Isavasya Upanisad is one of shorter Upanisads as it contains only 18 slokas. This Upanisad starts with the sloka ”Isavasyam idham sarvam” and hence the name. Each of the Upanisad starts with a shanti mantra, the purpose of which is to orient the mind of the practitioner to a proper frame of mind to understand and appreciate the nuances of the mantras to get a real benefit. Isavasya Upanisad starts with the Shanti Mantra of Shukla Yajur Veda “Om Purnamadha purnamidham …etc”. This Mantra instructs that Brahman, is whole, complete and infinite and this Universe which is also whole, complete and infinite is from the Brahman (infinite). Even after removal of this infinite Universe the Brahman remains as infinite.
Even though this looks like a riddle this is easily understood with some examples. One flame of a candle can ignite any number of other flames without in any way loosing its characteristics of giving the light and other flames emit the same light. Similarly a person shows his affection to a number of persons. It does not mean that his capacity to show affection is lessened. A third example could be that a tree sports a number of flowers and each one of the flower is a whole and complete in itself. The purport of this mantra is that this world or universe has been created by God and the whole, complete and perfect God unaffected in any way by this creation which is also whole and complete and infinite. As this universe is from God, everything in this universe contains the godliness or God himself. In other words God resides in everything in this world animate or inanimate.
The main theme of Isavasya Upanisad is that the all the species in this world are created by Iswara (God) and explains the various aspects of Him. He is also the cause of this world and also He is the matter of everything in this world and as such one should see Iswara in everything, animate or inanimate, in this world. If such a view is taken, if one is able to see Iswara in everything, one could forget the existence of this world as he will feel Iswara only everywhere. By achieving this Gnana that everything in this world is Iswara and that it belongs to Iswara, one will not be avaricious and will be contended. It also explains how a Gnani who has realised Iswara in everything, will be benefited as against those others who could not achieve that state.
One has to live in this world and for this he has to work. The result of his work may be good or bad or a mixture of both. Whatever be the result it affects the person in one way or other which leads him to do more work and thus the person is bonded to more and more work involving himself deeply in this world. The result is, he is born again and again. On the other hand if he involves himself in this world with a conviction that everything in this world belongs to God and looks upon himself as a guardian appointed by God, he will find that the result does not affect him in any way and this leads him to the path of Atma Gnana.
Prone to desires we bind ourselves with this body and with this mind. We go after the happiness of senses which result in entangling ourselves in the vicious cycle of birth and rebirth. On the other hand the pursuit of Atma Gnana only will lift the man and save him from rebirth. This Upanisad categorises all those who indulge in pursuit of worldly pleasures as “destroyers of atman”! As they die without realising God it is equivalent to committing suicide.
The nature of Atman is described as permanent and immovable and also moving. When it moves it is ahead of everything in speed. It is very near to us as it is inside everybody. It is also far away as we don’t feel it is there within us. Atman is inside and it exists outside and also it is inside everybody else also. Because of its existence the Prana in the body exists. Atman cannot be experienced by the senses.
Realising Atman is experienced internally. It is a change in one’s outlook and perception. A child, a youth and an old person, the world seen by each is different. It is not because there are different worlds. It is because of the feeling they have and a change in perception as they become old. A person initially loves his close relatives but as his perception changes, he starts loving his relatives, friends, the country, and the world as a whole. Even though the others have not changed, the change in the perception of the person causes this. When somebody realizes his self (Atman) his perception has reached the ultimate boundaries and there is nothing else to be reached. The whole universe becomes his Atman. And he looks at his atman everywhere. Since he does not have any interest, he is beyond the sorrow and happiness.
Atman is pure, does not have a body, but travels everywhere, does not have any papa, controls everything and comes into existence by itself. Iswara ordained Prajapathi to decide the nature of life of each person’ life according to the papa and punya.
Whosoever practices Karma Yoga only, that is the yagna and Homams as ordained in Samhitas of Veda, attain the material prosperity according to their deeds. However because the aim is only to enjoy in this world they are considered to be far away from Moksha or Mukthi. Similarly others who indulge only Upasana or meditation with the intention of getting material benefits also does not realise Moksha or Mukthi. Only when both Karma and Upasana are done with the sole aim of realising Atman it is possible to realise Atman.
This Upanisad ends with prayer to Iswara requesting to help one to enable him to realise truth in this world which is hidden in the Golden Vessel of material benefits. It says “O Lord Surya, withdraw your rays and show your real Self which is the same Atman residing in everybody. O Lord Agni, we submit to you all our prayers. You know all our deeds and thoughts, destroy our bad thoughts hidden in our minds! Lead us in the correct path to enjoy the benefits of our actions! We pray again and again unto you!”