Isha Upanishad - Super school - Auroville - Session 5: Renunciation-Freedom; Silence-Work; Immobility-Movement

(27 December 2002)

The most important statement of this Upanishad is, it simply says we should be engaged in doing works here on this earth and continue to be doing so even for a hundred years. And it adds one short sentence, works do not bind you, works do not cause bondage, works can be done in a state of freedom. So, I shall repeat this particular statement because it is so important, it says:

‘Doing verily works in this world one should wish to live a hundred years. Thus it is in thee and not otherwise than this; action cleaves not to a man’.

This is the literal translation of the beautiful verse in Sanskrit,

कुर्वन्नेवेह कर्माणि जिजीविषेत् शतं समाः।
एवं त्वयि नान्यथेतोऽस्ति न कर्म लिप्यते नरे ॥

kurvann eveha karmāni jijivisec chatam samāh
evam tyayi nānyatheto’sti na karma lipyate nare ||2||

This is in Sanskrit, it has a beautiful rhythm. You know Sanskrit is one of the best poetic expressions in Indian literature. Doing verily works in this world one should wish to live a hundred years, thus it is in thee, not otherwise than this; action cleaves not to a man.

What is the need of this particular injunction, you saw yesterday that the message of the Isha Upanishad is that there should be enjoyment, but the true enjoyment comes only by renunciation because normally we try to enjoy this thing or that thing, but the true enjoyment comes only when you possess all, not this or that. If you possess only this or that, it is only temporary or transitory and that traces of this pleasure always end in pain. Therefore, if you really want enjoyment you should possess all and for possession of all you should renounce this, that, everything, by renunciation you can possess all. And by possession of all, you enjoy all, and all is nothing but that which is ruled by the Supreme. There are three terms; Supreme, all, yourself. All this is nothing but motion but motion which creates structures, structures which are dwelling places and dwelling places are for habitation but habitation by the Lord. You somehow find yourself in this flux; you do not know who you are, how you are related to all the things around, how you are related to the Lord. Each one of us is therefore, a kind of a stranger looking hither and thither, and in this movement we are grasping at things, trying to enjoy and finding that everything slips away from your hands like water. We do not know, how rightly to possess everything, how rightly to enjoy everything. Therefore, Isha Upanishad is addressed to each one of us basically. It says to each one, you discover yourself.

In fact, we shall speak on the subject as to what you are, as to what I am, what each individual is. This is our supreme subject of enquiry, what am I and what is all that is around and how to deal with all that is around,—this is the supreme question of human life. Why Isha Upanishad is so important, it is because it deals with the supreme subject, the subject of the greatest interest to each one of us, so that if we do not know all the answers to these questions, which are raised here, you will constantly be in a world, moving about in a flux without stability and without satisfaction.

There are many subjects like physics, chemistry, biology and we study many subjects, but Ishopanishad has a special subject, what are you and how you can derive the maximum, perfect enjoyment, and the secret of yourself, the secret of all, and the secret of the Supreme,− this is the subject matter of this Upanishad particularly. It is in this process, when you are asked to renounce then there is a psychological consequence, human psychology is such that if it follows one direction it gets glued to the direction. If I am seeing a film on television, psychologically I see one film and then I say, if I may see the second film, the third film, the fourth film,—I get glued, psychologically. You don't feel like getting out of it. If I read a very nice novel, or a good story, I go on reading on and on, if somebody calls you out, you feel kind of a bother, you want to be glued. Similarly if you're playing a game, you want to play again and again. Similarly, if you renounce, you want to renounce and renounce, many of us don't experience this but this is also a fact. Psychologically if you begin the process of renunciation, you get glued to the process of renunciation. When you start the process of renunciation, you begin to have an experience, the experience of silence,—this is a psychological consequence. You begin renunciation, when you say this is not mine, this is to be sacrificed, this is to be surrendered, this is to be given up, once you start with this in your psychological condition there is the operation of the State of silence. If you go on with this movement then psychologically you start getting stuck with silence.

Silence can be so overpowering that if somebody calls you out, to come out, if in silence you would say, ‘no, I'm so peaceful, I’m so blissful, there is no turmoil, I'm perfectly happy, perfectly satisfied. This is also a very powerful experience psychologically. The movement of renunciation leads you to silence and silence can be so overwhelming that you don't want to be pulled out of it. Now supposing you don't get yourself pulled out and you remain completely in silence then what happens, then will you have enjoyment, which is promised in the very first sentence, that you will enjoy if you renounce, but if you enter into silence and you feel that now you're enjoying the silence, is it really enjoyment? Because even when you do not renounce and try to enjoy that is also an enjoyment, ice cream is also an enjoyment although for a short time. Similarly, silence is also an enjoyment but for a short time. It may seem to be very long, it is true that there are people who can remain in silence for months and months but it is found that our breathing itself is an activity, is an action, is work, our body itself is an engine of action. And even if your mind can be silenced, the engine of the body cannot be silenced and even if you silence it, this is where the teaching of the Upanishad, very often people silence the body and withdraw from it all together, in the state of silence this also is possible. Then the Upanishad says that you've not done the right thing, if you remain silent, which is good, we should have the capacity of silence but if you remain silent and nothing else, if you become incapable of work and activity then you have missed out the secret of permanent enjoyment. This is a hard saying for many people, who are seeking only silence and who believe that silence is the only aim of life.

Silence is the first step; it should not be taken as the last step, first basis even, even indispensable step. But it is not the secret of the aim that is enjoined for our life here because psychologically silence takes you away from action and even it tends to pull you into the realm of silence forever and ever, because psychologically this is possible. Therefore, the Upanishad warns you and says if you only attain that then you're not fulfilled. Therefore, it says you should do works here, not going away somewhere in the Himalayas, or into nirvana, into a complete state of silence away from the body, withdrawing from the body forcefully or willingly, that is not the way by which you can be fulfilled. And then it says doing works that is the right thing and not anything else. It repeats because there is a feeling that either you can remain in silence forever, or you can also do works, like an optional subject in an examination, you can either do silence or you do works but both are equally good. But this Upanishad says: ‘no’, doing works, that itself and nothing else that is to say, you must cultivate complete silence and complete action, both together; this is the goal that has been proposed in this Upanishad. And then it says that if you can do works then you will not enter into bondage you will be free. This last sentence is very important. What is this idea of bondage, what is this idea of freedom, what is the connection of works with freedom? This is a very big science in the field of yoga, what is work, what is bondage, what is freedom. This is the subject matter in India on which there have been centuries of debate. And it is to give a kind of conclusiveness in advance that this Upanishad has been composed. This debate has to be concluded in a perfect manner.

This Upanishad has been called the Upanishad of synthesis. It speaks of opposites––renounce and yet enjoy. The two opposites are reconciled in the very first verse. In the second verse, there is the opposition between bondage and freedom. Normally if you are bound, you are not free; if you are not free, you are not bound. This verse tells you that there is a secret by which even if you get yourself bound, you remain free. Even if you are free, you can be bound. These two opposites are reconciled.

Now let us see the idea of freedom. You have heard very often the debate: is man free? This is a very important question which is asked in all human civilisations. Is man free? or is men asleep? There is one view according to which man is a slave, man is a continuous bonded labourer. There is a feeling that we are free, but that freedom is illusory. Man is really not free. This is one view, which is very important.

Now let us consider this idea in some fullness: the idea that man is bound. What is the meaning of bondage? You are in a state of bondage when you are compelled, when there is a compulsion on you. You must do this and you cannot escape it. This state is a state of bondage, compulsion. Now the argument is first of all that you cannot choose the place where you are born. You are born somewhere pell–mell. You are compelled you don't choose where you will be born. This is the first bondage. So even if you say I'm free, you are laughed at. In what sense are you free? The very fact that you are born, you are compelled to be born. You did not choose to be born or not to be born. So there is the first compulsion. You can't be free from your having taken birth, you are born.

You are not free to assume any kind of body. The body is given to you with all his defects with all its brilliances. You have not created your body. It is given to you. So it is imposed upon you. You are compelled to have that body.

Now according to the virtues and deficiencies of your body, you begin to grow. Your growth is already determined from the beginning because of the composition that is given to you right from the beginning. But you say that no no no, but I can modify this little thing. I modify this little thing. I can do that thing. I think I will do that.

Fine. The answer is that you can do that because even those potentialities exist in that very body. You cannot run out of the potentiality which is there in you. Therefore you're bound by the potentiality and that potentiality you have not created yourself. It is given to you, you are compelled to have it.

Therefore once you develop on this line, then you ask yourself: what about my mind? My body, of course, I am compelled to be in the body, I am compelled to have the kind of body that is given to me, fine, I am compelled but, and this is the second argument, but my mind, my mind is free. I can think this way, I can think that way. I can say oh, I don't want to think, I'll just go to sleep. I can do that. I'm free.

The answer is that your mind is very much enmeshed in your body. Just imagine that you are sick, you have got a lot of fever, what kind of thinking can you have, possessing the state of your sickness?

