This Upanishad is only two pages long and often appears at the beginning of Upanishad collections. It has a poetic grandeur and a directness that makes it vital and alive. Gandhi said of this Upanishad:

“If all the Upanishads and all the other scriptures happened all of a sudden to be reduced to ashes, and if only the first verse in the Ishopanishad were left in the memory of the Hindus, Hinduism would live forever”. 

In this Upanishad we learn that we must unite meditation and action. If we get lost in one or the other our life will be flat. Through materialism and being too invested in the world we lose touch with our inner life. Simultaneously, if we are too hypnotized by our own thoughts and feelings and lose touch with others, we will be lost. We must unite these inward and outward movements and so rise above them to the supreme reality of God. This Upanishad emphasises that God is both immanent AND transcendent. We must embrace both these aspects in order to go beyond duality.  

Let’s look at a few verses of this Upanishad;

“The Lord is enshrined in the hearts of all.

The Lord is the supreme Reality.

Rejoice in him through renunciation.

Covet nothing. All belongs to the Lord”.

This is the first verse of the Isha Upnaishad, as mentioned by Ghandi above. In these few short lines we can feel this immense love and devotion to God. We understand that God is implanted in all of creation, is in the very heart of every being. We understand that renunciation leads to this state of rapture in God. In giving up the trinkets of the world we will be given the manna of heaven. We also understand the principle of nonattachment. Nothing is ours. This transient life is but a slideshow in the mind of God. God is supreme and all belongs to God. If we act with this knowledge we will quite naturally rejoice. 

“The Self seems to move, but is ever still.

He seems far away, but is ever near.

He is within all, and he transcends all.”

This short verse contains seeming paradoxes but points us to the reality of God and the Self, right here and now. What I take from this verse is that we have chosen to enter this dance of Maya and to become wrapped up in illusion. God is closer than our breath and we can touch him, right now, through stillness. 

“The face of truth is hidden by your orb

Of gold, O sun. May you remove your orb

So that I, who adore the true, may see

The glory of truth. O nourishing sun,

Solitary traveler controller,

Source of life for all creatures, spread your light 

And subdue your dazzling splendor

So that I may see your blessed Self

Even that very self am I!”

I love this verse because the rest of this Upanishad is very direct and clear, yet this verse uses some subtle imagery. It seems to be using the sun as a metaphor for God and implying that the brilliance of the sun (God) is so dazzling that we cannot see beyond its appearance to the truth. 

“O god of fire, lead us by the good path

To eternal joy. You know all our deeds. 

Deliver us from evil, we who bow

And pray again and again.”

This is the final verse of the Isha Upanishad. It equates God with the transformative element of fire, calling for us to be purified and delivered from evil. It tells us that nothing can be hidden from God and calls for us to offer ourselves in supplication to God not once, but again and again. Only through this continuous offering of ourselves to God will we be delivered from illusion and united with our Creator. We must choose the good path again and again in order to reach eternal joy (enlightenment and unity with God). 

Written by Charlie