Yajnavalkya (Sanskrit: याज्ञवल्क्यः) of Videha was a Maharshi (महर्षिः) and philosopher of Bharatavarsha (भरतवर्षम्). He was one of the first philosophers in recorded history, alongside maharshi Uddalaka. In the court of Janaka Maharaja of Mithila, he was acclaimed for his expertise in vaidika karmakanda and he remained unrivaled in his talent for theological debates.
- 1 परिचयः || Introduction
- 2 Birth and Family
- 3 Contributions of Yajnavalkya
- 4 Atma Jnana Siddhantas from Brhdaranyaka Upanishad
- 5 Importance of Yajnavalkya
- 6 Other References
- 7 References
परिचयः || Introduction
Yajnavalkya is recorded as one of the great Brahmajnanis who ever walked on the land of Bharatavarsha. Well-versed in a performing yajnas, an adhvaryu, he was a celebrated Guru, primarily known for his contribution to the origin of the Yajurveda shakas. He is one of the rare seers in whose life one can witness the transition from being a karmakandi to a brahmajnani. His excellent logic and reasoning of Brahmajnana is revealed in the various samvadas such as those with Janaka Maharaja, and brahmavadinis such as Gargi and Maitreyi. The people of Bharatavarsha owe to him the Shukla Yajurveda Parampara, which is widely followed in the northern states of Bharatavarsha. He is widely mentioned in the Upanishads and Puranas. He is the expounder of "net neti" philosophy as explained brilliantly by him in the Brhdaranyaka Upanishad. Yajnavalkya Smrti is of great repute in the ancient Smrti literature and a guiding text for many duties and dharmas followed in Bharat.
Birth and Family
Yajnavalkya was the son of Devarata (देवरातसुतः) as per Bhagavata Purana. Skanda Purana (Khanda 6 Adhyayas 129-131) describes the anecdotes associated with Yajnavalkya's early life as a student and as a grhastha in Brhat kalpa. The Bhargava lineage Guru, Shakalya was the rajaguru of Raja Supriya who ruled Vardhamana city. Yajnavalkya was his disciple. Suta explains that Brahma was reborn as Yajnavalkya, after Shambhu (Shiva) cursed Brahma during his marriage ceremony with Parvati.
तदा वैवाहिके काले शप्तो यः शंभुना स्वयम् ॥ सुनिंद्यां विकृतिं दृष्ट्वा तस्य वेद्यां गतस्य च ॥ १३ ॥
tadā vaivāhike kāle śapto yaḥ śaṁbhunā svayam ॥ suniṁdyāṁ vikr̥tiṁ dr̥ṣṭvā tasya vedyāṁ gatasya ca ॥ 13 ॥
अथ तं योजयामास शांत्यर्थं नृपमंदिरे ॥ याज्ञवल्क्यं स शाकल्यः प्रतिपद्यागतं तदा ॥ १४ ॥ (Skan. Pura. 6.129.13-14)
atha taṁ yojayāmāsa śāṁtyarthaṁ nr̥pamaṁdire ॥ yājñavalkyaṁ sa śākalyaḥ pratipadyāgataṁ tadā ॥ 14 ॥ (Skan. Pura. 6.129.13-14)
Shakalya conducted the duties of paurohitya for a long time in the royal premises of Raja Supriya. (Once) at the time of his marriage (with Parvati) Shambu himself cursed him (Brahma) for his reproachful actions (of having seen Parvati with an evil intention). Thereafter, he was born as Yajnavalkya, who was engaged by Shakalya in the royal palace for the performance of the Shanti rites. At the end of his earthly time Yajnavalkya casts off his body in the tirtha made by Brahma and united his tejas with Brahma in accordance with his capacity.
त्यक्त्वा कलेवरं तत्र ब्रह्मद्वारि विनिर्मिते ॥ तत्तेजो ब्रह्मणो गात्रे योजयामास शक्तितः ॥ ७२ ॥ (Skan. Pura. 6.129.72)
tyaktvā kalevaraṁ tatra brahmadvāri vinirmite ॥ tattejo brahmaṇo gātre yojayāmāsa śaktitaḥ ॥ 72 ॥ (Skan. Pura. 6.129.72)
Wives and Children
Yajnvalkya led a life of a grhastha and had two wives Maitreyi and Katyayani. Maitreyi was Brahmavadini and Katyayani's attitude to life is that of a grhini in general (स्त्रीप्रज्ञ). At the time of renunciation of the householder's life he offers to divide his belongings among the two of them.
अथ ह याज्ञवल्क्यस्य द्वे भार्ये बभूवतुर्मैत्रेयी च कात्यायनी च ।
तयोर्ह मैत्रेयी ब्रह्मवादिनी बभूव । स्त्रीप्रज्ञैव तर्हि कात्यायनी ।
अथ ह याज्ञवल्क्योऽन्यद्वृत्तमुपाकरिष्यन् ॥ ४,५.१ ॥ (Brhd. Upan. 4.5.1)
According to Skanda Purana
तस्य भार्याद्वयं श्रेष्ठमासीत्सर्वगुणान्वितम् ॥ एका गुणवती तस्य मैत्रेयीति प्रकीर्तिता ॥ २ ॥
tasya bhāryādvayaṁ śreṣṭhamāsītsarvaguṇānvitam ॥ ekā guṇavatī tasya maitreyīti prakīrtitā ॥ 2 ॥
ज्येष्ठा चान्याथ कल्याणी ख्याता कात्यायनीति च ॥ यस्याः कात्यायनः पुत्रो वेदार्थानां प्रजल्पकः ॥ ३ ॥ (Skan. Pura. 6.130.2-3)
jyeṣṭhā cānyātha kalyāṇī khyātā kātyāyanīti ca ॥ yasyāḥ kātyāyanaḥ putro vedārthānāṁ prajalpakaḥ ॥ 3 ॥ (Skan. Pura. 6.130.2-3)
He (Yajnavalkya) had two excellent wives, Maitreyi and Katyayani endowed with good qualities. One, endowed with good qualities, is known as Maitreyi. She was the senior (of the two). The other with good auspicious characteristics (Kalyani) was well known as Katyayani. Kaatyayana, the expounder of the meaning of the Vedas, was her son.
जनकाय नरेंद्राय व्याख्याय च ततः परम् ॥ कात्यायनं सुतं प्राप्य वेदसूत्रस्य कारकम् ॥ ७१ ॥ (Skan. Pura. 6.129.71)
janakāya nareṁdrāya vyākhyāya ca tataḥ param ॥ kātyāyanaṁ sutaṁ prāpya vedasūtrasya kārakam ॥ 71 ॥ (Skan. Pura. 6.129.71)
He explained it (Upanishad, refers to Brhdaranyaka Upanishad) to Janaka Raja. He begot a son Kaatyayana (Son of Katyayani) who was instrumental in the composition of Veda sutras (Shrauta Sutras).
Yajnavalkya adorned the courts of Yudhisthira and Indra as per Mahabharata.
तित्तिरिर्याज्ञवल्क्यश्च ससुतो लोमहर्षणः। tittiriryājñavalkyaśca sasuto lomaharṣaṇaḥ। (Maha. Sabh. Parv. 2.4.12)
पवित्रपाणिः सावर्णिर्याज्ञवल्क्योऽथ भालुकिः। pavitrapāṇiḥ sāvarṇiryājñavalkyo'tha bhālukiḥ। (Maha. Sabh. Parv. 2.7.12)
His famous discussions with Janaka Maharaja are ample evidences of his presence in the court of Janaka (Skan. Pura. 6.129.71 and Brhdaranyaka Upanishad Adhyayas 3 and 4)
- Yajnavalkya expounded the famous doctrine of "neti neti" to describe the Brahman or Universal Self. The Shatapatha Brahmana (14.6.11) mentions this concept in a few instances. In the Brhdaranyaka Upanishad (Adhyaya 3 Brahmana 9) in his conversation with Shakalya, Yajnavalkya explains the following about Self.
स एष नेति नेत्यात्मा । अगृह्यो न हि गृह्यते । अशीर्यो न हि शीर्यते । असङ्गो न सज्यते । असितो न व्यथते । न रिष्यति । (Brhd. Upan. 3.9.1)
This concept forms the underlying principle while discussing Brahman in many other instances in this Upanishad (for ex, 4.2.4). The subsequent interpretive commentaries of acharyas from both the Advaita and Vaishnava mutts have discussed this concept extensively.
- Principles of meditation (sravana, manana, nidhidhyasa)
He is traditionally credited with the works such as
- Vajasaneya Samhita (Shukla Yajurveda Samhita)
- Shatapatha Brahmana (including the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad)
- Yajnavalkya Smrti on the subject of law.
Skanda Purana asserts his proficiency in vedic studies, stating that he worked on the Upanishad incorporating all the meanings of the Vedas.
