The Essence of IshaVasya Upanishad- Part-1

Introduction: ईशोपनिषत्

§ The IshaVasya Upanishad is the only one which occurs in the Samhita portion of  Shukla Yajur Veda. It is one of the Ten principal Upanishads. Though,  one of the shortest Upanishads, yet it is loaded with profound thoughts.

§ Isha Upanishad is a smaller one with 18 Mantras. This appears in the final chapter of Shukla Yajurveda. Among Ten Principal Upanishads, this comes in the beginning of the list. Isha means the Lord of the Universe. 

What is Upanishad?

Upanishad is Brahmavidya:

Upanishads are ancient Texts which do not construct any complex system of ideas and beliefs. They are plain and straightforward, yet very difficult to grasp. Require repeated reading and thinking on the context [SRAVANA, MANANA & NIDIDHYASYANA]. This is the science of Mind. Upanishads are instructions of Teachers to disciples through dialog between the two.

Upanishad literally means ” To learn the teachings, sitting rear the Teacher, (or sitting near the feet of Teacher). Upanishad is Brahmavidya [ sacred knowledge] which leads the aspirant towards Brahman who are desirous of liberation. There are 108 Upanishads. Out of 108, Upanishads, Ten Upanishads are regarded as Ten Principal Upanishads. They are: 

  1. IshaVasya Upanishad
  2. Kena Upanishad
  3. Katha Upanishad
  4. Prashna Upanishad
  5. Mundaka Upanishad
  6. Mandukya Upanishad
  7. Taittiriya Upanishad
  8. Aitareya Upanishad
  9. ChAndogya Upanishad
  10. BRRihadAraNyaka Upanishad

In this part we will discuss Isha Upanishad.

Study of this Upanishad will deliver teachings on both ” Jnana Yoga” and “Karma Yoga”. Aspirants who seek freedom from the bondage of this World will go for ” Jnana Yoga”, where renunciation is the most appropriate path to achieve goal. And ” Karma Yoga” is for the aspirants who are very desirous of attaining highest degree of closeness with GOD, such as achieving “Brahma Loka”.

This Upanishad starts with the Shanti Mantra as below:
ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते । पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥ 
ॐ शांतिः शांतिः शांतिः ॥
Om poornamadah poornamidam poornaat- poornam-Udachayate; Poornasya Poorna-maadaaya Poorna-mevaa-vasishyate. Om Shanti! Shanti! Shanti!

Meaning of this mantra is:   ∞ + ∞ = ∞ 

” That is Whole, this is Whole; from the Whole, the Whole becomes manifest; from the Whole, when the Whole is negated, the Whole alone is what remains.

॥ अथ ईशोपनिषत् ॥

First mantra: The Path of Renunciation:

1) Ishavasyam idam sarvam yat kim ca jagatyam jagat; 2) tena tyaktena bhunjitha, ma gridhah kasyasvid dhanam.

Analysis: The Lord Pervades the World(s)

  1. Whatever exists in this changing Universe is full of the Lord. All this is enveloped by the Supreme being. That supreme reality pervades everything here and there. There is no such place where It is not there. It exists in everything.
  2. Protect the Self by renunciation. Claim nothing; enjoy, do not covet anybody’s property. Let go and rejoice. Be practical. It does not mean giving up.

Though it is believed that possession and acquisition lead to happiness, but possessiveness creates attachment. Attachment brings unhappiness. Renunciation is the path for true happiness. An aspirant who devotes himself or herself entirely to contemplation of the Self as the Lord, has no further need of worldly duties. This renunciation leads to the knowledge of the Self and finds immortality.

Second mantra: “Niskama Karmayoga” is the concept we get from the second mantra.

1) Kurvanneveha karmani jijivisecchatam samah; 
2) evam tvayi nanyatheto'sti na karma lipyate nare.  

Kurvanneveha karmani” means only by doing Karma [ karma means duties] ( here karma means all rituals like Agnihotra etc). “jijivisecchatam samah” means like to live for 100 years. By doing such karma, bad karma will not touch you. It is recommended that such karma should be done with constant selfless attitude. Performing duties without any motive, one will not be bounded to the actions. This path of action is known as ” Pravritti Marga”.

