“Through ignorance, we cross beyond mortality (change). Through knowledge, we gain immortality.”
– Isha Upanishad 11
Of course, the opening line doesn’t mean by being stupid, we reach the absolute. Ignorance is how the Sanskrit word avidya or ‘non-knowledge of reality’ is commonly translated.
We might frame this as ‘through the field of change, we pass beyond change to the changeless.’ In other words, through spiritual practices, we transcend the body-mind and discover our true nature as eternal being.
We see the field of change or relativity as ignorance when its reality is not known. We mistake the world as real in and of itself. This happens when the true source of experience is unrecognized.
Pragyaparadh is the Sanskrit word. Pragya is knowledge via the intellect. Aparadh is the mistake. So the mistake of the intellect in seeing the appearance as the reality. This leads to wrong impressions, poor choices, and suffering.
By purifying and becoming familiar with our true nature, we recognize ourselves as the unchanging. We know ourselves as eternal being, immortal in essence. This is true knowledge. The mistake is corrected.
Our life continues in the field of change. Our body comes and goes with the rest of the world. But now it’s from a deeper vantage point.
The texts describe the potential for physical immortality as well, but this would take exceptional integration and the transformation of our physical body as described in the second half of the Yoga Sutra. This is very rare in the current time.
Yet the subtle forms of many ancient sages and seers remain as alive memory in creation. They remain accessible and could be described as immortal.
Immortality thus isn’t a personal goal. The person is not what becomes enlightened or eternal. We transcend the person to find our true nature. Then, in Self Realization, we come to embody that in form. This way we live the two fullnesses. Fullness in the world of change and fullness of being.
Later, in the Unity stage, these two fullnesses become one wholeness. We know the relative world and absolute being as one. The Brahman perspective takes this a step further as a totality of being and non-being.
PS: the image reminds me of an old Vedic saying: “Knowledge in books remains in books.” True knowing comes from being, not mind-made meaning.
PSS: at the very bottom of the blog is another Isha verse shortly after the above.