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Sri Aurobindo

Archives and Research

a biannual journal

April 1977

Volume I; No 1

The Karmayogin

A Commentary On The Isha Upanishad

This is the first chapter of a commentary on the Isha Upanishad done in Baroda or Calcutta after 1904 or 1905 and before 1908. The second chapter will be given in our next issue. A portion of the same commentary has already been published in Centenary Volume 27 (pp. 201-88).

Chapter I. The Law of Renunciation

I. God All and God Everywhere

GURU: Salutation to the Eternal who is without place, time, cause or limit. Salutation to Him who rules the Universe, the Lord of the Illusion, the Master of manifold life. Salutation to the Self in me, who is the Self in all creatures. Brahman, Isha, Atman, under whatever aspect He manifests Himself or manifests not, to Him the One and Only Existence, Consciousness, Bliss, salutation.

The Upanishad begins:

"With the Lord all this must be clothed (as with a garment), even all that is world in this moving universe; abandon the world that thou mayest enjoy it, neither covet any man's possessions."

The Upanishad first sets forth the universality of the Supreme Being; for whatever we see, hear or are in any way sensible of, we must feel the presence of the Lord surrounding it. This tree that I am sitting under, I must not consider as only so many leaves, bark, pith, sap and roots encased in earth and air; I must realise that it is a manifestation in the Supreme who is the only reality. This voice that I am uttering, vibrates in the atmosphere of the Divine Reality; only because it vibrates there, is it capable of sound, articulation and meaning. No action I do or watch others do, but the Lord is there surrounding and upholding it; otherwise it could not be done. Whatever I see, I am seeing God; whatever I hear. I am hearing God; whatever I do, it is the Energy of God which is governing my actions. This is the first thing the Karmayogin has to realise and until he has set his mind on the realisation, Karmayoga is impossible. The Lord is everywhere; the Lord surrounds everything with His presence; the Lord is all. vāsudevaḥ sarvamiti.1 This Karma that I do, 1 do it in the Lord; this subjective I who act, exist only in the Lord; the objective he, she, it to whom the action is done, exists only in the Lord. It is the omnipresent universality of the Supreme that has first to be realised. When the Yogin has had spiritual experience of this universality, then only is he fit for Karmayoga; for not till then can he sink the constant feeling of I and Thou and he in a single higher and wider Existence; not till then can he escape from apparent self to true Self, and without such escape Karmayoga cannot really begin. To clothe all things with the Supreme, to be conscious of Him in all you say, do, think feel or are sensible of, this experience is the beginning of Karmayoga. The transformation of this experience into the habitual condition of the soul, is the consummation of Karmayoga; for it leads straight to the knowledge of Brahman and the ecstasy of union with Him; Karma melting into and becoming one with Jnana and Bhakti. Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, Action, Love, Knowledge, are the three paths which lead out of phenomenal existence to the eternal reality, and where the three meet and become one, is the end of the great journey, that highest home of Vishnu towards which it is the one object of the Upanishad to turn and guide us. The Isha Upanishad is the Scripture of the Karmayogin; of the three paths it teaches the way of Action, and therefore begins with this first indispensable condition of all Godward action, to see all things, creatures, causes, effects, changes and evolutions as so many transitory phenomena enveloped with the presence of the Supreme Being and existing in Him and by Him only. Not I but He, for He is my real self and what I call I is only so much covering and semblance, this is Vedanta; the first feeling of this truth is the beginning of Jnana, the beginning of Bhakti, the beginning of Karma. so'ham,2 He is the true and only I.


1 the Divine Being is all (Gita 7.19)


2 He ant I (Isha Upanishad 16).