत्मनस्तु कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवति।' – Na vã are sarvasya kãmãya sarvam priyam bhavati. Ãtmanastu kãmãya sarvam priyam bhavati’ ‘Whatever in this world seems lovely, beautiful, or charming is due to Paramãtmã’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 2/4/5).
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas