ishAvAsyam idam sarvam
yat kinca jagatyAm jagat
tena tyaktena bhunjIthA
mA gRidhah kasya svid dhanam
“Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.”
One of the definitions of God is that He is the origin of everything, the original cause of all causes. Everything animate (living) and inanimate (nonliving) comes from Him. All energies emanate from Him. In the Bhagavad-gita (7.4-5) the Supreme Lord states:
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego -altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies. Besides this inferior nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine, which is all living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe.”
Since all energies emanate from the Supreme Lord, everything -both living and nonliving-is His. In this world, people are always fighting over property. They want to stake their claims of ownership on both the living and the nonliving. According to the Sri Ishopanishad, these people are like thieves fighting over stolen loot. If we look at the question from the relatively short-term view, we may find it hard to accept that no one is really an owner of anything. But if we adopt the point of view of the Sri Ishopanishad – which sees the universe not in terms of decades, centuries, or even thousands of years, but in terms of many millions of years-then we can understand this point. For example, who owns the moon? Both the Americans and the Russians, for instance, have contemplated mining the moon in order to build artificial planets called space colonies. According to the Sri Ishopanishad it is God who owns outer space, the earth, and, all living beings. A piece of God’s property may be controlled to a limited extent by a temporarily powerful man or nation, but in due course-whether over hundreds of years or hundreds of thousands of years-such men die and such nations dissolve.
The fight over God’s property causes living beings great distress. If people could only recognize the truth of this first mantra- that everything and everyone belongs to God, and that as His children all living beings have a right to the necessities of their existence -then the world would be at peace. There is enough in the world to fulfill everyone’s needs, but not enough to fulfill everyone’s greed. In some parts of the world people are dying from severe undernourishment, while in other parts of the world people are dying from obesity. By nature’s arrangement, a person can eat only a certain amount; this amount depends upon the size of his stomach, his ability to digest the food, and so on. An elephant’s quota is fixed at a hundred pounds or so of hay a day; a bird’s quota is fixed at a few seeds, or a little bit of fruit. A human being’s quota also is fixed. A man’s stomach is limited in size; thus, how much he can digest is limited. To eat more than can be digested is sinful.
Some people in the West try to get around this natural limit by artificial means. Their desire for sense gratification is so great that it drives them to all kinds of crazy actions. In order to eat as much as they desire (rather than as much as they need), they have resorted to such things as shortening the length of their intestines so that fewer nutrients are absorbed from the food that they eat, and to taking pills that keep food from being digested. One of today’s more popular methods was quite popular in ancient Rome as well-vomiting. A person eats to his fullest, induces vomiting, and then fills his belly again. Some people spend all day like this, eating and vomiting. Another way in which people take more than their quota is by accumulating vast amounts of money and property-far more than anyone could possibly use in a single lifetime. Nelson Rockefeller, for instance, was so wealthy that he had dozens of huge houses, and in each of his houses he had huge golden beds. But he had only one body, and so he could sleep only in one bed at a time, under the roof of one house at a time. Greedy, wealthy people also have huge bank accounts that contain far more money than they could ever really need. This is another manifestation of greed. Such hoarding runs directly counter to the teachings of the Sri Ishopanishad.
Why does a person claim ownership of a thing or of another person? To control it or them. And why does he want to control it? Usually because he wants to be the enjoyer of it. For example, a child claims ownership of a piece of candy so he can control it. Why does he want to control it? So he can enjoy the taste of it. He can’t enjoy the taste unless he has control over it-unless he can pick it up and put it in his mouth. To “buy” a piece of candy from a store is to transfer the ownership from the store to the customer. After a customer has paid for the candy, he is given control over it. He isn’t allowed to control it until he owns it; only then can he do with it as he pleases. If you walked into a store and started eating food off the shelves without paying for it, you might be prosecuted. You would be told you couldn’t do what you wanted with the food until you became the owner of it. The owner of something is considered its rightful enjoyer.
Seen in this light, the first mantra’s declaration that the Supreme Lord is the ultimate owner and controller also declares Him to be the ultimate rightful enjoyer of everything and everyone. Everything that exists is meant to please Him. He is the center around which everything revolves.
Unfortunately, a person who is materialistic, greedy, and self-worshipping wants to take the place of God; he sees himself as the center of the universe. He sees everything and everyone-the world, people, his family, animals, plants, the environment-as revolving around him. He sees everything and everyone as meant for his enjoyment. The world is full of such exploitative people, and they cause so many problems. If a person sees himself as the Supreme Enjoyer, he will automatically live a life of exploitation. He will not respect others or the environment, nor will he care for the well-being of others. He will lead a hedonistic life of unrestricted sense enjoyment, lording over everything and everyone. Although human in form, he will be no more than an animal who lives by the philosophy, “might makes right.” However, serious students of the Sri Ishopanishad will know these truths:
1) I am spirit soul, not matter. I am a spark of God.
2) Although my essence is non-different from God’s (i.e., spirit), I am not the Supreme Spirit. I am the dominated part and parcel of God. I am not God.
3) As a dominated part and parcel of the Supreme Spirit, my natural function is to be engaged in loving service to Him. I cannot find complete happiness in material sense gratification because I am spirit, not matter. I need spiritual food-loving service to God. Since my position is dominated-I am not the supreme controller-my natural activity is to render loving service to the Supreme Lord. To try to be the lord and enjoyer is unnatural and leads only to frustration and misery.
On a practical level, if people lived by the first mantra of the Sri Ishopanishad, the effect would be great. These enlightened people would live as caretakers, not exploiters. Since they would see everyone as God’s children, they would see the inalienable right of all God’s children to partake in God’s bounties. God’s property is rightfully meant for the well-being and sustenance of all His children. Once individuals understand this, they will not see their private property-including their own bodies -as really theirs. They will see themselves as caretakers, not owners, of God’s property. They will use what is in their possession in a manner that is consistent with the Absolute Truth of God’s ownership.
It is not that individual “ownership” of anything and everything must be, or even could be, banned. As children of God, each of us can possess His property and use it both for our own sustenance and for the welfare of our family, neighborhood, society, state, nation, and world. It is not that a theocracy of self-appointed “servants of God” should control all property. Indeed, nothing could be more dangerous and more against the meaning of the first mantra of the Sri Ishopanishad. So-called religious leaders who seek political power in order to control all properties and people deny the fact that all people are children of God, and that therefore all people have the right to possess and use His property for their sustenance and in His service. There is nothing more dangerous to real religion than fanatics who seek to lord over others by force in the name of God.
Nor is false renunciation desirable. You may say, “God owns everything, therefore I am going to give up ownership of my watch. I’ll throw it away.” But how can you give up what is not yours in the first place? It’s not possible. To say “I’m going to give away my watch” shows that you think you own the watch. Obviously you couldn’t give away the watch if it wasn’t yours. For example, if the watch belonged to your father, who merely lent it to you for a short while, you would not say, “I’m going to give up my watch.” To give up what is in one’s possession, to think “I’m going to give up all my things,” is based on the illusion of ownership. Real renunciation is different. Real renunciation means to understand that everything in your possession isn’t really yours-it is God’s. The practical application of this understanding is the change in use of one’s things. Instead of using possessions for your sense enjoyment only, if you are enlightened, you will use them for the glorification of God and the welfare of the people, who are all God’s children. An individual, a family, or a government that understands the first mantra of the Sri Ishopanishad sees itself in the role of caretaker, not owner or exploiter.