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2.2: The Isha Upanishad

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    Reading Two: The Isha Upanishad

    This Upanishad focuses on the “Self,” which is called the “atman” in Sanskrit. The atman is our eternal soul, the one part of us that does not die. For Hindus, this “Self” is also divine – so you will see in the passage that the “self” is often connected with the “Lord”. Our atman/self is our divine spark within us that connects us to Brahman.

    This passage emphasizes the idea in Hinduism that one’s spiritual journey is the journey to understand our “self”, our soul. Hindus claim that coming to know the self will also lead one to better understand God, because our soul is divine.

    So this passage focuses on how important our soul is, and so it should be the focus of our lives. Then the passage goes on to create a dichotomy between “real knowledge” and “not knowledge,” and that one will lead to eternal life and one will not. This section can be interpreted many ways (as all scripture can!) but the “not knowledge” is connected in the passage with “good works” while the “real knowledge” seems to focus on looking within and to the gods. So while the passage definitely doesn’t denigrate “good works,” it seems to insist that “good works” alone will not bring a person to true enlightenment. Good works have to be coupled with strong spiritual work focused on the Self.

    One of the most important phrases in this Upanishad is the teaching that we should “see all beings in our self and our Self in all beings” – and that those who can do that will no longer have fear or taste death. Hinduism teaches not only is our soul the most important part of our being, and since our soul is divine, all beings have the same divine soul within them, making us all, ultimately, the same and unified.

    Isha Upanishad

    ALL this, whatsoever moves on earth, is to be hidden in the Lord (the Self). When thou hast surrendered all this, then thou mayest enjoy. Do not covet the wealth of any man!

    Though a man may wish to live a hundred years, performing works, it will be thus with him; but not in any other way: work will thus not cling to a man.

    There are the worlds of the Asuras (gods) covered with blind darkness. Those who have destroyed their self (who perform works, without having arrived at a knowledge of the true Self), go after death to those worlds.

    That one (the Self), though never stirring, is swifter than thought. The Devas (senses) never reached it, it walked before them. Though standing still, it overtakes the others who are running. Mâtarisvan (the wind, the moving spirit) bestows powers on it.

    It stirs and it stirs not; it is far, and likewise near. It is inside of all this, and it is outside of all this.

    And he who sees all beings in the Self, and the Self in all beings, he never turns away from it.

    When to a man who understands, the Self has become all things, what sorrow, what trouble can there be to him who once beheld that unity?

    He (the Self) encircled all, bright, incorporeal, scatheless, without muscles, pure, untouched by evil; a seer, wise, omnipresent, self-existent, he disposed all things rightly for eternal years.

    All who worship what is not real knowledge (good works), enter into blind darkness: those who delight in real knowledge, enter, as it were, into greater darkness.

    One thing, they say, is obtained from real knowledge; another, they say, from what is not knowledge. Thus we have heard from the wise who taught us this.

    He who knows at the same time both knowledge and not-knowledge, overcomes death through not-knowledge, and obtains immortality through knowledge.

    All who worship what is not the true cause,

    enter into blind darkness: those who delight in the true cause, enter, as it were, into greater darkness.

    One thing, they say, is obtained from (knowledge of) the cause; another, they say, from (knowledge of) what is not the cause. Thus, we have heard from the wise who taught us this.

    He who knows at the same time both the cause and the destruction (the perishable body), overcomes death by destruction (the perishable body), and obtains immortality through (knowledge of) the true cause.

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    This page titled 2.2: The Isha Upanishad is shared under a Public Domain license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Elisabeth Burke.

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