Isha Upanishad | Shankara's Commentaries


Here you can read Isha Upanishad (Īśā Upaniṣad, also called Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad)
with commentaries of the famous Hindu Advaita Vedanta Swāmī Shankara-Ācārya (788-820) online.


auṁ pūrṇamadaḥ pūrṇamidaṁ pūrṇāt pūrṇamudacyate .
pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya pūrṇamevāvaśiṣyate ..

OM! That (the Invisible-Absolute) is whole;
whole is this (the visible phenomenal);
from the Invisible Whole comes forth the visible whole.
Though the visible whole has come out from that Invisible Whole,
yet the Whole remains unaltered.

auṁ śāṁtiḥ śāṁtiḥ śāṁtiḥ ..

Om! Peace! Peace! Peace!



The (Vedic) mantras (verses) beginning with Īśāvāsyam have not been utilised in karma (rituals etc.), for they serve to reveal the true nature of the Self, which is not an appendage to karma.

The real nature of the Ātman consists in Its purity, sinlessness, oneness, eternity, incorporeity, omnipresence, etc., which will be indicated later on (Īś. 8).

As that (nature) would conflict with karma, it is but natural that the verses are not applied to karma;

for neither is the Self in Its real nature, as defined, a thing to be created, transformed, achieved, or purified, nor is It of the nature of an agent or enjoyer, whereby It could become a factor in karma.

Moreover, all the Upaniṣads exhaust themselves simply by determining the true nature of the Self, and the Gītā and the scriptures dealing with mokṣa (the emancipation of the soul) have only this end in view.

Accordingly all karmas have been enjoined by assuming such qualities for the Self as multiplicity, agentship, enjoyership, etc., and impurity, sinfulness, etc., which common sense takes for granted.

For people who are versed in the science dealing with competence (of people treading this path) say that a man is qualified for karma when he hankers after the results of karma,

be they of this world in the form of spiritual eminence etc., or of the hereafter in the form of heaven etc., and thinks of himself thus:

I am a twice-born man and am free from such defects as being one-eyed or hump-backed which stand in the way of one’s competence for karma."

Therefore these verses remove inherent ignorance through the revelation of the true nature of the Self, and thereby produce the knowledge of the oneness etc. of the Self, which is the means for the uprooting of sorrow, delusion, etc., incidental to mundane existence.

We shall briefly explain these (Vedic) verses for which have thus been determined the competent students, the subject matter, the relation between the Vedic text and the subject matter and the purpose.


auṁ īśā vāsyamidaɱ sarvaṁ yatkiñca jagatyāṁ jagat .
tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā mā gṛdhaḥ kasyasviddhanam .. 1..

All this, whatsoever exists in the universe,
should be covered by the Lord.
Having renounced (the unreal), enjoy (the Real).
Do not covet the wealth of any man.

One who lords it over is Īśā, the Lord. He who is the supreme Ruler and supreme Self of all is the Lord. For as the indwelling soul of all, He is the Self of all beings and as such rules all.

(So) Īśā (means) by that Lord, in His true form as the Self; vāsyam, should be covered.

What (is to be covered)?

idam sarvaṁ yatkiñ ca all this whatsoever; jagat, moves Jagatyāṁ, on the earth.

All this is to be covered by one's own Self, the Lord, through His supreme reality (present in the realisation); “As the indwelling Self (of all), I am all this”: all that is unreal, whether moving or not moving, is to be covered by its own supreme Self.

As the adventitious bad odour or sandal, aguru, etc., resulting from moisture etc., because of their contact with water etc., is covered up by their natural smells through the process of rubbing those woods themselves,

just so, (whatsoever moves on the earth will be abandoned through the contemplation of the Self which is the supreme Truth).

Whatever moves” means the apparent duality, the effect of ignorance, which is characterised by such ideas as doership, enjoyership, etc., and which is superimposed on one’s own Self;

and the phrase “on the earth” having been used illustratively (for all the worlds), it follows that all the bundle of modifications known as name, form, and action will be abandoned through the contemplation of the Ātman which is the supreme Truth.

He, who is thus engaged in the thought of the Self as God, has competence only for renouncing the 3 kinds of desire for son etc., and not for karma.

Tena tyaktena, through that detachment:

Tyaktena means through detachment, (and not “by any abandoned thing”); for a son or a servant, when abandoned or dead, does not protect one, since he has no connection with oneself.

So the meaning of the Vedic word (tyaktena) is “through renunciation”.

Bhuñjīthā, protect. You who have renounced desires, mā gṛdhaḥ, do not covet, do not cherish any desire for wealth. Do not long for kasya svid, anybody’s—either your own or somebody else’s; dhanam, wealth—this is the meaning. The word svit is a meaningless particle.

Or the meaning is this: Do not covet. Why?

Kasya svid dhanam, whose is wealth?—this (question) is used in the sense of a denial, because nobody has any wealth which can be coveted. The idea is this:

All this has been renounced through this thought of the “Lord”, “All this is but the Self”, so that all this belongs to the Self, and the Self is all. Therefore do not have any hankering for things that are unreal.

So far as the knower of the supreme Self is concerned, the purport of the Vedic text (i.e. of the first verse) is that the Self is to be saved through firm devotedness to the knowledge of the Self after the renunciation of the 3-fold desire for sons etc.

As for the other person who is unable to cognise the Self because of his mental preoccupation with the non-Self, the Vedic text (i.e. the second verse) imparts this instruction:


kurvanneveha karmāṇi jijīviṣecchataɱ samāḥ .
evaṁ tvayi nānyatheto'sti na karma lipyate nare .. 2..

If one should desire to live in this world a hundred years,
one should live performing Karma (righteous deeds).
Thus thou mayest live; there is no other way.
By doing this, Karma (the fruits of thy actions) will not defile thee.

Kurvan eva iha, verily by doing here—only by accomplishing; karmāṇi, karmas—Agnihotra (sacrifice) etc.; Jijīviṣet, one should wish to live; śatam samāḥ, a 100 years.

That much has been ascertained to be the longest span of human life.

So through a restatement of that well-known fact, it is being enjoined that if one would desire to live a 100 years, one should do so by performing karma only.

Evam tvayi, for you, such as you—as you have this kind of hankering for life; nare, for a man—for one identifying oneself only with one’s human personality;

ita, other than this—than the present mode of life, viz. of performing rituals like Agnihotra etc.; na asti, there is not, any other mode by which method, karma na lipyate, bad karma may not cling, i.e. one may not get attached to karma.

Therefore, one should desire to live by doing only such karmas as Agnihotra etc., which are enjoined by scriptures.


But how is it known that the previous verse teaches the pursuit of knowledge for the man of renunciation, and the second one (teaches the path of) karma for one who is unable to renounce?

The answer is:

Do you not remember what was pointed out (in the introduction) that the antithesis between knowledge and karma is irremovable like a mountain?

Here also it has been said: “He who would desire to live should do so by performing work”;

as also “All this should be covered by the Lord; protect (the Self) through that detachment; do not covet anybody’s wealth.

Moreover, the Vedic conclusion is this:

One should not hanker after life or death, and should repair to the forest.”

Renunciation has been ordained by saying, “He shall not return from there” (Sannyāsa).

And the difference between the results of these 2 (paths) will be spoken of (in verses 7 and 18) seriatim.

Following on the creation of the cosmos, these 2 paths did emerge out; the path of karma being the earlier one; and the other being renunciation, consisting in the giving up of the 3 kinds of desire (for son etc.), in accordance with the latter path of detachment.

Of these, the path of renunciation is the more excellent.

And in the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka it is said,
Renunciation did, indeed, excel”.