Second mantra emphasize on doing our duty as an act for Ishwara (means His creation) as His agent and not to act for own self, to benefit self. Doing so, live as long as you wish. 100 years of living is just symbolic here.

 All we know that, when we reach at the core of the Consciousness, the Awareness, we find there a stillness in mind which has no conflicts, no disruption in mind. We can then think of a state of ” NO MIND” what we say as ” Chitta Vritti Nirodah” the beginning of Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Here mind is calm, quite and still. In reality that is our true nature. “YOU ARE THAT’ according to ChhAndagyo Upanishad. If we can live this way, karmic law cannot bind us. “na karma lipyate” Therefore let go and be pleased with what you have and enjoy.

Third Mantra: 

§ The Sunless World: The path of sufferings:

1) Asurya nama te loka andhena tamasavrtah; 2) tamste pretyabhigacchanti ye ke cat mahano janah.

They that deny the Self, return after death to a godless birth, blind, enveloped in darkness. [ These births partake of the nature of Asuras, the demons”)

The third Mantra says about the darkness which has to be understood in depth. This is the world of demons filled with demoniac wealth. Asurya = a + surya: means where Sun is not there. This literally means that there is only darkness in that world. There is no light there. This darkness is meant for ignorance. Light of Wisdom shines this darkness. 

The Upanishad says this world of darkness [ Asurya loka] as world of a) Spiritual Blindness, b) Spiritual darkness, c) Spiritual ignorance and engaging in the deeds that kill the awareness. Such darkness keeps away from the freedom of the Eternal, Immortal, Divine Self.

Here lokas are referred to those dimensions, also known as astral planes, where births take place according to fruits of karma which are enjoyed “lokyante”. Ignorance which blocks the realization of one’s true nature of Self, thereby becomes the cause for repeated births according to the deeds. ” Ye ke catmahano janah“: This means that those who do not know atman due to ignorance are slayers of atman(atmahanah). And for this fault of slaying atman, they return to Samsara (this world).

Q) What causes rebirth? 

Answer: So long you are away from knowing your true self, you yourself is the cause of your rebirth.

 Fourth Mantra: Nature of the Self (Atman)

 1) anejadekam manaso javiyo nainaddeva apnuvanpurvamarsat ; 2) tad dhavatah anyan-atyeti tisthat tasminnapah matarisva dadhaati.

§ Unmoving, it moves swifter than thought. Remaining still, It outstrips all that run.

The Self is One. Unmoving, it moves faster than mind. The senses (Devas) lag, but Self runs ahead. Unmoving, it outruns pursuit. Out of Self comes the breath, that is the life of all things. In It, as Water by the Air, all action of all living beings is supported.

Analysis: –

This Self, the Absolute Truth, the Awareness, Infinite, Immortal, Omnipresent, indescribable, known as Brahman in Vedas is without attributes and beyond Space and Time. This Self is truly ONE, the WHOLE and therefore all-embracing.

This is to be understood that there is a centre which is not fixed in one place, but it moves. Everything moves, such as this Universe is expanding. Galaxies are going far away from one another. Subatomic particles, electrons move. Mind moves. Everything moves but One remain unmoving and that is Awareness.

This Self is beyond the senses, beyond the understanding, beyond all expression. It is pure Awareness [ NIRGUNA BRAHMAN]. It is BLISS. It is ONE without SECOND. Know it Alone!

The Devas represent the mind and senses. The ignorant mind, not aware of who the Self is, tries to catch It, through different paths, different knowledge, but never succeeds. The Self, as it were, is always ahead of the mind. 

All the objects are perceived through five senses. We have limitations of perceptions. These five senses are five instruments. The Brain system processes data inputs received through these five instruments. There are creatures, whose instruments are different from us. Whether it be vision or hearing or sensing through skin etc. As like in case of snakes, which can sense 0.02 degree of difference in temperature. Similarly, there are examples in case of audible sound frequencies. For vision too there are different creatures with different abilities. Therefore, different impressions, and different perceptions work. Nothing is impossible. so, the interpretation of existence is quite relative according to difference in perceptions.

