A Glimpse of Ethical Values in Ishopanisad: VPBhatia




A Glimpse of Ethical Values in Ishopanisad: VPBhatia


ईशावास्यं इदं सर्वं यत् किञ्च जगत्यां जगत।ishopnishad

तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जिथाः मा गृधः कस्य स्विद् धनम् ॥1॥

îsHâ vâsyamidaM sarvaM yat kiñca jagatyâM jagat,

tena tyaktena bhuñjîthâ mâ gRidhaH kasya sviddhanam. 1.


“All this, whatever moves  in this universe, including the universe itself moving is  indwelt or pervaded or enveloped or clothed by the Lord.. That renounced thou shouldst enjoy. Covet not anybody’s wealth.”




The Isa Upanisad  begins with this bold statement that whatever exists in this world is enveloped by the Supreme and that it is by renunciation and absence of possessiveness that the soul is saved. Isha Upanishad  is one of the principal Upanishads consisting of only eighteen verses, but of immense significance.  It contains a concentrated view of the essential Vedic/vedantic philosophy and the choicest Ethical Values. The subject matter of the Upanishad is spiritual, profound, and all comprehensive. It highlights the divinity of man, as well as all His manifestations in nature. It conveys to us the knowledge  conveying the spiritual solidarity and unity of all existence.

Oneness of ‘the Soul and God’, and the value of both ‘faith and works’ as means of ultimate attainment are the leading themes of this Upanishad. It embodies that works alone, even the highest, can bring only temporary happiness and must inevitably bind a man unless through them he gains knowledge of his real Self. To help him acquire this knowledge is the aim of this Upanishad. It shows  in  a  marvellous way the nonmaterial aspects of the Supreme Being,  when it describes Him as ‘One who walks but does not walk’. It is a way of relating how the Lord has no material qualities, but has all spiritual qualities and characteristics, leading the  seeker to perceive the spiritual truths. The general impression that the Upanisads require world- denial is not quite correct. Isha Upanishad insists on a spirit of detachment (tyagten bhunjitha), which is not indifference to the world and  not abandonment of objects but non-attachment to them. We do not raise ourselves above the world by contempt for the worldIt is the spirit of equanimity which is insisted upon. To be tranquil is to envy no man, to have no possessions that another can take from us, to fear none. Again, Spirit of renunciation does not mean neglect of social duties. Rare fruits of spirit ripen on the soil of detachment. We should release ourselves from selfish likes and dislikes. The Divine cannot use our mind and body, so long as we wish to use them for our own ends. Detachment is opposed to attachment, not to enjoyment. Enjoy through renunciation (‘ tyagten bhunjitha’ ) is the advice of the Isa Upanisad.


Good and evil do not depend on the acts one does or does not, but on the frame of mind one has. The good man is he who concurs with the divine purpose, and the bad man is he who resists it. If one’s mind is good, one’s acts will be good. Our attempts should not be so much external conformity as inward cleansing. From goodness of being good -will and good- works flow. When the soul is at peace, the greatest sorrows are borne lightly. Life becomes more natural and confident. Changes in outer conditions do not disturb. We let our life flow of its own as the sea leaves or the flower blooms.

Balanced Attitude   towards Wealth

The Isha Upanishad presents a balanced view towards wealth like all other social and ethical values. In its very first verse ‘tyagten bhunjitha’ it warns against coveting wealth. It rather explains the real status of wealth in life, suggesting that wealth, being  external to  life, is not a real value,. We treat wealth as our possessions, but in reality it is not our own, as it remains external to our being. Its value is only an instrumental value as a means to higher ends of life. It can  serve as a valuable resource only when it is integrated  with a spiritual  attitude  towards lifeThus, spiritualisation of wealth and other means of life is the opening gospel of Isha Upanishad. Common happiness being the objective test of spiritualisation of wealth, such an attitude of economic value can be construed as economic socialism, which alone can ensure social justice.  There is no place for greed and personal aggrandisement in such an economic view. Hence, the Isha Upanishad advises economic contentment   with the rider of abandonment of greed. Moreover, verse 15 towards the end of Isha Upanishad indicates the likely illusion if the opening gospel is not followed:

