Once upon a time according to one of the Upanishads – and I'm
quoting a passage that is dated somewhere perhaps 1500 B.C. – there was a great king. The king's name was Janaka. The name of Janaka in the metaphysical literature of India is a very, very prominent name. He was one of the great patrons of learning, one of the great patrons of metaphysics. He had an impressive court and would invite all the metaphysicians of his time to his court for debate and discussions. A debate, metaphysical debate, metaphysical discussion has been the second most interesting pastime of the people in the spiritual tradition, the first being the meditation itself; the second being metaphysical discussion. So he would invite all these metaphysicians who would discuss, ask questions of each other, answer them. And in his court there was a great sage whose name you need not try to recite. The tongue will sprain. His name was Yajnavalkya. He was the most famous, most prominent of the teachers of his time. One day the king asked a question and Yajnavalkya answered it in a sentence, and the king was so excited at the answer, he jumped from his throne and said, "For this one answer, for this one sentence, I give to you a thousand!"
A thousand in those days, being given by a king, meant a
thousand cows with gold-studded horns, because the unit of wealth in all these ancient societies was cattle. For example, you go to Mexico, the currency there is peso. That word "peso" comes from the Sanskrit word "pashu," meaning cattle. In English also you have the word "pecuniary." A pecuniary gain comes from the Latin "pecu," which comes from Sanskrit meaning "cattle." So even now in English you have gain of cattle when you're talking about pecuniary gain or pecuniary interest.
So in this way the sage became very rich. But one time he said,
"I have had enough of these riches and honors and the king's courts, and he goes back to his ashram, his hermitage, and he says to his wife: "There's all this cattle and all this gold and all this land and all these forests and all this wealth. And Maitri, my dear wife, I leave these in your hands and I go." "Where do you go, my husband?" "I go to find amritam, amrita, the Drink of Immortality, the Nectar of Immortality that the gods drink and become immortal, the Knowledge of Immortality, in other words, the knowledge of the infinity of the Self. Because one of the favorite prayers in the Upanishads that we often recite is: "Lead me from the unreal to the Real. Lead me from darkness to Light. Lead me from mortality to Immortality." "So I go to find this immortality, this amritam." So wife Maitri, who was a wise woman in her own right, says, "My dear husband, all this wealth and all this cattle and all this gold that you leave for me, will this give me immortality?" And he says, "Well, Dear, no. No. It's the life of those well-endowed, with all the tools of life, that will be your life. But with wealth there's no hope of immortality." So she says – and it's one of the Swami Rama's favorite sentences, and has been a beacon for my own personal life – "That which will not give me amrita; what shall I do with it?" Dhye naham namritasyam kintena koriyam(?) "What shall I do with that which will not give me the Drink of Amrita, which will not give me the knowledge of my immortality? What use is it to me? Therefore, my dear husband, teach me all that you know." He says, "To this day you were very, very dear and beloved to me, but from today, by this sentence of yours, you have become even closer to my heart.