Isha Upanishad

Gummuluru Murthy gmurthy at MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA
Thu Jun 19 20:40:24 CDT 1997

On Tue, 17 Jun 1997, VP Nandakumar wrote:

> I've got some questions on the Isha Upanishad :
> "Those who devote themselves both to life in the world and to meditation, by
> life in the world overcome death and by meditation attain immortality"
> What exactly does "life in the world" refer to?
> "Those who worship both the body and the spirit, by the body overcome death
> by the spirit achieve immortality"
> What exactly does "worshipping the body" refer to?

I think Shri Nandakumar is referring to verse 11. This
upanishhad, as I understand it, seems to give some importance to
the knowledge of worldly matters, which is avidya.  I give below
verses 9, and 11 (which have similar emphasis) with translations.

Verse 9

Andham tamah pravishanti yo'vidyaam upaasate
tato bhuuya iva te tamo ya u vidyaayaam rataah

Into blinding darkness enter those who worship ignorance; and
those who delight in knowledge enter into still greater darkness,
as it were. [Translation according to Radhakrishnan Principal

This verse condemns worship (upaasate, rataah) of both avidya and
vidyaa. Vidyaa here obviously cannot refer to knowledge of
Atman because knowledge of Atman *cannot* lead to still greater
darkness. I feel the emphasis here is on "rataah" i.e. feeling of
enjoyment of knowledge or taking delight in knowledge.
Alternately, knowledge may not be the knowledge of Atman; or
alternately, if it is the knowledge of the Atman, it is only
theoretical knowledge without the actual experience of the
Brahman. If not, the second half of the verse is not easy to come
to grips with.

Verse 11

vidyaam caavidyaam ca yas tad vedobhayam saha
avidyayaa mr^tyum teertvaa vidyayaamr^tam ashnute

He, who knows both vidyaa and avidyaa together, overcomes death
through avidyaa and experiences immortality by means of vidyaa.
[Translation according to Swami Ranganathananda Message of the

Radhakrishnan quotes interpretation of Shri Shankara as "By
performance of rites, we overcome death and by meditation on
deities, we attain immortality". In Shri Nandakumar's quotation
above, "life in the world", I interpret that as life based on

My understanding of this verse is "vedobhayam saha": knowing both
vidyaa and avidyaa *together*, one crosses death by avidyaa and
attains immortality by vidyaa. Crossing death and attaining
immortality are different things (?). Again, some importance
seems to be given to works based on avidyaa. I always thought
that complete shunning of worldly works or recognizing that the
world and the worldly works are based on avidyaa is the way to
immortality. That is, jnana maarga is the way to go. It seems
worldly works have a role to play.

With reference to Shri Nandakumar's wording above, I am not sure
where "worshipping the body" has come into the phraseology of
this verse.

Gummuluru Murthy
Yadaa sarve pramucyante kaamaa ye'sya hr^di shritaah
atha martyo'mr^to bhavatyatra brahma samashnute   Katha Upanishhad II.3.14

When all the desires that dwell in the heart fall away, then the mortal
becomes immortal, and attains Brahman even here.

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