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by Swami Sivananda
Table of Contents
Letter to Aspirant (5) Publishers’ Note (6) Sri Guru-Vandana (7) Dedication (8)
Introduction (9) Isavasya Upanishad 10
10th October 1941
There is no book in the whole world that is so thrilling, soul-stirring and inspiring as the Upanishad.
The philosophy taught by the Upanishads has been the source of solace for many both in the East and the West.
The Upanishads teach the philosophy of absolute unity. They contain the sublime truths of Vedanta and practical hints and clues which throw much light on the pathway of Self-realisation.
The greatness and the sublimity of the Upanishads are well known to all the students of philosophy. There have been attempts to approach the books through various standpoints. Much has been written over the knotty problems of interpretation, by the Eastern and Western scholars. And yet the lay reader has not understood the central teachings fully well. Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, in his comprehensive volume ‘The Principal Upanishads’ has given exhaustive commentary on Nine Upanishads and stressed such points clearly and truly, explaining the abstruse ideas in his own inimitable style, thus laying bare the sacred doctrine not only before the eligible pupil but also the lay reader.
For the convenience of the readers, we are bringing out each Upanishad in a separate book. The present volume contains the text, translation, notes and commentary on Isavasya Upanishad.
May the abundant blessings of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj be upon all the readers.
—The Divine Life Society
THE SEERS OF THE UPANISHADS
JAGAT-GURU SRI SANKARACHARYA
Please take note that the print edition does not have the transliteration.
omॐ नमो ब्रह्मादिभ्यो ब्रह्मविद्यासंप्रदायकर्तृभ्यो वंशर्षिभ्यो महद्भ्यो नमो गुरुभ्यः।
सर्वोपप्लवरहितः प्रज्ञानद्यनः प्रत्यगर्थो ब्रह्मैवाहमस्मि ॥१॥
om namo brahmādibhyo brahmavidyāsaṁpradāyakartṛbhyo vaṁśarṣibhyo mahadbhyo namo gurubhyaḥ |
sarvopaplavarahitaḥ prajñānadyanaḥ pratyagartho brahmaivāhamasmi ||1||
ॐ नारायणं पद्मभवं वशिष्ठं
शक्तिं च तत्पुत्रपराशरं च।
om nārāyaṇaṁ padmabhavaṁ vaśiṣṭhaṁ
śaktiṁ ca tatputraparāśaraṁ ca |
व्यासं शुकं गौडपदं महान्तं
गोविन्दयोगीन्द्रमथास्य शिष्यम् ॥२॥
vyāsaṁ śukaṁ gauḍapadaṁ mahāntaṁ
govindayogīndramathāsya śiṣyam ||2||
श्रीशंकराचार्यमथास्य पद्मपादं च
हस्तामलकं च शिष्यम् ।
तं तोटकं वार्तिककारमन्या-
śrīśaṁkarācāryamathāsya padmapādaṁ ca
hastāmalakaṁ ca śiṣyam |
taṁ toṭakaṁ vārtikakāramanyā-
नमामि भगवत्पादं शंकरं लोकशंकरम्॥४॥
śrutismṛtipurāṇānāmālayaṁ karuṇālayam |
namāmi bhagavatpādaṁ śaṁkaraṁ lokaśaṁkaram ||4||
शंकरं शंकराचार्यं केशवं बादरायणम्।
सूत्रभाष्यकृतौ वन्दे भगवन्तौ पुनः पुनः ॥५॥
śaṁkaraṁ śaṁkarācāryaṁ keśavaṁ bādarāyaṇam |
sūtrabhāṣyakṛtau vande bhagavantau punaḥ punaḥ ||5||
ईश्वरो गुरुरात्मेति मूर्तिभेदविभागिने।
व्योमवद्व्याप्तदेहाय दक्षिणामूर्तये नमः ॥६॥
īśvaro gururātmeti mūrtibhedavibhāgine |
vyomavadvyāptadehāya dakṣiṇāmūrtaye namaḥ ||6||
The Isavasya Upanishad is a beautiful Upanishad. The very first line of the first Mantra, "Isavasyamidam sarvam—This whole world is covered by the Lord", induces a thrilling inspiration in the minds of the readers. Meditation on this idea alone will lead to the attainment of the Knowledge of the Self. He who contemplates on the significance of the first line will become a Seer of Oneness, a Knower of the Self. He will have a direct vision of the Reality and inner Illumination. The Upanishad, though apparently simple and intelligible, is in reality one of the most difficult to understand properly.
The aspirant should sit at the lotus-feet of an experienced teacher, a Shrotriyam, a Brahma-Nishtha, and study this Upanishad with one-pointed and pure mind. Then everything will become quite clear. The reader should try to grasp clearly the meanings of the terms Vidya, Avidya, Sambhuti, Asambhuti, Vinasha, Death, Immortality, Krato, etc. Immortality here means relative immortality, not absolute Immortality.
This Upanishad prescribes two paths, viz., the path of renunciation or Jnana Yoga for Sannyasins, and the path of action or Karma Yoga for those who cannot renounce the world. The desirability of combining Karma with the worship of deity (inferior knowledge of god), and of combining worship of Hiranyagarbha with the worship of Avyaktam or unborn Prakriti is mentioned in this Upanishad. Live in the spirit of this Upanishad. Realise the Self. Rejoice in Sat-Chit-Ananda Atman. May the blessings of the seers of the Upanishad be upon you all!
ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते ।
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
om pūrṇamadaḥ pūrṇamidaṁ pūrṇātpūrṇamudacyate |
pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya pūrṇamevāvaśiṣyate ||
om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ ||
The Whole is all That. The Whole is all This. The Whole was born of the Whole. Taking the Whole from the Whole, what remains is the Whole.
Om Peace! Peace! Peace!
Every Veda has its particular peace-chant for its Upanishads. These chants are recited in the beginning and at the end of the Upanishad. The oneness of the universe with the Brahman is beautifully described in this chant.
ॐ ईशावास्यमिद सर्वं यत्किं चजगत्यां जगत् ।
तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्य स्विद्धनम् ॥ १॥
om īśāvāsyamida sarvaṁ yatkiṁ cajagatyāṁ jagat |
tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā mā gṛdhaḥ kasya sviddhanam || 1 ||
1. All this—whatsoever moves in this universe (and those that move not)—is covered (inhabited, pervaded, enveloped or clothed) by the Lord. That renounced, enjoy. Do not covet the wealth of any man.
Notes and Commentary
This first Mantra deals with Jnana-nishtha. It is addressed to those who struggle for the attainment of Knowledge of Brahman or Atma-Jnana. This is the Nivritti Marga of Sannyasins or the path of renunciation.
The word Isa comes from the verb Ishte, to rule. It means ‘by the Lord’. The Lord or Isvara rules the whole world. He is the Supreme Ruler. Vasyam means ‘to be covered’ or ‘to be inhabited’. Sankara explains that one should lose the sense of this unreal world in realising Brahman with the idea, ‘I alone am all this as being the inner Self of all’.
This world of Nama, Rupa, Kriya and Guna (name, form, action and quality), is superimposed upon the Atman, on account of Avidya or nescience. Therefore duality has cropped up. There are the doer, enjoyer, knower, known, seer, seen, subject, object, etc. He, who contemplates on the Self as the Paramatman, or pure Brahman, will surely renounce the three kinds of desires, viz., son, wealth, name and fame (Putreshana, Vitteshana and Lokeshana). Tena tyaktena means ‘by such renunciation’. Tyaktena means ‘renunciation’. Sankara takes this as a noun. Svit is a participle which has no meaning. As the world is unreal and as the objects are worthless, what is the use of coveting others’ wealth? Further, you will get the supreme, imperishable wealth of Atman by Self-realisation.
Renounce (the desires of) the world. Renounce (the desires of) the other world. Renounce egoism, selfishness, Deha-adhyasa (body-idea). Renounce the desire for liberation. Renounce the renunciation itself (Tyaga Abhimana). Then you will become That. You will be in Itself. "Brahmavit Brahmaiva Bhavati—The knower of Brahman becomes Brahman". Desire for liberation will destroy all earthly desires. You must renounce the desire for liberation also. "Na karmana na prajaya dhanena tyagenaike amritatvam-anasuh—Neither by works nor by progeny, nor by riches, but by renunciation alone one attains immortality".
कुर्वन्नेवेह कर्माणि जिजीविषेच्छत समाः ।
एवं त्वयि नान्यथेतोऽस्ति न कर्म लिप्यते नरे ॥ २॥
kurvanneveha karmāṇi jijīviṣecchata samāḥ |
evaṁ tvayi nānyatheto'sti na karma lipyate nare || 2 ||
2. Performing verily works in this world, one should wish to live a hundred years. Thus it is right for thee and not otherwise than this. Action will not bind that man.
Notes and Commentary
The first Mantra lays down the rule for Knowledge. This Mantra lays down the rule for works. This gives advice to those who cannot get themselves liberated from the bonds of the world. Karmanishtha is prescribed here for those who are unable to take up Sannyasa. Kurvanneva means certainly doing, only by doing and not refraining from them. Eva gives definite force. Karmani means works enjoined by the Vedas such as Agnihotra and other rites. The omission of these works causes sin.
Jijivishet means ‘should wish to live’. Satam samah means ‘a hundred years’. This is the longest period of life for a man in Kaliyuga. One should wish to live for one hundred years continually doing Karma and not otherwise. Leading an idle, easy-going life will not do. He should do the religious rites daily, and also do constant, selfless, disinterested service to the humanity with Atma-Bhava. Then only will he get purification of heart (Chitta-suddhi). Then only Atma-Jnana will dawn in his heart. By such performance of works without any motive, one will not be bound to works. This is the path of action or Pravritti Marga.
असुर्या नाम ते लोका अन्धेन तमसाऽऽवृताः ।
ता स्ते प्रेत्याभिगच्छन्ति ये के चात्महनो जनाः ॥३॥
asuryā nāma te lokā andhena tamasā''vṛtāḥ |
tā ste pretyābhigacchanti ye ke cātmahano janāḥ ||3||
3. Sunless (godless) are those worlds covered over with gloomy darkness. Those people who are slayers of their souls go to these (worlds) after they leave their bodies.
Notes and Commentary
There are two readings. Asoorya, sunless and Asurya, undivine. In comparison with the state of Supreme Self, the most exalted worlds of the gods are also godless. Andhena tamasa, blind darkness, i.e., ignorance which stands in the way of realising one’s Self. Avrutah means ‘covered’; Pretya means ‘leaving the body’; Abhigachhanti means ‘attain’; Atmahanah means ‘slayers of the Atman’, i.e., those who kill their Self.
Those who have drawn the veil of ignorance over the Atman are not able to perceive their Self. They move about self-deluded in this world and run after perishable sensual objects. Their minds are filled with passion, greed, wrath, pride and egoism. They do all sorts of evil actions when they are under the influence of lust, greed and anger. They are caught up again and again in the Samsaric wheel of birth and death. They have mistaken the body as the imperishable Self. They worship the perishable body like Virochana and his followers, the Asuras. They have entirely forgotten the glory and splendours of immortal Sat-Chit-Ananda Atman. Hence they are called Atmahanah, slayers of the Atman.
अनेजदेकं मनसो जवीयो नैनद्देवा आप्नुवन्पूर्वमर्षत् ।
तद्धावतोऽन्यानत्येति तिष्ठत्तस्मिन्नपो मातरिश्वा दधाति ॥४॥
anejadekaṁ manaso javīyo nainaddevā āpnuvanpūrvamarṣat |
taddhāvato'nyānatyeti tiṣṭhattasminnapo mātariśvā dadhāti ||4||
4. It (Atman) is motionless, one, swifter than mind. The Devas (the senses) could not overtake It which ran before them. Sitting, It goes faster than those who run after It. By It, Matarisvan (the air, Sutratman) supports the activity of all living beings.
Notes and Commentary
Here is a description of the nature of the Atman. Na and Ejat make up Anejat. The root ejri means ‘to shake’. Anejat means ‘unagitated’, i.e., steady.
"It is motionless, but swifter than the mind." This seems to be an apparent contradiction or paradox. But it is not so. Because the Atman is all-pervading and all-full (Paripurna), it is said that the Atman is swifter than mind. Before the mind reaches a place, the Atman is already there, as it is all-pervading. So the mind can never be in advance of It. Here, Devas means the senses such as ear, eye, etc. It comes from the root which means to ‘illuminate’. Tishtat, i.e., sitting, means that the Atman is Nishkriya. It keeps quiet.
Matarisva is the ruler of the atmosphere. He is the divine life-power in all forms. Sankara explains: "Matar antarikshe svayati gachhatiti vayu—he who moves in the mother, the air, which is the upholder or sustainer of the whole world, the Sutratman, Hiranyagarbha, the universal Soul. Matarisva means air. This air supports the fire, sun, rain, etc.
Apas means all Karmas or actions. Water stands for acts, because all sacrificial acts are performed with water.
तदेजति तन्नैजति तद्दूरे तद्वन्तिके ।
तदन्तरस्य सर्वस्य तदु सर्वस्यास्य बाह्यतः ॥५॥
tadejati tannaijati taddūre tadvantike |
tadantarasya sarvasya tadu sarvasyāsya bāhyataḥ ||5||
5. It (the Atman) moves and It moves not. It is distant and It is near. It is within all this and It is also outside all this.
Notes and Commentary
The ideas of the fourth Mantra are continued here. Ejati means ‘moves’. Naijati means ‘does not move’. Apparently, it seems that this Mantra also is full of contradictions and paradoxes. But it is not so for the thinker. The meaning is quite clear. The Atman is the primum-mobile (prime mover). It gives a push to the Prakriti and the Prakriti moves. The Atman is motionless by Itself but It makes the Prakriti move by simple gazing, by Its simple presence. So it is said, ‘It moves’. When It is all-pervading and all-full, where can It move? Hence it is motionless. ‘It moves not’.
It is distant for the ignorant. It is very far for those who are immersed in worldliness, who have plunged themselves in Samsara. It is very, very far for those who are very selfish, proud, egoistic, hot-tempered and passionate. It is near for the enquirer. It is very, very near for those who are equipped with purity of mind (Chitta-Suddhi) and the four means of salvation and who have started hearing at the feet of Guru, reflecting and meditation (Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana), because It is their Inner Self or the Atman (Antar-Atman). It is very subtle (Ati-sukshma). It transcends Akasa (ether). It fills and covers everything. It is all-full (Paripurna). Hence It is within and without. ‘All’ means ‘the objects of this whole world’. Brahman is the substratum or support (Adhishthana) of all beings, as It is inside all and pervades all.
यस्तु सर्वाणि भूतान्यात्मन्येवानुपश्यति ।
सर्वभूतेषु चाऽऽत्मानं ततो न विजुगुप्सते ॥६॥
yastu sarvāṇi bhūtānyātmanyevānupaśyati |
sarvabhūteṣu cā''tmānaṁ tato na vijugupsate ||6||
6. He who sees all beings in the Self (Atman) and the Self in all beings, shrinks not from anything thereafter.
Notes and Commentary
The thoughts of this Mantra are found in the two Slokas of the Bhagavad Gita (VI-29 & 30). "The Self, harmonised by Yoga, seeth the Self abiding in all beings and all beings in the Self; everywhere he seeth the same." "He who seeth Me everywhere, and seeth everything in Me, of him I never lose hold, and he shall never lose hold of Me." Mantras 6 and 7 give a description of the state of a Jnani who has full Self-realisation. Sarvani Bhutani ordinarily means all creatures. Literally it means ‘all things that have become’, i.e., from the unmanifested (Avyakta) down to the immovable objects. You will also find in the Sruti, "He who sees the Supreme Self as pervading all, and everything in the Supreme Self, does not wish to guard himself, because he has no fear from anyone. Being fearless, he is never anxious about preserving his little self".
The sage who has realised his Atman beholds that all objects and all beings are not distant from his own Self, and that his Atman is the Atman of all. The Atman is the common consciousness for all beings. The Atman is common in the king and the peasant, the saint and the rogue, the cobbler and the barber, the ant and the elephant, the tree and the stone. How can that great soul who is resting in his own Atman, and who has such an exalted cosmic consciousness, shrink from any being or object with a feeling of revulsion? How can he dislike anything? How can he hate anybody? Absolutely impossible.
यस्मिन्सर्वाणि भूतान्यात्मैवाभूद्विजानतः ।
तत्र को मोहः कः शोक एकत्वमनुपश्यतः ॥७॥
yasminsarvāṇi bhūtānyātmaivābhūdvijānataḥ |
tatra ko mohaḥ kaḥ śoka ekatvamanupaśyataḥ ||7||
7. When, to the knower, all beings become one with his own Atman, how shall he be deluded, what grief is there when he sees everywhere oneness?
Notes and Commentary
This Mantra further explains the idea contained in Mantra 6. Both the words Vijanata in Mantra 7 and Anupasyati in Mantra 6 have the same significance. Mere intellectual assent that the one Self abides in all beings will not do. Actual Self-realisation or direct perception (Aparoksha Anubhuti) is indispensably requisite. In verse 6 it is said that the Knower of Brahman becomes fearless. Here it is said that the same Knower transcends delusion and sorrow. These are the fruits of attaining Brahma-Jnana.
‘Taratisokam atmavit—The Knower of Atman crosses over grief, is the emphatic declaration of the Srutis. The three knots (Hridaya-granthi) are Avidya, Kama, Karma (ignorance, desire and action). A worldly man is drowned in delusion and sorrow on account of the three knots. When these three knots are destroyed by realising unity or oneness, by realising that all the Bhutas have become one with the Atman, how can there be delusion and grief in the Knower of the Atman? Absolutely impossible. He always rejoices in the bliss of the Atman. Even heaviest sorrow cannot shake him a bit. He stands adamantine. Gita says: "Yasmin sthito na duhkhena gurunapi vichalyate—Wherein established, he is not shaken even by heavy sorrow."
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