“That is full, this is full,
From that fullness comes this fullness,
If you take away this fullness from that fullness,
Only fullness remains”
Invocatory verse of Isha Upanishad
Gandhi famously declared the Isha Upanishad to be the summit of human wisdom. He said if all the scriptures in the world were lost, as long as the first verse of the Isha Upanishad remained then Hinduism would last forever.
To the rational mind devoid of spiritual experience this verse makes little sense – how can you take fullness from fullness, and for fullness to still remain? However to the one whose heart has glimpsed the Lord, the poetry reverberates and delights.
That is full, this is full…I can imagine the anonymous rishi (seer or wise person) who composed the verse pointing away from him when saying ‘that’ and pointing near him or even perhaps towards himself when saying ‘this’. That is full, this is full…We are surrounded by the infinite. That is the infinite, I am also the infinite. The infinite is everywhere, nothing is not it. Nothing is limited, everything is free and unbound, one.
In the invocation above, the sanskrit word that has been translated as ‘full’ ispurna. Purna can also be translated as complete, whole, infinite, limitless or perfect. Taking this into account, what does it mean? It means that we are already whole and complete. You are whole and complete, I am whole and complete – already. You do not have to make yourself whole. Sadhana (spiritual practice) will not make you complete – it cannot. Sadhana can only reveal the completeness that is already here.
The problem for a spiritual seeker is not that they are un-enlightened or deficient in any way. It is that they do not realise they are already enlightened and whole.
This lack of realisation of one’s true nature is called ignorance, meaning that you do not see what is already the case, you do not know your true identity as That which is already full.
This ignorance or misunderstanding of reality has been demonstrated using many metaphors in the classic texts of vedanta, such as the woman who thinks she has lost her necklace only for a look in the mirror to reveal it is on her neck. The snake on the dimly lit ground that scares the man was actually a rope all along; when revealed by the light the rope is seen and the man’s fear is abated. Or when ten men have crossed a river the group leader becomes worried when he can only count nine men on the other side. A passer-by reassures the leader: he has merely forgotten to count himself.
In all these examples, all was well the entire time, only the protagonist made a mistake. The protagonist did not need to make things well, they only needed to see things clearly. The mirror, the light and the passerby in the analogies above represent the scripture or guru that reveals the mistake and thus ends suffering.
The solution to suffering and lack is therefore not one of self-improvement in which you build your small-shallow self up into some perfect super-duper being: you are already the perfect super-duper being. In fact we are all that One Being. We just don’t see it. All we have to do is look deeply at reality as it is now and investigate it and our assumptions about it. Then we can see for ourselves that the sense of lack is based on illusion and that we are already free.
As Jesus said, “seek and ye shall find” and “the truth shall set you free”.