A Brief on ISHAAVAASYOPANISHAT
By Major V Ramanujam
1. Of the six systems of Indian Orthodox Philosophy, Vaisheshikam of Sage Kanada, Nyaaya of Sage Gauthama, Nirishwara Saankya of Sage Kapila, Sa-ishwara Saankya of Sage Patanjali, Poorva Mimaamsa of Sage Jaimini and Uttara Mimaamsa of Sage Vyaasa, the last, also known as Vedaantha, is the most popular.
2. The basis of Vedaantha is Prasthaana Traya – Upanishats, Brahma Sutra and Bhagavat Gita. Initially there were said to be over 1000 upanishats, which with the passage of time has come to around 250 today, of which some are doubtful too, being later additions possibly. However Aadhi Shankaraachaarya, the earliest commentator on Upanishats, classified and commented on 10 out of them as the Major Upanishats. Of this, he listed Ishaavaasyopanishat the first, the others being Keno, Katho, Prashno, Mundako, Maanduukyo, Taittiriyo, Aithareyo, Chaandokyo and Bruhadaaranyako – panishats. As Shankara has quoted from another 3 to 4 upanishats, these too have been recognized as ancient and authentic upanishats.
3. Ishaavaasyopanishat, also known as Ishopanishat and Samhithopanishat (as it appears in the Samhitha portion of Shukla Yajur veda, also called the Vaajasaneyi Samhitha) and contains 18 verses.
4. Maximum number of scholars has commented on Ishaavaasyopanishat; still it is baffling to the readers, because of its high philosophy, in spite of the strenuous efforts of these intellectual giants!
5. The Upanishat discusses 4 worship levels. Level 1 refers to Murthi Puja (karma kaanda). Level 2 Upaasana on Hiranyagarbha or Brahma. Level 3 Worshipping Paramaathman or Saakaara Brahman, Sriman Narayana (bhakthi kaanda). Level 4 Worshipping Bhagawaan or Niraakaara Brahman, not confined to a Form, Name, Time, Space or Place (Jnaana).
6. A very brief note on the contents of the 18 verses (verse-wise) is attempted hereunder.
I should acknowledge that I might not have done enough justice to the full meaning and intent of the verse, here! More light will be thrown by a Guru, when learnt in person.
i) God is Proprietor: (This addresses Jnaana Nishtaa devotees, those who struggle for the attainment of knowledge of Brahman. This is Nivrutthi Maarga or the path of Renunciation.) Everything in this world belongs to and is permeated by The Lord. Enjoy it with detachment. Do not be greedy to possess others’ wealth.
ii) Perform detached Karma: (This addresses Karma Nishtaa devotees, those who are unable to take up Sannyaasa. This is Pravrutthi Maarga or the path of Action.) Aspire to live a full life of 100 years, spending that life for the welfare of others. Spent that way, Karma will not attach to you.
iii) Karma earned: (This addresses Aathmahanaas or slayers of their own souls.) If life is not spent as advised above, such persons will have to suffer in the dark hellish worlds, as they work against spiritual upliftment of their own Selves!
iv) Omnipresence of God: Although fixed in His heavenly abode, he is omnipresent. Senses can’t reach him. He controls everything. He surpasses everyone in excellence.
v) Omnipotency of God: God has inconceivable, limitless potencies. He is omnipotent. Nothing is impossible for him. He is near and far, can walk and not walk and he is inside everything and outside everything. None can limit what he can do. (You understand him as per your spiritual level.)
vi) The Self-realised Person hates none: He who sees Aathman in everything and everything as a part and parcel of the Lord, never hates any.
vii) The Self-realised Person has no delusion or grief: One becomes a true knower of things, when he looks at all as Divine Sparks. Where is the question of his being deluded or in sorrow, when he sees the unity of Jiva with Brahman?
viii) Omniscience of God: The Self-realised Person knows the Greatest of all as non-embodied, omniscient, beyond reproach, without gross body parts like veins, pure, uncontaminated, self sufficient philosopher, who has, for time immemorial, been fulfilling the wishes of devotees.
ix) Vidhya and Avidhya pursuers reach Andham Tamah: (From here to shloka 14, interpretations of commentators differ, because of obscurity of the verses. We shall first discuss shlokaas (ix) to (xi) in one block): Avidhya refers to mundane knowledge – material sciences and Karma Kaanda part of Vedaas (vedic rituals). Vidhya refers to Upaasana Kaanda and an exposure to the Theory of Upanishats. Pursuers of both end up in what is called here as “Andham Tamah” ie., darkest binding regions of ignorance. To explain “Andham Tamah”; Pursuers of Avidhya, called Veda- rathaah, seek sense – satisfaction and therefore reach upto Pitru lokaa and return. Pursuers of Vidhya are Jnaanis, but not Yogis and they satisfy the Gods and thereby reach upto heaven and return. Since the impressions of their past births are very strong, in their next births also, they seek and go to Pitru loka / heaven and keep returning. Thus both miss the royal path that leads to mukthi or freedom from trans-migratory existence. This spiritual strategy is called “Andham Tamah”.
x) Destinations of both pursuers are different: The wise hold that one result is achieved by pursuing Avidhya and another by pursuing Vidhya; but both are Andham Tamah, domains of Ignorance only.
xi) Balanced approach leads to immortality: Those who follow mundane as well as Upaasana vidhyaas and balance them with vedaanthic knowledge, cross the cycle of Birth and Death and become immortal, by virtue of their observing laid down duties and conducting themselves in god-ward path, shown by Vedaantha.
xii) Sambhuthi and Asambhuthi worshippers reach Andham Tamah (We shall now discuss shlokaas (xii) to(xiv) in one block): Interpretations are still more intriguing here!
(a) Shankara interprets Sambhuthi as all gods upto Kaarya Brahma or Hiranyagarbha (totality of creation) and Asambhuthi as Kaarana Brahma (Prakruthi or Avyakrutha) or the subtle Causal State before creation (when everything was still before Hiranyagarbha). Meditators on the former get super-natural psychic powers and sense satisfaction and on the latter reach a state of inertness free from experience of joy or sorrow; but neither attain liberation.
(b) Sambhuthi refers to Parabrahman and Asambhuthi, the body. Both, the worshipping of Parabrahman torturing body or worshipping body taking that as God, are not conducive to liberation.
(c) Some call Sambhuthi as Personal Godhead Narayana or Krishna and Asambhuthi as temporary manifestations as demi-gods or men or animals. Some hold that worshipping Sambhuthi alone leads to liberation and some say that worshipping Asambhuthi also leads to liberation. This shloka states that neither alone leads to liberation, but one has to know both. The latter is also called Vinaasha.
xiii) Destinations of both worshippers are different: The wise hold that one result is achieved by worshipping Sambhuthi and another by worshipping Asambhuthi; but both are Andham Tamah, domains of Ignorance only.
xiv) Balanced approach leads to immortality: Whatever the interpretation given above, it is only by transcending both worships, one can win over Death and reach Immortality.
xv) Death-bed Prayers: (The verses 15 to 18 are the prayers of a sadhaka in death bed to Brahman seen as the Sun.) Prayer to Sun as Brahman: In verse 15, he prays to God to remove the obstacles in his way to realize God, namely the material attractions of the world.
xvi) Prayer to Sun as Brahman: Praising God, the Saadhaka prays that he may see the glory of the Lord, for (after all) he is the same as the Purusha in the Sun!
xvii) Prayer to Brahman as Agni: Realising that his death is imminent, he prays to Agni, the presiding deity of the sacrificial (also funeral) fire to recollect that (after all) he has done some good deeds (too).
xviii) Prayer to Brahman as Agni: Aware that he is going to be consigned to funeral fire, the saadhaka offers repeated salutations and prays for the remission of his sins and to be lead towards Immortality by the Path of light or Devayaana.
7. The Peace prayer itself sums up the Universality of God and Jagat – Jiva – Brahma Unity.