Keep far from us crooked evil, and we shall offer thee the fullest praise! (Rv. I, 189, 1.)
This Upanishad, though apparently simple and intelligible, is in reality one of the most difficult to understand properly. Coming at the end of the Vâgasaneyi-samhitâ, in which the sacrifices and the hymns to be used by the officiating priests have been described, it begins by declaring that all has to be surrendered to the Lord. The name îs, lord, is peculiar, as having a far more personal colouring than Âtman, Self, or Brahman, the usual names given by the Upanishads to what is the object of the highest knowledge.
Next follows a permission to continue the performance of sacrifices, provided that all desires have been surrendered. And here occurs our first difficulty, which has perplexed ancient as well as modern commentators.
I shall try, first of all, to justify my own translation. I hold that the Upanishad wishes to teach the uselessness by themselves of all good works, whether we call them sacrificial, legal, or moral, and yet, at the same time, to recognise, if not the necessity, at least the harmlessness of good works, provided they are performed without any selfish motives, without any desire of reward, but simply as a preparation for higher knowledge, as a means, in fact, of subduing all passions, and producing that serenity of mind without which man is incapable of receiving the highest knowledge. From that point of view the Upanishad may well say, Let a man wish to live here his appointed time, let him even perform all works. If only he knows that all must be surrendered to the Lord, then the work done by him will not cling to him. It will not work on and produce effect after effect, nor will it involve him in a succession of new births in which to enjoy the reward of his works, but it will leave him free to enjoy the blessings of the highest knowledge. It will have served as a preparation for that higher knowledge which the Upanishad imparts, and which secures freedom from further births.
The expression "na karma lipyate nare" seems to me to admit of this one explanation only, viz. that work done does not cling to man, provided he has acquired the highest knowledge. Similar expressions occur again and again. Lip was, no doubt, used originally of evil deeds which became, as it were, engrained in man; but afterwards of all work, even of good work, if done with a desire of reward. The doctrine of the Upanishads is throughout that orthodoxy and sacrifice can procure a limited beatitude only,