Maharishi Bhrigu

(From the Taithriya Upanishad of the Krishna Yajur Veda)

Whoever is conversant with Vedic literature will frequently hear of the twin deities of Mitra and Varuna, the one presiding over day and the other over the night. As is the custom now, in those days also, people named their children after the deities whom they honored. That is how there came to be in olden days a great sage known as Varuna. He was well versed in the Vedas. His reputation for scholarship and spiritual insight had spread far and wide. As though in response to his prayer, heaven had blessed him with a large concourse of Brahmacharins, who came to him to be initiated in the knowledge of the Absolute.

Well may we imagine how picturesque and beautiful his hermitage was. The tapovan was not a retreat. It was a sanctuary. Even the lower animals felt their kinship with humanity. As all life was held sacred within the precincts of the ashrama, all kinds of birds, noted for their voice flocked thither. The denizens of the forest wandered fearlessly. Even the fish in the river, unafraid of the net and the trap would gather round the Brahmacharins in expectation of being fed. Truth and poetry mingled here; for it was dedicated to the pursuit of the supreme truth, Brahman.

This sage, Varuna had a son named Bhrigu. He was as was befitting as learned in the Vedas as his father himself. But he still felt some hidden want; for he had not yet attained that peace of mind which comes with the knowledge of Brahman. One day he approached his father and said to him, “Adhihi Bhagavan Brahma” which is the formal way of requesting a spiritual preceptor, when a disciple seeks initiation. Varuna was pleased. It was easy for him to give a ready made conclusion. But he did not wish to deprive his son of the thrill of discovery and of the conviction that comes in the wake of a felt experience. Like a scientist working in a laboratory with various precision instruments around him, Varuna was working in the laboratory of life, with the perfected faculties of man as his precision instruments. He therefore said to him, “You have the material environment around you and the organs of sense perception and the mind and the intellect within you. Make use of them; perfect them; unify your faculties and when you have perfect coordination of body and mind, direct all your faculties towards the awareness of the absolute. This is called tapasya. Come and tell me what discovery you make. In order that your quest might be fruitful, I will clarify your problem for you and give you the proper direction. Find that in which all life begins, is continued and ended; and know that to be Brahman.”

Like a modern scientist who makes use of what is called as heuristic method, bhrigu set out on his grand adventure. After prolonged tapasya, he came to the conclusion that Brahman is matter; for all objects arise out of matter and are sustained by it and finally at death change into other forms of matter. And what is man but the quintessence of dust? When he announced his discovery to his father, he was neither pleased nor displeased. In order to encourage him son, he said, “Keep on along the path of discrimination for Tapasya is Brahman.” Thus exhorted, Bhrigu re-examined his conclusion. He then recognized that as matter is itself subject to change and dissolution, it cannot be called final. He then turned his attention to something more subtle than gross matter. He then hit upon the idea that prana, the vital breath, may be Brahman. Varuna knew that a good man who strives can never be lost. He therefore allowed Bhrigu to reexamine his fundamentals; for honest doubt is the beginning of wisdom. Bhrigu rejected his hypothesis. He realized that whatever has a beginning must also have an end; therefore they cannot be the absolute and as indicated by his father; he made his body and mind one-pointed, and concentrated on Brahman, in order to realize that which he was seeking. On further investigation, he came to the conclusion that the vital breath is Brahman, if only because it differentiates the living from the dead. Although he was proceeding along the right direction from gross to subtle, it was not the end of the journey. But it was also open to the same objection because energy also is subject to change, and therefore cannot be Brahman, which is eternal and of the nature of pure consciousness. In the case of Bhrigu it literally proved that failures are the stepping stones to success. As he was exhorted by his father to persevere in the same method of investigation, he continued to practice tapasya and wait for the moment of inspiration. He identified Brahman with the mind; but he had to reject that hypothesis, because mind is not sure of Brahman. It is true that mind moves matter; it is also true that thoughts are more real than living men. But no one can say with certainty whether we are because we think, or whether we think because we are. Bhrigu then felt that he had almost attained the goal when he identified Brahmana with Vijnana. He was, as it were, on the threshold of a grand discovery. Vijnana implies intelligence, endowed with the power of perseverance, diligence, energy and constancy. But it includes also the feelings of joy and sorrow. Therefore, it is not possible to identify Brahman with any kind of grief, for there is nothing that is lacking in Brahman, nor does the sense of bliss in Brahman proceed from the possession of external objects. Brahman is bliss itself. Thus by a continuous process of negation, he arrived at the grand affirmation, that Brahman is truth, knowledge, bliss Absolute. Where there is no truth, there is neither knowledge, nor bliss and where there is not knowledge there is neither truth nor bliss; and where there is no bliss, there is neither truth nor knowledge. As any one of these implies the existence of the other two in their plentitude, he announced to his father that he has found out that Brahman is bliss. But still, as Brahman is not something that is external to us and cannot therefore become the object of knowledge, he stated his conclusion without any ego centric feeling by declaring that all beings have their origin in bliss; are sustained by bliss and are finally with drawn into bliss. The sense of peace that he felt within himself was the guarantee that he had left far behind him the region of error, ignorance and strife; and that he was established in the awareness of that which is life’s supreme emergent value.

When he looked back upon his arduous quest, he could truly say that in the grand affirmation of Brahman as bliss absolute, the residual values of whatever he had negated had also a peace. If anna is Brahman the ananda is also Brahman. In reality, there is nothing outside Brahman. It was thus, by following the path of negation and later by negating that negation that Bhrigu attained the realization of the infinite.

Om Tat Sat


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