Isavasya Upanishad for Beginners
Half hour talks in Hindi translated into English
by Swami Krishnananda
ॐ ईशा वास्यमिदँ सर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् ।
तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्यस्विद्धनम् ।। १ ।।
om īśāvāsyam idaṁ sarvam yat kiṁ ca jagatyāṁ jagat,
tena tyaktena bhuñjitha, ma gṛdhaḥ kasyasvid dhanam (1)
The Upaniṣad begins with the word īśāvāsyam, and so goes by the name of Īśāvāsyopaniṣad. There are other such examples of this tradition. Kenopaniṣad, for instance, is so named because the very first word of it is kena.
Iśāvāsyam: Īśvara is 1st person singular. So, īśāvāsyam means īśvara resides. Sankaracarya says that the root is it (eit) meaning īṭ; and īṭ means God. So īśāvāsyam can also mean through īṭ. Or, the compound word is split thus: īśā + āvāsyam – āvāsyam means, that alone which is fit to bear or cover, that is (it is), īśvara’s temple, the fit place for Him. Another meaning is that which is fit to be enveloped by īśvara. Many meanings can be given according to whether it is īśā + vāsyam or īśā + āvāsyam—vāsyam fit for īśvara to stay; āvāsyam—that which envelopes the world. Again, īśena + āvāsyam can mean filled with or dwelt in by īśvara like salt in salt-waters.
We have already said that idam means this world, the whole of creation which is manifest before us. All this is covered by, or filled with God. Whatever is seen or unseen, gross or subtle, effect or cause, the sentient or the insentient, everything is covered by īśvara. He exists as the sattā.
How does He exist as sattā? Is it as water present in a wet cloth? Is the world covered by Him as a cloth over it? Or is it like the pot of the potter? We can interpret the phrase as suits our intellectual way of thinking, or our philosophy. If īśvara is only a causal or a nimitta kāraṇa, then He is outside the world like the potter who remains separate from the pot he makes. The clay is the instrumental or upāddāna kāraṇa, and the potter is only nimitta for the pot and these two are separate factors; also the potter is separate from the pot which is an effect. This is the view of naiyayika and schools belonging to that system of thought. Īśvara is both nimitta and upāddāna kāraṇa.
Another view is, that īśvara pervades the world like salt in water. The salt is not visible as salt in salt-water; yet they both are different and separate factors. However, if īśvara is but in the world, then He is limited by time and space. But, His nature is unbroken Existence-Consciousness-Bliss-Absolute, whereas the world is impermanent, transient and perishable. Īśvara is creation, īśvara is the cause of creation—these are the two different viewpoints which different Upaniṣads explain. He is like salt in water, is the view of Viśiṣtāvaita philosophy.
Īśvara is not separate from the universe—this is Advaita philosophy. When Sri Rama asked Sri Hanuman “Who are you?”, Hanuman replied: “deha būdhyā to dāsoham, jīva budhyā tvadamśakaḥ; ātma budhyā tvemevāham ityevam mama niśchayaḥ.”
“If you confer the status of a body to me, I am Thy slave; if you consider me as jīva, I am a part of Thyself, an amśam, one cell of Thyself; if you accept me as the ātman, I am Thy own Self. I am homogeneous with Thyself; Thou art the indivisible.” In the same sense, in the light of the meaning of this quotation, God’s existence in the world can also be stated to be and explained variously. There is no place where He is not—whether in time or space. He is present in the sentient and insentient. In the latter His sat alone is present; but volition and consciousness are absent. In the insentient, tamas is greatly predominant; still the sat of the insentient, the essence of it, is the essence of the sat of īśvara, indivisible and homogeneous. The sentient possess both sattā and caitanya, while only a little ānanda is present in them. All living beings, including man, come under this head of the sentient in which īśvara’s existence and consciousness aspects are manifest. There is predominance of rajas and tamas, although tamas is a little less in man than in the animals and much less than in the insentient. Man’s rajas is so great that there is very little ānanda in him. A little ānanda does exist in man, for man does experience ānandam though to a very feeble extent. When rajas and tamas are destroyed, simultaneously sat rises up and only then ānanda is experienced, for sat is ānanda.
Īśvara exists in everything: yat kim cit—that is everything sentient and insentient, subtle or gross is īśvara. Everything is the body of īśvara and He is connected to the world in the way the soul is connected to the body.
Teña tyaktena bhuñjithāḥ—There are different interpretations for this phrase from different viewpoints. For tena, one meaning is “through”; “therefore” is another. Madhvacarya’s view is—from or through Him. So, Madhvacarya’s interpretation is, giving up that which has been given through Him. Sankara says: From whom? Him from which all creation has come. And, for this reason, ‘therefore’, tyaktena, is that which has been sacrificed or that which has been given up through vairāgya (and not shedding of unwanted or extra things). This first mantra is an aphorism and so does not give the meaning in detail but gives it in a pithy form. From īśvara; i.e., what He has given, that enjoy and do not desire beyond that which has been given to you. In the first line, it has been stated that everything is īśvara. Then, what can be yours? What did you bring with you when you came and what do you take with you when you leave the world? For, the question is kasyasvid dhanam?—Whose (is this) wealth? In this question the self-evident answer is given. And wealth does not mean only money but includes all desirable possessions, wealth of any kind which gives us joy and pleasure. Be content with what wealth God has given you. To want more than that is a kind of greed. So get yourself free from this greed. You know what īśvara has given—He has given you the world. The Bhagavadgita also affirms this statement by stating: yadṛchā lābha santuṣaḥ. Whatever has been given to you by īśvara, whatever you have received from īśvara, with that be happy and contented. But again you have only the right of enjoyment, not of ownership. For, everything is īśvara’s and it cannot belong to anyone else. You are therefore only a trustee of God’s wealth. This is the first meaning.
The second meaning is this: teña tyaktena bhuñjithāḥ. For the reason that īśvara is everything, enjoy what is God-given through sacrificing everything. What does this mean? This statement is a great siddhānta and is worth pondering over. As much as you give up the desires of the world, gross or subtle, so much is your happiness; the greater your sacrifice the greater increase in the ānanda or Bliss that you attain. This has a secret within it. It is a very subtle statement. The converse of the above statement also affirms this same secret. The more you try to obtain the object, the greater your anxieties and the greater your sorrow. For, contact with or union with objects does not beget happiness. We only imagine it to be so when we think that contact with objects or possession of them increases happiness. This is a mistaken notion as we can see from what we have just stated. What is the reason for not obtaining happiness by, with or through objects? The answer is simple; because bliss is the nature of īśvara and NOT that of the object, whether in connection with the body or in connection with things. Due to our ignorance, we run after things and try to possess objects. To take that the little joy we get from the objects comes from the objects is a wrong and mistaken notion, and we only waste ourselves in the efforts to possess the objects and run after them. This understanding is that of ignorance only. Īśvara is not in contact with objects. Has it not been stated at the outset that īśvara is everything! He is the Essence. And where there is parama-sattā alone, there exists parama-ānanda—not in objects. For He has no contact with objects, being infinite. He is Supreme Consciousness which is the same as Supreme Bliss. Therefore, to the extent that infinite, the Supreme Existence is manifest in you, to that extent will be the manifestation of Bliss in you. The greater the proportion of manifestation of God-consciousness in your mind, the greater would be the revelation of God. Bliss is proportionate to the manifestation of God. God-consciousness and Bliss-consciousness are one and the same. They are not two different things. Why? Because, God’s manifestation is Bliss-manifestation. So, give up running after objects. Sacrifice the objects by running towards God. This is tyāga. This is the view of Sankaracharya. This Bliss spoken of herein is not the usual enjoyment of objects, but it is sātvic enjoyment. It is the Bliss that saints and sages enjoy. This Bliss comes to them by giving up the objects. It has no trace of desire in it. The jñānins are filled with Bliss, like the gopis of Brindavan, not because they achieve their objects of desire, but because they turn away from objects of desire and run towards God. This is the way to enjoy Bliss. This Bliss we superimpose on the objects and we expect to get it from them! But the Bliss enjoyed by the mahāpurushas, the yogins and bhaktas is of sātvic nature. God-consciousness is sātvic ānanda. It is the very form of īśvara. You cannot superimpose this form on objects with which He has no contact as we have already seen and expect the very same ānanda from them. The Bliss of the yogins and the others of that class does not arise out of objects, neither from food nor clothing, nor a palace, nor possessions by way of wealth and property. They are devoid of any desire for any object. They desire nothing but īśvara and īśvara alone. They enjoy a spring of Bliss, a spring of a great flow of sattā—Existence, alone. This is their ānanda. This is not due to enjoyment of any object outside them. Therefore, through, vairāgya realise ānanda; that is, īśvara. Hence, what has been given by God to you, that alone you should consider as yours. Do not even look at objects belonging to and in possession of others. What is God-given, that you enjoy; desire nothing else. What is not your wealth, do not even think of it. Do not be greedy. Do not lust for objects which are not yours.