“These then are the 2 paths on which the Vedas are established: the one consists of duty characterised by attachment, and the other is clearly marked out by detachment” (Mbh. Śāntiparva, 241.6)

— this and similar ideas have been declared, after much deliberation, as his firm conviction to his son (Śūka) by Vyāsa, the teacher of the Vedas. The distinction between the 2 we shall show hereafter.

Now begins the verse for decrying the man who is devoid of knowledge:


asuryā nāma te lokā andhena tamasā''vṛtāḥ .
tāɱste pretyābhigacchanti ye ke cātmahano janāḥ .. 3..

After leaving their bodies,
they who have killed the Self
go to the worlds of the Asuras,
covered with blinding ignorance.

Asuryāḥ, of devils; as compared with the attainment of the non-dual state of the supreme Self, even gods are asuras, devils; and the worlds belonging to them are Asuryāḥ.

The word nāma is a meaningless indeclinable. Te, those; lokā (lit. worlds) - (derived) from the root luk—means the births in which the results of karma are perceived or enjoyed;

āvṛtāḥ, are covered; andhena, by blinding—characterised by blinding—characterised by the inability to see; tamasā, by darkness—in the form of ignorance.

Tān, to them—that extend up to the motionless (trees etc.); pretya, after departing, giving up this body; gacchanti, go—in accordance with their karma and meditation (on gods etc.);

ātmahana, those that kill the Self.

Who are they? Janāḥ, (the common people) those that are ignorant.

How do they kill the eternal Self?

Because the Self, which exists, is concealed through the fault of ignorance.

The experience of the Self as free from decrepitude and death (present in the realisation, “I am free from decrepitude and death”), that comes as a result of the existence of the Self, remains concealed, as is the consciousness of a person who is killed.

So the ordinary and ignorant persons are called the killers of the Self. Because of this fault of slaying the Self, they are subject to birth and death.

What is the nature of the Self by slaying which the ignorant people transmigrate, and contrariwise, the men of knowledge, the non-killers of the Self, become freed?

This is being answered now:


anejadekaṁ manaso javīyo nainaddevā āpnuvanpūrvamarṣat .
taddhāvato'nyānatyeti tiṣṭhattasminnapo mātariśvā dadhāti .. 4..

That One, though motionless, is swifter than the mind.
The senses can never overtake It, for It ever goes before.
Though immovable, It travels faster than those who run.
By It the all-pervading air sustains all living beings.

Anejat, unmoving. The root ejṛ implies shaking. Shaking is motion, deviation from one’s own condition. It is devoid of this, i.e. It is ever of the same form.

And It is ekaṁ, one, in all beings. It is javīyaḥ, faster, mānasaḥ, than the mind, characterised by volition etc.


How can there be such contradictory statements
that It is constant and motionless, and yet faster than the mind?


There is no inconsistency, for this is possible from the standpoint of the conditioned and the unconditioned. As such, It is spoken of as “unmoving, one”, in respect of Its own unconditioned aspect.

And by reason of Its following the limiting adjunct, the mind, the internal organ characterised by volition and doubt, (It appears to be subject to modifications).

The mind though encased in the body in this world, is able to reach such distances as the world of Brahma in a single moment, at one volition; and hence the mind is well known as the fastest thing in the world.

When that (speedy) mind travels fast to the world of Brahma etc., the reflection of the conscious Self is perceived to have reached there, as it were, even earlier; and hence It is said to be (manaso javīyo) faster than the mind.

Devaḥ, the gods—the senses, the organs of knowledge such as eyes etc., are the devas because of illuminating (dyotana) their objects, na āpnuvan, could not overtake; enat. It, the reality of the Self that is discussed.

The mind is faster than these (senses). Because of the interposition of the activity of the mind, (between the Self and the senses), even a semblance of the Self does not become an object of perception to the senses; since, being all-pervasive like space, It pūrvam arṣat ran ahead—reached the goal even before the swift mind.

Though the all-pervasive entity of the Self, in Its real unconditioned state, is devoid of all worldly attributes and is subject to no mutation, yet (by reason of following the limiting adjunct, the mind), it appears, in the eyes of the non-discriminating people, to experience all empirical modifications brought about by the limiting adjuncts, and It also appears to be diverse in relation to the individual bodies. Hence the verse said so.

Tat, That; atyeti, outruns—as it were; dhāvataḥ anyān, all other fast moving ones (runners), viz. the mind, speech, the senses, etc., which are distinct from the Self.

The sense “as it were” is suggested by the verse itself by the use of (the expression) tiṣṭhat, remaining stationary, which implies, “Itself remaining unchanged”, Tasmin, It being there—while the entity of the Self endures, which by Its nature is everlasting consciousness;

mātariśvā, Air—so called because it moves (śvayati) in space (mātari)—which sustains all life, which is of the nature of activity, on which depend all bodies and senses, in which all inhere, which is called Sutra (thread), and which holds together the whole world.

That Mātariśvā, dadhāti, allots; āpaḥ, the activities — consisting in the efforts of creatures, as well as flaming, burning, shining, raining, etc. in the case of fire, sun, cloud, etc.

Or dadhāti may mean supports, in accordance with such Vedic texts as “From His fear the wind blows” (Tai. II. VIII. I).

The meaning is that all these modifications of causes and effects occur so long as the eternally conscious reality of the Self, the source of everything, endures.

Since the Vedic mantras are untiring in their emphasis, the idea imparted by the previous verse is being stated again:


tadejati tannaijati taddūre tadvantike .
tadantarasya sarvasya tadu sarvasyāsya bāhyataḥ .. 5..

It moves and It moves not.
It is far and also It is near.
It is within and also It is without all this.

Tat, That, the entity of the Self that is under consideration. That ejati, moves; and That again, by Itself, na ejati, does not move. The meaning is that, though in Itself It is motionless, It seems to move.

Moreover, tat dūre. That is far off—That seems to be far away, since It is unattainable by the ignorant even in hundreds of millions of years;

tadvantike is split into tat u antike, That is very near indeed—to the men of knowledge—It being their Self, that is not only far off, but is near too;

tat antar, That is inside; asya sarvasya, of all—in accordance with the Vedic text:

The Self that is within all” (Brih. III. IV. 1) — of all this world, consisting of name, form, and activity;

tat, That; u, also; sarvasya asya bāhyataḥ, is outside all, because It is all-pervasive like space; and It is inside because It is extremely subtle.

Besides, It is without interstices, (It is continuous), in accordance with the Vedic text: “Pure intelligence alone” (Brih. IV. V. 13).


yastu sarvāṇi bhūtānyātmanyevānupaśyati .
sarvabhūteṣu cātmānaṁ tato na vijugupsate .. 6..

He who sees all beings in the Self
and the Self in all beings,
he never turns away from It (the Self).

Yaḥ, he who—the mendicant who wants to be freed; anupaśyati, sees; sarvāṇi bhūtāni, all beings – beginning from the Unmanifested and ending with the immobile;

(as existing) ātmani eva, in the very Self—i.e. he does not see them as different from the Self, sarva bhūteṣu ca, and in all those beings;

sees ātmānam, the Self—sees the Self of those beings as his own Self thus:

Just as I, the soul of the body which is an aggregate of causes and effects, am the witness of all perceptions, and as such I am the source of its consciousness, and am pure and unconditioned,

similarly in that very aspect of mine am I the soul of all, beginning from the Unmanifested and ending with the immobile”;

he (who realises the unconditioned Self in all beings thus), tataḥ, by virtue of that vision; na vijugupsate, feels no hatred, does not hate.

This is only a restatement of a known fact:

For this is a matter of experience that all revulsion comes to one who sees something as bad and different from oneself,

but for one who sees only the absolutely pure Self as a continuous entity, there is no object that can be the cause of revulsion. Therefore he does not hate.

Another verse also expresses the same purport: