The intense conversation between Sage Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi, on the notions of love, desire and possessiveness, and the inexplicable connect one feels sometimes with another, is at the heart of the concept of the Self expounded in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Yajnavalkya is preparing to leave his householder responsibilities towards the close of his middle years and embark on Vanaprastha, the renunciate stage of life and wants to settle all family affairs between his two wives, Maitreyi and Katyayani.
Even as Yajnavalkya begins to explain his intent of dividing all of his property equally between the two women, Maitreyi startles him by asking whether this wealth that she will acquire will give to her a permanent state of happiness and joy. Yajnavalkya is taken aback, but Maitreyi persists with her question. Yajnavalkya tells her bluntly that though this wealth will give her material comforts, the satisfaction she will derive from material possessions will be only temporary; the state of happiness which Maitreyi is alluding to is not possible through such possessions. Maitreyi then expresses her disillusionment with this material settlement and requests Yajnavalkya to tell her of the way by which an unbroken state of happiness can be acquired.
Yajnavalkya now expands the concept of wealth and explains how a comfortable state of mind operates. The mind derives its comfort through the physical acquisition of wealth or feels satisfied through attaining a particular social status. This conditioning of mind gives rise to our sense of possessiveness with that external object and draws a veil on the temporality of that external object as well as our own temporariness. But this external acquisition does give us happiness for we still want to own, possess, desire, enjoy and feel this happiness, however temporary or imagined it may be. Why does this happen?
Yajnavalkya points to an inscrutable design working behind desires that grip our mind from time to time and which give us satisfaction and happiness when those desires get fulfilled.
The samvad, dialogue, between husband and wife picks up pace, as Yajnavalkya puts across his exposition of the inscrutable design behind each desire, longing, each possession and behind the need to love and be loved. Behind the mind's desire for a particular thing or person is the desire to be one, to be united with that external object, however impossible it is in practicality. Yajnavalkya goes deeper behind this peculiar condition of mind to be united with externalities and points to an inner longing to be one with our inner Self, without which we feel restless, unsatiated and incomplete. The mind twists this inner longing to make it seem as if happiness could be achieved through external means.
Similarly , the love expressed between spouses, between man and woman, parents and children, between any two humans, are all part of a search for that love which alone will make us complete and impart to us a permanent state of happiness. The search for love, Yajnavalkya says, is the search for the Self, which alone can satiate us completely. No relationship can be dearer than the one we forge with our inner Self. Having initiated Maitreyi into this inscrutable principle of life, Yajnavalkya walks away into the great forest (Brihad Aryanka), literally as well.
(Pranav Khullar is joint secretary, Government of India).