ISHA UPANISHAD - YAJUR VEDA - part of Four Vedas




The ISHA ईशा (or also called ISHA-VAASHYA-ईश-वास्यउपनिषद्) Upanishad starts with the famous and insightful verse:

Purnamadah Purnamidam
Purnat Purnamudachyate
Purnasya Purnamadaya
Purnameva Vashishyate
Om shanti, shanti, shantih!!

पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदम 
पूर्णत पुर्नामुदचयते 
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमदय
पूर्णमेव वाशिश्यते
ॐ शांति शांति शांतिः 

Though there are numerous translations of this verse (mainly due to lack of precise meaning of the Sanskrit words), the essence of each translations do not do justice to the verse.
I am making an attempt to get the precise meaning of the verse, here:

This is Infinite, That is Infinite,
From the Infinite, the Infinite emerges,
Whence Infinite subtracted from Infite,
The Infinite remains Infinite
Om Peace, Peace, Peace!

The Sanskrit word 'Purna-पूर्ण' in this verse is a wholesome word which has numerous meaning. The word has immensely vast expansive meaning to it without an English term which can provide the wholesome or precise  meaning to the word. To make sense of the above verse we should replace the noun ‘Infinite’ from the above translation and replace it with other nouns: Absolute, Complete, Whole, True, Real, Perfect, Absolute Knowledgeable, Absolute Peaceful, Omnipresent, Immanent, etc., When we do it and club them all together we can get close to the precise meaning (translation) of the verse.

When we compound all the nouns above, we arrive at a Term which has been used to describe The ‘Brahman’-ब्राह्मण (God, absolute).
The Philosophy of the hymn: When we know that the Supreme soul, the Brahman, is complete, full of joy, infinite, non-describable, how can we limit such a supreme entity? Whatever we may say or so, the Brahman remains Brahman – The Supreme! This is the ‘Essence’ of this ‘hymn’ and philosophy of ‘Isha Upanishad!

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The word ‘Isha’ is one of the numerous words used in Sanskrit to describe ‘Brahman-God’! It is also used to describe ‘Self’ and ‘Atman-the soul-आत्मा’. This narrates in detail how ‘each soul’ and ‘God’ are one, and connected. It further goes on to mention how the ultimate goal of achieving ‘Moksha’- मोक्ष (freedom from cycle of death and re-birth) can be achieved through various routes. It specifically professes that although through work (Karma) alone may bring great joy and happiness, but it would be temporary. Only through knowledge of one’self and thereby, knowledge of God Himself, permanent bliss can be attained. This Upanishad helps the reader to acquire that knowledge and attain the highest goal...MOKSHA!

This Upanishad of The Yajur-Veda is considered to be among the most important once when it comes to discussing Sanatana Dharma philosophy. It is considered next to the Srimad Bhagvatam (The Gita-भाग्वद-गीता) and the ‘Rig-Veda-ऋग-वेद’ for its philosophy.

The Isha Upanishad states that all living beings, and non-living elements which exist in the universe, are a part of, and covered by God! One must renounce the unreal (materialistic objects and desires), one must live with the real (knowledge of absolute truth). One must not covet the wealth of any man. We cover all things with the Lord by perceiving the Divine Presence everywhere and in every object. When the consciousness is firmly fixed in God, the conception of diversity naturally fades away because the One Cosmic Existence shines through all things. As we gain the light of wisdom, we cease to cling to the unrealities of this world and we find all our joy within the realm of true reality. This Upanishad also stresses greatly on acquiring knowledge that we are a part of Brahman, The Supreme Absolute! Thus, it is necessary that we should also learn about our self, which is a manifestation of Him. It we possess the true knowledge of our true Self it becomes the greatest protector and sustainer. If we do not have this knowledge, we cannot be happy; because nothing on this external plane of phenomena is permanent or dependable. He who is rich in the knowledge of the Self does not covet external power or possession.
In a nutshell we can understand the philosophy through this statement: A Divine statement:


The principle philosophies, as stated by this Upanishad are:

- If one wishes to live a happy and contented life one should perform one’s ‘Karma-कर्म righteous deed’ By doing so one becomes ‘Karma-Nishtha-कर्म-निष्ठा’ (one dedicated to our Karma). Karma here also includes one duty towards God. When man performs only his materialistic duties, he is restricted to the life of materialism which will not help him attain ‘Moksha’. By also performing his duties towards God one can be liberated from and purified.

