YAJNAVALKYA AND HIS DETRACTORS
ON THE CONCEPTS, BRAHMA and PURUSHA
(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 3-1 to 9)
YAJNAVALKYA AND ASVALA
Janaka, the ruler of Videha performed a sacrifice at which he offered many presents to the Brahmans, scholars and priests. A group of Brahmans from the Kuru and Panchala lands had come there to collect the presents. They had to pass the tests and only that Brahman who had mastered the scriptures would receive as present a thousand cows and ten coins tied to the horns of each cow (3-1-1).
But the Brahmans from Kuru and Panchala lands did not dare to take the cows for they were aware that they could not match the scholars like Yajnavalkya who adorned the court of Janaka. Yajnavalkya then asked his pupil, who had studied Samaveda to drive home the cows but was challenged by other priests of Janaka. He was humble. He did not claim that he was the wisest among the Brahmans. He was teasing the other Brahmans when he said that he only wanted the cows.
Then Asvala, the hotr priest (who followed Rgveda) decided to question Yajnavalkya to find out how much the latter knew (3-1-2).
Asvala asked Yajnavalkya how the performer of a sacrifice could get free from the reach of mrtyu when everything in this social world was under the grip of mrtyu and was overcome by mrtyu (death, in common parlance). By the term, mrtyu, the insentient society which most of the commonalty is, is meant.
When the entire society is under the influence of anomie, can a rich man or ruler who conducts a sacrifice and parts with his wealth, remain uninfluenced by that anomie? Yajnavalkya pointed out to him that the real spokesperson at the agnihotra sacrifice was the personage who held the rank of Agni.
In the Rgvedic social polity, Agni was the spokesman of the commonalty and the head of the council of scholars. Performance of this sacrifice enabled the performer to fulfill all his duties and be free (mukti) from debts and obligations. This was the highest freedom that one could gain.
[The interpretation that this means attainment of the status of Viraj is not convincing.]
Yajnavalkya was explaining to Janaka and others assembled there the advantages and implications of the sacrifice that ruler was performing and the gifts he was offering. (3-1-3)
Asvala pointed out that day and night influence everything in this social world. How can one be free from this influence? Yajnavalkya replied that Adhvaryu, the priest who prepared the layout for the sacrificial pit was an observer (chakshu) and was functioning as directed by the Vedic official, Aditya.
[The Upanishadic polity gave importance to Agni, Aditya and Soma. They spoke for the commonalty, the patriciate and the frontier society respectively.]
Aditya, a noble who was stationed far from the spot where the sacrifice was being performed and was supervisor of the observers (chakshus) assured the performer of the sacrifice, freedom from all debts and obligations, which is real and complete freedom according to the refrain of this section (3-1-4).
[The Adhvaryu priest recites hymns from Yajurveda.]
Asvala then wanted to know how all in this world could overcome the cycle of bright and dark periods (pakshas, fortnights) in their lives.
Yajnavalkya replied that the loud chants (from the Samaveda) that the Udgata priest sang at the sacrifice and which rang through the wind (vayu) and moved all living beings (prana) was indeed the breath of the Udgata priest going out to others (in the open moors) through the wind.
It reflected his having total freedom to express himself and calling upon all (even if they were unassertive as pranas and at the lower level of the society) to enjoy similar freedom. Vayu was the Vedic official who was in charge of the peoples of the open areas that lay between the agrarian plains and the forests. (3-1-5).
Asvala then wanted to know from Yajnavalkya how the performer of the sacrifice (yajamana) could rise to the level of the social world of the nobles (svarga loka) from that of the frontier society (antariksham), which did not have the basic social stratum of agrarian commonalty (prthvi).
In the agro-pastoral core society there could be socio-economic support from the commonalty for and rise into the patriciate. Were such relationship of mutual support and channels of access and ascent to a higher social cadre available in the technologically advanced frontier society?
Asvala had presumed that the industrial society unlike the agrarian society had no classes and hence the issue of social ascent was irrelevant to it.
[It is unsound to translate the term, antariksham as sky and the term svarga as heaven.]
Yajnavalkya replied that the Atharvan (Brahma) priest (who interpreted the socio-political constitution, Brahma) could point out how the thinkers (manas) of the forests and mountains (antariksham) who received guidance from the Vedic official, Chandra (Soma), could ascend to the level of the cultural aristocracy (svas) of the core society.
These scholars might not be admitted to the plutocracy that governed the frontier society but could enter the cultural aristocracy of the core society.The sacrifice (yajna) was intended to raise the thinker (manas) to the level of the jurist (Brahma).
This thinker (manas) is like the Vedic official, Chandra, representative of the intellectuals (Brahma) of the frontier society. The recognition of the implications of this correlation will give this intellectual, a jurist, total freedom from worldly bonds and from his personal duties and obligations (mukti). The social concept of mukti, discharge from debts and duties, leads to the next stage, liberation from social bonds (moksha).
Yajnavalkya treats attainment of moksha as the completion of the (four) steps (sampada) or stages of life. One who has entered the vanaprastha stage of life tries to attain mukti while one who has gone through samnyasa, the fourth stage of life may hope to attain 'moksha (which in the ancient Hindu thought implied end to the cycle of births and deaths). (3-1-6)
Asvala, the hotr priest then wanted to know how many Rg verses he as a hotr priest had to use that day in the sacrifice and which ones.
Yajnavalkya told him that he had to use three verses, the introductory verse, the one that accompanied the particular sacrifice (yajna) and the benediction verse at the end. One won by the three Rg verses all the living beings (pranas) in the social world (which performed that sacrifice).
[It is imprecise to interpret that the three Rg verses refer to the three social worlds, earth, heaven and the inter-space. The commentator has failed to take to its logical conclusion his view that life exists in all the three worlds.]
The gifts were offered only to the needy. These beings were at the subsistence level. This won for the ruler who was performing that sacrifice their support.
[The comment that the term, prana, refers to all beings that have breath overlooks the fact that gifts were offered only to some needy persons and not to others.] (3-1-7)
Asvala then wanted to know how many Yajur verses the Adhvaryu priest had to use while offering oblations in the sacrifice.
Yajnavalkya pointed out that this priest had to use three Yajur verses of which one was directed upward to nobles (devas) and one made a lot of noise and was an appeal to the elders (pitrs). The third kept low and was directed towards the commonalty (manushyas).
[To be prosaic without being banal, the nobles sat in the gallery and the elders were hard of hearing and the commoners sat at a lower level in the pit when this sacrifice was being performed.]
By these three offerings, these three sectors, social worlds (lokas) of the population were pleased and won over by the sacrificer (3-1-8).
[The commentators of the medieval times were not on the right track when they interpreted pitrs as the souls of the dead ancestors and pitr-loka as the world of the dead persons. Similarly they went off the mark when they presented deva-loka as heaven where the gods lived. [What materials were used in this sacrifice is a minor issue.]
The ruling elite (devas), the commoners (manushyas) who were engaged in economic activities in the agrarian sector and the elders (pitrs) who had retired from these activities and gone to their abodes in the forests are the three social worlds (lokas) mentioned here. The retired elders were stationed in the forests far away from the core society of commoners and nobles.
Asvala wanted to know how many devatas the Brahma priest who was seated to the right, invoked to protect the sacrifice. Yajnavalkya told him that the Atharvan (Brahma) priest needed to invite only one, the manas, that is, the thinker. There were numerous personages who had been raised to the status of devatas almost on par with the cultural aristocrats, devas.
There were of course numerous (ananta) thinkers and personages in the larger society (visva), who could be treated as devas. Yajnavalkya would however draw attention to only one thinker. He meant by the term, manas, the seventh Manu, Vaivasvata who was the first to elevate all the (innumerable, ananta) Visvedevas to the status of aristocrats on par with Adityas, Vasus, Rudras and Maruts, the traditional nobles.
[The comment that through mind we meditate and it is said to be infinite on account of its modifications is irrelevant.] (3-1-9)
Asvala wanted to know how many (Sama) hymns of praise the Udgata priest would sing at the sacrifice and what they were. Yajnavalkya declared that they would chant three Sama hymns, one at the beginning, one while the sacrifice was performed and one would be the final benediction hymn.
Of these the introductory Sama hymn marked the in-breath (prana), the one accompanying the sacrifice was like the out-breath (apana) and the benediction hymn was like diffused breath (vyana). By the introductory hymn the host at the sacrifice won over the agro-pastoral commonalty (prthvi). By the accompanying hymn he won over the frontier society (antariksham) and by the concluding prayer he won the goodwill of the nobles (deva-loka). This explanation silenced Asvala, the hotr priest. (3-1-10)
YAJNAVALKYA AND ARTABHAGA
Artabhaga, the disciple of Rtabhaga who was perhaps a victim of consumption (Jaratkara) wanted to know how many grahas and atigrahas were there. [The annotators tend translate the term, grahas as organs of perception and atigrahas as objects of perception or as over-perceivers.]
Rtabhaga must have been an advocate of the natural law (Rta) of division (of labour or functions). Yajnavalkya told him that there were eight perceivers (grahas) and eight related over-perceivers (atigrahas).
He enumerated them as in-breath (prana) and out-breath (apana), speech (vak) and name (nama), tongue (jihva) and taste (rasa), eye (chakshu) and form (rupa), ear (srotra) and sound (sabda), mind (manas) and desire (kama), hand (hasta) and action (karma), skin (tvag) and touch (sparsa).
The term, atigraha, has been used in the sense of what is the result of the operation of the concerned organ of grasping (graha). Some would translate the term, graha as perceiver and atigraha as over-perceiver (3-2-1 to 9).
Artabhaga wanted to know on what the chieftains (of the forest society), devatas, fed as all (sarvam) the food (anna) that was produced was consumed by the insentient commoners (mrtyu, mortals in common parlance). How can a non-surplus economy sustain an aristocracy that only consumes what the commoners produce?
Yajnavalkya pointed out that food (anna) is cast into the fire in the sacrificial pit. This implied that Agni (fire), a member of the nobility (devas), was a representative of the commonalty. Hence Agni is referred to as Mrtyu. He was maintained by the food sacrificed by the commoners. The commoners do not consume all the food they produce. The sage hints that fire, which is doused by water, is the food (anna) for the latter.
The cadre of officers and administrators of the judiciary like Agni is not to be viewed as a class of exploitative consumers who do not contribute anything to productive economy. This cadre does serve the producers by making available to them their basic requirements like food.
One who realizes the implications of this allegory conquers the threat of further lapse into insentience (mrtyu) posed to the commoners engaged in productive economy despite their sustaining the non-economic governing class from its surplus. (3-2-10)
Yajnavalkya was asked whether when such a social leader, purusha became but an ordinary human being (mriyata) his vital breaths (pranas) moved up from him or not. The devatas were in fact social leaders, purushas. If they lapsed into their earlier ways of life as ordinary human beings would they be able to retain their high social status?
Yajnavalkya drew the attention of his questioner to the condition of the dead body, which began to bloat as the air entered the body but was not released through out-breath.
The questioner was asked to note that attainment of a high social status, as a social leader (purusha), did not guarantee one a permanent status at that level. Instead of rising to the level of the new aristocrat (devata), the leader may lapse into his old ways and old status as a commoner.[Devas ranked higher than devatas and the latter higher than purushas.] (3-2-11).
Artabhaga then asked him whether there was any achievement credit for which did not leave the social leader (purusha) who had lapsed to the level of a commoner. The sage pointed out that he might not lose the title (nama), which an aristocrat had been vested in recognition of his earlier achievements.
The numerous (ananta) Visvedevas who were essentially members of the upper crust of the commonalty (and from whom new members were recruited to the high aristocracy as devas) were such personages who flaunted the title of aristocrats. They were essentially commoners (3-2-12).
Yajnavalkya was explaining to his audience who were scholars from different countries the rise and fall in social status of talented men.
Artabhaga then asked him what happened to the roles of that social leader (purusha) [who had been elevated in social status as a Visvedeva] on his relapse into the commonalty.
This leader was no longer the spokesman of the learned (vak) with Agni, who was an aristocrat (deva), taking over that function. He was no longer either the representative of the people at the mere subsistence level (prana).
For Vata (Vayu), the official who was in charge of the windy moors had taken over that role. He could not either be a learned observer (chakshu) for this role would revert to Aditya, a high Vedic official in charge of administration.
He would cease to perform the role of a thinker, manas. It would pass to the Vedic official, Chandra (Soma) who during the Vedic times represented all the intellectuals of the forest.
The decadent social leader or official (purusha) could not be a scout hearing and reporting (srotra) on the peoples in the different directions (disa). He could not be an official in charge of the commonalty (prthvi) reporting on the organized social and economic bodies (sarira). He could not be an official of the open space (akasa) in charge of the activities of those who were living alone (atma) (and meditating).
The decadent social leader (purusha or visvedeva or devata) could not be in charge of the herbs (aushadi) and the medical practitioners, who resided in moors, or of forests (vanaspati) and those persons who lived on forest economy. He could not also look after the hot streams of ores (lohita) and the miners or the horticulturists and fishermen (reta) who cast the seed in water.
Artabhaga was drawing attention to the diverse social and economic activities, which the purushas, the officials of the polity of the enlarged society were looking after. Would the traditional nobles be required to perform all these roles on the decline of these cadres of purushas, visvedevas and devatas? Yajnavalkya did not want to answer this question in the assembly.
The sage took Artabhaga aside and told him what would happen to these functions (karma) when those who were recruited to perform them failed to come to the expectations (of those who recruited them). After deliberation they reported that the duties (karma) were what mattered and whoever performed them well should be held praiseworthy.
One who did good work (punya) should be honoured for that and one who did a bad act (papa) should be punished for that irrespective of whether he was a commoner or a newly elevated leader. This stand met the doubts, which the disciple of Jaratkaru Rtabhaga had raised (3-2-13). [These were not about karma and rebirth.]
Who was this scholar who extolled the social system that prevailed during the early Vedic period when the laws based on natural tendencies (rta) prevailed?
YAJNAVALKYA AND BHUJYU
Then Bhujyu, a descendant of Lahya, told Yajnavalkya about his experiences in the land of Madras. It was a period when the Gandharva orientation was dominant among the Kurus and the Madras while the Apsara orientation was dominant among the Panchalas.
Bhujyu and his friends reached the house of Patanchala of the line of Kapi. Patanchala had a daughter who was enamoured of a Gandharva. This Gandharva introduced himself as a teacher of archery (Sudhanva) and a follower of the great sage, Angiras.
[This Sudhanva might have been a rival of Virocana, son of Prahlada. Angiras was one of the main contributors to the Atharvaveda and a member of the first council of seven sages headed by Marici. He also played a major role in the battles against the feudal lords, Asuras.]
Bhujyu and his friends inquired that Gandharva about his experiences at the end (anta) of the (social) world (loka) of commonalty (prthvi).
[It was reported that Angirasa while chasing away the Asuras had gone beyond the boundaries in the northeast direction and had not returned.]
Bhujyu wanted to know from this archer what happened to the troops of Parikshit but could not get a satisfactory reply from him.
[Parikshit, a son of Kuru, was a viceroy in Uttarakuru, a northern province. He took over control of Hastinapura after the famous battle of Kurukshetra as the eldest among those Kurus who had survived the fratricidal war that led to this historic battle. He was not the posthumous son of Abhimanyu by Uttara. Her child was stillborn.]
Bhujyu wanted to know from Yajnavalkya about the fate of these troops of Parikshit. (3-4-1)
Yajnavalkya said that the Gandharva must have told Bhujyu and his friends that these troops had gone to where the performers of asvamedha yajna had to go.
Bhujyu was eager to know more about the place where they were expected to go. [The Asvas were a branch of Gandharvas and were horse-borne archers. They belonged to the cavalry and could jump across ravines.]
The social world (loka) of commoners (prthvi) extended to thrice the distance that a general of the nobles (devas) could cover on his chariot in thirty-two days. The sage was drawing attention to the extent of the jurisdiction of a particular group of ruling elite.
Beyond it was the sea that was twice as wide as the land. The space between one mass of land and another (that is, between two continents which are separated by a wide sea at other places) is very small like the edge of a razor or the wing of a mosquito.
Sakra Indra was said to have flown across this narrow strait like a bird and transported the Parikshitas by air (vayu) to the place where the performers of asvamedha sacrifice were. The archer (Sudhanva) praised Vayu, the official in charge of the open lands, who looked after them individually and as a group.
Yajnavalkya said that one who knew the theorem of the passage from one social world to another did not become a commoner again. (In other words, he conquers rebirth. He is not denied the chance to move from one social world to another.) This explanation satisfied Bhujyu (3-4-2).
[The introduction of the concept of Hiranyagarbha has only confused the picture. This golden womb had two tiers, the lower representing the commonalty (prthvi) and the upper the elite (divam). The two were surrounded by water (apa) and between the two there was a thin vacant space. The comment, identity with Hiranyagarbha is the limit of a persons attainment through rites coupled with meditation is untenable.]
YAJNAVALKYA and USHASTA on BRAHMA the JURIST
Ushasta, son of Chakra, requested Yajnavalkya to explain to him the Brahman who was immediately present (and could be a witness, sakshat) and was not indirect (aparoksha) and was the individual present (atma, soul in common parlance) in all (sarva-antara). Yajnavalkya replied, This is your atma; that is within all.
Ushasta wants to know what is in all. Yajnavalkya explains that the pranas (breaths), composed of in-breath (prana), out-breath (apana), diffused breath (vyana), equalising breath (samana) and the up-breath (udana) together constituted atma and it is present in all (3-4-1).
Ushasta was not satisfied with this explanation which was like the statement, This is a cow; this is a horse.
Ushasta wanted to know what was Brahma. Yajnavalkya would identify the prana (breath), which is in all with Brahma. It is what sees (drshta), hears (srotra), thinks (manas) and understands (vijnata) (understands through the application of the knowledge, jnana, already acquired).
Ushasta has to realize that the atma (soul, in common parlance), which is within him, is present in all. The concept, Brahma, is identical with this concept of atma. Every other interpretation suffers from defects, ailment (arta). [It is imprecise to translate the term, arta, as evil or as perishable.] (3-4-2)
Ushasta would have discovered if only he had known through introspection that he was suitable for the position of a jurist, Brahma, Yajnavalkya implied. Ushasta and others wondered what the sage wanted to convey.
YAJNAVALKYA AND KAHOLA
Kahola, son of Kushitaka, was not satisfied with the explanation given by the sage, Yajnavalkya, to the question raised by Ushasta. He wanted the sage to state clearly what was within all (persons and beings). Yajnavalkya explained that this common feature was something higher than the needs and experiences common to all, like hunger and thirst, sorrow and allure, aging and death.
He pointed out that Brahmanas, having known this aspect of ones individual (atma) needs and experiences overcome the desire for sons (putra), for economic occupations and wealth (vitta) and for control over social worlds (lokas) and live the life of mendicants. Desire for sons is related to desire for wealth and the latter to desire for power.
Hence a Brahmana, after completing the stage of life of a student, should seek to lead the life of an innocent uneducated child. He should not seek wealth and power through his mastery over the disciplines (vidya). When he has gone through the (second) period of innocent childhood after completing his course of education, he should seek to be a silent monk (muni).
[Yajnavalkya was not discouraging marriage and performance of duties as a householder, grhastha. He was referring to the period of retirement from such activities.] Yajnavalkya decried the desire for sons that impelled a man to marry and earn wealth and gain power.
Having completed both stages, that of a sociable person, who talked with and taught all and that of a silent meditator one becomes fit to adorn the position of a jurist, Brahmana. A jurist must have no need to earn wealth or long for power.
Persons who had no sons were not eligible to be heads of families or have wealth or occupy posts of power. But for the post of a jurist only one who had no need for wealth and power as he had no sons was eligible. He will not be impelled by desire and will not be partial to any one.
Kahola wanted to know how the Brahmana (jurist as described by Yajnavalkya) behaved. Yajnavalkya said that one should not pay attention to that jurists conduct as long as he had proved that he had no personal desires and was highly educated. Every other qualification prescribed for the position of a jurist or judge is defective (arta). T
his explanation silenced the doubts that Kahola had entertained. [Resort to mysticism does not help one to arrive at a proper interpretation of this significant social theorem. Radhakrishnans remark that the true knower of Brahman devotes himself exclusively to the contemplation of the self and shuns all other thoughts as distractions is not relevant here.]
YAJNAVALKYA and GARGI (I)
Gargi, daughter of Vachaknu, drew attention to the metaphor, which treated the entire earth being like a design woven (otam protam, warp and woof) in a carpet of water. She wanted to know if the larger social world stands on this carpet, on what does this carpet of water stand, that is, what sustains water (apa).
Yajnavalkya told her that air (vayu) sustains this carpet or sheet of water (apa) and that this (invisible) air (vayu) is sustained by the social world (loka) of the frontier society (antariksham).
[Yajnavalkya had presented the picture of the earth (prthvi) being surrounded by a sea, which was twice as wide as the continent. He had also presented the picture of Indra transporting the troops of Parikshit through the air across a narrow strait to another continent.]
Here Yajnavalkya presents the picture of an agrarian economy being sustained by water that is necessary for irrigation and in which the seeds are cast and evokes the picture of a pastoral society surrounding the core agrarian society and an industrial frontier society dependent on forests and mountains surrounding this pastoral ring.
[It is not sound to translate antariksham as 'sky' The discussion between Gargi and Yajnavalkya was on his social theorem.]
According to Yajnavalkya the carpet of this larger economy (of forests and mountains, pastoral and agrarian) was sustained by the social world (loka) of Gandharvas.
[I have elsewhere presented the Gandharvas as a social universe (jagat) rather than as a social world (loka) as they lacked organized clans and communities and were constantly on the move and had free access to all the three social worlds, patriciate, commonalty, and frontier society.]
Yajnavalkya presented a social hierarchy by which the Adityas, the cadre of administrators (of the core society) belonging to the patriciate, were superior to the Gandharvas, and the cadre of intellectuals who were stationed in the forests and who respected Chandra (Soma) were superior to the cadre of Adityas (Aditya-loka).
The non-kshatriyas (nakshatras), the rich (from among whom the Visvedevas rose) ranked higher than these intellectuals (who needed the economic support given by the rich Vaisyas).
[It is not sound to go by the translation of Aditya as sun, Chandra as moon and nakshatras as stars.]
The traditional aristocrats (devas) ranked superior to these visvedevas (nakshatras) and the Devas themselves had to abide by the directions which Indra and his assembly of (thirty-three) nobles gave them. In the Upanishadic social polity, Indra and his house of nobles were subordinate to the chief of the people (Prajapati) and his council of elders.
[Yajnavalkya was referring to the Prajapatis who drafted the comprehensive Manava Dharmasastra.]
But still higher was Brahma-loka, the social world or academy of jurists who were well versed in Atharvaveda (Brahma).
[This was a reference to the council that aided Manu Svayambhuva who had appointed these Prajapatis.] [The translation of the term, Prajapati, as Viraj, is unacceptable as they were two distinct posts and Viraj ranked higher than Prajapati. And so too the interpretation that Brahma meant Hiranyagarbha is unsound.]
When Gargi wanted to know whom these jurists of Brahma-loka should obey, Yajnavalkya warned her against allowing her curiosity, unbridled flight. She was trying to know who appointed Manu who had the status of Brahma earlier and who had been a member of a council of ten peers.
That Manu had the status of a Devata and it was not wise to question the claim that he had risen to that high status on his own merit (Svayambhu). This warning silenced Gargi (3-6-1).
[The remark that the basis of this whole universe is said to be Brahma-loka is inane and unwarranted.]
Every social polity had a judiciary at its head and the chiefs of the people were answerable to it. Gargi wanted to know whether the verdicts of that judiciary could be overruled by any higher authority.
Yajnavalkya did not want them to be overruled. The political machinery and the members and chiefs of the social polity including its head should be answerable to the judiciary.
YAJNAVALKYA and UDDALAKA
Uddalaka, son of Aruna, told Yajnavalkya that he had visited the house of Patanchala, son of Kapi, in Madra. Patanchala had a wife who was enamoured of a Gandharva. This Gandharva was Kabandha, son of an Atharvan. Patanchala and others were studying the rules prescribed for sacrifices.
Kabandha (who was known to be a heretic) asked him whether he knew the formula (sutra, thread) by which this loka (social world of commoners) and the other (para) loka (social world of nobles) and all (sarva) discrete individuals (bhutas) were held together. The core society of the Vedic times had two strata, nobles and commoners. There were several discrete individuals on its periphery and they were known as bhutas.
Kabandha wanted to know the provisions of the social code that brought the two strata (nobles and commoners) and these individuals (bhutas) together. Patanchala acknowledged that he did not know that formula. Kabandha then asked Patanchala Kapya whether he and his assistants knew the invisible person from the intervening area (antaryami) who controlled them from within. Patanchala confessed that he did not know that person.
Kabandha then told them that only one, who knew that formula (sutra) (of social integration) and the person, who alone could control all the sectors involved, might be called a Brahman, an expert in Atharvaveda.
This expert in Brahma knows the traits of the social world of commoners (loka), of the nobles (devas), of the discrete individuals of the social periphery (bhutas) and of the individual (atma) who is not subordinate to any social body. Such an expert knows all (sarva) (means of social control).
Thus Kabandha explained it in the presence of Uddalaka. Uddalaka claimed that he knew that formula and warnedYajnavalkya that if he did not know that formula and the invisible person who exercised that control needed for social integration, he should not take away the cows (offered by Janaka of Mithila).
Then Yajnavalkya told Uddalaka of Gautama clan that he knew the formula (sutra, thread) and the invisible controller (3-7-1). Yajnavalkya told Uddalaka, son of Aruna and follower of Gautama, that vayu (air, in common parlance) was that sutra (thread).
