Isha Upanishad Verses 7-8

Isha Upanishad Verse 7

If you see that all things are part of you
and you are part of them –
then you will see the preciousness of all things.

Commentary by Vimala Thakar

Yasmin sarvani bhutani atma’ivabhud vijanatah
tatra ko mohah kah shoka ekatvam anupashyatah.

Once you understand that you are contained in the cosmos and the cosmos is contained in you, that biologically and psychologically you share life with the whole world, that you are the same as the world, a qualitative transformation takes place in the consciousness and the sense of separation disappears.

Once upon a time in the West, knowledge was not looked upon as something to be purchased for the sake of a qualification to hang on the wall. Knowing was not a partial, compartmentalized activity separate from the activity of living. Knowledge was for living. Socrates used to say that knowledge is virtue and ignorance is vice. In India, a long time ago, understanding was meant for the purpose of transformation. The word knowledge (gran in Sanskrit) also indicates understanding. In English there are two words “knowing” and “understanding”. In Sanskrit, the word gran also means understanding, and understanding means that which is known through the intellect which has been put into practice in the act of living and has become part of your being. Knowledge is a property of the mind and understanding is the substance of your being. These are two different things altogether.

There are three important words in this mantra: vijanatha, aivabhud and anupashyatah. The word shabdah was very important for the rishis. There is a kind of sacredness that attached to words. Words are part of the divinity. So when you use them you need to be careful and respectful. Just as with food you need to have respect for it and where it has come from. You see the reference for life and its manifestations and expressions is something that the rishis were trying to convey.

Here in this mantra, the rishi says that one who has deeply understood the unity of the cosmos and that he contains the cosmos and the cosmos contains him, then all life in the cosmos becomes dear to him, just as his own being is. So here in this mantra there is a quantum leap. He is not talking about the mental level anymore. There is a deeper level of intuition that is implied.

Once you deeply intuit that you are contained in the cosmos and the cosmos is contained in you, that you share life with the whole world, then what happens? There is a qualitative transformation in consciousness. The sense of self and other disappears. One grows into a love for all expressions of life.

If you read about St. Francis of Assisi you will see that he had such a love and feeling for the birds and the trees and animals and all of life. That is what the rishis are talking about. All of life and its living expressions become dear to you. There is no sense of division.

The consciousness becomes saturated with this feeling, with this deep understanding just as a sponge is soaked with water. We are not talking about an intellectual understanding. We are talking about a deep feeling towards life. And so then there is the outpouring of love, gentleness, care and concern as the spontaneous expression of one’s own being.

So this is a quantum leap. It’s a new dimension where there’s a fundamental change in the quality of consciousness. It is an all-inclusive consciousness which is not self-centred. It is undivided. You see the wholeness of life has no centre. Divinity has no centre. It is everywhere in all expressions of life at once. And so with the person who has understood this, the centre gets dissolved, it gradually just disappears.

In the mantra, the rishi says atma ivabud. Abud means “became”. All things became as dear to him as his own self. In the previous mantra the change was only in perception and understanding. Here, the understanding has resulted in transformation. Therefore in the second line, the rishi says: tatra ko mohah kah shoka ekatvam anupashyatah. With the recognition of the unity, with the recognition of the wholeness of life, a qualitative transformation of consciousness takes place. Tatra means in that dimension of consciousness. He does not say tasya. The rishi does not say that a person who understands intellectually will not have suffering or illusion. No, he is saying that in the dimension (tatra) where there has been the recognition resulting in a qualitative change in consciousness that the personal suffering or angst of separation disappears.

tatra ko mohah kah shoka. In this dimension that the rishi is talking about, there is no possibility of infatuation. There is no possibility of infatuation with the things of the world and therefore (kah shoka) personal suffering or angst does not arise. Because of the recognition of the unity of life, the centre has fallen away. So it is not a new acquisition of something that the rishis are talking about, it is the dissolution of something that was imagined to be there but which never was.

So knowing is not merely an intellectual activity. It is an integral part of life. Perceiving is for knowing. Knowing is for understanding. Understanding leads to a qualitative transformation in the consciousness and with that the quality of life and relationship changes.

It should be pointed out that in the ancient days of Greece, Socrates was surrounded by young people. He did not sell his knowledge. It was freely given to encourage the young people to make their own inquiry. In the days of the Upanishads, the rishis did not sell their knowledge. There was no bargaining. It was not a commodity for sale like today. But now when the world is turned into a marketplace everything is for sale. Knowledge is acquired and stored away like money in the bank. But unfortunately the divine cannot be acquired like this. The sensitivity that the rishis were talking about is not a bargain. Love is not a bargain. When something is understood, it must be lived, not stored away. If it is merely put on the shelf, that is useless. No transformation can follow.

When knowing and living are separated, when the knowing is not integrated into your life, then obviously that knowledge cannot bring about any transformation. So the co-relation between understanding and the action of life as the movement of living is what is all important. It is only through the act of living that the understanding starts to percolate through to every layer of your being. This is how the transformation occurs. Otherwise all your knowledge just sits in your memory like your bank balance. Nothing happens.

So what happens to the person who lives in the recognition of this wholeness? All the experiences of life are still there. The sensual pleasures are there, the joy of communion with life and others is there. There is enjoyment. Because each experience is experienced and enjoyed fully with the totality of his being, without reservation, without fear or hesitation, such a person pours his whole being into each experience. There is no holding back. The wholeness of being is unfolded in communion. And so life itself becomes its own fulfilment.

You see that is what divinity has been doing. It is constantly unfolding itself. Do you see? For millions of years it has been unfolding itself and it is continuing endlessly to do so. So the being is fulfilled in each unfolding because in that action, in that experience, the act of unfoldment is its own fulfillment. Do you see what I am saying? It is not that the person who has experienced this transformation does not suffer pleasure or pain. No, that is not the point. The point is that the relationship to experience has completely changed. Nothing is held or carried over. There is no problem whatsoever with the beauty and pleasures of life. You experience them fully and unreservedly through the totality of your being. But you don’t carry them forward through memory. 

Isha Upanishad Verse 8

If you live in the remembrance of the real
your consciousness will be ever bright.
Being neither here nor there
you will be everywhere –
in contentment there will be nothing you lack.

Commentary by Vimala Thakar

Sa paryagat sukram akayam avranam asna-viram
shuddham apapa-viddham

Kavir manishi paribhuh svayambhur yatha-tathyato
‘rthan vyadadhat shashvatibhyah samabhyah

A person who lives in a dimension of consciousness that has no content but emptiness, his awareness is all pervasive and all inclusive, so he can be everywhere at the same time. His consciousness is always resplendent, bright, uncontaminated and free of imbalance. His perception is never touched by the idea of time or causation. His intelligence is the master of his mind. The wholeness permeates his whole being from all sides. He is self-born and to such a person the limitless eternity offers all its wealth. All the wealth of the timeless eternity whenever and whatever needed flows towards him.

Over the last one thousand five hundred years there have been many interpretation of the Upanishads put forward. There was Shankaracharya who was the exponent of Vedanta. Then Ramanujacharya who interpreted them in a completely different way. Then there was that merciless rationalist Swami Dayananda who took a completely rationalist approach. In modern times there have been interpretations by Sri Aurobindo and of course Swami Vivekananda. Each has taken their own approach. There are so many ways to interpret the root words and each interprets according to his or her perception, experience and the quality of the awareness in which he lives. You see, a human being is essentially determined by the quality of his consciousness. So it is this quality and dimension of consciousness that is the essence of the human being.

My interpretation of this particular mantra is quite different to how the other commentators have interpreted it. I do not see this mantra as being a description of the supreme reality. To me it applies to the quality of consciousness of the person who has transcended the limitation of the “I” centre and has grown into the dimension of the all-inclusive consciousness.

In mantra six, I have explained that there is a dimension of consciousness where the centre gets dissolved. Mantra seven describes the consciousness which we might describe as “awakened”. The way that I am describing all this to you is very different to the traditional interpretations. 

So let’s start with the first line, sa paryagat. Sa means “he”.  Paryagat means “everywhere”. So literally it means “he goes everywhere”. Obviously a human being is limited by the physical body and so he cannot go everywhere at the same time and cannot be everywhere at the same time. So this “going everywhere” is related to the awareness. If your awareness is all inclusive, then you are everywhere at the same time. If you are rooted in the “I” centre, then you are stuck in time because the “I” cannot see everything and be aware of everything simultaneously. The “I” sees through the senses. The senses are limited. They see one or two things which are connected and the “I” translates them because they are seen sequentially in time. The mind builds up a sequence or storyline based on this succession of moments of seeing. So one whose consciousness is centred in the “I” cannot have an awareness which is all-inclusive and all-pervasive.

So what does this “going everywhere” mean? The person obviously cannot be everywhere at once physically. So he goes in his awareness. His awareness is all pervasive and all-inclusive because it is not rooted and conditioned by the imagined “I” centre. So the all-inclusive awareness is always resplendent and bright with the light of understanding.

Sukram means light.  The person who is conditioned by and centred on the “me” cannot be resplendent with the light of clarity because his motives always dim his perception. In other words he is always after something and sees things from the perspective of his own self. Having motive, you can’t see beyond your own motive, your own agenda, your own perspective on what is seen. It colours what you see. So the brightness of clarity is dimmed.

The word sukra means brightness and resplendence. He goes everywhere and he is bright. That is the literal meaning. When a person is self-preoccupied with the “I” centre, how can he be clear and bright and light? How can there be lightness of being?

The next word is akayam. Kaya means body. The Upanishad says that he who goes everywhere and is resplendent is without body. Akayam avranam asna-viram means that he has no body. How can it be said that he has no body, no physical structure? What it really means is that there is no legacy of content in his consciousness. His consciousness is always empty. It is unburdened by either the legacy of the past or the expectation of the future.

You have to see that the person is what his consciousness is. A person is not the body or the senses. The essence of being is in the quality of the consciousness. The rishi says that the consciousness has no body. There is nothing inside. There is no body in the consciousness. The rishi says there is no-thing-ness. What is the thing? Thought is the thing. Thought is the thing. Thought is matter and emptiness is no-thing-ness. The consciousness has no content.

The way that most people live is with a consciousness that is full of content. It is stuffed full with the legacy of the total human heritage. So our consciousness is weighed down by this tremendously heavy body of thought which is composed of all the ideas and conditionings and prejudices of the entire history of the human race. It is this conditioning that has coloured and weighed down your consciousness. So your consciousness has this body. But the awakened dimension of consciousness is free of all this. It is empty. And so the content of the awakened dimension of consciousness is inner silence.

Sa paryagat sukram akayammeans that in waking consciousness and in sleep consciousness he lives in the dimension of inner-silence which is emptiness.

Avranam means undistorted. His consciousness is without content, it has no body. There is nothing inside and it is undistorted. Akayam can be translated as incorporeal. It is without rigidity or structure. So because there is this inner silence, it is empty. So there is this silence and you perceive and respond to everything out of this silence. This silence cannot in any way be damaged. It’s like space. How can space get hurt or damaged. So the consciousness that is like space and the content of which is emptiness does not get distorted.

Asna-viram means literally without body, bones, organs, sinews and muscles. The rishis always wrote metaphorically. So what are they talking about? Our consciousness contains powerful bones, organs and sinews and muscles. It contains all the aspects of thought which include aims and objectives, value structures, sense of importance, ideals, feelings, emotive reactions, self-defensive mechanisms etc. This is the invisible thought structure or body that the rishis are talking about. But when you live in the dimension of emptiness, there is none of this content. When you act you simply act out of emptiness. There is no resistance or self-disturbance. There is neither hurting others nor getting hurt which is merely imbalance.

So the rishi says person who lives in this dimension of emptiness is uncontaminated (shuddham). He is uncontaminated by imbalance. Shuddha means incapable of becoming imbalanced. Why does it not get imbalanced? It is because all action is simply the unfolding of being. There is no question of acquiring or losing anything. Or achieving or not achieving. There is simply the receptivity of an all-inclusive stream of awareness. There is no distortion or imbalance since in action there is simply the meeting of eternity and the infinity of life. In isolation there is no life. In stagnation there is no peace. Peace is the perfume of the quality of your movement. Consciousness remains at all times balanced in equipoise. The inner content of this consciousness is silence.

Appapa-viddham means the state of consciousness which is not disturbed by imbalance. Inner or mental imbalance is always expressed through the senses. It is a maladjustment or lack of balance which then gets expressed in activity. In mental equipoise there is always the spontaneous state of relaxation and peace.

Kavir manishi paribhuh svayambhur yatha-tathyato.The awakened person lives in this dimension of silence. He becomes a kavi. Kavi means literally a poet. Poet it not meant in the ordinary sense of the word. What is designated by kavi is a person who sees beyond the past, present and future. Someone whose perception penetrates through the psychological division of time. A person whose perception is related to the timelessness of life and who is in communion with the eternity. A person who lives in this dimension of consciousness is always harmonious and bright. He is free of the limitations of temporality. He does not look at things in terms of sequence and causes and effects. He sees life as one wholeness. Such a person does not react to life’s challenges out of agitation or disturbance. He responds out of relaxation and the equanimity of wholeness. You see as long as life is looked at logically as a chain of causes and effects our responses are always bound to be imbalanced.

Now what are the implications of living in that state? The awareness as intelligence permeates his mind just as the principle of the supreme intelligence pervades and permeates the whole universe. For a person living in this dimension amidst the movement of relationships, in the actual stream of life his intelligence is the master of his mind. Mind is the conditioned consciousness and neuro-chemical system of the biological body. In the person who has arrived at transformation, there is the principle of isha as intelligence which permeates and pervades the biological and psychological structure.

Manishi refers to the principle of intelligence as the unconditioned energy which pervades the mind. The energy of the emptiness of space as wholeness permeates the conditioned biological and psychological structure. The wholeness releases energies which have a depth and velocity which saturates the psycho-physical structure.

Paribhur svayambhur means that the supreme intelligence of wholeness envelops his whole being from all sides. There is no aspect of human life that is outside of the reach of this intelligence. Everything gets enveloped in this wholeness.

Svayambhur means self-born. Such a person is self-transformed. He belongs to himself. He no longer belongs to a family, country, religion, ideology, caste, creed or race. This is the second birth. He is re-born. The awareness envelops everything, every layer of his being. He is self-born and self-created in the eternal present. He has cut himself loose from the limitations of the human past.

Yatha-tathyato ‘rthan vyadadhat shashvatibhyah samabhyah – To such a person the timeless eternity offers all its wealth. The gentleness of love, the brightness of awareness and the relaxation of wholeness – all this wealth is offered to this person who is self-born or born again and has set himself free from the chains of the human past.

This mantra gives us as far as words are capable of giving us, a narration and picture of the person who has become free of conditioning and who lives in the state of spontaneous awareness. Only one word remains to be explored and that is vyadadhat. What this refers to is the grace of life. The mantra says that all the wealth of the timeless eternity and the limitless infinity flows towards such a person. The supreme cosmic intelligence causes the flowing of all of the wealth of peace, relaxation, bliss and love to that person. All this wealth is caused to flow by the cosmic intelligence to such a person adequately and wherever needed. What this means is that it spontaneously flows to such a person. There is no need to chase it. It is not something that can be acquired. This is how the supreme intelligence works. It flows towards him.

Do you understand what is meant by the grace of life? The grace of life is there when love visits your heart and remains there. It is the grace of life when your nervous system can contain this tenderness of love and compassion. This is the grace of benediction. The mind that is caught in the “me” and “you”, mine and not mine, this whole mad stampede of acquisition, of argumentation and conflict at all levels of life just cannot know this grace. So this grace of love that I am talking about is a blessing. It is a wonderful benediction.