The razor’s edge according to the Ishavasya Upanishad. Part I

The Ishavasya Upanishad consists of only eighteen verses, yet contains sublime and practical teachings. It clearly points out the importance – in fact the necessity – of performing one’s duties. It emphasizes that one must live in the external as well as the internal world.

One without the other leads to delusion and away from the path to higher knowledge. Many people who have spiritual aspiration are faced with a dilemma: whether to live in the world of action, or to only practise meditational techniques. The Ishavasya Upanishad gives a clear answer. It says that one must do both simultaneously. One must be both extroverted and introverted. One must supplement and express one’s inner experience with outer actions. This is stated in no uncertain terms as follows:

“Those who follow the path of action alone will surely enter the blinding darkness of ignorance. Furthermore, those who retreat from the world in order to seek knowledge through constant practice of meditative techniques, similarly remain in the quagmire of ignorance.” (verse 9). This is like the razor’s edge: there must be a balance between excessive worldly interest and activity, and over-introspection.

One must try to integrate the paths of extroversion and introversion. If you consider great yogis, saints and sages through history, you will realize that they all expressed themselves in the outside world. Even though they experienced and probably lived permanently in the infinity of enlightenment, they still continued to express themselves in the outer world. This applies to Buddha, Christ and many other people.

It applies to Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda and so on. They taught their disciples, they travelled giving sermons and tried to help people who sought their guidance. Each of these illumined people continued to act and express themselves in the outside world according to the natural dictates of his mind-body (dharma). Some became hermits; others worked ceaselessly for the general welfare of fellow humans, such as Swami Sivananda and Mahatma Gandhi. None of them became a human vegetable. This does not only apply to those who live in and know the highest states of illumination – it also applies to you. You too must strike a balance between external action and introspection.

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