- Mankind should follow the paths of ‘Gyana-Nishthaa ज्ञान-निष्ठा’ (dedication to acquire knowledge, spiritual and worldly).

- A soul is ‘immortal’ and thus it cannot be destroyed. According to Isha Upanishad, a man’s actions are only finite and thus the results of his actions can also be only ‘Finite’. The journey of a soul to heaven or hell is only for a limited time till one re-incarnates as a life form in a continuous journey in the cycle of death and re-birth, unless one achieves the ultimate goal, Moksha’. When a soul achieves Moksha, it merges with ‘Brahman’ – God!
So, the cycle of death and re-birth ends and the soul achieves a permanent peace in HIM!

- One should never neglect the quest of the aatma (soul), our real self. We are only a temporary form in the soul’s journey, thus we should keep its wishes as a priority and work towards liberating it from the continuous troubles through being born in different life forms and dying and being re-born. Our aim should be Liberation!

That One, though motionless, is swifter than the mind
The senses can never overtake It, for It ever goes before
Though immovable, it travels faster than those who run
By It the all–pervading air sustains all living beings. 
This verse explains the character of the aatma-आत्मा-Self. A finite object can be taken from one place and put in another, but it can only occupy one space at a time. The Atman, however, is present everywhere; hence, though one may run with the greatest swiftness to overtake It, already It is there before him. Even the all–pervading air must be supported by this Self, since It is infinite; and as nothing can live without breathing air, all living things must draw their life from the Cosmic Self.

It moves and It moves not, It is far and also It is near
It is within and also It is without all this
It is near to those who have the power to understand It
for It dwells in the heart of every one
but It seems far to those whose mind is covered
by the clouds of sensuality and self– delusion
It is within, because It is the innermost Soul of all creatures; 
and It is without as the essence of the whole external universe, 
infilling it like the all–pervading ether.

He who sees all beings in the Self and the Self in all beings

he never turns away from It (the Self)

- He who perceives all beings as the Self’ for him how can there be delusion or grief, when he sees this oneness (everywhere)? He who perceives the Self everywhere never shrinks from anything, because through his higher consciousness he feels united with all life. When a man sees God in all beings and all beings in God, and also God dwelling in his own Soul, how can he hate any living thing? Grief and delusion rest upon a belief in diversity, which leads to competition and all forms of selfishness. With the realization of oneness, the sense of diversity vanishes and the cause of misery is removed.

- He (the Self) is all–encircling, resplendent, bodiless, spotless, without sinews, pure, untouched by sin, all–seeing, all–knowing, transcendent, self–existent; He has disposed all things duly for eternal years. This text defines the real nature of the Self. When our mind is cleansed from the dross of matter, then alone can we behold the vast, radiant, subtle, ever–pure and spotless Self, the true basis of our existence.

- They enter into blind darkness who worship Avidya (ignorance and delusion); they fall, as it were, into greater darkness who worship Vidya (knowledge).

- By Vidya one end is attained; by Avidya, another. Thus we have heard from the wise men who taught this.

- He who knows at the same time both Vidya and Avidya, crosses over death by Avidya and attains immortality through Vidya. Those who follow or “worship” the path of selfishness and pleasure (Avidya-अविद्या), without knowing anything higher, necessarily fall into darkness; but those who worship or cherish Vidya-विद्या (knowledge) for mere intellectual pride and satisfaction, fall into greater darkness, because the opportunity which they misuse is greater. In the subsequent verses Vidya and Avidya are used in something the same sense as “faith” and “works”; neither alone can lead to the ultimate goal, but when taken together they carry one to the Highest. Work done with unselfish motive purifies the mind and enables man to perceive his undying nature. From this he gains inevitably a knowledge of God, because the Soul and God are one and inseparable; and when one knows himself to be one with the Supreme and Indestructible Whole, he realizes his immortality.

- They fall into blind darkness who worship the Unmanifested and they fall into greater darkness who worship the manifested.

