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Prasna Upanishad

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Om! O gods, may we hear auspicious words with the ears;
While engaged in sacrifices,
May we see auspicious things with the eyes;
While praising the gods with steady limbs,
May we enjoy a life that is beneficial to the gods.
May Indra of ancient fame be auspicious to us;
May the supremely rich (or all-knowing) Pusa (god of the earth)
Be propitious to us;
May Garuda, the destroyer of evil,
Be well disposed towards us;
May Brihaspati ensure our welfare.
Om! Peace! Peace! Peace!

Chapter 1

I-1: Sukesa, son of Bharadvaja; Satyakama, son of Sibi; the grandson of Surya, born of the family of Garga; Kausalya, so of Asvala; a scion of the line of Bhrigu, born in Vidarbha; and Kabandhi, descendant of Katya - all these, who were devoted to (the inferior) Brahman, engaged in realising (the inferior) Brahman, and intent on a search of the supreme Brahman, approached with faggots in hand, the venerable Pippalada with the belief, "This one will certainly tell us all about It."

I-2: To them the seer said, "Live (here) again for a year in a fitting manner, with control over the senses and with brahmacharya and faith. Then put questions as you please. If we know, we shall explain all your questions."

I-3: After that Kabandhi, descendant of Katya, having approached (him) asked, "Venerable sir, from what indeed are all these beings born ?"

I-4: To him he said: The Lord of all creatures became desirous of progeny. He deliberated on (past Vedic) knowledge. Having brooded on that knowledge, He created a couple - food and Prana - under the idea, "These two will produce creatures for me in multifarious ways."

I-5: The sun is verily Prana; and food is verily the moon. Whatever is gross or subtle is but food. The gross, as distinguished from that (subtle), is certainly food (of the subtle). 

I-6: Now then, the fact that the sun, while rising, enters into the eastern direction, thereby it absorbs into its rays all the creatures in the east. That it enters into the south, that it enters into the west, that it enters into the north, that it reaches the nadir and the zenith, that it enters the intermediate points of the zodiac, that it illumines all, thereby it absorbs all living things into its rays.

I-7: That very one rises up who is Prana and fire, who is identified with all creatures, and who is possessed of all forms. This very one, that has been referred to, is spoken of by the mantra:

I-8: (The realisers of Brahman) knew the one that is possessed of all forms, full of rays, endowed with illumination, the resort of all, the single light (of all), and the radiator of heat. It is the sun that rises - the sun that possesses a thousand rays, exists in a hundred forms and is the life of all creatures.

I-9: The year is verily the Lord of creatures. Of Him there are two Courses, the Southern and the Northern. As to that, those, who follow, in that way, the sacrifices and public good etc., that are products of action, conquer the very world of the moon. It is they who come back. (Since this is so), hence these seers of heaven, who are desirous of progeny, attain the Southern Course. That which is the Course of the Manes is verily food.

I-10: Again, by searching for the Self through the control of the senses, brahmacharya, faith and meditation, they conquer the sun (by proceeding) along the Northern Course. This is the resort of all that lives; this is indestructible; this is fearless; this is the highest goal, for from this they do not come back. This is unrealisable (to the ignorant). Pertaining to this here is a verse:

I-11: Some talk of (this sun) as possessed of five feet, as the father, as constituted by twelve limbs, and as full of water in the high place above the sky. But there are these others who call him the omniscient and say that on him, as possessed of seven wheels and six spokes, is fixed (the whole universe).

I-12: The month verily is the Lord of all creatures. The dark fortnight is His food, and the bright His Prana. Therefore these seers perform the sacrifices in the bright fortnight. The others perform it in the other. 

I-13: Day and night are verily the Lord of all creatures. Day is surely His Prana and night is certainly the food. Those who indulge in passion in the day, waste away Prana. That they give play to passion at night is as good as celibacy.

I-14: Food is nothing but the Lord of all creatures. From that indeed issues that human seed. From that are born all these beings.

I-15: This being so, those who undertake the well-known vow of the Lord of all creatures, beget both sons and daughters. For them alone is this world of the moon in whom there are the vows and continence, and in whom is found for ever avoidance of falsehood.

