Ishavasya Upanishad with Shankara’s Commentary

by M. Hiriyanna | 1911 | 8,153 words

The Ishavasya Upanishad (or simply Isha) is one of the shortest of its kind, and basically represents a brief philosophical poem discussing the soul/self (Atman). This edition contains the Kanva recension, consisting of 18 verses. The words “Isha vasyam” literally translates to “enveloped by the Lord” and refers to the theory of soul (Atman); a co...

Verse 1 - Devotion to Jñāna (knowledge)

ईशा वास्यम् इदं सर्वं यत् किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् ।
तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्य स्विद्धनम् ॥ १ ॥

īśā vāsyam idaṃ sarvaṃ yat kiñca jagatyāṃ jagat |
tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā mā gṛdhaḥ kasya sviddhanam || 1 ||

1. In the Lord is to be veiled all this—whatsoever moves on earth. Through such renunciation do thou save (thyself); be not greedy, for whose is wealth?


Śaṅkara’s Commentary

He who rules is (termed) Īt. Īśā (means), ‘by the Lord’. The Lord is the Ruler and the real Self of every creature[1]. By such a Lord, identical with oneself, is to be overspread i.e, covered. What? idam sarvam = (all this), yat kincha = whatsoever. jagatyām= on earth. jagat = all that (moves). By one’s own Self,—the Lord, the supreme Self—which is the sole reality, all these unreal (things), both movable and immovable, have to be covered over, (perceiving) thus—‘I am the inner Self of all’.[2] Just as adventitious bad odour in a piece of sandal, arising from moisture, is overcome by true fragrance when the (sandal) piece is rubbed[3], so indeed, will all the congenital variety of the world, such as being an agent or an enjoyer, superimposed on the Self, disappear at the perception (everywhere) of the (one) really existent Self. Since jagatyām is (here used) in an indicatory sense, all kinds of effects differentiated as name, form and action (are to be understood as connoted by it). What a person, that is so full of the conception that the Lord is the Self of all, ought to do is to renounce the three-fold desire for offspring etc., and not (be engaged in) karma. In tena tyaktena, tyakta means renunciation (being used as an abstract noun). (It is not to betaken here as a past participle in the sense of ‘given up’ because) a son or a servant (for example) who has been abandoned or is dead, cannot save one since all connection is severed between them. Therefore (the word) can only mean ‘renunciation’. bhuñjīthāḥ =do save[4]. Having thus renounced desires, be not greedy (mā gṛdhaḥ) i.e., do not long for wealth, kasya svit = (of anybody). (The meaning is)—Do not long for the wealth of anybody—i.e., yourself or another. (In this interpretation) svit is a mere expletive. Or (we may say as follows)—Be not greedy. Why? (The answer is )—kasya svit dhanam= Whose is wealth?—implying a denial. If wealth could belong to anybody it might be sought; (but) everything having disappeared through the discovery of the Lord (everywhere), all this is of the Self, and all this is the Self. Thus it means—Do not seek an unreality.’[5]

Footnotes and references:


The difference between the controller and the controlled is not to be understood as real. I t is merely apparent and is based on an illusion. In the same sense, we may, for example, say that a person standing before a number of mirrors controls the several reflected images of himself.


The sense is that one should realise that all is Self and that there is no variety in the Universe. This is the chief teaching of the present Upanishad and corresponds, in its significance, to the well-known tattvamasi of the Chāndogyopaniṣad.


The object of this illustration is to suggest that when conviction regarding the unity of all existence does not spring directly from faith in the teaching, reasoning or enquiry will generally lead to it.


This statement is not to be understood literally for the Self does not, in reality, require to be saved. It is only intended to extol renunciation by ascribing final release to its influence.


The third pāda of this verse enjoins renunciation on such as can discriminate between what is Self and what is not. Such withdrawal from the world is the only course for Self-realisation. By removing the ordinary distractions of life it renders easy the attainment of final release. The fourth pāda prescribes a rule of conduct and prohibits the acquisition by such persons of wealth of any description beyond what is necessary for bare maintenance.

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