This Vedic official (Vayu) held together the commonalty (ayam loka, this social world), the patriciate (paraloka, the other social world) and all the discrete individuals (sarva bhuta) on the social periphery. [To indicate that a person (purusha) is dead, it is said that his limbs have loosened for they are held together by the air (that passes through the tendons) as by a thread.]
Similarly the Vedic official designated as Vayu holds together the larger core society though none is able to identify who he is. (3-7-2)
Uddalaka then asked him to describe the invisible inner controller. Yajnavalkya told him that the invisible inner controller was settled (tishtha) in the prthvi. He is within it. But the commoners (prthvi) are not aware of his presence in their midst.
The commonalty (prthvi) is his body (sariram), that is, he is a member of one of the social bodies that are part of this commonalty but he is not a prominent personage. He controls (yamayata) this commonalty (prthvi) from within it.
The presumption that the nobles direct the commonalty as they belong to a stratum higher than the commonalty and that the representative of the autonomous commonalty is not a commoner is incorrect.
Social control is effected from within the society unlike political control, which is exercised from above by the state or by a higher stratum. This internal controller of the commonalty is an individual (atma) who does not pursue his physical needs and is invisible (antaryami). However he has been granted the status of a noble (amrtam) (3-7-3).
Such an individual may be present among those who are dependent on rivers, lakes, wells and sea (apa, water) (3-7-4).
He may be present also among the intelligentsia of the commonalty who can exercise the right to nominate their representative on the governing body. This representative was during the Vedic times designated as Agni (fire, in common parlance) (3-7-5).
The frontier society (antariksham) too had such an individual within its ranks who exercised imperceptible control over its operations. It had representation in the governing body of the larger society (3-7-6).
[It is unsound to translate the term, antariksham as sky.]
The people of the open lands whose administrator was designated as Vayu had such an individual within their ranks who too was similarly an imperceptible internal controller of their activities. He was a member of the board of governors and had the rank of a noble (amrtam) (3-7-7).
The nobles (devas) who resided in their exclusive areas too had an administrator who belonged to their ranks and who exercised imperceptible control over their activities (3-7-8). [It is unsound to translate the term, divam, as heaven.]
The body of administrators (Kshatras or Adityas) appointed by the nobles too had a member, who exercised imperceptible control over the activities of these administrators (3-7-9).
[It is unsound to translate the term, Aditya, as sun and attempt to find out what the Vedas meant by sun. In the Vedic polity, the members of this body functioned under the direction of the benevolent mother figure, Aditi.]
The people who resided in the different directions (dik) (that is, in the provinces away from the capital that was directly under the nobles) had their representative on the body of governors. This individual (atma) too similarly exercised imperceptible control over this population from within their ranks. (10).
Yajnavalkya was drawing attention to the vast autonomy that the different sectors of the larger society had and the responsibility that their representatives had to carry out while remaining in the background.
Social stability and progress hinges on leaders who remain away from the light of publicity and exercise positive influence in an integrated societal framework. (Mere transliteration of these passages does not enlighten the readers.) Yajnavalkya treats the intellectuals of the forests and the higher ranks of the non-administrators (nakshatras) as constituting one single social sector.
These intellectuals were under the influence of Chandra (Soma), the Vedic official who had a rank on par with Aditya. The unattached individual (atma) who represented this sector on the board of governors exercised imperceptible control over it (3-7-11).
The space (ether, as often explained) within the core society, which no organized group claimed and which insignificant persons inhabited, too, had a representative on this board of governors. These inhabitants did not know who he was and that he exercised imperceptible control over their lives. He too had a place in the ruling elite of Yajnavalkya's vision (12).
This elite had representatives of different sectors who performed the functions expected of them without any show and without using coercive methods. Yajnavalkya was explaining the features of the governing elite and body of representatives of the social polity under a stoical leader, which Janaka of Videha was.
Yajnavalkya then draws attention to the social sector characterized by extreme ignorance and inertia (tamasi). It too had its representative on the above board though he could not be identified. He too exercised imperceptible control over his sector from within (3-7-13)
The representative of any particular social stratum should be its member and should be unobtrusive and yet influencing and controlling its orientations and actions. Only such representatives should be appointed to the governing body of the integrated society.
One who does not fulfill this requirement cannot be a 'representative'. Demagogues cannot be representatives in democracy. Meritocracy too violates the principle of silent social controllers being elevated to the governing body of the integrated social polity.
Adhidaivatam, Essential Aristocracy
On the other extreme of the social spectrum we notice a splendid group of intellectual aristocracy (tejasvini). These tejasvinis too have their representative on the high body of governors. He had the status of a devata, which was only marginally lower than that of the cultural aristocrat (deva) (3-7-14)
Thus Yajnavalkya brought out the features of the essential aristocracy (adhidaivatam). It was a ruling elite which was composed of members who represented and imperceptibly controlled from within the different sections of the larger society.
[The interpretation that this term pertained to the different grades of beings from Brahma down to a clump of grass needs to be set aside as being irrational.]
Adhibhutam, Essentially Individualistic Person
He then proceeded to deal with the essentially individualistic persons (adhibhutam). All the discrete individuals (sarva bhuta) on the social periphery too have their representative on the board of governors of the larger society though they may not be aware of his identity.
