The Upanishads - Isa Upanishad

Gayatri Mantra: The Gayatri Mantra is here because there are many passages in the Upanishads that cannot be understood without it. It is regarded as the most sacred hymn of the Rigveda, and in some sense as containing the essence of the Vedas. For many Hindus it forms the basis of their daily practice.

Properly speaking, the hymn is called Savitri, the invocation of the solar deity Savitr, whose name means 'the one who arouses or inspires' Gayatri is the distinctive metre in which it is composed, containing three lines of eight syllables each. (In Vedic Sanskrit, varenyam was pronounced vareniam.)The Savitri is by far dthe best known verse in that metre.

It appears impossible to create a usable English version which divides the content between the three lines as the Sanskrit does: ‘The of-Savitr lovely/glory of-the-god we-meditate-on/so that that (god) may inspire our meditations.' It is necessary to keep in the translation the 3 x 8 syllable form (which is important in accounts of the symbolism of the Gayatri, for example BU V. 14) and the carrying on of meaning between the first and second lines.

Isavasya or Isa Upanishad - "Pervaded by the Lord"

The Isavasya or Isa Upanishad is traditionally placed first in collections of Upanishads. It belongs to the Vajasaneya Samhita of the White Yajurveda. Unlike the other Upanishads, it is included in the Samhita of the Veda itself, rather than in a separate section. It takes its name from its first words.

The_Isavasya is very difficult to date. It shows dear links on one hand with the verse passages in Brhadaranyaka IV, and on the other with the middle period verse Upanishads, particularly the Svetavatara.

  • Om. That is full; this is full;
  • fullness comes forth from fullness:
  • When fullness is taken from fullness,
  • Fullness remains The invocation, which is used in a number of Upanishads, comes fro BU V.I.I. The sense is that the world of ultimate reality and the work as we know it are both ultimately of the same nature and infinite.
  • Om. Peace, peace, peace.
  • All this, everything that moves in this moving world Jagati the world as 'moving'  ‘All this'' (sarvam idam) is a common Upanishadic term for the universe: here it primarily refers to the living beings within it
  • Must be pervaded by the lord. These words, isavasyam, are practically untranslatable.  Isa is the instrumental case of is, ‘lord’, ‘powerful one’, from is, to rule, to be powerful. Other derivatives of this verb, e.g: isa, asani are key words in the Svetasvatara Upanishad, where they are particularly associated with Rudra. The second word is avasyam, not vasyam, as is shown by the accent in the Yajurveda text. It might be derived from vas-, to dwell, vas-, to put on (clothes), to wear, or vas to perfume: indwelt by', ‘worn as clothing by’ or 'pervaded as with perfume by the/a lord. Probably the composer of the Upanishad wanted us to think of all of these. The form of the verb is future passive participle 'capable of being indwelt/worn/Perfumed’, ’needing to be ...’,  suggesting speculation rather than outright
  • Enjoy what has been abandoned. Either in the literal sense, ‘Live on food etc. that has been freely given up to you'; or symbolically, 'You can freely enjoy the world without attachment long as you understand that everything in it is pervaded by the Lord’
  • Do not covet anyone's wealth.
  • You must seek to live a hundred years The accent shows that this is jijivisa. 'One hundred years' represents the natural span of life.
  • Just doing work (karman) here.
  • There is no other way for you but this:
  • This way, work does not stick to a man,
  • Those worlds, covered with blind darkness,
  • Are ‘Sunless' 'Sunless', reading a-surya; or Demonic, reading asurya, ‘of the asuras’. The latter seems to me to be importing into this text later ideas about asuras: in the early Upanishads there seems no suggestion that they have a different kind of existence from the devas. by name.
  • Those people who are self-slayers Atma-han, an enigmatic expression, since the Utman as the self of a being  cannot  be  slain  .  Modern commentators  have generally followed Sankara in taking it as equivalent to atma-jnana-zahita, 'devoid of knowledge of the self; though the strong words used would seem to suggest those who willfully act against their own spiritual welfare and that of others, rather than the merely ignorant. Theme takes the verse as an injunction against taking the life of any being,  since each is ‘pervaded by the lord'.  Sharma  and Young (1990) demonstrate that there was a long-lived tradition in which this verse was taken as an injunction against suicide—the more usual sense of Utma-han, Utma-hatys.
On this interpretation, verse 3 might well be intended as a prohibition on the practice of religious suicide by giving up food—a practice allowed under certain circumstances by, for example, the Jains. Verse 2 would then mean: 'You should live out your natural span, doing your work and taking food that has been willingly given to you. Do not fear that this will bring about bad results. Do not try to end your existence prematurely.' As Sharma and Young point out, this interpretation need not be opposed to either of the other readings. To the enlightened one who saw 'all beings in the self and the self in all beings' (v. 6), there would be no difference between banning another and banning oneself (or the self).
  • Go to them on departing.
  • One, unmoving, swifter than mind,
  • The gods cannot catch it, as it goes before:
  • Standing still, it outruns others that are running.
  • Matarisvan sets the waters Or perhaps 'his works' (apah) in it.
  • It moves, it does not move;
  • It is far and near likewise.
  • It is inside all this:
  • It is outside all this.
  • Whoever sees
  • All beings in the self (atman) Either 'in himself or 'in the [supreme] self. I have tried to keep the ambiguity.
  • And the self in all beings
  • Does not shrink away from it.
  • For the one who knows,
  • In whom all beings have become self,
  • How can there be delusion or
  • grief When he sees oneness?
  • He has encompassed the bright, 'the seed' (Sukra)
  • the bodiless, the unwounded,
  • The sinewless, the pure,
  • the unpierced by evil:
  • The wise seer, conqueror, self-born,
  • He has arranged objects according to
  • their nature Through eternal years.
  • They who worship ignorance
  • Enter blind darkness:
  • They who delight in knowledge
  • Enter darkness, as it were, yet deeper. This verse is clearly intended to shock the hearer into realization. The underlying sense is probably that 'ignorance' (ritual action without understanding) and 'knowledge' (understanding without action) are both inadequate, but the latter is more dangerous because the one who relies on it is more likely to believe that it is sufficient in itself.
  • It is different, they say, from knowledge;
  • It is different, they say, from ignorance:
  • So we have heard from those wise ones
  • Who have revealed it to us.
  • Whoever knows knowledge and ignorance—
  • Both of them, together—
  • By ignorance crosses over death
  • And by knowledge reaches immortality.
  • They who worship non-becoming
  • Enter blind darkness:
  • They who delight in becoming
  • Enter darkness, as it were, yet deeper. 'Becoming'   (sambhuti/sambhava)   and   'non-becoming'/'destruction (asambhuti/asambhava/vinasa) suggest two opposed views of the nature of  reality,  raiher  like  the  two  extremes  of  'eternalism' 'annihilationism' described in the Buddhist texts.
  • It is different, they say, from becoming;
  • It is different, they say, from non-becoming:
  • So we have heard from those wise ones
  • Who have revealed it to us.
  • Whoever knows becoming and destruction—
  • Both of them, together—
  • By destruction crosses over death
  • And by becoming reaches immortality.
  • The face of truth is concealed
  • By a vessel made of gold. The sun, seen as a cover over the hole in the dome of the sky w] is the way of escape from this world. Verses 15-17 are the prayer a dying person, and are chanted at Hindu funerals. Verses 15-18 correspond to BU V. 15.1-4.
  • Reveal it, Pusan, to my sight
  • Which has truth as its dharma. Here, its true nature or essence.
  • Pusan, Ekarsi, Yama, Sdrya, son of Prajapati,
  • Draw apart your rays and draw them
  • together I see the light
  • that is your most beautiful form.
  • That very person I am he. This verse is very elliptical. Perhaps the worshipper is imploring Pusan (identified with Ekarsi, the One Seer; with Yama, god of death; and with Surya, the sun-god) to part his rays so that in dying he can pass through them to the truth, and then to close them up again behind him to protect the living. As he enters the light he becomes identified with Pusan.
  • My breath (vayu) to immortal air:
  • This body has ended in ashes.
  • OM! Will, remember! Remember the deed!
  • Will, remember! Remember the deed! To ensure a safe passing he recalls the good actions he has done in his life.
  • Agni, god who knows all ways,
  • Lead us by a good road to prosperity.
  • Overcome our crooked faults, Olivelle has 'the sin that angers', taking juhurana from the Vedic verb hr-, to be angry
  • And we will render you the utmost reverence.
  • Om. That is full; this is full;
  • Fullness comes forth from fullness:
  • When fullness is taken from fullness,
  • Fullness remains.
  • Om. Peace, peace, peace.

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