brihadAraNyaka, 2.4.12-13:

Dennis made the following observations in a Comment at another thread @ 17:52 on Dec 23, 2020.


You have also misunderstood Shankara’s commentary on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.13. What it is saying is that when the body-mind of a j~nAnI dies, the chidAbhAsa consciousness dies with it, since there is no longer a mind to reflect the ‘original’ Consciousness. It does not say anything at all about the world disappearing or about the individual j~nAnI in any way disappearing prior to death of the body. The chidAbhAsa for the j~nAnI will continue until death. The world will continue to be seen by that j~nAnI even though it is now known to be mithyA.

Quote ends.

I am afraid that the view expressed by Dennis above lacks shruti and bhAShya support. Perhaps, it resembles the confusion that Maitreyi had when she listened to her husband, Sage Yajnavalkya, at 2.4.12, brihadAraNyaka.

Sage Yajnavalkya described a very comprehensive “Model” encapsulating the crux of Advaita theory on the appearance of the manifested manifold and its subsequent dissolution into/as Oneness at 2.4.12, brihadAraNyaka. What the Sage spells out is a-very-difficult-to-follow conceptual model because it is not available to our day-to-day mundane thought and experience.

Helpfully, Shankara elaborated on it adding the missing words here and there in Sage Yajnavalkya’s very concise exposition. When Maitreyi was still bewildered by the “model” presented by him, the Sage gave a final closure to what he was preaching with the illustration of the absence of the reflection of the Sun/Moon in a pond when the very cause for the reflection, viz., the reflecting water, dries up. Therefore, one has to first very carefully and thoroughly and unambiguously understand the “model” described by the Sage at 2.4.12 before trying to understand the illustration cited at 2.4.13.

Let me say at the outset that neither 2.4.12 nor 2.4.13 talk of any “physical” death of the body or mind or the death of any jnAni, as Dennis seems to presume. Moreover, it is an oxymoron to speak of the death of a jnAni, as it amounts to saying that brahman is dead – after all, a jnAni is none other than brahman (brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati, 3.2.9, muNDaka upaniShad).

By definition, an ordinary seeker (a-jnAni) will get christened as jnAni once the cidAbhAsa (the sense of ‘I am separate’) is lost. As long as s/he carries the burden and its consequences of entertaining the thought of “I-am-separate / I-am-my-body” (which, in one word, is cidAbhAsa), s/he will be liable to face the multiplicity of the world, and experience sukha-dukha. That is NOT a liberated state. Liberation, implicitly, is being free form the ignomy of experiencing the duality.

Therefore, we shall try to tease out the intricate “Model” described by Sage Yajnavalkya at 2.4.12. which confused even Maitreyi when she heard it for the first time.

[I shall freely borrow the clarifications and explanations provided by Late Shri Y. S. Rao in a talk of his on this brihadAraNyaka mantra.]

Sage Yajnavalkya begins his upadesha (elucidation) with a submodule of the main ‘Model.’ Salt, he says, is a derived ‘form’ of water. In other words, salt is nothing but the water condensed and crystallized when the water comes in contact with some other elements. He compares the lump of salt to the ‘individuation’ (generation of an individual) and the boundless water to brahman. Thus, the Sage establishes early on the non-difference between the individual and the Infinite. He further affirms the non-difference by saying that if the salt is thrown back into the waters, it both loses its hardness (solidity – separate sense) and “melts” into (becomes indistinguishable from) the waters. Once the salt “melts,” no expert can take it out from the waters. The melted salt in its unmanifested state in the sea is the ‘shakti‘ (potential) in brahman; the separated salt as manifestation is our body. The essential “saltiness” in the sea and the salt (i.e. the element of Consciousness) is the same. Therefore, the separated salt lump too carries the same “essence” of the brahman-like sea, namely the Consciousness. That is why the kena asks us to search and find the “Commonality” in all (भूतेषु भूतेषु विचित्य  – 2.5, kena). That Commonality hiding in the insides of everything is nothing but the Universal sat-cit. What is available for perception is the outer form. Only a mystic vision penetrating the upAdhi will reveal the true substance, brahman, which is another name for true  pure “Knowledge.” The apparent body is the one which is liable to end.

As Shankara amplifies at 2.4.12, we unfortunately assume due to ignorance that we are the separated-out piece of salt:

मैत्रेयि इदं परमात्माख्यं महद्भूतम् — यस्मात् महतो भूतात् अविद्यया परिच्छिन्ना सती कार्यकरणोपाधिसम्बन्धात्खिल्यभावमापन्नासि, मर्त्या जन्ममरणाशनायापिपासादिसंसारधर्मवत्यसि, नामरूपकार्यात्मिका — अमुष्यान्वयाहमिति, खिल्यभाव: |

Meaning:  Maitreyi, is this great Reality called the Supreme Self, from which you have been cut off by ignorance as a separate entity, through your connection with the limiting adjuncts of the body and organs, and have become mortal, subject to birth and death, hunger and thirst, and other such relative attributes, and identified with name, form and action, and think you are born of such and such a family. (Translation: Swami Madhavananda)