 “ The  face of Truth is covered with a brilliant golden lid,

that do thou remove O Fosterer, for the law of truth, for sight.”(Isha -15)

Amassing of wealth makes a man vain and deludes him away from truth. Infatuation of wealth blinds one’s vision of truth. It is only vision of spiritual reality or grace of God, which can remove this golden covering and can help a truth-loving man to see the truth. This can be possible only when one visualises the world as a kingdom of God and enjoys things with contentment but without greed, as a sacred gift from God, with full understanding that the wealth of the world is not his property and it is also not his integral being. After all, whose wealth it is    all this? None, except His.

This balanced  economic view enshrined in  the Isha Upanishad  first presents this principle of right economic adjustment, which can also be conducive  to spiritual salvation, and then in the end it also indicates the delusion which results from lust/infatuation of wealth and also the need  of dispelling this delusion  for realisation of truth in life. Thus, this view of Isha reconciles material life with spiritual salvation of  man. All this proves the moderate economic view of the Upanishadic sages, which is ‘tyagten bhunjitha’ i.e. enjoy with contentment but abjuring greed. Such a view presents a restricted and qualified recognition of economic value, which is, ultimately, in consonance   with the spiritual view of life.

Īsha’s Resolution of the Opposites:

In Īsha Upanishad, there  are  certain pairs of OPPOSITES  intermingled in its eighteen verses, which need resolution, in tune with the basic principle of the Upanishad. The principle followed throughout is the uncompromising reconciliation of uncompromising extremes.  We  are confronted with the terms like the World, Enjoyment, Renunciation Action, Knowledge , the One and the Many, Birth, Death, the Knowlesge and the Ignorance,etc. and in later verses , a  more secondary position has been given, exalting the opposite series, God, Renunciation, Quietism, the One, Cessation of Birth, the Knowledge until this trend of thought culminated in Illusionism and the idea of existence in the world as a snare and a meaningless burden imposed inexplicably on the soul by itself, which must be cast aside as soon as possible. This Upanishad tries instead to get hold of the extreme ends of the knots, disengage and place them alongside of each other in a right placing and relation. It will not qualify or subordinate unduly any of the extremes, although it recognizes a dependence of one on the other. Renunciation is to go to the extreme, but also enjoyment is to be equally integralAction has to be complete and ungrudging, but also freedom of the soul from its works must be absoluteUnity, utter and absolute, is the goal, but this absoluteness has to be brought to its highest term by including in it the whole infinite multiplicity of things.

So great is this scruple in the Upanishad that having so expressed itself in the formula “By the ignorance having crossed over death, by the knowledge one enjoys Immortality”(Verse  11) that life in the world might be interpreted as only a preliminary to an existence beyond, it at once rights the balance by reversing the order in the parallel formula “By dissolution having crossed over death by birth one enjoys immortality”, and thus makes life itself the field of the immortal existence which is the goal and aspiration of all life. This is in consonance with the early Vedic thought which believed all the worlds and existence and non-existence and death and life and immortality to be here in the embodied human being, there evolvement, being realizable and to be possessed and enjoyed, not dependent either for acquisition or enjoyment on the renunciation of life and bodily existence. The enjoyment of the infinite delight of existence free from ego, founded on oneness of all in the Lord, is (probably) what is meant by the enjoyment of immortality. Actions are not inconsistent with the soul’s freedom. Man is not bound by works, but only seems to be bound. He has to recover the consciousness of his inalienable freedom by recovering the consciousness of unity in the Lord, unity in himself, unity with all existence.  This done, life and works can and should be accepted in their fullness; for the manifestation of the Lord in life and works is the law of our being and the object of our world-existence.  Only, we must see knowledge and not with ignoranceWe have to realize our true self as the one unchangeable, indivisible Atman. All the movement, all energies, all forms, all happenings we must see as those of our one and real self in many existences, as the play of the Will and Knowledge and Delight of the Lord in His world-existence.


Path of Karma (Righteous Deeds)

कुर्वन्नेवेह कर्माणि जिजीविषेच्छत समाः।

एवं त्वयि नान्यथेतो स्ति न कर्म लिप्यते नरे ॥2॥

kûrvan-neveha karmâni jijîviSec-chatagM samâH,

evaM tvayi nânya-theto’sti na karma lipyate nare.( Isha  2)


Performing verily, work in this world  should  one  desire to live a full  hundred years. This  alone  is right, for  there is  no  other  right  path. Action  never clings to a man following this  path” (Isha.2).

For the coveted goal, the pilgrim needs a lot of mental and intellectual calibre, a man of renunciation, with discriminating capabilities, a strong will and an indomitable faith in himself. However, many among us have ample desire for wealth, for relationships, and for glory and recognition. The Scripture  says that  such persons are to practise sincerely and diligently, the life of Action. If we study the history of mankind with detachment, we observe  that noble and eternal values of life, when negated and  flouted, the generation tumbles down into wreckage, and their  revival is almost  always directly proportional to the  sincerity, intensity and strength with  which the rising generation adopts the nobler and enduring  values of  philosophical and religious  perfection.

 Thus, we have to analyse the result of action, inaction and unaction. The   ‘Inaction’ is  external and internal morbidity, inertia and sloth(tamas), which  activity kills  the  generation. Action is the dynamic and conscious work, either  to fulfil a given and known  desire, or to enjoy the very  activity itself as its own goal(rajas ). Thus, we should immediately take to a dynamic and conscious program of activity and should steadily walk the ‘Path of Action’, and be  dedicated  to the ‘Path of Karma’. In the words  of Swami Chinmayananda, ‘In case you are not  able to live the life of God-vision achieved through renunciation, then do  certainly desire  to live  a full hundred  years of productive selfless work. ‘He has opined, ‘Here is a stanza, which declares that  he, who cannot afford to live the noblest life of  (total)renunciation and self-restraint, must unavoidably live  a life of intense activity, striving his best to fulfil all his desires through sweat and toil, and must teach himself to live in appetising enthusiasm all his life- ‘a full hundred years’  in the service of mankind and  in the glorification of the Lord.”The Isha Upanisad repeats: ‘Thus, it is right  for thee and not otherwise than  this.’ The one who thus intensively plunges into life – eager and anxious to meet daily challenges, and  at every turn doing his best to meet  each challenge with truth and purity as his standard of values –  to such a one, actions do not cling. Bhagavad Gita  also exhorts :’Therefore, engage yourself in doing Karma only'(BG IV-15). ‘Na karma lipyate nare’(Action never taints such aman) signifies that our actions cannot affect us, if the work is done with a spirit of detachment, coupled with the  joy of dedication to  our work. In fact,   the whole Ishavasya  Upanisad  is a loud  message to the humanity at large to desist from becoming merely self-centered, to the utter neglect of his life in the  outer  world, and his relationships with the comity of nations and happening  around him.

Yastu syarvani bhutani atmanye


यस्तु सर्वाणि भूतान्यात्मनेवानुपश्यति।

Yastu syaarvâni bhûtâni âtmanye-vânupasHyati,

सर्वभूतेषु चात्मानं ततो न विजुगुप्सते ॥6॥

                            Sarva-bhûteSu câtmânam tato na viju-gupsate.(Isha. 6).

  He who constantly sees everywhere all existence in the Self and the Self in all beings and forms, thereafter feels no hatred for anything.” (Swami Chinmayananda).

