Isha Upanishad: the Methods of Realisation, Part 5, the Role of the Divine Will

The final two verses of the Isha Upanishad apply the divine standpoint to the evolutionary process of growth and spiritual development of the individual through the invocation of Agni, the divine Will.  From the human viewpoint, will is something that we exercise to achieve some specific target or goal in our lives, but it is limited to our individuality.  From the divine standpoint, we can recognise that the entire universal manifestation is conscious and has an intention and will in its development.  By aligning with that, we overcome the limits of birth and death and the individual ego-personality.

Verse 17:  “The Breath of things is an immortal Life, but of this body ashes are the end.  OM!  O Will, remember, that which was done remember!  O Will, remember, that which was done remember.”

Sri Aurobindo comments:  “Vayu, called elsewhere Matarishwan, the Life Energy in the universe.  In the light of Surya he reveals himself as an immortal principle of existence of which birth and death and life in the body are only particular and external processes.”

“The Vedic term kratu means sometimes the action itself, sometimes the effective power behind action represented in mental consciousness by the will.  Agni is this power.  He is divine force which manifests first in matter as heat and light and material energy and then, taking different forms in the other principles of man’s consciousness, leads him by a progressive manifestation upwards to the Truth and the Bliss.”

“… there is in and behind all our errors, sins and stumblings a secret Will, tending towards Love and Harmony, which knows where it is going and prepares and combines our crooked branchings towards the straight path which will be the final result of their toil and seeking. … This Will is Agni.  Agni is in the Rig-veda, from which the closing verse of the Upanishad is taken, the flame of the Divine Will or Force of Consciousness working in the worlds.  He is described as the immortal in mortals, the leader of the journey, the divine Horse that bears us on the road, the ‘son of crookedness’ who himself knows and is the straightness and the Truth.  Concealed and hard to seize in the workings of this world because they are all falsified by desire and egoism, he uses them to transcend them and emerges as the universal in Man or universal Power … who contains in himself all the gods and all the worlds, upholds all the universal workings and finally fulfils the godhead, the immortality.  He is the worker of the divine Work.”

“This journey consists in a series of activities continued from life to life in this world with intervals of life in other states.  The Life-principle maintains them; it supplies their material in the formative energy which takes shape in them.  But their presiding god is not the Life-principle; it is the Will.  Will is the … effective power behind the act.  It is of the nature of consciousness; it is energy of consciousness, and although present in all forms, conscious, subconscious or superconscious, vital, physical or mental, yet comes into its kingdom only when it emerges in Mind.  It uses the mental faculty of memory to link together and direct consciously the activities towards the goal of the individual.”

“The Upanishad solemnly invokes the Will to remember the thing that has been done, so as to contain and be conscious of the becoming, so as to become a power of knowledge and self-possession and not only a power of impulsion and self-formulation.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Isha Upanishad and analysis, pg. 23-24, 28 & 84-89