The Uniqueness Of Ishavasya

By Rudra Shivananda

rudrashivanandainlilleoru

Rudra Shivananda

There is one ancient text which holds a high position not only because of its lofty philosophical exposition but also due to several unique aspects. The text is called the Ishavasya Upanishad. In the tradition of Upanishads, they all have the common theme of the Atman or the Spirit and its realization. Each Upanishad should also present a method
called upasana for realizing the Atman – most times, it is explicitly stated but sometimes only hinted at or made known through oral transmission.

A unique theme of the Ishavasya is that of a personal divinity called Isha. This is a different vision called up by the sage of this text because other Upanishads have concentrated on either the Atman or the Brahman. The Atman is the true Self – “the form of the Self cannot be seen or grasped by the senses because it is the grasper and seer of everything.” It is by abandoning all the false states of consciousness that involve the mind and the senses, that the Self is revealed like the sky when the clouds disappear.

Brahman is the term used by the seers to denote the universal, absolute principle that forms the substrate of all beings, divine, semi-divine, human, animal, vegetation, mineral and so on.

The seer of the Ishavasya equates the Atman with the Brahman, the inner Self with the Universal Being. This sage then calls this Divine Being, Isha or Lord, prescribing both a personal and an impersonal aspect to the Divine. This unknown king of yogis has attempted to unite the material with the spiritual by asserting that the Lord Isha permeates the universe and is the Spirit.

The seer then brings together the yogic paths of knowledge and devotion.  Traditionally, the followers of the knowledge path would try to directly reach the impersonal Brahman by their intellection and would consider the followers of devotion towards a personal divine aspect as inferiors on the spiritual path. However, our seer points out the merits of both paths and counsels the practice of an integrated path.

In the same grand theme of a uniting vision, the seer brings together the life paths of meditation and action. There is danger in pursuing either one without the other and it is the path of action with awareness that is counseled by the wise. There is danger in devoting one’s whole life only to meditation and equally a danger for those who devote their whole life only to activity. A harmonious balance must be sought.

The sage of the Ishavasya tells us further that the Lord will answer our prayers and help us overcome the barriers that prevent us from achieving our Self-Realization. The Lord is not just a dispassionate observer but can get actively involved in our welfare. Such a philosophical position is distinct among the major Upanishads.

The Lord who permeates the universe and is also within us, the seer addresses as Isha. The aspect of the Lord who sustains us is equated with the Spirit behind the visible sun or Surya and is called the nourisher or Pushan. That aspect of the Lord who leads us on the right path is called Agni or the light of the fire.

This text is very short, only eighteen stanzas and is unique in the profundity of its brevity. Most of the other Upanishads explain their visions in much more detail. However, if one can make the effort, one will derive immense benefit from its study.

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