Essays on the Upanishads
by Swami Krishnananda


Santi Mantra

That is full; this is full. From the full the full proceeds. Taking the full from the full, the full alone remains. That Absolute is full. This created being is also full. Brahman is infinitude and is therefore full. That which proceeds from the full or the infinite must be either real or unreal. If it is real, it must also be full, because a part cannot be ever-enduring, and that which is not always enduring is not real. If it is unreal, nothing proceeds at all. This means to say that either infinity is the product of infinity or nothing proceeds from infinity. Infinity cannot proceed from infinity, because, thereby, there would be two infinities. Hence, the proceeding of infinity from infinity does not change infinity, because infinity alone remains even after that. The drift of the statement is that infinity is unchanging and this mantra is a figurative way of saying that nothing proceeds from infinity. Even the idea of something proceeding from infinity is based on its essential character of infinity. That which is produced, namely, Hiranyagarbha, or the universe, must be infinite. Otherwise there should be something outside Hiranyagarbha, or the universe. The universe includes space, also, and beyond space there is nothing. Therefore, the universe is infinite. Even the individual that is created is essentially infinite. Taking infinity from infinity is only an idea and not a possibility. Therefore, the infinite alone exists without change in past, present and future. Om Santih, Santih, Santih - May the three tapas (afflictions) cease, and may there be peace.

The three tapas are: Subjective trouble, objective trouble and heavenly trouble.
Subjective trouble: Hunger, thirst, grief, delusion, ignorance, disease and death.
Objective trouble: Ferocious animals, poisonous creatures and wicked human beings.
Heavenly trouble: Thunderbolt, storms, floods, heat, cold, earthquake, etc.


The nature of the Self is not in any way connected with the processes or the results of action that takes the Self to be limited, impure and diverse. Knowledge pertains to the essential nature of the Self. Knowledge neither creates nor modifies nor obtains nor purifies the Self, because the relationship between knowledge and the Self is not one of doer and doing. All the Upanishads exhaust themselves in ascertaining the fundamental characteristics of the Self. The mantras of the Isavasyopanishad negate the conception which the Mimamsakas have of the Self, and assert that the true Self is secondless, non-doer, non-enjoyer, pure and ever untainted by sin. 

Mantra 1

All this is pervaded by the Lord, whatever is moving (and not moving) in this world. By such renunciation enjoy (or protect). Do not covet the wealth of anyone. Vasyam or avasyam means fit to be dwelt by or clothed by or covered over by. The universe is to be covered over by the consciousness of God. It means that God indwells every being of the universe. But this indwelling does not in any way create a distinction between the indweller and the indwelled. The Lord exists as the innermost Self of all. The Self, however, cannot pervade itself. Pervasion, here, means existence. The universe in essence is the truth of God Himself. It does not exist as an object to be covered over by God, like cloth, etc. There is nothing in this universe which can have any value or being without the existence of God. This is to say that God is the sole existence.

It also means that one has to fill the whole universe with the consciousness of Divinity. Divinity should be felt as the pratyagatman or the Inner Self of oneself. This is a clue to meditation on Brahman, also. One should assert that the whole existence is, in its objective form, unreal and that oneself in fact is the essential Atman existing as the basis and the truth of everything. This is to assert that one’s Self is the Supreme Lord, not merely pervading everything, but existing as the only reality.

Even as a scented stick begins to give out its fragrance when the external fungus growing over it is rubbed out, the light of the Self reveals itself when the external crust of the sense of doership and enjoyership which is falsely imagined is completely erased out. The multiplicity and the duality of the universe should be denied in the light of the fact that the Lord, the one Self, alone exists. This omnipresent Self cannot be associated with individual functions, like doership and enjoyership. Name, form and action which characterise the world cannot be the natures of God, because these are objective perceptions and not eternal values. The universe, thus, gets renounced, because God is the only Truth. Tena tyaktena means “by such renunciation” consequent upon the knowledge of the only existence which is God. Renunciation is the result of the knowledge of Truth. Anything that is abandoned as unconnected with the Self does not become useful to the Self in any way. Everyone in the world is dependent on the not-Self. But when the not-Self is denied one cannot be dependent on it. The denial of the not-Self or the renunciation of the universe means that the Self is not helped by any external agency and it has to save itself through itself. It also means that previous to knowledge, i.e., when the Self appeared to be entangled in the not-self, it was in bondage, as it were, but now because of disentanglement it saves itself and protects itself and is dependent on itself. Because the Self is permanent its independence also is permanent. Bhunjeetbhah may also mean “enjoy”, in which case the sense would be that through the renunciation of the not-Self there accrues to the Self the highest enjoyment, everything becomes its, and it experiences the Bliss of Liberation. It is a law that the greater the renunciation, the greater is the joy experienced because of the absence of desires. “Do not covet the wealth of anyone” means that, because God is the only reality, there is nothing worth coveting in this world. Because, “whose is wealth”? The wealth does not belong to anyone. All possessions are perishable. Therefore, there is no need of coveting anything. Only the knowledge that the Self is all, the Lord of all, should be acquired and everything else should be renounced. Everything is the Atman and, hence, there is no value in desiring anything. As other than the Atman nothing is, nothing can be desired or loved. Dhanam may also mean the dearest possession, which is one’s own body. In this case the meaning would be: Do not covet any kind of body, not even a celestial body or even the body of the creator himself. Do not wish to be reborn in any kind of body, and aspire for liberation alone.

Mantra 2

The first mantra refers to jnana-nishtha, and is meant for those who have the ability to abandon all desires and establish themselves in knowledge alone. But on others who are not yet ready for such a state the performance of action in conformity with the natural inclination of the individual is enjoined: “By doing action alone here one should wish to live a hundred years. Thus it is in your case; there is no other way than this. Action dose not cling to man.” One can wish to live as an individual only by performing actions. As long as there is the strong feeling that on is a human being alone, the laws pertaining to the human being have to be observed. One cannot live in one plane and observe the rules of another plane. The notion of one’s being an individual is inseparably connected with the ideas of and the necessity for desire and action. The very fact of individuality denotes that individuality is not complete and one can never rest with peace in an incomplete condition. There is an involuntary urge from within to strive to become perfect. The individual, however, thinks that perfection consists in the acquisition of what is not already possessed. Moreover, the feeling of the need for certain external acquisitions is based on a special want felt within, though this want may change its nature from time to time. Every want manifests itself as an action and goads the body to move towards what is wanted. Even breathing and thinking are the implications of the necessity to exist as an individual ever striving in nature. There seems to be no other way of living as an individual than by the performance of action. If one refuses to perform action one shall be forced to perform action by the law of individual life. Instead of yielding to involuntary urges for action it is advisable to perform action consciously with good determinations, without a desire for selfish enjoyments, and with a knowledge of the law of action and reaction.

Shankara discusses the nature of action and knowledge and their relation between one another. Knowledge as Shankara understands it is not the knowledge that the human being is familiar with. The knowledge of the human being is knowledge of something other than the knower. It is always knowledge of some object or objects. It is divided knowledge that separates the object from the subject. It is incomplete knowledge, for, by it, it is not possible to know the subject and the object at one and the same time. When the one is known, the other is discarded and forgotten. It is not possible to have whole knowledge through a process, and perception or human knowledge is evidently a process. Process means change, and change is movement towards some thing or some state which marks the process as distinct from perfection. Hence, human knowledge is a perishable process of an ever non-enduring struggle for perfection. A struggle is not the same as an achievement, and truly speaking, human knowledge never achieves anything, substantially. The knowing faculty knows an object only as it wants to know it and as it is capable of knowing it, and not as the object is really in itself. The form and the nature of objects are determined by the form and the nature of the conceptual modifications of the faculty of knowing. Thus human knowledge is simply coating an existing object the true nature of which is never known. The knowledge of an individual is simply artificial. This is not the knowledge that Shankara is speaking of when he distinguishes it from action. Human knowledge is an action alone, because it is produced by the motion of the mind and the senses. The knowledge propounded in the Advaita Vedanta is objectless knowledge, and it is never produced but realised. It is not the knowledge of something but the knowledge of the knower himself. It is atma-sakshatkara that Shankara means by knowledge when he says that action is the antithesis of knowledge.

Action is generally an effort towards the achievement of an end. Man does not simply exist. He ever tries to become something else. He is never satisfied with simply existing. He wishes to change, to become. The impulse for action is ingrained in the very constitution of the individual. Action has become an indispensable part of the individual self. Action cannot be cast off, because it is not separate from the form of the make-up of the individual. The whole life of man is action. It is the nature of his action that determines the nature of his life. Action is the expression of the will to live through an instrument of action, namely, the mind and the body. Jijivisha or wish to live has as its effects the desire to possess and develop relations with external phenomena, which are created by the same desire in the fashion of its own constitution so that it may find what it wishes to find. That undesirable objects and conditions also are found in the world is due to a confusion in the desirer of what he actually wishes to have. The desiring subject is not clear about its own wants. This confusion ends in the commission of several unwise deeds which are due to lack of insight involved in the taking of the desired course of action. This confusion happens because all actions are, generally, one-sided in their motive. Generally an action is done only with the constricted vision which alone is allowed by that particular course of action without the correct knowledge of all its consequences. When a physician prescribes a medicine for the cure of a disease it is not enough if he just knows that a particular medicine has got the capacity to counteract that disease. He should also know what reactions the drug may bring about in the patient in spite of its allaying that one disease. The individual, when it wants to fulfil a desire, simply knows what action is able to fulfil that desire, without knowing that that same action may disturb several other aspects of life and bring to him as a reaction great grief later on, though it may temporarily enchant the desirer to believe that the desire is fulfilled. This is why the world is both pleasurable and miserable; it is the effect of desires as well as their unforeseen consequences. An individual is born in a particular condition or environment because the individual either wished to live in such a condition or it is the consequence or reaction of certain actions which it performed either voluntarily or being compelled by the impressions of previous actions. The miseries of the world are the forms of the reactions of foolish and deluded actions performed previously by the inhabitants thereof. The world is the name given to the manner in which the individuals experience in their own selves the reactions of their own desires and actions. The universe is the shadow cast by the desires of the individuals, and it is what the desires are and what the desires sweep away from pure existence as they move towards fulfilment.

Action, ordinarily, therefore, is a movement of the self towards the not-self and extra-ordinarily a movement of the not-self towards the Self. But generally the latter process is not included in the category of what we understand by action. The latter is the natural absorption of the Spirit into itself, a genuine unfoldment, or rather the pristine illumination of itself to itself. It is therefore the process of the cessation of action, though all processes are actions in the strict sense. By action we mean the expression of a desire, and movement towards Truth is not the effect of a desire, because it is a desire to destroy desire, an effort to stop effort. Such a desire is not a desire, and such an action is not an action. It is the flaming march of the soul towards its extension into infinity. When Shankara contends that action and knowledge are like darkness and light respectively, he refers to the action of the ego directed to the acquisition of objects and states circumscribed by space, time and causation. Such an action is evidently alien to the characteristics of the knowledge of Truth.

The human being is included in the outward Nature and therefore he has to obey the law of Nature. viz., action or change for the better. By human being we mean an outer crust of conscious life, the changing superficial vestment of true being. Hence, the human being is the form of a transient cloak put on and animated by the eternal Self. The more the love for a thing, the more one becomes the slave of that thing. Man is a slave of the body because he loves it and because of this love he has to act. Therefore, the wise aspirant should perform action knowing that it is not possible to cease from action as long as he is bound by human consciousness. But this should be done with the knowledge of the limitations of action, with the knowledge that action not properly guided by right discrimination may lead to self- imprisonment and sorrow.

This mantra of the Upanishad lays down the law of action, that one should wish to live by performing action, because wishing to live and ceasing from action do not go hand in hand. If man wishes to live, he has to act. If he does not act, he cannot live. Freedom from action does not simply mean freedom from bodily movement, but freedom from objective thinking, feeling and willing. The second mantra refers to life in the mind and the body, while the first to life in the Spirit.

Mantra 3

Devilish are the worlds covered over by dense darkness, which are reached by those who have killed their Self. The regions experienced by the destroyers of the Self, i.e., those who are ignorant of the Self, are devilish or godless because they are destitute of purity and light, devoid of sattva-guna, cut off from the knowledge of Truth. They are devilish because experiences there are extremely painful and antagonistic to the Divine Presence. People who reject the Divine Self and love the undivine matter, which is subjectively called the body and objectively the world, have such experiences as are characterised by extreme repentance for having committed the evil of not knowing the Self. The asuras or the devils are those who have deserted the One Immutable Being.

In this sense all individuals are asuras in different degrees, because they experience the material sheaths or the bodies. These realms of these unfortunate beings are enveloped by dense darkness in the night of the Self. A desire that is a desertion of Truth takes a form later which gives very unpleasant experiences to the desirer, because his experience is opposite to Absolute-Experience. Such people grope in spiritual darkness or blindness, which is the mother of sorrow. Into such dark regions do these who are untrue to their Self enter. They get bad births. A bad birth is a condition of life where craving is the ruler, where mistake is the governing law, where confusion and delusion are the factors controlling life, where evil is perpetrated and intense sorrow is experienced. This is the fruit of not knowing Truth and catching untruth, the result of the wandering of the jiva in the waterless desert of samsara, the effect of eating the forbidden fruit, the fruit of mental and sensuous contacts which sow the seed of the torture of transmigration.

A world or a region is called a loka, which means etymologically a condition of experience where everything that is sown is reaped, whether sweet or bitter. A person can experience the fruits of his actions even in this very life. Only extremely powerful actions that give rise to such intense results as cannot be experienced by this present body are reserved for future births. Many times a very intense desire is fulfilled at once. Mild desires are fulfilled later on. Therefore a world of experience is not so much an independently real objective mass of matter as a field of experience where individuals find the required atmosphere to manifest and experience the results of their thoughts and actions.

Destroying the Self means not to be aware of the Self, to feel it as non-existent and consequently reject it. Since, however, it is not possible to reject the Self completely, - for it is not essentially different from him who rejects it, - this rejection takes the form of sense-contacts accelerated by mental desires. Sensuousness being an undivine condition the experiences consequent upon it are devilish and tormenting. The mantra teaches therefore that knowledge of the Self is absolutely necessary in order to transcend the recurring pains of birth, life and death.

Mantra 4

The Atman is motionless, one alone, swifter than the mind. It is not overtaken by the senses, because it is prior to them. It is ahead of them. Others run fast to overtake it, but it is before them even while sitting. On the basis of this Self does Hiranyagarbha make actions possible.

The Self is motionless, because it is eternal. It is one, because duality is non-eternal. Individuality and motion mean changing from one condition to another, which means death. The Self, being permanent, is free from individuality and motion. Because the Self is omnipresent it exists wherever the mind goes and is even beyond the province of the mind. The mind may run with the greatest speed to any place or time, but the Self is already there, it being the very implication of the existence and activity of the mind. The senses cannot overtake the Self because the senses have got two defects. One is that they always run away from the Self, and the other is that they cannot work except on the basis of the Self. The Self is prior to every conception and function. Even before we begin to think properly consciousness is already there, because, without it, even thinking is not possible. The external instruments of sense are very quick in their activities of reaching their respective objects, but they cannot reach even an aspect of the true Self, because they are less than the mind which again is less than the Self. The whole meaning of the mantra is that there is nothing but the Atman and hence there is no question of reaching it through any activity of the mind and the senses. This Atman can be known not by struggling through the senses but by pacifying the senses and withdrawing the mental functions. The actions of the ego cannot win final victory, because the ego is not true to the Self.

The Self is like ether, everywhere, and therefore its characteristics as described in this Mantra stand for this one main characteristic, viz., Omnipresence, which explains every other attribute belonging to the Self. The Self is free from all the dharmas of samsara, being not subject to any transformation. It is one, ever changeless, and appears to be many only to the deluded mind, because of its conjunction with diverse bodies. It is present already at the destination of the mind and the senses, even before they reach it. It goes beyond all functions and their results even without itself performing any function and ever resting in itself.

On the basis of this Self, the creator, Hiranyagarbha, makes possible the manifold activity of the universe. Hiranyagarbha is the active agent who grounds Himself in the Absolute Self in the execution of cosmic functions. The Absolute, when it is translated into the creative principle of the cosmos, becomes the dynamic and omniscient organiser and master thereof. In short, Hiranyagarbha is the Absolute set into action. The meaning of all this is that every function of the universe is carried on properly, merely through the very existence of the Absolute, even if it does not perform any act. 

Mantra 5

It moves, and it moves not. It is far, and it is near. It is inside all this, and also outside all this. The movement of the Atman is like the movement of the sun with reference to a perceiver. The sun does not really move; only the clouds move. It is the mind that shifts its centres of thought, and consciousness appears to follow it because of its omnipresent nature. The mind cannot move outside the reality of the Atman. Its motion is within Truth, but, because it works in terms of forms or particular centres, it moves and changes itself. And because the Atman-consciousness is reflected through the mind, the reflection appears to move when really the medium it is that moves. In itself, the Atman does not move, because it is eternal. It is very far, because it is infinite and without boundaries. Also it appears to be very far to the ignorant, because it is not possible to know it even in crores (tens of millions) of births through any worldly means. It is very near, because it is the heart of all. It is nearer than even the mind. It is the central existence of every being here; there is nothing nearer than the Atman. It is inside all this, because it is the subtlest principle immanent in everything. It is outside everything, because it is the supreme transcendental being outside all names and forms. It is not exhausted in this universe. In the Purusha Sukta it is said figuratively that 3/4th of God is outside the universe.

The Atman is intense knowledge, without internal or external restrictions.

Mantras 6 and 7

Who sees all beings in his own Self and the Self in all beings, - he does not shrink away from anything, i.e., does not get disgusted with anything. In whom, the knower, all beings have become the Self, - to him, who beholds unity, where is delusion, where is sorrow? The person who has established himself in the Absolute Self sees everything situated in himself, because he is the support and the possibility of all beings. This realisation comes to him through absolute renunciation which means the transcendence of all particular forms and diving into the general substance which enters into the very fibre of the particularities. Because of this knowledge of the oneness of all beings there is no reason for him to get disgusted with any form or to be attached to any form. He knows that he lives in all bodies and that it is his spirit that works the life of the different individuals. He is the cosmic life in which all individual lives are included. Because of his separation from the body, the senses and the mind, he has got a full knowledge of and a control over all these objective functions. He controls the whole universe, because he has no attachment to it. Knowledge and power are the results of supreme renunciation. The sage with Self-realisation experiences himself as the undifferentiated witness of all changes and modifications. He is the unchanging Being who underlies all beings. Hence he knows everything that changes. And everything has his Self as the basis. He neither loves nor hates anything. Special attitudes and relationships are developed towards objects only when they are believed to be other than the Self. The differenceless Atman does not allow of any such distinction within its undivided existence. When an object is considered to be as much real as the subject or at least to have some reality, the value of the subject is limited, whereby the state of Absoluteness is denied. If the Absolute is at all possible, duality can never be possible. Absolute-Experience is non-relational. This knowledge destroys all delusion and sorrow. Such objective experiences as grief and delusion have no meaning in the state of Absolute Unity. Pleasure and pain, confusion and mistake, are all the results of ignorance and desire which are possible only in the case of an individual. The Absolute Being can have no such individual experiences. The cause of misery, together with all its effects, is completely rooted out in the state of the Absolute. This is the experience of the sage.

Mantra 8

The Atman is everywhere, pure, bodiless, scatheless, muscleless, taintless, untouched by sin, omniscient, wise, omnipotent, transcendent and Self-existent. It is this Atman that is the basis of the division of actions among the divinities presiding over time. These characteristics of the Atman deny the possibility of its having either the physical, the subtle or the causal body. It is described as being free from bodily parts like muscles, the substance of the subtle body and the impurity of the causal body. For the same reason, it is untainted by actions, whether virtuous or vicious.

On the basis of the Self does the cosmic creator, Hiranyagarbha, allot the different functions to the respective divinities concerned with the rule over time. This allotment of duties is based on the Law of the Absolute Self; and hence this Law can be overruled by none. The world works with great system and order because it is based on the system of the Absolute. The law of action and reaction fully illustrates the beauty of this law of equilibrium based on the Absolute. All the appearing opposites are reconciled and brought into harmony by this sutratma or the Thread-Soul which connects together the different individualities and removes the contradictions that appear to separate the individuals from each other. The allotment of duties to the different divinities by the sutratma is in accordance with the different stages of evolution experienced by the individuals with regard to whom the duties are performed by the divinities. This means that this allotment is not arbitrary, but it is the law of the Absolute which takes into consideration the condition of every being of the universe. When the universe is dissolved into ishvara, all individuals exist in their potentialities, having all their desires buried and not fulfilled. The nature of the universe to be subsequently manifested is dependent upon what farm the different unfulfilled desires of all the Jivas remaining unliberated take. The universe therefore has got such a form and is of such a nature as is necessitated by the constitution of the individuals that make up the universe. Hiranyagarbha is, therefore, not, the real direct creator of the universe but the Divine Consciousness that makes the manifestation of the universe possible. Hence He is neither a doer nor an enjoyer. The conclusion is that appearances do not affect Reality, however intense they may appear to be.

This mantra implies that the truth of things is not conditioned by values that are valid for the human being. All values are negated. The moment an individual thinks of something it thinks of it in terms of certain values or attributes. This erroneous perception is the cause of bondage. The only eternal value which is found in all things and which is common to all things is existence, whatever its nature be. The attribution of particular values, however, is the result of personal interest and narrow vision on the part of the perceiving individual. The essential nature of all being is such that it cannot be known by a perceiver as long as he does not cease from looking through the stained glass of his mind. Correct perception should get over preconceived notions. Here comes the necessity for self-denial, a denial of personality, a surrender of the ego in the attempt to exist as that which is common to all. Every particular is only a partial aspect of the whole, but the whole contains all the particulars within itself. This general whole being is the Atman that is in all. Only the individual values are special to each individual. The waves of the ocean may be of different size, and it is possible to create distinctions among these waves, but these distinctions vanish when the common character of water that is in all waves is known. The Atman transcends and includes every created being. All values, except existence, are the effects of the relations that the subject develops with the objects. Relations being private and unreal, all values, too, are unreal. Pure existence, which is independent of all individualistic values, alone is real.

Mantras 9 to 11

Into dense darkness they enter, who worship avidya, into greater darkness, as it were, they enter, who worship vidya. The results achieved through the worship of vidya and avidya are different from each other. One who knows vidya and avidya together crosses over death through avidya and becomes immortal through vidya. Avidya is lack of knowledge of the Self, giving rise to desire and action. It is ignorance which extends through various degrees in the world of manifestation. Absence of Self-knowledge always expresses itself as a desire or a wish for something external, whether seen or unseen. The experiences of those who believe in the reality of these phenomenal worlds are always negative and objective. They try their best to develop relationships and contacts with the objects of these worlds, thinking that they can acquire perfect happiness thereby. All contacts end in sorrow, all actions give rise to perishable fruits. Nothing that is the result of the struggle of the ego is long-lasting. Therefore, people who worship and love the world and its contents enter into dense darkness, viz., death after death. Their experiences are painful because of the lack of the light of knowledge. But, there is one advantage in this state of ignorance, viz., the absence of egoism. There is opportunity for these ignorant ones to rise to higher states, if only they get proper guidance. They have no egoism because their intellect is not developed. They follow merely the instincts of nature.

Those who worship vidya, i.e., the knowledge of different divinities or celestial beings, appear to fall into greater darkness. They have knowledge, and hence egoism, too. Here knowledge does not mean the knowledge of Brahman, but lower, relative knowledge. Those who worship a celestial being, a divinity or God himself with form are led to the belief that their state is the all. Because what they aspire for is superior to the human region it appears as though it is good and worth coveting. In fact this knowledge is imperfect, capricious and perishable, because it is objective and not absolute. There is no hope of further rising up in the case of those who are satisfied with the present lot. This vidya is worse than avidya, because avidya at least produces pain and makes one understand that the present condition is unsatisfactory, while vidya deceives a person into the belief that he is perfect and there is no need for further progress. A little knowledge is more dangerous than no knowledge. Those who are satisfied with the celestial region have to be reborn as individuals performing action for the attainment of happiness, because the effect of upasana or this lower knowledge has an end. One cannot rejoice in heaven eternally.

In this mantra and in the following two a combination of vidya and avidya is advised. This, however, does not mean that the knowledge of the Absolute can be combined with desires and actions that are the effects of ignorance. Action, being relative in its character, can be combined with relative knowledge and not with Absolute Knowledge. Relative knowledge means the effect of the upasana of a deity. Both karma and upasana require body-consciousness, without which they have no value. They cannot be combined with a knowledge that is all-pervading and therefore transcends the body. Objects belonging to the same class join together but not those belonging to different classes. Action therefore should be performed with the knowledge of its causes and effects with respect to one’s progress in the path to perfection. The egoless state of ignorance and the illumination of knowledge combined together give rise to true knowledge which is egoless consciousness.

Performance of actions with the full knowledge that it is the law of life that manifests itself as action and therefore without any reason for the desire for the results of such actions makes one get disgusted with the world of actions, frees him from attachment and liberates him from the trammels of death. Through the knowledge of the divine being, viz., the divinity whose upasana is performed, one attains to that divinity, and opens the door to immortality. Upasana of any divinity, when it is performed with a desire to attain that divinity alone, gives one the temporary freedom of the attainment of that divinity, and later makes one take birth as an individual; but when action is combined with this knowledge, action becomes selfless. Action has got a quality of producing pain, and knowledge by nature is illuminating. When action is illuminated by knowledge, it becomes the source of the experience of pain born of viveka, not pain born of ignorance. Motiveless action combined with the knowledge of divinity does not cause one to revert to the mortal world, but allows one to attain krama-mukti or gradual liberation through the passage of that divinity of upasana. The highest divinity of upasana is Hiranyagarbha, the Cosmic Being, and the result of this upasana is the attainment of Hiranyagarbha. The upasaka reaches this state, and from there he passes onward to the Absolute, provided his upasana is not restricted to the region of Hiranyagarbha alone.

Therefore, a combination of karma and upasana is beneficial; it leads to krama-mukti; but when they are performed separately, they lead to their respective specified limited results, and make one take birth as an individual.

