The sage whose name this upanishad bears, now speaks of his realization of Ishwara. In his exposition he will speak of Ishwara in the same manner and in the same terms that all the upanishads speak of Brahman. We should keep this in mind whenever reading of Brahman or Ishwara: what can be rightly said of Brahman can be said of Ishwara, for “they” are the same Being.
“Said the great seer Shvetashvatara: I have known, beyond all darkness, that great Person of golden effulgence. Only by knowing him does one conquer death. There is no other way of escaping the wheel of birth, death, and rebirth.
“There is nothing superior to him, nothing different from him, nothing subtler or greater than he. Alone he stands, changeless, self-luminous; he, the Great One, fills this universe.
“Though he fills the universe, he transcends it. He is untouched by its sorrow. He has no form. Those who know him become immortal. Others remain in the depths of misery” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 3:8-10).
The only point that needs comment is the statement that Ishwara “has no form.” Actually, all forms are Ishwara’s, for all things are He. What is meant here is that Ishwara has no “native” form, that His nature is absolutely formless. It also means that there is no form that confines Him, that can encompass His total Being, for no form is infinite.
“The Lord God, all-pervading and omnipresent, dwells in the heart of all beings. Full of grace, he ultimately gives liberation to all creatures by turning their faces toward himself.
“He is the innermost Self. He is the great Lord. He it is that reveals the purity within the heart by means of which he, who is pure being, may be reached. He is the ruler. He is the great Light, shining forever” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 3:11,12).
The sole purpose of this universe is the evolution and ultimate liberation of all sentient beings within it. And it is Ishwara who guides and awakens those beings. The impulse to enlightenment arises from him in cooperation with the innate impulse of each individual Self to attain conscious and total union with God. From within the depths of each one of us He reveals the possibility of enlightenment and shows us the way. That is why Patanjali says: “He is Guru even of the Ancients” (Yoga Sutras 1:26). We must ever be in attunement with this guru, and that is accomplished through meditation.
The upanishad continues: “This great Being, assuming a form of the size of a thumb, forever dwells in the heart of all creatures as their innermost Self. He can be known directly by the purified mind through spiritual discrimination. Knowing him, men become immortal” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 3:13).
“This great Being has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet. He envelops the universe. Though transcendent, he is to be meditated upon as residing in the lotus of the heart, at the center of the body, ten fingers above the navel.
“He alone is all this–what has been and what shall be. He has become the universe. Yet he remains forever changeless, and is the lord of immortality.
“His hands and feet are everywhere; his eyes and mouths are everywhere. His ears are everywhere. He pervades everything in the universe.
“Without organs of sense, yet reflecting the activities of the senses, he is the lord and ruler of all. He is the friend and refuge of all.
“He resides in the body, the city of nine gates. He sports in the world without in innumerable forms. He is the master, the ruler, of the whole world, animate and inanimate.
“He moves fast, though without feet. He grasps everything, though without hands. He sees everything, though without eyes. He hears everything, though without ears. He knows all that is, but no one knows him. He is called the Supreme, the Great One.
“Subtler than the subtlest, greater than the greatest, the Self is hidden in the heart of all creatures. Through his grace a man loses his cravings, transcends grief, and realizes him as Brahman Supreme” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 3:14-20).
There is indeed such a thing as the grace of God, the grace of Ishwara, that is the empowerment through which we attain liberation, the light that guides us to the Goal. To gain this grace is a great blessing for the seeker.
This section of the upanishad is now concluded. The great lesson to be learned is that we are depriving ourselves greatly if we think we should reject the personal, Ishwara aspect of Brahman and engage only in various non-dual affirmations, disdaining the path of the Personal God. For this upanishad assures us that it is through Ishwara that we ascend to the ultimate truth of Brahman.
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: The Prayer of Liberation