All of the Brahmins were dumbfounded. Who would have the courage to ask next? To everyone’s amazement a Brahmin woman named Gãrgi took on the task. 'अथ हैनं गार्गी वाचक्नवी पप्रत्व्छ' – ‘Atha hainam Gãrgi vãchaknavee paprachchha’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/6/1). She was a learned scholar and well inclined to talking and asking questions. She asked, 'यदिदं सर्वमप्स्वोतं च प्रोतं च कस्मिन्नु खल्वाप ओताश्र्च प्रोताश्र्चेति' – ‘Yadidam sarvamapsvotam cha protam cha kasminnu khalvãpa otãshcha protãshcheti’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/6/1). That much can be understood that everything that we see here as earth is immersed in water, and that there is more water than earth. The earth floats on water, but what is water immersed in? Yãgnavalkya replied, ‘In air.’ The questioning continued: “And air?” “In space.” “And space?” “In Gandharvaloka.” “And Gandharvaloka?” “In Ãdityaloka.” “And Ãdityaloka?” “In Chandraloka.“ “And Chandraloka?“ “In Nakshatraloka.” “And Nakshatraloka?” “In Devaloka.” “And Devaloka?” “In Indraloka.” “And Indraloka?” “In Prajãpatiloka.” “And Prajãpatiloka?” Yãgnavalkya replied, 'ब्रह्मलोकेषु गार्गीति' – ‘Brahmalokeshu Gãrgeeti’ – ‘Gãrgi, it is immersed in Brahmaloka, i.e., Akshardhãm’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/6/1). Yãgnavalkya’s implication was that this Brahmaloka is greater and larger than all other lokas. Gãrgi had a habit of asking; and as a result, asked further, 'कस्मिन्नु खलु ब्रह्मलोका ओताश्र्च प्रोताश्र्चेति' – ‘Kasminnu khalu brahmalokã otãshcha protãshcheti’ – ‘What is this Brahmaloka – Akshardhãm – immersed in?’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/6/1).
This questioned whether there is a place higher than Akshardhãm. Hearing this, Yãgnavalkya gave not an answer, but a warning, 'गार्गि! मातिप्राक्षीर्मा ते मूर्घा व्यपप्तद् अनतिप्रश्न्यां वै देवतामतिपृत्व्छसि गाíग! मातिप्राक्षीरिति' – ‘Gãrgee! mãtiprãksheermã te moordhã vyapaptad anatiprashnyãm vai devatãmatipruchchhasi Gãrgee’ – ‘Gãrgi! Now don’t ask too many questions. There is even a limit to questions. If you cross that limit, then you will lose your head’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/6/1). Yãgnavalkya’s tone was serious. This was not a matter of scaring, and Gãrgi was not the kind to be scared; but this was a warning to Gãrgi that she had crossed the limit by asking if there was a greater abode than the greatest of all abodes and the eternal permanent residence of Paramãtmã – Akshardhãm. Yãgnavalkya, who up until now had been readily giving the names of each loka in order of their greatness, felt that this question regarding something above Akshardhãm was blasphemous, and thus answered in the way he did. There was no possibility of an answer. Gãrgi understood. She wanted to keep her head safe and thus became quiet. Akshardhãm proved to be the greatest abode.
Although, the opposition were trying their best, Yãgnavalkya was not even in the slightest set back. After Gãrgi, Uddãlak, the son of Arun, stood up and asked, “What is that omniscient entity by which the entire world is sustained and what is it like?”
Yãgnavalkya began, 'यः पृथिव्यां तिष्ठन् पृथिव्या अन्तरो यं पृथिवी न वेद यस्य पृथिवी शरीरं यः पृथिवीमन्तरो यमयत्येष त आत्माऽन्तर्या यमृतः' – ‘Yaha pruthivyãm tishthan pruthivyã antaro yam pruthivee na veda yasya pruthivee shareeram yaha pruthiveemantaro yamayatyesha ta ãtmã’ntaryãmyamrutaha’' – ‘That which resides in the earth yet is separate from it, that which cannot be known by the earth, that whose body is the earth and who controls the earth residing within it, is Paramãtmã. He is omniscient and immortal’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/7/3).
After explaining this, Yãgnavalkya narrated in great detail how Paramãtmã resides omnisciently in all the five great elements – earth, water, fire, air, and space – as well as within the body and ãtmãs of all. Hearing this answer, Uddãlak too became silent.
