by Swami Krishnananda
Of the many Upanishads, I mentioned the names of ten that are very important. Among these ten, one is known as the Isavasya Upanishad. Inasmuch as it occurs in the mantra portion, or the Samhita part of the Vedas, it is also called the Mantra Upanishad. Though it is very short, it is a very important Upanishad.
In a sense, this Isavasya Upanishad gives us four important instructions. Four types of knowledge are imparted to us by this Upanishad. Firstly, the Creator pervades the whole of creation. Secondly, everyone is to do one's duty. Thirdly, knowledge and action have to be combined and not be considered as opposites. Fourthly, we should view God and the world as being in a state of harmony, not as opposed to each other.
Isavasyam idam sarvam yat kim ca jagatyam jagat, tena tyaktena bhunjitha, ma gridhah kasyasvid dhanam (Isa 1) is the first mantra of the Isavasya Upanishad. This mantra says: "All this is enveloped by the Supreme Being." The word 'enveloped' has to be understood in its proper connotation. I am enveloped here by this piece of cloth. You are enveloped by a shirt. Is it in this sense that the Creator envelops the universe, or is there any other meaning implied in this great statement? The philosophies, or Darshanas as they are called, have many things to tell us about this matter.
The Creator, Whom we call God, manifests this universe, creates this universe. In what manner does He create the universe? There are instances of someone creating something in this world. A carpenter creates a table or a chair. A potter creates a mud pot. Is this the way in which God creates the world? Some say that this is not the way in which God creates, because a carpenter requires some tool and some material out of which and through which he can manufacture a table or some furniture. But, where is the instrument or tool, and where is the material for God? If we say that there is some material outside God, then there will be another difficult question: "Who created this material?" If God created the world out of some existent material, someone must have created that material also. Is God Himself the creator of that material wood or furniture of this cosmos? The question is a vicious one; it is what is called 'begging the question'. Hence, problems connected with the creation of the world do not seem to be easily solvable by merely assuming that there was some material before God at the time of the creation of this universe. Though there are some thinkers and philosophers who hold this opinion that there is an eternally existing material out of which God fashions this universe, there are others who feel that this is not the proper way of visualising the fact of creation.
God must have modified Himself into this universe, as milk modifies itself into yogurt or curd. Otherwise, we cannot explain how God creates this world. The assumption of a totally independent material existence outside God is not permissible for various reasons, one of the reasons being that it would limit God to a finite entity. Finitude is that state of being which has something outside it, another finite. Everyone is limited and everyone is finite because of the existence of other finitudes – in the sense that there are things and persons outside every person and thing. God also would become finite because the existence of another thing outside God, such as the material for creation, would condition God to a limited existence. Therefore, the doctrine that the creation of the world came out of an already-existing material would be a contending factor before God, an opposition to God. God would then not be infinite. Therefore, God must Himself have become this universe. This is the second doctrine.
The first doctrine is called Arambhavada. A creation out of something and producing something totally new is the doctrine of Arambhavada, which involves multiplicity and duality in creation. As I mentioned, the assumption of a duality between God and the material of creation would limit God to a finite existence and He would be mortal like anybody else. He would no more be immortal. This is the reason why the Parinama doctrine, which is the second one, the transformation theory, was conceived by certain philosophers. God has become this universe, as milk has become curd.
However, there was a third set of philosophers who thought that this is also not a very reasonable way of arguing the case. How can God modify Himself? That would mean He transforms Himself into something else. Milk can never become milk again, after it has become curd. It is destroyed; it has become something else. 'A' has become 'B'. When 'A' becomes 'B', 'A' ceases to exist afterwards. There would be no God. There would be only creation, as there would be only curd and no milk in the act of transformation. Where is the point in searching for God and aspiring for the attainment of God if He does not exist at all and He has already destroyed Himself by a self-modification of His being into the form of this cosmos? This theory, known as Parinamavada, is not to be regarded as very appropriate to God's eternity and immortality.
What is the meaning of saying that God pervades the whole cosmos? When we dip a piece of cloth into a bucket full of water, we may see the water pervading the entire cloth. Water inundates every fibre of that fabric. Is this the way in which God pervades things? No, it cannot be. Here again, a distinction is created between the pervading principle and that which is pervaded. The original difficulty once again creeps in. Cloth can never become water even if it appears that water has gone into every fibre of the cloth, because it can be dried till there is no water left. Therefore, one must understand the pervasion theory carefully. Actually, it is believed that nobody can answer this question as to how creation came at all. In any way we try to describe the process, we seem to fail. We have no clear-cut, logical, conclusive answer.
There was a saint, it is told, who was sitting on the shore of the ocean and contemplating this great subject as to how God could have created this world, and in what manner. The story goes that while the saint was contemplating on this subject and wanting to get an answer, suddenly a boy appeared nearby – a divine being, who came to instruct this saint. The boy held a mud pot that had several holes at the bottom, and he was using it to scoop up water from the sea and throw it on the bank. He was doing it continuously – a hundred and twenty times he went on scooping and pouring.
The saint asked, "Hey, little boy, what are you doing?"
"I am emptying the ocean," replied the boy.
"Have you any sense?" asked the saint. "Firstly, the ocean cannot be emptied; secondly, not with this little pot with holes in it."
"Great Master," replied the boy, "if you can get an answer to the question you have in your mind, I can empty the ocean."
They say that God Himself appeared in the form of the boy. No philosopher has finally succeeded in giving us a conclusive answer to this question.
There were others who escaped this problem by saying that God never created the world and, therefore, there is no problem. However, we will be very worried if the answer indicates that God never created the world. If that is the case, what are these problems before us? Do we also not exist? It would mean that you also do not exist; I also do not exist. That will be the conclusion if we say that God never created the world. It is stunning and astonishing, and seems to be apparently more unacceptable than any other answer. This is the creation theory and the acosmic theory, as they both are called. The latter one, called acosmic, holds the doctrine that creation never took place.
I will tell you, in a homely way, why these people say so. Why should you think that creation never took place when actually you can see solid objects in front of you? Here is a little illustration. There is a big boulder, a stone. You see the stone; it is very hard and heavy, and you can touch it as a solid object. Bring a sufficiently powerful microscope and look at this stone. You will find that the stone is a heap of very minute, fly-like, insect-like entities called molecules. It is a heap of certain things, and not one solid object. Bring another, more powerful microscope, more powerful than the earlier one. Even the molecules will not be seen there. There will be still finer elements looking like almost non-cognisable particles which are called atoms. Bring a still more powerful microscope. You will find that even these little particles melt into a continuum of energy, or force, which impinges on the energy centres which are other atoms. It looks as if there is one sea of force everywhere, an indistinguishable continuum. What has happened to the stone? Can you say that this sea of force, these atoms, one day thought: "Let us become a stone"? If the atoms have really become the stone, they will not be there for you to see through the microscope. You will conclude that they have never become the stone. It is only your vision that presents the perception of a solid object. These so-called 'things' – molecules, atoms, energy centres, etc. – never became the stone. They were never transformed into the stone. They did not create the stone. They exist and have always existed in the same condition as they were when you perceived them through a powerful perception. The only difference is that in one case our perception is gross, and in another case it is subtle and correct. The stone has not been created, though it is solidly perceivable. In the same way, the world has not been created, though it is visible to the eyes. This doctrine is too much for us. We shall put it in our pockets and never talk about it again.
Isavasyam idam sarvam: "This creation is enveloped by the Almighty Supreme Being." From the conclusion that we can draw out of our considerations on the very first session, it would follow that there is something which cannot be divided into parts, which is infinite in its nature, which is existing everywhere to such an extent that it may appear that it is the only thing existing. That only-existing 'Something' is the Ishvara that the Isavasya Upanishad speaks of. You have to somehow or other accommodate your mental operations to get tuned up to this interesting situation of there being Something which Alone Is – at all times, and outside which nothing can be. This conclusion follows from the nature of consciousness, whose structure we tried to analyse on the very first day.
Consciousness cannot be in some place because to be conscious that consciousness is in this 'some place', it has also to be somewhere else – where it now appears not to be. Therefore, consciousness cannot deny that it exists in another place as well, somewhere else, because such denial is impossible unless it is already present there at the spot which is being denied. Therefore, the nature of consciousness is universal. This is the nature of the Ultimate Reality. This is what we call God. This is what we call Ishvara. Therefore, the pervasion of this Supreme Consciousness, which is the Absolute Reality, is not pervasion – something entering into something else – in the ordinary sense of the term. It is the One Thing being all things. In a great mantra of the Rig Veda we are told: ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti (R.V. 1.164.46). "The one Being – poets, sages, and masters call It by different names" such as Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, and so on. Therefore, this world of perception, this universe of variety, is a perceptional presentation and not actually a modification, because eternal things cannot modify themselves. If eternity modifies itself, it becomes a temporal something. That which is above time cannot become something in time.
This is the tough doctrine of creation, hard to understand, which will never enter the brain of a person; and even if it enters, it will not stay there for a long time. So, be cautious about this. The great sage of the Upanishad, therefore, tells us: "Whatever is apparently moving or not moving – yat kim ca jagatyam jagat tat sarvam – all that is Ishvara." You must be able to convince yourself as to the way in which God, Ishvara – the Ultimate Being – can be everywhere and also be everything. From this consideration it follows that God is not merely everywhere, He is also everything. "Knowing this, be happy without the sense of possessiveness in regard to any object," is the second half of this mantra: tena tyaktena bhunjitha, ma gridhah kasyasvid dhanam.
You feel happy only if you have some property. A propertyless person is considered an unhappy person. People say: "I have nothing – neither land, nor house, nor money. My condition is pitiable." If you obtain land, money and a house, you are happy. But the Upanishad says: "You will not be happy by acquiring land, money, house, etc." Actually, possession is not the way of being happy. There is no such thing as possession. You cannot possess an area of land. It was already there, and was there even before you were born. Can you grab a piece of land, which is the earth? How can you grab the earth? Even the house that we propose to purchase from somebody must have been there before you existed. What exactly do you mean by saying "I possess something"? Does that object enter into your body? Does the house seep into your flesh and bones? Does the land enter your brain, and is the money under your skin? Does it happen so? They always remain outside, just as they were outside even before you were born. Nobody has seen money entering into someone's stomach.
For obvious reasons, a thing that is outside, totally, cannot become yours. How can you possess a thing that is not yours? But you somehow convince yourself that it is yours. You have a way of operating your mind and of convincing yourself: "This tree is mine from tomorrow because I have purchased it from someone." Neither that person who got money from you really had it, nor have you really got this tree as you imagined. But the mental operation is so very important and so very tricky that it can make you happy or unhappy. If somebody has taken away something and kept it somewhere else, you consider it lost and you grieve that it has gone. It has not gone anywhere; it is in some other location. Now, suppose the location shifts. The object is placed in another location and your mind is adjustable to the idea that it is yours; you are happy. That which is capable of leaving you, for any reason whatsoever, cannot belong to you. A thing that is yours cannot leave you. Anything which can leave one day or the other is not yours, and there is nothing in this world which will not leave you one day or the other. Therefore, it cannot be considered as yours. Hence, you should not be under the impression that you will be happy only because of possessions. In this wondrous universal context of the pervasion of God in all things and God being all things apart from being everywhere, who will possess what? Are you concocting some imaginary dream-like situation in which you can be falsely happy by a false sense of possession of existing or non-existing things?
Therefore, renounce attachment. It is another way of saying renounce the sense of possession. You do not grab anything; you cannot grab anything. Happiness is a state of being and not a consequence of possessing. God is not a possessor of the world; and do you believe that God is happy or unhappy? Is God very unhappy because He does not possess anything? Sometimes God is called Bholebaba, like Lord Siva who has not even a house to stay in. If God is the happiest of conceivable realities and if God has no possessions of any kind, then the highest happiness is not in possession. The more you feel the need to be alone to yourself as a state of being rather than a possessor of objects, the more happy will you be. The greater is the approximation that you strike to God's universal Existence, the greater also is your joy, your happiness.