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Thread: Clarification on verse 9-11 from Isha Upanishad

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    Clarification on verse 9-11 from Isha Upanishad

    Namaste friends,

    There are 6 verses which have always given me pause from Isha Upanishad, which I currently re-reading carefully. For some reason I had never really given them much thought until I read over them carefully. Perhaps this has been discussed before on this board, but I have scrolled through a few of the pages here and I couldn't find the exact quote I am referring to. I'm speaking of verses 9-11 (although it actually goes on until verse 14), and I'm using Eknath Easwaran's English translation of the text:

    andhaM tamaH pravisHanti ye'vidyâmupâsate,
    tato bhûya iva te tamo ya u vidyâyâM ratâH.
    anyadevâhurvidyayâ'nyadâhuravidyayâ,
    iti sHusHruma dhîrânâM ye nastadvicacakSire.
    vidyâñcâvidyâñca yastadvedobhayaM saha,
    avidyayâ mRityuM tîrtvâ vidyayâmRitamasHnute.

    "Into dark night live those for whom the world without alone is real; in night darker still , for whom the world within alone is real. The first leads to a life of action, the second to a life of meditation. But those who combine action with meditation cross the sea of death through action and enter into immortality through the practice of meditation. So have we heard from the wise."

    And it continues on in a similar vein:

    andhaM tamaH pravisHanti ye'sambhûtimupâsate,
    tato bhûya iva te tamo ya u sambhûtyâM ratâH.
    anyadevâhuH sambhavâdanyadâhurasambhavât,
    iti sHusHruma dhîrânâM ye nastadvicacakSire.
    sambhûtiñca vinâsHañca yastadvedobhayaM saha,
    vinâsHena mRityuM tîrtvâ sambhûtyâ'mRitamasHnute.

    "In dark night live those for whom the Lord is transcendent only; in darker night still, for whom he is immanent only. But those for whom he is transcendent and immanent cross the sea of death with the immanent and enter into immortality with the transcendent. So we have heard from the wise."

    I have read through several different English translations and I think I am getting caught up more on the phrasing now than on the real meaning. Is the lesson here that one must not dedicate themselves solely to Purusha (Consciousness) or Prakriti (Nature and the Physical World) because neither path solely by itself leads to understanding of Ultimate Reality? Just wanted to clarify this with someone who has better understanding of this part of the passage.

    Om namah Shivaya
    "Watch your thoughts, they become words.
    Watch your words, they become actions.
    Watch your actions, they become habits.
    Watch your habits, they become your character.
    Watch your character, it becomes your destiny."

    ॐ गं गणपतये नमः
    Om Gam Ganapataye namah

    लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु ।
    Lokaah SamastaaH Sukhino Bhavantu

  2. #2

    Re: Clarification on verse 9-11 from Isha Upanishad

    Pranams.

    My understanding of these verses is similar to yours.

    I think they are teaching us the "Middle Path", as Gautama Buddha also prached.

    There are those who reject the outer world, viewing it as completely ilusory and worthless. Then they engage in meditation on the Absolute for attaining moksha.

    Others neglect the Absolute Impersonal and Formless Reality that underlies the world and only care about the "material" aspect. This makes them go in to action, to earn more and more and to seek material pleasure. For this some of them worship devas with selfish desires and so on.

    The verses seems to say that one should not neglect any of the two aspects of reality. God is formless and also with form. If one believes and worship only God with form (Saguna Brahman) and rejects Its absolute aspect, he is in darkness. And if one only worship the formless god, rejecting that He can manifest in form, he enters into greater darkness.

    Pranams

  3. #3

    Re: Clarification on verse 9-11 from Isha Upanishad

    Quote Originally Posted by sunyata07 View Post
    andhaM tamaH pravisHanti ye'vidyâmupâsate,
    tato bhûya iva te tamo ya u vidyâyâM ratâH.
    The first line here speaks of those who worship avidyā, and the second about those who worship vidyā.

    Translating avidyā as "action" is inappropriate. We can, rather, start with "Asat" for avidyā and Sat for vidyā.

    The knowledge of Sat and Asat both are required for neither of them is untrue. Asat is also real. Sat, though largely "invisible" to normal senses, is also real.

    Many translate Sat = real, and Asat = unreal. Now we can see doing this is erroneous. Sat and Asat are basic entities upon which the rest of things build up. So it is useless to explain Sat and Asat in terms of other words.

    However, Sat relates to freedom, while Asat relates to bondage. And both are real. Infact, Asat comes before Sat.

    So a knowledge of both is required, and "action" is the culmination of an incessant effort to keep the enlightened state "burning" that way. In the other verses no wonder why Shri Agni is called, and along with Pusan the overlord devtā of virāt Prithvi.

    In the various Upnishads we find the old and original Vedic teachings still retained to varying extent as the "word of mouth", hence the "shruti" status - which we can rely upon confidently- on the other hand we also find sincere efforts on the part of the Upnishadic sages to understand and explain the coded wisdom of the memory.
    Things to remember:

    1. Life = yajña
    2. Depth of Āstika knowledge is directly proportional
    to the richness of Sanskrit it is written in
    3. Āstika = Bhārata ("east") / Ārya ("west")
    4. Varṇa = tripartite division of Vedic polity
    5. r = c. x²
    where,
    r = realisation
    constant c = intelligence
    variable x = bhakti

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    Re: Clarification on verse 9-11 from Isha Upanishad

    Namaste Sunyata,

    Quote Originally Posted by sunyata07 View Post
    andhaM tamaH pravisHanti ye'vidy�mup�sate,
    tato bh�ya iva te tamo ya u vidy�y�M rat�H.
    anyadev�hurvidyay�'nyad�huravidyay�,
    iti sHusHruma dh�r�n�M ye nastadvicacakSire.
    vidy��c�vidy��ca yastadvedobhayaM saha,
    avidyay� mRityuM t�rtv� vidyay�mRitamasHnute.

    "Into dark night live those for whom the world without alone is real; in night darker still , for whom the world within alone is real. The first leads to a life of action, the second to a life of meditation. But those who combine action with meditation cross the sea of death through action and enter into immortality through the practice of meditation. So have we heard from the wise."
    These verses have been good challenge to comprehend. The verse says that "Vidya" and "Avidya" are two ways of spiritual practices. It further says that who follow the path of AVidyA goes into darkness. Then it says that those who worship Vidya alone goes into much blinding darkness.

    Now, for correct interpretation of the verse, we must know the definition of VidyA, AvidyA and darkness that the Upanishad uses in the said verse. VidyA means Knowledge or which is not AvidyA i.e. ignorance. Therefore, the path which removes AvidyA is the path of VidyA. AvidyA or ignorance is the individualised aspect of MAyA which veils the Reality.

    The worship of God, sacrifices and performing right action for worldly gains or the heaven are the path of AvidyA. So, the verse says that those who follow this path alone go into darkness i.e. these actions don't reveal the Truth/Reality to them and they remain in ignorance. That is they go from state of ignorance to ignorance or from darkness to darkness.

    The next verse says that the path of VidyA alone also is not good. The path of VidyA leads us to immortality i.e. freedom from and births births i.e. becoming one with the Reality. The path of meditation reveals the Truth to the seeker. So, how come this lead to increasing blinding darkness ? This has to be very carefully understood.

    The Upanishad says that by the path of AvidyA one gains victory over death. How ? Practising the prescribed Karmas a person is saved from "death" i.e. they are purified enough to go to heaven as the force of bad karma will not force them for re-births and deaths.

    Now, without fulfillment of the criteria of the above path of AvidyA, one cannot achieve success in path of VidyA which is very difficult for those who are not free from the effects of bad Karmas. So, even if they follow this path, they won't succeed and will fall into furtehr ignorance.

    **********************

    Therefore, following the prescribed path in action as prescribed in scriptures is the first requirement which will lessen the force of Karma which leads to births and deaths ... this is the path of Avidya. However, this doesn't lead to immortality as immortality is achieving One-ness with reality which can be had by practising the path of VidyA i.e. meditation.

    OM
    "Om Namo Bhagvate Vaasudevaye"

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    Re: Clarification on verse 9-11 from Isha Upanishad

    Namaste,

    These verses can be interpreted in the following way too :

    Avidya means worldly actions required for one's survival. So, if one keeps involved only in worldly actions and gains expertise in that activity, he will do good in this world i.e. he won't go into the jaws of death prematurely. Let's remember that this Upanishad advises us to live for hundred years that for full life-time in the beginning itself. However, without treading the path of Vidya, he will not be able to break the bondage of deaths and births so, people who tread path of AvidyA, enter into darkness i.e. remain within Avidya.

    If one leaves all worldly actions i.e. Avidya then he would not be able to survive and therefore, it will be impossible for him to tread the path of Vidya and he would fail both ways i.e. from the path of Vidya and also from the path of Avidya i.e. he remains loser from both sides. Therefore, that is akin to entering into even more blinding darkness.

    OM
    "Om Namo Bhagvate Vaasudevaye"

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    Re: Clarification on verse 9-11 from Isha Upanishad

    Namaste,

    Thanks for sharing your input. I have also been debating about the meaning of avidya and vidya, here and I have also wondered if maybe avidya is not how I understood it before I began reading the passage.