Just then, Gãrgi stood up again as she had thought of a new question. She felt that her question will surely test Yãgnavalkya and that he will be defeated. She even announced to the assembly, “O Brahmins! I am going to ask Yãgnavalkya yet another question. This question is like a Sansantã arrow. If he answers it, then we must accept that no one can defeat him in this assembly.” Everyone became anxious. The Brahmins said, 'पृत्व्छ गार्गीति' ‘Pruchchha Gãrgeeti’ – ‘Gãrgi ask your question’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/8/1). Gãrgi asked Yãgnavalkya, “Just like the son of a warrior of Kãshi or Videha strings his bow and takes an arrow in hand to battle against the enemy, I too stand in front of you with a question.” Yãgnavalkya was not intimidated by her words. He calmly said, “Respected Gãrgi! Please ask as you wish.” Gãrgi asked, “O Yãgnavalkya, what is that which is above Dyuloka, below the earth and between the two, immersed in?” Yãgnavalkya replied, 'एतद् वै तदक्षरं गाíग! ब्राह्मणा अभिवदन्ति' – ‘Etad vai tadaksharam Gargi! Brãhmanã abhivadanti’ – ‘O Gãrgi, that is Aksharbrahman. Even great brahmagnãnis salute to that Akshar’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/8/8). 'एतस्य वा अक्षरस्य प्रशासने गाíग! सूर्याचन्द्रमसौ विघृतौ तिष्ठतः।' – ‘Etasya vã Aksharasya prashãsane Gãrgee! Suryãchandramasau vidhrutau tishthataha’ – ‘Even the sun and the moon are under the control of that Aksharbrahman’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/8/9). 'एतस्य वा अक्षरस्य प्रशासने गाíग! द्यावापृथिव्यौ विघृते तिष्ठतः' – ‘Etasya vã Aksharasya prashãsane Gargi! Dyãvãpruthivyau vidhrute tishthataha’ – ‘All the abodes – Dyuloka, the earth etc. – are under the control of that Aksharbrahman’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/8/9). Not only that, 'एतस्य वा अक्षरस्य प्रशासने गाíग! निमेषा मुहूर्ता अहोरात्राण्यर्घमासा मासा ऋतवः संवत्सरा इति विघृतास्तिष्ठन्ति' – ‘Etasya vã Aksharasya prashãsane Gargi! Nimeshã muhoortã ahorãtrãnyardhamãsã mãsã rutavaha samvatsarã iti vidhrutãstishthanti’ – ‘The divisions of time – seconds, minutes, night and day, bright half, dark half, months, seasons, years, etc. are all controlled by Aksharbrahman. By the eternal wish of Paramãtmã, Aksharbrahman is also the controller of all’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/8/9). That is why I say, 'यो वा एतदक्षरं गार्ग्यविदित्वाऽस्मिंल्लोके जुहोति यजते तपस्तप्यते बहूनि वर्षसहस्राण्यन्तवदेवास्य तद् भवति' – ‘Yo vã etadaksharam Gargyaviditvã’sminloke juhoti yajate tapastapyate bahooni varshasahasrãnyantavadevãsya tad bhavati’ – ‘O Gãrgi, without knowing Aksharbrahman, even if one performs yagnas and penance for thousands of years, it will all perish, i.e., one will not attain the eternal fruit of liberation’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/8/10). Moreover, 'यो वा एतदक्षरं गार्ग्यविदित्वाऽस्माल्लोकात् प्रैति स कृपणः' – ‘Yo vã etadaksharam Gargyaviditvã’smãllokãt praiti sa krupanaha’ – ‘Gãrgi! One who leaves this world without knowing Aksharbrahman is truly pitiful. He will once again have to wander in the world’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/8/10). On the contrary, 'अथ य एतदक्षरं गाíग! विदित्वाऽस्माल्लोकात् प्रैति स ब्राह्मणः' – ‘Atha ya etadaksharam Gargi! Viditvã’smãllokãt praiti sa brãhmanaha’ – ‘One who leaves this world knowing Aksharbrahman has nothing to worry about. He is a true brahmagnãni. He has attained ultimate liberation’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/8/10). In this way Yãgnavalkya sang the divine glory of Aksharbrahman and emphasized knowing that divine entity. Hearing this, Gãrgi was left speechless. She accepted that Yãgnavalkya was a true brahmagnãni. That is why she clearly told the other Brahmins, 'ब्राह्मणा भगवन्तस्तदेव बहु मन्येध्वं यदस्मान्नमस्कारेण मुत्व्येध्वं न वै जातु युष्माकमिमं कश्र्चिद् ब्रह्मोद्यं जेतेति।' – ‘Brãhmanã bhagavantastadeva bahu manyedhvam yadasmãnnamaskãrena muchyedhvam na vai jãtu yushmãkamimam kashchid brahmodyam jeteti’ – ‘O Brahmins! Believe it to be a great achievement, if you can even bow to Yãgnavalkya, and defeat him. He truly knows brahmavidyã. None of you will be able to defeat him in a debate’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/8/12). 'वाचक्नवी उपरराम' – ‘Vãchaknavee upararãma’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/8/12). Gãrgi then became silent. All the Brahmins agreed with her. Yãgnavalkya was declared victorious, and the cows were taken to his ashram.
Indeed, 'येनाऽक्षरं पुरुषं वेद सत्यं प्रोवाच तां तत्त्वतो ब्रह्मविद्याम्' – ‘Yenãksharam purusham veda satyam provãcha tãm tattvato brahmavidyãm’ (Mundak Upanishad: 1/2/13). Meaning, that by which 'अक्षरम्' – Aksharbrahman – and 'पुरुषम्' – Purushottam Parabrahman – are known is brahmavidyã. According to this definition of brahmavidyã, Yãgnavalkya is proved to be a knower of brahmavidyã because of his precepts on both divine entities Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman.
Thus, this story of the great Sage Yãgnavalkya is truly a philosophical jewel.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas