The students and the teachers are asking, what is Agni? The word which was used in the Veda, nobody understands the meaning of this word. Now because the name means fire and surely the Vedic Rishis do not speak of this fire, it is like a horse has come to me, is not horse, its energy, similarly, what is Agni?
These people who came at a time when the Vedic knowledge was buried in symbolism, was not understood; a period came when there was a very strenuous striving, you might say that they could not live longer unless that knowledge was derived. In the known history of the world, no people at any point of time had turned to this kind of striving that these Rishis of the Upanishads did, at that time. Eleusinian mysteries were similar to the Vedas but there was no period in Greece, where the people of Greece tried to understand the mysteries of Eleusinian times, it was lost. A few parables remained, a few legends remained, what exactly was the meaning of Eleusinian mysteries even today nobody knows because there was no attempt to find out. Like in Egypt, for example, had a secret knowledge, even today people visit pyramids and they see the hieroglyphics of pyramids, what do they stand for? There was no period in history where the Egyptian mysteries and knowledge were discovered, they are lost. We don't know, there are pictures there are diagrams, which are of various kinds but we do not know, what was the knowledge? There was no period in Egyptian history corresponding to Upanishads.
Unveiling the symbolism of the past, strictly to find out that true knowledge which was there, not ordinarily, to be sure that this was the knowledge. One can interpret it in one's own way and say, ‘Oh! This must have been the meaning. No, they did not strive in that ordinary manner; they strove with a special method of unveiling; which I'll come to later on. What was the method of unveiling; this is one special meaning of the stir and quest of the Upanishad.
What was the second quest? The intensity of the quest, this is very special in the Upanishads. You can have intensity of any kind of quest in the world; there are many people who make a quest. Many people have sacrificed their life for wealth, for example, like Alexander. But for attaining knowledge, to be ready to give your life for the sake of knowledge, − that's the intensity, people were prepared to give up anything and everything that was the quest and that is the mark of the Upanishad.
You find the dialogue between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi (Maitreyi is the wife of Yajnavalkya). Yajnavalkya was a great Rishi, he had amassed great wealth because he had won many trophies, to use the modern terminology many prizes; where thousands of cows were offered to him with gold coated on the horns of the cows. Many such prices were won by Yajnavalkya, lot of money and he got a call and decided to give up everything. And he prepared himself to give up everything, he divided the wealth that he had into two portions, between two wives he had, Katyayani and Maitreyi.
Maitreyi said to her husband, ‘Lord, even if I have, not only this wealth but the wealth of the whole world, shall I be free’, this was a question. Yajnavalkya’s answer was, ‘no’, if you're looking for freedom you must have knowledge.’ So Maitreyi then said, ‘I don't want this wealth.’ She gave up and she said, ‘I'll follow you in your pursuit of knowledge; all this means nothing to me.’ This is a speciality of the stir and the quest to give up everything.
Like the people who have come to Auroville. Why, for the quest of knowledge and the embodiment of knowledge. This is the Indian style, the Indian soul; Upanishads live constantly in the story of India.
Buddha had everything in life, he had a palace for winter, palace for summer, palace for the monsoon and hundreds of damsels to serve him, a beautiful wife, a very handsome child, a very benevolent father and the whole kingdom where he was loved, what more does he want? At one stroke, overnight he gave up everything in search of the true knowledge. It is because of this tradition which was set up in the Upanishads. You should have the courage and you should have no attachment to anything. If knowledge is the object of your quest, this idea that the knowledge is supreme, if any achievement is to be attained it is knowledge and for the attainment of knowledge you should be able to sacrifice everything. This intensity, this stir is the mark of the Upanishads. The Rishis, whose names we will study in the Upanishads are those who were prepared for this kind of abandonment and renunciation. This is the second characteristic.
What is the third characteristic? This quest was not confined only to a few people, it was not confined only to the learned, it was spread all over, it’s a great speciality. In human society and human stories you get one or two great people, who were ready to renounce everything but not here.
There was the child; Jabala’s son he was prepared for everything and anything to gain knowledge. A son who did not know who was his father. There was Ajatshatru, the King, there was Raikva, the cart driver, there were learned people like Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi, like Gargi, very learned.
This quest was spread over all the sections of society and Sri Aurobindo says in a few pages of the Upanishads, the entire story of this quest is inscribed. And you can see their stir and the quest of the people of the Upanishads. That is why the Upanishads constitute a story of people, which is unparalleled.