The Seed of the Vedas
By Anand Viswanathan
श्रीरंग मंगळनिधिं करुणानिवासम्
श्रीवेंकटाद्रि शिखरालय काळमेघम् |
श्रीहस्तिशैल शिखरोज्वल पारिजातम्
श्रीशं नमामि शिरसा यदुशैलदीपम् ||
लक्ष्मी नाथ समारम्भां नाथ यामुन मध्यमाम् |
असमदाचार्य पर्यन्तां वन्दे गुरु परम्पराम् ||
The Vedas form the basis for all aspects of life in India from time immemorial. They can be broadly divided into purva bhagam (‘earlier portion’)and uttara bhagam (‘later portion’). The former talks in detail about all the karmas (actions) one has to perform and the latter talks about the ultimate goal that is to be reached by all the karmas. The latter portion or the end of the Vedas are called Vedanta (literally – ‘end of the Vedas’) and the main goal of Vedanta is to talk about paramatma or brahmam (the highest soul or being), jivatma (the individual soul of the devotee) and their relationship and how the jivatma can reach paramatma.
Vedanta is constituted of a number of Upanishads (they are termed so because they bring us near to brahmam- upa nishaditi Upanishad – “Upanishad means ‘bringing one nearer (to Brahman)’”). Ten important ones have been commented upon by various acharyas and their particular brand of philosophy established. The first shloka of Isaavasya Upanishad (which itself belongs to Shukla Yajur Vedam) forms the basis of this this essay’s discussion. This Upanishad was taught by Surya deva to Yagnyavalkya who in turn taught this to Tadyan Aatharvana. We get the Upanishad as an upadesha (text of instruction) from Tadyan Aatharvana to Subhodha, his son as well as disciple.
This is a short Upanishad with just 18 verses and it begins with a brilliant opening verse:
ॐ ईशा वास्यमिदम् सर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् |
तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्य स्विद्धनम् ||
The verse can be translated as follows (I give the literal translation and then the taatparyam – the ultimate meaning – of each)
ॐ ईशा वास्यमिदम् सर्वं- “All this that exists surrounds the lord like a cloth” (and, we understand, “is totally pervaded by him”)
All that can be known by different pramaanams (different ways of gaining knowledge) at all times surrounds the paramatma like a robe. This means that all this chit (mind/spirit) and achit (non-spirit, hence ‘matter’) which surround the paramatma is under his control just as a robe is controlled by its wearer. It (the universe) also conceals the brahmam so that we are unable to perceive him just as a robe covers the body.
In the Vishnu Suktam too, we read that
अन्तर्बहिश्च तत्सर्वं व्याप्य नारायणस्स्थितः “Narayana pervades inside and outside of all that exists.”
The creator and his creation, and the relationship between them is the subject of this quarter of the verse. An interesting quote from Mundakopanishad, verse 7 can be looked at in this context:
यथोर्णनाभिः सृजते गृह्णते च यथा पृथिव्या मोषधयः संभवन्ति |
यथा सतः पुरुषात् केशलोमानी तथाऽक्षरात् संभवतीह विश्वम् ||
“As a spider spreads out and withdraws its thread, as on the earth grow the herbs and the trees and as from a living man issues out hair, so out of the imperishable does the universe emerge.”
This quote also reveals that this universe comes forth from brahmam, sustains itself in brahman and finally rests in brahman after pralayam (‘universal destruction’).
Here, it is important and interesting to note that God is not someone who is isolated from us and wields his authority over us. The Paramatma resides in everything known and unknown in creation and guides our actions. The mistakes we commit are due to our conviction that we are right (which is against our inner informer).
Even though the Paramatma is present in everything, we must make efforts to know and see him. The means prescribed by the shastras are listening to his glory and thinking about his glory followed by uninterrupted continuous thought about him. This process is easier done when we take advantage of temples where Narayana resides as a arca murthi (idol).
People may doubt that the idol has all the qualities of the lord. The shanti patam of the Isavasya Upanishad dispels this doubt:
ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते |
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ||
“Om. That is whole and complete; this is whole and complete. From that whole this whole came. If you remove that whole from this whole, what is left is still the whole remains.”
The whole referred to here can be interpreted in various ways. One is ‘brahmam and the world’. The other is ‘this object and that object’. In the second sense we can say that even in the idol he displays his full swaroopam (own nature).
