Opening the doors to the Upanishads we are greeted with the Shruti: ‘र्इशा वास्यम् इदं सर्वम्...’ ‘Everything is pervaded by a governor, controller or ruler.’ What a declaration! It is a direct manifestation of experience! This first proclamation says it all. An incident regarding the words ‘र्इशा वास्यम् इदं सर्वम्’ comes to mind: Gandhiji said, “If India is once again subject to a cruel foreign attack. If all sadhus, ascetics and pundits are sent to their deaths. If all mandirs, ashrams and hermitages are brought to ruins. If the valuable Vedas, Upanishads and multitude of shastras are shredded, burnt or submerged in water. Then, if many years pass by, and one day, someone stumbles upon a shredded fragment of paper on which is written, ‘र्इशा वास्यम् इदं सर्वम्’, and the reader understands the implication of these words, then, from just these few words hundreds of thousands of sadhus, crores of mandirs and the shastras could be revived to their full form. Such are these words.” The Upanishads are eternal principles. The power of eternal principles is unlimited. The Ishãvãsya Upanishad is a reservoir of such power.
Ishãvãsya Upanishad is the last (40th) chapter of the Samhitã Pãth of the Shukla Yajurveda. As the first words of this Upanishad are ‘र्इशा वास्यम् इदं सर्वम्’ – ‘Ishã vãsyam idam sarvam’ – it is named the ‘Ishãvãsya Upanishad’ or the ‘Isha Upanishad’. Also, as this Upanishad is a Samhitã Pãth of the Shukla Yajurveda it is also known as the ‘Samhitopanishad’ (Samhitã-Upanishad).
This Upanishad of 18 mantras wonderfully explains the rulership and pervasiveness of Brahman and Parabrahman. It talks about matters such as discrimination in indulging in sensual pleasures and the necessity of renunciation. Guidance is also given on the life-oriented approach of karma yoga, the balance of knowledge and karma in life and the benefits of imbibing these principles. The Upanishad concludes with humble prayers. Let us take a brief look at these precepts.
PRECEPTS IN ISHÃVÃSYA UPANISHAD
1. र्इशा वास्यम् इदं सर्वं यत् किञ्च जगत्यां जगत्
‘Ishã vãsyam idam sarvam yat kincha jagatyãm jagat...’ These are the first words of the Ishãvãsya Upanishad. The meaning of each of these words is as follows: Ishã – by that which rules and controls; vãsyam – is pervaded; idam sarvam – all of this; yat kincha – whatever there is; jagatyãm jagat – in this world of nature. Thus, this stanza means: ‘This whole world is pervaded by its ruler and controller.’ There is nothing in this world in which Isha – the ruler – is not. Who is this Isha that has been referred to as the one who pervades the whole world? This curiosity can be satisfied by the Upanishads themselves. To understand one Upanishad we must refer to other Upanishads. By doing this, meanings and interpretations become clearer.
In the 4th chapter of the Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad, Maharshi Yagnavalkya says, ‘सर्वस्य वशी सर्वस्येशानः सर्वस्याघिपतिः’ – ‘Paramãtmã keeps all in control, rules over all and resides as the superior above all’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 4/4/22). Therefore, one meaning of Isha is Paramãtmã. Moreover, in the same Upanishad, Gargi asks, ‘Who is the ruler and supporter of all?’ To this, Yagnavalkya answers, ‘Gargi! That is Aksharbrahman.’ The original words are: ‘एतद् वै तदक्षरं गाíग!’ – ‘Etad vai tadaksharam Gargi’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/8/8). But Yagnavalkya doesn’t stop there. He then also speaks of the glory and powers of Aksharbrahman: ‘एतस्य वा अक्षरस्य प्रशासने गाíग! सूर्याचन्द्रमसौ विघृतौ तिष्ठतः। एतस्य वा अक्षरस्य प्रशासने गाíग! द्यावापृथिव्यौ विघृते तिष्ठतः। एतस्य वा अक्षरस्य प्रशासने गाíग! निमेषा मुहूर्ता अहोरात्राण्यर्घमासा मासा ऋतवः संवत्सरा इति विघृतास्तिष्ठिन्ति।’ – Gargi! The sun, moon, etc. remain under the rule of Aksharbrahman. The earth and all other worlds remain under the rule of Aksharbrahman. Seconds, hours, night, day, weeks, months, seasons, years, and whatever measurement of time there is, is under the rule of Aksharbrahman. Thus, Aksharbrahman is the ruler and controller of everything’ (Bruhadãranyaka Upanishad: 3/8/9).
In this way, Parabrahman and, by his eternal wish, Aksharbrahman are both divine entities that are the Isha – rulers and controllers of the whole world. It is that Akshar and Purushottam that pervade everything by their power of indwelling (antaryãmi shakti). This is the meaning of the first stanza of this mantra.
Other Upanishads also affirm this pervasiveness. ‘ब्रह्मैवेदममृतं पुरस्ताद् ब्रह्म पश्र्चाद् ब्रह्म दक्षिणतश्र्चोत्तरेण। अघश्र्चोर्ध्वं च प्रसृतं ब्रह्मैव’ – ‘Before us is Aksharbrahman, behind us is Aksharbrahman, on our right and left is Aksharbrahman, above and below... Aksharbrahman is everywhere’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 2/2/19). एवाऽघस्तात् स उपरिष्टात् स पश्र्चात् स दक्षिणतः स उत्तरतः’ – ‘Paramãtmã is beneath us, Paramãtmã is above us, Paramãtmã is behind us, Paramãtmã is on our right as well as left’ (Chhãndogya Upanishad: 7/25/1).
Shriji Maharaj has also explained this pervasiveness of Akshar and Purushottam in the Vachanamrut, for example: ‘God is present in everyone as antaryãmi’ (Gadhada I-62); ‘That Brahman (Aksharbrahman) is the cause of all – Prakruti-Purush, etc. It is their supporter and pervades all through his antaryãmi powers’ (Gadhada II-3).
Other mantras of the Ishãvãsya Upanishad also clarify the omnipresence of Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman in different ways. For example, ‘तद् घावतोऽन्यानत्येति’ – ‘They surpass all other moving things’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 4). This means that just as in a race a runner will always see a superior runner in front of him, similarly, these two all-pervading entities are always in front of everything. Nothing can overtake them. That is why they have been called ‘मनसो जवीयः’ – ‘Faster than the mind’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad:4). Indeed, what can overtake that which is everywhere!
There is another trait of an omnipresent entity – it is very far as well as very near! Like space. This has also been written in this Upanishad: ‘तद् दूरे तद् वन्तिके’ – ‘That Brahman and Parabrahman are far as well as near’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 5).
To understand the pervasiveness of an omnipresent entity further we can look at its subtleness and magnitude. That which can become even subtler than the subtle can pervade everything. That which can accommodate everything within itself can pervade. Such are Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman. They, being even subtler than the subtle, pervade everything, and by pervading they accommodate everything within themselves. Therefore the Upanishad says, ‘तदन्तरस्य सर्वस्य तदु सर्वस्य बाह्यतः’ – ‘They pervade everything from within and without’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 5).
Thus the mantra ‘र्इशा वास्यम् इदं सर्वम्’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 1) clarifies the principle that Akshar and Purushottam rule and pervade everything.
Let us call this principle the ‘Ishãvãsya concept’. We should try to imbibe this ‘Ishãvãsya concept’ by perceiving Brahman and Paramãtmã in everything. This is the essence of this concept.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas