Part 1

Isavasyopanishad or the Isa Upanishad is one of the most wonderful book of ancient Indian wisdom. Often called as the 'Gem' among all 108 Principal Upanishads, this book of just 18 verses, contains the essence of all knowledge that as been contemplated and experienced by Indian thinkers & philosophers.


By Sri Sathya Sai Baba

"...His articles (first published in Telugu in the Sanathana Sarathi) on the Ten Upanishads..."

"The Lord, intent on the regeneration of the world, communicated Vedas through Hiranyagarbha and Hiranyagarbha, in turn, passed Them on to his ten Manasa-puthras, including Athri and Marichi. From them, the Vedas spread among humanity, handed down from one generation to another. As time passed, ages accumulated and continents moved, some Vedas got lost, or were neglected as too difficult for comprehension, and only Four have survived into modern times. These Four were taught by Vedavyasa, the greatest among the exponents of the Vedas, to his disciples, in the Dwaparayuga.

When Vyasa was thus expounding the Vedas, engaged in spreading the sacred scripture, one disciple of his, Yajnavalkya by name, incurred his wrath and as a punishment, he had to regurgitate the Yajurveda that he had already learned, into the custody of his guru and leave the place, to take refuge in Suryadeva, the treasure-house of the Vedas. Just then, the Rishis who revere the Vedas, flew into the place in the shape of Thiththiri birds and ate up the regurgitated Yajurveda. That particular section of the Veda is called "Thaithiriyam".

Meanwhile Suryadeva was pleased with the devotion and steadfastness of the unfortunate Yajnavalkya. He assumed the form of a Vaji or Horse and blessed the sage with renewed knowledge of the Yajurveda. The sections thus taught by the Vaji came to be called 'Vajasaneyi'. The Yajurveda as promoted by Vedavyasa is called Krishnayajurveda and that handed down by Yajnavalkya as the Suklayajurveda. In these, the first few chapters are Manthras connected with the Karmakanda and the last few sections deal with Jnanakanda.

The Isavasya Upanishad is concerned with this Jnanakanda. Since the opening manthra of this Upanishad starts with the words, 'Isavasyam', the Upanishad is called by that name.

Isavaasyamidam sarvam yathkinchajagathyaam jagath
Thena thyakthena bhunjeethaah, maa gridhah kasyaswid-dhanam

"All things of this world, the transitory, the evanescent, are enveloped by the Lord who is the real Reality of each. Therefore they have to be used with reverent renunciation, without covetousness or greed for they belong to the Lord and not to any one person". That is what this sloka means.

That is to say, the Universe is the Immanence of the Lord, His Form, His Body. It is wrong to take the Universe and its Lord as different. It is a delusion, a product of the imagination of man. Just as your image under the water is not different from you, the Universe (which is His Image produced on your Ignorance) is the same as He.

So long as man has this delusion, he cannot visualise the Reality immanent in him; on the other hand, he will slide into wrong thoughts, words and deeds. A piece of sandalwood if kept in water will produce a bad smell; but, if it is taken out and rubbed into paste, the former perfume will return. When the authority of the Vedas and Sastras is repeated and when discrimination is sharpened on the practice of Dharmakarmas, the evil smell of wrong and wickedness will vanish and the pure innate perfume of the Atma will emerge. Then the duality of doer and enjoyer will disappear; then, you reach the stage called Sarvakarmasanyas, the withdrawal from all activity. In this Upanishad, this type of Sanyas is described as the pathway to Liberation or Moksha.

The sanyasa which involves the destruction of the three urges (for a mate, for progeny and for wealth) is very difficult to attain without purity of the chiththa or mind.

In this Upanishad, the means for getting this is declared in the second Manthra. That is to say: carry out the Agnihothra etc. prescribed in the Sastras, believe that for liberation one has to be actively engaged in such work and get convinced that no sin can cling so long as one is so engaged. Work without the desire for the fruit thereof slowly cleanses impurities like the crucible of the goldsmith. The pure mind is Jnana; it is the consummation of detachment.

If you are able to divest yourselves of desire when you are doing work, no impurity can touch you. You know the "Chilliginji" seeds when dropped into muddy water have the power of separating the dirt and depositing it at the bottom; the seeds too sink to the bottom, and slip out of sight! In the same way, those who are adepts in doing Karma without attachment will have their minds perfectly cleansed and the results of their acts will also lose effectiveness and sink to the bottom.

Out of the 18 manthras in this Upanishad only the first two deal directly with the problem of Liberation and its solution. The other sixteen elaborate this solution and serve as commentaries thereon.

The Atma never undergoes any modification; yet it is faster than any mind! That is the mystery and the miracle; it appears to experience all states, but it has no growth, decline or change. Though it is everywhere it is not perceivable by the senses; it is because of its underlying existence and ever-present immanence that all growth, all activities, all changes take place. Cause and effect act and react on account of the Basic stratum of the Atmic reality. The very word, 'Isa' carries this meaning. The Atma is near and far, inside and outside, still and moving. He who knows this truth is worthy of the name Jnani.

The ignorant can never grasp the fact of Atmic immanence. Those who are conscious can see things and can feel their presence near them. Those who have lost awareness will search for the lost jewels though they actually wear them at the moment. Though one may know all things, he conceives the Atma as existing in some un-approachable, unreachable place on account of loss of consciousness. But the Jnani, who is aware, sees the Atma in all beings and all beings as Atma: He sees all beings as the same, and perceives no distinction or difference. So he saves himself from duality.

The Isavasya makes this great Truth clear to all. The Jnani who has tasted that vision will not be agitated by the blows of fortune or the enticements of the senses. He sees all beings as himself, having his own innate identity; he is free from bondage, from Dharma and Adharma, and the needs and urges of the body. He is "Swayamprakaasa". So, the Jiva-rupa is not his genuine form, no, not even the gross and the subtle bodies called the Sthula and the Sukshma sariras.

That is why in the first manthra of the Isavasya, the Jnana-nishta characterised by the absence of craving of any sort is expounded. This is the primary Vedartha; but, those who have cravings will find it difficult to get stabilised in that Nishta or state of mind. For such, the second manthra prescribes a secondary means, the Karmanishta. The rest of the manthras elaborate and support these two nishtas - based on Jnana and Karma. Karma-nishta has Desire and Delusion as the cardinal urges; Jnana-nishta has Vairagya, the conviction that the world is not Atma, that is to say, not true, and therefore, it is profitless to have any dealings with it. Such an attitude to Vairagya is the gateway to Jnana-nishta. From the third to the eighth manthra, the real nature of the Atma is depicted, through the condemnation of the Avidya, which prevents the understanding of the Atma.

Thus the Isavasya teaches the lesson of renunciation through the first manthra and the lesson of 'liberating activity' (through Karma devoid of Raga and Dwesha) in the second manthra. In the fourth and fifth manthra, it speaks of Atmathathwa and later of the fruits of the knowledge of that Atmathathwa. In the ninth manthra, the path of progressive liberation or Karmamukthi (useful for those who are too weak to follow the path of total renunciation but who are adepts in acts that are conducive to moral development and inner purification) is laid down; this is the path which co-ordinates all Karma on the principle of Upasana. Those who are engaged in acts contrary to Vidya are full of Ajnana, it says; those who confine themselves to the study and practice of divine forms are even worse, for their desire is for powers and skills. Vidya leads to Deva-loka, Karma leads to Pithr-loka, it is said. So, the Jnana that results in Atmasakshathkara or Self-realisation is something quite distinct from these, no attempt to co-ordinate the two can succeed.

Of course, one should not engage in anything opposed to the Sastras; and all actions are classed as Avidya, in the ultimate analysis. At best, Karma can help only to cleanse the mind and the Upasana of Gods can lead to single-mindedness. The Upasana has to rise to the level of the worship of the Cosmic Divinity, the Hiranyagarbha; it has to ripen and develop into Jivanmukthi, before the end of this life.

The Devatha-Jnana and the Karma-nishta have both to be complementary and co-ordinated; then, one can escape the round of birth and death and become Divine."




Sathya Sai Baba Info, Books, Sai centres, mantras, Miracles, Bhajans, Letters from Sai Baba, Sai Meditation, Sai Baba Prophesies...

Source: Upanishad vahini by Sri Sathya Sai Baba