- By the worship of the Unmanifested one end is attained; by the worship of the manifested, another. Thus we have heard from the wise men who taught us this.

A diya (clay lamp) for a 'Puja'
- He who knows at the same time both the Unmanifested (the cause of manifestation) and the destructible or manifested, he crosses over death through knowledge of the destructible and attains immortality through knowledge of the First Cause (Unmanifested). This particular Upanishad deals chiefly with the Invisible Cause and the visible manifestation, and the whole trend of its teaching is to show that they are one and the same, one being the outcome of the other hence no perfect knowledge is possible without simultaneous comprehension of both. The wise men declare that he who worships in a one–sided way, whether the visible or the invisible, does not reach the highest goal. Only he who has a co–ordinated understanding of both the visible and the invisible, of matter and spirit, of activity and that which is behind activity, conquers Nature and thus overcomes death. By work, by making the mind steady and by following the path as guided by the Scriptures, a man gains wisdom. By the light of that wisdom he is able to perceive the Invisible Cause in all visible forms. Therefore the wise man sees Him in every manifested form. They who have a true conception of God are never separated from Him. They exist in Him and He in them.

In one of the main verses, a hymn states: May my life–breath go to the all–pervading and immortal Prana, and let this body be burned to ashes. Om! O mind, remember thy deeds! O mind, remember, remember thy deeds! Remember! Seek not fleeting results as the reward of thy actions, O mind! Strive only for the Imperishable. This Mantram or text is often chanted at the hour of death to remind one of the perishable nature of the body and the eternal nature of the Soul. When the clear vision of the distinction between the mortal body and the immortal Soul dawns in the heart, then all craving for physical pleasure or material possession drops away; and one can say, let the body be burned to ashes that the Soul may attain its freedom; for death is nothing more than the casting–off of a worn–out garment.

Pusanne-karse yama surya praja-patya,
Vyuha rasmin samuha tejah
Yatte rupam kalyana-tamam tatte pasyami
Yo’sa vasau purusah so ‘ham-asmi. (16)
~The Isha Upanishad~

O Pushan, Sun, the sole pilgrim of solitude, Controller and absorber of all,
Off spring of Prajapati; Withdraw thy rays and gather up Thy radiant brilliance.
That form of Thine,  Most gracious, Through Thy grace, I may behold.
He, the Purush in the solar ark, I am


This Upanishad is called Isa–Vasya Upanishad, that which gives Brahma–Gyana (knowledge about Brahman-The Supreme Soul (God). The dominant thought which runs through this Upanishad is that we cannot enjoy life or realize true happiness unless we consciously ‘cover’ all with the Omnipresent Lord. If we are not fully conscious of that which sustains our life, how can we live wisely and perform our duties? Whatever we see, movable or immovable, good or bad, it is all “That.” We must not divide our conception of the universe; for in dividing it, we have only fragmentary knowledge and we thus limit ourselves.

He who sees all beings in his Self and his Self in all beings, he never suffers; because when he sees all creatures within his true Self, then jealousy, grief and hatred vanish. He alone can love in the true meaning of it. That All–pervading One is self– effulgent, birthless, deathless, pure, un-tainted by sin and sorrow. Knowing this, he frees himself from the bondage of matter and transcends death. Transcending death means realizing the difference between body and Soul and identifying oneself with the Soul. When we actually behold the undecaying Soul within us and realize our true nature, we no longer identify our self with the body which dies and we do not die with the body.

Knowledge about Self has always been the principle thought of the Sages; and the Upanishads deal especially with the knowledge of the Self and also with the knowledge of God, because there is no difference between the Self and God. They are one and the same. That which comes out of the Infinite Whole must also be infinite; hence the Self is infinite. That is the ocean, we are the drops. So long as the drop remains separate from the ocean, it is small and weak; but when it is one with the ocean, then it has all the strength of the ocean. Similarly, so long as man believes himself to be separate from the Whole, he is helpless; but when he identifies himself with It, then he transcends all weakness and partakes of Its omnipotent qualities.

Thus ends the ISHA UPANISHAD!

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Hari Aum!
हरी ॐ।

Siddharth S. Sinha
सिद्धार्थ स सिन्हा

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