The Upanishads Elucidated: The Light of Lights (Part 2)

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Continued from PART 1

A journey full of discoveries and dangers

And what a journey it was. Full of mysteries, discoveries and dangers. They found a shining mouth in the face of a mountain. “We’ve found him!” cried many voices and entered the cave. “Wow, such a lustrous red, and look at this ocean blue, and this forest green! And gold in such abundance! Come on in, princess!”

Maitreyee hesitated at the entrance, as did many others. Her wise companion said, “Gems are such poor imitation of stars, this cave is not even worth a look.”

“Come back,” called out the princess, “This is a trap. Return.” But only her voice echoed back, “Turn back, turn back.”

They flew on, and skimmed over a sea. Just under the water’s surface they found a phosphorescent light that swam along with them. Maitreyee glanced down and knew they were not Him. “Luminescent fish,” pointed her companion, “Beautiful in the night, nothing extraordinary in the light.” But to her dismay, several of her fellow travelers plunged right into the water, crying, “There he is, there he is!”

The few fireflies that braved the heights of a rarefied space saw the morning sun splashing its brilliance on snow-capped mountains. They beat their wings in heroic effort to reach the peaks and fell down exhausted. “That cannot be him,” cried Maitreyee, “remain steady on the course.”

But there were only a few that followed her lead.

One stopped to catch his breath, and breathed his last. Another found an eagle’s nest, and decided to rest. A third was gobbled mid-air by a condor. A fourth flew too close to the sun, a fifth flew into a chimney. A sixth disappeared into the glow of the aurora borealis. And so on, until she was alone, with her mighty companion.

The mystery of the mysteries

One morning, sitting on a rock’s edge Maitreyee contemplated the sun. She turned to look at her companion with the keen eyes and steady wings,

“You know, I have enjoyed the journey because of you. I still don’t know your name or age, or whence you came to me one fine day, years ago, or was it perhaps months?”

He turned gravely towards her, “It is a good time to talk. So I will answer you. But you have to first tell me, are you satisfied with your quest?”

She was confused, “Yes, but are you saying it’s over, I will not find him?”

“No, in fact I feel you are close to finding him. You have learnt well whatever I have taught. About this world and the others. Now you are ready to hear the mystery of the mysteries.”

Maitreyee sat up and looked her guardian in the eyes, “Pray, teach me, I am listening.”

“Close your eyes and imagine a light that is the source of all lights,” said her companion. “It’s not just the spark that transforms fuel into fire. Or the kindling stick that needs an answering stick. Nor some efficient fuel with a potential fire in its womb. It is so effulgent that all these lights you have experienced so far are like darkness compared to it. It is the light of lights, beyond the shades.”

ज्योतिषामपि तज्ज्योतिस्तमसः परमुच्यते ।
jyotiṣhām api taj jyotis tamasaḥ param uchyate

~ Bhagavad Gita, 13: 18

Maitreyee spread her wings, “Yes, I can see the light in my mind’s eye. I want to know him in his fullness. I want to see him in his full glory.”

Her companion replied,

True, he ought to be known, for he is gnosis, the object of knowledge, and the goal that knowledge seeks.

ज्ञानं ज्ञेयं ज्ञानगम्यं ॥
jñānaṁ jñeyaṁ jñāna-gamyaṁ

Maitreyee opened her eyes and flapped her wings like a large bird, “Then come, why are we dallying? Let’s continue our journey.”

Her companion sat and looked at her, a little sadly. She settled back beside him, “Are you by chance tired? I mean I still don’t know if you are young or old. I know so little about you, and yet I trust you more than I trust myself. Tell me, who are you?”

He replied,

“I am Yajyavalkya, and I am three thousand years old.”

She gasped and closed her eyes to let it sink in. His sad voice spoke on,

“And you are Maitreyee, three thousand years old too. You have been questing for centuries. And I have flown beside you, as I had promised you three thousand years ago.”

Quest larger than finding a soul companion

The firefly princess opened her eyes incredulously, “Do you mean to say, you are he that I was seeking all over the world? My husband, the light of all lights?”

“True, I am your husband and fellow traveller. But I am not He. Your quest is larger than finding a soul companion.”

“You talk as if you know Him and have met Him. And you also know about my heart’s desire. Then why don’t you take me to Him? Let’s be off, now!”

She batted her wings and glowed so bright, even daylight could not quench her light.

