Isavasyopanishad or the Isa Upanishad is one of the most
wonderful book of ancient Indian wisdom. Often called as the 'Gem' among all 108
Principal Upanishads, this book of just 18 verses, contains the essence of all
knowledge that as been contemplated and experienced by Indian thinkers &
By Sri Sathya Sai Baba
"...His articles (first published in Telugu in the Sanathana
Sarathi) on the Ten Upanishads..."
"The Lord, intent on the regeneration of the world, communicated Vedas through
Hiranyagarbha and Hiranyagarbha, in turn, passed Them on to his ten Manasa-puthras,
including Athri and Marichi. From them, the Vedas spread among humanity, handed down
from one generation to another. As time passed, ages accumulated and continents
moved, some Vedas got lost, or were neglected as too difficult for comprehension,
and only Four have survived into modern times. These Four were taught by Vedavyasa,
the greatest among the exponents of the Vedas, to his disciples, in the Dwaparayuga.
When Vyasa was thus expounding the Vedas, engaged in spreading the sacred scripture,
one disciple of his, Yajnavalkya by name, incurred his wrath and as a punishment, he
had to regurgitate the Yajurveda that he had already learned, into the custody of
his guru and leave the place, to take refuge in Suryadeva, the treasure-house of the
Vedas. Just then, the Rishis who revere the Vedas, flew into the place in the shape
of Thiththiri birds and ate up the regurgitated Yajurveda. That particular section
of the Veda is called "Thaithiriyam".
Meanwhile Suryadeva was pleased with the devotion and steadfastness of the
unfortunate Yajnavalkya. He assumed the form of a Vaji or Horse and blessed the sage
with renewed knowledge of the Yajurveda. The sections thus taught by the Vaji came
to be called 'Vajasaneyi'. The Yajurveda as promoted by Vedavyasa is called
Krishnayajurveda and that handed down by Yajnavalkya as the Suklayajurveda. In
these, the first few chapters are Manthras connected with the Karmakanda and the
last few sections deal with Jnanakanda.
The Isavasya Upanishad is concerned with this Jnanakanda. Since the opening manthra
of this Upanishad starts with the words, 'Isavasyam', the Upanishad is called by
Isavaasyamidam sarvam yathkinchajagathyaam jagath
Thena thyakthena bhunjeethaah, maa gridhah kasyaswid-dhanam
"All things of this world, the transitory, the evanescent, are enveloped by the Lord
who is the real Reality of each. Therefore they have to be used with reverent
renunciation, without covetousness or greed for they belong to the Lord and not to
any one person". That is what this sloka means.
That is to say, the Universe is the Immanence of the Lord, His Form, His Body. It is
wrong to take the Universe and its Lord as different. It is a delusion, a product of
the imagination of man. Just as your image under the water is not different from
you, the Universe (which is His Image produced on your Ignorance) is the same as He.
So long as man has this delusion, he cannot visualise the Reality immanent in him;
on the other hand, he will slide into wrong thoughts, words and deeds. A piece of
sandalwood if kept in water will produce a bad smell; but, if it is taken out and
rubbed into paste, the former perfume will return. When the authority of the Vedas
and Sastras is repeated and when discrimination is sharpened on the practice of
Dharmakarmas, the evil smell of wrong and wickedness will vanish and the pure innate
perfume of the Atma will emerge. Then the duality of doer and enjoyer will
disappear; then, you reach the stage called Sarvakarmasanyas, the withdrawal from
all activity. In this Upanishad, this type of Sanyas is described as the pathway to
Liberation or Moksha.
The sanyasa which involves the destruction of the three urges (for a mate, for
progeny and for wealth) is very difficult to attain without purity of the chiththa
In this Upanishad, the means for getting this is declared in the second Manthra.
That is to say: carry out the Agnihothra etc. prescribed in the Sastras, believe
that for liberation one has to be actively engaged in such work and get convinced
that no sin can cling so long as one is so engaged. Work without the desire for the
fruit thereof slowly cleanses impurities like the crucible of the goldsmith. The
pure mind is Jnana; it is the consummation of detachment.
