Book of Wisdom - Isha Upanishad

  • By Swami Rama
  • August 2003

Search for Life       

Between two end points called birth and death, is a span we call life. But in reality, this span forms only a small fraction of our life. The totality of life is hidden beyond the points we call birth and death. Due to ignorance we take this small portion of life before us to be the whole of life. But it is not so.

This life is like an iceberg apparently floating on the surface of an ocean. A very small portion of this huge icy rock is visible to the eye. A far greater portion is concealed beneath the surface. From a distance it appears as if small piece of ice were floating on the surface; but a close and careful examination reveals that it is only a fraction of the whole. This small portion is the manifested and exposed portion. By far the greatest portion of the iceberg is hidden in the depths of the unknown. It is exactly the same with our life. Between birth and death there is only a very small known and manifested fraction of the totality of life. An infinitely larger portion is hidden in the unknown and the unmanifested. Our real Self is not confined to the manifested alone. We are not so small and insignificant. A thoughtful study helps us to realize that life is a grand thing, though we have forgotten its greater part. Knowledge of the manifested part of life alone cannot give us an understanding of the totality of life and the secrets of birth. Therefore we must also know the unmanifested part of life. When we gain knowledge of this unknown, many of our problems are solved and our queries satisfied.

The world to which we have come is only a stage in the journey of the larger life, before birth and after death. The object of a traveler cannot be achieved by sticking fast to any one stage of his journey. It is only moving forward that results in evolution. We will have to move forward. To move forward means to make progress. One whose march is obstructed, or one who stops on the way, fails in his development. This is the law. Here in this world we are as a sojourner, a guest who is entitled only to world we are as a sojourner, a guest who is entitled only to stay awhile in the guesthouse. Is it not so? We come and then depart. Whenever a wise man stays in a guesthouse, he does not develop any attachment to the walls and other things of the house because he knows these things do not belong to him. If anyone acts otherwise, he cannot reach the end of his journey successfully. The source of endless troubles and obstructions on our journey is this attachment which we develop to our friends relatives and co-workers.

An attitude of indifference and laxity towards the purpose of life is ruinous. We should always carefully refrain from such an attitude. Friends, my words may be unpleasant to you, but I will never give a coating of sweet words to this stern truth. How long can we beguile ourselves by turning away from the truth of life? Everyone, therefore, should be vigilant about the aim of life. It will be an auspicious day for man when he cultivates eagerness to achieve the objects of his life. The man who remains faithful to his object belongs to the divine category of men. Such a man finds himself in the company of elevated human beings much above the mass of common humanity. All this is possible and can be experienced in this very life. Realizing one’s present imperfection is the first sign of gaining knowledge. In our present condition we are imperfect. But it is also true that we can attain perfection in this life. The great men of the world bear witness to it. Taking birth in the midst of common human society, they made themselves great in this very world. Let us follow the path shown by them and liberate ourselves. The real dharma (norm) for man is to be free from all sufferings. All other duties ought to supplement this dharma alone.

In whatever circumstances you are, live as a sadhaka (devotee or spiritual seeker). There things are absolutely necessary to be a spiritual seeker: first, to be ever wakeful and persistent in realizing one's aim; second, to be careful about the right use of time; third to make the right use of every situation and circumstance in life. The whole world and its objects can come within the scope of our spiritual practice.

Our scriptures, Upanishads and sacred books have been teaching two ways of sadhana, namely the way of self-denial and the way of action. But in the present age both these ways seem to reach extremes in practice. The Upanishads declare that you can realize perfect bliss, reaching the highest peak of life, through the middle path, the path of tranquility, equilibrium, and harmonious balance. You should neither be completely lost in the world nor should you run away from it. The wisdom of the Upanishads (Brahmavidya) can prove useful and appropriate for the modern age. The wisest saying of the Ishopanishad, “tena tyaktena bhunjitha” gives us the key for gaining triumph in this world and in this life. It means that the things of this world can be most enjoyed in an attitude of perfect non-attachment.

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