Though we are in essence the pure Consciousness, a contact got established with the body, 12 indriya-s and the world and because of that we think as if we are a little separated out piece! This is just a mere fanciful imagination. There can never be a relation between the true formless ‘what-we-are’ and the (imagined) ‘form’ that we take to be (the body-mind-prANa system). Shankara further writes:

तव कार्यकरणभूतोपाधिसम्पर्कभ्रान्तिजनितः महति भूते स्वयोनौ महासमुद्रस्थानीये परमात्मनि अजरेऽमरेऽभये शुद्धे सैन्धवघनवदेकरसे प्रज्ञानघनेऽनन्तेऽपारे निरन्तरे अविद्याजनितभ्रान्तिभेदवर्जिते प्रवेशितः ; तस्मिन्प्रविष्टे स्वयोनिग्रस्ते खिल्यभावे अविद्याकृते भेदभावे प्रणाशिते — इदमेकमद्वैतं महद्भूतम् —

Meaning:  That separate existence of yours, which has sprung from the delusion engendered by contact with the limiting adjuncts of the body and organs, enters its cause, the great Reality, the Supreme Self, which stands for the ocean, is undecaying, immortal, beyond fear, pure, homogeneous like a lump of salt, Pure Intelligence, infinite, boundless, without a break, and devoid of differences caused by the delusion brought on by ignorance.  When that separate existence has entered and been merged in its cause, in other words, when the differences created by ignorance are gone, the universe becomes One without a second, ‘the great Reality.'(Translation: Swami Madhavananda).

Hence, what we have to do is to remember what we originally are; there is nothing to be acquired anew. Through constant meditation that “I am brahman,” one would be brahman. (yadbhAvam tadbhavati based on the Doctrine of the Worm and the Wasp). Shankara forcefully says here:

येभ्यो भूतेभ्य उत्थितः तानि यदा कार्यकरणविषयाकारपरिणतानि भूतानि आत्मनो विशेषात्मखिल्यहेतुभूतानि शास्त्राचार्योपदेशेन ब्रह्मविद्यया नदीसमुद्रवत् प्रविलापितानि विनश्यन्ति, सलिलफेनबुद्बुदादिवत् तेषु विनश्यत्सु अन्वेव एष विशेषात्मखिल्यभावो विनश्यति ;

Meaning:  “These elements, transformed into the body, organs and sense-objects, from which the self comes out as an individual, and which are the cause of its individualisation, are merged (प्रविलापितानि – melted), like rivers in the ocean, by the realization of brahman through the instruction of the scriptures and the teacher, and are destroyed. And when they are destroyed like the foam and bubbles of water. this individualised existence too is destroyed with them.”

There is no physical “doing” for this process of melting. The formless ‘vision’ of ours sees forms. What we have to do is to realize that what we are is that formless transparent ‘vision,’ and get over our belief that we are a ‘vision’ having a form (connected with or limited by body-mind-prANa).

Shankara continues:  “After attaining (this Oneness) the self, freed from the body and organs, has no more ‘particular’ consciousness. This is what I say, my dear Maitreyi. No more is there such ‘particular’ consciousness as, ‘I so and so am the son of so and so; this is my land and wealth; I am happy or miserable.’ For it is due to ignorance, and since ignorance is absolutely destroyed by the realization of brahman, how can the knower of brahman, who is established in his nature as Pure Intelligence, possibly have any such “particular” (individual) consciousness?”

“Even when a man is in the body, “particular” consciousness is impossible; so how can it ever exist in a man who has been absolutely freed from the body and organs? So, said Yajnavalkya, propounding this philosophy of the highest Truth to his wife, Maitreyi.”

The mantra at 2.4.12 just says, “प्रेत्य संज्ञास्तीत्यरे ब्रवीमीति होवाच याज्ञवल्क्यः

Shankara, in his bhAShya, explains adding the word विशेष to read as, “तत्र प्रेत्य विशेषसंज्ञास्ति …” Thus does he clarify that what one loses is that “sense of separate me” which was anyway never there but for imagining it due to ignorance believing in one’s association with the body-mind-prANa system. One has truly attained the Oneness if one can feelingly say like Krishna said at 13.2, BG,

क्षेत्रज्ञं चापि मां विद्धि सर्वक्षेत्रेषु     — 13.2, Bhagavad-Gita

Meaning:  Do thou also know Me as Kshetrajna (the Knower) in all Kshetra-s (bodies).

We should note what Shankara asserts here:शरीरावस्थितस्यापि विशेषसंज्ञा नोपपद्यते …” A truly Self-realized man (a jIvanmukta, a jnAni) will not have the “particular consciousness” (i.e. the sense of separate me and consciousness of an ID) even when he has a body.

