IshAvAsyopanishhat (or) Ishopanishhat
The First and Last Word
Almost everything in Hindu philosophy and metaphysics goes back to the Vedas, which are unwritten records of sayings of the age-old Rishis, handed down to us by oral transmission all through the several millenia they have been current. The end parts of the Vedas contain the Upanishads. Though we have only four Vedas, each Veda is said to have had several branches – most of them are non-extant now – and it appears each such branch or ShAkhA had an Upanishat of its own. Thus we have in our current stock of ancient scriptural literature 120 or so Upanishads. Of these about eleven are considered most important and most ancient. Almost every great religious teacher has commented on most of these eleven Upanishads. The IshAvAsyopanishat, or, shortly Ishopanishat, belongs to the Shukla (white) branch of the Yajurveda. It is actually a very small Upanishat, containing just 18 two-line verses. But within these 18 verses it spans the entire spectrum of Hindu philosophy, religion, ritualism, mythology and metaphysics so precisely and so succinctly that it is probably the most often quoted Upanishat. It is the first word because it is one of the earliest Upanishats. It is also the last word because it says everything that has to be said in Vedanta and, in addition, it occurs as the very last concluding part of Shukla yajur veda.
The very first principle
IshA-vAsyam-idam sarvam – thus begins the Upanishat. Incidentally the name of the Upanishat derives from these beginning words. This entire viksible universe is to be considered as clothed, covered or inhabited by the Lord (Isha, in Sanskrit), the Ruler, the Creator. It is the Lord, that is, Brahman, in this context, that lies as the transcendental substratum for everything that we see, inspite of the flux and variations that present themselves and totally hide the more permanent thing underneath. This transcendental unity underlying everything in the phenomenal world is the one stable Spirit inhabiting and governing a universe of movement and all forms of movement. The word ‘jagat’ which means universe, has inbuilt into it the meaning of mutability. The indwelling immutable Spirit is Vasu-deva, the Lord that permanently resides within, according to His own promise in the 61st Shloka of the 18th chapter of the Gita. The universe is nothing but a conglomeration of names and forms. Look at it from a distance, as you would look at a painting in order to appreciate it better. When we see a movie on the screen, we know fully well that what goes on in the screen is really not there. So also the universe which is visible to us is a superimposition on the reality that is behind, and that is Isha, the Lord. What we see is relatively unreal – mark the adjective, relatively – compared to the Absolute Reality which is the Truth. Whatever we see in this phenomenal world only comes and goes. They are all changeable, mutable. We do not realise that the only immutable thing is the indweller, VAsu-deva, who is the One that dwells everywhere.
Our non-realisation is because our minds are overloaded with things other than the Lord, with all things mundane and profane.
Prescription for daily life
The first verse reads:
IshA-vAsyam-idaM sarvaM yat kimca jagatyAM jagat /
tena tyaktena bhunjItAH mA gRRidhah kasyasvid dhanam // 1 //
All this is inhabited, enveloped, by the Lord whatever that moves in this moving world. Enjoy by renouncing it. Lust not after any one’s possession.
To see this Imperishable (because it is unconditioned by Time), Indivisible (because it is unconditioned by Space) and Immutable (because it is unconditioned by Causality) Lord everywhere is the first maxim. It is not an academic injunction however because in the very second line of the verse we are given the rule for a daily divine life: Enjoy by renouncing it – here the ‘it’ refers to the ‘jagat’ (universe) in the first line. The enjoyment is in the establishing oneself in the bliss of the Atman. Incidentally the word ‘jagat’ comes from the root verb ‘to move’ or ‘to change’. The universe is nothing but a series of changeful states.
How can renunciation be enjoyment?