oṃ pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idaṃ pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate. 

The invocation that begins the Iśāvāsya Upaniṣad seems a baffling equation: oṃ pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idaṃpūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate.

Pūrṇam is usually translated as full, whole, or complete.
That is full, this is full, from full comes full.
The next line says: pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya pūrṇam evāvaśiṣyate
If you take this out of that, what’s left is but full.

Full is an opposite of empty. The glass is full. My stomach is full. What a full life you have! Sorry, the flight is full. Such other equivalents as ‘whole’ and ‘complete’ also make the verse enigmatic. Full, whole and complete are quantitative words.

Therefore I think about the usages of the Sanskrit word ‘pūrṇa.’ In pūrṇimā, a word referring to the full moon, it means the moon has reached its maximum potential of visibility. ‘Pūrṇagarbha’ means pregnant, ready to bring forth. Pūrṇnakāma is one whose wishes are fulfilled, satisfied. That also makes the statement less baffling. And what can I find in English that helps me understand this description as a state of quality rather than that of quantity? Syllables ‘p’ and ‘r’ in pūrṇa come to the rescue and the word arrives at once … ‘perfect’! Hence, in my translation:

That’s perfect           Creator
This’ perfect             Creation       From perfection can only come perfection

‘Adas’ is the pronoun for ‘he’ or ‘that’ at a distance.
Idam is ‘this,’ or ‘that’ neuter gender, distance not specified.

I interpret that and this  as ‘creator’ and ‘creation.’


  1. Gargi Says:

    I am so happy and glad I found you. I am expressing myself as I understood Purna
    “Something which is complete needs no addition or subtraction, in emptiness too there can be complete emptiness, so that (rightly creator) which is complete when divided leaves behind another yet complete unit.
    It is more qualitative than quantitative.
    I am so happy to read little about your explanation of Bhaktivedanta Bhagvad Gita as it is…..as it used to baffle me when he in certain places changed the meaning and yet called it as it is, I must admit it used to pain me and I am glad you are able to open our eyes to think for our selves.

  2. manirao Says:

    Thank you, Gargi. This means a lot to me. “Complete emptiness” is so resonant and dynamic. Upon reading it first, one understands it one way, then it as if slides and corrects itself, it as to what it really means. I want to share with you something else that came to mind after reading your comment. This is an excerpt from Swami Nachiketananda Puri’s explanation of the difference between silence and vacuum. He calls vacuum “a state of inertia” contrasting with silence which a “state of activity.” How does one know if the mind is silent or just vacuous? He writes: “In silence, one can sense or judge a situation, whereas in vacuum one is completely helpless and unaware of results. Silence soothes the body and mind, goes deeper within to communicate with the soul, whereas vacuum jolts the body & mind and dances on the surface, making more noise. Silence sends very soothing and inspiring waves in the spine, whereas vacuum sends shivering waves through the spine. Therefore, it is important for one to know the difference. Silence makes us feel charged, vacuum drains our energies. Vacuum sucks, silence fills.”

  3. Gargi Says:

    Thank you for your reply, yes swami Nachiketananda words aptly describe our feeling of silence and that of vacuum, I truly had this image of silence in the words of complete emptiness.

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Mani Rao is the author of eight poetry books, and two books in translation — The Bhagavad Gita, and Kalidasa for the 21st Century Reader. Her poems and essays are published in journals including Tinfish, Wasafiri, Meanjin, Washington Square, Fulcrum, West Coast Line, and Interim, and in various anthologies.