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Isha Upanishad

Updated: Mar 2

I was attracted to this chant when I heard it on Spotify some time ago. When I hear a chant that speaks to me, I like to take time to find the lyrics, both in a transliteration (the words written in letters so that we might hope to imitate the sounds), and a translation so that I can begin to grasp the meaning. I then find some sheet music and get out the harmonium. To explore even deeper. This is one chant that I have made my own in this way. I carry it around in my heart and it sing it often (but not generally in public).

In tribute to this verse, Mahatma Gandhi said,

If all the Upanishads and all the other scriptures happened all of a sudden to be reduced to ashes and if only the first verse were left in the memory of the Hindus, Hinduism would life forever.

The transliteration:


Purnamadah Purnamidam

Purnat Purnamudachyate

Purnasya Purnamadaya

Purnameva Vashishyate

Om shanti, shanti, shanti

There are many translations of this verse, each with a different slant on the vast meaning. It is said that in some sense, a complete explanation of the nature of Reality and the entire wisdom of the path of Self-Realization is contained in this short summary. Here are several translations:

Om. That is infinite, this is infinite; From That infinite this infinite comes. From That infinite, this infinite removed or added; Infinite remains infinite. Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!

Om. That is the whole, this is the whole; from the whole, the whole becomes manifest; taking away the whole from the whole, the whole remains. Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!

Om. That is perfect, This is perfect. When perfection is taken from the perfect, Perfect alone remains. Om, peace, peace, peace


The Isha Upanishad (Translation by Eknath Easwaran)

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. Thus working may you live a hundred years. Thus, alone will you work in real freedom. Those who deny the Self are born again Blind to the Self, enveloped in darkness, Utterly devoid of love for the Lord.

The Self is one. Ever still, the Self is Swifter than thought, swifter than the senses. Though motionless, he outruns all pursuit. Without the Self, never could life exist.

The Self seems to move, but is ever still. He seems far away, but is ever near. He is within all, and he transcends all.

Those who see all creatures in themselves And themselves in all creatures know no fear. Those who see all creatures in themselves And themselves in all creatures know no grief. How can the multiplicity of life Delude the one who sees its Unity?

The Self is everywhere. Bright is the Self, Indivisible, untouched by sin, wide, Immanent and transcendent. He it is Who holds the cosmos together.

In dark night live those for whom The world without alone is real; in night Darker still, for whom the world within Alone is real. The first leads to a life Of action, the second to a life of meditation. But those who combine action with meditation Cross the sea of death through action And enter into immortality Through the practice of meditation. So have we heard from the wise.

In dark night live those for whom the Lord Is transcendent only; in night darker still, For whom he is immanent only. But for those for whom he is transcendent And immanent cross the sea of death With immanent and enter into Immortality with the transcendent. So have we heard from the wise.

The face of truth is hidden by your orb Of gold, O sun. May you remove your orb So that I, who adore the true, may see The glory of truth. O nourishing sun, Solitary traveler, controller, Source of life for all creatures, spread your light And subdue your dazzling splendor So that I may see your blessed Self. Even that very Self am I!

May my life merge in the Immortal When my body is reduced to ashes. O mind, meditate on the eternal Brahman. Remember the deeds of the past. Remember, O mind, remember.

O god of fire, lead us by the good path To enteral joy. You know all our deeds. Deliver us from evil, we who bow And pray again and again.

Om shanti, shanti, shanti


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