Isavasya Upanishad: God in and as Everything – Swami Chinmayananda

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The last Chapter of the ‘Sukla Yajur-veda Samhita’, the Isavasya Upanishad, is composed of just eighteen stanzas. However, this beguilingly short epic is also one of the most profound of its ilk. The essence embedded, and philosophy expounded, by this Upanishad would easily accommodate innumerable text and reference books. Written in metrical form by the torch bearer of Hindu Dharma, Sri Adi Sankara, the Isavasya Upanishad, for the rustic and the unassuming might sound, and read, at both first glance and hearing, like an incredulous amalgam of contrasting preaching. The mercurial and brilliant Swami Chinmayananda, dissects the profundities of this magnificent work, with a flawless finesse that makes it extremely accommodating for the layman, in his book, “Isavasya Upanishad.” As the Swami himself reveals, “the very theme of this Upanishad is how to realise the identity of the all-pervading Truth, that is, to know the Self within and Brahman without, which means to ‘see’ the Truth in the outer world of plurality, through the disturbing phenomenal world. It seems an attempt to harmoniously reconcile the immortal and eternal controversy between the path of Knowledge and the path of Action.” This attempt to reconcile karma yoga with jnana yoga forms the very bulwark of the Isavasya Upanishad.

There is an uncanny similarity to the tenets propounded by the Isavasya Upanishad and the Bhagavad Gita. Unable to grasp the disequilibria of the Plurality of the world, a distraught Arjuna, is on the verge of abdicating his responsibilities as a warrior price after getting terribly unsettled by the sight of the Kaurava forces arrayed against him. The very thought of piercing the visages of his preceptor, grandfather and cousins with unsparingly sharp arrows assails the innermost recesses of his mind and heart. It takes the clarion call of Krishna to enlighten Arjuna about the path of work, which is as meritorious, if not more, than the path of renunciation. The Upanishads have placed an immense value on the dignity of labour. The path to be traversed by the Karma Yogi is accorded unabashed and unbridled respect and reverence. Hence the uneducated and ill-informed myth that the sole path to salvation and self-realization is the path of renunciation stands dismantled, dismembered and disproved. Abiding by one’s own roles and responsibilities is in itself a sincere penance.

As Swami Chinmayananda informs his readers, for an experience to be consummated in life, there needs to be a conflation of three factors – ‘the experiencer, the experienced, and a set relationship that is to be maintained between the experiencer and the experienced called experiencing.’ The indomitable seers and enlightened ones of the Hindu Dharma, in all their works recognised the sovereignty of the ‘experiencer’ over the ‘experienced’ and the ‘experiencing.’

Man, in the general sense of physiognomy is one undivided personality. However, the flesh and blood visage masks an invisible clash of personalities battling within to gain ascendancy over one another. The physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual personalities create a confusing clamour with each tugging in different directions enmeshed in their own priorities. These four states possess their own values, ruminate over their own thoughts, desires, and always are engaged in a tussle to unshackle or unfetter themselves in trying to gravitate to a greater pedestal of freedom, peace and joy. “But, if there be a technique by which we can train, discipline and integrate all these wild and madly revolting personalities in us together into one unit, certainly, we can thereafter order much more freedom and happiness for ourselves in the outer world. These techniques are together termed as ‘religion’ by the great seers. What this technique is and how to accomplish it is the main burden of the Upaniads, the sacred books of the Hindus. What is the constitution and nature of man and how he should view himself and the world outside; – in short how he should act as the right ‘experiencer’ correctly ‘experiencing’ the true objects to be ‘experienced’ is the secret core of all Upaniads.”

The very first stanza of the Isavasya Upanishad encapsulates the entire conundrum of duality and also shatters the entrenched dogmas associated with such a conundrum.

“ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पुर्णमुदच्यते
पूर्णश्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

(Om Puurnnam-Adah Puurnnam-Idam Puurnnaat-Purnnam-Udacyate

Puurnnashya Puurnnam-Aadaaya

Puurnnam-Eva-Avashissyate||

Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||)

Meaning: 


Aum! That is infinite, and this(universe) is infinite.


The infinite proceeds from the infinite.


(Then) taking the infinitude of the infinite (universe),


It remains as the infinite alone.


Aum! Peace! Peace! Peace!

This seemingly complex stanza is simplified in a marvelous manner by Swami Chinmayananda with a singularly unique analogy of a ‘ghost in the post’. A weary traveler seeking refuge in a post views a ghost on the post. This visual presentation that encounters the traveler transcends a mere apparition, and possesses a form that although terrifying in nature and intent is perfect in so far as physiology is concerned. However, upon closer examination, to the mighty relief of the traveler or the perceiver, the ghost fades into oblivion and what remains is just the ordinary post. “The ghost was not where the post was not; the ghost was exactly where the post was. In short, the ghost rose from the post, remained in the post borrowing its reality from the post, and merged back in the end into the post.”

Usually when a cause triggers an effect the cause itself undergoes a material or significant transformation. For example, a seed ceases to be one when it sprouts into a plant, a lump of clay loses its identity once it is formed into a pot etc. However, the Infinite does not undergo an iota of transformation even when the finite arises from it. The Upanishad negates the proposition of diminishing of the Infinite when it proclaims, “when this is taken out of that Whole, what remains is again the Whole.”

Swami Chinmayananda also explains that the Upanishads categorise the transformation of man from the base and ignorant one to the Enlightened One through three different stages. “The animal-man stage is the dull insensitive stage of least awareness, and they constitute the slaves, the underdogs, the sensuous and the unprincipled atheists. To them, religion and spiritual practices are meaningless since they are no better in their level of awareness in them than the cow in their backyard. Some of them evolve into the next higher stage of a greater awareness, the man-man stage. These constitute the religious and the true seekers. Our śāstras call this type of men as the adhikārīs, meaning ‘the fit ones’ for spiritual life”. The super-man or the God-man stage is when man ends being a superficial sheath of bones and tissues and becomes the very embodiment of the Self.

Isavasya Upanishad: God in and as Everything”  is a dazzling work by one of the greatest exponents of Vedanta in contemporary times.

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