न कर्म लिप्यते नरे
The benefit of such wisdom-filled karmayoga is ‘न कर्म लिप्यते नरे’ – ‘Na karma lipyate nare’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 2). This means he is not bound by any karma, i.e. he attains liberation. One only has to take another birth if one is bound by karma. This no longer remains for a karmayogi.
But for the person who does not imbibe this wisdom-filled karma-yoga in his life, the Upanishad says, ‘आत्महनो जनाः’ – ‘Ãtmahano janãhã’ – ‘He is his own destroyer’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 3). Not only that, ‘ते प्रेत्याभिगत्व्छन्ति’ – ‘Te pretyãbhigacchanti’ – ‘They go to joyless, extremely miserable demonic worlds’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 3).
In this way, these mantras teach us the lessons of karma-yoga and seva.
Now let us understand another important principle.
5. The Coexistence of Knowledge and Karma
As we have seen above, words like ‘र्इशा वास्यम् इदं सर्वम्’ better our understanding. And words like ‘कुर्वन्नेवेह कर्माणि’ give us the beneficial advice to perform karmas with this lofty understanding. Only karmas performed with such an understanding lead to true success in life. This is what can be concluded when we combine both mantras. For this very reason, the next six mantras emphasize the co-existence of knowledge (jnãn) and karma. Let us understand them briefly.
We will be able to understand this more clearly using ‘Andhapangu Nyãya’ – one man can see, but is lame; another can walk, but he is blind. If both get together, they can accomplish a task. This is called ‘Andhapangu Nyãya’. The same applies here to knowledge and karmas. Karmas alone are blind; knowledge alone is lame. They both need each other. The bliss of liberation can only be attained when they are both combined. This is a matter of eradicating laziness and ignorance. There are those who remain engulfed in worldly karmas without incorporating the knowledge of Brahman and Parabrahman into their karmas. On the other hand, there are those who remain engulfed in theoretical discussions on the shastras and do not perform any karmas. Both have been harshly criticized in the Upanishad: ‘अन्घं तमः प्रविशन्ति येऽविद्यामुपासते। ततो भूय इव ते तमो य उ विद्यायां रताः॥’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 9). Here, the word vidyã has been used for knowledge and avidyã for that which is different to knowledge, i.e. karmas. So, “Those who act without attaining the previously described knowledge become entangled in the intense darkness of mãyã. While those who just talk about that knowledge and perform no karmas are pushed into an even greater darkness.”
However, for those who have achieved a balanced synthesis of knowledge and karmas; and have affirmed the importance of both, the Upanishad says, ‘विद्यां चाऽविद्यां च यस्तद् वेदाभयं सह। अविद्यया मृत्युं तीर्त्वा विद्ययाऽमृतमश्नुते॥’ – ‘One in whose life knowledge and karma co-exist, such a person overcomes death, i.e. attains immortality and liberation’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 11). Here, one learns that knowledge and karma are not antithetical or opposed to each other, but supplementary. Now let us acquaint ourselves with a few of the divine prayers that this Upanishad includes.
6. Divine and humble Prayers
Hearing the eternal principles of like ‘र्इशा वास्यम् इदं सर्वम्’ and ‘कुर्वन्नेवेह कर्माणि’, the spiritual aspirant becomes eager to realize them. He realizes that the true and best way of attaining these goals easily is through prayer. Prayer is the humble voice of surrender. Here are those words.
तत् त्वं पूषन्नपावृणु – ‘Unveil the face of truth’
‘हिरण्मयेन पात्रेण सत्यस्यापिहितं मुखम्। तत् त्वं पूषन्नपावृणु सत्यघर्माय दृष्टये॥’ – ‘ Paramãtmã, the nourisher of all! The face of truth has been covered by a golden vessel. Unveil it so that I may experience the virtues of truth’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 15). ‘Hiranya’ means gold. Just like gold attracts and increases desire, so does mãyã. That is why, here, mãyã has been called a golden vessel. The word ‘satya’ implies ãtmã, Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman – they are the forms of truth. The word ‘mukh’ implies form. The spiritual aspirant prays, “O God! The delusive barrier of mãyã has covered the true form of my ãtmã. That is why you, the Truth, Brahman and Parabrahman residing in my ãtmã, have been left concealed for me. As a result, how will I experience the ‘र्इशा वास्यम् इदं सर्वम्’ viewpoint? Please reveal that true form to me.”
योऽसावसौ पुरुषः सोऽहमस्मि – ‘Let me become Brahmarup’
To directly perceive Purushottam one must attain the ability to directly perceive Akshar. Only one who becomes aksharrup can attain Purushottam. Bearing this principle in mind, the spiritual aspirant prays, ‘यत्ते रूपं कल्याणतमं तत्ते पश्यामि’ – ‘Paramãtmã! I wish to see your liberating form’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 16). But if I do not become brahmarup, and you show that liberating form to me, then I will still not attain true bliss. Therefore, O compassionate one! ‘योऽसावसौ पुरुषः सोऽहमस्मि’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 16). Here, the word purush is for Aksharbrahman. Thus, this means ‘Please affirm in me the understanding that Aksharbrahman is my real form.’
ॐ क्रतो स्मर – ‘Don’t forget me’
The spiritual aspirant prays, ‘अमृतमथेदं भस्मान्तमिदं शरीरम्’ – ‘O God! This body is temporal and only the ãtmã is above death’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 17). Further, ‘ॐ क्रतो स्मर! कृतं स्मर!’ – ‘Do not forget whatever I have done to please you with this temporal body. Do not forget me either. I am yours. Please, do not forget’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 17).
ते नमउक्तिं विघेम – ‘A Humble Finale’
The finale is filled with humility, the spiritual aspirant falls to his knees, his heart speaks, ‘अग्ने नय सुपथा राये अस्मान् विश्वानि देव वयुनानि विद्वान्। युयोध्यस्मज्जुहुराणमेनो भूयिष्ठां ते नमउक्तिं विघेम॥’ – ‘O God! Take us on the divine path of spirituality. You are omniscient. You know how to overcome mãyã. Show us. Give us strength to battle against mãyã, and make us victorious. O Paramãtmã! We bow to you again and again. We bow to you’ (Ishãvãsya Upanishad: 18).
What humility! What surrender! To imbibe whatever has been said in this Upanishad one must become humble. One must surrender to the manifest form of Paramãtmã. There is no other way. This is the closing message.
In this way, through the Ishãvãsya Upanishad, we realize the rulership and pervasiveness of Brahman and Parabrahman; we understand the glory of renunciation; we learn the secret of karma-yoga; we understand the importance of synthesizing knowledge with karmas, and we come to know of the importance of humble prayers.
Bhadresh Swami is a scholar at the Yagnapurush Sanskrit Pathshala in Sarangpur, Gujarat. His academic qualifications include: MA in Sanskrit, PhD in Philosophy, Shaddarshan Acharya (equivalent to MA degrees in Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva Mimansa and Uttara Mimansa [Brahma Sutras]).
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas