Sunday, November 26, 2023



                                                                 (Photo Sri Aurobindo 1908)

                                                       ISHA UPANISHAD

( Translation And Commentary By Sri Aurobindo ( 1872-1950 )


“ The wise man holds all beings in the self and the self in all beings ; for this reason , he doesn’t hate anyone .”…Isha Upanishad

“ For him who sees everywhere oneness, how can there be delusion or grief?”…Isha Upanishad

“He who understands the correct meaning of vidyā ( knowledge ) and avidyā ( Ignorance ) and thereby brings about a balance between them and does upāsana (meditation) on this balanced understanding, such a man crossing the world of death, attains immortality.”…Isha Upanishad

“Only through doing actions here and now and in a specific way, one should desire to live a hundred years. There is no other way, Karma will not taint a man.”…Isha Upanishad


I love Upanishads . I firmly believe that language does not limit the understanding of Indian Philosophy. It is limited by the lack of an open mind and strong preconceived notions or judgments .Having read them once , I keep visiting some favourite texts like , Isha , Kena Katha, Svetasvatara, Mundaka, Chāndogya, Bṛhadāraṇyaka, and Taittirīya Upanishad. I read Upanishads with commentary. Without commentary, it would be impossible to get anything meaningful out of these sacred philosophical texts .

The sages, whose thoughts and teachings we find in the Upanishads, seem to be as much inspired by constructive doubt as the most modem men of science. Their questions and answers indicate that they lived. in an age when, alongside of conformism and the rigid maintenance of old practices, men thirsted' for Truth, and the atmosphere was charged with the boldest free- thought: Satyamevajayate nanrtam satyenapantha vitato devayanah (Truth alone wins, not falsehood; by truth, the path of the Devas is widened ) .

 The spirit of inquiry dominated the mind and lives of the sages whose teachings are recorded in the Upanishads. The 'spacious imagination, the majestic sweep of thought, and the spirit of exploration with which, urged by the compelling thirst for Truth, the Upanishad teachers and pupils dig into the Open Secret of the Universe, make this most ancient among the world's holy books still the most modem and most satisfying. In the Upanishads, we have a scripture that displays the most scientific spirit in connection with spiritual inquiry. And lastly , the Upanishads make the reader’s mind transparent, light, free, friendly, ethical, and all-inclusive.

 For the second time , I have taken up Isha Upanishad for reading. This time it is Sri Aurobindo’s  translation and commentary . Sri Aurobindo’s wonderful translation, amazing commentary and profoundly illuminating footnotes to the Isha Upanishad have been published in the shape of a book by Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. Sri Aurobindo completed this work in 1908. I have yet to come across a translation and commentary of any Upanishad that is as illuminating as Sri Aurobindo’s work on Isha Upanishad. It does literally sweep the reader’s mind.

Sri Aurobindo, also known as Aurobindo Ghose and also spelled as Aravinda was a yogi, seer, philosopher, poet, and Indian. His epic poem Savitri is one of the greatest works of him. It is based on the legend of Savitri and Satyavan in the Mahabharata. Aurobindo became inspired by the story of Bankim's novel Anandamath. His works, particularly “The Human Cycle” and “The Ideal of Human Unity“, present a comprehensive vision for the transformation of society and the evolution of humanity. According to him, Jnana (knowledge), Bhakti (devotion) and Karma (work ethics) can lead man to the divine path. But the synthesis of spirituality, creativeness and intellectuality is essential for a sound personality.

Aurobindo’s education began in a Christian convent school in Darjiling. While still a boy, he was sent to England for further schooling. He entered the University Of Cambridge where he became proficient in two classical and several modern European languages. After returning to India in 1892, he held various administrative and professorial posts in Vadodara and Kolkata. Turning to his native culture, he began the serious study of Yoga and Indian languages, including classical Sanskrit. After learning Sanskrit, he wrote extensively on Vedas, Upanishads, Yoga and other scriptures. He wrote poetry, plays, philosophical essays and commentaries on many other scriptures.

