Isha Upanishad

Ishavasya Upanishad is the fortieth chapter in the Vajasaneya Samhita of शुक्ल यजुर्वेद (Shukla Yajur Veda); it is a small Upanishad consisting of just eighteen verses but it talks about the fundamental aspects of our life namely कर्म karma (mental and physical activity) and ज्ञान jnana (Knowledge).
As is the case with Kenopanishad, this Upanishad too derives its name from the first word of its opening verse: ईशा वास्यमिदं सर्वम् isha wasyamidam sarvam (all this should be covered with God) i.e. the consciousness that I am separate from world and others should be transformed into the consciousness that all ("I, the world, and the others") is God, Pure-Consciousness-Bliss.

We present here the notes derived from audio talks by Revered Ramananada Saraswati and Revered Bhuteshanandaji Maharaj on Ishavasya Upanishad. The talks by Revered Bhuteshanandaji Maharaj also take into consideration the Shankaracharya's Bhashya. (The original text for the Upanishad can be downloaded from sanskritdocuments.org)

1. The manifold world that is cognize with mind and senses should be covered with one and only God i.e. infinite Pure-Consciousness-Bliss. To be covered with implies that the reality of names and forms in the world 'including our own' should be realized as based on the ever-present reality of God. The world appears and disappears, so actually we have "covered" God with ourselves and world, and hence now we should reverse this to "uncover" or "discover" God! Without our infinite Pure-Consciousness-Bliss nature, none of us or world has any reality in past, present, and future. To become aware of our real nature we have to give up our petty name and form nature i.e. all our attachments to body-mind as "me" and related objects, persons as "mine" is to be given up; only thus can we enjoy the pure bliss of real Self. We should not covet our's or anybody's wealth OR we should not covet wealth for whose is the wealth?

* In ignorace, Self-Knowledge is covered with world-knowledge (e.g. screen is covered with pictures). Spiritual aspirant should cover world-Knowledge with Self/God knowledge, this is Sadhana (spiritual practice); this itself is ईशा वास्यमिदं सर्वम्… (Knowledge of Pictures on screen = इदं सर्वम् i.e. all this, body, world etc. & Knowledge of Screen = One God/Self). This is possible only by तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा i.e by giving up the sense of reality for body, world etc. and always remembering the reality of Self/God. If we argue that this practice is difficult due to attachments to body, world etc. then Shruti says, मा गृध: कस्यस्विद्धनम्– this wealth – in the form of body, world etc. – has never become anybody’s property, so how can you claim it? This is the path of Jnana-Yoga, of a monk.

2. The first verse was for those who renounce all the desires for the transitory phenomenal world and enjoy the bliss of eternal Self. This second verse is addressed for others who are not able to give up the attachments and are not able to think themselves anything other than human beings. They should perform work as enjoined in the scriptures and wish to live for hundred years; only thus can they avoid the net of wrong desires and actions. The stress here is on doing right work and not on 'wish to live hundred years'. Body-centric humanity naturally desires to live a long life; so how to spend this life so that we may not get caught in the net of desires and sinful, vicious actions? We should perform work instructed in the scriptures i.e. work which is associated with sense of moral duty and purpose; thus it will not be selfish or harmful to others. Apart from this there is no other way to escape from the reactions of karma.

Above two verses are related to the two paths given in Upanishads - कर्म karma (mental and physical activity) and ज्ञान jnana(Knowledge). All the spiritual disciplines are directly or indirectly related to these two paths.

* Those who find renunciation of world difficult and are still attracted towards body, world etc., for them the Shruti says, कुर्वन्नेवेह कर्माणि जिजीविषेच्छतं समा: - expecting to live for hundred years, do your destined actions in the manner of moral duty. This is Karma-Yoga.

3. People who forget their higher nature and are immersed in only the phenomenal worldly activities go to dark worlds after death. Except the infinite Pure-Consciousness-Bliss - 'our real nature' - all other names, forms, worlds are filled with darkness as it were since they being limited and transitory are un-fulfilling and devoid of pure bliss, knowledge. Thus if we forget God then we are suicides.