Essence of existence (SAT) is that It is all pervading. If we can activate the core of everything, that is Consciousness, then we can perceive some extra, more than what is ordinary. For that we must remove avidya (ignorance). We have to search for extra which cannot be perceived through sense organs. That is known as “seeking the truth”. 

So nearer yet far away. For that we have to realize that: I am not separate from the Truth, the Existence(sat), the Consciousness(chit). I am the Consciousness. I am aware that I am pure Consciousness. Pure Consciousness is that Consciousness, where there is no thought.

Fifth Mantra:

§ The Self appears to move-yet It moves not. It is far distant-yet It is near. It is within all, and It is without all.

1) tat ejati tat na ejati tat doore tat u antike, 2) tat antarasya sarvasya tat u sarvasyasya bahyatah.

1) The meaning of the mantra in this part is that: the Atman moves and yet It moves not; It is far away and yet is near. 2) The second part of the mantra says: It is within all of this; and yet It is also outside of all this.


The Self is beyond all mental concepts. far and near, within and outside, moving and unmoving – all these are concepts of mind with respect to space and time. Mind tells us that we cannot catch the Self. The mind and the Self are in two different realms of reality. But let us look into the pictures given below: 

This is how ONE became many.

 Sixth Mantra: The Jnani- Seer of the Self:

1) yas tu sarvani bhutani aatmani eva anupashyati 2) sarva bhutesu ca aatmanam tatah na vijugupsate.

1) He who sees all beings and forms in the Self, he alone really sees. 2) He also sees the Self in all beings and forms, there after he feels no hatred towards anyone.

Analysis: Everything in the creation is Atman:

The sixth mantra says that seeing all beings in the Lord, means as being superimposed on the Lord and seeing the Lord in all beings means as the substratum of all beings. God- realization ceases the existence of individuality and creates Universality. Sarvatma Bhava must be the feelings for equality. This is the true essence of God-realization. This will ensure the absence of all ill feelings in human. We should see the Virat [jagat] as our own Atman. There should be neither Raga nor Dvesa, nor the feelings of exhilaration nor grieving. When one has such an integrated vision of life, it becomes impossible to hate any being. Dislike and hatred only come when we see others as different from us.

Seventh Mantra: Freedom from Delusion and sorrow:

1) yasmin sarvani bhutany atmaivabhud vijanata 2) tatra ko mohah kahsoka hekatvam anupasyatah.

1) When all beings and forms have become one in his own Self-knowing; thus, 2) how can he feel delusion and grief thereafter, who sees oneness (non-Duality) alone everywhere.


When the feeling of Oneness will be permanent, the person will not consider any event or object as his or her. The thinking of mine or not mine will vanish. There will be equality in all spheres of life under all circumstances. One transcends all pain and pleasures. Then there will be no more duality of subject and object. No more experiencer, experiencing and experienced. As in an ocean, the waves are not separate from ocean. Arises in the ocean and merge there itself.


Reward of Realisation: The Birth of Universal Love

When we realise the Text so far discussed above, we will be to establish an World free of Hate. The vision of Unity will prevail then. Universal Love will be seen everywhere. The experience of Oneness with all beings comes as a result of the highest knowledge by discovering the true nature of Self.

Readers are requested to read the Sanskrit version of this Upanishad from the site whose link is here:

Recommended readings:
  1. Back to the Truth: 5000 years of ADVAITA by Dennis Waite. **
  2. THE TEN PRINCIPAL UPANISHADS: Translated by Shree Purohit** Swami and W.B.Yeats
  3. Isavasya Upanishad for Beginners: By Swami Krishnananda.
  4. Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sankaracharya: Translated by Swami Gambhirananda.**
  5. Commentary of ChAndogya Upanishad: By Swami Krishnananda.
  6. IshaVasya Upanishad: By Swami GuruBhaktananda.
  7. EIGHT UPANISADS -VOL-1 with commentary of Sankaracharya, Translated by SWAMI GAMBHIRANANDA.
  8. THE TAITTIRIYA UPANISHAD: SHIKSHAVALLI-ANANDAVALLI-BHRIGUVALLI with Sri Shankara’s Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidanandera Saraswati.
  9. A-U-M Awakening to Reality: By Dennis Waite***
  10. Panchadasi: Swami Vidyaranya:
  11. Information available on internet.

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