Reading the Upanishads-Part One

I thought it would be nice to read along through some scriptures and discuss the passages. I have a translation of the Upanishads done by Eknath Easwaran, a teacher whom I deeply trust and love. In this book there is an introduction before each translation with some insight from Easwaran.

Here is a link to the Amazon page for the book I have:

The first of the principle Upanishads is the Isha. “Isha” means the supreme being, so this is a scripture about the supreme being. It begins with a Vedic prayer, as each Upanishad does. The prayer opening the Isha Upanishad is known as The Perfect Prayer.

Om Purnamadah Purnamidam Purnat Purnamudachyate

Purnasya Purnamadaya Purnamevavasheshyate

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

I have always heard this translated as

That is perfect, this is perfect, perfect comes from perfect

Take perfect from perfect, the remainder is perfect

May peace and peace and peace be everywhere

Easwaran translates it as

All this is full. All that is full.

From fullness, fullness comes.

When fullness is taken from fullness,

Fullness still remains.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

When people use the phrase “well, nobody’s perfect” I think of this prayer. No, I think, everyone is perfect. I feel like this is a way of saying that everything is right with the world and all is unfolding as it is meant to. That can be hard to believe sometimes, but most of the time I see the big picture of the universe and it seems on track. What do you think? How would you interpret this prayer?


The first verse is as follows in the Easwaran translation…

The Lord is enshrined in the hearts of all.

The Lord is the supreme Reality.

Rejoice in him through renunciation.

Covet nothing. All belongs to the Lord.

 This passage seems to be about not claiming things. It can be difficult for me to draw the line between obtaining things to live and not coveting and hoarding stuff. When I read something like this, it makes me picture myself as a conduit that is completely open, things passing through from the universe to where they need to be. I try to renounce by being mindful of the needs of those around me. If I encounter someone who needs something, I try to see if there’s any way that I can provide it. The things that I have are not just for my own use, but also for the use of anyone who needs them.

It is really helpful to remember that all the stuff and all the money and all the things around me all belong to the Supreme Reality. Nothing is ever just mine.

To me that doesn’t mean not having stuff or denying yourself things. I think it’s okay to buy things and to have things, as long as one is not too attached. To me renounciation is an acknowledgment that the item ultimately belongs to the universe even while I own it and use it.

I have to be careful not to go too far into depriving myself to a point of harming myself because I feel guilty for having things. I’ve done that a lot in the past, but it is not a peaceful existence and so I do not think it is the proper way for me to interact with things. I try now to rejoice in gratitude when I have things and rejoice when I am able to give those things to others to help them. I attempt to not hold anything back for myself, but to be open to giving what I have when I see a need. That is a work in progress!


How did I do with my goal from last week? Pretty well.

I tried to put my trust in the universe and I was rewarded with some really nice experiences. I felt well cared for.

  • My lease on my apartment is up in March and I am looking to move to a new place. The exact apartment I wanted became available and I was worried there might not be one in March. I went to the new place to get more information and they looked at their records, told me that the family had put in notice but hadn’t left and the apartment wouldn’t be ready until…March. Even the staff was amazed at how perfectly smoothly I obtained the exact apartment I wanted
  • My boyfriend and I were going to a geeky gift exchange on Saturday and we still needed to get a present for it. At the grocery store the first thing I saw on the shelf was a Star Wars lego set on sale for the exact amount we were supposed to spend.

Little things like that just kept happening and it felt really nice. I didn’t have to manufacture anything, it could just come to me. I hope the same will be true as I have trust that my boyfriend will find his dream job as his current job is shutting down at the end of the month.

My goal this coming week is to find quiet moments to come into the present and just be instead of always entertaining myself with a book or iPod.

What is your goal for this week?

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Scripture Study: Bhagavad Gita, book two verses 15-18
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About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • 5w_haul
  • Jeramy

    I think focusing on perfection is a bit of a semantics game … I mean, with being nothing to compare it to, I can argue that the Universe must be perfect. Our Universe is the platonic ideal of a Universe … perhaps for no other reason then because physical constants settled out just right so that some dude named Plato was able to exist and come up with the idea of ideal things. :-D

    I certainly like the second passage from a moral point of view … the same concepts come up in Taoism. One attempts to attain “naturalness”, which is usually associated with creativity and spontaneity, by freeing oneself of selfishness and desire, and appreciating simplicity. It’s normally discussed by referring to “the uncarved block”, which represents one’s original nature, before they’re warped by culture :)

    • Ambaa

      I love that image of an uncarved block. I don’t think I’ve heard it put quite that way before!

  • indian

    in hinduism not everyone has to read & have a literal understanding of religious texts.
    every varna has its role defined. ppl of brahmin varna (knowledge pursuers-knowledge is considered spiritual) or any person with a quest for religious knowledge should also be ready to follow the strings attached(all satvic things etc) with the life of a student learning hindu text.

    If u don’t live by the lessons learnt in those books its a waste. because if u just read it just to enjoy the philosophy & to boast about it it makes no sense, in a way its an insult to the knowledge if an apatr(अपात्र) reads it because his reading or learning it from guru would be waste of time.(its like when a guy without knowledge & expertise in basic arithmetic tries to learn calculus)

    • Ambaa

      Although, I think everyone starts somewhere, so people who are first drawn to the philosophy may start finding their hearts more and more moved. :)

  • indian

    clarification of my previous comment
    “If ‘u’ don’t live by the lessons learnt in those books its a waste”
    here i use ‘u’ not to point at the blogger .more appropriate choice should have been anyone instead of u.
    “If ‘anyone’ doesn’t live by the lessons learnt in those books its a waste”

  • seeker

    I found three other translations of this:

    All this is for habitation by the Lord,
    Whatsoever is individual universe of movement in the universal motion.
    By that renounced thou shouldst enjoy; lust not after any man’s possession.

    Whatever exists in this world is to be enveloped by (the thought of) God, (the Ruler).
    By renouncing it (the world), thou shalt save (thy soul). Do not covet the riches of any one.

    The author notes that this part is addressed to
    Those who strive for knowledge of Brahma or for
    Their eternal emancipation.

    All this–whatever exists in this changing universe–should be covered by the Lord.
    Protect the Self by renunciation.
    Lust not after any man’s wealth.

    I like the line about individual universe of movement in the universal motion; it seems to point more to us as combinations of atoms within the universal field of the same atoms.