4. Now the nature of real Self is being described; It is motionless yet when considered in relation to the limiting adjunct (mind) It appears to move faster than mind, senses etc. The prana (vital force) functions in all beings due to the Self; life in all its forms depends on prana and prana derives it's existence from Self.

5. The Self moves and remains stationary; It is far away and it is nearest. It is within all and also without. All the contradictory statements about the Brahman are to be understood from It's Absolute and relative aspects.

6. When a spiritual aspirant realizes infinite Pure-Consciousness-Bliss as Self then he/she sees all beings in his/her Self and sees his/her Self in all beings. Thus he/she does not despise anybody or anything.

7. Those who realize their true nature see all beings within their Self so they don't have any delusion or grief. The cause of desire, work, pleasure, pain etc. is the feeling of incompleteness/limited-ness i.e. ignorance about the true Self; on Self-realization this cause no longer exists hence how can there be any desire or sorrow?

8. The Self (Atman/Brahman) is described as below:

पर्यगात् paryagaat All-pervasive
शुक्रम् shukram Luminous, resplendent, effulgent Pure Consciousness
अकायम् akaayam Without the subtle body
अव्रणम् avranam Without any injury or defect (i.e. devoid of gross body)
अस्नाविरम् asnaaviram Without muscles, nerves etc. (i.e. devoid of gross body)
शुध्दम् shuddham Without the causal body, devoid of subject-object duality
अपापविध्दम् apaapaviddham Beyond sin and virtue
कवि: kavih One and only seer of past, present, and future
मनीषि manishi Ruler of mind, All-knowing God
परिभू: paribhu Transcendent to all
स्वयंभू: svayambhuh Independent, existing by Himself, that which is transcended and also that which is transcendent i.e. He is by Himself all, transcendent-immanent-one-without-the-second Reality
याथातथ्यतोSर्थान् व्यदधात शाश्वतीभ्य: समाभ्य: yaathaatathyatoorthaan vyadadhaat shashvatibhyah samaabhyah It (i.e. God) assigns duties to eternal years (प्रजापति prajaapati - creater of Year) as per their works (कर्म karma) and results (कर्म-फल karma-phala)

From verse 3 to 8, it was elaboration of the principle mentioned in verse 1 i.e. it was for those who have renounced all desires of phenomenal world and are trying to realize the infinite Self (ज्ञाननिष्ठ jnananishtha).

Verse 9 to 14 are for those to whom dutiful work was enjoined in verse 2 i.e. (कर्मनिष्ठ karmanishtha) those who have not been able to renounce the attachment to transitory body-mind-complex and related world; thus they are not capable of direct knowledge of the Supreme.

9. Those who are attached to अविद्या avidya (ignorance, but here used in the sense of karma i.e. work) enter into blinding darkness while those who are attached to विद्या vidya (knowledge, but here used for उपासना upasana i.e. worship/meditation) enter into even greater darkness!

10. From wise men we have heard that different results are obtained by following the two paths mentioned in above verse.
Work done as per the injunctions of scriptures saves the aspirant from attachment to gross body and worship grants him/her world of gods.

11. Hence doing dutiful, moral work as per the injunctions of scriptures (avidya) coupled with devotion, worship (vidya) leads to divinity i.e. higher sphere of existence and not the absolute immortality of Self-realization.
The combination of work (karma) and meditation (upasana) is mentioned here and not the combination of karma and supreme Knowledge. Absolute Knowledge being devoid of any भेद bheda (divisions) can not be coupled with anything. Verses 3 to 8 were addressed for aspirants of Absolute Knowledge; now these verses (9 to 14) are for others who are कर्मनिष्ठ karmanishtha and are incapable of supreme Knowledge. They have to combine the moral work with devotion, worship, meditation and have to reach the highest phenomenal sphere of existence. In order to highlight the combination of work and worship, their separate performance was deprecated in verse 9 otherwise their independent performance has its own results as mentioned in various other Upanishads.

