Sri Isopanisad, that seemingly small book, decorated with Lord Kesava on the cover, benignly smiling back at any potential reader. In reality there is nothing small about this sastra, except maybe for its printed size. For me, a recent student of Sri Isopanisad, the book has steadily increased in size, matured you might say, especially in its importance as an authoritative scripture on the subject of the true nature of the living entity, the jiva soul.
In the course of my study of this vedic Upanisad, I have several times found myself mystified by its ability to unlock, never before seen vaults of the heart, revealing particles of perceptions into true reality, and thus consequently ushering in a desire to know more and become increasingly active in uncovering life's true treasure, the jivas eternal relationship with the Supreme Lord, as a servant of Sri Krishna.
Now, immediately an obstacle presents itself: Material conditioning. That oh, so regrettable desire to enter the mundane realm of relativity, seeking self-appointed lordship over dull matter and bodies, with its adherent gratification of the mind and senses. A jiva thus covered by the identification manifested from such indulgements, sinks into the deepest forgetfulness of its spiritual origin and devotional heritage. In this state of false ego, eons pass like the waves of the fathomless ocean, ending seemingly in eternity with the bondage of repeated birth and death in the cycle of species of life.
In all honesty, I am such a jiva. This is my realisation. I made this choice. This is my relative reality. Therefore, this essay aims at the process of rediscovering my true nature as a citizen of the spiritual world, the jivas eternal home. And this book, Sri Isopanisad, shall be my companion and guide, mostly on account of its authoritative presentation by the great hero of the modern day gaudya vaishnava line, Srila Prabhupada. His dictated voice, recorded in these pages, his self-proclaimed "written kirtans" (letter to Rupanuga, 19.10.1974), is that valuable map, where x marks the spot of the treasure buried within. That treasure of the heart, dormant and neglected since time immemorial, yet still completely tangible and real.
This verdict of the Sri Isopanisad, on the subject matter of the origin of the jiva, is brought to the attention of the reader in the very invocation mantra of this book, purnat purnam udacyate. The jiva is an emanation of the Complete and Perfect Lord, and is itself a complete unit, free in all respects to experience its completeness in its devotional relationship with the Lord. This is big news offered to any fortunate reader of this sastra, indeed to the world. Personally, I find shelter in these statements of eternal truths. The weary obligations of mundane society and all taxing relations, pertaining mostly to the body only, fade away in the background as unimportant. What a relief. In my heart this is a great source of rejoicing. To know of the existence of that Complete Source, Who remains unaffected as the balance, no matter what happens on the level of relative reality. And I am connected to Him. He is that loving father, with Whom there is always shelter, where there is never any embarrassment. He is that intimate friend, knowing our hearts, to whom we need not express always, that troubled feeling, or acking longing, for He knows. That eternal Guide is He, knower of past, present and future, unimaginable in potency, seeing the universe as building blocks and our bodies as temporal yantras, machines for acting out His great play for the benefit of all. The benefit for all. Even for me.
In this way, Sri Isopanisad gives great solace to any wayward jiva, somehow stuck in the material world of mind and misunderstood ego. And our dear Srila Prabhupada, by his great mercy for these conditioned souls, has that heart-warming ability to put into words the Lords mood and desire. “Factually, no one has to do anything more than to render devotional service to the Lord.” (Mantra 2, purport.) The simplicity of this statement is bordering comedy, yet I find a deep and solemn meditation, concealed underneath the surface. Solemn and grave, not because of its depressing expression, no. Solemn is the message of the spiritual world, for so much time is wasted here in the relative. Like a fish in the net of the fisherman struggles to free itself, not knowing that it is only entwined further and further in the masks of death by its vigorous attempts at escape, ending up in a state of suspended animation in the end, with room only, maybe, for occasional breaths, and then death. This is the gravity of the message expounded in Sri Isopanisad. Atma hanas, those asuric, beast like beings, hands drenched in karmic blood from countless attempts at the very life of the soul, proclaiming great advancement and deep learning, only sink down into the dominion of perpetual, heinous suffering and intolerable existence, how lost they are in themselves. What great need is there not for this message of Sri Isopanisad? I have seen myself sliding down this same shaft, destination unknown, but in prospect ultimate depression and waste of living energy, with suffering and death in the ultimate end. I refuse this lot. I will choose that other way. I will take heed of this message.
As a result of this, and by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada, I engage in the devotional service of the Lord, first of all by hearing and chanting the names, pastimes and glories of the Lord. In actuality, this is the true quota of the living entity. And in accordance with the isavasya principle (mantra one), I will make proper use of this quota. I will, with whatever submission and thankfulness I can muster, take advantage of this opportunity of the human form of life, so rare, in the evolution of different life forms, so very rare, and its facilities to engage in self-realisation, so rare. It cannot be missed.
Yet before the mind can begin its campaign of anxiety and stress, that chocking grip around the throat of all good sense and inspiration: “You’ll never make it! Only fools engage in such a utopian striving, uphill climb for a goal only indicated on the farthest of horizons”, there is a benediction given. Srila Prabhupada mentions it in one of his purports (mantra 3), that those who sincerely try, yet cannot complete, this process of rediscovery of our relationship with the Supreme Lord, this spiritual treasure hunt for life’s true meaning, are not condemned with failure. What great fortune! All progress achieved is carefully recorded and preserved, and the next birth of such a “half-selfrealized man” is one given a “better chance for culturing self-realization on account of their sincere efforts”.
This gives rise to great optimism in my heart. This magnanimous attitude of the spiritual realm instils faith in this process. I can only pray that I will preserver and keep afloat in this ever agitated ocean of miseries, the material world.
In conclusion, looking back down the path I have already trodden, I can faintly recognise a pattern of events and experiences throughout my life, this one life. I see the protective hand of my Lord and His endearing associates always watching over me, invisible to my conditioned sight at times, incomprehensible to my material mind, inconceivable to the logic of my relative intellect, yet always there. Never alone am I, for my soul has a connection with the Complete Whole. I can only follow in the footstep of the mahabhagavata devotee, petitioning the Lord through an astounding set of prayers in the last mantras of Sri Isopanisad. The concluding prayer in its opening phrase, in particular, draws my attention, naya supatha, “please lead me on the right path to reach You”. This is that causeless mercy of the Lord, which is my only beacon of hope, His ever kind intervention in my life, be it guidance from within the heart, authoritative instructions and descriptions in sastra to rekindle my desire for approaching Him or as the spiritual master and the vaishnavas. I can only maintain a spiritual hope of such a reciprocation from the Lord, however I must admit that this hope is not without foundation, according to Sri Isoapanisad. Srila Prabhupada comforts all lamentations and feelings of inadequateness, on the part of any conditioned living entity in the very introduction to his publications of this Sri Isopanisad: “ … if you want to search out Krishna by studying the Vedic literature, then you will be baffled. … But you can very easily learn about Him from His devotees. … His devotee can deliver him to you. That is the potency of Krishna’s devotee.” Of course, Srila Prabhupada is himself that devotee, giving the Lord freely to all who seek out their relation with Him, through this, and many other of his books.
This study of Sri Isopanisad, this real life treasure hunt, although performed by a conditioned living entity, a fallen jiva, like myself, has at least produced one ting, which I can directly experience. I have increased my desire to engage in the devotional process, especially to invest increasingly more of my heart into the service of my spiritual master. This I consider a great success.