Book of Wisdom - Isha Upanishad

  • By Swami Rama
  • August 2003

Fourth Pada      

9. Vayu-anilam-amrtam-athedam bhasmantam shariram,
Om Krato smara krtam smara krato smara krtam smara.

Now let my breath return to immortal Prana, and my body to ashes. Remember, O mind, remember Om, and remember my deeds. Remember my deeds.

10. Agne naya supatha raye asman vishvani deva vayunani vidvan, Yuyodhy-asmaj juhuranam-eno bhuyishtham te nama uktim vidhema.

Agni, lead me by the good path to the fruits of my actions. Deva, you know all deeds. Remove me from the fault of deceit. I offer words of devotion to you.

The seventeenth mantra speaks of one important thing, namely, that the sadhaka should practice enough sadhana in his life so as to be able to remember at death the highest name of God, OM, with his heart free from all passion. If it is not so his dense of identification with the body and the attachments and affections of the world will bring him pain. The following three instructions of the mantra must be born in mind!

1. This body is subject to death and decay. Do not identify the self with the body. Perform actions, but remain unattached to them.

2. Always remember OM.

3. Call back to your mind the actions performed by you in the past. It is natural at the time of death to recall both the good and the bad actions performed in the past. Those who do not perform bad actions, always remember God by their benevolent thoughts.

The teachings of the Upanishads deal with a number of sadhanas to modify one’s life. These principles are capable of completely altering the life of a sadhaka and placing him in the category of divine human beings. Man has been given full freedom by God to perform his duties and actions. He enjoys this freedom of action in this world from birth to death. This freedom lasts for the whole of life, but when in the last moments this masterhood and these rights are snatched away, a man grows weak and helpless. The teaching is that for the sake of gaining strength at this time, a man must work for the whole of his life dedicating his mind and intellect to Brahman. No obligation can be perfectly performed without this dedication of mind and intellect to God. It is good to keep one’s conduct and thoughts pure. We should always remember OM. It is only the thoughts of God which benefits us in the end; attachment to all other things is painful and unreal. Who will be your support when all rights are snatched away on the deathbed? Only mindfulness of OM can remove this painfulness.

A person who is free from all longings, feels great happiness even on his deathbed. But those who have only selfishly enjoyed the pleasure of this world for the whole of their lives and who never knew the art of inspired detached action, innate tendencies and attachments of their lives appear before them. It is a period of intense painfulness.

In the eighteenth mantra of the Ishopanishad there is an expression of the last desire of the sadhaka on his deathbed. His desire is that God should carry him through the right, pleasant path which is called agni-marga, the path of fire. After departing from this body man has to pass through one of two different paths: supatha and kupatha-the good path or the bad path. Death means separation from this gross body. Quite different from this gross body there is a subtle body also which is made of mind, intellect and ego. This subtle body remains even after separation from the gross body.

There is a prayer in this mantra to carry the jiva (soul) through the path of fire. It is quite proper to make this prayer. There are only two paths-one is the path of avidya (ignorance) full of darkness; the other is the path of vidya (knowledge) full of light. The word agni (fire) means agrenaya-that which leads the way of knowledge and light. Light and knowledge are foremost in the life of a sadhaka. Here the word fire should not be taken in the narrow sense. It is folly to worship fire, which is immanent everywhere, as merely something confined to the fire of an oven. The word fire has been used in this mantra in the sense of light and knowledge. Brahman is of the nature of light. It is He who is our first master and father. The fire that exists in all of us has originated from Him. He who gains this knowledge wears the crown of victory in his life. At the time of leaving this world and life, he is not tortured by attachment and conflicts of mind. This mantra speaks of the washing away of all sins and sorrows. These two paths have also been described as uttarayana path and dakshinayana path the northern and southern paths. Those who practice Yoga can understand this distinction very well. There are two different paths in Yoga sadhana-the path of sun and the path of moon. The path of sun is meant for ascetics and the path of moon is meant for pleasure-seekers. The path of sushumna is the middle path-the path of balance. We should choose our path and start on that path at once. Otherwise, when there is life, we have no discrimination; when discrimination comes, life is exhausted. Nevertheless, we should now start making proper use of our lives, the moment for awakening is upon us.

The Ishopanishad begins with the word Isha (God) and ends with the word agni (fire), the word-pervading power. Both terms mean the same thin. This world, too, is born out of Brahman and is then absorbed back into Brahman again. The mantras of the Ishopanishad contain the exposition of both ends of the life cycle and teach us the necessity of moving forward on the path of the detached performance of duty. Everyone should bring these teachings into practice.

                                                                    Om Shantih, Shantih, Shantih

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