Kireet Joshi
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Isha Upanishad

Prayer in Verse No. 18

Question: Would you like to discuss the last verse in detail?
Answer: There has been a lot of confusion in India for the last two thousand years. Our concepts have been greatly twisted. That is why this Upanishad is very important. It is very striking. It does not mince words at all. It is like a sword that cuts across all wrong notions and establishes the truth very clearly.

In the Gita, Sri Krishna says that the teachings were given earlier but they were lost. Then Sri Krishna himself gave them to Arjuna; but the teachings of the Gita have been lost again.

Let us analyse each Sanskrit word:

agnao − O Agni, O Fire; naya − lead; supathā − by the right path; rāye – to felicity, to delight; asmān − us; viśvāni vayunāni − all things that are manifested; vidwāni − the knower. Agni is supposed to be the knower of all things because it has arisen right from the inconscient. Agni has been present to build up everything. That is why Agni is also called jātavedah − one who knows all that is born. So Agni is addressed as one who knows all things which are manifested. It is that Agni who is prayed to, asking it to lead us by the right path to the felicity. yuyodhi − to fight; asmat − from us; juhurānam − attractive, tempting; enah − the sin, fight so as to remove from us the attractive sin; bhūyisthām te nama-uktim vidhema − we offer by ordered method; bhūyisthām − the best; uktim − speech; nama uktim − speech of submission; te – to you, to Thee. To Thee completest speech of submission we would dispose.

O god Agni, knowing all things that are manifested, lead us by the good path to the felicity; remove from us the devious attraction of sin. To thee the most complete speech of submission we would dispose. −18

There are three things in this prayer. One is that it is a prayer to Agni. Agni is our inner soul. It is also the spirit of the Divine Will, which is manifested in the whole universe. It is Agni, which has presided over the whole movement from the inconscient to the manifestation of the worlds; therefore, Agni has the secret of all things that are there in the world. Agni, therefore, knows both what is virtue and what is sin. It has an immediate understanding as to where exactly is the danger, where is the peril and where is the right path. Therefore, Agni is asked to lead us to the right path avoiding the path of sin. That is the second element - to go to the right path and to be liberated from the temptation of sin.

The third thing is that Agni is asked to fight for us because Agni is the warrior according to the Veda. Our inner soul is the warrior; it is the leader, the real worker, the mason who builds. So it is asked to yuyodhi – you fight so as to remove from us the devious attraction of sin and it is to that Agni namah, submission is made; but submission is made in the right order through the path of Yoga Shastra. It is Agni which knows the right process; it is like the scout in a journey, one who knows all the paths. We are the travellers and Agni is to lead us. That is why this particular prayer is to Agni.

The significance of this prayer is understood best when we realise the tangle in which we are involved. When the mind is manifested in the evolutionary process, then two advantages open up before the individual. Mind has two capacities, which are not available at the lower levels of existence. There are two other lower levels of existence -the level of the body and the level of desires and impulses i.e. life. Mind is at a higher level of development and mind has these two important capacities which are not available to body and life. One is that the mind has the capacity of self-awareness and secondly, mind has the capacity to withdraw from its own movements. It is capable of standing behind. Mind can observe itself; watch its own thoughts, movements although with difficulty. Sometimes it is not capable of it but this potentiality exists in the mind. When one is very angry then one may not be able to watch one’s anger because one becomes so much rolled up with the wave of anger that one is not able to withdraw from the movement of anger; but normally we are able to watch ourselves, we can give a good account of what is happening to our mind. Both body and life cannot give a good account of themselves.