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Balaki in Vedas – The Great Dialogue on Brahman Between Gargya Balaki and Ajatashatru

Balaki, also known as Gargya Balaki, is a name occurring in the Vedas. He was the son of Balaka of the Gargya family of rishis. Famous incident in Hindu scriptures narrate how Gargya Balaki was humbled by King Ajatashatru in debate. This debate is found in the chapter II of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

Name of Balaki occurs in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Chapter II, Jaiminiya Brahmana (I.337), Sankhayana Aranyaka (VI.1, 3-10, 18, 19) and Kausitaki Upanishad (II.1).

Balaki Gargya traveled through many places like Usinara, Matsya, Kurupanchala, Kashi and Videha. He conducted debates in all these places. He considered himself to be knower of Supreme Truth.

During his travel Balaki reached the palace of Ajatashatru, the king of Kashi.

The Great Dialogue on Brahman Between Gargya Balaki and Ajatashatru

One day Balaki approached Ajatashatru and said, “I shall teach you all about Brahman.”
The king was highly pleased and happy that he got an opportunity to know more about Brahman from a learned person.

He received Balaki with all respect and told him, “You are so kind indeed to offer me this knowledge. I shall give you a thousand cows”.

King Ajatashatru and learned Balaki sat together and then started the dialogue on Brahman.

Balaki said, “I meditate upon the person in the sun as Brahman. You also do that meditation.”

King Ajatashatru knew about this and knew that it was just a form of Brahman. So he humbly replied, “I do meditate upon the sun, but not as you do. The reason is that the sun is only a conditioned form, and you are considering this conditioned form as the Absolute. This is not the way in which it should be contemplated.”

“There is a Reality behind the sun which is the pre-eminent, the head of all beings, the resplendent.  I meditate upon that. This Reality could have taken many forms other than the sun, and so resorting to that Reality behind the form, naturally leads to the realization of every other form. That is what I meditate upon, the King of all beings. One who contemplates thus, in this manner, the Reality behind the sun, becomes supreme among all people. He becomes a king in the circle he moves, and this is the result of such meditation.”

Balaki, then, referred to the person in the moon as the Brahman and as the object of his meditation. Hearing this king replied, “I do meditate upon the moon, but not the way you do.

“I meditate upon him as the Vast, the white-robed, radiant Soma who covered the whole creation in his immense spread of life-giving delight. And this excels in its radiance in the measure of the white purity of its forms. One, who meditates upon him thus, as the abundant yield of the essence of all life experience, soma, is constant; his sustenance does not decay.

Balaki further pointed to the person in the flash of lightning as Brahman and as the object of his meditation. That too was not new to king Ajatashatru.

He said to Balaki, “I do not meditate upon lightning in the way you have told me. I merely meditate on luminosity. Lightning is one of the forms of potential luminosity. There can be various other forms of luster or brilliance; it can be the luster of lightning, it may be that of the sun, it may be of the moon, it may be of fire, it may be of one’s own understanding. But I contemplate on the brilliance or the luster itself. And I know that one who thus meditates becomes brilliant; his progeny too becomes brilliant.”

Balaki pointed out that he meditates upon the person in the sky, in the wind, in fire, in water, in the mirror, in the sound that follows after one as he goes, in the quarters of space, in the shadow, and in the body as Brahman. But every time he was challenged by king Ajatashatru with a fresh explanation of which he had no idea.

Balaki realized that there was evidently something more of Brahman which was not covered by the manifestation of which he spoke so proudly.

It thus happened that at one point Balaki remained completely silent, because he did not have anything more to offer.

Ajatashatru clarified to Balaki that Brahman cannot be known by knowing only that much. There was much more to know about the Brahman.

Balaki realized his limitations, and his arrogance melted away. He aspired to know what he did not know. So he approached Ajatashatru as a disciple and pleaded with the king to impart to him the right knowledge of the Brahman.

Ajatashatru was a king and a Kshatriya. Balaki was a Brahmin. A Brahmin coming to a Kshatriya as a student was not very regular. King Ajatashatru was conscious of his limitation and hesitated to become a teacher of Brahmin Balaki. But he did not want to deprive Balaki of the knowledge he so intensely aspired to know. So he took Balaki by hand as a friend and started enlightening him on the subject of Brahman.

In the course of a walk, they came upon a person who was asleep. The king addressed the sleeping person with soft words, but the latter did not wake up.

Then when king jerked his body, the man woke up. The king asked Balaki: Where was the jivatman (vijnanamaya purusha) when the person was sound asleep and, where did it come from when he was jerked?

Balaki could not understand the king’s words. Then the king explained that when the person was asleep, his jivatman was taken away along with the consciousness of all the vital organs, which then rests in the sky of the heart.

The king told Balaki that all lokas, all the gods, all the bhutas come out of the atman when it is conscious. This is the truth of truths.

Truth is prana, so atman is the Truth of the pranas.

As a spider moves along the thread (it produces), and as from a fire tiny sparks fly in all directions, so from this Self emanate all organs, all worlds, all gods and all beings. Its secret name (Upanishad) is 'the Truth of truth'.   The vital force is truth, and It is the Truth of that.

Aurobindo comments on this incident…
“… Ajatashatru does not deny the experiences and perceptions of Balaki; he accepts them, denies only their claim to represent the ultimate truth, gives them their true character, puts them in their right place & leads up by this purificatory process to his own deeper knowledge.”