This verse, widely quoted, explains quite vividly the state of perfect tranquility gained by a Self-realized soul, the benefit accrued to an individual by realising this uniform and all-pervading Reality behind the multiplicity and plurality that we cognise around and us. Swami Chinmayananda  has advised that ” I would suggest that even those who do not know much of Samskrta would somehow or other memorise  this stanza, maintaining  an association of the meaning with the sounds, and would keep it as a ready  antidote for all their inner poisons of mental agitations and intellectual  unrest.”How can the multiplicity of life delude the one who sees itsall-pervading unity? “Self-realisation is never  complete by a mere recognition of the intrinsic  divinity or perfection  in  the Self, within which  includes the Self expressing in the pluralistic world. To realise one’s own Self is to realise at once its oneness with the All-Self. To realise the nature of a wave is to realise not only the nature of all waves, but the very nature of the ocean. Life being one and unbroken, to experience the Life-centre within us, is to experience at once the Life-centre everywhere.” The one who has  thus  realised the  core of all beings as  the core of in himself , and his own Self as the Self in every name and form ,he is a sage, a prophet, a God-man, a true leader of the people, and a guiding power in the universe.” (ibid).

In realising thus, the individual gets permanently divorced from all his mental ideas of repulsion, shrinking , dislike, fear, hatred and such  other perversions of feelings, which arise from the  sense of  division and plurality. When all the hatred(jugapsa) has dried away from the mind, the individual  experiences  an unbroken state  of tranquility, thereafter, in all  types of circumstances, favourable or unfavourable, in his/her worldly existence. Sri  Aurobindo has explained this idea vividly: “jugupsa is the feeling of repulsion caused by a sense of of want of harmony, between one’s own limited self-formation, and the contacts of external, with consequent  recoil of grief, fear, hatred, discomfort, and suffering. It is the opposite of attraction which is the source of desire and  attachment. Repulsion and attraction removed, we have samatava.”  A tranquil mind is as potent as God; the more we gain this inward tranquillity (samatva), the more joyous and effective our lives become. 



A Self-realised Atman

यस्मिन्सर्वाणि भूतानि आत्मैवाभूद विजानतः।

तत्र को मोहः कः शोकः एकत्वमनुपश्यतः ॥7॥

Yasmin sarvanibhutaniatmaiva-bhudvijanatah,

tatra ko mohah kah soka ekatva-manu-pasyatah(7)


“When, to the knower,all beings have become one in his own Self(Atman),how shall he feel deluded thereafter? What grief can there be to him who sees oneness everywhere?”(7) (Swami  Chinmayananda)

A man of Self-relisation, who  has understood in his  own vital experience that he is not a  separate individual living as opposed  to others, but in his/her essential nature, he/she  is nothing  but  the harmony or unity, that underlines all seeming  discord or plurality(which  are considered  as a scum upon  the Reality). He, who has thus realised his oneness with the entire, can no longer have the ordinary tossings of the mind arising out of the ordinary  psychological  tensions created  through delusion (moha)or grief(soka).According to Swami Chinmayananda, “grief is the  language of delusion. The amount of grief in an individual’s life is  directly  proportional to the amount of delusion in him/her. In his essential nature, he is All-Bliss. Unity or Harmony is Bliss. But in delusion, when he cognizes plurality and  discord, there arises  in him, the experience of grief. This  delusion creates grief, and more the delusion, more the grief.   To get away from grief is the goal of life sought by every   living creature, whether man or animal. Moksha or liberation is  the  transcendence of  the individual beyond  the frontiers  of  sorrow.  This  Mantra  exhorts  that beyond  the shores  of sighs  and sobs, lies the land  of realisation whence  the Knower experiences in his own Self, the entire universe to be one, which is nothing but his own Real Nature.

