The Best Upanishads Quotes by Shankara (3)


Let us try to probe the meaning of this verse of the Isa Upanishad. The Upanishad commences with the statement:

"All this
—whatever exists in this changing universe
—should be covered by the Lord"
(Isha Up. 1);

which means that the jnani should regard the whole universe as Brahman. The Upanishad, continuing, says: "Protect the Self by renunciation." (Isha Up. 1.)

Thus it is quite apparent that the Upanishad advises the knower of Brahman to protect the Self through the renunciation of action. Therefore it would not be proper for the Upanishad to reiterate the necessity of renunciation of action for the illumined person, who is, anyway, beyond all injunctions. The Isha Upanishad hesitates to advise the jnani about the renunciation of his duty.  

* The jnani (one who follows the path of reasoning) has realized the unsubstantiality of the universe. He knows his identity with the non-dual Brahman. For him the renunciation of action is natural and spontaneous; it is not necessary for scripture to instruct him about it. Therefore the Upanishad does not directly give such instruction. But in order to proclaim the greatness of the Knowledge of Brahman, the Upanishad says that the jnani is absolutely free and beyond all imperatives. He is not compelled to work, but of his own volition he may engage in action, the good or bad results of which will not touch him. He may abstain from action, if he so desires, and this, too, will not harm him.

 The idea is that a jnani may engage, all through life, in various actions, good or bad. He need not remain inactive for fear of being entangled in the fruit of his actions. Even though he is engaged in what he considers to be his duty, because of having the Knowledge of Brahman he will not reap an adverse fruit from their performance, that is to say, he will not be deprived of the Knowledge of the Self. In other words, unlike the ignorant, he will not be entangled in samsara on account of his performance of either good or evil action.

A jnani is never deprived of his Knowledge as a result of action and never becomes entangled in the world, because he performs all action surrendering the fruit to God. Such action is done in a spirit of non-attachment.

The following scriptural passages support this view:

"Knowing It, one is not touched by evil action." (Brihadaranyaka Up. IV. iv. 23.)

"Sin does not touch such a person." (Chh. Up. IV. xiv. 3.)

"Things done or not done do not trouble him." (Brihadaranyaka Up. IV. iv. 22.)

"All his sins are consumed [in the fire of Knowledge]." (Chh. Up. V. xxiv. 3.)

To quote from the Linga Purana:

"The fire of Knowledge consumes all actions."

"There is no doubt that the activities of the jnani are completely consumed, without leaving any fruit behind. Even though he may play with sins of various kinds, yet he remains unaffected thereby."

To quote from the Sivadharmottara:

"The wise man severs quickly and completely, by means of the sword of Knowledge, the shackles created by conscious or unconscious action and dwells in the Pure Self. As a vast, roaring fire consumes wood, both dry and wet, so the fire of Knowledge destroys, in a moment, all good and evil actions. As a lotus leaf is not contaminated by water, though floating on it, so the knower of the Self is not contaminated by sound, touch, taste, etc. ...

Knowledge alone is the means to Liberation. Therefore it is in the fitness of things that the Svetasvatara Upanishad should undertake to instruct aspirants about the Knowledge of Brahman.

Objection: If the bondage of the jiva is unreal, then it can be destroyed by Knowledge alone, and one can also expect to attain Immortality through Knowledge. But the unreality of the jiva's bondage has not yet been established.

The bondage, or the world of multiplicity, is a matter of universal perception.

Secondly, its unreality has not been proved.

Thirdly, one becomes aware of Atman only by means of such concepts as "I" and "you." No one can ever be conscious of Atman without such concepts. There is no other entity similar to Atman, which transcends all concepts. Similarity alone is the basis of superimposition. In the absence of such similarity no superimposition is conceivable. Therefore bondage, or samsara, cannot be described as unreal*.

* According to Non-dualistic Vedanta, Atman is one and without a second. Jivahood, which creates the idea of multiplicity and brings about bondage, is superimposed upon Atman through avidya. The objector states that die atman (self) cannot possibly exist without the non-atman (non-self, or "you"). Further, when there exist two similar things, such as a snake and a rope, the one can be superimposed on the other. If there exists no other entity similar to the transcendental Atman, how is superimposition possible?

Reply: One perceives both real and unreal objects. Perception being the common factor of both, an entity cannot be called real simply because it is perceived. [*An unreal object like a mirage is perceived under certain conditions; but the water of the mirage is not real.]

 An entity cannot be called real because its unreality is not perceived. It is possible for an entity to be unreal [though its reality is perceived] both on scriptural and on rational grounds. Thus the unreality of the phenomenal world is directly asserted by the scriptures, which also speak of it as unreal on account of its being the result of maya*. [* Since maya is unreal, the product of maya is also unreal.]

This is known from the following scriptural passages:

"There is not that second thing . . ." (Brihadaranyaka Up. IV. Hi. 23.)

"The One alone is real; there is no second. How so? When Truth is known, no knowable exists." (Subala Upanishad V. 15.)

"There is only one, which is without a second." (Chh. Up. VI. ii. 1.)

"The difference heing only in a name, arising from speech." (Chh. Up. VI. i. 5.)

"The One alone is real; therefore there exists no multiplicity in the universe." (Adhyatma Upanishad 63.)

"Reality is to he known as one alone."

"Know, then, that prakriti is maya." (Svet. Up. IV. 10)

"Brahman projects the universe through the power of Its maya." (Svet. Up. IV. 9.)

"Indra (the Supreme Lord), through maya, assumes diverse forms.' (Ri. VI. xlvii. 18.)

To quote from the Bhagavad Gita:

"Though I am unborn and eternal hy nature, and though I am the Lord of all beings, yet, subjugating My prakriti, I accept birth through My own maya." (IV. 6.)