    The verses seems to say that one should not neglect any of the two aspects of reality. God is formless and also with form. If one believes and worship only God with form (Saguna Brahman) and rejects Its absolute aspect, he is in darkness. And if one only worship the formless god, rejecting that He can manifest in form, he enters into greater darkness.
    This is interesting, because in a way the Upanishad is teaching here that a materialist who "worships" God in the form of the material and the manifested is less worse off spiritually than the person for takes on a non-materialist view (all physical matter is false) and for whom God has no form, and is merely transcendental. This was my original understanding upon first reading this. I took this to mean that the person who follows just avidya (whether a murti-worshipping theist or materialist-holding atheist) is on a more secure path to realising the Self than one who strives merely for vidya, and focuses purely on the internal.

    Devotee, your point on vidya being the second and harder of the two paths to traverse is an apt one. Is it not one of the reasons why bhakti yoga is recommended to everyone, whether householder or swami, as it is the basis for spiritual development. On the other hand, the other branch of raja yoga requires great mental training, not something you can recommend to the average spiritual aspirant with no teacher or experience.

    Om namah Shivaya
    "Watch your thoughts, they become words.
    Watch your words, they become actions.
    Watch your actions, they become habits.
    Watch your habits, they become your character.
    Watch your character, it becomes your destiny."

    ॐ गं गणपतये नमः
    Om Gam Ganapataye namah

    लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु ।
    Lokaah SamastaaH Sukhino Bhavantu

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    Re: Clarification on verse 9-11 from Isha Upanishad

    Quote Originally Posted by sunyata07 View Post
    your point on vidya being the second and harder of the two paths to traverse is an apt one. Is it not one of the reasons why bhakti yoga is recommended to everyone, whether householder or swami, as it is the basis for spiritual development. On the other hand, the other branch of raja yoga requires great mental training, not something you can recommend to the average spiritual aspirant with no teacher or experience.
    Exactly !

    OM
    "Om Namo Bhagvate Vaasudevaye"

  8. #8

    Re: Clarification on verse 9-11 from Isha Upanishad

    Quote Originally Posted by sunyata07 View Post
    Namaste friends,

    There are 6 verses which have always given me pause from Isha Upanishad, which I currently re-reading carefully. For some reason I had never really given them much thought until I read over them carefully. Perhaps this has been discussed before on this board, but I have scrolled through a few of the pages here and I couldn't find the exact quote I am referring to. I'm speaking of verses 9-11 (although it actually goes on until verse 14), and I'm using Eknath Easwaran's English translation of the text:

    andhaM tamaH pravisHanti ye'vidyâmupâsate,
    tato bhûya iva te tamo ya u vidyâyâM ratâH.
    anyadevâhurvidyayâ'nyadâhuravidyayâ,
    iti sHusHruma dhîrânâM ye nastadvicacakSire.
    vidyâñcâvidyâñca yastadvedobhayaM saha,
    avidyayâ mRityuM tîrtvâ vidyayâmRitamasHnute.

    "Into dark night live those for whom the world without alone is real; in night darker still , for whom the world within alone is real. The first leads to a life of action, the second to a life of meditation. But those who combine action with meditation cross the sea of death through action and enter into immortality through the practice of meditation. So have we heard from the wise."
    We have to examine the "without/within" idea. These are spacial analogies. We can say that there is an external space and an internal space - but space is space, neither external nor internal, until the mind makes it so.
    Quote Originally Posted by sunyata07 View Post
    And it continues on in a similar vein:

    andhaM tamaH pravisHanti ye'sambhûtimupâsate,
    tato bhûya iva te tamo ya u sambhûtyâM ratâH.
    anyadevâhuH sambhavâdanyadâhurasambhavât,
    iti sHusHruma dhîrânâM ye nastadvicacakSire.
    sambhûtiñca vinâsHañca yastadvedobhayaM saha,
    vinâsHena mRityuM tîrtvâ sambhûtyâ'mRitamasHnute.

    "In dark night live those for whom the Lord is transcendent only; in darker night still, for whom he is immanent only. But those for whom he is transcendent and immanent cross the sea of death with the immanent and enter into immortality with the transcendent. So we have heard from the wise."
    This verse is just awesome! But who is it - what - is it that recognizes, (re-cognizes), both the transcendent and the immanent? That which is prior to both, surely?

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    Re: Clarification on verse 9-11 from Isha Upanishad

    Namaste,

    Even reading back over these verses last night, I come to find that thinking too much on the intellectual meaning of these words actually makes the concept harder to grasp. Would it not have been much easier for the writer to say that God is immanent and transcendent and never simply just one of these modes of being? But then there is the beauty in the imagery of the writings of the simplest and most concise of the Upanishads.

    Om namah Shivaya
    "Watch your thoughts, they become words.
    Watch your words, they become actions.
    Watch your actions, they become habits.
    Watch your habits, they become your character.
    Watch your character, it becomes your destiny."

    ॐ गं गणपतये नमः
    Om Gam Ganapataye namah

    लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु ।
    Lokaah SamastaaH Sukhino Bhavantu

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