Isha Upanishad: Summary and Conclusions, Part 1

The Isha Upanishad confronts the contradictions of human life and thought directly.  It is the normal process of the mental consciousness to try to analyze, divide and set up oppositions, and humanity tends to embrace one aspect to the exclusion of another one which contradicts it.  We have a hard time holding two seemingly contradictory ideas in our minds simultaneously and recognising the validity and importance of each.  There are a number of such “either/or” concepts which the Isha Upanishad addresses with the response “both/and”.  The apparent contradictions are simply the limitations of the mental consciousness and as we undergo the development to a new standpoint of consciousness, we are able to see how they are complementary, not hostile, to one another.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The pairs of opposites successively taken up by the Upanishad and resolved are, in the order of their succession:  1.  The Conscious Lord and phenomenal Nature.  2.  Renunciation and Enjoyment.  3.  Action in Nature and Freedom in the Soul.  4.  The One stable Brahman and the multiple Movement.  5.  Being and Becoming.  6.  The Active Lord and the indifferent Akshara Brahman.  7.  Vidya and Avidya.  8.  Birth and Non-Birth.  9.  Works and Knowledge.”

“The principle it follows throughout is the uncompromising reconciliation of uncompromising extremes.  Later thought took one series of terms, — the World, Enjoyment, Action, the Many, Birth, the Ignorance, — and gave them a more and more secondary position, exalting the opposite series, God, Renunciation, Quietism, the One, Cessation of Birth, the Knowledge until this trend of thought culminated in Illusionism and the idea of existence in the world as a snare and a meaningless burden imposed inexplicably on the soul by itself, which must be cast aside as soon as possible.  It ended in a violent cutting of the knot of the great enigma.  This Upanishad tries instead to get hold of the extreme ends of the knots, disengage and place them alongside of each other in a release that will be at the same time a right placing and relation.  It will not qualify or subordinate unduly any of the extremes, although it recognises a dependence of one on the other.  Renunciation is to go to the extreme, but also enjoyment is to be equally integral; Action has to be complete and ungrudging, but also freedom of the soul from its works must be absolute; Unity utter and absolute is the goal, but this absoluteness has to be brought to its highest term by including in it the whole infinite multiplicity of things.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Isha Upanishad and analysis, pp. 90-97

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