Sage Yajnavalkya (Yajnavlkya) is a Vedic seer and guru well-known for his unparalleled transcendent wisdom and abilities. Some believed sage Yajnavalkya was the reincarnation of Lord Brahma, the creator of the Universe.

Goddess Saraswati appears before Sage Yajnavalkya
Goddess Saraswati appears before Sage Yajnavalkya

Maharishi Yajnavalkya, a yogi and mahatma, is one of the greatest sages of his time. Thus, many texts and Puranas had mentioned him discussing his life, works, and teachings. Vedic saint Yajnavalkya was an eminent ritualist (Karmakandi). Throughout his life, he had performed several yajnas as the foremost Acharya.

Background

The name Yajnavalkya has its roots in the word Yajna, which means holy rituals. Vedic philosopher Yajnavalkya was born in Vadnagar, Gujarat. His father was Brahmarata rishi, and his mother, was Sunanda Devi. Great sage Vaishampayana was his maternal uncle and first guru. Mahamuni was the Vedacharya of the Tittiri portion of Vedas. From him, Yajnavlkya studied Taittiriya Samhita which is a part of Taittiriya Shakha.

Yajnavalkya has two wives – Katyayani and Maitreyi. Katyayani was the daughter of sage Bharadwaja and was a housewife with a still nature. On the other hand, Maitreyi was the Brahmavadini. She enjoys talking about philosophical topics with the sage. From Katyayni, he had three sons – Chandrakanta, Vijaya, and Mahamegha.

Once there were disputes between Yajnavalkya and maha muni Vaishampayana. Mahamuni, in anger, asked Yajnavalkya to return all the knowledge he had provided him.

On hearing his guru’s command, sage Valkya omitted all that knowledge. He then determined to find a godly teacher. So, he started a painful penance to obtain wisdom from the Sun god. Pleased with Yajnavalkya’s penance, Surya Dev provided him with some new portion of Yajurveda, later named Shukla or White Yajurveda.

Besides being a Karmakandi, Yajnavalkya was a highly respected Shrotriya and Brahmanista teacher i.e. (He was a teacher who knows about the Shastras/Scriptures and was also firmly established in that knowledge).

Once the King of Videha, Janaka, was searching for a Brahmanistha Guru to obtain the knowledge of Brahmavidya. For that, King Janaka organized a Bahu Daan (huge donation) ceremony. Sages from distant places came to participate. It was announced, “Whoever is the greatest Brahmana will lead these cows back home.” But, none of them dared to stand up to take those cows. Suddenly, sage Yajnavalkya stood up and instructed his disciple Samasravas to lead those cows back home. Every attended Brahmana got furious and started to throw their rage in the form of transcendental questions, which Yajnavalkya answered correctly and calmly. Finally, he was declared the most excellent Brahmanistha guru. From him, King Janaka received the Brahma Gyan.

Teachings

Once, saint Yajnavalkya decided to divide his property between his beloved wives. One of his wives Maitreyi, asked him, “O Lord, can all my belongings bring me immortality if it were to fill the whole earth.” On hearing this, the immortal conversation begins between the sage and her wife. He enlightens her that the Self is the only way to gain immortality and infinite knowledge.

Once King Janaka asked sage Yajnavalkya, “what is the light of a man?”. In his response, the sage replied “The Sun”. The king asked, what if the sun has set? The sage answered, “The Moon”. Again, the king asked, what if the sun and the moon had set? Rishi replied with fire, then sound. Finally, the king asked what if the sun and the moon had set, the fire disappeared, and the sound got silent. In his final response, the sage said, “Self alone is the light of humans that allows them to do everything”.

In the first chapter of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Maharishi states that nothing existed before the Universe. Thus, the Vedic lord of all creatures OR the Lord of Creation, Prajapati, created the Universe and all its beings with his own sacrifice. After that, he merged with the lifeforce, appearing as cosmic matter and energy. Further, he states that the Universe is composed of matter, energy, Atman, and knowledge.

Vedic saint Yajnavalkya defines a dream as a dynamic projection of the Self.

On the concept of soul existence, Sage told King Janaka that the soul is free and indestructible. Further, he provided insightful knowledge about Moksha to the king. Maharishi also stated that “true knowledge is the liberation that brings inner peace.”

Philosophical Works

Throughout his lifespan, Sage Yajnavalkya wrote several texts, which includes

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

It is one of the primary and first Hindu Upanishadic scriptures attributed to the sage Yajnavalkya. This Sanskrit text dates around the 6th – 7th centuries, and resides within the Shatapatha Brahmana – a section of Shukla Yajurveda. This Upanishad talks about the concept of Atman, which means absolute Self. The texts consist of six chapters about Atman, metaphysics, psychology, ethics, and Karma.

The hymn from Bṛhadaranyaka Upanishad describing the Karma Theory states

A man will become anything based on how they act and behave.
A man of moral action will become virtuous, a man of evil acts will become evil;

Bṛhadaranyaka Upanishad

As for ethical theory, there is a hymn that suggests three principles. They are

Temperance (Damah), Donation (Danam), and Compassion (Daya).

Yajnavalkya Smriti

It is a Sanskrit language text on a Dharma concept. It dates around the 3rd to 5th centuries. The poetic-styled legal theories of customs, judgment, and punishments are well composed and ordered within the Yajnavalkya Smriti. This smriti collectively consists of 1010 slokas (verses) which are organized in 3 books,

  1. Achara (proper conduct) Kanda: 368 verses
  2. Vyavahara (legal procedure) Kanda: 307 verses
  3. Prayascitta (penance) Kanda: 335 verses

Yoga Yajnavalkya

It is an ancient Hindu text related to Yoga written in Sanskrit. It shows the discourse between seer Yajnavalkya and philosopher Gargi. Similar to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, these texts have eight components but have different motives. This text provides a detailed discussion on Yoga aspects like Pranayama, Dhyana, and Dharana.

Shatapatha Brāhmana

It is a spoken narrative of Shukla Yajurveda, which dates around the 6th – 8th centuries. It consists of a detailed, systematic, and significant explanation of Vedic rituals, symbols, and myths. Besides, it provides scientific knowledge regarding geometry and observational astronomy. For example, information related to planetary distance, pi calculation, and Pythagoras theorem’s roots.

Other works include Yajnavalkya Sakha and Pratijna Sutra.

(Last Updated On: June 5, 2022)