Isa Upanishad: an interpretative translation

Brother Martin (Sahajananda) Shantivanam, India

Brother Martin, of the Bede Griffith ashram, Shantivanam, South India, has rendered the Isa Upanishad into English. He wishes to make it clear that this in an interpretive translation, not a literal one. He originally wrote it for himself to help “make it a meaningful reading.”

Isa [God], the Divine Intelligence, permeates or envelops the whole of the universe and everything that is living and moving in it. [In fact God and Creation are like water and ice. Just as the ice moves and lives in the water so also the whole of the Universe moves and lives in God and they are not two independent realities but two aspects of the same reality: one is the manifested and the other is the unmanifest. But they are essentially one]. Therefore renounce the ignorance that you are ontologically different from God or separate from God or independent of God; then your life in this world will be a life of joy in the Truth. Just as the nature of God is unfolding, so also your nature consists in unfolding. [Unfolding is an activity, which comes out of fullness of being, by which one does not get anything and does not lose anything. It is the opposite of becoming in which one tries to become something, which one is not.] Live the life of unfolding and do not fall into the snare of spiritual or psychological becoming or acquiring [not functional becoming or acquiring]. The life of unfolding is the action of God in and through you and it is free from the bondage of action [karma]. Since you are a unique manifestation of God just as other human beings are, do not compare yourself with others, and do not have relationships of infatuation, dependency and possessiveness, but relate to others with equality, freedom, independence and love. [For comparing oneself with the others is the source of misery and suffering].

 If you live the life of unfolding, as God’s essence is unfolding, then each moment of your life is eternal life and you live eternally, though your physical body may appear and disappear. The actions of becoming and acquiring bind you, because they are against your nature and make you feel that you are nothing, that you need to be filled with acquired things and find security in them. But the life of unfolding makes you realise that you are a fullness of being, and it frees you from the bondage of action, which is rebirth.

There is a region of unfulfilled desires [demons], born of ignorance, which plunges you into the region of darkness, creating clouds around yourself, thus separating yourself from the light of the Sun or Truth. Those who deny the life of unfolding and take up the life of becoming may fall into that region which makes them circle in the darkness without seeing the light.

The nature of God or Reality does not move but travels swifter than the mind. One cannot reach God through the senses and the mind, since they move in time and space and God is beyond time and space. For this reason, God is always beyond the senses and the mind. Without effort God wins those who make efforts. God cannot be attained through efforts, but only in the silencing of all efforts of the senses and the mind is God’s indwelling and universal presence realised. Only an action that comes out of silence is effortless and motiveless and is free from the bondage of action.

The mind can speak of the Spirit or God only in the language of paradox. The mind can only say that God moves and does not move; God is far and God is near; it is within all and outside all; it is personal and impersonal. But God transcends all the categories of the mind. When the mind realises its incapacity to define God and stops its projections unto God, then it becomes silent, a sage. Only in that silence does it receive intimations from God. [All our mental concepts of God are like pebbles that we throw into the sky. They come down and fall on our heads]. God and Creation are not two independent Realities. God is the only Absolute Reality and Creation is only the manifested aspect of God. Thus Creation is neither Real as God nor Illusion as a barren woman’s child. It is Maya or Unreal. God and Creation are one in essence but two in appearances. [Water and ice are not two independent realities and at the same time they are not one in appearance. The ice is solid and has beginning and end but water is liquid and it has no beginning and no end; but they are essentially one. The sea and the wave is another example. Since the Creation has beginning and end, appearance and disappearance, it is called Maya (not illusion). Maya is that which can be measured. Since it is essentially one with God in the unmanifested state, we can say that it is also eternal]. He who sees all beings as various manifestations of the one Reality sees himself in all and all in himself and thus frees himself from the ignorance of ontological duality [not functional duality]. Duality creates separation and separation creates fear. Non-duality removes separation and frees one from fear.

