SECTION I - AJATASATRU-BRAHMANA
A PROGRESSIVE DEFINITION OF BRAHMAN
Meditation on the Lower and Higher Levels of
In the first chapter of Madhu Kanda we studied that the ultimate reality, as seen
externally, is nothing but the differentiated world of names, forms and actions.
But the ultimate truth lies behind this network of name and form process. Hence
the Upanishad suggested “atma iti eva upasita” – Meditate upon the supreme
truth as your own self. In keeping up with this objective of meditation the Upanishad
now starts telling us about the nature of the individual to understand the nature
of the universe.
Thus this second chapter begins with an interesting story in the form of a dialogue
between Balaki Gargya, a learned sage and Ajatasatru, the wise king. The theme of
the story is that when we deal with the various objects of the external world we
mistake them to be real and the highest incontrovertible truth. The Upanishad tells
us that it is not so and points out that the reality is unconditioned by any of
these objects and that is our true Self. The dialogue hinges upon the subject of
the conditioned Brahman and the unconditioned Brahman, the formed
or the manifested aspect of Reality and the formless or the absolute nature of It.
The learned Balaki insists upon the forms of manifestation as objects of meditation
and the king who was more educated in this line emphasizes, on the other hand, that
no form, no particular manifestation can be regarded as complete in itself unless
its universal background is also taken into consideration. The whole conversation
between these two persons is on the theme of recognizing the universal in every
mode of manifestation. And the highest universal is Consciousness whose faint hints
are observable in the state of deep sleep when all externality of being is withdrawn.
Ajatasatru concludes his explanation with two analogies – a spider and a spark from
a fire. Then follows a famous saying that Brahman is ‘Truth of the Truths’ – ‘satyasya
In this dialogue, Balaki, though a Brahmana, represents the imperfect knowledge
of Brahman, while Ajatasatru, though a Kshatriya, represents advanced knowledge
of Brahman. While Balaki worships Brahman as the sun, the moon, etc., as limited,
Ajatasatru knows Brahman as the Self. The mistake committed by Balaki was that he
describes Brahman through concepts while Brahman is that which cannot be conceptualized
and which is beyond words and concepts. Ajatasatru therefore corrects him.
We now take up the second chapter which is a kind of instruction touching on the
distinction between qualified and unqualified Reality, the conditioned and unconditioned
Brahman, the Reality with attributes and the Reality without attributes,
saguna brahman and nirguma brahman.
1. There was a learned man, called Balaki, a descendent of Garga family. He was
proud of his learning and considered himself to be the wisest. He was also a good
speaker. He wanted to parade his knowledge before an emperor called Ajatasatru,
the king of Kasi. Imagining that he knew Brahman, he went to the court of
king Ajatasatru and told him: "I shall teach you Brahman."
The king was highly pleased. "Well, I have a very good Master to teach me Brahman.
You are so kind, indeed. Even for the very generous gesture of offering to teach
me Brahman, I shall give you a thousand cows, like king Janaka." People
always say, "Janaka, Janaka." "Very good, let me also have this humble
privilege of imitating this great, charitable man, learning from you and offering
you too a gift of thousand cows in the same manner. People everywhere run about
in search of learned ones and here you come to me with such generosity of feeling
to teach me Brahman. It's very kind of you indeed!" Such was the
happiness of the king. Janaka was a
well-known learned king and Ajatasatru feels that he also has some of Janaka’s qualities.
2. What did the teacher Balaki Gargya tell? "Do
you know how I meditate on Brahman?" asked the scion of the Gargya."
I meditate upon the sun as Brahman. You also do that meditation."
But the king retorted; he did not accept this teaching. It appeared that the teacher
went to the wrong disciple. The king, instead of saying, "I thank you, I shall
meditate upon the sun as you instructed me," gave him back in his own coin.
"Do not speak to me like this. This is not the way I meditate."
The king said so, because he seemed to know something more than the teacher himself.
He said "I also meditate upon the sun, but not as you tell. The reason
is that the sun is only a conditioned form, and you are considering this conditioned
form as the Absolute. This is not the way in which it should be contemplated. There
is a reality, purusha, behind the sun. I meditate upon that reality, Brahman..
There is a general reality behind the particular form, the sun. Why not meditate
upon that instead of the particular form? It could have taken many forms other than
the sun, and so if you resort yourself to that general being behind the form, naturally
you would be in the realization of every other form. You will have every form under
Now how do I meditate the transcendent support of everything? There is an energizing
vitality behind the sun. That is what I meditate upon, the King of all beings. I
meditate upon him as all-surpassing, as the head of all beings and as resplendent.
Surya or the sun, is held by the Veda as the eye of all creatures, the Atman
or the very Self of all beings. That means to say there is something in the sun
which is not visible to the ordinary eye. The supreme head of all creatures and
the basic reality behind all things is He - this is the way I meditate, and not
the form of the sun.
One who contemplates thus in this manner the general transcendent reality behind
the sun becomes supreme among all people. He becomes a king in the circle he moves,
and this is the result of such meditation. This is what the disciple told the so-called