The pot-space can  disard all his sense of limitations, imperfections and sorrows Thus, to conclude,   such a man/woman( Saint )of Realisation, experiencing his own Self shining  out through every  name and form, expressing Its  own dynamism through  every  circumstance, happy or sorrowful, is eternally in unison with harmony and rhythm amidst  the discordant noise  of life. To him are the greatest potencies, the greatest  joys, and the amplest   successes in life. Even the heaviest  sorrow cannot shake him even  a wee-bit.(Cf. Yasmin sthito na duhkhena gurunapi vicalyate(wherein established,he is notshakenevenby  the heaviest  sorrow- Bhagvad  Gita VI-22).

 Lead us  on to’wealth’  by a good Path


अग्ने नय सुपथा राये अस्मान विश्वानी देव वयुनानि विद्वान्।

युयोध्यस्म ज्जुहुराणमेनो भूयिष्ठां ते नम उक्तिं विधेम ॥१८॥

Agne naya supatha raye asman Visvani deva vayunani vidvan,

yuyo-dhyas-majjuhu-rana-meno bhuyistham te nama uktim vidhema (18)

“O Agni!Lead us on to’wealth’ by  a good path, as Thou knowest, O God, all the many  ways. Remove  the crooked attraction of  sin from us. We  offerThee our best salutations.(SwamiChinmayananda)

O Adorable God(Agni),may Thee lead  us along the wholesome path  for our prosperity, since O Lord, Thou art  in  the  knowledge of all  our actions. May Thee cleanse  us of  the sin that  forces  us  astray.  With  humility, we  offer  thee our  most  reverential    homage.


In this  last Mantra  of Isha  the  Vedic heritage man  has  to seek  the support of God   even after doing his best efforts. The Upanisad, which started  from  the  first  wave ‘tyagten bhunjitha ma gridah kasya -savidhnam‘ concludes with this  last  wave  with a beautiful  prayer ‘to lead  us to the right path to prosperity, abjuring treading wrong  path of sin’. The  devotee(sadhak) having done his best efforts takes refuge in Him for raye i.e.wealth, prosperity, including ‘the riches  of a spiritual seeker’ for attainment  of  the supreme felicity. It is, thus, an active  dynamic spiritual giving  up to Him and a becoming  into the  new awareness.



It will be seen that there are many gems of ethical values in Ishopanisad, which are still relevant in modern times. It  begins with the statement ‘whatever exists in this world is enveloped by the Supreme and  by renunciation and absence of possessiveness , we should enjoy  the bounties provided by Him, without coveting what does not belong to us.   Balanced view  of wealth, signifying non-accumulation and sharing of God-given resources  is a significant concept  in the prevailing social order with  wide-spread inequalities  existing   in the society  and  the world  at  large. The Isha is also of immense significance, as it contains a concentrated view of the essential and the choicest Ethical Values. It highlights the divinity of man, as well as all His manifestations in nature.  Oneness of the Soul and God, and the value of both faith and works(Action) as means of ultimate attainment are the leading themes of this Upanishad, emphasising that works alone, even the highest, can bring only temporary happiness and must inevitably bind a man unless through them he gains knowledge of his real Self.  May  i conclude with the hope that all  of  us shall endeavour  to cultivate the  significant ethical values stated in Isha Upanisad, to lead a more contented  and spiritual life, leading to intimate and  intense awareness of Self. With my Best  wishes  for the  onward Spiritual journey.



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One Response to “A Glimpse of Ethical Values in Ishopanisad: VPBhatia”

  1. March 27, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    Being the Research Scholar(student) of this write-up, valuable comments of the enlightened Patriots’ Forum Members are welcome. Must make it clear that it is a research-based endeavour (on Ethical values… in Indian Scrptures), don’t claim any originality on my part and thankfully acknowledge Swami Chinmayananda’s Discourses on Isha Upanishada publication by esteemed Chinmaya mission.

    We should occasionally look back a bit on our past culture and its contribution to the humanity at large, while being embroiled in the present envirobment with its worth it is. Regds.

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