He looks after the mundane interests (sarira) of all of them. He also exercises imperceptible control (antaryami) over their activities while being one of them (atma). He too deserves to be honoured as one belonging to the nobility (amrtam) (15).
Adhyatma, Essential Individual with an Identity
Yajnavalkya then proceeded to explain the role of the essential individual with an identity of his own (adhyatma). This identity emerges from ones breath (prana), speech (vak), observation (chakshu), hearing (srotra), thought (manas) and touching (tvacha) and also from understanding what yet is not known (vijnana) through knowledge already acquired.
The identity developed thereby by the individual (atma) aids him to function as the imperceptible inner controller (antaryami). And when he functions as a person who is self-restrained, he becomes eligible to rise to the level of the nobility (amrtam). (16 to 21)
Self-restraint and ability to get ones identity to bear upon the functions performed by others in the society is termed as Adhyatma, the essential individuality. This feature has in later days been described as spiritual influence that some personages are able to effect on the commoners.
The next passage (3-7-22) that is translated by Radhakrishnan as: He who dwells in the understanding, yet is within the understanding (vijnana), whom the understanding does not know, whose body the understanding is, who controls the understanding from within, he is your self, the inner controller, the immortal needs to be examined without introducing any note of mysticism or metaphysics.
Yajnavalkya envisages the presence within the permanent cadre of nobles (amrta), of intellectuals, every one of whose individual calibre as representative of a particular social stratum or sector could be recognized correctly and respected only by the other members of that internal and high governing body.
They knew (vijnana) aspects of nature that were not known to those who had only formal education (jnana). They could claim mastery over vijnana.
[Vijnana which implied knowing the unknown by extrapolation of the knowledge, jnana, already gained from formal education required application of the methods of Samkhya dialectics.]
[This passage does not deal with the issue of the distinction between the absolute self (paramatma) and the individual selves (jivatmas), with the former being the ruler and the latter, the ruled.]
The essential individual reproduces himself. This concept is involved in the sage likening the atma to the semen (retas) in the organ of generation. The semen does not know that a new being is in it and that it influences the traits and activities of that semen from within. This new being is never seen but it sees things around it. It is not heard but it hears the movements and sounds outside (especially after it is cast in the womb, its body).
The virile semen (that is cast in the embryo and grows there) thinks (manta) and it alone is the thinker. It is capable of understanding (vijnana) what is not known already. (The organs do not think.)
The new generation too is a part of the larger society and is included in the concept atma (soul in common parlance). This atma too controls itself (that is, the growing child) imperceptibly since even before the semen is cast in the womb. It too, according to the sage, has the traits of nobility (amrtam), everlasting noble thoughts. (3-7-23)
Thus Yajnavalkya cleared the doubts entertained about his knowledge, by Uddalaka, son of Aruna, who had received training under Kabandha, an Atharvan.
[In the Vedic social polity, Aruna was a sheriff functioning under Varuna who implemented the provisions of the constitution including civil law pertaining to personal obligations. Uddalaka, a student of Gotama, must have been the son of such a sheriff.]
Uddalaka induced Yajnavalkya to go to the depth of the issues covered by oncepts, adhidaivatam, adhibhutam and adhiatma.
YAJNAVALKYA and GARGI (II)
Gargi, daughter of Vachaknu, posed two questions to Yajnavalkya. If he answered them, it would mean that none could defeat him in arguments about the traits or features of Brahma (3-8-1). She would target him with sharp questions even as a warrior-son of Kasi or Videha would aim his arrows at his enemy (2). Yajnavalkya was ready to meet the questions.
Yajnavalkya had earlier told Gargi about water (apa) being like a carpet whose warp and woof were able to keep up the earth (prthvi). She picked up the thread of that allegory.
She asked him across what was woven that which was said to be superior to the nobility, divam, but was lower than the commonalty, prthvi, and was at the same time between these two (in status). It was said to have been there in the past and to be there in the present and would be there in the future (that is, is eternal) (3-8-3).
Gargi was drawing his attention to the members of a social sector that had been present before the class of aristocrats arose and before a dichotomy between the core society and the frontier society emerged as a result of advance in technology. This sector, she found, had become a permanent social feature.
Yajnavalkya replied that it was woven across space (akasa). He was distinguishing between the two concepts, antariksham and akasa. [
Many modern scholars have tended to use the two terms interchangeably.]
The terms, divam, prthvi and antariksham referred to the three social worlds (lokas), the patriciate, the agro-pastoral commonalty and the industrial frontier society. There could be some persons who ranked above the nobility and lower than the commonalty and not included in any of these three social worlds.
The concept, akasa, covered these persons whether highly significant but imperceptible or insignificant and ignored and also those persons who were members of the three organized social worlds, lokas (3-8-4).
Yajnaalkya did not exclude the three organized social worlds from his picture of a total unspecific society (akasa). This reply satisfied Gargi.