Mantras 12 to 14

Into dense darkness they enter, who worship the Unmanifest; into greater darkness, as it were, they enter, who worship the Manifest. The results of these two Upasanas are different from each other. When the knowledge of the Manifest and of the Unmanifest are combined, one crosses over death through the Unmanifest and becomes immortal through the Manifest. The Unmanifest is the original condition of equilibrium of gunas, viz., sattva, rajas and tamas. This condition is the primordial matter that is the substance of the universe in its causal condition. This is the same as maya or prakriti. It is also called avyakrita or the undifferentiated. One who worships or adores this Unmanifest gets dissolved in the Unmanifest and becomes unified with that dark equilibrium where there is no consciousness and hence no effort is possible. When this Unmanifest manifests itself, those who are dissolved in the Unmanifest are reborn as individuals. This Unmanifest is the origin of both the causes and effects of all actions and hence, it is concerned only with the universe and not with Brahman.

The Manifest is that which is produced from this Unmanifest. This is the same as Hiranyagarbha. One who worships Him enters into greater darkness, as it were, because he is tempted by the glory of the region of Hiranyagarbha, and does not attempt at the higher salvation. The eight siddhis and all possible greatness come to one who attains this Hiranyagarbha; but there is the danger of being satisfied with this state, and hence it is worse than getting dissolved in the Unmanifest which at least gives rise to the pain of birth and death and makes one realise the unsatisfactory condition one is in. Knowledge that is not perfect and is within the ken of prakriti is productive of egoism. Vikshepa or distraction is worse than Avarana. The state of Hiranyagarbha is one of vikshepa, because there is universal objective consciousness and cosmic enjoyment in it. But even Hiranyagarbha gets dissolved in the Absolute and hence his state is less than the Absolute. The state of getting dissolved in the Unmanifest is called prakriti-laya, which is not the same as moksha, but a temporary winding up of all activities. The word prakriti-laya has got a special meaning. All beings are dissolved in prakriti at the end of the universe, but these cannot be called prakriti-layas, because they have got the potentiality of reverting to ordinary individuality, since, even in this state of dissolution, their individualistic samskaras are not destroyed. A prakriti-laya is one who does not once again become an ordinary individual, but being reduced to the fundamental finest essence of the omnipresent prakriti becomes the omnipresent Lord of the universe.

The worship of the Unmanifest gives one knowledge of everything of the universe. One understands the nature of the essential constituents of life. The pain of death is the result of not having this understanding. Pain is the result of the belief in the reality of a centralisation of certain aspects of prakriti by the consciousness of desire. The pain of death is not felt when there is the knowledge that death is a change of the constituents of personality which get reduced to their fundamental units. Even as water flows in a river, life flows in existence. Every moment there is fresh life, even as every moment there is fresh water in a river. Not being able to bear this flaw or change is called pain, but the knowledge of all the essential constituents of this flow negates all pain, because knowledge is the opposite of attachment to particular forms taken by these constituents. Knowledge of the essence of prakriti, therefore, gives a full knowledge of the entire life of the universe and thus pain and the consciousness of change which are the characteristics of the individual are not felt. Hence one crosses over death through the worship of the Unmanifest.

Through the worship of the Manifest or Hiranyagarbha one attains relative immortality and thence krama-mukti. The meaning of these mantras is that one should combine the worships of the Manifest and the Unmanifest, because an exclusive worship of Hiranyagarbha considering Him as distinct from the universe will not allow one to proceed to the Absolute, since that aspect of the Absolute, viz., the prakriti, which is rejected and not meditated upon, shall pull one dawn to individual life. No distinction should be made between God and the world; otherwise the meditation would be partial and liberation would not be possible because of lack of completeness.

The negation of death through the worship of prakriti is not the cessation of becoming, but the non-experience of the pain of becoming. The change is there, but the change is not felt as something destructive and undesirable. The attainment of immortality through the worship of the Manifest is not resting in the Absolute but the absence of the pain caused by defects like poverty, vice and craving, as a consequence of the attainment of universal wealth, power and knowledge. Therefore, these two conditions are different from the realisation of the Absolute.

Mantra 15

The face of Truth is covered by a golden vessel. O Sun! Remove that for me whose law is to behold the Truth. The results achieved by human means and heavenly means end in the state of prakriti-laya. This is the end and the highest achievement in samsara. moksha is, however, different from and beyond this. It requires the total destruction of desires. Those who cannot attain moksha immediately attain it gradually through the passage of the Sun. This mantra and the next mantra are a prayer to the Sun for allowing one passage across to the Divine Being. Truth is veiled over by a vessel of gold. The essential consciousness within the Sun is hidden by the external disc which dazzles the eyes of the beholder. That which we see in the Sun is not what is within the Sun. That which is outside covers what is inside. Brahman within the Sun is covered over by the golden disc that alone is seen. It also means that the whole universe of creation with all its names and forms is a golden vessel. Gold shines and attracts the beholder. The world of names and forms attracts the mind, and the Truth within is not seen. My law is this Truth. My vision is based on Truth; it is the perception of Truth. This perception is not sense-perception but perception whose law is Truth, i.e., spiritual perception free from the processes of the seer, seeing and seen. Withdraw your rays, O shining God; do not tempt me with what you are not, allow me to pass through the present experiences to the true experience of the Spirit; let me behold what you are really.

Mantra 16

O All-sustaining Lord! O Wise One! O Controller of all! O Absorber of everything! O Son of Prajapati! Collect and remove your rays; let me behold that most auspicious luminous form of yours, for I am that purusha within you. The prayer implies that the realisation of the Self is not attained as a result of begging or borrowing, but it is the attainment of what belongs to oneself. It is the inheritance of one’s right and becoming what truly befits oneself and in fact what oneself is. However much one may beg or pray, one cannot get what is not one’s. Hence Self-realisation is knowing oneself.

Mantra 17

Let the breath go to the immortal prana. Let the body be reduced to ashes. O mind, remember your deeds. This is a prayer for the dissolution of the individual principle of breathing, i. e., the individual prana, in the cosmic immortal prana or Hiranyagarbha. The body is burnt and goes to the earth. The meaning is that the effects shall go to the causes. The subtle body purified by karma and upasana rises to the Sun in order to pass through it. The word kratu means sacrifice or the divinity of the sacrifice or upasana or the divinity of upasana or the mind that performs the upasaria. Kratu is a sacrifice, and upasana also is a sacrifice, because it is an act. The actions done by a person are witnessed by the divinity presiding over the sacrifice. The prayer is to this divinity so that He may remember what fate is to befall this person after death in accordance with his actions. Here Agni is prayed to as the chief priest of the sacrifice and the witnessing divinity of the sacrifice. It may also be a prayer to the mind to remember its deeds like upasana, etc., for the time of remembering has now come. 

Mantra 18

O Agni! Lead us along the right path for the sake of the attainment of the Supreme. O God! You possess universal knowledge; destroy our crooked sins. We offer to you our best salutations. This is a prayer to the witness of all actions done by an individual, for taking him along the bright path of the gods, after passing along which there is no return to mortality. Agni here stands, for the principle of intelligence which guides all thoughts and actions; it is the gateway to universal knowledge. Agni is like a torch that illuminates the path of krama-mukti. There are several guardians of this path, who become greater and superior as one advances along, until at last an immortal person guides the soul. Agni is one of the guides on the path.

Salutation to Agni means the offering of the best tribute and homage to Agni. Salutation to another signifies the desire to unite with another. Salutation is that which pleases one the best. Instead of offering physical objects, that which gives immediate satisfaction is offered. 


The Isavasyopanishad advises the combination of action with objective knowledge and not with Absolute knowledge. The Absolute is always opposed to objectiveness. Action and Absolute knowledge differ from one another in their causes, natures and results. Action is caused by the sense of imperfection. Its nature is distraction and its result is perishable. Knowledge is caused by perfection. Its nature is peace and its result is eternal. Hence action and knowledge are different from one another. It is not possible to say that action can be combined with knowledge in the beginning, though not in the end, because the moment there is the dawn of knowledge there is the cessation of action. It is not possible for fire to be hot and cold at the same time. Knowledge cannot co-exist with its opposite, viz., action that is characterised by motion. Knowledge is motionless. When the cause of action, viz., ignorance, is removed, all its effects also are removed.

Further, if the Upanishad had propounded the combination of action with Absolute knowledge, there would be no meaning in the aspirant’s asking for a passage through the Sun after the attainment of Absolute knowledge. Absolute knowledge gives rise to immediate realisation or Sadyo-mukti. The fact that the prayer is for passing through a passage shows that the dying person has not yet attained Absolute knowledge. Hence the combination of action is only with relative knowledge, for, in Absolute knowledge there is no passing to any region, and there is no motion, whatever. Absoluteness means existence merely, and not changing or moving.