Upanishads are the most widely used portion of the Vedas in Hindu theological discourses. Upanishads are the textual basis for one of the most significant schools of philosophy from India. The Upanishads present a vision of an interconnected universe with a single, unifying principle behind the apparent diversity in the cosmos, any articulation of which is called Brahman. Within this context, the Upanishads teach that Brahman resides in the Atman, the unchanging core of the human individual. The Upanishads are the oldest philosophical system in the world and the oldest Upanishads predate the Bible by 800 years. Upanishads are vehicles of illumination and not of instruction, composed for seekers who had already a general familiarity with the ideas of the Vedic and Vedantic Seers and even some personal experience of the truths on which they were founded. The reader, or rather the hearer, was supposed to proceed from light to light, confirming his intuitions and verifying by his experience, not submitting the ideas to the judgment of the logical reason. To the modern mind this method is invalid and inapplicable; it is necessary to present the ideas of the Upanishad in their completeness, underline the suggestions, supply the necessary transitions and bring out the suppressed but always implicit reasoning. The central idea of the Upanishads is a reconciliation and harmony of fundamental opposites. None could understand this better than Sri Aurobindo. If you don’t believe me then read his translation of Isha Upanishad. Isha Upanishad also known as Shri Ishopanishad is the shortest Upanishad that forms a chapter of the Shukla Yajurveda. It is a brief poem of 17 or 18 verses. Adi Shankara writes that the mantras and hymns of Isha Upanishad are not used in rituals, because their purpose is to enlighten the reader as to "what is the nature of Self (Atman)?"; For the benefit of my readers, I upload some excerpts from Sri Aurobindo’s footnotes and commentary to Isha Upanishad.


“Vidya ( knowledge ) and Avidya ( Ignorance ), Becoming and Non-becoming are reconciled by their mutual utility to the progressive self-realisation which proceeds from the state of mortality to the state of Immortality .Enjoyment of the universe and all it contains is the object of world-existence, but renunciation of all in desire is the condition of the free enjoyment of all. The renunciation demanded is not a moral constraint of self-denial or a physical rejection, but an entire liberation of the spirit from any craving after the forms of things.”


 “ Sometimes, action is shunned because it is thought to be inconsistent with freedom. The man when he acts, is supposed to be necessarily entangled in the desire behind the action, in subjection to the formal energy that drives the action and in the results of the action. These things are true in appearance, not in reality.”


“Desire is only a mode of the emotional mind which by ignorance seeks its delight in the object of desire and not in the Brahman who expresses Himself in the object. By destroying that ignorance one can do action without entanglement in desire.”


“Unity is the eternal truth of things, diversity a play of the unity. The sense of unity has therefore been termed Knowledge or Vidya, the sense of diversity Ignorance or Avidya. But diversity is not false except when it is divorced from the sense of its true and eternal unity. The individual may regard himself as eternally different from the One, or as eternally one with It, yet different, or he may go back entirely in his consciousness to the pure Identity. But he can never regard himself as independent of some kind of Unity, for such a view would correspond to no conceivable truth in the universe or beyond it.”


 “Vision is not sufficient; one must become what inwardly one sees. The whole inner life must be changed so as to represent perfectly in all parts of the being what is understood by the intellect and seen by the inner perception.”


“ The world is a cyclic movement (sa ˙ms ¯ara) of the Divine Consciousness in Space and Time. Its law and, in a sense, its object is progression; it exists by movement and would be dissolved by cessation of movement. But the basis of this movement is not material; it is the energy of active consciousness which, by its motion and multiplication in different principles (different in appearance, the same in essence), creates oppositions of unity and multiplicity, divisions of Time and Space, relations and groupings of circumstance and Causality. All these things are real in consciousness, but only symbolic of the Being, somewhat as the imaginations of a creative Mind are true representations of itself, yet not quite real in comparison with itself, or real with a different kind of reality.”


“ The movement of Mind in Nature is thus able to conceive of the object as the reality and the Inhabitant as limited and determined by the appearances of the object. It conceives of the object, not as the universe in one of its frontal appearances, but as itself a separate existence standing out from the Cosmos and different in being from all the rest of it. It conceives similarly of the Inhabitant. This is the illusion of ignorance which falsifies all realities. The illusion is called ahamkara, the separative ego sense which makes each being conceive of itself as an independent personality. The result of the separation is the inability to enter into harmony and oneness with the universe and a consequent inability to possess and enjoy it. But the desire to possess and enjoy is the master impulse of the Ego which knows itself obscurely to be the Lord, although owing to the limitations of its relativity, it is unable to realise its true existence. The result is discord with others and oneself, mental and physical suffering, the sense of weakness and inability, the sense of obscuration, the straining of energy in passion and in desire towards self-fulfilment, the recoil of energy exhausted or disappointed towards death and disintegration. Desire is the badge of subjection with its attendant discord and suffering. That which is free, one and lord, does not desire, but inalienably contains, possesses and enjoys .”

( Avtar Mota )


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