Among the vast ancient Sanskrit writings known as the Vedas, the 108 Upaniṣads contain the philosophical essence. And among all the Upaniṣads, the Īśopaniṣad is considered the foremost. In the following essay, based on talks Śrīla Prabhupāda gave on the Īśopaniṣad in 1968, we learn the truth about the Supreme Lord, the laws governing His material and spiritual energies, and how to break free of the bondage of karma.
The Īśopaniṣad states that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is “perfect and complete.” Part of the Lord’s complete arrangement for this material world is his process of creation, maintenance, and destruction. Every living being in this material world has a fixed schedule of six changes: birth, growth, maintenance, the production of by-products, diminution, and destruction. This is the law of material nature. A flower is born as a bud. It grows, remains fresh for two or three days, produces a seed, gradually withers, and then is finished. You cannot stop this by your so-called material science. To try to do so is avidyā, ignorance.
Sometimes people foolishly think that by scientific advancement man will become immortal. This is nonsense. You cannot stop the material laws. Therefore in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.14) Lord Kṛṣṇa says that the material energy is duratyayā, impossible to overcome by material means.
Material nature consists of three modes, or guṇas: sattva-guṇa, rajo-guṇa, and tamo-guṇa, or the modes of goodness, passion, and ignorance. Another meaning of guṇa is “rope.” Rope is made by twisting fiber in a threefold process. First the fiber is twisted in three small strands, then three of them are twisted together, then again three of those are twisted together. In this way the rope becomes very strong. Similarly, the three modes of nature—goodness, passion, and ignorance—are mixed, after which they produce some by-product. Then they are mixed again, and then again. Thus they are “twisted together” innumerable times.
In this way the material energy binds you more and more. By your own efforts you cannot get out of this bondage, which is known as pavarga. Pa-varga is the fifth set of letters in the Sanskrit Devanāgarī alphabet. It contains the letters pa, pha, ba, bha, and ma. Pa stands for pariśrama, “hard labour.” Every living entity in this world is struggling very hard to maintain himself and survive. This is called the hard struggle for existence. Pha stands for phena, “foam.” When a horse works very hard, foam comes out of its mouth. Similarly, when we are tired from working very hard, our tongue may become dry and some foam forms in our mouth. Everyone is working very hard for sense gratification—so much so that foam is coming from their mouth. Ba represents bandha, “bondage.” In spite of all our efforts, we remain bound up by the ropes of the material modes of nature. Bha stands for bhaya, “fear.” In material life, one is always in a blazing fire of fear, since no one knows what will happen next. And ma represents mṛtyu, “death.” All our hopes and plans for happiness and security in this world are ended by death.
So, Kṛṣṇa consciousness nullifies this pavarga process. In other words, by taking to Kṛṣṇa consciousness one attains apavarga, where there is no hard struggle for existence and no material bondage, fear, or death. Pavarga symptomizes this material world, but when you add the prefix “a” to pavarga, that means it is nullified. Our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is the path of apavarga.
Unfortunately, people do not know of these things, and therefore they are wasting their lives. This modern civilization is a soul-killing civilization; people are killing themselves because they do not know what real life is. They are simply living like animals. The animal does not know what life is, so he simply works under the laws of nature, undergoing gradual evolution. But when you get this human form of life, you have a responsibility to live in a different way. Here is a chance for you to become Kṛṣṇa conscious and solve all problems. But if you don’t—if you continue to act like animals—you will again have to enter the cycle of birth and death and transmigrate through 8,400,000 species of life. It will take many, many millions of years to come back to the human form of life. For example, the sunshine you are seeing now you will not see again until after twenty-four hours. Everything in nature moves in a cycle. So if you lose this opportunity of elevating yourself, then again you must enter the cycle of transmigration. Nature’s law is very strong. Therefore we are opening so many centres so that people may take advantage of this International Society for Krishna Consciousness and elevate themselves.
It is important to take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness immediately, because we do not know how much time is left before death. When your time in this body expires, no one can stop your death. The arrangement of material nature is so strong. You cannot say, “Let me remain.” Actually, people sometimes request like that. When I was in Allahabad, an old friend who was very rich was dying. At that time he begged the doctor, “Can’t you give me at least four more years to live? I have some plans which I could not finish.” You see. This is foolishness. Everyone thinks, “Oh, I have to do this. I have to do that.” No. Neither the doctors nor the scientists can check death: “Oh, no, sir. Not four years, not even four minutes. You have to go immediately.” This is the law. So before that moment comes, one should be very careful to become realized in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. You should realize Kṛṣṇa consciousness very quickly. Before your next death comes, you must finish your business. That is intelligence. Otherwise you will suffer defeat.
The Īśopaniṣad states that whatever emanates from the complete whole—the Supreme Lord—is also complete in itself. Therefore if you want to take advantage of your life and become Kṛṣṇa conscious, there is complete facility. But you have to come to the point of taking up the practice. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is not theoretical; it is practical. All experiments have already been performed. So, as indicated in the Īśopaniṣad, there is a complete facility for the small complete units—ourselves—to realize the supreme complete, Kṛṣṇa. We are complete units, but we are small. For example, in a big machine there is a small screw, and the perfection of that small screw is to be fitted in its proper place. Then it has value. But if it becomes unscrewed from the machine and falls down on the floor, it has no value. Similarly, we are perfect as long as we are attached to Kṛṣṇa; otherwise we are useless.
To realize the complete means to realize what our relationship with the complete is. And all forms of incompleteness are experienced only on account of incomplete knowledge of the complete. We are thinking, “I am equal to God. I am God.” This is incomplete knowledge. But if you know, “I am part and parcel of God, and therefore I am equal to God in quality,” that is complete knowledge. The human form of life is a chance to revive the complete manifestation of the consciousness of the living being. You can revive this complete consciousness by the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. But if you don’t take advantage of this complete facility, you are killing yourself, committing suicide. As it is said in the Īśopaniṣad, “The killer of the soul, whoever he may be, must enter into the planets known as the worlds of the faithless, full of darkness and ignorance. ” So don’t be the killer of your soul. Utilize the complete facility of your human life to become Kṛṣṇa conscious. That is your only business.