A sage is one who has this universal vision of all beings in himself and himself in all beings. Thus freed from duality one becomes free from delusion and sorrow. A sage does not hurt him- or herself by hurting others. To hurt others is to hurt him- or herself as he/she is in all. God fills all created beings with his radiance. God is formless, invulnerable, pure and Absolute Good beyond relative good and evil. It is the supreme seer and universal Man, immanent and transcendent [Immanent as creation and transcendent as God]. It is fully present in every created manifestation; thus every created manifestation is a pathless path to eternity as eternity is everywhere. Only those who renounce all paths [religions or psychological time] find eternity in time and time in eternity. [For paths or ways imply distance between God and human beings but there is no real distance between God and human beings. God is everywhere like an infinite ocean and human beings are like fish in the ocean, living and moving in God. Religions create this distance and promise people that they take them to God].

Those who try to attain God though the path of ritualistic action, fall into deep darkness or ignorance. [For rituals imply distance between God and human beings and distance implies time. Eternity or timelessness cannot be reached though time. Rituals can establish certain relationship with God but they always keep people separate from God as a yoke keeps the bulls apart. Meanwhile rituals are performed with motives and the motives bind the persons to their actions]. And those who follow the path of intellectual knowledge of God fall into deeper darkness or ignorance. [For the idealisation of God creates a gulf between God and human beings. It creates philosophical or theological systems of truth which become like clouds and separate people from the light of the Sun. They establish a certain relationship with God but they also keep people separate from God as a yoke keeps the bulls apart. This gulf creates ways and means to reach the ideal; the ways create time and time, cut of from eternity, creates suffering. People are attached to the ideas of God rather than to God. Thus the knowledge of God is as much an obstacle as the rituals to the attainment of union with God]. But those who follow the path of wisdom and motiveless action, with wisdom [realisation that ultimately I and God are one] remove the gulf and the duality between the subject [oneself] and the object [God] and are freed from the burden of knowledge and time. And the ritualistic action that comes out of wisdom is motiveless and free and liberates one from the bondage of action.

Those who follow the manifested or revealed aspect of God [immanent] fall into deep darkness or ignorance [for they say that they know the Truth and limit God to their particular scriptures and the created manifestation, and want to give continuity to the past, to the God of the memory or scriptures. They make truth mechanical and live a mechanical life]. And those who follow the unmanifested aspect of God [transcendent] also fall into deeper darkness [for they say that they cannot know the Truth and might fall into agnosticism]. But those who follow the revealed aspect of God in the creation and in the scriptures and at the same time acknowledge that God is greater than what is revealed in the creation and the scriptures, know the Eternal who has manifested in the human history and creation [immanent] and at the same time remains unknown [transcendent)]. [Only in the state of known-unknown is the nature of Truth perceived. We know how Truth has manifested so far, as the scriptures bear witness, but we do not know how it will manifest in the future; for Truth is not static but dynamic. It is this known-unknown state which frees one from religious dogmatism, fundamentalism, fanaticism and also from agnosticism).

The whole of universe is the manifestation of God. The substratum of the universe is God. God is hidden in the appearance of creation. Since the Creation is the manifestation of God, it is a golden veil [Maya or ignorance] which hides God. In order to realise that God and Creation are two aspects of the same Reality, one has to remove this golden veil of ignorance. But no one can remove this golden veil by one’s own effort. It is only the grace of God that comes as the light of wisdom and frees one from the darkness of ignorance. In order to receive this grace, one has to surrender to God. This surrender is possible only when one first explores with the intellect until one realises its incapacity to unite one with God, and then comes to the heart and surrenders it to God asking for the grace to remove this veil of ignorance. Just as a boat brings one from one shore to the other, so also the intellect brings one to the end of the mind. But it is the heart that comes out of the boat and enters the land. For the intellect brings one to the understanding of non-duality but it is the heart that enters the heart of God. Just as the attendants of a bride can accompany her only up to the door of the bridal chamber but it is only the bride that enters the inner chamber of the beloved, so also the intellect can bring the lover of God only up to the door of the beloved but it is the heart that enters the inner chamber of the beloved.


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