As I discuss in this answer, each of the four Vedas consists of four portions: Samhitas, the core part of the Vedas which consist of mantras heard from the gods; Brahmanas, commentaries on the Samhitas which provide instructions on the proper conducting of important Vedic Yagnas; Aranyakas, which provide instructions for Yagnas meant for forest-dwellers and hermits; and Upanishads, which consist of conversations between teachers and students which clarify the philosophical teachings of the Vedas. But as I discuss in this question, the Isha Upanishad has a very different origin: it isn't some supplement or commentary, rather it is part of the Samhita of the Shukla Yajur Veda.

Now as I mentioned above, the mantras of the Samhitas were generally used in Vedic Yagnas (fire-rituals), in a precise fashion delineated in the Brahmanas and Aranyakas of the Vedas. But in this excerpt from his commentary on the Isha Upanishad, Adi Shankaracharya says that the mantras found in the Isha Upanishad were never used in Vedic Yagnas:

Adoration to the Brahman. The mantras beginning with Isavasyam, etc., have not been utilized in rituals, because the serve the purpose of enlightening us on the true nature of the Atman, who is not an anga of, i.e. not connected with, Karma. The true nature of the Atman consists, as will be described, in its purity being untouched by sin, oneness, being eternal, having no body, omnipresence, etc., and as that conflicts with Karma, it is only reasonable that these mantras should not be utilized in rituals[.]

I discuss the issue of knowledge of the Atma not being a supplement to Karma here. But my question is, is Adi Shankaracharya correct that the mantras of the Isha Upanishad were never used in Vedic Yagnas?

Do other commentators on the Isha Upanishad agree or disagree with Adi Shankaracharya here? If it helps, here is Madhvacharya's Dvaita commentary and here is Vedanta Desikan's Visistadvaita commentary; neither of them seem to address this issue.

Also, do any Brahmanas or Aranyakas of the Vedas reference the Isha Upanishad in their descriptions of Yagnas? The Brahmana of the Shukla Yajur Veda is the Shatapatha Brahmana, and as I discuss here it contains an Aranyaka within it, but often Brahmanas and Aranyakas from one Vedas will reference mantras found in another Vedas. So it's possible other Brahmanas and Aranyakas may reference it. Also, does anyone know if the Isha Upanishad is mentioned in Shrauta Sutras, since they compile instructions for various Vedic Yagnas?

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    Since Isha Upanishad is an Upanishad, i.e. Jnana Kanda of the Vedas, why will it ever be used for Yajnas, i.e. Karma Kanda of Vedas, even if it comes under a Samhita?
    – Surya
    Jul 27, 2016 at 8:47
  • @Surya Well yeah, usually Upanishads aren't used in Yagnas. But as far as I know, apart from the Isha Upanishad all the other mantras found in the Samhitas are used, even the philosophical-minded mantras dealing with the creation of the world and the like. It would be rather odd if these were the only 16 mantras which are never chanted in Yagnas. Jul 27, 2016 at 8:59
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    But since this is the only Samhita-related Upanishad, couldn't it just be counted as an exception?
    – Surya
    Jul 27, 2016 at 9:19
  • Besides when he has given both the statement and the reasoning, and is not contradicted by any other acharyas, why do you want to doubt Adi Shankara?
    – Surya
    Jul 27, 2016 at 14:12
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    Not sure of the point of your question, or your question is unclear. The title of your question doesn't really reflect the question you are asking at the end. Dissecting the Upanishad, verses 1 and 2 talk of why not to lust after the world. 6 verses (3-8) are meant for sannyasins, so these would not be used in Yagnas. Verse 9 says that they enter a blind darkness who are devoted to rituals - would not be used in a Yagna. 10-14 address those who blindly perform rituals - again countering Yagnas. 14-18 talk to how an aspirant dies in order to realize Brahman - not a goal of Yagnas. Jul 27, 2016 at 14:43

1 Answer 1


To which Ritual a mantra is adressed is avaliable in Anukramani of Veda in the Prakarana Part. Prakarana means dealing with rituals.

I have compiled Prakarana part of Vajasaneyi Samhita in my answer here.

And it is clear from that information that Prakarana part of 4oth chapter (ie. Isha Upanishad) is not associated with any ritual and is written as Ishavasyopanishad.

[Ritual // Chapter // Rishi ]
Ishavasyopanishad// 40 // Dadhyang Atharvan]

Thus, as it has no ritualistic purpose and Prakarana written as Ishavasyopanishad clearly shows it is not used for Karma Kanda and just used for Jnana Kanda.

  • I think the "Ishavasyopanishad" thing is something that the author of the book is just writing, not something that is found in the Sarvanukramani Sukta. The reason I say this is that the names "Ishavasya Upanishad" and "Isha Upanishad" are comparatively recent in origin. In fact generally Upanishad names are things that later people have given in order to designate the portions of Brahmana texts that are associated with Jnana. Aug 12, 2016 at 1:29
  • So for that reason I don't think what the book says is definitive evidence that the Isha Upanishad was never used in Yagnas. However if we could find the Sarvanukramani Sukta, that may be more definitive. Aug 12, 2016 at 1:30
  • @Keshav Srinivasan oh ok... that list in chapter 36 also writes Medhopanishat ... but it gives Prakarana name before it... so, the upanishat giving term might not be of recent origin...
    – Tezz
    Aug 12, 2016 at 1:32

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