Verse 2 of Isha-UpaNiSad – A Central Concept of Eternal Dharma

The word UpaNiSad (उप नि सद) means “Sit Very Near”. It is derived from the root Sad = सद with the additions of prepositions Upa = उप and Ni = नि. The word therefore symbolizes the close relationship between the Guru and the Sishya who sits close to the Guru in a discussion of Brahman.

The various Upa-Ni-Sad are among the great texts of Eternal Dharma. The Upanisad form the first part of प्रस्थान त्रयी = Prasthan-Trayi or the three points of departure from the Ved. The other two are:

  • Brahma-Sutra or Vedanta-Sutra
  • Bhagwat-Geeta

The Isha-UpaNiSad is one of the earlier UpaNiSad texts or the Vedic group of UpaNiSad. These remained close to their Vedic roots and preserved spiritual pragmatism.

In an earlier article, we discussed the Santi-Paath or the Introductory Verse of the Isha-Upanisad. Today, we discuss the celebrated Verse 2 of this great Upanisad. 

Remember that the Bhagwat Geeta was a dialogue between Shree Krishna and Arjun.  Perhaps, as a result, the Samskrut of the Geeta is simpler to understand. The Isha-Upanisad is supposed to be discussed at length between a Guru and a Shishya. So the Verses are succinct and the Samskrut is more Vedic.

The Eternal Relevance of Verse 2 of the Isha-Upanisad

In life, everyone has to perform actions or duties that have consequences. A Soldier has to kill enemies, a businessman has to compete with others, a Governing official has to take punitive action. Often the performer of these actions ends with a guilty conscience and remorse.  But, the choice of not performing the action or the duty is often far worse in its consequences.

This was Arjun’s problem in the Bhagwat Geeta. The Bhagwat Geeta teaches us Karma-Yog:

  • Your duty is to perform Karma without attachment and to not associate ourselves with the avoidance of Karma. And if you perform Karma without attachment to the fruits of the Karma, if you perform it with Stable Buddhi, if you perform Karma with deep devotion & offer the Karma to God, then the Karma does not attach to you.
Verse 2 of the Isha-Upanisad is considered to be the foundation of the Karma-Yog taught in the Bhagwat Geeta.

We discuss it here because it is relevant and central to our next series on the MahaBharat

Verse 2 of the Isha-Upanisad

              कुर्वननेहेव कर्माणि जिजीविषेत शतः समाः
              Kuranneveha Karmani Jijivishet Shath Samaah
              In solely performing Action (Karma), You should desire to live a hundred years

              एवं त्वयि न अन्यथेतोसस्ति 
              Evam Tvayi Na Anyathetosti
              This is Your only Ordainment (Way), None Other 

              न कर्म लिप्यते नरे
              Na Karma Lipyate Nare
              Action (Karma) Will Not Attach to Man (You)

As we said, the Samskrut of the Upanisad is succinct and more difficult.

The Four Acharya (Shankar, Raamanuj, Madhav & Vallabh) have devoted many paragraphs in interpreting this Verse from their chosen framework of Eternal Dharma. These interpretations are far beyond the scope of this article. Our main interest is to link this Verse and especially the last clause to the Bhagwat Geeta.

The Bhagwat Geeta and the concept of Na Karma Lipyate Nare

Shree Krishna uses this concept to reassure Arjun on several occasions that the Action of performing War on his kin and friends will NOT attach to Arjun. This is the central corollary of the Bhagwat Geeta which applies to every Nishkaam (निष्काम) Performer of Actions.

Below we point out several verses in the Bhagwat Geeta that discuss this concept.

  • Chapter 4, Verse 14he who understands me so ( इति मां यः अभि-जानाति), himself will not be bound by the Action (कर्मभिः  न स बध्यते)
  • Chapter 4, Verse 21, Clause 4 – कर्म कुर्वन न आप्नोति किल्मिषमHe does not obtain Blame when performing Action
  • Chapter 4, Verse 41 – आत्मवन्तं न कर्माणि निबन्धंतीTo One who has obtained (understood) Atman, Actions do not bind to him
  • Chapter 5, Verse 7 – कुर्वन अपि न लिप्यतेDespite his performing (Actions), they don’t attach to him
  • Chapter 9, Verse 9 – न च माम तानि कर्माणि निबन्धंती and these Actions do not bind to me
  • Chapter 18, Verse 17Who understands He is Not the Doer (यस्य न अहम्कृतो भावो), Whose Buddhi is not attached (to desire) (बुद्धि यस्य न लिप्यते), even when He kills people (हत्वा अपि इमां  लोकान), He has Not killed  (न हन्ति) and the Action does not bind to Him (न निबध्यते)
  • Chapter 18, Verse 47Even if another’s Dharma is easier to adopt (पर-धर्मात स्व-अनुष्ठितात), It is better (more appropriate) to stay in your own Dharma despite its faults (श्रेयान स्व-धर्मो वि-गुणः); Performing Karma determined by your Sva-Bhaav (स्व-भाव नियतं कर्म कुर्वन), does not create a blemish (fault, sin) (न आप्नोति किल्मिषम)

As we shall see, this concept of Actions Do Not Attach to the Performer is central to understanding the role of Shree Krishna in the Maha-Bharat. And its foundation was laid in Verse 2 of the Isha-UpaNiSad.

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