"It is indivisible, and yet It is, as it were, divided among beings." (XIII. 16.)

To quote from the Brahma Purana:

"Such imaginary traits as birth and death, pleasure and pain, merit and demerit, do not, certainly, exist in the Purusha, who is Ultimate Reality. The Purusha is also free from the castes, the stages of life, and life in heaven and hell. The unreal world appears, through maya, to be real, like the water in a mirage or the silver in an oyster-shell [on a moonlit night] or a snake in a rope on the floor at night. Other illustrations of similar illusions are the seeing of two moons in the sky by a person suffering from the eye affliction called timira, or of blueness, density, brilliance, etc. in the sky. As the non-dual sun appears to be many when reflected in waves, so the non-dual Supreme Self appears variously through diverse upddhis. Duality is imagined through ignorance and is not real. Those who, through ignorance, identify the body with Atman, create a prison-house in the world to come. [*I.e. they are entangled in the chain of rebirth.]

All phenomenal experiences are included in the three states of waking,
dreaming, and
deep sleep.
The whole universe is included in these three states.

The Lord deludes Himself by His own maya in the form of duality; it is He, again, who realizes the Godhead, His own Self, dwelling in the cave of His heart. As lightning with its forked flames is seen in the sky in various forms, so also is seen in diverse ways the manifold creation which is projected from Vishnu by His inscrutable maya.

"The nature of the world of duality is such that when the mind becomes peaceful*, the Lord appears as all peace, and when the mind becomes turbulent and stupefied*, the Lord appears as turbulent and stupid. But never does one perceive the real nature of the Godhead in the phenomenal universe. As the modifications of iron, of a ball of clay, or of gold are only apparent and not real, so the diversity of the creatures, living and non-living, is only apparent, and not real*.

[* What distinguishes the gold or iron from their products, such as a bracelet or a sword, are mere names and forms. A bracelet is really the gold associated with a name and a form. The name by which a form or modification is designated is a mere figure of speech, a verbal expression coined to serve a purpose in man's practical life. Names and forms are maya. Just as the clay, remaining the same, appears as a jar, so also Brahman, remaining the same, appears as the living and non-living beings constituting the world of duality.]

The world of duality inheres in the all-pervading Atman, which Itself is without any other support [as a mirage inheres in the desert]. Avidya (the power of the Lord) creates two kinds of entities: subtle and gross. Though avidya rests in the Lord, yet it cannot touch Him. There is no rope in the [illusory] snake, nor is there a snake in the rope; likewise, there is no reason for the creation or destruction of the universe.

[* One cannot speak of the real birth and death of what is unreal and non existent. Through ignorance one sees a snake in a rope; but the idea of the snake disappears when the true nature of the rope is known. The appearance and disappearance (i.e. birth and death) of the snake are imaginary, and not real. They are based upon an illusion. Likewise, the creation, preservation, and destruction of the unreal world are imaginary, and not real. One cannot show any cause or reason for such creation, preservation, and destruction.]

This avidya, again, is imagined from the empirical standpoint. Avidya is both one and dual, real and unreal; it is called the Great Enchantress.

"Always meditate on Brahman as non-dual, without parts, and complete. The knower of the Self overcomes grief and fear. He is not afraid in the presence of death, nor is he afraid of death itself. Nothing in the world can frighten him. The Self neither is born nor dies; neither is It killed nor is It the killer. It is not bound, nor does It cause bondage to anyone. It is not liberated, nor does It bestow Liberation upon others.

"The jiva is really the Supreme Self; anything besides the Supreme Self is illusory. The world is created by maya, the inscrutable power of the Lord, and is therefore unreal. Realize this, give up all imagining, and desist from attachment to material objects. Having renounced illusions, the yogi should make his mind steady in the Self and remain calm, like fire that has consumed its fuel.

or primordial nature, is divided into twenty-four cosmic principles. From maya arise lust, anger, greed, delusion, fear, grief, and the whole nest of phantasms, and also the notions of righteousness and unrighteousness, pleasure and pain, creation and destruction, heaven and hell, births in various bodies, the different stages of life, attachment and aversion, diverse physical afflictions, boyhood, youth, and old age, union and separation, enjoyment, repulsion, and penances. Endowed with this knowledge, the wise man should renounce all and live like a muni, taking the vow of silence."

To quote from the Vishnu-dharma, a treatise of six chapters:

"The jiva, which is called the knower of the field, under the spell of beginningless maya finds itself different from Brahman, which is really one with it. As long as it differentiates itself from the Supreme Self and from other beings, so long does it wander in the universe, being impelled by its own action. But the jiva whose action has come to an end regards itself as non-different from the supreme Pure Brahman and thereby becomes immortal.

"All action is ignorance, and its opposite is Knowledge. A creature is bound by action and liberated by Knowledge. Non-duality is the Highest Good; duality is quite different from that Good. All such differentiations as men, animals, insects, and the dwellers in hell are created by false knowledge. Dualistic perceptions such as 'I am different from others,' 'Others are different from me,' and 'This is mine and this belongs to others,' are mere ignorance.

"Now hear about Non-duality, which is the Supreme Truth. It is free from the consciousness of ‘I’ and 'mine,' and also from all other illusory ideas. It is experienced as changeless and inscrutable. Duality is an illusion and Non-duality is Ultimate Reality. Mental states are caused by dharma and its opposite. They should be restrained. When the mind is restrained, duality is not perceived. The whole universe of the living and the non-living is only imagined by the mind. When the mind is controlled, one realizes the absence of duality.

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* Excerpts translated by Swami Nikhilananda