Principles of the
Sri Isopanisad -- from the collection Vedic Wisdom

by Swami Bhakti Aloka Paramadvaiti

anyad evahur vidyaya
anyad ahur avidyaya
iti susruma dhiranam
ye nas tad vicacaksire

“The wise have explained that from the cultivation of knowledge one result is derived, and that from the cultivation of ignorance a different result is derived.”

In the third chapter of the Bhagavad Gita (13.8 – 13.12), the cultivation of knowledge is recommended in the following way:

1. Become a perfect gentleman and learn to properly respect all living beings.

2. Do not become religious only to achieve name and fame.

3. Do not become a source of anxiety for others due to your bodily actions, from the thoughts in your mind, or with your words.

4. Be tolerant, even under provocation.

5. Learn to avoid duplicity in your dealing with the world.

6. Find a genuine spiritual master who can put you on the right path towards spiritual illumination, surrender to him in a submissive manner, offer him service and, when necessary, ask pertinent questions.

7. Follow the regulative principles demanded in the revealed Scriptures, in order to facilitate your entry to the platform of self-realisation.

8. Establish yourself in the given principles of the revealed Scriptures.

9. Completely avoid practices that are detrimental to the interests of self-realisation.

10. Do not accept more than is necessary for the maintenance of the body.

11. Do not falsely identify yourself with the body; do not consider it yours, nor those who are related to your body.

12. Always remember that whilst in a material body one must affront repeated birth, old age, disease and death. It is of no use making plans to alleviate such suffering. The best route is to find a way to arrive at one’s spiritual identity.

13. Do not become attached to unnecessary things in order to advance spiritually.

14. Do not become attached to one’s spouse, children, or to one’s home more than the Scriptures recommend as entirely necessary.

15. Do not feel happy or sad for the desirable or undesirable things that arise in the mind.

16. Become a pure devotee of the Supreme Person, Sri Krishna, and serve Him with profound attention.

17. Develop a taste to live in a place with a peaceful, tranquil atmosphere; which is favourable for spiritual life. Avoid congested places where non-devotional people reside.

18. Become a true scientist and philosopher and develop studies about spiritual knowledge; showing the permanence of spiritual knowledge compared to the temporary nature of material knowledge.

The above eighteen points combined, via a gradual process, help in the formation of true knowledge. Without these, all other methods fall under the category of darkness. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, a great spiritual leader and guide, stated that all types of material knowledge are only external aspects of the illusory energy; and that to diligently and exclusively cultivate them, renders one in the category as an ass.

Some materialistic politicians condemn today’s civilisation as perverse. But, unfortunately, they do not cultivate true knowledge, like that described in the Bhagavad Gita. As such, they are incapable of changing the perverse situation.

In the modern world, due to false education in the universities, students give anxiety to their elders. Even children do not respect their elders. Because of this, the Sri Isopanisad emphatically warned that cultivation of ignorance brings different results to that of true knowledge. The universities are centres of ignorance, bringing forward a science that cultivates knowledge to be used in the mass exploitation of the planet or the creation of weapons of mass destruction, as examples.

University students are not imbibed in self-regulatory principles, such as celibacy, or in any aspect about true spiritual life. The teachings of the main religions are lost in the search of name and fame, and are not brought into true practice. Due to this, discord exists, not only in political and social fields, but also in religion.

Nationalism is one result of ignorance that often appears in different parts of the world. If we realise that the world is only a mass of material, amongst others, floating in an unlimited space; it is comparable to specks of dust floating in the air. Such masses of material are totally equipped to float in space, due to the fact that God has so kindly made the universe complete in itself. Astronauts in their space ships may be so proud of society’s accomplishments; but do they take into account the Supreme guide driving these great space ships called planets?

There exists innumerable suns and planetary systems; they being infinitesimal parts of the Supreme Lord. We, the diminutive creatures, are trying to dominate one of these unlimited planets. Due to this, we are born and die repeatedly, and become frustrated due to disease and old age. Due to the cultivation of ignorance, foolish people in the relatively short time that they exist, create their own nations within these planets in order to efficiently exploit the resources found for their sensual enjoyment. In their foolish ways, they ensure a humanly-designed demarcation of these countries. In natural terms, this is somewhat ridiculous. In this way, all nations become a source of anxiety for other nations. More than 50% of a nation’s wealth is wasted in ensuring and defending this artificial demarcation. And in the mean time, almost nobody cultivates true spiritual knowledge. But despite this, people become so falsely proud of their small-minded, relative knowledge of material affairs.

The Sri Isopanisad warns us about this defective education; and the Bhagavad Gita further instructs us on how to acquire true knowledge. In this way, the saintly Scriptures guide to us real knowledge (vidya) that is not affected by material illusion. It is not possible to be unperturbed by material affairs unless one is absorbed in perfect spiritual knowledge: thereby one neither hankers nor laments for anything mundane.

He, who is truly sober (dhira), understands that the mind and body are casually acquired in associating with the material world; and are actually foreign elements compared to the real Self. Consequently, they should be given the best use of a “bad” bargain in the search for spiritual realisation.

The living being has its true existence in the spiritual realm; this material world is dead in comparison. Whilst the living spiritual sparks manipulate the mass of material energy, there appears to be life in a mostly dead world. In reality, it is these spiritual sparks of life, the parts of the Supreme Living Being, which move the world. The dhira, the sober spiritualists, have come to understand all these truths, having heard them from superior authorities. They come to realise this through spiritual practices based on following regulative principles in life.

To be enabled to follow such regulative principles one must seek refuge in a genuine spiritual master. The transcendental message and the regulative principles descend from the spiritual master to the disciple. This knowledge can not simply be acquired in the adventurous, speculative way of the school of ignorance. It is only through submissively hearing the messages about the Personality of God that one can come to be dhira, truly sober in life. The perfect disciple should be like Arjuna; and the spiritual master should be qualitively equal to the Supreme Lord. This is the process to learn vidya (knowledge) by the dhira, the unperturbed.

The adhira, he who is not dhira, can not become an instructing leader on spiritual matters. Thus modern politicians, who portray to be true leaders, are really adhira; nobody can really expect to get true knowledge from them. They are really only interested in name, fame, and how to cream of the wealth of the state. Therefore, how can it be possible for them to lead the masses to material success, and, even less, to the correct path of spiritual realisation, even if they recognise that it exists? That is why one must submissively hear from the dhira to obtain true knowledge.

Translation by Gopananda das