Maitreyi gives expression to her confusion at this point. She asks Sage Yajnavalkya for clarity on what actually ends because on one hand the Sage says that she is the immortal and immutable brahman, but at the same time he also says that the consciousness will be lost and the separate person dies.

Sage Yajnavalkya clarifies that what ends will be the imaginary conception of a separate ‘me’ which is the individualized “particular” consciousness. What she truly is, the Universal Consciousness, never ends. Like the water which is the reason for the reflection of the Sun in a pond, the particularized individuated consciousness is a result of the thought of “I am separate / I am my body.” Once the thought of separation is lost, having dissolved in brahman, the reason for the particular consciousness is no more available and only the original real Consciousness shines.

Shankara explains at 2.4.13, brihadAraNyaka what was actually expressed by Yajnavalkya:

यस्तु अविद्याप्रत्युपस्थापितः कार्यकरणसम्बन्धी आत्मनः खिल्यभावः, तस्मिन्विद्यया नाशिते, तन्निमित्ता या विशेषसंज्ञा शरीरादिसम्बन्धिनी अन्यत्वदर्शनलक्षणा, सा कार्यकरणसङ्घातोपाधौ प्रविलापिते नश्यति, हेत्वभावात् , उदकाद्याधारनाशादिव चन्द्रादिप्रतिबिम्बः तन्निमित्तश्च प्रकाशादिः ; पुनः परमार्थचन्द्रादित्यस्वरूपवत् असंसारिब्रह्मस्वरूपस्य विज्ञानघनस्य नाशः ; तत् विज्ञानघन इत्युक्तम् ; आत्मा सर्वस्य जगतः ; परमार्थतो भूतनाशात् विनाशी ; विनाशी तु अविद्याकृतः खिल्यभावः,

Meaning:  When the individual existence of the self that is superimposed by ignorance and is connected with the body and organs is destroyed by Knowledge, the “particular” consciousness connected with the body etc., consisting of a false notion, is destroyed on the destruction of the limiting adjuncts of the body and organs, for they are deprived of their cause, just as the reflections of the moon etc., and their effects, the light and so forth, vanish when the water and the like, which form their support, are gone. But just as the sun, moon, etc., which are the realities behind the reflections, remain as they are, so that Pure Intelligence which is the transcendent brahman remains unchanged. That has been referred to as ‘Pure Intelligence.’ It is the Self of the whole universe, and does not really pass out with the destruction of the elements. But the individual existence, which is due to ignorance, is destroyed. ‘

In view of the above position, I cannot understand why Dennis would say that I misunderstood Shankara’s commentary; nor can I locate where the mantra or bhAShya referred to the death of the jnAni, the Self-realized man.

2 thoughts on “brihadAraNyaka, 2.4.12-13:

  1. Dear Ramesam

    Thank you for this post. I have always thought that this Maitreyi – Yajnavalkya dialogue and Sankara’s bhasya to it, encapsulates all that needs to be known in Advaita, arguably better than even Mandukyakarika.

    To recap on your post, this chapter unequivocally establishes that:
    1. The body, organs (and the world) are conjured up by ignorance
    2. Wordly activities, desires and wealth are in the domain of ignorance.
    3. Knowledge of Brahman should be attained through sravana, manana, and nidhidhyasana.
    4. Knowledge when truly realised leads to a dissolution / destruction of the sense of separate self, of particular consciousness . . . leaving behind only Pure Consciousness
    5. There can be no duality for such a non-existent ‘person’, since ‘what can one think and through what, what can one know and through what?’
    6. And the corollary of the above is that there can be no actions, as there are no instruments of action.
    7. Hence the sruti, endorsed by Sankara, enjoins renunciation. Indeed the chapter is initiated because the sage Yajnavlkya is renouncing his kingdom,

    There is a coherence and logic to each of these points.

    One can choose to read this Upanishad chapter – and even Sankara’s explanatory commentary thereon – as “figurative”, because it does not fit the one’s conceptual model of self-knowledge, but it does require significant mental acrobatics and a blindfold to do so.

    (Sankara, whose main purpose in all his bhasya has been to clarify the meaning of sruti, chooses here to amplify the possible figurative confusions?!!)

  2. Dear Venkat,

    Thank you for the Comment and your well-informed observations.

    I was a bit apprehensive whether I could capture the enormous profundity of the brihat mantra in my attempt to summarize it. You have very nicely covered what I might have missed by wrapping all the important points. You have also shown how the discussion at 2.4.12 and 13 seamlessly segues into the most often quoted mantra 2.4.14 of brihat, the part I did not touch, through a reference to it under item 5 of your note.

    I also feel that the “Model” presented by the Sage Yajnavalkya at 2.4.12 is not only very powerful and comprehensive but the most proximal to the Truth. Some of us may feel it is better in comparison to mANDUkya, but the point to be remembered, IMHO, is that, as Swami Ishwarananda said, the mANDUkya is designed more as an “upAsana krama.” The general public desires to have something “to do” and perhaps, it fulfils that need. Or I maybe wrong in these thoughts!


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