Isha Upanishad

Why the Isha Upanishad?

The Isha Upanishad is another thought provoking Upanishad that talks about “Isha”. While Isha in the standard interpretation is said to be the Lord Shiva, I believe the Isha Upanishad indicates the nature of Isha which leads to a totally different perspective of Isha. Isha as “potential” as in “potential to be something” as opposed to “actual being”. Hence Isha – Shakti turns out to be potential and energy. It is said that without Shakti, Shiva is actually Shava which means a dead body. Now the question is what can be dead and still have so much of respect that people revered it as God. If we start thinking of “Shiva or Isha” as potential, then yes, even though it seems dead to us, there is a lot of potential to be and add to it energy and it manifests.


This entire world that is moving is covered by potential, hence give up this inquiry of who has impelled my experience of desires

This impulse is from within you and no other and as long as this impulse lasts so also lasts the action.

They who are not born, are in darkness and hereafter approach destruction of the self, incorporeal is called their world and is covered with darkness and illusion

The unmoving one is quicker than the mind, that speed no other can reach. No other is as rapid as this. From that unchanging, electron, space, air, sound is created before movement is got.

The unmoving one moves and does not move, is far and is near, is inside and outside all of this

That unmoving who, every being, others and self cannot perceive, but from who all beings and self are not hidden

When the unmoving does not produce a perception of identity in the being and self, there, which delusion or what grief is known

He (That unmoving one) has encircled this entire body circle impeded destruction towards pure sage, one who surpasses cause of self-existence that is to say (one who) gnaws through all sides of distress, opulence and equally pain therefore crossing towards enlightenment

The blind who enter illusion imagine knowledge, hence becoming this (what they have imagined), they who enjoy this knowledge are ignorant

They who, giving up knowledge of the senses, eating, hearing, sight, devotion, knowledge and also not knowledge and what they know and ignorance too come to equilibrium cross over to imperishable

The blind who enter illusion imagine birth, hence becoming this, they who enjoy this birth, are ignorant

The blind who enter illusion imagine manifestation, hence becoming this, they who enjoy this manifestation are ignorant

They who, giving up manifestation of senses, eating, hearing, sight, devotion, knowledge manifested in this manner and destroyed in this manner and who knows this also is destroyed this and reaches equilibrium cross over to be united with the imperishable

Air is impassable in a body that has been destroyed, but this OM is imperishable. Always this being that persisted intention causes action persistence causes intention persistence causes action persistence

My Thoughts

I wonder sometimes why are we all so foolish. There are so many scriptures, so many people have tried to say it in so many different ways and none of them talk about God. Yet, we keep rejecting them and interpreting them in ways we want it to be with an external entity called God who we want to blame. We keep missing the most important point of all their teachings. There are so many important points this upanishad brings out. The first and foremost is said in the first verse and the theme dwelled upon in the rest of the verses. Very simply it says that there is an “impulse” and due to this “impulse” we all became sentient, this impulse is within us and searching it outside is not going to help us understand it.

Very sad, that I had to translate a whole lot of Upanishads and read a whole lot of other scriptures to understand this very simple point when it has been lying in plain sight. For eg., in the  Japji Sahib’s sayings there is one that says:

Hukmī hovan ākār hukam na kahiā jāī.
Hukmī hovan jīa hukam milai vadiāī.
Hukmī uṯam nīcẖ hukam likẖ ḏukẖ sukẖ pāīah.
Iknā hukmī bakẖsīs ik hukmī saḏā bẖavāīah.
Hukmai anḏar sabẖ ko bāhar hukam na koe.
Nānak hukmai je bujẖai ṯa haumai kahai na koe.

Everyone seems to translate “Hukum” to “Order” and hence search and associate with a God external to us. So, the standard translation of this tries to convince us that there are some set of commands that we need to follow and live by. Strange that no one even questions such translations, when it is written in plain understandable language?

The same thing, if we changed the translation of Hukum to “impulse” instead of “command”, take away the unnecessary reference to God which is not implied anywhere in this verse, and “Nanak” referring to a “person” and use the literal translation of various words, it should really have translated to:

What is the form of “impulse”, “impulse” cannot say so
How did this “impulse” come into being, that you get this impulse in abundance
“Impulse” is neither higher or lower, Due to this impulse you get happiness and sadness
When you act on one impulse, you always get another impulse
This impulse is inside everyone, no impulse is outside anyone
yet, if a person asked where is the impulse, they can say nothing of it

Isn’t this is exactly what this Upanishad is trying to tell us. I wonder why we reject this?

The next important point to note is that the basic particles are called apo and ambah, which is translated in standard translations as water and sound which seems to make no sense. My take is apo is hydrogen atom which has a single electron which turns out to be an electron and ambah my take should be vibrations or waves. The problem I think is too many words are translated into the same meaning given that we do not have words for them. For eg., apo and amrtha is translated to water, how can that be possible?

To understand this Upanishad, I would like to give a comparison in the computer world. If we think of the application and objects within an application, they are actually represented as 1’s and 0’s that are stored at some location either memory, registers or hard disk. Yet when viewed within the program they have meaning, when viewed outside the program they turn to be simple stream of bytes. So, the stream of bytes take on meaning only when they exist within the program, outside they are just bytes. Exactly, if we think of this world / universe / space-time whichever as an application running, then it turns out that we as a human are just a stream of bytes outside of this world, in this case this is called the Brahman. Hence it is said that which the mind cannot think, yet it is the mind, that is what is Brahman. Anything else just turns out to be an object within the program.

So, the crucial question is “How do we really find the Brahman?” and the next question is “With what we have, can we even start understanding the Brahman?” which is what has been asked in the Kena Upanishad. Don’t try to use your intelligence and knowledge and give it either a form or try to create or imagine knowledge, do this and you are going away from understanding the Brahman. While the Kena Upanishad said how can we start finding the truth, i.e., to say segregate your thoughts and hence become free of them to see the next level, here he is talking about why are we doing the actions that we are doing and how do we get to the imperishable or the truth?

Here he talks about “The unmoving one”, I wonder what it is and why is it called the unmoving! It cannot be the unmanifested, because this is already manifested and is encircling us that is what this upanishad says.

The final verse in this Upanishad is also very interesting to think about. It seems to explain the question of the first verse. “Whose impulse drives my experience of desire?” and the answer seems to come out in the last verse as “Persisting intentions make us to act, that action give rise to other intentions which starts off the loop of intentions leading to action leading to intentions”. This being the cause of this perception of external world.

One Comment on “Isha Upanishad

  1. Pingback: The Gayatri Mantra – Thoughts on Ancient Philosophy

%d bloggers like this: