The Goal of Performing the Horse Sacrifice—Some Hints on Cosmic Geography

Now the great sage known as Bhujyu rose from the audience. He was a descendant in the line of the sage Lahya. He questioned Yajnavalkya. He wanted to know what happened to the descendents of Parikshit who were known to have performed many horse sacrifices. The horse sacrifice is a symbol for meditation on the Cosmic Mind as we have already seen in the beginning of this Upanishad.

The answer given by Yajnavalkya is open to many interpretations. According to one commentator, the soul of a person who performs good deeds merges with Cosmic Mind, Hiranyagarbha which pervades both microcosm and macrocosm. Metaphorically the chief Vedic deity, who is referred to here as Indra, assumes the form of a bird and carries the subtle body of a performer of sacrifices to the Cosmic Mind (which is referred to here as Vayu) through a microscopic opening on the surface of the Cosmic Egg. He who knows this as such has no rebirth.

If this Vayu that is the topmost region reached by the performers of the Asvamedha Sacrifice and which has been reached by the descendants of Parikshit and if this Supreme Universal energy is realized and known, one transcends death. If this realization could come to anybody, one would reach the same destination which the descendents of Parikshit reached. When this answer was given by Yajnavalkya, the questioner Bhujyu kept quiet and occupied his seat.

When Bhujyu asked Yajnavalkya about the extent of space covered by Cosmic Mind he gave a detailed answer showing his knowledge of cosmic geography, something very peculiar, not easily understandable to the modern mind. Some of these descriptions can be found in the fifth Skanda of the Srimad Bhagavatam as also in some of the other Puranas.

Sankara has a different view. He feels that one may presume that an excellent work like a horse sacrifice associated with meditation may lead to Liberation. He refutes this line of thinking and asserts that Liberation is not an effect or goal that has to be achieved but it is simply the destruction of bondage of ignorance. Bondage of ignorance cannot be destroyed by work, for the function of work is only to purify something. Liberation is not that something; it is Self-existent knowledge which only remains hidden by ignorance. Hence Liberation means cutting aside ignorance by means of Knowledge. Identity with Hiranyagarbha is the limit of a person’s attainment through rites coupled with meditation. But this identity is not Liberation which is obtained only through Knowledge.



Brahman, The Supreme—Direct and Immediate—Unknowable through the Individual Intellect

When the preceding question was answered, another great Master called Ushasta, the son of Chakra started putting questions to Yajnavalkya. This dialogue proceeded as follows.


Ushasta: "Yajnavalkya, explain to me the Brahman that is immediately and directly perceived—the self that is within all."

Yajnavalkya: "This is your self that is within all."

Ushasta: "Which self is within all, Yajnavalkya?"

Yajnavalkya: "That which breathes through the prana is your self that is within all. That which moves downward through the apana is your self that is within all. That which pervades through the vyana is your self that is within all. That which goes out with the udana is your self that is within all. This is your self that is within all."

There is an eternal Being which is immediately presented into experience and directly observed; which is the Self of all beings and internal to everything. Explain it to me. What is that which is innermost to all beings which is not immediately experienced as through the senses when they perceive objects, and which is direct, not indirect experience?" "Explain that to me."

"This very Being in you is your internal Self." This is what Yajnavalkya said. "But what is this internal Being you are speaking of? Tell me that again," Ushasta said. "He who breathes in through the Prana is your inner Self. He who performs the function of expiration is your own Self that is working in the form of this outward breath, the Apana. That which pervades your whole body, known as Vyana, again, is the operation of your own Self. That which works as Udana, whose activity consists of lifting the body at the time of death and performing certain other functions of that nature, that which is called Udana in ordinary language, is really your own Self that is working.

There is no such thing as Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udana, Samana. They are only names that we give to the functions of the inner Self that is yours. So, Ushasta, I tell you that this is really the inner Self of yours which appears as the various functions."

"O You should not speak like this to me. You must explain it in a greater detail."


Ushasta: "You have explained it as one might say: 'Such is a cow,' 'Such is a horse.' Tell me precisely the Brahman that is immediate and direct—the self that is within all."

Yajnavalkya: "This is your self that is within all."

Ushasta: "Which is within all, Yajnavalkya?"

Yajnavalkya: "You cannot see the seer of seeing; you cannot hear the hearer of hearing; you cannot think of the thinker of thinking; you cannot know the knower of knowing. This is your self that is within all; everything else but this is perishable." Thereupon Ushasta held his peace.

So, the question is not finished. He tells Yajnavalkya:"You have only told me, this is your inner Self in the same way as people would say, 'this is a cow, this is a horse', etc. That is not a real definition. Merely saying, 'this is that' is not a definition. I want an actual description of what this internal Self is. Please give that description and do not simply say, 'this is that'.

Yajnavalkya says: "You tell me that I have to point out the Self as if it is a cow or a horse. Not possible! It is not an object like a horse or a cow. I cannot say, 'here is the Atman; here is the Self'. It is not possible because you cannot see the Seer of seeing. The seer can see that which is other than the seer, or the act of seeing. An object outside the seer can be beheld by the seer. How can the seer see himself? How is it possible? You cannot see the seer of seeing. You cannot hear the hearer of hearing. You cannot think the thinker of thinking. You cannot understand the understander of understanding. That is the Atman."

Nobody can know the Atman inasmuch as the Atman is the Knower of all things. So, no question regarding the Atman can be put, such as 'What is the Atman?' 'Show it to me' etc. You cannot show the Atman because the Shower is the Atman; the Experiencer is the Atman; the Seer is the Atman; the Functionary in every respect through the senses or the mind or the intellect is the Atman. As the basic Residue of Reality in every individual is the Atman, how can we go behind It and say, 'this is the Atman?' Therefore, the question is impertinent and inadmissible. The reason is clear. It is the Self. It is not an object - na vijnater vijnataram vijaniyah, esa ta atma sarvantarah.

Everything other than the Atman is meaningless. it is good for nothing; it has no value; it is lifeless. Everything assumes a meaning because of the operation of this Atman in everything. Minus that, nothing has any sense.

Then Ushasta, the questioner kept quiet. He understood the point and did not speak further.



Renunciation, the way to know Brahman, the Means of Liberation

Another person got up from the assembly. He was Kahola Kausitakeya. He put a question to Yajnavalkya which was similar to the previous one but in a different way. "That Atman which is directly perceived, that which is immediately experienced, that which is internal to all, can you tell me of it?" That was his query. Now it may appear that he is repeating the same question once again, but the answer is a little different and not exactly what was told earlier.

Earlier Yajnavalkya said that Brahman is that which makes life-breath function in all its five aspects. This time Yajnavalkya describes Brahman from a different perspective. He says Brahman is that which is beyond all relative attributes like hunger, thirst, sorrow, delusion, old age and death.

What is required to realize Brahman, the self in us and in all things, is to overcome all desires, like desire for wealth (vittaishana), progeny(puttraishana) and the material world(lokaishana). Further, one has to learn scriptures and live like a child without any ego, sensual passion or deception and to practice meditation. Just as consuming food is the only means of satisfying hunger, balya (sense control), panditya (erudition), and mauna(silence or keeping the mind on one thought of Brahman) are the best and the only means of attaining the knowledge of Brahman which is the non-dual Reality. Everything else but Brahman is perishable.

The next question was how does a knower of Brahman behave in this world? Yajnavalkya replies that he may not adopt any specific mode of conduct, but being beyond desires, he is eternally satisfied as anything related to desire is perishable. (A similar question was asked by Arjuna to which Sri Krishna gave an elaborate description of a man of steady wisdom or a realized soul - sthitha prajna – and his behavior in day to day life. B.G. 2.54 – 72)

“To become a child involves sacrifice of intellectual conceit. It requires returning to the roots. To become like little children is not easy. It takes much effort to acquire the grace and meekness of a child; to measure our smallness against the greatness of the Supreme. Except you become like little children, you shall not see the kingdom of god”. Dr.S.Radhakrishnan.

This section and the previous one should be taken together. Section IV teaches that Brahman is theoretically unknowable. Because it is the knowing principle, a knowing subject of all knowledge, it can never be the object of knowledge for us. Section V rejects the mind as a means of comprehending Brahman in a practical way. Brahman is comprehended when one transforms from being a scholar to a child, then to the state of muni, a recluse observing silence and from that to the state of sanyasi, a renouncer. Spiritual strength is derived from the total elimination of desire for objects through the Knowledge of Brahman. Hence the knower of Brahman should try to live upon that strength.

Tato ha kaholah kausitakeya upararaama. Hearing this most erudite exposition of Brahman, Kahola withdrew from the debate.

NOTE: Now, the Upanishad takes us gradually, stage by stage, to higher and higher subjects. This section of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, the third and the fourth chapters particularly, are very interesting and may be regarded as a veritable text for the study of Brahma-Vidya. We started with the lowest subject concerning sacrifice and rose up to the question of the control of the senses and their objects - Grahas, Atigrahas etc. Then we were brought to the subject of the internal psychological Being whose Reality is the Atman. We were then gradually taken from the microcosmic reality to the Macrocosmic, the individual giving way to the Supreme. The questions, therefore, are arranged, systematically in a graduated manner. One cannot say whether the people put the questions in this order or whether the Upanishad arranged the questions in this order. Whatever it is, as the things appear in the Upanishad, they are systematically arranged, stage by stage, querying first from the lower level, reaching up to the higher, until the Absolute is touched.



[To be continued]