by Swami Krishnananda
Samvarga-Vidya is the vidya that was taught by the sage Raikva and is contained in Chapter Four, Sections 1 to 3 of the Upanishad. It is the nature of the subject that is indicated by the word samvarga, which is actually the process of absorption. The knowledge of the all-absorbing one is the actual meaning of Samvarga-Vidya. We are introduced into that which is all-absorbing. What is that? How is it taught? Let us see. The story is like this:
There was a king called Janasruti who was supposed to be the great-grandson of the emperor perhaps called Janasruta. This Janasruti was a reputed ruler who was well known for his immense charity. He was a great giver and had immense faith in the act of giving. And he used to give in plenty. He was very happy that he was in a position to give much in charity. What is more, he gave with great respect. His kitchen was always active. He used to have a lot of food cooked in his kitchen so that he might give it free to people. Such a king was he. He had built several rest houses everywhere. He must have been a very good man to do so much charity. He maintained not only rest houses, but also choultries, inns, etc., built everywhere with the feeling that people would come and stay there and eat food in his name. "They will eat my food," he used to say with great exaltation. Such a great king was, according to this Upanishad, not merely famous in the social or political sense, but also was an advanced soul inwardly. He was a highly religious person and spiritually well trained due to the purity of his mind, the goodness of his heart, and the great charities that he was doing. Thus, he was an exceptionally great person outwardly as well as inwardly.
The story tells us that perhaps on a hot summer night the king was sleeping on the terrace of his palace. He was lying on his couch and some swans were flying across the sky. One of the birds which was behind called to the one that was flying in front, "Oh, stupid one! Do not be careless." It used the word bhallaksa. They say bhallaksa means wide open-eyed, well-seeing. It is an ironical way of saying that you do not see things properly. "You have got big eyes, you can see well, but you are not seeing that some danger is ahead of you. Do not rush like this. There is the great king Janasruti just below you. His effulgence is rising to the skies and his glory is reaching up to the heavens, as it were. Do not cross this effulgence lest you should be burnt by this glory of his. He is such a great man and you are crossing him. Do not go carelessly with your eyes closed." This was what the bird behind told the one that was flying in front.
But, that other one which was told like this retorted back: "You are referring to some Janasruti whose effulgence is rising up, which I should not cross! Who is this Janasruti? What sort of man is this that you are speaking of, as if he is as great as Raikva with the cart? You speak as if this man is so great that his effulgence is going to the sky and I shall be burnt by the greatness and glory of this man. Who is this gentleman? What is he in comparison with that Raikva with the cart?"
This was the conversation that went on between the two birds that were flying above. The king heard how he was referred to by the two birds, the one praising him and the other saying that he did not deserve the praise because there was someone who was greater than him.
In the play of dice, there are numbers marked on each face of the dice, number 1 in one face, number 2 in another, number 3 in the third, and number 4 in the fourth one. Now in this play of dice whoever casts the highest throw is called krita. He wins all the other ones. Four includes three, two and one. So he who has won the fourth throw has automatically won the other three also. He need not go on winning the other three one by one. The other three are automatically included in the fourth one which he has won.
In a similar manner, all the virtues that people do anywhere in this world are included in the virtue of this great person called Raikva. His virtue is like an ocean which swallows up all the dribbles, rivulets and rivers of the little virtues that other people do anywhere. So one can imagine what sort of person he must be. His goodness, greatness, virtue, righteousness is like an ocean which swallows all the other virtues of anybody, anywhere in this world.
We have got four ages called krita, treta, dvapara and kali. According to the traditional calculation of the calendar, kali-yuga - this present age in which we are living, sometimes called the iron age - is supposed to extend for 432,000 years. That is the duration of kali-yuga. Twice the duration of kali-yuga is the duration of dvapara-yuga. Thrice the duration is treta-yuga, and four times the duration is krita-yuga, which is the longest in duration. Its extent is such that it includes all the other yugas in it. So, in comparison with these four ages krita, treta, dvapara and kali, the dice numbers in the dice play also are called by the names krita, treta, dvapara, and kali. This is only by way of example.
The point that is made out here is that Raikva was a very great person and Janasruti, the king, was nowhere before him. He was nobody compared to that great man. This was a pointed insult to the king no doubt, who was hearing it. He was all along feeling very happy and legitimately proud that he was doing his best in giving charity and leading a good life. But he was encountered with this very unpleasant conversation that went on in the sky between the birds. So he passed a restless night thinking over this matter as to what sort of person Raikva would be, where he was, and whether he could see him. "What is the use of my charity, what is the use of my virtues, if all this that I do is nothing in comparison with others who are still greater than me?" - thus Janasruti was thinking in his mind.
Kings wake up in the morning hearing the sounds of beautiful music and bards singing their glory. Janasruti when he woke up in the morning heard his glories being sung in his palace. On this particular morning he was not pleased. He was grieved, very unhappy, indeed. "What is the use of this praise?" thought he. He called his attendant, ksatta, and asked, "Do you praise me in the same way as one praises Raikva with the cart?" The idea was that the attendant should go and find out where that man was, and tell him that the king wanted him. That attendant asked, "Master, who is this Raikva? You ask me to go and search for him?" In a mood of irritation, as it were, the king simply repeated the very words he heard from the bird. "Just as the fourth cast in the dice includes every other cast, all the virtues of people are included in the virtues of this person. Whatever anybody knows, he also knows and what he knows, that only others also know. This is the greatness of Raikva. There is nothing which he does not know, and no one can know what he does not know. Such a person you find out." Well, very astounding indeed! The ksatta, the attendant, went in search of Raikva in all the cities and in all important places.
He could not find a man of that kind anywhere. Raikva with a cart could not be discovered. So he came back to the king and said, "I cannot find him." The king said: "You search for such great people in cities and marketplaces? You should go to such places where great men live. Such men as Raikva will not live in cities. Go to solitary places, temples, river banks and such other sacred spots - isolated, sequestered regions. There alone such great people stay. Where knowers of Brahman would live, you know very well. Go there and search."
So this attendant went and after much searching found, in some corner of some village, one poor man sitting under a cart, scratching himself as if he had no other work to do, with no one around him, looking very strange indeed. Such a grotesque-looking person this attendant saw. He suspected this must be Raikva, as he was sitting near a cart. It was difficult to make out the connection between him and the cart. Might be that was his only property. There are some people who move about with carts. They have no other property except a cart. Or, it might be by chance that he was sitting near a cart, but there must be some connection between him and the cart. Otherwise he would not be referred to as 'Raikva with the cart'. So naturally the attendant concluded that it belonged to him, and he was the person whom he was searching for.
Humbly and reverentially this attendant sat near the gentleman and asked him, "Are you Raikva with the cart?" "Yes fellow, I am that," he said in a very callous and careless manner.
So the attendant came back and told the king, "I have found him. He is in a corner of that village." The attendant might have told the name of that particular village.
The king was very happy. He collected a lot of wealth and reverentially went to this great man sitting under a cart, scratching the eruptions on his skin. He took with him six hundred cows, a gold necklace, and a chariot driven by mules. He addressed Raikva: "O Great One, here are six hundred cows, here is a gold necklace, here is a chariot driven with mules. Please accept these things and initiate me into the meditation on the deity whose worship you are performing, and on whom you are meditating. I want to be initiated into the great vidya which you possess, knowledge of that deity whom you have known." The great man was not pleased. He did not accept those gifts, nor was he prepared to give any initiation.
"O Sudra, take back all these things, useless man," he said, as if he was not at all interested in them. "Get away from here. Take your cows, your chariot and gold necklace. Do not talk to me." This was what he said.
