Meditations on the Isha Upanishad: The Third Movement Debashish Banerji

Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950)

Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950)



Debashish Banerji

The third movement comprises verses 8 to 14. Here is how Sri Aurobindo describes this movement:


In the third movement there is a return to the justification of life and work – the subject of verse 2 – and an indication of their divine fulfilment.

The degrees of the Lord’s self-manifestation in the universe of motion and the becoming of the One Being are set forth.  And the inner law of all existences declared to be by his conception and determination. (Verse 8)

Vidya and Avidya, Becoming and Non-becoming – are reconciled by their mutual utility to the progressive self-realisation which proceeds from the state of mortality to the state of immortality. (Verses 9 to 14).




Verse 8 therefore continues with the thinking of the paradoxical relationship between the Being and the Becoming. Being is not separate from Becoming; it is That which has become all cosmos:


“Sa paryagat shukram akayam avranam asnaviram shuddham apapaviddham

Kavir manishi paribhu swayambhu tatha tat yatha arthan yadadhat shashwatibhya samabhya.”


It is He that has gone abroad. That which is bright, bodiless, without scar of imperfection, without sinews, pure, unpierced by evil.  The seer, the thinker, the one who becomes everywhere, the self-existent, has ordered objects perfectly according to their nature from years sempiternal.


Sri Aurobindo writes that this stanza connects us to verse 2, but it also relates to Stanza 4. The thought that was introduced there completes itself with this stanza.  The Knower, that which has turned its gaze upon its own Self to know it, knows itself completely, hence presents itself wholly but re-presents itself always partly, because it is by self-identity that it knows the Whole but by reflexivity that it knows its parts.  This knowledge by identity presents the Unknowable as Being and its reflexive self-knowing represents it in the orders of perpetual Becoming. Hence the stanza begins with this movement towards becoming – “sa paryagat,” he has gone forth. We must keep in mind that in this going forth of the Infinite, there must be an infinity that has not gone forth and will never go forth.  This is the law of the Infinite, the Purnam which is not only here, purnam idam, but which is there, purnam adah. That which is here, idam, which has gone abroad, which has become, is purnam, the infinite Whole; but that which is there, adah, which remains unmanifest, which has not gone forth, is also purnam, the infinite Whole.


Therefore that which has never gone abroad and will never go abroad,  which out of its infinity has grasped itself in the primary self-presentation of Being and has put forth a re-presentative secondary infinity of Becoming,  – That  is bright, bodiless, without scar of imperfection, without sinews because there is no differentiation or movement in it.  It is beyond Being and Becoming, it is beyond definition, indefinable, it shines by its own light, but it is unknowable, untouchable, the ever-unborn of the Transcendent.  Within everything in the Becoming exists this Unborn Origin, the infinite Other, which has not and will never Become. In each of us resides the Unborn, since each of us is this Whole, the aporetic and apophantic originary order of Infinity, the Unborn in the Transcendent.  Out of that Unborn which will remain infinitely Unborn has come forth the self-presentation of Being, the primary order of infinity, and the birth of the Cosmos, the secondary order(s) of Infinity that has gone abroad. The knowledge by identity of the Unknowable, the self-presentation of the Whole is called by the Upanishads Sachchidananda-Vijnana, that is the eternal Existence-Consciousness-Bliss-Supermind, within which, as its own self-knowledge, the secondary infinity of representation, the Becoming or Manifestation will inexorably and perennially occur.  Thus Becoming or Manifestation inaugurates Time as the beginningless and unending re-presentation of inexhaustible Being, its perpetual self-exploration.




To know oneself is firstly to hold oneself in Sight.  To arrive at self-vision — this is the power of the seer.  The seer sees.  The seer is that potency of Supermind that carries non-dual sight, darshan in its gaze, since it sees only itself. This is purity of seeing by identity.  It exists, sat; it is conscious, chit; it is infinite, hence free from every limit and carrying the intrinsic bliss of such freedom, ananda. It has turned its consciousness upon its own infinity to know itself. But this self-knowledge is not an unknowing seeking for a knowing. It is in the form of a knowledge by identity, an intrinsic knowledge, vijnana, accessing and mobilizing its own contents. Thus it sees itself all at once, in a spatialized eternity, the orders of self-presentation, of the infinite Truths in which the Supermind conceives itself. This self-seeing of Being as self-presentation, being infinite, inaugurates a self-representation, infinite Becoming, a process which will leave an infinity of Being unmanifest at any time.


In translation Sri Aurobindo renders kavih as “seer.” But kavih is also poet; the Vedic rishi (seer) is the kavih (poet), encompassing the twin primordial senses of sruti (audition) and drishti (sight). In the Veda, these are the dual goddesses saraswati and ila, bringing inspiration and revelation, respectively. Arising with these primordial powers (shakti) of non-dual sensing, Purusha turns upon itself to know itself. There is no direct mention of “purusha” here, but the transition to the personal pronoun sah from the beginning of this stanza (sah paryagat), implies it. The Subject has arisen with its powers of knowledge to know itself. Its primordial self-knowledge is a self-seeing and a self-hearing, primarily through the self-presentation (Being) of an Identity which surpasses all representation, but also secondarily through a representation (Becoming) which inaugurates the orders of Time as beginningless and endless self-exploration. As self-presentation, this seeing and hearing is inconceivable and ineffable eternity, but as self-representation, this knowing (vijnana) is a self-objectification (prajnana) carried out through identity in Sense (samjnana) and effected through identity in Will (aajnana). To the self-presentation of infinite Being there may be infinite orders of self-representation. All such orders co-exist in the Knowledge Organ of Being, vijnana or Supermind, each of them a Truth or Real-Idea of Being-in-Becoming.


Real-Idea of Being inaugurates Becoming through a specific tapas of Seeing in Supermind (vijnana). Seeing all of itself at once in the order of the Truth of Supermind,  it sees  all of its parts, and all the relations of those parts, every possibility within itself, and the various possible paths within those possibilities, all the routes that those possibilities may take, all at once.  This is the supramental time-quantum of the Real-Idea, the triple time vision of the Seer implied in the second movement. This is self-presentation of Being as Satchiddananda poised at the summit of Becoming, the Vedic eye of Vishnu which the gods behold from all directions, wide extended in heaven.  Vijnana holds the knowledge of the whole and the parts as a self-identity, the spatialized time-quantum of eternity.  This is the kavih, who has the revelation, darshan of non-dual Knowledge and utters the word, mantra of non-dual Presence.


Prajnana initiates within this the movement of self-representation through the birth of questioning. The transition from the That to the He, tat to sah in this verse is significant. Parabrahman, Supreme Being is Tat, That. Purusha or Purushottama, Supreme Person is Sah, He. This Person is also Isha, Lord. Hence the birth of Questioning or Questing is the simultaneous duality of “Who?” and “What?” pertaining respectively to the Subject and the Object of Thought. The birth of Thought is initiated with the simultaneity of these two questions, pertaining to the Person (Who) and the Cosmos (What). The one who thinks these is manishi, the Thinker. The aporetic flash of these two questions initiates the emergence of the properties of Being streaming across the gulf from the Timeless into Time, the field of beginningless and endless representation.


Becoming is effected in Sense by Samjnana and in Will by Aajnana. This is Paribhu, the one who becomes everywhere.  To think is to initiate motion, becoming.  How much motion ?  Infinite motion, unceasing motion, unending motion, because the Question is asked of the Infinite, the Infinite as Whole and the Infinite in all its infinite parts. Since the question is asked in Supermind, all the parts are ordered by the Truth or Real-Idea of Supermind, and all the infinite self-explorations of each of these infinite parts are also ordered by Truth of Supermind.


The question is thus asked at once of the Whole and all its infinite parts/particles. And each particle of possibility in answering it will reveal its potentialities to be the Infinite.  So also, the question is asked of the Whole and all its parts/particles forever, as a status of consciousness, without beginning or end. There is no beginning to the asking of this question and one cannot exhaust its potentialities for either the Whole or any of its parts/particles:  we have crossed the bridge from eternity to time.  We have crossed from Presence, Self-presentation, to Representation, from Being to Becoming and becomings.



This is what accounts for the sequence in the stanza – kavi, manishi, paribhu – the seer, the thinker, the one who becomes everywhere. Becoming is the self-representation of Being by power of Prajnana and its aporetic crossing from Eternity to Time.  Prajnana is the Mother of all manifestation.  This manifestation may occur within Supermind, within the Vidya, where the Knowledge of Oneness is still contained in the Becoming, every becoming knows itself to be a self-becoming of Being; or it may occur in the Avidya, where the Oneness has been suppressed and the many experience their indepdendent self-becomings; where the veil of Maya has put the knowledge of Oneness into latency, releasing the multiplicity. This Becoming in the Avidya, in which the multiplicity is given its freedom of becoming and each one, each possibility of the Many explores itself through eternity is what the Isha Upanishad began with in its first stanza, what it described as the universe of movement within the universal movement.  Structure becomes process, Parabrahman moves, passive Brahman becomes active Brahman.  It becomes the cosmos as Bhuvana, Becoming, as Jagat, the moving universe.  And within it every possibility moves as one of its movements, comprising all the infinite becomings which are the becomings of Him, Sah, the Lord, Isha.


The successive stations of the “going abroad” – the seer, the thinker, the one who becomes – are all identified finally with the Swayambhu, the self-born. It is the Lord (Isha) who is self-born in all of these becomings. Thus the hermeneutic circle completes itself – the unborn births itself as eternally mobile cosmos and its constituents by its own progressive yet simultaneous power of becoming through seeing, thinking, sensing and willing .  It is only That One by its own power that has become all these.  It is He, Isha, Lord, the one without sinews, the one untouched, un-pierced, unborn, the one who has seen itself as the seer, thought himself as the thinker, who has entered into Time as the One who becomes everywhere, the Paribhu, that One has by his own power become all these, Swayambhu. We are reminded of the emergence of Purusha in the famous Nasadiya Sukta of the Rig Veda and in the opening stanzas of the Aitareya Upanishad. This completion of the hermeneutic circle connects the Becoming instantaneously with Being in the Supramental vision of Vijnana: “The Self-Existent has ordered objects perfectly according to their nature from years sempiternal.” It also brings us back to the beginning of our meditation, the self-born One who becomes in all things is indeed the Lord of Will, Isha, who inhabits all things that become in this Becoming, for the being of all things is this Being who has become all that is by his own power.




It is interesting to note that at least two of these terms for the Lord of Becomings, paribhu, the one who has become everywhere and swayambhu, the one who is self-born, continue to our day in abbreviated forms as widely accepted Hindu names of God – prabhu, which is taken to mean Lord and shambu, a name of Shiva. The Indo-European preposition “pra” connotes a forceful tendency towards that which follows it, here, bhu, to become. Prabhu, hence, is the urgent movement towards becoming of the Lord, thus the Lord of Will, Isha. In a Vedic sense, bhu is also the first of the worlds, the world of Matter. We have earlier encountered (in the second movement) this Mater, Mother, in whom the breath of Life expands, matarishwan. This is the One (wan) whose will (isha) moves in Matter (matar), bringing us back again to the first stanza of our Upanishad, the movements of becoming carried by the earth, itself the containing movement of Becoming, jagatyam jagat. It is He, the Lord, Isha, who becomes everywhere who moves as will-to-becoming in all beings and in the containing Being, the Being of Earth, bhu.


The other term, swayambhu, self-born in all its becomings, elides to the name of Shiva, Shambhu. “Shan,” the phonemic root of shanti, means “peace.” We may recall the famous opening stanzas of the Taittiriya Upanishad, “Shan no mitra, shan varunah…” “Shambu” connotes the Becoming of Peace, the Stillness that moves in all movements and yet remains still. This recalls once more the 4th and 5th stanzas of the Isha – the “One unmoving” who is “swifter than Thought,” who “moves and moves not.” He reveals himself in the quantum-flash of the seer (kavih) but the thinker (manishi, prajnana in Avidya) cannot grasp Him in his totality. Yet, in origin, it is He who becomes, through the self-born processes of Seeing (kavih) and Thinking (manishi, prajnana in Vidya). We may recognize also the association with Shiva as the linga, phallus whose potency is never exhausted, indicator (sign) that is one with the Indicated. This is the Infinite One as eternally Unborn and perpetually self-born. We may bring to mind the tradition of the self-born (swayambhu) lingas of light (jyotirlinga) throughout India or the self-manifest linga of ice that appears each year at Amarnath. Yet, these are merely symbols for the self-birth of Purusha in every instance and moment of becoming. Sri Aurobindo has a poem on the fundamental particle of Matter, the “electron” that expresses this significance of Shiva as the Lord, Isha, self-born in each particle as its Inhabitant. We had occasion to contemplate this sonnet while considering the First Movement of the Isha, but we reproduce it here once more:




The electron on which forms and worlds are built,
Leaped into being, a particle of God.
A spark from the eternal Energy spilt,
It is the Infinite’s blind minute abode.

In that small flaming chariot Shiva rides.
The One devised innumerably to be;
His oneness in invisible forms he hides,
Time’s tiny temples of [or: to] eternity.

Atom and molecule in their unseen plan
Buttress an edifice of strange onenesses,
Crystal and plant, insect and beast and man, –
Man on whom the World-Unity shall seize,

Widening his soul-spark to an epiphany
Of the timeless vastness of Infinity.


Shiva, Shambhu as linga, in its unborn infinite potency is yet paradoxically “self-born” as the presentation of Being and representation of Becoming and comes to light in all the becomings of the cosmos. In later literature, Isha is also taken as a name of Shiva.





In Verse 4, we saw – the One unmoving is swifter than mind.  This is the time-vision of the Supermind.  It contains everything in a flash, at a quantized moment of Time-Eternity, the eternal moment.  This eternal moment is perpetually moving into time as the evolving moment.  This opens for us the question of determination. Does it mean that everything is determined ?  In his commentary on the Isha Upanishad, while contemplating the role of the seer, kavih, Sri Aurobindo writes that the determinism of Supermind “is a determination not in previous time,  but in perpetual time.” This captures once more the aporetic paradox  of the eternally Unborn who is perpetually being born. A determinism in perpetual time implies the time-quantum of the Seer (Being) that is simultaneously realized in the time sequences of the Thinker (Becoming). A determination in perpetual time implies the newness of that which has never been born coming into becoming through the participating will of all the parts that become in the Becoming (jagatyam jagat), since all these “parts” (idam sarvam) are “for the habitation of the Lord” (isha vasyam) whose will (ish) has gone abroad (sa paryagat). Yet this unborn newness of the spontaneous creative moment is “remembered” not from the “past” but from the “whole” (purnam). The “past” belongs to the “standing reserve” of Being conceived as spatialized Time, static and alienated from the Becoming. A determination in perpetual time implies a simultaneity of Being and Becoming. For this, we have to contemplate a Reality, beginningless and endless that is becoming at every moment.  It shines with the unprecedented light of the never-born, yet it is ancient, it has been, as the stanza says, “ordered” “from years sempiternal” (shaswatibhay samabhyah).  This reminds us of the line in the Gita :


“Ajo nityo shashwato’yam purano  na hanyate hanyamane sharire”. 


The unborn, , the perennial, the sempiternal, the ancient – we see a succession of Time-stations here – the sense of timelessness is there yet the sense of time is also present,  agelessness is there, simultaneous with newness , because it has never been though it has always been  – It’s happening for the first time, it has always already happened.  Jacques Derrida refers to this as “the aporia of origin” and distinguishes it from any “predictable future” which can be derived from the past, by calling it “l’avenir”, the future-to-come, the unborn future. This relates again to the nature of memory, smriti, that was introduced in the Second Movement. This is not the memory of “the past” but the intuition of “the Whole,” the creative memory of the inevitable event pressing to be born from an eternal Presence which is as much future time, the time of the unborn as past time, the time of the ever-existent. The growth of the intuitive faculty of discrimination (viveka) is marked by this sense of memory, smriti, the intuition of that which has already happened and yet is happening for the first time.


The idea of such a Memory has some similarities but must be distinguished from Plato’s Memory, Knowledge as  “remembrance” arising from man’s pre-natal familiarity with the world of Ideas from which all becomings have come. Such a memory is a dim remembrance of the Original Being of which all Becoming is a relatively faithful copy (mimesis). But the smriti of viveka engages a different relation to Time, that of Being that becomes simultaneously, Knowledge that realizes itself immediately, eternity which is perpetuity, transcendence which is immanence, Real-Idea of the Seer which is self-born (swayambhu) in the Thinker and the One who becomes. This notion of remembrance, smriti, underlies these verses and will grow in its significance and power till it erupts primordially in the concluding lines of this Upanishad.




In the next stanza, the tenor changes.  After the transition from  Parabrahman (Tat) to  Purushottama (Sah),  He who has gone forth, self-born, swayambhu, in the four stations of Becoming – from the Unborn to the Vijnana, from the Vijnana to the Prajnana, and from the Prajnana to the Becomings of the Paribhu through Samjnana and Aajnana  – the Upanishad moves to the consideration of Vidya and Avidya, what Sri Aurobindo translates (respectively) as the Knowledge and the Ignorance.  Between Being and Becoming is the operation of an objectification of Self, the Subject self-born as Object. Following the Aiteraya Upanishad, Sri Aurobindo refers to this operation as prajnana. We have already touched on this property of Knowledge in terms of the Thinker, manishi. Prajnana has two valences that operate on the two sides of the divide between Being and Becoming. On one side is the prajnana of Vidya, the One knowing itself as the Infinite; and on the other side is the prajnana of Avidya, the Infinite, each of whose instances and possibilities is the One.  The waters established by Matarishwan are divided into these two zones: the bright hemisphere and the dark hemisphere, parardha and aparardha.  The tapas of the Real-Idea which represents Being as Becoming has thus established these halves, since they are inseparably conjoined in mutual significance. The Upanishad will now proceed to reveal how this significance grants meaning to the Cosmos and our place in it.


“Andha tamah pravishanti yeh avidyam upasate  tatobhuya eva te tamo ya u vidyayam ratah.”


“Into a blind darkness they enter who follow after the Ignorance.  They as if into a greater darkness to devote themselves to the Knowledge alone.”


One possibility of Becoming is to lose oneself and regain oneself. One could, of course, play at such a game in many ways, but an ordered self-exploration would have to establish first a “ground zero” of complete self-forgetting and self-pulverization to achieve a systematic emergence of the infinite possibilities of Being (Tat) in Becoming and the re-membering of the Person (Sah) who has dismembered Himself.  To know oneself in a systematic fashion one has first to know what one is not. This necessitates the formation of the Insconscient, accompanied by the fragmentation of Being/Person, the negation of its coherence in Time and Space.  Earlier, we touched on the foundation of the Avidya, Ignorance as the transition from the One to the Many, in the form of the dispersion of Matter, the particulate nature of the Inconscience.  This pertains to the objective ontology of Space; but it applies similarly to the subjective ontology of Time, transforming from one of continuity to one of discreteness, temporality as marked by beginnings, middles and ends.  Thus we experience both Space and Time in terms of the fragmentation of Being on the basis of Inconscience, which is the cosmic loss of Consciousness.  This establishes the foundation of Avidya, Ignorance.


Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual companion and collaborator, the Mother, commenting on the cosmos in which we find ourselves, has said that the primary qualities of Brahman that it represents are Joy and Freedom – the Joy of infinite adventure and exploration and Freedom of choice.  In the systematic self-exploration referred to above, freedom is thus intrinsic to the oblivion of Being, and to the law of its Becoming. Thus, the freedom to remain ignorant is also part of its law.  The choice of that freedom is Falsehood.  Falsehood is an aspect of the Ignorance, since through it Ignorance exercises its choice to remain ignorant. This is one aspect of Ignorance, Avidya, the “deep nescience” or Thanatos, will-to-Inconscience within it.  The more obvious aspect of Ignorance is its Amnesia, loss of Consciousness of Origin and hence will-to-Consciousness that it represents. The other fundamental property of Avidya arises from the obscuration of the root of Vijnana within Prajnana. The Prajnana of Vidya recognizes itself as an extension of Vijnana. Thus the ontology of prajnana in Vidya is the experience of the One as the Infinite and the Infinite as the One. The prajnana of Avidya, through the casting of a veil on the Vijnana, loses the One in the Infinite. Thus is born the disunited Multiplicity of Becoming.  Sri Aurobindo calls this veiling power “the Overmind Maya.” Thus Loss of Consciousness and loss of the knowledge of the One in the Many constitute the truth or being of Avidya or Ignorance. The will to remain Inconscient constitutes the falsehood or illusion of Avidya or Ignorance.





The Isha Upanishad emphasizes this fact that there is a truth of the Ignorance that needs to be realized as a necessary part of the divine purpose. Contrary to the popular conception that the Ignorance is to be discarded and the Knowledge realized, this Upanishad startlingly privileges in these lines, the Ignorance over exclusivity of Knowledge. Of course, it does so in terms of the better of two negatives: They enter into a blind darkness who follow after or worship (upasate) the Avidya, the Ignorance, Materialism and pluralism.  But they enter as if into an even greater darkness who follow after the Knowledge alone, the exclusivity of the transcendental One.


The previous stanzas of the Upanishad have been preparing this assertion through their descriptions of the dual nature of the self-becomings of the Lord :  Parabrahman (Tat, the What) is present in  the cosmos as the Passive and the Active Brahman; Purushottama (Sah, the Who) is present in all persons as Akshara and Kshara Purusha or Jivatman and Psychic Being, Self and soul.  So too, the transcendental and cosmic Realities are related as the Vidya and the Avidya.  The Vidya is the infinite One. As there is nothing “outside” it, it has no need. Yet it may choose to explore its infinite possibilities, extending its Delight of Being into the Delight of Becoming. All the possibilities/truths of Brahman exist eternally and simultaneously within itself as poises and conditions (avastha) of Being.  One of these is its self-contained infinity, in which the power of Will is unexpressed, enjoying the peace of rest. This is the Unborn potency of Brahman, not the One who is self-born in all Becomings, but the One who is ever-unborn. This is the exclusivity of Vidya, its undifferentiated Identity. Brahman here is turned in on itself without any manifestation, the Unmanifest (avyakta). Those who follow after this alone, according to this Upanishad, enter an even greater darkness than those who follow the Avidya, the Ignorance.


In his interpretation, Sri Aurobindo analyses this assertion.  This analysis also forms his exploration in two of the earliest chapters of The Life Divine :  The Materialist Denial, and The Refusal of the Ascetic.  The Materialist Denial is the choice of the Ignorance, but a choice that cannot hold its own forever, because the cosmic cycle is ruled by the tapas of Supermind. As with the two forms of Will in the Ignorance, the Materialist Denial can take two forms, that of the will-to-Inconscience (Falsehood) or that of the will-to-Consciousness (Ignorance). In this stanza, we find the consequences of Darkness are asserted for those who seek the truth of the Ignorance and for those who seek the exclusivity (u) of the Knowledge.  The truth of the Ignorance is the fragmentation of Being and the will-to-Consciousness in the becomings. These becomings of the Many are subject to the law of Becoming (jagatyam jagat) of the self-exploration of the Lord, Isha, effected through Will (Aajnana, tapas). This tapas is a progression.  In our discussion of the First Movement, we considered the meaning of movement, of time, in terms of these two dimensions.  One is appearance, persistence and disappearance, and the other is progress.  The becomings of the cosmic reality are ruled by the tapas of Supermind which pushes through its diverse explorations towards an integral manifestation of the Lord, Isha. Such a manifestation would be the conscious realization in all becomings of the first line of the Upanishad: All this is for the habitation of the Lord. The individual choice or even a cosmic choice against this is a relative movement which is under psychic pressure to unveil its truth and can only be temporary.  Inexorably it will be overcome.  A covert link to this understanding exists in the previous stanza which implies that all becomings are the self-becomings of the Lord (swayambhu) and contextualizes these becomings in terms of the Real-Idea of Supermind:  “The Self-existent has ordered objects perfectly according to their nature from years sempiternal.”  As we have seen, this is a determinism in perpetual time.  Therefore, to choose against it is to enter a darkness, but a darkness that will not persist forever.


But the exclusive refusal of the ascetic is the choice of a truth which is the Unborn eternity of the Divine, a Being without a Becoming, the affirmation of a will-to-the-Unmanifest out of which there can be no return to the Manifestation.  This is the transcendental Darkness of God, what is referred to in the Nasadiya Sukta of the Veda as the ‘darkness covered by darkness’, “prior” to the  division into sat and asat or Vidya and Avidya and “prior” to the emergence of Purusha. This status of Brahman negates the very purpose of the Manifestation.  Thus, one is the denial of the Manifestation, the other is the refusal of the Manifestation.  This is why the second is more pernicious, according to this Upanishad.  In the following verses, the Upanishad elaborates the difference between the two.




“Anyat eva ahuh vidyaya anyat ahu avidyaya

iti shushruma dhiranam ye nastadivichichakshire”


“Other, verily, it is said, is that which comes by the Knowledge, other that which comes by the Ignorance ;  this is the lore we have received from the wise [dhira] who revealed That to our understanding.”


We have been privy to the truth of the Ignorance and the truth of the Knowledge. Each of these yields a different realization, which excludes the other. It is in this sense that what comes from each is “the other.”  The truth of the Ignorance is that of the progressive self-revelation of the Lord in all Becomings.  It is the Lord alone that inhabits all the forms of this universe, all of its becomings, however darkened, unconscious, or fragmented.  It is the Lord alone who, self-born, is becoming here, though hidden – this is the truth of the Ignorance.  The truth of the Knowledge is that there is infinite transcendental Being, eternally unborn, lacking need or will, turned in on itself, delighting only in itself.  These two forms of knowledge – both must be known, not exclusively but simultaneously. It is possible to know each of these exclusively, but such a realization excludes “the other.” In this stanza, the non-exclusive truth of the Ignorance is contrasted with the exclusive truth of the Knowledge. Both of these are partial realizations of the integral Truth and hence forms of darkness, but the exclusivity of Knowledge forestalls or pre-empts any integral knowledge while the non-exclusive realization of Ignorance retains an opening to eventual integral knowledge. In this sense, the Upanishad asserts that the Darkness of exclusive Knowledge is “darker” than the darkness of the Ignorance.


“Vidyancha avidyancha yastateda ubhayam saha

avidyayam mrityum titwa vidyayam amritam asnute.”


“He who knows That as both in one, the Knowledge and the Ignorance, by the Ignorance crosses beyond death and by the Knowledge enjoys Immortality.”


The need for simultaneous realization of the truths of the Knowledge and the Ignorance is asserted here – to “know That as both in one.” Earlier, we were given the stations of the Brahman in its “going forth.” The succession was one of the Unborn, the Seer (kavih), the Thinker (manishi), the One who becomes everywhere (paribhu), the unborn Being who births Himself in every Becoming (swayambhu). Vidya in its exclusive poise, according to the Isha Upanishad is the Unborn who remains ever unborn. It does not move through the stages of self-presentation and self-representation implied by the births of the self-born (swayambhu). Avidya, according to this Upanishad, are the becomings of the Many (Infinite), in each of which and in the Whole of which (the Becoming), the Unborn is perpetually reborn, but hides its Reality.


Looking to Sri Aurobindo’s interpretation of the forms of Knowledge from the Aitareya Upanishad to shed light on these stations of the What (Brahman) and the Who (Isha, Purusha), we identified Vijnana with the Seer, Prajnana with the Thinker, Samjnana and Aajnana with the One who by being self-born, becomes everywhere. Vijnana is the Knowledge of the Seeing of the Whole, the quantum time-flash of the Real-Idea. Prajnana is the ideative Knowledge of the One objectified as the Many (Infinite). Samjnana is the sense Knowledge of the One in the Many; and Aaajnana is Knowledge as Will of the One in the Many. These becomings of Knowledge are simultaneous in Vijnana, the Real-Idea of Supermind. Radical monism and radical pluralism, Being and Becoming, Subject and Object are distinct and yet the same in Vijnana or Supermind.


But a veil of discontinuity intervenes between Vidya and Avidya, or more particularly, between what Sri Aurobindo calls Supermind and Overmind. This discontinuous operation in the relation between the One and the Many and between Being and Becoming is loosely attributed in Vedantic literature to Maya. But Maya is not strictly a veiling function, Maya is an imaging function. Maya determines the form of imaging of the relation between Subject and Object, Being and Becoming, the One and the Many. Maya is the power used by the Lord, Isha, in his self-becomings, for his self-presentation (Vidya) and his self-representations (Avidya). In Maya of Supermind, these becomings of the Lord are aware of themselves as the (re)births of the Unborn; but in Maya of Overmind, the Lord veils Himself in his becomings, so that these becomings are aware of themselves as independent, exclusive of each other and of the One. Maya can thus also be seen as Prajnana, the ideative objectification of the One as the Many. Supramental prajnana (Vidya that has “gone forth”) retains the experience of the One in the Many, but Overmind prajnana suppresses the experience of the One in the Many. To know “That as both in one,” implies therefore, a realization of the Supramental prajnana (prajnana of Vidya) or Supermind Maya. The “givenness” of human experience is determined by Overmind Maya or prajnana of Avidya. Thus the knowledge of “That as both in one” may be taken as the transition from prajnana of Avidya to prajnana of Vidya, or more specifically from Overmind Maya to Supramental Maya. The Upanishad will next sketch the steps of this transition.



The verse continues by highlighting one of the central concerns of Vedantic literature – the attainment of Immorality. By realizing both the truth of the Knowledge and the truth of the Ignorance simultaneously (“That as both in one”), the Upanishad says one will arrive at immortality.  The truth of the Ignorance, as we have seen is that He, the Isha, is the Dweller of every habitation – ‘Isha vasyam idam sarvam’, which is indeed a becoming within the universal Becoming.  If we realize the truth of this knowledge within ourselves, we will have discovered that which is eternal and self-born (swayambhu) in all becomings. This is the One, who unmoving, moves and is swifter than thought. He, the Lord, Isha, is thus the truth of Time, the Unborn who is reborn perpetually and perennially in all things of the cosmos. He has been, is and will be forever, without beginning or end. Knowing this, we realize our temporal immortality.


Interpreting the Upanishad, Sri Aurobindo draws out the distinction between two kinds of immortality knowable by the human.  One of these is temporal immortality, the immortality of Becoming, perpetuity, which is the truth of the Avidya. Isha, Purusha, assumes a poise which changeless in substance, perpetually changes in expression. In later literature, the Gita will give this poise of purusha a name. It was call it   kshara purusha, the mutable Person, the Lord in the heart of all creatures, the soul or psychic being.  Temporal immortality implies perennial and perpetual persistence .  The truth of all becomings has no beginning and no end.  We are repeatedly born and reborn without beginning and without end.  We live for ever in the stream of Time.  We are an ever present Becoming .  That is temporal eternity.


But in realizing temporal eternity exclusively, one is still bound within the Becoming.  One is subject always to process, to duration, there is no freedom from time.  To be truly one with the Lord, one must know oneself as Him who is simultaneously Unborn (ajah) and self-born (swayambhu) in all things. One must know oneself as Being and Becoming, at once beyond Time and the consciousness of Time.  Time-consciousness, the One who flows as Time, Kali, and the Lord of time, Mahakala, the Seer whose integral time-quantum is the infinite Truth self-presented and represented through tapas (askesis, concentration) of Will in Time – to know “That as both in one” is the One who bridges eternity and time – this is the Isha and this too is each being.


Thus, the other knowledge of immortality is eternity, to know oneself as Unborn, the truth of the Vidya. The Gita will refer to the poise of being that lives this experience as Jivatman and Akshara Purusha.  By the realization of the Avidya one crosses beyond death.  This is the temporal immortality. Here one knows that all births are the self-births of the Lord, Isha and all deaths are the condition for the rebirths of the Lord, Isha. By the realization of the Vidya one attains to immortality.  This is the transcendental immortality, the Unborn poise in Being of the Isha who is self-born in all Becomings. By knowing only the temporal immortality (truth of Avidya), one is free from the discrete limitation of lives conditioned by birth and death but one is not free from the compulsion to Become, one is not Lord or Master of Becoming. By knowing only the transcendental immortality (truth of Vidya), one is free from all compulsion to Becoming, but one is bound to the exclusivity of Being, hence self-exiled from Becoming, not Lord or Master of the Becoming.


But by knowing “both in one,” (ubhayam saha) one realizes That (Tat) or He (Sah) which/who is both the Unborn Akshara and the ever-reborn Kshara Purushas. This is the Lord, Master, Isha, the One who is free from all determinations, whether of time or of the timeless, free of birth and death (mortality), free of the compulsion to repeated births and deaths (Becoming as the eternal return of Being), and free also of the compulsion of remaining unborn (transcendental Being).  In one of his aphorisms, Sri Aurobindo refers to the last bondage. He writes, “God is not bound by his freedom,” which by corollary also means that God is never bound, he is free even in his bondage. Knowing “both in one,” one attains the poise of what the Gita refers to as the Purushottama. This is the Being/Person, ever-unborn who is ever-reborn in all becomings/personalities by the power of supramental prajnana or Divine Maya. This transition to the knowledge of “both in one” takes one out of the regime of Overmind Maya or prajnana of Avidya into the Divine Maya or prajnana of Vidya (supramental prajnana). This is the integral Knowledge, the Knowledge of the whole or integral (purnam), the Knowledge of the Immortal Being who is world free but is self-born in all beings and becomings.  This is the central message of the Isha Upanishad. To emphasize this central message, the next three verses repeat the idea of the previous three, with Vidya and Avidya replaced by sambhuti (the Birth) and asambhuti (the Non-Birth), but this time showing the “greater darkness” to be the exclusivity of Avidya, the Birth, the will-to-Inconscience.




“Andham tamah pravishanti ye asambhute upasate

tato bhuya eva te tamo ya u sambhutya ratah”


“anyat eve ahu sambhava anyat ahu asambhava

iti sushruma dhiranam ye na tad vichichakshye.”


“Sambhutin cha vinashan ya yatsa eva ubhayam sah

Vinashene mrityum titwa sambhutya amritam astute”

“Into a blind darkness they enter who follow after the Non-Birth, they as if into a greater darkness who devote themselves to the Birth alone.”


“Other, verily, it is said, is that which comes by the Birth, other that which comes by the Non-Birth; this is the lore we have received from the wise who revealed That to our understanding.”


“He who knows that as both in one, the Birth and the dissolution of Birth, by the dissolution crosses beyond death and by the Birth enjoys Immortality.”


The Non-Birth is here the Unborn or Unmanifest Transcendent, the Vidya, while the Birth is the Becoming with all its becomings, the Avidya. In the first of these stanzas, exclusivity (u) is asserted of the attachment to the Birth. Seeking after the Non-Birth and realizing it is a partiality of Knowledge, which brings the primary immortality of Transcendence, but lacks the temporal immortality of the Becoming. Hence it is being referred to as a darkness. However, this is not the “deep Darkness” attributed to the exclusive seeking of the Vidya in the previous stanzas. Such a will to exclusion is the nivritti of Transcendence, from which there can be no return to the Manifestation. If it does not exert this will to exclusion, the realization of Transcendence is open to the possibility of pravritti, hence, though partial, the link between the Transcendence and the Cosmos continues as a possibility. On the other hand, the exclusivity asserted of the attachment to the Birth is the Falsehood, the will-to-Inconscence, the exercise of the freedom of the Ignorance to remain ignorant. This is an entry into a greater darkness, according to the Upanishad, a darkness not only of partiality but of exclusivity.



The profound value-system of the Isha Upanishad is thus established in these verses. To seek a realization of the Being which loses the Becoming and to seek a realization in the Becoming without the knowledge of Being are both entries into darkness, the darkness of partiality. To seek a realization of Being which excludes the Becoming through the will to exclusion (will-to-the-Unmanifest) and to seek a realization in the Becoming which excludes the Being through the will to exclusion (will-to-Inconscience) are both entries into an even greater Darkness, the darkness of No-Return. As against the entry into these forms of darkness, the Upanishad holds out its desideratum. The goal of existence is the enjoyment of Immortality in the Being and in the Becoming.  For this:

(1)    the truth of both the Being (Vidya) and the Becoming (Avidya) must be known.

(2)    These truths must be realized simultaneously (know[ing] That as both in One).


Of these two propositions, the first can be envisaged (of course, easier said than done). But with the second, according to Sri Aurobindo, we encounter a serious cosmological difficulty. This is the operation of the Overmind Maya or the prajnana of Avidya. Put less metaphysically, our experience is constrained by the law of Mind, a logocentric ontology, which orders reality in terms of exclusivist contradictions or privileged polarities. This is what the Upanishad presents to us in these verses. However, what it sets up as an expectation is a supramental ontology, the simultaneous realization of the truths of Vidya and Avidya. This implies identity in consciousness with the Divine Maya or the prajnana of Vidya. The realization of the first of the above propositions – asynchronous experiences of the truth of the Vidya and the Avidya – can be seen a stage towards the second realization. But between the Overmind Maya and the supramental Maya we hit a ceiling. Within the Avidya, the form of imaging of the relation between Being and Becoming, Vidya and Avidya is different from the form of imaging of this relation in the Vidya of Supermind. But how can we arrive at this new form of imaging? The last few stanzas of the Upanishad, forming what Sri Aurobindo calls its fourth movement, takes us into this deeper recondite layer of wisdom, in which the Upanishad demonstrates its continuity with the Veda, drawing on the power of invocation (stuti) and deep remembrance (smriti). Thus concludes the Third Movement of the Isha Upanishad.

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