कृत्वोपनिषदं चारु वेदार्थैः सकलैर्युतम् ॥ ६.१२९.७० ॥ kr̥tvopaniṣadaṁ cāru vedārthaiḥ sakalairyutam ॥ 6.129.70 ॥ (Skan. Pura. 6.129.70)
Formation of two Yajurveda Shakas (यजुर्वेदशाख-अवतरणम्) is primarily attributed to Yajnavalkya. They are the Shukla and Krishna Yajurveda shakas. Yajurveda which was originally given to Vaisampayana by Vyasa Maharshi has been rearranged by Yajnavalkya and thus came into existence two shakas of Yajurveda.
Atma Jnana Siddhantas from Brhdaranyaka Upanishad
Brhadaranyaka Upanishad one of the greatest assets of our Bharatiya heritage abounds with tattvajnana and atmajnana siddhantas on which Yajnavalkya throws light emphasizing on the unity of thought. Many samvadas in this Upanishad that Yajnavalkya had with other Brahmavadis such as Shakalya, Uddalaka, Ushasta, Kahola, Janaka and Brahmavadinis such as Gargi and Maitreyi touch upon the different aspects of Brahman referring to many crucial passages and concepts from other Upanishads also.
सर्वं यदयमात्मा ॥ Atman is the self of all entities (Adhyaya 2)
When Yajnavalkya wished to leave his family for attaining jnana, he desired to divide his belongings between his two wives. Of the two, Maitreyi was a Brahmavadini (one who is interested in the knowledge of Brahman). The brilliant conversation between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi is recorded twice in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad both in Adhyaya 2 (Brahmana 4) and 4 (Brahmana 5).
Maitreyi asked whether the greatest wealth could make her immortal, amrta. Yajnavalkya replied that there was no hope of immortality through wealth and that she would only become one among the wealthy.
सा होवाच मैत्रेयी यन्नु म इयं भगोः सर्वा पृथिवी वित्तेन पूर्णा स्यात्कथं तेनामृता स्यामिति ।
नेति होवाच याज्ञवल्क्यः । यथैवोपकरणवतां जीवितं तथैव ते जीवितं स्यात् ।
अमृतत्वस्य तु नाशास्ति वित्तेनेति ॥ २,४.२ ॥ (Brhd. Upan. 2.4.2)
When she heard this, Maitreyi asked Yajnavalkya to teach her about that which gives Amrtattva. The immortality spoken of here is not mere deathlessness, for that characterizes the jiva undergoing the rebirth and bondage. It can only mean eternal life of perfection and bliss. It is not the survival after death but the death of death itself. Different sampradayas have interpreted this conversation with slight variations, however, the conclusion drawn from the passages urges one to seek the Atman. Then Yajnavalkya described to her about the greatness of the love we have for ourselves, which is none other than that of the Brahman (Absolute Self). He describes the dearness of all relationships is not just due to individual will, but is the result of the direction of Paramatman. It is the will of Paramatman that creatures, things of the visible world that become attached to each other. The Atman or Paramatman is verily the self of all entities. Nature of Brahman, its existence, the way of attaining infinite knowledge and immortality through acquiring Brahmajnana is well laid out.
आत्मा वा अरे द्रष्टव्यः श्रोतव्यो मन्तव्यो निदिध्यासितव्यो मैत्रेयि, आत्मनो वा अरे दर्शनेन श्रवणेन मत्या विज्ञानेनेदं सर्वं विदितम् || ātmā vā are draṣṭavyaḥ śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyo maitreyi, ātmano vā are darśanena śravaṇena matyā vijñānenedaṃ sarvaṃ viditam || (Brhd. Upan. 2.4.5)
He advises that the objects which owe their lovableness to the desire of the Atman to that effect must be set aside and that the Supreme ground of all that is worthy of love must itself be made the sole object of search.
कः ब्रह्मिष्ठः ॥ Who is Brahmishta (Adhyaya 3)
Some of the most famous conversations involving Brahman and Atman have taken place in Janaka Maharaja's sabha. Many volumes and interpretations came about based on Brhdaranyaka Upanishad explaining different perspectives of the nature of Self. Yajnavalkya and Janaka (याज्ञवल्क्यः जनकश्च) and vedic scholars were the primary participants in explaining the tattvas which is presented in the form of conversations (dialogues) between different people in the third adhyaya. Further the fourth adhyaya also deals with the intricate details of Brahman, Atman, Purusha and their characteristics extensively.
On the occasion of a yajna, Janaka Maharaja offers a thousand cows adorned with gold, to find out the answer to the question, "who is the most erudite of the scholars present here?" Janaka announces that the seer who is a Brahmishta (ब्रह्मिष्ठः), the most erudite scholar may come forward and take the cows with him. (Brhd. Upan. Adhyaya 3, Brahmana 1) No one among the scholars dared to come forward for the cows. Yajnavalkya at that time, however, to the utter dismay of the scholars, orders his disciple to drive the cows home. At that instant the vidvans present in the sabha come forth to question his Brahmanistha and the right to his claim on the cows. The seers who challenge Yajnavalkya are Asvala and others including Gargi, a Brahmavadini. Following conversations from Brhdaranyaka Upanishad give us more insights into how he answers all the scholars about Brahman and how he proves himself to be erudite among those present, thus having a rightful claim over the decorated cows gifted by Janaka Maharaja.
- Yajnavalkya Hotaasvala Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-होताश्वलयोः संवादः)
- Yajnavalkya Arthabhaga Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-आर्तभागयोः संवादः)
- Yajnavalkya Bhujyu Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-भुज्यु संवादः)
- Yajnavalkya Ushasta Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-उषस्तयोः संवादः)
- Yajnavalkya Kahola Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-कहोलयोः संवादः)
- Yajnavalkya Gargi Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-गार्गी संवादः)
- Yajnavalkya Uddalaka Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-उद्दालकयोः संवादः)
- Yajnavalkya Shakalya Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-शाकल्ययोः संवादः)
प्रतीकोपासनम् ॥ Pratikopasana (Adhyaya 4)
Yajnavalkya visits Janaka again in his sabha (court) when Janaka asks him whether the purpose of his visit was to collect more animals or to ask more subtle questions. This time Yajnavalkya asks Janaka to tell him what he learnt from others and fills in the information not mentioned by them. In this way they discuss about things that represent Brahman (Pratika) and the benefits of meditating about them (उपासनम्). For example, Jitva Sailini teaches Janaka that वाग्वै ब्रह्मेति । Vak is Brahman where Vak or the speech organ represents Brahman. However, this being only a part of the information, Yajnavalkya informs him that there are three other parts to it. Thus for each thing representing Brahman the Devata, Ayatana, Pratishta and the meditative aspect are clearly elucidated by Yajnavalkya. Summary of their conversation in Brhdaranyaka Upanishad (Adhyaya 4, Brahmana 1) is presented in a table as follows
|Statement||Devata||Ayatana (आयतनम्)||Pratishta (प्रतिष्ठाम्)||Meditative Name|
|वाग्वै ब्रह्मेति । Vak is Brahman||Vak devata||Organ of speech itself||Akasha or Unmanifested Ether||प्रज्ञेत्येनदुपासीत । Prajna|
|प्राणो वै ब्रह्मेति । Prana is Brahman||Devata for Prana or Life force||Prana itself||Akasha or Unmanifested Ether||प्रियमित्येनदुपासीत । Priya or Dear|
|चक्षुर्वै ब्रह्मेति । The Eye is Brahman||Devata for Sense of Vision||Eye itself||Akasha or Unmanifested Ether||सत्यमित्येतदुपासीत । Satyam or Truth|
|श्रोत्रं वै ब्रह्मेति । The Ear is Brahman||Devata for Sense of Hearing||Ear itself||Akasha or Unmanifested Ether||आनन्तमित्येनदुपासीत । Ananta or Infinite|
|मनो वै ब्रह्मेति । The Mind is Brahman||Devata for Sense Organ of Mind||Mind itself||Akasha or Unmanifested Ether||आनन्द इत्येनदुपासीत । Ananda or Bliss|
|हृदयं वै ब्रह्मेति । Hrdayam is Brahman||Devata for Hrdayam||Heart itself||Akasha or Unmanifested Ether||स्थितिरित्येनदुपासीत । Sthiti or Stability|
In this kind of meditation one will have the view of Brahman in the deities Vak, Prana, Chakshus, Shruti, Manas and Hrdaya asd they gain the different kinds of atttainments. These are pratikopasanas and so they do not result in the attainment of Brahman.
Path taken on release from sharira
In Brhdaranyaka Upanishad (Adhyaya 4 Brahmana 2), Yajnavalkya explains to Janaka the answer to the question : where will you go when your are freed from this body? Janaka, not knowing the answer to this question, realizing the deep knowledge Yajnavalkya had, chose him as his Acharya and earnestly requests him to explain. Yajnavalkya speaks about the Purusha (being) who resides in the right eye and is named Indha, who is none other than Indra.
इन्धो ह वै नामैष योऽयं दक्षिणेऽक्षन् पुरुषः । (Brhd. Upan. 4.2.2)
अथैतद्वामेऽक्षणि पुरुषरूपमेषास्य पत्नी विराट् । (Brhd. Upan. 4.2.3)
The human form (पुरुषरूपम्) that is in the left eye is his wife Virat (विराट्)। The abode, food, location in the heart of this Purusa and his wife are elaborated. It is through "Hita" the net like veins in the heart that the wandering (those passing through cycles of birth and death) roam about. This Indha (Indra) is an exceptionally good food for that Atma (object of enjoyment to that individual who departs from this body through the sushumna nadi). Yajnavalkya further explains about the capability of senses to grasp things and the directions they work in, however, the nature of Indha, residing in the right eye is to be described as "not this much". Again based on the concept of Neti, Neti Indha is not completely comprehensible, neither is he decaying nor attached, neither does he get bound nor feel any pain. The idea is to meditate on the Purusha of such a description to attain fearlessness there by attaining Brahman. Highly enlightened Janaka offers the Videha empire, and himself as the servant, as remuneration for this invaluable knowledge.
किंज्योतिरयं ॥ What serves as Light?
Once there was a dialogue between the Janaka and Yajnavalkya about Agnihotra. On knowing the depth of knowledge of Janaka on the subject, a pleased Yajnavalkya grants him a boon that Janaka may ask any question he liked and that Yajnavalkya should answer it at anytime. On the strength of that boon, Janaka first raises the question even though Yajnavalkya internally reflects that he will not discuss anything about Atman. This is the third instance of their meeting in which Janaka opens a discussion about what is light for a person.
अथ ह यज्जनकश्च वैदेहो याज्ञवल्क्यश्चाग्निहोत्रे समूदाते ।
तस्मै ह याज्ञवल्क्यो वरं ददौ । याज्ञवल्क्य किंज्योतिरयं पुरुष इति ।
आदित्यज्योतिः सम्राडिति होवाच । (Brhd. Upan. 4.3.1-2)
Janaka asks, "Yajnavalkya what serves as the light for a man? He replies,"Aditya (i.e., the light of surya)". It is through this light that man sits, goes about, works and returns, i.e., performs his activities everyday. The next question raised is when aditya (sun) sets what is the source of light, Yajnavalkya replies, "Chandra (moon)". When both surya and chandra are set, what then serves as light for man, asked Janaka. Its the "Agni (fire)" in the light of which man conducts his activities. When fire is extinguished, it the Vak (speech) which serves as light for man. Here by the term Vak, sound is signified. In dense darkness, when man cannot see his own hand, when someone utters a sound or word one can move towards the place from where sound is heard.
In the absence of all the indriya jnanas, what serves as light for a man, asks Janaka. Yajnavalkya replies, "the Self (Atman) indeed serves as light."It is through the light of the Self that he does his activities.
अस्तमित आदित्ये याज्ञवल्क्य चन्द्रमस्यस्तमिते शान्तेऽग्नौ शान्तायां वाचि किंज्योतिरेवायं पुरुष इति । आत्मैवास्य ज्योतिर्भवतीति । आत्मनैवायं ज्योतिषास्ते पल्ययते कर्म कुरुते विपल्येतीति ॥ (Brhd. Upan. 4.3.6)
This conversation Brhdaranyaka Upanishad (Adhyaya 4 Brahmana 3) touches upon yet another unique concept of Sanatana Dharma, namely the dream state. Many ancient texts have explained the dream state of a being, when in the absence of functionality of external indriyas or sense organs, there exists a fully functional consciousness in the state of dream. One may clearly note that such psychological insights were given to world far before the advent of modern theories of psychology and related subjects. More about this Self which illumines a man in the state of dream can be found out in Yajnavalkya and Janaka (याज्ञवल्क्यः जनकश्च) conversations. Thus it may be noted the Brahmajnanis like Yajnavalkya have greatly contributed to the sum and substance of Brahmatattvas through their enlightening discourses with their peers.
Yajnavalkya is honoured in several traditions. Saint Kulasekhara claims him as a great "Vaishnava Yogi". His references to some of the Avataras of Vishnu (Varaha and Vamana for instance) in a new light in Shatapatha Brahmana, wherein he declares Vishnu as God Supreme, do attest to this certificate.
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- Dr. N. S. Ananta Rangacharya (2004) Prinicipal Upanishads, Volume 3, Brhdaranyakopanishat. Text, English Translation and Brief notes according to Sri Ranga Ramanujamuni. Bangalore: Sri Rama Printers (Pages 239 to 250)
- Dr. N. S. Ananta Rangacharya (2004) Prinicipal Upanishads, Volume 3, Brhdaranyakopanishat. Text, English Translation and Brief notes according to Sri Ranga Ramanujamuni. Bangalore: Sri Rama Printers (Pages 251 to 256)
- Dr. K. S. Narayanacharya, Insights Into the Taittiriya Upanishad. Mysore : Kautilya Institute of National Studies (Mukundmala Verse 17)