She then asked him (3-8-5) across what that concept, akasa, was woven like warp and woof. In other words, what was that eternal and holistic concept, akasa, the social sector that is not part of any of the three social worlds and whose status could not be assessed in terms of the principles of hierarchy that the system of three social worlds, lokas, had developed, with the nobles (dyau) occupying the highest position, the agro-pastoral commoners (prthvi) the lowest and the industrial sector (antariksham) the middle, dependent on? (3-8-6)
Gargi is seen to avoid using the term, antariksham. Instead she uses the term, bhuta, and draws attention to the need for keeping this residue of the ancient society, eternal and unabsorbed in any of the three organized social worlds. She was drawing attention to the status and role of those who belonged to the vague social periphery.Yajnavalkya agreed that it was a difficult question (3-8-7).
He told Gargi that the Brahmanas, that is, the experts in the socio-political constitution, Atharvaveda, held it to be imperishable (aksharam). It was neither massive (asthula) nor minute (ananu); in other words, that basic rank over which the new hierarchical structure had been erected did not belong to the field of macro-sociology or to that of micro-sociology.
That basic rank was neither insignificant (ahrasva) nor was it deeply significant (adirgha). It was neither solid (like iron, loha) nor fluid (asneha). [Lohita may imply red-hot iron.] It did not cover the fields that came under chhaya (shade, no original talent), tama (darkness, impenetrable nature, not necessarily ignorance).
It did not cover the fields that came under vayu (air, persons and beings of the open areas), akasa (mobile persons, whether significant or insignificant beyond the three settled social worlds) and sanga (persons associated with social and economic groups).
It did not cover the individuals who recognized their environment (only) through taste or smell, through observation or sound. It did not include those who were not intelligent though not physically handicapped. It also did not include the thinkers (manas) and the high intelligentsia (tejas).
It does not cover the inanimate objects, which lack breath, and the beings, which cannot speak out their feelings and are not endowed even with the minimum intellect.
It is anantara and abahya, that is, it did not exclude both what belonged to the field of social horizon (antara) and was not internal and things that were external to oneself (bahya). It is not exploitative (asnati) and is not exploited (3-8-8).
Yajnavalkya was presenting the jurisdiction of the new state as presented by Atharvaveda (Brahma) and pointed out that it did not cover certain sections of the population.
[Commentators of the medieval times had lost sight of the features of the social polity of the Vedic times and those of the modern times have read only mysticism in these aphorisms. While not refuting the claim that the Ultimate (Brahman) has no characteristic marks that can help one to identify it, it needs to be stated here that Yajnavalkya and Gargi were not discussing about that Ultimate.]
He pointed out that the officials designated as Surya (Aditya) and Chandra (Soma), were in their respective positions as that imperishable ordinance (akshara prasasana) commanded them to be. The former exercised administrative and military control over the population of the new expanded state and the latter guided its integrated intelligentsia.
This socio-political constitution established firmly the roles and jurisdictions of the patriciate and the commonalty (divam and prthvi). The duration for performance of duties, like day and night, fortnights, months, seasons and years was specified. There could be no vagueness about these even as the imperishable (akshara) laws of nature (prasasana) decide which rivers flow to the east and which to the west from the ice-capped mountains.
Yajnavalkya said that the constitution had directed that the commoners (manushyas) should praise the liberal donors and that the nobles (devas) should praise those who performed sacrifices.
[These sacrifices benefited the nobles (devas), the sages (rshis) and the elders (pitaras, pitrs), the three sectors that were not engaged in production economy.]
The elders (pitrs) are offered liquid or semi-solid food, which does not require teeth to bite (darvi). These pitaras, retired elders, thank their offspring for this offering.
The constitution had instituted the practice of the rich supporting the commoners who were workers and the practice of rich householders supporting the ruling aristocracy and the sons supporting the retired fathers. This arrangement had to be honoured by all (3-8-9).
It shows the inability of the modern commentator to overcome the impression that devas were gods worshipped by the earlier polytheistic Vedic society and that the Brahman of the Upanishads was the highly powerful God of the monotheistic society of the later post-Vedic era.
[The remark that the maintenance of the respective positions of heaven and earth is not possible without the guidance of an intelligent transcendent ruler is off the mark.]
Yajnavalkya told Gargi that one in that social world (loka) (of scholars) who performed sacrifices or worshipped or exerted (tapas) without knowing the provisions of the eternal (akshara) constitution (Brahma) would not succeed even if he did so for a thousand years. He should be only pitied.
But one who leaves this academic world (loka) knowing these provisions, becomes a jurist, a Brahmana (3-8-10).The imperishable (akshara) socio-political constitution (Brahma) which the jurist has to be fully conversant with is imperceptible (adrshta) but he observes (darshta) it (cites the prescribed and expected conduct of every individual and group).
It has not been transmitted down the ages by oral tradition (asrotra) but it pays attention to the views and prayers (of all sections of the larger society). Earlier it was not based on the principles of vijnana (what constituted valid knowledge acquired from a knowledge, jnana, already gained) but now it applied this principle (of dialectics) while dealing with the different sections of the expanded society.
Yajnavalkya claimed that other schemata were not so rational in their observations, attention to the prayers of the people and their thought as this Brahma (Atharvaveda) was.
The invisible fluid movement, ether (akasa) that underlay the three social worlds and the individuals and groups that were beyond their reach was dependent on this imperishable convention cast in the form of comprehensive socio-political constitution.
Gargi then advised the Brahman scholars to leave the scene after paying respect to Yajnavalkya for they would not be able to trounce him in debate (3-8-12). (3-8-11).