He touched her wingtips tenderly, and she clasped his. They both shone brightly. He said, “You too have seen him. Try to remember.”

Maitreyee looked at Yajnyavalkya with a new understanding,

“I remember. You are Him. In every life of mine, I found you, or you found me. And I found Him in you. Because I loved you.”

Yajyavalkya held her close to his heart,

“Just a little correction, my beloved. You loved me because you found Him in me.”

She laughed with tears in her eyes, “Yet I went on this mad quest. Dragging all my friends along, who were sacrificed one by one, because I did not recognize my love. Why did you let it happen?

He replied solemnly, “Listen, your quest is not me, Maitreyee. And all the other fireflies also did not plunge into this hero’s journey for your sake. Each of you did it for your own sakes.”

My dear, not for the sake of the beloved does one love the beloved, but for the sake of the atman, the egoistic self as well as the true self.

न वा अरे पत्युः कामाय पतिः प्रियो भवत्यात्मनस्तु कामाय पतिः प्रियो भवति।
na vā are patyuḥ kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavatyātmanastu kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavati

Similarly, my dear, you care for your fellow beings because you see them as your extended self.

न वा अरे भुतानां कामाय भूतानि प्रियाणि भवन्त्यात्मनस्तु कामाय भूतानि प्रियाणि भवन्ति।
na vā are bhūtānām kāmāya bhūtāni priyāṇi bhavantyātmanastu kāmāya bhūtāni priyāṇi bhavanti.

In fact, my dear, you love and care for all things because you love and care for your inner being.

न वा अरे सर्वस्य कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवत्यात्मनस्तु कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवति।
na vā are sarvasya kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavatyātmanastu kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavati.

~ Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 4.5.6

Maitreyee sighed, “Fine, we chose the quest. But we’ve all failed because we still have not found Him. My fellow travelers are dead now, but I am alive and willing to journey till the end of the world. Why won’t you show me the way? Why, why?”

She beat her wings against his chest like a distraught lover.

He whispered into her ears, “I cannot, that is why.”

“Why, because when I find him, I will abandon you? You are jealous!”

He laughed a glittering laughter,

“When you find him, you will love me even more. So I should hasten you to him, no? But I cannot. It’s not that I may not. Each of us has to find him where we last left him. I don’t know where you last left him. I just know where I last left him.”

Maitreyee sat down dejectedly, “You are kind, very kind, to say where I last left him, and not where I last lost him.”

Light of lights within

Yajyavalkya looked down at her for a long time, then touching her shoulders he said, “You don’t glow when you are sad. You don’t even flicker.”

She wiped her tears hastily,

“I am a firefly. And I defy the darkness. Because I glow from within.”

“You do indeed, what a quick transformation!” he beamed and stepped back to admire her.

She rose up abruptly and buzzed over his head,

“I am a firefly! I don’t need any sun to reflect its light, nor the fire or lightning. Indeed I can make my own light.”

He smiled broadly looking up at her. She flew around faster and faster to keep pace with her whirling thoughts,

“I am self-effulgent. I shine light on those who are lost in the darkness. Which means I am a source of light. I was looking for a source of light. Wasn’t I? Then is it possible I was looking for this light that’s glowing within me? You mean, I always had it? That this journey was a return to myself?

And since we are all fireflies, he is within every firefly that ever existed. Now, isn’t he a tricky one?”

Yajyavalkya smiled and said,

Well, looks like you’ve pieced the puzzle together. He is within every heart.
हृदि सर्वस्य विष्ठितम्‌
hṛidi sarvasya viṣhṭhitam

The princess of fireflies gradually folded back her wings and landed beside her wise companion, “So you were trying to teach me that the light that is the source of all lights, that which is knowledge, and ought to be known, and the goal of knowledge, is within my heart? How very amazing.”

“Yes, my dear,” replied Yajyavalkya,

ज्योतिषामपि तज्ज्योतिस्तमसः परमुच्यते ।
ज्ञानं ज्ञेयं ज्ञानगम्यं हृदि सर्वस्य विष्ठितम्‌ ॥

jyotiṣhām api taj jyotis tamasaḥ param uchyate
jñānaṁ jñeyaṁ jñāna-gamyaṁ hṛidi sarvasya viṣhṭhitam.

~ Bhagavad Gita 13.18

Then the two locked their wings together, and bathing in His light rose up in love.


Read PART 1

~ Design: Beloo Mehra

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