To return to the opening verse of the Isaavasya Upanishad:
यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा-
“Sustain yourself with the insignificant portion of yours in this vast universe by performing three tyaagas (‘renunciations’)”
Here the Vedantic system emphasises our miniscule portion in the whole universe. We all are often deluded by our fleeting successes and the gaining of wealth etc but we must know that this all means nothing compared to the whole existence pervaded by brahmam.
In the Mahabharatam, Rishi Vyaasa succinctly but movingly expresses the objective of life as follows:
मातापितृसहस्राणि पुत्रदारशतानि च |
संसारेष्वनुभूतानि यान्ति यास्यन्ति चापरे ||
हर्षस्थानसहस्राणि भयस्थानशतानि च |
दिवसे दिवसे मूढं आविशन्ति न पण्डितम् ||
ऊर्ध्वबाहुर्विरौम्येष न च कश्चिच्छृणोति में |
धर्मादर्थश्च कामश्च स किं अर्थं न सेव्यते ||
न जातु कामान् न भयान्न लोभात् धर्मं त्यजेज्जीवितस्यापि हेतोः |
नित्यो धर्मः सुखदुःखे त्वनित्ये जीवो नित्यः हेतुरस्य त्वनित्यः ||
“Thousands of mothers and fathers, and hundreds of sons and wives arise in the world and depart from it. Others will (arise and) similarly depart. There are thousands of occasions for joy and hundreds of occasions for fear. These affect only him that is ignorant but never him that is wise. With uplifted arms I am crying aloud but nobody hears me. From Dharma comes Artha and Kama. Why should not Dharma, therefore, be courted? For the sake neither of pleasure, nor of fear, nor of cupidity should anyone cast off Dharma. Dharma is eternal. Pleasure and pain are not eternal. Jiva is eternal. The cause, however, of Jiva’s being invested with a body is not so.”
We can lead a normal life with whatever we earn but only if we do so with detachment. The word त्यक्तेन (“with detachment”) is extremely important in this context. The three types of tyaagas are known as kartruthva budhdhi tyaagam (the thought that I am not the doer but it is Narayana), mamathaa tyaagam (that this is not my karma) and phala tyaagam(without expecting any result for the action). Krishna thus instructed Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita(3.30):
मयि सर्वाणि कर्माणि संन्यस्याध्यात्मचेतसा |
निराशीर्निर्ममो भूत्वा युध्यस्व विगतज्वरः ||
“Therefore, O Arjuna, surrendering all your works unto Me, with full knowledge of Me, without desires for profit, with no claims to proprietorship, and free from lethargy, fight.”
For according to him attachment is the root of all evils (this is not something later discovered by other religious leaders but told to us by our own Gita Acharya , 2.62 and 2.63 ):
ध्यायतो विषयान्पुंसः सङ्गस्तेषूपजायते |
सङ्गात्संजायते कामः कामात्क्रोधो ऽभिजायते ||
क्रोधाद्भवति संमोहः संमोहात्स्मृतिविभ्रमः |
स्मृतिभ्रंशाद्बुद्धिनाशो बुद्धिनाशात्प्रणश्यति ||
“While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost one falls down again into the material pool.”
Hence Swami Vedanta Deshika prays for vairaagyam (freedom from worldly desires) in this world in his Vairagya Panchakam (verse 1)
क्षोणी कोण शतांश पालन कला दुर्वार गर्वानल-
क्षुभ्यत् क्षुद्र नरेन्द्र चाटु रचना धन्यान् न मन्यामहे |
देवं सवितुम् एव निश्चिनुमहे योऽसौ दयाळुः पुरा
धाना मुष्टि मुचे कुचेल मुनये दत्ते स्म वित्तेशताम् ||
“There is no King who rules the entire world. The different kings rule little parcels of land on this earth. The haughtiness of these kings is huge and grows like wild fire. There are human beings, who praise these insignificant kings to the sky. They get rewards from these kings and consider themselves fortunate. We do not consider these deluded ones as significant ones. Our philosophy and values are different from these people. We believe that eulogising Sriman Narayanan will grant us all the wealth we need even without our asking.
Once upon a time, there was a pious man with the name of Kuchela, who was dirt poor. His life was steeped in poverty. Kuchela was a boyhood friend and classmate of Krishna. He had nothing to give for his friend except a fistful of pounded rice when he went to visit Krishna. That was all he could afford. The most merciful Lord accepted that present as a great gift and blessed Kuchela with wealth comparable to that of Kubera. Following this path, we are determined to prostrate ourselves before our Lord and seek the wealth from Him alone.
For further guidance in this context of detachment and renunciation, we may look at a few question and answers from the Yaksha Prashnam episode of Mahabharata. The Yaksha Prashna is an episode with a great deal of practical relevance for in today’s world.
किं नु हित्वा प्रियो भवति किं नु हित्वा न शोचति |
किं नु हित्वाऽर्थवान्भवति किं नु हित्वा सुखी भवेत् ||
मानं हित्वा प्रियं भवति क्रोधं हित्वा न शोचति |
कामं हित्वाऽर्थवान्भवति लोभं हित्वा सुखी भवेत् ||
“The yaksha asked:
‘What is that if renounced makes one dear to all? What is it that if renounced does not lead to regret? What is it that if renounced makes one wealthy? What is it that when renounced makes one happy?
‘Pride, if renounced makes one dear to all. Wrath, if renounced leads to no regret. Desire, if renounced makes one wealthy. Avarice, if renounced makes one happy.’”
And finally the concluding section of the Isaavasya Upanisad’s opening shloka:
मा गृधः कस्य स्विद्धनम्-
“Do not steal anyone else’s money”
This fits well with the rest of the sloka. All this is indeed brahmam (paramatma and his body constituted of jivas and achit or objects without jnaanam) and by stealing evanescent material things we cannot acheive anything. Moreover it is against the Dharma Shashtras. We are already subjects to unknown purva karmas (earlier deeds) and take birth again and again to expend our karmas. A metaphor from the Upanishads:
द्वा सुपर्णा सयुजा सखाया समानं वृक्षं परिषस्वजाते |
तयोरन्यः पिप्पलं स्वाद्वत्त्यनश्नन्नन्यो अभिचाकशीति ||(Mundakopanishad:3rd mundaka:verse 1)
“Two birds that are ever associated having similar attributes nest in the same tree. Of these one eats the fruit of divergent tastes and the other looks on without eating.”
Here the bird that looks on as a witness is the paramatma and the bird that eats the fruit is the jiva. The fruit is nothing but the karma and tree is the body of a living being. While the jiva eats the fruit and diminishes in attributes, brahmam on the other hand remains unaffected.
Additional note from the नीतिद्विषष्टिका of Sundarapandya:
ते मूर्खा मूर्खतमा येषां धनमस्ति नास्ति च त्यागः |
“Those unwise persons who own wealth but do not part with it for good causes are the most foolish for, experiencing the miseries of earning, guarding and losing it alone ultimately fall to their lot.”
Thus the overall import of the opening verse is clear. Since everything that exists is brahmam and his property, we should live a life of detachment, should not covet anyone else’s wealth and should aim to attain moksham (ultimate liberation from the cycle of rebirth)since we ourselves are his property.
The significance of starting the Upanishad this way is to immediately impress upon our hearts the close relationship between the jivatma and the paramatma, hence the need to know more about him and thus induce in ourselves the required eagerness to proceed on the path of brahma-vidya (knowledge of brahman).
I conclude here with a prayer from the Upanishads:
ॐ आप्यायन्तु ममाङ्गानि वाक्प्राणश्चक्षुः श्रोत्रमथो बलमिन्द्रियाणि च सर्वाणि |
सर्वं ब्रह्मौपनिषदं माऽहं ब्रह्म निराकुर्यां मा मा ब्रह्म निराकरोदनिराकरणमस्त्वनिराकरणं मेऽस्तु |
तदात्मनि निरते य उपनिषत्सु धर्मास्ते मयि सन्तु ते मयि सन्तु |
“May my limbs, speech, vital force, eyes, ears, as well as my strength and all organs become strong. Everything is the brahman revealed in the Upanishads. May I not deny brahman; may not brahman deny me. Let there be no spurning (of me by brahman), let there be no rejection (of brahman) by me. May all the virtues that are spoken of in the Upanishads repose in me, engaged in the pursuit of the self as I am – may they repose in me.”
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ||
The author is currently pursuing a Master’s in Electrical Engineering at Arizona University.