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                                                   18.7  ISHOPANISHAT  P.7

Practical Implications


The sum and substance of these different interpretations of the two words in these three verses may, in a sense, be given as follows. Anything which is not an end in itself is avidyA. So Action by itself, rituals by themselves, just a secular knowledge of the universe, the efforts towards spiritual growth, etc. are all avidyA compared to the end towards which they are directed. But the ends themselves are not to be spoken of as great without the effort or means or the appearance in the phenomenal world. Thus actions done for specific results are not to be decried, because that may be the only manner in which you can be of service to the rest of mankind. Similarly scholarliness about Brahman may be good in itself, but without the efforts for spirituality to be in that Brahma-bhAva, the knowledge is not worth it. Again, consciousness of unity, the awareness of the One Omnipresent Divinity in all existences, animate and inanimate, is certainly a great objective and is truly the end of all spiritual effort, but the simultanous consciousness of the multiplicity which stares us in the face an which is the basis for our own existence in this world, cannot be ignored. The very truth that the Impersonal Divinity itself coexists with its own Personal aspect of  multiplicity (whether absolutely real or not) through which it manifests in this world, tells us that we cannot throw away the multiplicity in our daily life. To seek the One is not to deny the Many – leave aside the difference  in their status of Reality.




Thus it appears the simultaneous interaction and symbiosis of both avidyA and vidyA as mentioned in the different interpretations as well as in scores of others, is necessary for the spiritual growth – and through it the living in the world of plurality – of the personality. Just as SAdhanA (spiritual practice) and JnAna (Wisdom) have to complement each other, avidyA and vidyA have to complement each other in the development of the spiritual personality. Consciousness of multiplicity alone would lead you only to darkness because you would be missing the Reality. The Many, if it is divorced from The One, becomes the obscuring veil of the One. On the other hand consciousness of unity alone would also lead you to darkness because you will be a misfit to live in this world of multiplicity.  You must be able to see the One in the Many, work through the Many in the full awareness of the presence of the One, knowing full well that the Many are the manifestations of the One. This also correlates with the meaning of Death as enunciated with emphasis by Sanatsujata in that overnight capsule of Dharma given by him to the blind king Dhritarashtra on the eve of the Mahabharata War. He declared that the default from the Consciousness of Unity is Death. So while working in the multiplicity of the world, the consciousness of one-ness must be a continuous undercurrent of awareness. That is how one faces Death and attains Immortality.


Finally one word about the verb ‘vicacaxire’ in Verse No.10.  It is a compound meaning of three verbs put into one. It means ‘see, experience and say’.  So these DhIras who are telling us about these truths are saying it after experiencing it through their intuitive vision. To that extent, it is first hand information for us.


SambhUti and asambhUti


Immediately after these three verses the Upanishad goes on to give another unit of three verses which also generate the same type of variation in its interpretations. Verses 12, 13 and 14 say exactly similar things about two other concepts, the words that are used, being sambhUti and asambhUti. Variously these may mean, respectively, Birth and non-birth; Becoming and non-becoming; The Relative and the Absolute; The body and the Spirit, the Manifest and the Unmanifest. The three verses are almost verbatim the same as Nos.9, 10 and 11 except for the replacement of the words ‘avidya’ and ‘vidyA’ by ‘sambhUti’ and ‘asambhUti’ respectively.  The details would take us into more technicalities and so we refer the interested reader to the original bhAshyas of the Acaryas, commentaries by Sri Aurobindo and other seers and experts of the 20th century.


The golden prayer


hiraNmayena pAtreNa satyasyApihitam mukham /

tat tvaM pUshhan-napAvRRiNu satyadharmAya dRRRishhTaye // 15 //

pUshhannekarshhe yama sUrya prAjApatya

vyUha rashmIn samUha tejaH /

yat te rUpaM kalyANatamaM tat te pashyAmi

yosAvasau purushhaH, so’hamasmi // 16 //


The face of Reality is hidden by the golden container. Reveal it, Oh Sun, so that I may visualise the Dharma of the Self as Truth. Oh Lord of Light, the only Seer, Controller of all, the Sun, giver of life to all, spread apart your rays, gather up your brilliance so that I may perceive the wondrous form of your being. For I myself am That.


The Sun is the only visible representative of the Supreme Truth, Divine Light, Brahman. There are only three locations in which one can visualise that Brahman in this earthly world. One is the Sun, the second is the inside of the heart, and the third is the space between the eyebrows, where the AjnA Cakra is indicated. The last one gives the esoteric reason why Hinduism insists on a tilak or mark between the eyebrows. Of these three since the Sun itself can be visualised as Brahman, the worship of Brahman, the Ultimate, through worship of the Sun, is the easiest to practise. He is the One therefore, that illuminates also from within. Our limited Consciousness has to open up to the infinite Consciousness represented by the Sun. The allegory of the golden container is full of meaning. The Sanskrit word ‘paatra’ is derived from the definition: pIyate anena iti paatraM  -- that by which we ‘drink’, i.e., experience. We experience the good and bad results of our past Karma from this reservoir of our SamskAra which brings forth our cycle of births and deaths. There are three seeds for this sprouting forth of our SamskAras or VAsanAs. The three are: Light (cit), Existence (Sat) and Love (Ananda). They respectively activate our intelligence from its states of ignorance and inertness, our Life (i.e., birth and death) from its state of formless subtlety and our Mind through its states of Love and Hate. These activations express themselves in our wish to know, our wish to live and our wish to enjoy – these three being in turn sustained by one’s father through knowledge, one’s mother through food, and one’s spouse through pleasure and companionship. This then is the whole cycle of our SamsAra. The reservoir for all this is the golden container representing the reservoir of all our VAsanAs. The Creator, BrahmA, through whom this blossoms in the world as Life, is called Hiranya-garbha (Golden Conception) in this charge of his. So the rays of the Sun which are golden in colour and which constitute the blinding factor for not allowing us to see the Sun, the Reality, constitute as it were, the golden container of our VAsanAs. The only Seer is the Hiranya-garbha who sees it all through. Our individuality, our names and forms, our inner organ of Mind, with all its ramifications, its accessories in the form of sense organs,  -- all these are created by this Hiranya-garbha, who gives the Light to all of them. He is therefore the SavitA, the Sun. So we ask him, plead with him, and request him to remove the blinding rays from himself, because the seeds of our SamskAras are with him, so that we can see Him as He really is. He is the One who can make us transcend our individuality and make us see the Oneness  and realise that ‘What I see is myself, I am this Purushha, I am Brahman – ahaM brahma asmi.


The final utterance


The last two verses of the Ishopanishad constitute a prayer to be uttered at the moment of death. They say


vAyuranilaM amRRitaM athedaM bhasmAntaM sharIraM /

aum krato smara kRRitaM smara krato smara kRRitaM smara // 17 //

agne naya supathA rAye asmAn vishvAni deva vayunAni vidvAn /

yuyodhyasmaj juharANaM eno bhUyishhTAmte nama-uktim vidhema // 18 //


Let my breath merge with the cosmic breath. Ashes are my body’s end. OM. Remember Oh Mind, remember what has been done. Remember Oh Mind, remember what has been done. Remember Brahman.  Oh Agni, show us the right path. Lead us to eternal freedom. Thou who knowest all. Preserve us from the deceitful attraction of sin. To thee we offer our salutations with devotion, again and yet again.


Agni is Fire, but it is the symbol of the Divine Will, Power and Force.  Very often Agni is the messenger who connects the offerings of the humans with their divine destinations and the messages  and presents from the Divine to the human world. So the prayer to Agni as the last prayer of Man before he departs from this earthly abode is quite fitting. And also it is fitting in another sense, because after the soul leaves the body it is to the fire that this body is offered  (at least in Hinduism) . This Brahman which is the last in Ishopanishad, is also the last Brahman of the Shukla Yajur Veda. The remembering of Aum is the remembering of Brahman.  He who casts off his body with the word Aum on his lips reaches the supreme goal,  says the Lord in the eighth chapter of the Gita.


Om ShAntiH ShAntiH ShAntiH.



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