The word 'sudra' mentioned here has been a target of great discussion in the Brahmasutras as to whether Sudras can be initiated into Brahma-Vidya. This is one of the points discussed in the sutras of Badarayana and much has been made of it by commentators. Sudra means a low caste belonging to the fourth category of the social order. Can such a person be initiated into Brahma-Vidya? Here is a context where the word 'sudra' occurs, and afterwards the person is initiated also. Well, the argument is very long and prolonged and it is not of much use to us to go into the intricacies. But the interpreters make out that 'sudra' does not mean a low-caste man, in this context. One who is sunk in grief is called a 'sudra'. This is the etymological meaning drawn out from the word 'sudra'. He was in great grief because he found that there was a person greater than him and his knowledge was very little compared to the knowledge of the other one. So he was sorrow-stricken and he rushed immediately in the direction in which he could get this knowledge. He was a king and a Kshatriya. How could you call him a Sudra? So 'sudra' here does not mean a low caste man of the fourth order, but is only a symbolic, metaphorical way of referring to that person, indicating that he came in sorrow, in search of knowledge. This point is irrelevant to our subject, but anyway I made mention of it because it has been discussed in great detail in the Brahmasutras.
The king was grief-stricken. He went again with a larger quantity of wealth. This time he came with new things. He came with one thousand cows instead of the previous six hundred, the gold necklace, the chariot driven with mules, and he brought his daughter also to be offered to Raikva.
There is something between the lines which the Upanishad is silent about. There is a sudden shift of emphasis to the main question, from the descriptions of the king coming to the great man with all these offerings. Raikva felt that there was some sincerity in the king and that he had done something which ordinarily a person would not do. He was trying to offer his daughter to him. No ordinary man would do that. So there must be some tremendous sincerity in this person. He had come here a second time. If he was not sincere, he would have got fed up and gone back. He was not like the rich man who went to Jesus Christ and who was asked to sell everything he had and come back, but never did come back, because he did not want to sell everything. Janasruti was a person who was very particular about the knowledge which he wanted to gain. So he made a proposal to offer that which ordinarily one would not offer. This was an occasion for Raikva to recognise the sincerity of this person.
"I have brought all these things. Will you kindly initiate me into the great deity on whom you are meditating, due to which you are so great that your glory is spreading to all the corners of the world? Will you kindly give this knowledge to me?" This was the prayer of the king.
There was another greater man than this king Janasruti and that was Janaka, who offered even himself as a servant to the great sage Yajnavalkya who initiated him into Brahma-Vidya. He offered the whole kingdom to the sage and he said, "Here I am as your slave." Such were our great kings in this country, who valued the wisdom of Reality much more than temporal wealth, renown, and greatness in this world. To that category belonged Janasruti also.
"With all this that you have brought before me as the means, you want me to speak! Well, I shall speak, recognising your honesty and sincerity of purpose," said Raikva. The king was highly pleased at this condescending attitude of the great master and he gave him a set of villages in charity. The king said: "O great one, this village, in which you are seated here, is yours. I give it as a gift."
It appears he gave several villages. Those villages are called Raikva-parna, after the name of this great man, Raikva, in the country of Mahavrisha. So Raikva became rich in one moment with land, gold, attendants, and whatnot. The king also became richer by becoming the disciple of the great Raikva. Now the initiation was given by Raikva, the great master to the disciple, King Janasruti, into the mystery of meditation on the all-absorbing Being. Because of the character of all-absorption, this great Being on which Raikva was meditating is called Samvarga. It is a peculiar Upanishadic term which implies the absorbent into which everything enters, that which sucks everything into itself. That is Samvarga. There is a great 'wind' that blows everything into itself. Into that Raikva initiated the king. This is not the ordinary wind that blows here. It is not an ill wind that does good to no one, but it is a tremendous 'wind', a symbolic term used in respect of the great Reality on which Raikva was meditating. His meditation was on that which withdraws everything into itself, which blows over everything, and absorbs everything into itself. Raikva then spoke of this great knowledge to Janasruti.