Reading the Upanishads: Isha Verse Sixteen

We are doing a scripture study together: reading along through some scriptures and discussing the passages. I’ve started with the Isha Upanishad.

Here are a few different translations of verse 16 of the Isha Upanishad…

16) O Nourisher, lone Traveller of the sky! Controller! O Sun, Offspring of Prajapati! Gather Your rays; withdraw Your light. I would see, through Your grace, that form of Yours which is the fairest. I am indeed He, that Purusha, who dwells there. –

16. O Pushan, the sole seer, O Controller, O Sun, offspring of Praja-pati, spread forth your rays and gather up your radiant light that I may behold you of loveliest form.
Whosoever is that person that also am I.

16. O Pushan, Sun, the sole pilgrim of solitude, Controller and absorber of all, Off spring of Prajapati; Withdraw thy rays and gather up Thy radiant brilliance. That form of Thine, Most gracious, Through Thy grace, I may behold. He, the Purush in the solar ark, I am. –

Pusanne-karse yama surya praja-patya, Vyuha rasmin samuha tejah Yatte rupam kalyana-tamam tatte pasyami Yo’sa vasau purusah so ‘ham-asmi.

Dushyant Savadia, a follower of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, has a website on which he says (and it may be a quote from Shankar) that one’s consciousness has many different aspects to it, but those must give way if we are to see our true Self. Sometimes the sharpness and brilliance of the form of your consciousness in a particular moment gets in the way of being able to see Truth, and so it needs to disseminate enough for us to see ourselves clearly.

Dr. R. K. Lahri says that the sun in its brilliance is “dazzling and deluding the seeker” and preventing him from Self-realization. He says this verse shows a seeker who is on the verge of full understanding but is held back only be the duality of thinking of him as the seer and the other as the seen. The seeker here is now ready to merge with God and so all the physical parts of the world must withdraw, including the shining of the sun. That last sentence is the realization. I am that. God and I are one.

My Take

What does it mean when it talks about gathering up and/or withdrawing light? Is it because the sun is too brilliant to behold with mortal eyes? He has to tone it down before we can look directly at him?

This verse feels strange to me, as used as I am to light being used as a metaphor for all that is good and pure. Why would taking light away be a good thing? The wise people interpreting this voice have shown another way to look at this. The dazzling direct light can obscure the truth and make something more difficult to see.

What do you think?


Verses 15 and 16

What is the Isha Upanishad?  There are hundreds of Upanishads, but ten are considered principle texts, the most important ones. This one was probably written between 1200 and 500 BCE. The word translates to “sitting down near,” which refers to a student sitting at the feet of a teacher.

Other Parts Of This Series:

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