Isavasya Upanishath Class Notes

Class Notes prepared by Sri.Sridhar based on the Talks by Sri. Santhosh Ananthakrishnan

September 24, 2022

Why Vedanta?

Very simple – for happiness! Now we experience happiness daily but what  is the problem with that? Its short lived or temporary. There are three stages of happiness. First state is priyam, second state is modham and the third state is pramodam. How do we solve the problem of temporary happiness? By procuring something that is ever lasting, something that doesn’t decay over time. So sustained happiness is the aim of studying vedanta!

Reference: Taittiriya Upanishad Brahmananda valli 5.1 “tasyapriyam-yEvaSiraha | mOdOdakshiNa-pakshaha|  pramOdauttarapakshaha | aanandaaatmA | bramhapucchampratishThA |

What does vedanta address?  Who am I?  (Atma Vidya also known as Brahma Vidya)

Who can study Upanishads?Does age matter? Gender matter? Caste as defined by current society matter?No, none of them matter. So, does it mean anyone can learn the Upanishads? No. There are some qualifications prescribed and these are called sadhana chatushtayam. We will elaborate on this bit later.

What is the definition of Upanishad?

  • First one is the most talked about which is first def learning by sitting next to guru who is at higher level, higher level means a higher plane (in terms of knowledge and not literally :-))
  • Second one as per Adi Shankara is Bramha vidhya (or aatma vidya or study of self)
  • Third one is based on purpose. 2 parts: Upani which means bringing together. Bringing together what – me and the rest of the universe. And shad which means destruction. Again destruction of what? Destruction of ignorance. So this means knowledge that destroys ignorance!

(When Gandhi was asked if everything will be destroyed by British, he said as long as ishavashyaupanishad is preserved, things will be fine)

How many Upanishads are there?

10 principal Upanishads out of 108 primarily knowntoday. These are called principal Upanishads because these have been commentated on. Why only these 10? Prasthana Thraya of Hinduism refers to Vedas, Bhagavd Gita and Bramha Sutra. The 10 Upanishads often quoted most in the Bramha Sutras and hence Adi Shankara picked these 10 Upanishads.

Which Vedas do the Upanishads belong to?

▪ Rig veda – Aithiriya

▪ Yajur veda

○ Shukla – Ishavashya and Brihadaranyaka

○ Krishna – Thaiteriya and Katha

▪ Sama veda – Chandokya and Kena

▪ Atharva veda – Mundaka, Maandukya and Prashna

Note: There is a myth that Atharva veda deals with black magic etc. There is nothing farther from truth because these 3 Upanishads are in Atharva veda and have some of the highest philosophical ideas.

Common shloka for the 10 Upanishads:

Isa Kena Katha Prasna Munda MaandukyaTaithari

Aitareyam cha ChaandogyamBrahadhaaranyakam Dasa

Now back to who can learn the Upanishads.

Four fold qualifications which is called ‘Saadhana Chatushtayam’

  1. Viveka – ‘nithyaanithyavastuvivekam’ which means the ability to discriminate what is permanent and what is not
  2. Vairaagya – means little bit of dispassion with pleasures (material ones) in this and other world
  3. Shamaadishatkasampatti – is a combination of six attributes

○ ‘Shama’ is control of the mind

○ ‘Dama’ is control of the senses

○ ‘Uparathi’ is the ability to focus on yourself. How is my mind reacting to the situation, focusing attention inward. For e.g. turtle pulls things inwards is a mental model we need to think of

○ ‘Titiksha’ is endurance. Be able to manage minor disturbances. Simple examples – seating not convinient, mosquito bites etc

○ ‘Shraddha’ in the context of vedanta is faith. Faith in scriptures and guru (not the fake ones :-))  When a conflict arises between guru’s teaching and scriptures, scriptures  (Sruti) is the ultimate authority. Don’t blindly follow gurus.

Reference: Taittiriya Upanishad Sheekshavalli 11.2 Yanyasmakagum  sucharitani . tanitvayopasyani।noitarani

○ ‘Samadhaanam’  in this context is focus

  1. Mumukshutvam – desire for moksha. Don’t think death, it means freedom. From what? From any bondage. Now connect to happiness we referred to in the beginning. Free/liberated to be completely happy

Anubandhyachatushtaya – Four connections

  • Adhikari is the qualified student and so they have the four qualifications we spoke of
  • Vishaya is the subject i.e.Bramhavidhya/aatma vidya (study of self)
  • Prayojana/phalashruti – Why shd I study this? And that is for ‘Moksha’ which means freedom (from bondage)
  • Last one is sambandha which is the relationship between the first 3 points


  • Vedas (means knowledge) and has no bearing on the knower
  • No point arguing from when vedas existed, when was it written, etc. These are distractions that will take you away from the goal of learning
  • Also don’t get caught up in the narrow religious context (geographical constraints or other religions). Vedas are beyond all limitations.
  • Question we are addressing is ‘Who am I?’. Focus on that.

Now to our subject of Ishavasya Upanishad:

Story (use this for context and understanding):

As we all know Veda Vyasa codified the 4 vedas. One of his shisyas/disciples was Vaishampaya who was taught Yajur veda. One of his disciples was Yaajyavalkya (sister’s son seems). One day an argument broke out and Vasihampaya asks Yaajyavalka to return whatever he had taught. Yaagyavalka vomits everything. Yaagyavalkya was the best student and so Vaishampaya asks all the other students to consume whatever was vomitted so that none of the knowledge is wasted. All the students became ‘tithiri’ (bird that has special abilities like it can consume fire, vomit etc) and they consumed everything. This part of yajurveda is the Krishna yajurveda.

Now what did Yagyavalkya do? He went beyond all human forms. He went directly to the Sun and asked for knowledge. This is the Shukla yajurveda. And it has a lot of reference to Sun (3 shlokas out of 18).

October 1st, 2022

Like any subject, it is important to get a basic understanding of some key terms in the study of Vedanta too.  My goal is to explain some of the key terms and provide a simple/practical definition so that we can proceed with the learning.

Some key terminology:


  • SthoolaShareeram – Physical body/Tangible things
  • SookshmaShareeram – Subtle/Intangible – mind, neural activity, etc. Things that can’t been seen with eyes
  • Karana Shareeram – Instincts/Gut feel
    • These are deep rooted inside us that condition us and our reactions

It is important to focus your mind before learning can happen. However, Vasanas influence learning. Our physical body also influences learning. We need to control physical body and our vasanas.  Bias is Vasanas. So the key is to approach everything in an unbiased manner

Annamayakosham – physical body (Food)

Another term is Karyam and Karanam – This means, Cause and Effect

  • Cause has influence on effect but not vice versa
  • Eg: Gold and chain. Property of Gold influences the property of chain, not vice versa

Five Sheaths (Koshas)

This is the fundamental enquiry into who am I? The most direct and simple answer is that we are the physical body. Most of us can relate to that. This is called “Annamaya kosha”

  • Annamayakosham – Food nourishes body. The key question is, whether there is something more foundational than this. Ask the question, is there something that can control physical body. Thinking in this line will lead us to the physiological functions. These can control our physical body.  So this must be more foundational than physical body. Follow the Karya – karana logic.
  • Physiological functions in us iscalled Pranamayakosham (Physiological functions – breathing, etc.). So Prana must be more foundational than physical body. Following the same logic, you can see there is something that can control physiological functions. Your mind for example, can control how fast you breath.
  • Manomayakosham – Mind can control Prana, so that must be more foundational than prana
  • Vignanamayakosham – Now intelligence can control mind. So, Intelligence must be more foundational than mind
  • Anandamayakosham – Desire for happiness drives intellect. So “Happiness” or Ananda must be more foundational than even intellect.

This is why our scriptures say that our true nature is that of happiness – Ananda. This is a very detailed topic, but my goal here is to give you a working definition and a framework.

Now let us get into Ishavasya Upanishad – It is very dense/not easy to understand. Uses a peculiar style that may be confusing to the casual reader. So we need the broader context of readiness and vedantic inquiry. It is said Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is a commentary on Ishavasya. Even Bhagavad Gita is considered to be a commentary on IshavasyaUpanishad.

  • We will rely on the scriptures and Sankaracharya’s commentary. Scriptures will always be the guide. When teaching of a guru conflicts with scriptures, we will follow scriptures. This is the instruction of scriptures (Refer: Taittiriya Upanishad – Yani AsmakagumSucharitani….)
  • It starts with Shanti mantra, as every Upanishad.
  • 1st mantra – (Ishavasyamidamsarvam…) can be considered as a sutra/formula for uthama students (brilliant students)
  • Nextwe will find a few slokas explaining the first mantra. This is called “Vritti”. This is for madhyama students (average students)
  • For students, who cannot understand this knowledge, the Upanishad gives them some preparatory steps – Karma, etc. This is for for the next tier students who are not able to comprehend (Inferior students). This will involve The Upasanas. Upasanastrains you to see one thing in another (Symbolic – Eg: Similar to how the flag is used to symbolize nation). This will prepare you to see brahman in this universe and everything – the ultimate goal of Adwaita
  • After upasana, we have a set of prayers to Sun and Agni. These are some beautiful prayers, which elevate the student into worshipping higher level idols/devas, than vigrahas or pictures.
  • Shanti Mantra – Poornamada Poornamidam – Here is the essence of this beautiful mantra. Most other Upanishads begin with a prayer. But Ishavasya gets straight to the teaching. Here is a summary. Whatever you see in this Universe and whatever you believe as you is one and the same. They have a cause-and-effect relationship. There is nothing in this world other than this one thing.
  • Consider this as the explanation for the mahavakyam “Tat Tvam Asi”
  • We will delve into this in more detail in the next class

October 22, 2022

Today’s goal is to cover the shanti mantra for this Upanishad. If there is one session you should attend, it is this one!  Because the entire teaching of this Upanishad, even Adwaita Vedanta is beautifully captured here.

Context: every Upanishad begins with a shanti mantra. They have a typical structure, start with Om, end with Om Shanti ShantiShanti. Most shanti mantrams are prayers to higher power, ability to learn, hear etc. It is a prayer for gyanayogyataprapti – prayer for being qualified for acquiring knowledge.

Ishavasya is not a sympathetic Upanishad to a mediocre student. It is aimed to superior students. So the shanti mantra itself is a teaching not a prayer. People tend to get confused, so understand it from a practical concept and think about it.

Remember shuklayajur has a different style of chanting from krishnayajurveda. This is called ‘khandvaswara’.

“Om Purnam Adah, purnamidam, purnaatpurnamudachyache, purnasyapurnamaadaayapurnamevaavishtathe”

Literal translation:

“that is whole,

this is whole,

from that whole came this whole,

from that whole if this whole is removed only whole remains”

Direct translation can be extremely confusing 🙂

There are 3 key messages:

  1. Jeevatma and Paramatma are same
  2. Jeevatma – whatever you think is you
  3. Paramatma – everything other than me i.e universe. (Maps is a good analogy. If you see India map in the context of world, India is at the centre and others in the background. If it is a US map, US is at the centre, etc. You always think of you as the center)
  4. Jeevatma and Paramatma have a karya and kaarana relationship (cause and effect)
  5. There is nothing else other than the infinite paramatma

This shanti mantra has all the teachings of all Upanishads. This Shanti mantra is a mahavakya! All mahavakyas simply point out the unity of you and the universe.

First word is Om

– Every Upanishad talks of this. Taiteriya reference – ‘Omiti Bramha, Omitidagam Sarvam

– Om refers to Bramhan

– Mandukya Upanishad deals exclusively with Om

– You cannot separate a word from its meaning. Kalidasa’s opening shloka in Raghuvasham:



– Word and meaning are inseparable like Parvati and Paremeshwar (poetic)

– So Om and bramhan are identical

– Om is shabdaprapancham, simply put 3 syllables. Aa, uu and mmm. Aa open your mouth, uu when you say the word and mmm is when closing the mouth. Every single word uttered is bound by these 3. As Vedas were transmitted orally, we could say all Vedas are contained in Om!

– Om is sound, primordial sound. Think, sound is a form of energy. There is enough evidence that matter and energy are same, from energy came whatever you see as matter.

*Taitheriya ref – property of space is sound; power of Om, may it illumine my intelligence

Purnam adaha – that is whole

Purnam idaha – this is whole

Seems absurd but the message is if you think there are 2 separate things – this & that – you are stupid. Some people say this is the explanation of the mahavakya ‘tat tvamasi’.  There can never be two infinites. So mere notion of 2 separate infinites proves that you are the same as universe.

Purnaat purnamudachyache

kaaryakaarana relationship. Again, gold chain analogy. You can never be different from where you came from.  From that (universe) this (you) came.


One would think x – x shd be 0.

Cause determines property of effect. Gold chain example again. If name and form is removed from the chain, only gold remains, now invert and take gold out from chain, nothing remains! This is mythya. Name and form have no independent existence, gold only remains!

Purnam – think of it as complete, think of it as cause. Universe is the cause for you. You eat a banana in front of you. It is external to you until you eat it!  Once you finish it is part of you. And once it goes out, you think it is external again!  You are no different that anything around you. Whatever you think as you (this body, name, etc.) is temporary.

So to recollect: 1) Anytime you see a notion of duality, it tells you are looking at it wrong. 2) understand kaaryakaranarelationship of this universe and you 3) If name and form is removed, only root cause remains and root cause is bramhan!  Brahman is simply a word that is the root cause. Don’t get too hung up on the word – focus on the meaning.

Comparison with budhhism, shoonyavada. We don’t subscribe to that. Remember chain does exist but for a limited time, so mythya.  Adwaita says there is one real thing that exists and everything that you see is simply a manifestation of that one thing.

Poornam in this context is bramhan. Only 1 complete, can never be 2!

Simple defenition of bramhan: from taiteriya “satyamgyanamanantham”

Satyam – something that exists (literal Sanskrit meaning), opposite is mythya (something that did not exist in all there tenses i.e. past, present and future).  Think! Chain is mithya – gold is Satyam.

Gyanam – this thing. One root cause that has manifested as all this creation is a conscious thing. i.e. we can perceive it. Close your eyes, do you exist. Yes, no need of proof for your own existence. You can think and reflect.  The root cause object is a conscious entity. It can perceive itself, just like how you can perceive you. You don’t need anything else to perceive you.

Anantham – everywhere, infinite. Poornam!

Finally, 3 shantis (Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi). Why 3?

3 possible obstacles while learning.

Aadhyatmika – related to body, headache etc.

Aadi bhautika – world around us, internet down, no power, kid making noise etc

Aadi daivika – beyond immediate vicinity..earthquake, storm etc.

All these 3 distractions should not affect our learning process!

Finally reference to the tamilmantram “marathilmaraindadu….” (search up internet for the full lines)

Wooden elephant – elephant covering the wood or wood covering the elephant.