As long with many sages that were born in the land, Sage Yajnavalkya was also one of the renowned sages within ancient vedic dharma/tradition who had an extensive amount of knowledge about the self and who has realized the life completely, that is in vedantic dharma we term as: jeevan mukti, the one who has realized completely and he is liberated. He is said to have been a sage present in the court of King Janaka of Mithila. The sage was also been found in one of the early vedic text of Mahabharata. His name is closely connected with the Sukla Yajurveda. Some hold that the Vajasaneyi Samhita of the Sukla Yajur Veda is known after his surname Vajasaneya.
Yajnavalkya was the son of the sister of Mahamuni Vaishampayana, the Vedacharya of the Taittiriya section. He was studying the Taittiriya Samhita from Vaishampayana who was also his Guru. Vaishampayana had many other disciples too and they all were students of the Taittiriya Shakha. Vishampayana however was irked by the nature of Yajnavalkya. Over a period of time Vaishampayana excluded Yajnavalkya from his class and foreclosed further learning of the compilations of Taittiriya samhita. He restrained Yajnavalkya from quoting the Taittiriya Samhita, which became known as the Krishna Yajur. Yajnavalkya piqued by this development, determined not to have any human Guru thereafter. Inspired by the God Surya, he acquired fresh insights into the vedas; this was developed into what is now known as the Shukla Yajur.
Yajnavalkya married two wives. One was Maitreyi and the other Katyayani. Of the two, Maitreyi was a Brahmavadini. There was a time when Yajnavalkya wished to divide his property between the two wives and proceed to forest as an ascetic. While Katyayani, a woman of intelligence, was comfortable with this idea and immediately accepted the property given to her, Maitreyi mused on this proposal; she wanted to know from Yajnavalkya, whether she could become immortal through wealth. Yajnavalkya replied that there was no hope of immortality through wealth and that she would only become one among the many who were well-to-do on earth. On hearing this, Maitreyi requested Yajnavalkya to teach her what he considered as the best for attaining the ultimate liberation (jeevan mukti)
Then Yajnavalkya elaborately described to her the sole greatness of the Absolute Self, the nature of its existence, the way of attaining infinite knowledge and immortality, etc. This immortal conversation between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi is recorded in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The central theme of the discourse is this: “This Source of knowledge; this source of power; all these worlds; all these gods; all these beings:- All this is just the Self. This Self alone exists everywhere. It cannot be understood or known, for It alone is the Understander and the Knower. Its nature cannot be said to be positively as such. It is realised through endless denials as “not this”, “not this”, a process of negation in the philosophical inquiries. The Self is self luminous, indestructible, unthinkable”. Yajnavalkya through his other wife Katyayani(Daughter of Bharadhwaja), had three sons ”Chandrakanta, Mahamegha and Vijaya“.
Yajnavalkya, though a great Brahma – Jnani (Knowledge), was a great Karma – kandi (one who strongly practices karma) as well. He was a celebrated Shrotriya and a Brahma Nishtha (follower) Guru. Once King Janaka of Videha wanted to know from which real Brahma Nishtha to receive Brahma Vidya. In order to find out who was the real Brahma-nishtha, Janaka performed a huge Bahu Dakshina sacrifice to which all the Rishis from far and wide were invited. And he offered one thousand cows with their calves, all their horns being decked with enormous gold. Then he proclaimed to the assembled ones, “Whosoever is the best Brahmana amongst you may drive these cows home“. None dared to get up and take away the cows as they were afraid of censure by the others. But Yajnavalkya stood up and asked his disciple Samasravas to drive the cows home.
The other members from the community to which the sage belonged to got angry at this and said to one another, “How can he declare himself to be the best among us?”. There upon several Rishis (Sages) challenged Yajnavalkya with many questions on transcendental matters to all of which Yajnavalkya gave prompt reply. There was a great debate in which Yajnavalkya won over all the others. Janaka was convinced that Yajnavalkya was the best Brahma Nishtha and received Brahma Vidya from him thereafter. The Verbal combat that ensued in the court of Janaka on this occasion is very famous. Apart from the fact that these arguments are interesting and enlightening, they are also known for its pungency and tragedy.
Noted among the arguers are a learned lady called gargi, sage uddalaka, sakalya and many others. Yajnavalkya won over everyone very convincingly. We can find these debates verbatim in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The third and the fourth chapters of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad abound with the great philosophical teachings of Yajnavalkya. Yajnavalkya was also the author of the famous Yajnavalkya Smriti. His other works are Yajnavalkya Shakha, Pratijna Sutra, Satapatha Brahmana, and Yoga Yajnavalkya. At the sacrifice of Janaka, there was an exchange of words between Yajnavalkya and Vaishampayana. But on hearing that Yajnavalkya had obtained a fresh Veda from the Sun God (Surya Deva), Vaishampayana was much pleased and he requested Yajnavalkya to teach that Veda to his own disciples also. Yajnavalkya consented and taught his Veda to the disciples of Vaishampayana.
In the end, Yajnavalkya took Vidvat Sannyasa (renunciation after the attainment of the knowledge of Brahman) and retired to the forest. Yajnavalkya was one of the greatest sages ever known. We find him arguing with and overcoming even his teacher Uddalaka at the court of Janaka. His precepts as contained in the Upanishads stand foremost as the crest-jewel of the highest teachings on Brahma Vidya. The master who guided thousands of persons, from King janaka to the commonest students on the path of enlightenment, was Yajnavalkya. His was the mastermind that produced ‘Shukla Yajurveda’. Yajnavalkya was born on the seventh day of the month of Kartik at an auspicious time. After coming into the world, Yajnavalkya regularly worshipped the God of Fire through yajnas and yagas. He had divine radiance like Vajneshwara. Therefore he was called yajnavalkya form his childhood.
Yajnavalkya received the great Gayatri Mantra form his father. He was sent to Gurukula for further education. He won the love and admiration of everybody in the ashram, within a few days. Later, he was imparted knowledge of the Vedas by various sages. By the blessings of the Sun God he became a seer blessed with the vision of mantras, a Maharishi and also Brahmarshi, possessing divine knowledge, by writing his experiences in the form of Shukla Yajurveda.
“Idam brahma, idam kshat ram, ime lokah, ime devah, imani bhutani , idam sarvam yad ayam atma”.
Meaning: “This Source of knowledge; this source of power ; all these worlds; all these gods; all these beings; – – All this is just the Self.”
Source for writing articles are:
- Swamy Krishnanandaji Maharaj in his lectures on Yajnavalkya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.