“On what is the body supported?” asks Sakalya. “On the life breath and its five forms – in-breath, out-breath, diffused-breath, equalizing-breath, and ascending-breath. This life-breath, prana, is identical with Self.

Yajnavalkya then describes Self. It is imperceptible because it is never perceived, indestructible because it is never destroyed, unattached because it does not attach itself and unfettered because it does not suffer. It is beyond suffering and injury. It is described as ‘neti, neti’, not this, not this. Whatever Sakalya talked about were only about the abodes, worlds, gods and beings of the Self, the Cosmic Person, Purusha.

Next, Yajnavalkya takes the floor and asks a question to Sakalya: “Who is that Cosmic Person, Purusha taught in the Upanishads?” He also announces that if Sakalya is unable to explain this to him, his head will fall off. Sakalya could not answer and his head fell off. Moreover robbers took even that fallen head away thinking that it was something else.

In conclusion, Yajnavalkya invited questions from the audience and also suggested that he might put questions to the members of the audience. The assembled Brahmins could not dare to say anything to Yajnavalkya. Then Yajnavalskya asked them a question as in the following mantra.(3.9.28)

“As is a mighty tree, so, indeed is a man. His hairs are like leaves and his skin like the outer bark of a tree. From his skin blood flows forth, like sap from the skin of a tree. Therefore, when a man is wounded, blood flows like sap from a tree that is struck. His flesh is its inner bark; his nerves are tough like inner fibers. His bones are the woods within and marrow resembles the pith. A tree when it is felled springs up from its roots in a newer form. From what root does man spring forth when he is cutoff by death?

Do not say ‘from procreative fluid’, since that is produced only from a living man. A tree springs also from the seed after it is felled. But if a tree is pulled out with its roots and seeds it will not spring again. But a man is born after death, even though his body is completely destroyed. So, who causes his rebirth? From what root does a mortal spring forth when he is cut off by death?

If you say ‘he is never born, I say ‘no’. He is born again after death. Who creates him again?

It is Brahman. He is knowledge and Bliss. He is the final goal of him who offers charities as well as of him who stands firm and knows Brahman”.

This is an oft-quoted mantra. After the similarities between a man and a tree are shown, the dissimilarities are pointed out. The issue raised by Yajnavalkya in this last mantra of the section relates to the concept of rebirth or transmigration of the soul after death of man which is based on the law of karma.

The naturalists (svabhava vadins) believe that a man is born naturally. They don’t believe in any other cause apart from nature. Everything is mechanical for them like materialists. For them a man is a naturally born product and he would not be born again after death. Their theory is that the universe is produced and is sustained by the natural and necessary action of substances according to their inherent properties and not by the agency of a Supreme Conscious Being. But Yajnavalkya does not agree to this line of thought.

According to Yajnavalkya, the soul is immortal; a man had previous lives and he will have future lives also after his death. If rebirth governed by the law of karma is not accepted, then a man must reap the fruit of action he has never done and does not have to accept the fruit of action which he has already done. This would obviously nullify the law of cause and effect. Then how doe we explain man’s present state? Therefore the theory of karma and rebirth is the only theory that explains the difference between man and man. Each man is what he has made him in the course of his numerous past lives.

Further, the doctrine of rebirth is a necessary corollary of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. That is why Yajnavalkya asked who is the cause of a man’s being born again. The Vedic scholars did not know the answer. They did not know Brahman, the ultimate root of the universe, which is responsible for rebirth and the other phenomena of the relative universe. But Yajnavalkya knew Brahman. Thus he defeated the Brahmins and took away the cows.

The story is finished and the Upanishad describes the root of the universe in words which directly apply to Brahman. It says Brahman is Knowledge (pure intelligence free from the duality of knower and the object of knowledge) and Bliss (unlike the happiness caused by the sensory perceptions, this Bliss, which is the same as Knowledge is not stained by pain) – vijnanam anandam brahma. Brahman is vijnanam and anandam, Consciousness and Bliss. That is the wonderful teaching of this section.


Thus the basic thought of this section is that Brahman (Atman, the Upanishadic Purusha) is the ultimate unity to which the Vedic Gods, the vital power in man, the guardian deities in man and man himself are all traced back.




[To be continued]

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