* कर्म karma term is used in Upanishads is to be understood as अग्निहोत्रादि कर्म agnihotradi karma (ritualistic sacrifices) and not the normal physical actions like eating, walking, sleeping etc; ritualistic sacrifices are meant for transcending the gross body idea and उपासना upaasana (worship) term is used for specific type of meditations mentioned in Veda which gives the aspirant union with deities/gods i.e. relative immortality (with respect to human point of view). This is not the immortality of the Brahman/Self which causes complete cessation from transmigration. In modern times there are no अग्निहोत्रादि agnihotradi hence its equivalent are the philanthropic activities aimed at gaining पुण्य punya (virtue/merit).

Verses 12 to 14 are similar to verse 9 to 11: just as in verses 9 to 11 work and worship were initially deprecated in order to show the importance of their combined performance later, here in verses 12 to 14 सम्भूति sambhuti (Manifested) and असम्भूति asambhuti (Unmanifested) are initially deprecated and later their combined performance is highlighted.

12. Those who worship the Unmanifested (प्रकृति prakriti i.e. primal-material cause of universe) go to blinding darkness and those who worship Manifested (कार्यब्रह्म karyabrahma - manifested Brahman i.e. universe) go to even greater darkness.
Unmanifested refers to the causal/seed state of the universe in which all names and forms are latent and are not yet sprouted. This is also called प्रकृति prakriti or कारणब्रह्म kaaranabrahma or असम्भूति asambhuti. Manifested refers to the first manifestation of the Unmanifested i.e. हिरण्यगर्भ hiranyagarbha (golden womb/cosmic subtle body); it is the highest sphere of existence. This is also called कार्यब्रह्म karyabrahma or सम्भूति sambhuti.

13. From wise men we have heard that different results are obtained by following the two paths mentioned in above verse.
Worship of Manifested results in सिद्धि siddhi (super-natural powers) while worship of Unmanifested results in प्रकृतिलय prakritilaya (absorption in causal state).

14. Combining the worship of Unmanifested and Manifested results in achieving results from both i.e. highest possible state of existence in phenomenal universe.

* ईशावास्योपनिषद् Ishavasyopanishad has following two branches: 1. काण्व शाखा (Kanva branch) and 2. माध्यंदिनी शाखा (Madhyandini branch)
In Kanva branch the mantras related to vidya/avidya appear before the sambhuti mantras. While in Madhyandini branch they appear after the sambhuti mantras; also at the end of the chapter in Madhyandini branch, by using - कं ब्रह्म kam brahma and खं ब्रह्म kham brahma - the conclusion is drawn that all is Brahman.

Thus till verse 14, results from both the paths are described: path of ज्ञाननिष्ठा jnananishtha resulting in Absolute Immortality through renunciation of all desires and path of कर्मनिष्ठा karmanishtha resulting in attainment of highest possible phenomenal state of relative immortality through work and worship.

Now verses 15 to 18 are the prayers of karmanishtha at the time of death. The aspirant has practised work as per the injunctions of scriptures and tried to worship सगुण ब्रह्म saguna brahma (qualified/relative aspect of Reality) to best of his/her abilities.

15. हिरण्मयेन पात्रेण सत्यस्यापिहितं मुखम् - face of Truth is covered with golden vessel. O Sun, open it for me who am the follower of truth (and performer of dutiful actions).
'For spiritual aspirant this means there is a "golden lid" within us - the buddhi. It is said to be golden because it is illumined by the light of the Atman within. However, it does not appear golden to all people. The buddhi becomes golden only when the impurities and density of the mind are reduced through austerity, continence and spiritual practice. At night even the disc of the sun is not visible. Similarly in the darkness of ignorance the luminous buddhi is not noticed. First of all the inner golden vessel is to be discovered by purifying the mind. The next step is to open it and experience the light of the individual Self within it. The third step is to realize the unity of the individual Self and the cosmic Self. The "golden lid" stands for a deeper level of consciousness known as the spiritual heart. It is there that the Truth is to be sought.' (Prabuddha Bharata, November 1982)

16. Conscious being/person in solar orb (आधिदैविक aadhidaivik - cosmic aspect) and in the eye of spiritual aspirant (आध्यात्मिक aadhyatmik - individual aspect) is one. With this consciousness the aspirant prays to cosmic being in sun to gather its rays so that sun's benign form can be seen.

17. Let my vital force merge in cosmic vital force and let my body be reduced to ashes. O my mind, remember the deeds done throughout the life.

18. O fire god, you know all my actions and meditations so remove any remaining crooked sins from me and lead me through good path for enjoyment of the fruits of my deeds.

Following is a free rendering of the Ishavasya Upanishad by Swami Mukhyananda (Prabuddha Bharata, April 1982):


The eternal That is whole, and the temporal This is whole;

And each has its own important role.

Out of that Eternal springs this Temporal,

Both indeed are One and Spiritual.

Even when This Whole is derived from That Whole,

There still remains the One Complete Whole.

Om Peace, Peace, Peace.

1. The Lord abides even in the least of things,

In the changeful world and all beings.

He is the Giver to everyone;

So covet not the wealth of anyone.

Renounce all your attachment,

And enjoy life in contentment.

2. Desire to live for a hundred years

Doing selfless work to wipe others' tears;

There is no better way to gain freedom

From the duty of work and its thraldom.

Without work thou shan't remain

In this world, which is the work's domain.

3. Those who seek but a selfish end,

Verily slay their higher Self;

To darkest worlds on death they wend,

By demoniac pursuit of power and pelf.

4. The Self, beyond the senses' reach,

Swifter than the mind and speech,

Is One, calm, unmoving, still,

The Source of life and work and will.

Outstripping all that run very fast

It always remains the first and the last.

5. It moves yet moves not, near yet far,

The Self abides in atom and star;

Inside, outside, of all things,

The One resides in all beings.

6. He who sees his Self in all,

And in his Self sees all, great and small;

Verily abides in eternal Light,

And never looks down on any or hate.

7. When to the knower of Supreme Brahman,

All beings appear as his Atman;

And in god and man and bird and animal,

He sees but the one pervasive Principle;

What sorrow, what delusion,

Can touch the mind of such a person!

8. He, the Pure One, self-existent,

Effulgent, incorporeal;

Sans all evil, all-pervading,

He is but the One Real.

All seeing, the Lord of mind,

The supreme Inner-Controller,

He it is who apportions

Work and its fruits to all for ever.

9. Blinding darkness do they enter

Those who seek knowledge mundane,

Greater seems the depth of darkness

To sink in knowledge of divine.

10. We have from the wisemen of yore

Learnt the secrets of these two,

Complete knowledge verily includes

Mundane and the divine too.

Mundane knowledge gives us one view,

While knowledge divine yields a farther view.

11. He who knows and justly combines

Knowledge both mundane and divine;

Through mundane knowledge solves life's problems,

And becomes immortal through knowledge divine

12. He who seeks but this imperfect world,

Verily sinks into deep darkness;

But into deeper darkness he seems to enter

Who looks to Heaven for perfectness.

13. We have heard from those who taught us,

Wisemen of great eminence,

The perfect and the imperfect are

Aspects of one Existence.

This imperfect world helps us one way,

And the perfect Heaven has Its own sway.

14. He who knows this wisely pursues

Both the temporal and the Etemal;

Through the perishing world death he conquers.

And through Heaven gains the Immortal.

15. The Face of Truth lies hidden in glamour,

Like the sun beneath a golden cover;

Reveal that, O Sun, the great supporter,

To me devoted to truth and virtue for ever.

16. O Sun, Supporter, Lonely Courser,

Progeny of the Supreme Lord;

Deign to withdraw, O Controller

The dazzling rays that ever hide.

Let me behold Thy blessed Form

Hidden amidst the rays divine.

The Supreme Person in the solar orb

Is the same One in me, the Self within.

17. The body in the end is turned into ashes,

And life's breath joins Immortal Life;

Remember, O Mind, remember, O Mind,

Your past deeds and repeat Om all your life.

18.O Fire Divine!

Thou visible symbol of the Supreme Being,

Who knowest all our thinking and doing;

Uphold our good and bum up our sin,

We offer our prayers to you again and again.

Lead us by the right path beyond pleasure and pain,

To the highest Good, the Supreme Divine!


   | ॐ शान्ति: | ॐ शान्ति: | ॐ शान्ति: |
| Om Peace | Om Peace | Om Peace |