Kasya svid dhanam? For this phrase also there are two meanings: One from the relative and the other from the absolute point of view. What has been given to you, of that you are the owner. What you have earned with the sweat of your brow, that you enjoy. But what is earned by other people’s sweat of the brow, do not even look at that. Do not let your mind go towards that. It is unlawful to do so. It is against moral and ethical laws. You have no right even to look at what you have not earned yourself. If you look at it, would that not lead you to desire it? Therefore ma gṛdhaḥ—do not be greedy. This is from the worldly point of view.
Whose is this wealth, this wealth of the Universe? This is from the view of the Absolute. As everything belongs to īśvara, you dare not even look at anything with a desire to possess it. This is unlawful. You have no business to do so. To desire objects of the world therefore is wrong. Let your mind desire īśvara. Let your mind go towards īśvara alone. The world belongs to Him; and it is not your property, and so do not run towards the objects of the world. When you run towards īśvara alone and you possess Him, you can possess the whole world also. But you cannot possess the world if you run after the world. When you are established in īśvara, He is in your possession; that means, He along with the world created by Him; that is, the world also becomes yours as your inheritance! Father’s property goes to his children. So īśvara’s property, viz., the world of creation comes to you as His inheritor. Thus you acquire the right of possession. When the cause is your property, the effect also logically becomes your own. Īśvara is omniscient and omnipresent. He is the all-embracing Cause; He is the cause and effect in every root of the hair in your body, in every cell of your being, in every atom of creation, sentient or insentient. Realising īśvara as such, with this wisdom enjoy īśvara’s Bliss. Be happy with what God has given you. This is the second meaning.
Through tyāga, tena tyaktena, by giving up the objects of the world, be happy with what has been earned by the sweat of your brow. Do your duty as an offering to God. Let your mind dwell upon God and God alone. Let your thoughts run ever and always towards God. Realising īśvara you can obtain ānanda, also the whole world, the universe itself. Why then run meaninglessly after petty objects saying “Oh! here is joy, there is joy, this object can bring me happiness, that other can”, and so on and so forth? Īśvara is parama sattā, the parama puruṣārtha, the paramadhana, transcendental wealth. When you run towards Him and possess Him, all this is yours. Thus should God be understood. Thus should God be contemplated upon. Thus should the mind dwell on īśvara—through tyaga thus be happy.
Thus far in the first śloka, three points have been stated: (1) The metaphysics of the sattā; i e. the relationship of God, world and soul, (2) jīva and the world, and (3) the duty of jīva towards the world and īśvara. This is why Mahatma Gandhi stated that even if all the sacred texts are lost to the world, this one single śloka can be a substitute for all of there. All the tatva śāstras deal particularly and specifically on these three matters. (1) īśvara’s sattā; (2) jagat’s swarup (3) jīva’s kartavya. In other words, this is metaphysics, explaining the characteristics of the relationship of God, world and soul. All these factors have been stated in this very first sloka of this Īśāvāsyopaniṣad—firstly, of īśvara’s existence, secondly, the nature of the existence of the world, and thirdly, man’s duty.
Īśvara is all this world, īśvara is the primary cause of the world. The world exists on the substratum of īśvara. Because of īśvara’s existence the world appears to exist. Therefore, the world has only a secondary existence. And because īśvara is Bliss-Absolute, due to His existence alone the universe enjoys happiness. Īśvara, Consciousness-Absolute penetrates into the world and hence the world also has consciousness. Thus is determined īśvara’s sat or Existence.
Now, what is the nature of the world? Again, as already stated in the foregoing pages, the whole universe, every atom of it is filled with īśvara. The world has no existence without īśvara.