by Swami Krishnananda
We noticed that among the many things that the Isavasya Upanishad has to tell us, four important instructions may be considered as very relevant. Firstly, the first mantra of the Isavasya Upanishad tells us that the whole of creation is enveloped by God. We had the occasion to consider briefly the meaning of this word 'enveloped'. How does He pervade the cosmos? This subject we discussed previously.
It was also mentioned that you should be happy by being in communion with this creation of God, which is pervaded by Him; and your happiness does not consist in possession of objects of any kind, because any object that you wish to possess is an external feature, something unconnected with your own being. Happiness is proportionate to your approximation to God's Existence; and as God is Pure Being, happiness is connected to the extent of 'being' that is revealed in your own individual being, or existence. The extent of God-Being manifest in your own individual being is also the extent of your joy or happiness in this world; therefore, your joy or happiness does not depend upon what you possess in this world. Therefore, do not be greedy; do not run after things. Even if the whole earth is your property, you are not going to be secure and happy, because your being – even if you are the emperor of the whole earth – is severed from the object of your possession. Therefore, possessions cannot give you any kind of security or freedom and, therefore, they cannot give you happiness. So your freedom, security and joy are determined by the extent of God-Being that has entered into you and by your entering into God Himself, not by property of any kind. Knowing this, renounce attachment. Tena tyaktena bhunjitha (Isa 1.1). 'Renounce' is the word, but renounce what? Renounce attachment to things and be happy; enjoy all things, but do not form attachment. The more you are unselfish and the more you are detached, the more does the world become subordinate to your thoughts and orders. Nobody will obey a selfish person. The entire world of beings will be at your service, as it were, if you are unselfish, detached and want nothing. When you have emptied yourself of all your selfish cravings and desires, the world will enter into you and it will be yours. Therefore, be not greedy, and hanker not for things of this world.
Perform your duty as a participation in the work of this evolutionary process of creation and not as an individual initiative on your part. In duty, you cooperate with the existent order of things. You do not start independent initiatives which will not be regarded as commensurate with the requirements of the organisation of the universe. I also mentioned that there are various types of organisations; there are levels of organisational setups, starting with the family, up to the universe. At every level you have to be in harmony with the organisational setup. Even your own bodily personality is an organisation, and you have to be in harmony with it. You cannot be in conflict with your body or mind, or anything outside. This, briefly, is the subject that we touched upon and considered previously. These are the two essentials among the many others: the pervasion of God in all creation and the obligation of duty on the part of every person.
The third point that is driven into our minds by the Isavasya Upanishad is that there is no conflict between meditation and action, or knowledge and work. Usually we feel there is a conflict. The more we work, the less we are able to meditate; and the more we want to meditate, the less we have to do work, so that when we are in absolute meditation, no work should be done. Also, we think that a person who is busy with doing things cannot meditate. This is our idea about things. The Isavasya Upanishad gives a new emendation to this concept. I am not going into the technology or the traditional meaning of the verses connected with the subject. I am briefly mentioning to you, for your own information, their significance.
Knowledge and action have to be understood in their proper connotation. You have to decondition your mind a little and give up all preconceived notions of knowledge and action. You may be under the impression that knowledge means knowing something – reading books, accumulating information, having a degree, and acquaintance with the sciences and the arts of the world. But, knowledge is not necessarily this. This is informative and a gathering of structural knowledge of the outer form of things. The inner essence is not gained by ordinary academic learning. You do not know anything in its essence, but you know how it behaves, how it works, and what its structure or pattern or formation is. True knowledge is the insight into the being of things, the Self of all things; and action – about which you have already learnt something recently – is also to be understood with regard to what it actually means.
When you do something, you seem to be occupied with something and, therefore, you feel you cannot be occupied with meditation at the same time. This is the problem. But the question is: When you do proper work as a duty incumbent upon you, are you occupied with something which is not good for your welfare? The conflict imagined to exist between knowledge and action arises because of the feeling that the aim of knowledge is not in harmony with the aim of work. You do work for a purpose which is not really what you want, finally – whereas what you want is something else altogether, which is the aim of knowledge. This is what may be in the minds of people. Actually, knowledge and action go together. The Bhagavadgita highlights this by saying that karma must be based on buddhi yoga. Understanding precedes action, and action minus understanding is a mechanical routine.
An important aspect to be remembered is this: all actions are not liberating; only unselfish duties are liberating. Thus, when action is performed as duty, any kind of cooperation of yourself with the whole to which you belong is liberating in its effect because the whole to which you belong – the organisation – liberates you, takes care of you, protects you and sees to it that you are taken care of in every way. But if you are in disharmony with the whole and you do any kind of selfish work, then the reaction set up by the whole – to which otherwise you integrally belong – will harm your endeavours; you will not reap the fruits of those actions which you have individually undertaken under the wrong impression that you will reap the fruit. You will not get anything out of selfish action, because you are organically related to the whole organism of the creation of the world. This is a fact that you forget when you individually take initiatives and when you expect the fruit to follow from your individually motivated action.
That fruit does not always follow, because the means and ends have some connection. You cannot adopt one kind of means and expect another kind of end. The means – in the ordinary case of people – is a selfish motivation, but the end that you expect has to be sanctioned by the structure of the whole. The world is not under your control and it cannot actually listen to your commands. The fruits are in the world. The world is not your property and, therefore, you cannot order the world to bring something to you. You may order the world, under a different circumstance, but as an individual isolated from it, wholly stationed in a selfish perspective, you cannot give an order to the world. The world will obey you, as I mentioned earlier, provided you are in harmony with the world. Selfishness cuts off all harmony with the world outside. The meaning of selfishness is individualised affirmation: "I am something and the world is another thing. I have no connection with you." This is the essence of selfishness. But, if I have no connection with you, what can I expect from you? So, the very purpose of selfish action is defeated by the manner in which it is undertaken. You cannot expect anything from the world from which you have segregated yourself deliberately; and you know very well that without that segregation, you will be unable to assert yourself independently. You have a feeling that independent assertion of an egoistic type always brings some fruits, and that abolition of individualised personality is a real loss. There is thus a basic error in the very conception of what is good for you.
You lack knowledge, truly speaking. Study of books on science and philosophy, art and religion may also bring you some information, but the secret of life in the world seems to be so deeply a question of insight that it cannot be gathered easily by study of any book. You can never recognise in your daily life that you have made a mistake in your behaviour with the world. Everything looks all right for you. When you walk on the road, what is wrong with you? Everything looks fine; you are seeing beautiful things all round. You have already asserted yourself. The whole purpose of the Upanishadic teaching is the liberation of the Self. It is not to give you some sweetmeats or pleasantry and make you comfortable in the psycho-physical sense. This is not the intention of the Upanishadic knowledge.
Hence, knowledge has to be construed in the sense of the apprehension of your true relationship with the world of creation outside, which is – to put it briefly – organic and vital. It is so because of the fact it has already been decided that God pervades the whole of creation. Therefore, you cannot stand outside this pervasive aspect of God. Independent motivation, therefore, gets ruled out. The Being of God, having enveloped the whole of creation, includes your being also in the enveloping action. So, where are your independent assertion and your individual existence itself? And, where is the individual motivation? Expecting a fruit from individualised selfish action is something like wanting a property. The fruit of your action – which is externally placed in the world, which you desire and long for – is actually a property that you are asking to possess, and it is mentioned in the very beginning that possession is not the source of happiness. So, knowledge is not commensurate with individual affirmation – egoistic motivation. All true knowledge, which is jnana proper, is the wisdom of life that lights up your personality with the clear vision of your continuous relation with every speck of the world in every nook and corner of creation. You cannot do anything privately. There is no such thing as a private corner in this world. With this knowledge, if you undertake an action as a duty, it certainly stands in a state of harmony with this knowledge because you will not any more be motivating an active process for the purpose of an extraneous result or a remote end.
All ends that you expect, all fruits of actions that you desire, are placed in the future, in the time process, which is yet to come. You do something today, just now, and you expect some result of action to follow after some time. This 'after some time' is the futurity of it. All actions individually motivated are, therefore, bound by time and, therefore, they are also binding in every other way. All bondage is the bondage of the time process. Only the entry of timelessness or eternity into your life can liberate you. You have to live in the present much more than in the past and the future. But if you worry about the past and get aggrieved about the future, the present is obliterated from your vision. Then the crocodile of the time process will consume you completely. Knowledge and action go together because action is nothing but the movement of knowledge itself. As the movement of waves on the surface of the ocean is in fact a movement of the ocean itself and there are no waves actually speaking – the ocean itself is moving – in just the same manner, all action is the movement of knowledge. Everything that you do from the point of view of this knowledge of the Upanishad is God Himself working through you. The Bhagvadgita also says that you are an instrument in the hands of God – nimitta-matram bhava (Gita 11.33). You are like a fountain pen that writes; the Writer is somebody else. You are a tool or an instrument; the Handler is somebody else, because you are a part and God is the whole. The whole determines the part, so you cannot assume the role of the whole while you are only a segment of the totality to which you belong.
Hence, make not the mistake of imagining that you can grab this world and have a lot of property, wealth, land, etc. You will not get it. You may appear to be getting it, but it is an illusionary presentation before you. You will be clouded with a delusion that things are under your control. You will find that nothing is under your control. Even the body is not totally under your control; it is working in its own way, and you have to cooperate with it. No process – individually, socially or outside – is entirely under one man's control, because there is a total wholeness that is operating in all parts, in which we are also participants.
We have to deeply contemplate this great significant teaching of the Upanishad that contemplation is action, and action is contemplation. In Germany there was a great mystic called Meister Eckhart. He used to humorously say, "If you want to meditate more, work more. If you want to work more, meditate more." What is this contradictory statement? Because work requires a lot of energy and participating capacity in the structure of the whole which is this creation, this capacity to participate will manifest itself through internal contemplation. So if you want to work more, you have to meditate more. And if you want to meditate more, you have to work more because of the fact that your meditational process also is a kind of work, in the sense of an internal participation in cosmic affairs. Psychological participation becomes meditation, and any kind of gesture that you make outwardly to manifest this internal contemplation becomes action. Thus, meditation manifests itself as action and action energises the process of meditation. Therefore, make not the mistake of isolating action from knowledge.
The greatest masters who lived in this world were very great active participants and great masters of wisdom and meditation. They lived as highly energetic participants in every kind of work and were in union with the realities of life within. As a matter of fact, if you create a kind of rift between two things, even mentally, you are creating a rift in your own personality. A personality rift will manifest itself as a rift in society, social behaviour and all things in the world. An alignment of personality will be marred by a psychological rift that you create by the very thought that what you do has a duality behind it – namely, knowing one thing and doing another thing. What you think, that you say; what you say, that you do; what you do, that you speak; and what you speak, that you think. Karmanyekam vachasyekam manasyekam mahatmanam: "Great souls have only one thing in their action, in their speech and in their thought." And the same verse is repeated in the case of opposite personalities: karmanyekam vachasyekam manasyekam duratmanam. One thing in action, one thing in speech, one thing in thought is the characteristic of great people, but with a different shift, the same thing is the case with people who are paltry and unknowing. What do they do? "One thing is their action, one thing is what they say, and one thing is what they think." It is a shift in emphasis, but the words are the same.
So the Isavasya Upanishad tells us again, as a third instruction, that knowing is being, and action is the movement of being, and action is also what is called becoming. If the whole process of creation itself is a manifestation of God's Being – the greatest action that you can think of at any time – why should not your action be a manifestation of your being? And your being is nothing but the knowledge of your being. If God's knowledge of His own Being can reveal itself as the wondrous work of this creation, why should not your knowledge of your being manifest itself as your actions? How is it that you find a difficulty?
Here is the essence of the whole matter. If you cannot remember everything, remember at least these two sentences. They will act as a recipe for you to memorise these thoughts. If God's Being can manifest itself as the wondrous action of creation, and inasmuch as your being is inseparable from God's Being, it stands to reason that your actions also should be a manifestation of your being. Therefore, there is no conflict between your actions and your being, which is nothing but the knowledge of your being.
The fourth instruction is: There is no difference between creation and God. The Universal and the particular, the Eternal and the temporal, God and creation, purusha and prakriti, the internal and the external, whatever word you may use, stand always in a state of harmony. God is not outside the world, and the world is not outside God. God is not extra-cosmic, as some thinkers may tell us. He is not a deus ex machina. He is not an instrumental operative force standing outside the material of creation. We bestowed some thought on this previously. The pervasion of God in all creation rules out any kind of extra-cosmic existence of God. He is not outside the world, standing somewhere in the seventh heaven and fashioning this world as a potter fashions the pot. God is not merely the efficient cause or the instrumental cause; God is also the material cause. In the case of the pot, the potter is only an efficient cause; he is not the material cause. That is, he himself does not become the pot; he has an external material. But in the case of God, external material does not exist because He is infinite. This world, therefore, is a revelation of God. We have to use words carefully here. We cannot say He has modified Himself, changed Himself, transformed Himself, nor can we say He has become something else. We cannot say that, because He has not become something else. He is as He was. In the past, present and future, He exists in the same condition.