Isa Upanishad On The Importance Of Duty

Wisdom of the Upanishads

by Jayaram V

The following is an excerpt from the Book Selected Upanishads by Jayaram V

2. kurvanneveha karmani jijivisecchatam samah; evam tvayi nanyatheto'sti na karma lipyate nare.

2. Indeed by doing duty only should there be the wish to live here for a hundred years. For a human being like you, there is no existence other than this by which karma does not cling to you.

Notes: Duty is the reason why we are here. Enjoyment is not the purpose. Enjoyment belongs to the domain of God. all this manifestation is meant for His enjoyment, not ours. Our duty is to facilitate His enjoyment and make it possible through our selfless and dutiful actions. You have been assigned a role in creation and that role is to provide God with enjoyment through your mind and body by performing actions that are necessary to make that enjoyment possible. You can be part of that enjoyment if you center yourself in your soul rather than your mind and body. Those who enjoy their lives considering themselves mere physical beings, without identifying themselves with their inner souls, will become responsible for their actions and suffer from their consequences. This is the simple truth explained several times in many scriptures in various ways. This is also the central theme of the Bhagavadgita. We can take inspiration from this one verse and change our lives in such a way that we can be part of a vast existence and all the enjoyment it offers without being tainted by it.

Human beings cannot avoid their duties. Indeed, mortal or immortal, none can avoid their duties, because in creation everyone has a role and responsibility and certain obligations to fulfill, the purpose of which has already been explained. The same holds true in case of even the tiniest of creatures in the subterranean ground or the laziest of beings in the darkest hells. Today, if you go to some countries, you will find the cities, the towns and the streets filthy. It is because people do not do their part in keeping their streets and surroundings clean.

They throw garbage in the streets and public places. If everyone follows the rules and do their part, the world would be a perfect place to live. A country is rich or poor to the extent its people live responsibly doing their part in keeping it prosperous and healthy. The same holds true with regard to our existence in the world and the universe. If we live our lives responsibly, there would be order and regularity in the worlds. There would be peace, prosperity, knowledge and wisdom in every aspect of our lives.

Individually as well as collectively, we have an obligation to perform certain duties to keep the world in good order, such as educating ourselves, performing household duties, protecting our families, giving birth to children and bringing them up, helping others, serving gods and ancestors, and working for our enlightenment. These duties are obligatory, meaning you cannot avoid them, even if they are difficult to perform. They are obligatory because they have been assigned to you by God and you cannot go against His will. If you do, then you will incur karma for the sin of disobeying His command and not doing your duty. The duty is the price you pay to live here upon earth as one of the tenants in the House of God. You cannot be irresponsible when you live in His House. That is what the demons do. Hence, their worlds are always in turmoil and chaos. Our world as well as our lives becomes heavenly or hellish to the extent we perform or ignore our duties. We have a world within each of us and even that is subject to this law.

The laws or dharmas manifested by God are meant to ensure order and regularity of our minds and bodies and create balance in every aspect of our lives. Your essential duties in life are meant to bring you in harmony and balance with the world in you and in the world in which you live. Truly speaking, Karma is not a mechanism of punishment, but a way of bringing you in harmony with the universe. If your actions create confusion, disorder, fear or terror in the world, be assured that such actions will lead you to the darkest hells, because that is where you will find your harmony with the universe. A snake is safe and comfortable in its little underground hole. A scholar is comfortable in the company of enlightened minds.

Gods are comfortable in heaven, and the demons in their hells. Nature does its best to sort things out and put them in their respective categories to create balance and harmony. Thus through thoughts and actions you send out a message to the universe what you need and what suits you most and the universe willingly lends you a helping hand in getting you that. Thus, this verse rightly suggests that we should live responsibly and do our obligatory duties with renunciation and detachment so that we remain in harmony with the divine order established in the entire manifestation and with Brahman Himself.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Source: An excerpt from the book Selected Upanishads by Jayaram V. You can buy this book from here.

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