Archives and Research
a biannual journal
Volume I; No 1
A Commentary On The Isha Upanishad
Chapter III. Isha and His Universe
Next let us take note of the word vāsyam1 All this Universe must be clothed with Isha; we must draw the feeling of His presence round every object in the Universe and envelop it with Isha, as a robe is drawn round and envelops the wearer. For the Lord is greater than His Universe. This tree is not the Lord, it is in the Lord. We must avoid the materialistic Pantheism which identifies the visible Universe with the Supreme Being. It is true that He is both the final and material Cause of the Universe, and in one sense He is His Universe and His Universe is He, just as Shakespeare's creations are really Shakespeare himself, woven by him out of his own store of psychic material; and yet it would be obviously a mistake to identify, say, lago with Shakespeare. This tree is evolved out of original ether, ether pervades it and surrounds it, but the tree cannot be described as ether, nor ether as the tree; so, going deeper down, we find it is evolved out of the existence of the Lord who pervades it and surrounds it with His presence; but the tree is not the Lord, nor the Lord the tree. The Hindu is no idolater; he does not worship stocks or stones, the tree as tree or the stone as stone or the idol as a material thing, but he worships the presence of the Lord which fills and surrounds the tree, stone or idol, and of which the tree, stone or idol is merely a manifestation or seeming receptacle. We say for the convenience of language and mental realisation that God is in His creature, but really it is the creature who is in God na tvahaṃ teṣu te mayi.2 "I am in not them, they are in Me."
We find European scholars when they are confronted with the metaphors of the Sruti, always stumbling into a blunder which we must carefully avoid if we wish to understand our Scriptures. Their reason, hard, logical and inflexible, insists on fixing the metaphor to its literal sense and having thus done violence to the spirit of the Upanishad, they triumphantly point to the resultant incoherence and inconsistency of our revealed writings and cry out, "These are the guesses, sometimes sublime, generally infantile, of humanity in its childhood." But the metaphors of the Sruti are merely helps to a clearer understanding; you are intended to take their spirit and not insist on the letter. They are conveniences for the hand in climbing, not supports on which you are to hang your whole weight. Here is a metaphor vāsyam, clothe, as with a garment. But the garment is different from the wearer, and limited in the space it occupies: is the Lord then different from His creation and limited in His being? That would be the letter; the spirit is different. The presence of the Lord who is infinite, must be thought of as surrounding each object and not confined to the limits of the object, — this and no more is the force of vāsyam. When we see the tree, we do not say, "This is the Lord", but we say, "Here is the Lord". The tree exists only in Him and by Him; He is in it and around it, even as the ether is.
All this, says the Sruti, is to be thought of as surrounded by the presence of the Lord, sarvam idam,3 all this that is present to our senses, all in fact that we call the Universe. But to avoid misunderstanding the Upanishad goes on to point out that it is not only the Universe as a whole, but each thing that is in the Universe which we must feel to be encompassed with the divine Presence, yat kiñca jagatyāṃ jagat,4 everything and anything that is moving thing in Her who moves. Jagatī, she that moves, in the ancient Sanscrit, was a word applied to the whole Universe; afterwards it meant this moving earth,5 that part of the cosmos with which we human beings are mainly concerned and the neuter jagat, that which moves, came to be the ordinary expression for world or universe. But why is the universe called "she that moves"? Because it is the result of the working of Prakriti, the visible form of Prakriti, the great female material energy of the Lord, and the essence of Prakriti is motion; for by motion she creates this material world. Indeed all object matter is only a form, that is to say a visible, audible or in some way sensible result of motion. Every material object is what it is here called, jagat, a world of infinite motion: even the stone, even the clod. Our senses tell us that the material world is the only reality, the only steadfast thing of whose rule and order we can be sure and by which we can abide; but our senses are in error and the Upanishad warns us against their false evidence. The material world is a transitory and changing whirl of motion on the surface of Brahman, the great ocean of spiritual existence, who alone is, in His depths, eternal, real and steadfast. It is He who as the Lord gives order, rule and abidingness to the infinite motion we call the Universe; and if we wish to be in touch with reality, we must train our souls to become aware of His presence sustaining, pervading and surrounding this moving Prakriti and every objective form to which her varying rates of vibration have given rise. Thus placed in constant touch with reality, the Karmayogin will escape from the false shows and illusions of Prakriti; Karma or action which also is merely her motion, energy at work, will not master him and drive him as a storm drives a ship, but he will rather be the master of action, both his own and that of others. For it is only by understanding practically the reality of a thing and its law of working that one can become its master and make use of it for his own purposes.
1 to be clothed, to be worn as a garment, to be inhabited. (See note to Isha I, Cent. Vol. 12. p. 63.)
2 (Gita 7.12).
3 all this, all that is here (the common phrase in the Upanishads Tor the totality or the phenomena in the mobility of the universe).
4 whatsoever is individual universe of movement in the universal motion (Isha I).
5 The ancient Rishis knew that the earth moves. Calā pṛthvī sthirā bhāti, "The earth moves, but seems to be still".