If you are able to divest yourselves of desire when you are doing work, no impurity
can touch you. You know the "Chilliginji" seeds when dropped into muddy water have
the power of separating the dirt and depositing it at the bottom; the seeds too sink
to the bottom, and slip out of sight! In the same way, those who are adepts in doing
Karma without attachment will have their minds perfectly cleansed and the results of
their acts will also lose effectiveness and sink to the bottom.
Out of the 18 manthras in this Upanishad only the first two deal directly with the
problem of Liberation and its solution. The other sixteen elaborate this solution
and serve as commentaries thereon.
The Atma never undergoes any modification; yet it is faster than any mind! That is
the mystery and the miracle; it appears to experience all states, but it has no
growth, decline or change. Though it is everywhere it is not perceivable by the
senses; it is because of its underlying existence and ever-present immanence that
all growth, all activities, all changes take place. Cause and effect act and react
on account of the Basic stratum of the Atmic reality. The very word, 'Isa' carries
this meaning. The Atma is near and far, inside and outside, still and moving. He who
knows this truth is worthy of the name Jnani.
The ignorant can never grasp the fact of Atmic immanence. Those who are conscious
can see things and can feel their presence near them. Those who have lost awareness
will search for the lost jewels though they actually wear them at the moment. Though
one may know all things, he conceives the Atma as existing in some un-approachable,
unreachable place on account of loss of consciousness. But the Jnani, who is aware,
sees the Atma in all beings and all beings as Atma: He sees all beings as the same,
and perceives no distinction or difference. So he saves himself from duality.
The Isavasya makes this great Truth clear to all. The Jnani who has tasted that
vision will not be agitated by the blows of fortune or the enticements of the
senses. He sees all beings as himself, having his own innate identity; he is free
from bondage, from Dharma and Adharma, and the needs and urges of the body. He is "Swayamprakaasa".
So, the Jiva-rupa is not his genuine form, no, not even the gross and the subtle
bodies called the Sthula and the Sukshma sariras.
That is why in the first manthra of the Isavasya, the Jnana-nishta characterised by
the absence of craving of any sort is expounded. This is the primary Vedartha; but,
those who have cravings will find it difficult to get stabilised in that Nishta or
state of mind. For such, the second manthra prescribes a secondary means, the
Karmanishta. The rest of the manthras elaborate and support these two nishtas -
based on Jnana and Karma. Karma-nishta has Desire and Delusion as the cardinal
urges; Jnana-nishta has Vairagya, the conviction that the world is not Atma, that is
to say, not true, and therefore, it is profitless to have any dealings with it. Such
an attitude to Vairagya is the gateway to Jnana-nishta. From the third to the eighth
manthra, the real nature of the Atma is depicted, through the condemnation of the
Avidya, which prevents the understanding of the Atma.
Thus the Isavasya teaches the lesson of renunciation through the first manthra and
the lesson of 'liberating activity' (through Karma devoid of Raga and Dwesha) in the
second manthra. In the fourth and fifth manthra, it speaks of Atmathathwa and later
of the fruits of the knowledge of that Atmathathwa. In the ninth manthra, the path
of progressive liberation or Karmamukthi (useful for those who are too weak to
follow the path of total renunciation but who are adepts in acts that are conducive
to moral development and inner purification) is laid down; this is the path which
co-ordinates all Karma on the principle of Upasana. Those who are engaged in acts
contrary to Vidya are full of Ajnana, it says; those who confine themselves to the
study and practice of divine forms are even worse, for their desire is for powers
and skills. Vidya leads to Deva-loka, Karma leads to Pithr-loka, it is said. So, the
Jnana that results in Atmasakshathkara or Self-realisation is something quite
distinct from these, no attempt to co-ordinate the two can succeed.
Of course, one should not engage in anything opposed to the Sastras; and all actions
are classed as Avidya, in the ultimate analysis. At best, Karma can help only to
cleanse the mind and the Upasana of Gods can lead to single-mindedness. The Upasana
has to rise to the level of the worship of the Cosmic Divinity, the Hiranyagarbha;
it has to ripen and develop into Jivanmukthi, before the end of this life.
The Devatha-Jnana and the Karma-nishta have both to be complementary and co-ordinated;
then, one can escape the round of birth and death and become Divine."