Comment: You suffer.


You suffer. You can't come out of it. Mentally you suffer. Where are.. where is your freedom? You have bound to suffer. Similarly, even when you say that, well, I can go to sleep whenever I have to, the answer is that you want to sleep because you are compelled to sleep. There is something in you, in your body, which is idle. It is that idleness which impels you to sleep. It's not that you are free. Your body is self, is of such a nature it impels you through idleness to go to sleep. And you think that you are free to go to sleep. No. Therefore it is argued that your idea that we are free is completely wrong.

Then a greater argument is that you are found to be in a certain circumstance. Can anybody be out of the circumstance? This is a very central question. If you are free, come out of your circumstance? What is your circumstance? I am in my family. All right, I can run away from my family. Good, then what happens: you go to another circumstance. You can run away from that circumstance. You come to another circumstance. Can you come out of circumstance itself? Wherever you go, some circumstance surrounds you and you are bound by the circumstance and not only that, you are bound to react to that circumstance. It's also an important point.

You are compelled to react to your circumstance. You can't decide and we are free and say that in spite of my circumstance, I will do this or that. You are obliged to interact and react to your circumstance. Once again you are bound.

Even when you think that we're planning freely, to do this or to do that, or you could have planned one way or the other. There is a famous question put to Napoleon, you know Napoleon was a great general of the army and he was master planner, he used to plan all his expeditions very carefully and meticulously and it was believed that as a master planner, he could plan one way or the other, free to plan one way or the other and when he was asked whether he was really free, he said: ‘No, there is a force which impels me to plan in one way or in the other way. All the circumstances which are around me, all my abilities of thinking, all my capacities of planning, are so compelling that I can do only in one way and not the other way’.

In other words the conclusion that is derived is that every action produces a consequence and it is not in your hand to prevent the consequence. And once you are in the consequence, you are bound by it and you do another action, it has its own consequence and you are bound in it. It is therefore argued that the greatest bondage is that you are compelled to act, and once to act, you are compelled to have the consequence and you are bound by the consequence. In that stage of bondage to action and as a result you are bound to have consequence and you are again bound to act because of the sequence in which you are involved and therefore you are bound to act further and bound to be bound in the series of this. It is concluded, action implies bondage and compulsion, it is even argued therefore, that as long as you act you are in bondage but this Upanishad now tells you that in spite of all these arguments, which are unassailable, they seem to be impeccable. In spite of this Upanishad says, you can be free even in action and it says that you must act, not only that you may act or may not act, it says you must act and you should continue to act for a hundred years, you should live and act in this very world. Yet it promises you will not be bound, there is something in the field of action that is closely connected with freedom. And this we do not realise and therefore, we find that there is opposition in bondage and freedom, these two are opposites. To act is to be bound, not to act is freedom, this is the normal argument. And that is why there is a great gospel in India particularly, of inaction, minimise your actions, minimise your wants, your needs, your field of activities until your actions are almost reduced to nil.

As I said even your breathing requires some action, the argument is that there are means by which we can be free from breathing, you can come out of the body altogether. There have been many yogis in India, who have been able to come out of the body altogether, so even breathing is not necessary. But this Upanishad says, ‘no’. So, where is the lever of action really and where is freedom?

What is the real meaning of freedom? We use this word, freedom, very loosely, without contemplating sufficiently on the concept of freedom. If you examine closely, you will find that the concept of freedom begins to operate when you have at least two options. One of our greatest experiences of freedom is when we are confronted with two options, as long as there is only one option, you don't feel the need of freedom because you're not compelled but the moment two options present themselves before you, you begin to have the idea that I can take this or that. Presentation of option as a result of which you can make a choice between one and the other, you feel that you are free. This is where we first experience freedom,—presentation of options. And very often, we feel that options are presented and I chose this one freely, you do feel that it was free and you chose this instead of that. This is our first experience of freedom. I go to the market with my mother and she says, ‘do you want this pair of shoes or that pair of shoes, both have the same price’, and I freely choose this one, no compulsion. My mother does not say that ‘I must buy this’, no, she says you choose between the two, both are equal price, this is red and this is green and that is yellow anything you choose and I choose this.

Is it not that the green attracted you more than the red, so you were under the compulsion of green, you thought that you freely chose the green one but this is because the green attracted you, you were under the spell of greenness and you were caught by that spell and you chose this. You think that you are free,—is not true. In any case you may say that mere presentation of options, although it gives you the sense of freedom, it does not necessarily mean that you are really free in choosing one against the other. Mere presentation of options does not necessarily mean that you are free.

When you say that two options are presented, were you not bound only by two options, apart from your choosing green, which was also a compulsion, where you were also not bound by the fact that you had only two choices, you were not free actually by having third choice at all. The fact that you're bound by the two options only is also bondage. You are bound to have only two options, why not are you not free to have other choices also, only two options are given to you that also is bondage. And even when you choose as I said, you chose because green attracted you. Therefore, in what way were you free, only you had a sense of freedom, that's all, you felt you were free but when you analyse, you feel that you were fooled actually by attraction of greenness. You were really not free that is why although we have the sense of freedom, we don't really have the actuality of freedom. It is a very important distinction, the sense of freedom, which does not correspond with the actuality of freedom. If you examine all the choices that you have made in the world, in your whole life even when options were given to you, you will find ultimately that you chose this because of this compulsion or that compulsion. Now this will help us to arrive at the real definition of freedom.

You cannot have real freedom unless the following conditions are fulfilled. First, that you should have not one, or two or three options, you should have any number of options, it's a very important statement. You can be really free only when you have before you any number of options, so long as only a few options are present, you are compelled within the boundary, only of those options. So, you cannot really be free, unless you have any number of options. You should have all possible options, not only all but all possible options, even if you have all options, even if that is not complete, all possible options, anything that can be opted for should be present before you. And you should be told now any number of options are present. I'm only giving you the pure definition of freedom. When shall we say that an action is free, unless you have before you any number of options, all options, all possible options, unless you have before you this, you cannot say you are really free, this is the definition that I'm giving you. Whether it is possible or not, I'm not asking just now. If you really claim to be free, you should be able to say that I had any number of options, all possible options; this is the first condition of freedom. But this is not enough. Merely presentation of a number of choices,….

But without the power of choosing, you can't be free. I may have any number of options before me but my hands are tied, my feet are tied, my purse is tied,—isn't it. So merely presentation of options is not enough, I should have the power to opt. Now even if I have the power then what do you do? There is still a third condition to be fulfilled. If I still choose one, and if somebody asks me the question, ‘why did you choose this one instead of so many others, which were present?’. And if I say, ‘it was because it was the right choice’. If you say, ‘I chose because it was the right choice.’ If you say this it means that you're not free because the rightness of that attracted you and compelled you to choose it. As long as you say that this was right as against that one, you are still not free. Unless you can say that I had several options, each one of which was right and yet I chose this one. Then you can say, still that you disregarded others, which were not right and you choose any one of these. So at least you had two sets and you chose one from one set not from the other set, you're not yet free because you had a reason to choose because you chose right, as against another set in which everything was not right. So still you are not free.

Where then does that freedom lie?

Question: When you renounce?

Answer: If you renounce, you are not capable of choice therefore you're not free. You should be capable of choice, that's also a condition of freedom. And you renounce only because you cannot make a choice here because you are perplexed to choose this or that, so even that is not freedom.

So freedom is possible only on one condition. You have before you, any number of choices, or options, all choices, all possible choices that is the first condition. Secondly, you should be capable of choosing any one of them. Thirdly, only if all the choices are equally good, if one choice is better than the other then you are bound. Only if all the choices that are present are equally good, equally good, not better. If all choices are equally good and now there is no compulsion to have this or that, as you rightly said that you just take anything, only you do it thoughtlessly but here thoughtfully. And you know you can take this, or that, or that. But for what reason, for no other reason then I want to take it, not for any reason, simply because that is the exercise of my freedom, Freedom in itself. It is only in that condition that you can say that you are free.

Now according to this Upanishad such a freedom exists and that's the important doctrine, important secret,—such a freedom exists. There is a will, which is capable of confronting any possible options. There is a will, which can choose and choose freely because all options are equally good that will is called the real Free Will. And Upanishad says that such a Free Will exists. Upanishad says that basically each one of us is in this world as it is, because we have freely chosen to be here. Even before you came here on this earth, ‘you’, this is what I'm saying that it's ‘you’. According to Upanishad, which knows you thoroughly well because it is the book of Knowledge, it has made a good study of each one of us. What is the individual, what is you? It knows our past, present and future that is why it is called a book of Knowledge. It's a book of science, it is not merely conjecture, or belief, or faith, or dogma,—not at all. This Upanishad speaks with a full knowledge of what you are and says that you are here in this world because you have chosen freely to be here. You had a possibility of not being here and not being here, and being here, were equally good. It is not that to be here was better than that, ‘no’. To be here, or not to be here, were equally good. And yet you chose.

This is your basic condition, therefore, if you recover that basic condition that you are free to do anything, you can arrive at a condition in which you can regain that condition so this Upanishad. It says, if you go on acting you will be able to recover that freedom but if you don't act, you will not be able to recover that will, you can go into silence but you will not be able to regain that will which was free and we chose it to be here. So, if you want to regain that freedom, there is no other way,—this is the only way. Continue to work, continue to exercise. That will by doing it you will find out. You will arrive at a consciousness in which you will regain that freedom which was yours, which you exercised before you entered into this whole game in which you are now. If you simply go away into silence you will not be able to recover that will, it will be one kind of compulsion to go into silence and then there is only one option and there, there is no other option, only silence.

That is why this Upanishad says that merely going into silence is not enough, which is not right. It is the right thing for you to continue to work,—is the only way and not the other one that is why it says this is your way and not any other. Because it is only if you continue to act you have a possibility of arriving at a will, which had infinite possibilities before it. And chose this because all the choices were equally good and you entered into this particular world because it was as good as not being in the world or any other world. It is not that there is only one possible world, there are many other possible worlds and all worlds are equally good and you chose this one, not thoughtlessly, deliberately only because all were equally good. If you want to discover this, you should continue to work. Only by doing this will you arrive at this consciousness. And therefore it says ‘na karma lipeyte nara’ the action will not bind you, you go back into that state of consciousness and if you act, you will not be bound, you will be as free as you were at that time. Therefore, Ishopanishad advises you to continue to work and continue to work here, do not escape from here because you had chosen this freely, you only have to recover that you come here freely. And the moment you recover this consciousness and if you cannot recover this consciousness, if you go away from the field of action that is why work is very important, if you just enter into silence you will not be able to arrive at this. It is only by continuing to act, when the will is operative that you will recover the original condition of the will. And then you will find out and this is called the Art of Divine Life. Sri Aurobindo has spoken that the Ishopanishad is the Upanishad of the divine life, and divine life is the life of action. Therefore, if you act and if you can recover that sense of freedom, which you had before you entered into the game of this world, really if you can recover, and you can recover only if you go on acting. While doing action, you will discover this ‘will’ that is why it says there is no other way. If you come out of this there is no other way. You will not be able to attend to this, therefore you should continue to work and while doing the work you will discover this ‘will’, which is completely free and then work will not bind you. This is the second stanza and I think we can stop here today.

The Upanishad says you must know how to work, you will get freedom but while doing it something is to be done, merely doing, even a donkey works, even a clerk works. What is the science of divine life? It is to work but work with your consciousness on the ‘will’ and that is the whole science of what is called Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga is a science of this and already the trick is given in the first verse ‘ma grdhah kasya svid dhanam’. It says if you give up desire this is the first step. If you give up desire then you will be allowed to enter into that new consciousness, working but without desire, enjoy but with renunciation. If you continue, don't enjoy this or that but all and be aware of the Supreme Lord to whom everything belongs, which is here. If you do all this together and combine all this together then while working you will find that you are free. He doesn't bind you; this is the promise of the Upanishad. Mere acting merely going on doing work is not Karma Yoga. Many people say that doing your duty is Karma Yoga. Mere doing duty is not Karma yoga, while doing works, not only doing duty, while doing any work as long as the antenna of desire is working in the work, you are not free. Now, how to get rid of desire is another science, it’s a very big science.

This particular Upanishad is like the notebooks of a teacher, there are only statements given so that when a lecture is to be given, you know what are the points to be covered. But if you really want to know how to get rid of desire, it's a very big science. Sri Aurobindo himself has written one full book only on the Yoga of divine works and he has given there the secret as to how you can do it. Here the Isha Upanishad only tells you that I have known you, I have known all, I have known the Divine, having known all this I tell you, continue to work and there is no other way, continue to work and while doing works only you will be able to discover the freedom and then the action will not bind you. You will be free even while acting. This is the promise given on the basis of the scientific knowledge of you, of the world, and of the Supreme. And when all this is known fully then you can make the statement with this assurance that this is what will happen. It is like an electrician, who says I know what electricity is, I know how to store electricity and know how to put it in a switch, and then switch on, the light will come. And he is certain about it because he knows what electricity is, how it is stored, so he can put in a switch. Similarly, Ishopanishad knows this truth, what you are, what is this world and what the supreme Lord is and if you know all the three things together then this statement can follow and can tell you that continue to work and you will be free. All right, for the time being because if the questions are asked as to how to do this work then we had to go into the whole of Karma Yoga.