Isha Upanishad

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Meaning of nameby the Lord
Date of compositionbetween c. 500 and 100 BCE
Type of UpanishadMukhya Upanishad
Associated VedaShukla Yajurveda
Number of verses17–18
Commented upon byAdi Shankara, Madhvacharya[1]
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Meaning of nameby the Lord
Date of compositionbetween c. 500 and 100 BCE
Type of UpanishadMukhya Upanishad
Associated VedaShukla Yajurveda
Number of verses17–18
Commented upon byAdi Shankara, Madhvacharya[1]
Part of a series on the
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Bṛhadāraṇyaka  · Īṣa
Taittirīya  · Kaṭha
Chāndogya · Kena
Muṇḍaka ·Māṇḍūkya ·Praśna
Other Major Upanishads
Shvetashvatara ·Kaushitaki ·Maitrayaniya

The Isha Upanishad (Devanagari: ईशोपनिषद् IAST īśopaniṣad) is one of the shortest of the Upanishads, in form more like a brief poem than a philosophical treatise, consisting of 17 or 18 verses in total. The Upanishad constitutes the final chapter (adhyāya) of the Shukla Yajurveda and survives in two versions, called Kanva (VSK) and Madhyandina (VSM).

Like other core texts of the Vedanta, it is considered revealed scripture (Śruti) by diverse traditions within Hinduism. The name of the text derives from the its incipit, īśā vāsyam, "enveloped by the Lord".

It is grouped as a "Poetic Upanishad" with Kena, Katha, Svetasvatara and Mundaka by Paul Deussen (1908).[2] Its composition dates roughly to the second half of the first millennium BCE.[3]


In the two shakhas of the Shukla Yajurveda (called the VSK and VSM) the order of verses 1–8 is the same, however VSK verses 9–14 correspond to VSM verses 12, 13, 14, 9, 10, 11. VSM 17 is a variation of VSK 15, VSK 16 is lacking in VSM, and VSK 17–18 correspond to VSM 15–16.

The verse numbers used elsewhere in this article refer to VSK: The eighteen verses IśUp 1–18 thus correspond to VSK 40.1–18.

VSK 40123456789101112131415161718
VSM 401234567812131491011(17)1516

IśUp 18, the verse present in VSK but not in VSM, is in fact a citation of a Rigvedic verse (RV 1.189.1) invoking Agni.


The Isha Upanishad is significant for its description of the nature of the "Supreme Being", exhibiting monism or a form of monotheism, referred to as Isha "Lord". It describes this being as "unembodied, omniscient, beyond reproach, without veins, pure and uncontaminated" (verse 8), one who "moves and does not move', who is 'far away, but very near as well'" and who "although fixed in His abode is swifter than the mind" (verses 4 & 5).[4]

The first verse of the text has been cited as of particular importance to Vedanta or to Hinduism as a whole. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi thought so highly of it that he remarked, "If all the Upanishads and all the other scriptures happened all of a sudden to be reduced to ashes, and if only the first verse in the Ishopanishad were left in the memory of the Hindus, Hinduism would live for ever."[5] Similarly, Swami Chinmayananda in his commentary[year needed] states "The very first stanza of this matchless Upanishad is in itself a miniature philosophical textbook. Besides being comprehensive in its enunciation of Truth, it provides a vivid exposition of the technique of realising the Truth in a language unparalleled in philosophical beauty and literary perfection. Its mantras are the briefest exposition on philosophy and each one is an exercise in contemplation."[6]

The first verse reads:

īśā vāsyam idaṃ sarvaṃ ¦ yat kiñca jagatyāṃ jagat |
tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā ¦ mā gṛdhaḥ kasya sviddhanam ||

literal translation (Ralph T.H. Griffith, 1899):

"Enveloped by the Lord must be This All — each thing that moves on earth.
With that renounced enjoy thyself. Covet no wealth of any man."

Max Müller also notes the special position of this verse. The use of "lord", as it were suggestiong personhood of the godhead, would become standard in the later Bhakti movement, but is very untypical of the mystical Vedanta school of thought, which prefers abstract concepts like Atman or Brahman. [7] The word isha "lord" is not repeated in the remainder of the text. Its occurrence in the first verse has also been adduced as evidence of the comparatively late date (within the mukhya corpus) of this text; isha as a term for "supreme deity" otherwise occurs notably in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad (c. 300 BCE), where it is used as a title of Rudra, and as a term for a monistic or panentheistic "Supreme Being" first in the Manusmṛti (after c. 200 BCE).

Swami Chinmayananda notes in his commentary that the 18 verses (VSK recension) proceed over 7 "waves of thought" with the first 3 representing 3 distinct paths of life, 4-8 pointing out the Vision of Truth, 9-14 revealing the path of worship leading to purification, 15-17 revealing the call of the Rishis for man to awaken to his own Immortal state, and verse 18 the prayer to the Lord to bless all seekers with strength to live up to the teachings of the Upanishad.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sharma, B.N.K: Philosophy of Sri Madhvacharya, page 363. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1962.
  2. ^ Deussen, Paul (1908), The philosophy of the Upanishads
  3. ^ King, Richard; Ācārya, Gauḍapāda (1995), Early Advaita Vedānta and Buddhism: the Mahāyāna context of the Gauḍapādīya-kārikā, SUNY Press, ISBN 978-0-7914-2513-8, p. 52.
  4. ^ Weber 1878:103
  5. ^ Easwaran, Eknath: The Upanishads, Translated for the Modern Reader, page 205. Nilgiri Press, 1987.
  6. ^ Chinmayananda, Swami: "Isavasya Upanishad", preface.
  7. ^ "This Upanishad, though apparently simple and intelligible, is in reality one of the most difficult to understand properly. Coming at the end of the Vâgasaneyi-samhitâ, in which the sacrifices and the hymns to be used by the officiating priests have been described, it begins by declaring that all has to be surrendered to the Lord. The name is, lord, is peculiar, as having a far more personal colouring than Âtman, Self, or Brahman, the usual names given by the Upanishads to what is the object of the highest knowledge." (p. 314)
  8. ^ Chinmayananda, "Isavasya Upanishad", pp.58-9
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