Ādi Shaṅkarācārya the great Vedantic scholar from the 8th Century said this verse was not meant for ritual, like so much of the Vedas but that its purpose was to reveal the light of awareness as the nature of true Self or Atman. The Isha in the title of this Upanishad means Lord of whose root ish means to reign, rule or have power, as in the word ishavara or personal god. This Isha is All: it is pūrṇam, it was written to be complete and pervade all of creation like saltwater pervades the oceans or heat pervades a metal ball when heated by fire. The Sanskrit word pūrṇa also means circle, a shape that is without beginning or end and is complete in and of itself. ○
Pūrṇam is Adah or That, the source of creation and our physical universe. Pūrṇam is Idam or This – equally as our physical body together with our consciousness. Both are part of everything that moves and breathes together on Earth. Pūrṇam is the sum of This and That and It alone represents this vast knowable totality.
The beloved western bhakta and psychologist Ram Dass once said, “Treat everyone you meet like they are God in drag”. It was his humorous way to say things are not always as what they appear to be. That we should be ready to see the Good/God in others, even when they, or those appearances and situations are not according to how we would expect them to be.
If we renounce finite-nes we become infinite. When a reporter challenged Gandhi-ji to sum up his philosophy in three words, inspired by the Isha Upanishad, he said “renounce and enjoy.” Only when we renounce all worldly fruits and the results of short-sighted gain and pleasure can we truly enjoy the atman as a living state of pūrṇam. If we renounce a conditioned microscopic state this invocation invites us to experience and enjoy the power of pūrṇam as oneness with all of existence.
If we could peer beyond ordinary appearances with yogic vision we could start to see how the macrocosm and microcosm weave together, where the individual self and the cosmic soul touch. To experience this kind of vision Patanjali says we can practice and cultivate yogic skills of discrimination (viveka) and reason (vichāra) we might also begin to ask ourselves – what actually limits our experience and our existence?
What separates us from the connection to pūrṇam? Do we see ourselves very differently from those that we meet? Anger or jealousy and fear are based on this deep seated misunderstanding of underlying wholeness. When we treat others poorly, or even worse causing them direct or indirect suffering – this is just one result of forgetting. We can also observe how our increasingly contracted and fractured societies have a dramatic and adverse affect on our entire planet.
On a spiritual and material level we stuff our larger selves into a false and fragile shell of mis-identification. The practice is meant to shake us up and wake us up. It should not be practiced as idolism or theater or vivid imaginings. Rather, this verse invites us to practice yoga as a science of Self-discovery, it encourages us to use our practice like a telescope –to ultimately reveal ourselves to our own true Nature. We do not necessarily need to go to India to find this but we can begin to transform ourselves from what we have right here close by. Sharon writes that even when we sit down to eat, within our own daily microcosm we can have a huge impact on the lives of others and the macrocosm as a whole.
The practices of yoga are simultaneously an ancient and contemporary antidote to the great poison of forgetfulness. It can be as simple as bringing our attention to our breath or becoming more receptive to the awareness in our body and soul. It could also reflect back on us how willing we are to connect to pūrṇam? How willing we are to protect and preserve wholeness as a loving attitude. In yoga asana we can start to experience ourselves as an extension of the Earth, establishing and generating increased states of harmony and balance.
As we put pūrṇam into focus, we can even start to see how even our perceived weaknesses or shortcomings can be transformed into greater and greater strength. What is our least favorite asana could become our favorite if we “shift our perception” and show up for our practice and not only in the largest sense but even in the smallest details and patterns that can ripple through our daily lives. Doing this for ourselves can give us confidence, and help us make positive changes that broaden our outlook and perception.
Then there is nothing that is not pūrṇam. Even empty space or śūnya (emptiness) is said to be whole, even our calamities and forgetfulness could become meaningful and propel us towards liberation if we can bring them into the light of pūrṇam.
Life is enough, it is neither too small nor too big. It could be comforting to feel that nothing can ever be truly broken or lost from pūrṇam. That we always have another chance to re-connect, and as Sharon and David often say re-member to serve all beings as pūrṇam. This can lead us from diversity to inclusion with an invitation to celebrate difference and creativity and open up a window to show us our unique place here- right now.