The Ishavasya Upanishad with Shankara’s Commentary

1911 | 8,461 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 3-8 - The real nature of the Self

We shall indicate (in the sequel) the distinction between these two (paths).

 

Īśāvāsyopaniṣad, verse 3

असुर्या नाम ते लोका अन्धेन तमसावृताः ।
तांस्ते प्रेत्याभिगच्छन्ति ये के चात्महनो जनाः ॥ ३ ॥

asuryā nāma te lokā andhena tamasāvṛtāḥ |
tāṃste pretyābhigacchanti ye ke cātmahano janāḥ || 3 ||

3. Malignant are those worlds and enveloped in blinding darkness, into which pass, after death, whatsoever people slay the Self.

 

Śaṅkara’s Commentary

From the standpoint of Unity in the form of the supreme Self, even devas are (reckoned) as asuras. asuryāḥ=belonging to demons, nāma is a mere expletive here. te=(those), lokāḥ=births (or lives), because therein the fruits of karma are perceived or enjoyed. andhena=of blinding nature. tamasā=by nescience. āvritāḥ=enveloped. tān=(those) viz. existences down to the immovable, pretya=having left this body. abhigacchanti=(attain) according to their past deeds and according to their devotional practices, ye ke whosoever. ātmahanaḥ=those who slay the Self. Who are they? People that are ignorant[1]. How can they slay the eternal Self? Through their failing of ignorance they veil (i.e. forget) the ever present Self. The sign of (a belief in) its existence is the consciousness of its undecaying immortal nature. This becomes veiled (ie. forgotten), as if the Self has been slain, and the ordinary ignorant people are termed ‘slayers of Self’[2]. By reason of this sin of slaying the Self, they transmigrate.

Now is explained of what nature this Self is, by slaying which the ignorant transmigrate and, as distinguished from them, the learned, by not slaying it, attain final release—

 

Īśāvāsyopaniṣad, verse 4

अनेजद् एकं मनसो जवीयो नैनद्देवा आप्नुवन्पूर्वमर्षत् ।
तद्धावतोऽन्यानत्येति तिष्ठत् तस्मिन्न् अपो मातरिश्वा दधाति ॥ ४ ॥

anejad ekaṃ manaso javīyo nainaddevā āpnuvanpūrvamarṣat |
taddhāvato'nyānatyeti tiṣṭhat tasminn apo mātariśvā dadhāti || 4 ||

4. Unmoving, one, (and speedier than the mind; the senses reach it never; (for) it (Self) goes before. Standing, it outstrips others that run. In virtue of it, does mātarisvā allot functions (severally to all).

 

Śaṅkara’s Commentary

Anejat=not shaking, from the root to shake. Shaking is moving, i.e., lapsing from its real state. (The Self is) free from it, i.e., is always of the same form. It is also one in all beings. manaso javīyaḥ= speedier than the mind which is characterised by desire &c. Wherefore these conflicting statements—that it is at once assuredly motionless and speedier than the mind? This is not wrong, for it can be justified (on the basis of the Self) being conditioned or unconditioned. In its original unconditioned form it is stated to be unmoving and one. (It is also possible to predicate motion of the Self) because it reflects (the features of) its conditioning mind which is the internal sense charaterised by desire and doubt. Since the mind, though residing here within the body can, in an instant, conceive of the distant Brahmaloka and the like, it is ordinarily taken as possessing great speed. When such mind, for instance reaches (in thought) Brahmaloka, with rapidity, the Self appears to have reached there already. Therefore it is said here 'speedier than the mind’. devāḥ=senses such as the eye—so called because they illuminate. enat =this entity of the Self. na-āpnuvan=did not reach, the mind being speedier than they. Since mental operation (always) intervenes, not even the semblance of the Self becomes perceivable by the Senses.[3] (And it is beyond the mind itself) because the Self is always in advance (of it) being all-pervading like space. (Now the verse) states that the Self, always[4] free from all features of transmigration, in its own unconditioned form and being altogether changeless, appears to the undiscriminating ignorant, as experiencing all the several modes of life due to limiting adjuncts and also as being many, i.e., one in each body. tat=(that). dhāvataḥ=speedily going. anyān=mind, the organs of speech &c., which are all other than the Self. atyeti =seems to outstrip. The text itself indicates the sense of iva (seems) by tiṣṭhat which means ‘itself remaining immutable.’ tasmin i.e. in virtue of the existence of the Self which is of the nature of eternal sentiency. Mātariśvā=He who moves (śvayati) in the heavens (mātari); the Wind, the active principle in all creatures; on which are dependent all the aggregates of causes and effects and into which they are woven like warp and woof and which is also termed ‘the connecting thread’ and is the support of the whole universe. Such is mātariśvā. apaḥ=functions[5] of things, such as flaming and burning of Fire, shining of the Sun, raining of the Cloud and so on. dadhāti=allots[6]; or the word may mean ‘directs’ agreeably to texts like “Through fear of Him the wind blows &c.” (Taitirriya Upanishad: II, viii, 1). The idea is that all changes of the nature of cause and effect take place only when the Self, the eternal sentiency and substrate of all, exists.

