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Protecting the Self Through Renunciation

The first mantra of the Isha Upanishad beautifully enlightens us in this line – protecting the self through renunciation. After instructing the aspirant to ‘envelop everything sentient and insentient with God’, the Upanishad reiterates, ‘protect the Self through that renunciation’. This appears to be a highly paradoxical statement to a layperson, for, the question immediately crops up: ‘How can one protect the Self and renounce simultaneously?’

Acharya Shankara clarified this riddle in his commentary on this mantra. He said: ‘It means through detachment (and not abandonment); for, a son or a servant, when abandoned or dead, does not protect one since they have no connection with oneself ’. The Self, the Atman, has to be nourished and protected at the cost of all other worldly enjoyments.

If you want to get a higher or more precious thing, you must be ready to sacrifice the lower and cheap objects of enjoyment. Leave one to get the other. When a small child holds fast to her or his bosom a bauble or a toy of no value, ascribing a high significance to it, what adults do is to assure the child of a better stuff. The child then leaves aside the toys on one’s own. In the same vein, when the soul is assured of a more sublime enjoyment it will naturally throw away the mundane pleasures.

Meditation often gives rise to a false vanity. It so happens only when meditation is practised as a technique for relaxation and with the idea of exclusiveness. In striking contrast, realisation is a unique experience of comprehensiveness. There is nothing wherein God is not. ‘Whose presence makes even this inert world bubble with life like the enlivening of a rope into a snake in illusion’, goes a Sanskrit psalm.