Book of Wisdom - Isha Upanishad

  • By Swami Rama
  • August 2003

Introduction to the Ishopanishad     

The Ishopanishad (Isa Upanishad) is considered to be the foundation stone of Upanishadic knowledge. There are only eighteen mantras (brief verses) in this short Upanishad. The study of these mantras reveals that this Upanishad is complete in itself, though other Upanishads similarly describe Vedanta philosophy in detail. The Ishopanishad forms the 40th chapter of the Kanva Shakha of the Yajurveda. After the initial invocation of peace we divide it into four portions, or padas, for the sake of explaining it to the sadhakas.

The first pada of the Ishopanishad consists of the first three mantras. They throw light on Brahmavidya, the knowledge of Brahman, and the ways to obtain it. The first and the second mantras are so profound that the Gita seems only an elaboration of their message. This first pada gives the key to the art of living and the means of knowing the mysteries of life and death. Sincere and faithful observance of the instructions given in the first portion of this Upanishad gives one a glimpse of Brahmavidya. From a practical point of view these instructions may be expressed in the following manner:

1.God is omnipresent.
2. Enjoying all the objects of the world with discrimination, we should have the feeling that all the things of the world belong to God alone and that we are given the right only to use them.
3. We should not cast a greedy eye on the wealth of anyone. We should not deprive anyone of his rights and possessions.
4. We should long to live only with the determination of performing our duties to the end of our lives. A man who remains unattached and performs duties without desire for rewards will not be bound to his actions.
5. All the duties of life are to be performed in the spirit of non-attachment. It is essential for man thus to perform his duties. Such performance of duties is the foremost means of gaining knowledge, and the first rung in the ladder of spiritual joy. Without it man cannot move forward another step.
6. We should never act against the dictates of our pure conscience.
7. One who acts against his conscience has to suffer in this world and other worlds after this life.

The second pada of this Upanishad begins with the fourth mantra and ends with the eighth mantra. These five mantras have described those principles of Brahmavidya, the sacred knowledge which establishes the sadhaka (aspirant) in his own true self and makes him free from all evils and impurities.

The third pada of the Ishopanishad begins with the ninth mantra and ends with the sixteenth mantra. For those worthy of Upanishadic knowledge, it sets up methods to obtain knowledge of Brahman.

The fourth portion of this Upanishad consists of mantras seventeen and eighteen. These two mantras concern the art and science of death. They contain the secret of the prayers and petition of the sadhaka quitting this world, as we all must do.

This brief outline can only suggest the value of the important instructions and deep secrets contained in the Ishopanishad. The answer to all the important questions of life are to be found in this short Upanishad. It is an ideal book of Vedanta philosophy. Every sadhaka can succeed in obtaining his end by studying it and by following its ideals. 

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