Not weary of repeating, the Veda states once again what has already been said in the previous verse—

 

Īśāvāsyopaniṣad, verse 5

तद् एजति तन् नैजति तद् दूरे तद् व् अन्तिके ।
तद् अन्तर् अस्य सर्वस्य तद् उ सर्वस्यास्य बाह्यतः ॥ ५ ॥

tad ejati tan naijati tad dūre tad v antike |
tad antar asya sarvasya tad u sarvasyāsya bāhyataḥ || 5 ||

5. It moves: and it moves not; it is far and it is near. It is inside all this; it is also outside all this.

 

Śaṅkara’s Commentary

Tad=the Self in question. ejati=moves. The same does not move (na ejati) i.e., in itself. In other words, being in truth motionless, it (only) appears to move. Moreover, it, tat=it, dūre=(at a distance). It is distant, as it were, because the ignorant cannot get at it even in a thousand million years. tat u=(it is also); antike=near. Absolutely so, to the wise for it is their very Self. It is not merely far and near; it is (also) antaḥ i.e. inside of all this. Compare—‘Which Self is inmost of all’—(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad III, iv, 1). asya savasya =(of this all) i.e., the universe consisting of name, form and action. It is outside all this, being pervasive; inside, being supremely subtle like space. (We should also remember) that it is without interstices from the teaching contained in passages like “wholly solid sentiency &c.’—(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV, v, 13)

 

Īśāvāsyopaniṣad, verse 6

यस् तु सर्वाणि भूतान्य् आत्मन्य् एवानुपश्यति ।
सर्वभूतेषु चात्मानं ततो न विजुगुप्सते ॥ ६ ॥

yas tu sarvāṇi bhūtāny ātmany evānupaśyati |
sarvabhūteṣu cātmānaṃ tato na vijugupsate || 6 ||

6. And he who sees all beings in himself and himself in all beings has no aversion thence.

 

Śaṅkara’s Commentary

Yaḥ tu i.e., a sannyāsin desiring final release. sarvāṇi bhūtāni= all beings (i.e., existences) from prakṛti down to the immovable, ātmani eva anupaśyati =(discovers in himself) i.e., does not understand as other than his own Self, sarva bhūteṣu cha i.e. and in the same (beings), ātmānam = (himself) i.e., his own Self as the Self of all those beings as well. (The reference here is to him) who beholds himself, the same in all beings thus—‘Just as I, the cogniser of all notions, the perceiver, one and devoid of all attributes, am the Self of this my body, the aggregate of causes and effects, so also am I in the same form, the Self of all beings from prakṛti down to the immovable. tataḥ = through such perception, na vijugupsate = does not feel repelled. This is an iteration of what is (empirically) known. All aversion is from evil things other than one’s own self, and if one recognises (everywhere) only the Self, absolutely pure and continuous, it is clear that (for such an one) there is nothing to excite repulsion. Hence the statement—‘He has no aversion thence’.

Another verse also expresses the same idea—

 

Īśāvāsyopaniṣad, verse 7

यस्मिन् सर्वाणि भूतान्य् आत्मैवाभूद् विजानतः ।
तत्र को मोहः कः शोक एकत्वम् अनुपश्यतः ॥ ७ ॥

yasmin sarvāṇi bhūtāny ātmaivābhūd vijānataḥ |
tatra ko mohaḥ kaḥ śoka ekatvam anupaśyataḥ || 7 ||

7. When to a knower discovering unity, all beings become his very Self, what delusion then (to him) and what sorrow?

Yasmin=when or in which Self, sarvāṇi bhūtāni= the same (already mentioned) beings of all kinds, ātma eva abhūt= became one’s own self, through right perception, vijānataḥ = (to the knower) of Reality. tatra= then or in such Self, ko mohaḥ kaṣṣokaḥ = (what delusion and what sorrow?). Sorrow and delusion are for one that does not understand the source of desire and activity but not to one that realises the unity of Self, pure and resembling space. The third pāda by calling in question and denying the possibility of sorrow and delusion which are the result of nescience, indicates (so far as the knower is concerned) the absolute cessation of worldly existence together with its cause.

The following verse (now) states of what description the Self—spoken of in the foregoing verses—in its nature, is—

 

Īśāvāsyopaniṣad, verse 8

स पर्यगाच् छुक्रम् अकायम् अव्रणम् अस्नाविरं शुद्धम् अपापविद्धम् ।
कविर् मनीषी परिभूः स्ययम्भूर् याथातथ्यतोर्ऽथान् व्यदधाच् छाश्वतीभ्यः समाभ्यः ॥ ८ ॥

sa paryagāc chukram akāyam avraṇam asnāviraṃ śuddham apāpaviddham |
kavir manīṣī paribhūḥ syayambhūr yāthātathyator'thān vyadadhāc chāśvatībhyaḥ samābhyaḥ || 8 ||

8. He (the self) is all pervading, bright, incorporeal, scatheless and veinless, pure, untouched by sin; a seer, all-knowing, superposed and self-begotten. (It is He that) has duly allotted to the eternal creators their (various) duties.

Saḥ=the aforesaid Self. paryagāt =went round; i.e. he is pervading like space. śukram=white, i.e. radiant, bright. akāyam=bodiless i.e. without the subtle body, avraṇam=not to be wounded, snāva=vein; therefore asnāviram means ‘veinless’. The last two (epithets) deny the gross body; ś uddham = without the stain of nescience. This denies the causal body, apāpaviddham=by evil (which term is meant to include) both merits and demerits[7]. The words beginning with sukram are to be changed to the masculine form, because the verse starts with saḥ (a masculine form) and ends likewise with kaviḥ and (which also are masculine in form). kaviḥ=seeing what is past[8], i.e. witness of all, according to the text—“There is no seer other than He” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad III, vii, 23), manīṣī =the controller of the mind i.e., the all-knowing Lord. paribhūḥ means ‘who is above (pari = upari) everything’. svayambhūh = self-begotten. This signifies that what is above everything as well as what is everything are both the Self. Such a Lord, always free, being all-knowing, has allotted duties (arthān) according to past deeds which are instrumental in yielding fruit (in this life) i.e. has appropriately distributed (them). Yāthātathyataḥ, being derived from yathātathā, means ‘according to facts’. ś āśvatībhyaḥ= permanent; Samābhyaḥ i.e. among Creators going by the name of ‘Time’[9]

Footnotes and references:

1.

I read “ke te? Ye janā avidvāṃsaḥ”.

2.

Ascribing impurity etc. to the Self is considered as equivalent to killing it; just as imputing a false and serious charge against a virtuous man is, in ordinary parlance, spoken of as “murder without a weapon.”—aśastravadha

3.

The action of the senses presupposes the operation of the mind. The Self being beyond mind, is necessarily beyond the senses as well.

4.

I read sarvadāpi instead of sarvavyāpi.

5.

Apaḥ in a secondary sense means ‘Sacrificial acts’ for most of them are performed with water, ghee and such other liquids. Hence, in what may be called a ‘tertiary sense’ the term may be taken to denote all kinds of activity.

6.

This implies an argument for the existence of an all-controlling Lord of the Universe.

7.

According to the view of Śaṅkarāchārya, it should be remembered, good and evil become reduced to the same level in the eyes of a knower of the Self, for both alike lead to a succession of births, although the one be of a higher kind than the other.

8.

This word literally means ‘one that can see what is past’. Here it is to be understood in a secondary sense, the past indicatin all time—the present as well as the future. Hence it means “witness of all”.

9.

For this sense of Samvatsara see Brihadaranyaka Upanishad I, v, 14 and Prashna Upanishad i. 9. Like everything else Time also is born of the Creator. Hence ‘Time’ is ‘Creator’ taking the effect for the cause.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: