Isha Upanishad Verse 3
If you ignore the real
you’ll just keep going round and round –
blind to the real
you’ll live in darkness.
Commentary by Vimala Thakar
Asurya nama te loka andhena tamas’ avrtah
Tams te prety’abhigacchanti ye ke c’atmahana janah.
Those who are not aware of the wholeness of life and who identify themselves with the imaginary centre of the “I” and spend hundreds of years catering to the divisive desires and urges of the self, when the body dies, they are not free. They have put themselves into the subtle form of vibrations and they will remain there in the ether.
Asurya nama te loka – surya means the sun. asurya means the region where there is no sun, that is to say where there is no light.
Loka means region. They call the world eha loka or that which can be seen. That which is tangible. Para loca means that which cannot be seen or the invisible. The word loca really refers to regions or orbits. For example we talk about the orbit or sphere of the earth in which the effect of gravity is felt. Then beyond that there is space where there is weightlessness. When the Upanishads talk about loka it is perhaps indicating different orbits or spheres where different laws function. Within the orbit of the earth the laws of gravity apply. Beyond that there is the weightlessness of space which has its own set of laws.
So the line asurya nama te loka says that there are regions of utter darkness where there is no light. These regions are pervaded by thick impenetrable darkness. Those who are not aware of reality, those who are not aware of the wholeness of life in the process of living and who go on ignoring the creativity of the wholeness, thereby enter the regions of darkness where there is no light of the sun. When does this happen? The text says that it occurs when they leave the body. They enter the regions of darkness when the body is left behind.
Surya means sun. What does the word sun stand for? It refers to the light of understanding. The word sun is used to indicate the light and clarity of understanding. As light penetrates darkness, understanding penetrates ignorance. Here the Rishi is referring to the darkness of ignorance and the light of understanding, so he uses the words andhena tamasa. Tamasa means darkness.
So the line asurya nama te loka andhena tamas’ avrtah means that there are regions of utter darkness where the light cannot penetrate. The text goes on to say that those who ignore the potential divinity within themselves are killers of atma, or killers of reality. They have used the term atma janah.
The Rishi says that they enter into the region of darkness. Atma stands for reality and aham stands for avidya which is ignorance or self as ego. So what is being said is that they enter into the darkness of the ego and ignore the presence of the intelligence of the divinity as creativity. So those who ignore the presence of the reality within themselves gradually suffocate themselves. Self-centredness is gradual suffocation of the real, whereas awareness of atma as the reality is called living in the realm of light.
Reality as the divinity being the essence of creativity has no location in time and space. It is everywhere – isha vasyam idam sarvam. It penetrates and pervades everything even though it has no locus in time or space. So you cannot say that the ground of existence is here and not there. It has no location and cannot be captured in time or space.
The self-consciousness that “I am so and so” creates a centre. It manufactures a centre for itself in the wholeness. But the wholeness has no centre. The “me” imagines and centre and so creates one. It is called the “me”, the “I” or the ego. As soon as it creates this thing, it has divided life into me and not me. It has fragmented or divided that which is actually indivisible. And so it is called ignorance. Reality however cannot be divided so it is kind of a superimposition. It is an imaginary structure that has been self-created. And so it is called tamas as darkness or ignorance. Those who become centred in the ego always feel concerned about their self-preservation and self-perpetuation. And this is precisely the region of darkness.
As soon as you identify yourself with this imaginary “I” that when you enter the region of darkness. You have ignored the reality which is the wholeness of life. It is when you are unaware of the presence of this wholeness within and without that you create this imaginary division. And then what follows is fear and defensiveness which leads to acquisitiveness and the desire for self-preservation. Unaware of the essential wholeness the person then becomes absorbed in the biological impulses and the psychological movement of thoughts, feelings and sentiments.
Once you have created this centre and fallen into ignorance, you have isolated yourself from the wholeness and fallen into the grip of the activity of the biological structure. The movement of the biological and psychological structure has continuity. Thought does not die. The emotions and sentiments and the impulses for pleasure does not die once the body dies. These impulses have a continuity in one form or another once you have identified yourself with the movement of thought. So what is this “me” or ego? In effect it is the movement of the whole of the past. It is this identification that leads to continuity.
Thought does not die. Thought has continuity. It is a form of psychic matter. Thought is emanating from your body and that matter has energy. You cannot see thoughts with the eyes, but the emanation of thought from your body is the emanation of vibrations which are being released into the ether. In the space around you, there are many vibrations of thoughts and emotions and feelings. They are a form of subtle psychic matter.
You are existing in the ether of space in the form of thought vibrations. So all your desires, attachments and dependencies, these are all material forces that you are constantly releasing into the ether. The physical body may die but the vibrations are still there and therefore they have their own momentum of continuity. This is what is called the stream of human consciousness. It is not free.
So the Rishis say that: those who are not aware of the wholeness of life and who identify themselves with the imaginary centre of the “I” and spend hundreds of years catering to the divisive desires and urges of the self, when the body dies, they are not free. They have put themselves into the subtle form of vibrations and they will remain there in the ether.
The importance of meditation is to gain freedom from the legacy of the thought structure. It is to learn to use thought only when necessary and not to be a slave to it throughout the waking consciousness. Meditation is the thought-free state of consciousness. It is the freedom from the grip of the movement of thought. Why is this so important? It is because otherwise, the constant emanation of thoughts continues to create a “you” in the subtle form in the ether. After the death of the physical body this thought continuum which is the “you” will look for and find a congenial place to be reborn. The vibrations will again materialize and take a physical form and continue. That is what is called the dark stream of birth and death. The cycle of birth and death continues in this way.
So you see, the death of the physical body does not bring to an end the thought movement as the continuum of human consciousness. So here in the Upanishads, you find the foundation of the science of yoga. The whole point of yoga is the progressive movement towards the natural state of sahaja. This is the state where one lives in the body and in the midst of everything but one is free of its grip. As soon as you cease identifying, there is freedom. In non-attachment and non-identification with the “I” there is freedom.
Living in and with the human biological and psycho-physical structure one must become aware of that wholeness of life which has no centre. You are an expression of that wholeness. You are not an individual that is separate from the rest of life. Obviously you need to take care of this expression of life with gentleness and intelligence. And so you look after the biological and the psychological structure with respect and don’t cause damage to it. You remain with the wholeness.
And so over time this awareness emerges that you are an expression of the divinity and that the entire cosmos is not other than the expression of this divinity.
Isha Upanishad Verse 4
The real is everywhere at once.
Without moving the real is faster than light.
It moves faster than you can think.
Without even moving
the real outruns all.
But for the real there would be nothing.
Commentary by Vimala Thakar
Anejad ekam manaso javiyo
n’ainad deva apnuvan purvam arshat
Tad dhavato’nyan atyeti tishthat
tasminn apo matarishva dadhati
The reality being everywhere, penetrating everything, permeating everything, is everywhere simultaneously at one and the same moment.
The divinity is everywhere, it reaches the other end of the cosmos, it reaches the infinite distances of space much faster than either the speed of light or the mind. The wholeness is vibrating within itself. That is the only motion possible in the wholeness of life. The wholeness moves vertically and horizontally at the same time. So you cannot imagine a spot in the infinity of space and a moment in the infinity of time where it has not reached before your mind has reached there.
Anejad ekam manaso javiyo n’ainad deva apnuvan purvam arshat. In this line the nebulous nature of the movement in the wholeness is being described. What kinds of velocities and momentums are we acquainted with? We are aware of the speed of light. Then there is also the speed of the mind which perhaps moves faster than the speed of light. You may be sitting here but within a fraction of a second, before I even finish my sentence, you can be in Italy. So the speed of the mind is faster than light.
So what this phrase is saying is that it is not possible to compare the speed or velocity of any kind of motion with the movement of the divinity. The reality that penetrates and permeates everything is simultaneously everywhere at one and the same time. It is simultaneously in India, in Italy and in Australia. So poetically, the rishi says, reality travels faster than mind. It moves even faster than the gods and goddesses can.
In the previous mantras, the rishis spoke about the pervasiveness of the reality. Now they are talking about its velocity. What does this mean? By way of analogy, perhaps you can picture two dimensions that intersect, one vertical and one horizontal. The movement of wholeness is both horizontal and vertical at the same time. The wholeness is vibrating within itself in both directions at once. So you cannot imagine a spot in the infinity of time and space where it has not reached before your mind has got there. No gods or goddesses can reach there because the wholeness as divinity is the infinity of space and the eternity of time. I’m afraid that this is almost impossible to explain, but I am doing my best.
Let me illustrate what is meant by the following myth. Shiva and his wife Parvati had two sons, Ganesh and Kartekaya. Now they were after a prize. Maybe some halva. Parvati said, “Ok. Whoever can go around the cosmos first and come back will get the prize. Kartekaya was slim and athletic and Ganesh was heavy and fat. So Kartekaya started running and was already half way around but Ganesh was just sitting there. Parvati said to Ganesh, “You had better get going, Kartekaya is already half way around.” Ganesh turned in a circle and said, “I’ve just been around.” Do you understand?
Tad dhavato’nyan atyeti tishthat tasminn apo matarishva dadhati. This line means that the divinity is always here before you right now. You can see it and commune with it. It is both right here and over there at the same time. There is no time lag. Time cannot separate this wholeness. Space cannot divide it. Simultaneously it is both here and there.