Saturday, October 4, 2008

Upanishad of the Lord

Aum! The universe, with all that is mobile in it, is inhabited by the Lord; therefore enjoy renouncing and do not covet the richness of others. [1]

Acting in the world according to this wisdom, one can aspire to live a hundred years and action shall not restrict your freedom. [2]

After death, the killers of the soul go to the worlds of the demons, covered by blinding darkness. [3]

The Self is motionless, and even faster than the mind. The senses cannot reach Him because He goes before them. In His quietude, He exceeds the speed of any runner. Because of this, Mātariśvan (wind), the activities of every living being is maintained. [4]

While moving He is motionless. He is far also very close. He is both inside and outside of everything. [5]

He who sees everything and everyone in the Self alone, and sees the Self in everything and everyone, hates not anything or anyone. [6]

What can cause misery or illusion to the enlightened one, who has realized that everything and everyone is his own Self, when wherever he looks, he only sees unity? [7]

The Ātman pervades everything. It is radiant, incorporeal, devoid of muscles, pure, immaculate, self-created and all-embracing. It is the omniscient Seer and it is self-sufficient. It has established the laws and duties since time immemorial. [8]

Shukla Yajurveda XL:1-8 (Isha Upanishad 1-9)

Trans. Ramakrishnananda Swami Shaktipada


Above are the first eight verses of the Isha Upanishad, the first among the traditional Vedic (Mukhya) Upanishads. The term Isha means Lord or Ruler, and therefore the name of this text can be translated as "Upanishad of the Lord." Alternatively, it is also called the Ishavasya Upanishad, and is so named after the first word in its text ishavasyam (the Lord dwells). Unlike other Upanishads, the Isha Upanishad is literally the closing chapter of the Shukla Yajurveda's Vajasaneyi recension. Another name for the same Upanishad is the Vajasaneyi Samhita Upanishad.

Since it is literally a part of a Vedic samhita, its consists of poetic verses meant to be chanted, rather than prosaic verses meant to be recited. The poetic verses that make up Vedic samhitas are called mantras, and so this text is a mantra upanishad. The text consists of only eighteen short mantras, but its brevity is outweighed by its philosophical and theological import. Volumes and volumes have been written on this short, but important Upanishad. Great masters propounding different philosophies have commented extensively on this text, and tried to find evidence for their own philosophical standpoint therein.

Here, we examine only the first eight mantras of this text and highlight the salient points from a monistic Shaivite point of view.

The Upanishad begins with a bold declaration – whatever there is in this universe, it is pervaded by the Lord. He is everywhere and in all beings. There is nowhere that He is not. But, how do we find Him everywhere? The Upanishad says by renunciation – renunciation of selfish desires. When we renounce selfish external desires, we learn to look within ourselves for happiness. It is only by this wisdom, says the Upanishad, that we can progress spiritually. But this does not mean renouncing the world. Here the Upanishad informs us that we may live a hundred years and perform all the actions we need, but once we learn to experience the truth within ourselves, no external action will bind us and nothing will restrict that inner freedom or spiritual progress (verses 1-2). The Upanishad goes on to state that those who do not even attempt to look within enter the regions of darkness, and calls them “slayers of the soul.” This does not mean that they have “slain their soul” in a literal sense, but that they have deprived themselves of learning and experiencing the true meaning of existence. As a result, they have fallen down to levels of consciousness associated with lower chakras (worlds of the demons). Having never made the effort in the present lifetime, they must attempt to raise themselves to higher consciousness in successive lifetimes (verse 3).

In the next verse, the Upanishad begins speaking of the Atman, the Self. The term Self or Atman as used here indicates the Universal Self known as Brahman in Vedanta and Paramashiva (Parashiva) in Shaivism. The Upanishad declares that this Self lies beyond the reach of our ordinary consciousness consisting of the mind and the senses. The Self is realized only by surpassing the ordinary states of consciousness in samadhi. It is the Universal Self, the Self of all, that is the basis of all activity in creation. It is because of that Self that the wind (meaning prana, vital energy) functions in every living being – maintaining and enabling our activity (verse 4).

That Self which is everywhere is ever in motion and ever in stillness (verse 5). Here, we find much in parallel with Shaiva Agamic teachings that Paramashiva is not just pure, placid consciousness, but ever brimming with activity. The Absolute is never without activity. Its eternal activity manifests as cycles of creation, sustenance and dissolution. This activity is inherent to Paramashiva, and never to be thought of either external to It or as a mere thought construct on our part. Though the Absolute is an absolute unity, for the purpose of comprehension we speak of It in two aspects – the consciousness and the activity. The consciousness is Paramashiva and the activity is Parashakti. Paramashiva never exists without Parashakti. The Absolute is dimensionless, spaceless, and timeless. He is far and near, He is both inside and outside. It is utterly incomprehensible to the mind and senses.

Next the Upanishad moves to the topic of the realized sage who has mastered this wisdom. Such a sage realizes that Paramashiva is in all, in everything and nothing exists but That. He sees the Self in all and all in the Self. Such a realized being is called a jivanmukta, and such a being will not harbor any hate or bad feeling toward another because s/he sees everything as an extension of the same Self (verse 6). Of such a jivanmukta, the Upanishad asks a rhetorical question: “what can cause misery or illusion to the enlightened one?” (verse 7)

Finally in the eighth verse, the Upanishad declares again that the Atman pervades everything. Here we learn to put into context what is meant by pervading. The verb to pervade as used here and in the first verse does not indicate any distinction between the pervading and the pervaded. In the previous three verses, the text has already declared that nothing is distinct or different from Paramashiva. Therefore, the phrases the Lord inhabits or the Atman pervades should not be taken to mean that He is distinct from that which is being pervaded. Though He is truly the basis (material, instrumental and efficient) of and non-distinct from all existence, He is nevertheless seen and understood as the omniscient Seer of all and personified as the Lord (Isha), the first and highest Being.

In Shaivism, we call the personal Lord Shiva or Parameshvara (Highest Lord). Shaivism teaches that the Absolute consciousness (Paramashiva), its inseparable Activity (Parashakti), and the first conception of Being within the Absolute (Parameshvara) are three perfections of the Supreme. In Agamic terms, Parashakti is also called Paranada or Shiva Tattva, and Parameshvara is referred to as Parabindu or Shakti Tattva. They are not to be seen as distinct or distinguishable from Paramashiva. Understanding and worshipping the Supreme as the personal Lord is therefore not a lower or lesser path, but one of full realization of the unity of the Divine.

In essence, the philosophical teachings of the Upanishad of the Lord are in consonance with those of the Shaiva Agamas.

Aum Namah Shivaya.

Agnideva © 2008. All rights reserved.

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