Thursday, March 19, 2009

Isavasya Upanishad: Mantra 1


Om Isavasyam-Idam Sarvam
yat-kimcha Jagatyam-Jagat
Tena Tyaktena Bhunjeethha
ma Gridhah Kasyasvid-dhaman


The Lord inhabits all this (that is perceivable)--whatever moves in this moving universe. Therefore by renunciation, you can enjoy all things. Do not covet any one's wealth.


1) The Isavasya Upanishad begins with the word "Isa". Isa is the name of the Lord in this particular Upanishad. From the Vedantic point of view the Lord is both saguna or with qualities and nirguna or without qualities. This means that the Lord is not simply the underlying Essence of all things. The Lord is also totally separate from the "self" that we may believe ourselves to be due to avidya or ignorance.

2) "Vasyam" can be understood by looking at the root word "vas" which means to be covered, to be clothed, to be enveloped, to be pervaded, and to be permeated. It is a word rich in meaning--and the Rishi is using it to teach that the Lord is clothing, pervading, etc. all of existence.

3) If we are considering this word carefully, we may easily question, "How can the Lord be outside of all things at the same time that He is pervading them and inside them?" We can ask this question because the meanings of the word "vas" are related to both the inside and the outside of things.

4) The answer to the above question is that this is an assertion from the Upanishads and from this particular Rishi. The Rishi doesn't explain how. He is simply teaching what has been revealed to him by the Lord. An assertion is not something that needs to be explained. The hearer is welcome to take it or leave it. For someone to take it does not make it truer. And for someone to leave it does not make it less true. Either way is no skin off of the Rishi's nose!

5) But I always like to reflect on why he says "vasyam". It seems to me that he is teaching that the Lord is inside and outside for a reason, which is this: the Lord is inside all things and pervading each one of us as the Atmic Essence which is One with the Brahmanic Essence--and the Lord is also outside of all things because He is not limited to any particular thing or person. The Essence of the Lord is pervading even a person who is doing terrible actions. We do not want to say that the Lord is doing these actions. The Lord is not doing any action. He is simply present in the action and with the action in the same way sunlight is present to illuminate all things without being those things.

6) "Idam sarvam" means "all this (that is perceivable)." There two types of things that we can perceive: external things and internal things. We perceive external things through the jnanendriyas or organs of perception. These are srotra (hearing), tvac (touch), caksus (sight), rasana (taste), and ghrana (smell). We perceive internal things through the inner organ or the antahkarana. The antahkarana is made up of manas (mind), buddhi (intellect), ahamkara (I-thought), and citta (consciousness). In order to determine for ourselves whether or not the Lord is pervading and inside of us, we turn within to our buddhi (intellect) and then we begin to experiment with turning it away from the external things it has been identifying with and toward the light of awareness within ourselves.

7) Next we come to the phrase "yat-kimcha Jagatyam-Jagat" which means "whatever (yat-kimcha) moves in this moving universe (Jagatyam-Jagat)." "Jagat" means "change of state" or "world" and here we can reflect on why it is helpful to realize our unity with the Lord and the Lord's unity with all things. In the middle of a world that is none other than ceaseless "change of state" we easily feel the chaos that is inherent in this and long to know what is permanent, abiding and steady. But only the Lord in His Essence which He shares with us is permanent. So when we are in Jagat and do not realize Isa then we believe Jagat to be heavier and more bewildering than it is.

8) There is an example that draws together the points that we have considered so far. It is the example of waves, the ocean and water. If we envision each human being as being like a wave on the ocean and the Lord in His saguna form as Ishvara as being like the ocean, then we can see that there is difference within the vyavaharika (empirical level). Some waves are bigger than others as some people have a greater role to play in life than most others. Yet every wave, regardless of how big or small it is exist due to the existence of the ocean. No ocean, no waves. But there is also the matter of Essence. All waves are nothing but water. The ocean is also nothing but water. When we are considering water as a substance we can not measure it. Whether it is a small amount, a larger amount or all water, we can see no difference. The small amount is not less as water than the larger amount; and neither of these are less as water than all water. Water is water. To look from the angle that all waves depend on the ocean is relevant to the vyavaharika and to look from the angle that water is water is pointing to paramartha or the Being-Essence shared by all.

9) The second part of the mantra begins with the word "Tena", which means "therefore". In his excellent book on this Upanishad Swami Chinmayananda points out that Sri Madhavacharya has given us a beautiful new understanding of this word. Madhavacharya understands it to mean "by Him"--this is to say "by Isa". Since "Tyaktena" means "that which is renounced" or "that which is left, after all things have been renounced", then we can understand from this phrase that all things belong to the Lord, and we only have them on loan from Him.

10) Because all things given by the Lord are gifts, we can "enjoy" all these things. And "you can enjoy all things" is precisely the meaning of the next word in our mantra which is "Bhunjeetha". The important point being made here is that we can not enjoy a thing if there is a string running between the thing and our heart. If we think we are tied to anything after we find it then we will be distressed when we no longer have the thing or when it changes. To illustrate this point, here is a story that I heard recently from a friend. He was telling me that for a long time his mother wanted a convertible. He watched happily as she looked over different information on new convertibles that were available for a long time. Then one day he heard that she had finally settled and purchased her dream car. On his way out of his parent's home he went over to share the excitement with her. Only as he approached the shiny new car in the driveway, he saw that his mother's head was down as she sat inside it. And when he asked "So how do you like your new car, Mom?" she said "It's okay. But I thought this thing would be bigger and this feature would be different than it is." So my friend was not able to share some excitement with his mother because she was already not happy with the car! This is because there was an invisible string of presumed ownership and exaggerated expectation running between her heart and her new convertible. This is an extreme example of a dynamic that can emerge for anyone.

11) "Ma" means "do not" or "don't" and this word might have some of us cringing a bit--and wondering, "Is the Rishi trying to tell me what to do?" Of course the answer is no. This word comes after everything that has been taught previously in the mantra. So the Rishi is saying the word "don't" to those of us mature enough to appreciate the next facet of teaching. If we can't handle the word "don't" then it may be helpful for us to go back and reconsider the previous teachings.

12) "Do not" what? Do not "Gridhah"--"covet" "kasyasvid-dhaman"--"any one's wealth". Here we encounter a very direct teaching and the value of this teaching is in its clear focus on greed. According to Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha Mahaswamigal, the late Jagadguru of Sri Sringeri Sharada Peetham, "Sri Krishna describes desire, anger and greed as the triple gates of hell. These are man's worst enemies and one must never succumb to them. Desire can be overcome by dispassion. Anger is a result of frustration of desire. Thus by conquering desires completely one can conquer anger. An attempt must be made to control greed by impressing upon the mind that in reality everything belongs to Ishvara alone and that one is but an instrument in the hands of Ishvara." Of these three, greed is the most contrary to the cultivation of renunciation--the fruition of which is authentic "enjoyment".

om tat sat

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