I-16: For them is that taintless world of Brahman, in whom there is no crookedness no falsehood, and no dissimulation.

Chapter 2

II-1: Next a scion of the line of Bhrigu, born in Vidarbha, asked him, "Sir, how many in fact are the deities that sustain a creature ? Which among them exhibit this glory ? Which again is the chief among them ?"

II-2: To him he said: Space in fact is this deity, as also are air, fire, water, earth, the organ of speech, mind, eye and ear. Exhibiting their glory they say, "Unquestionably it is we who hold together this body by not allowing it to disintegrate."

II-3: To them the chief Prana said, "Do not be deluded. It is I who do not allow it to disintegrate by sustaining it by dividing myself fivefold." They remained incredulous.

II-4: He appeared to be rising up (from the body) out of indignation. As He ascended, all the others, too, ascended immediately; and when He remained quite, all others, too, remained in position. Just as in the world, all the bee take to flight in accordance as the king of the bees takes to his wings, and they settle down as he does so, similarly, did speech, mind, eye, ear, etc., behave. Becoming delighted, they (began to) praise Prana.

II-5: This one (i.e. Prana) burns as fire, this one is the sun, this one is cloud, this one is Indra and air, this one is the earth and food. This god is the gross and the subtle, as well as that which is nectar. 

II-6: Like spokes on the hub of a chariot wheel, are fixed on Prana all things - riks, yajus, samas, sacrifice, Kshatriya and Brahmana.

II-7: It is you who move about in the womb as the Lord of creation, and it is you who take birth after the image of the parents. O Prana, it is for you, who reside with the organs, that all these creatures carry presents.

II-8: You are the best transmitter (of libation) to the celestials. You are the food-offering to the Manes that precedes other offerings. You are the right conduct of the organs that constitute the essence of the body and are known as the Atharvas.

II-9: O Prana, you are Indra. Through your valour you are Rudra; and you are the preserver on all sides. You move in the sky - you are the sun, the Lord of all luminaries.

II-10: O Prana, when you pour down (as rain), then these creatures of yours continue to be in a happy mood under the belief, "Food will be produced to our hearts' content."

II-11: O Prana, you are unpurified, you are the fire Ekarsi, (you are) the eater, and you are the lord of all that exists. We are the givers of (your) food. O Matarisva, you are our father.

II-12: Make calm that aspect of yours that is lodged in speech, that which is in the ear, that which is in the eye, and that which permeates the mind. Do not rise up.

II-13: All this (in this world), as also all that is in heaven is under the control of Prana. Protect us just as a mother does her sons, and ordain for us splendour and intelligence.

Chapter 3

III-1: Then Kausalya, son of Asvala, asked him, "O venerable sir, from where is this Prana born ? How does He come into this body ? How again does He dwell by dividing Himself ? How does he depart ? How does He support the external things and how the physical ?"

III-2: To him he said: You are putting super-normal questions, since you are pre-eminently a knower of Brahman. Hence I speak to you. 

III-3: From the Self is born this Prana. Just as there can be shadow when a man is there, so this Prana is fixed on the self. He comes to this body owing to the actions of the mind.

III-4: As it is the king alone who employs the officers saying, "Rule over these villages, and those ones", just so Prana engages the other organs separately.

III-5: He places Apana in the two lower apertures. Prana Himself, issuing out of the mouth and nostrils, resides in the eyes and ears. In the middle, however, is Samana, for this one distributes equally all this food that is eaten. From that issue out these seven flames.

III-6: This self (i.e. the subtle body) is surely in the heart. There are a hundred and one of the (chief) nerves. Each of them has a hundred (division). Each branch is divided into seventy-two thousand sub-branches. Among them moves Vyana.

III-7: Now then Udana, when it is in its upward trend, leads to a virtuous world as a result of virtue, to a sinful world as a result of sin and to the human world as a result of both.

III-8: The sun is indeed the external Prana. It rises up favouring this Prana in the eye. That deity, that is in the earth, favours by attracting Apana in a human being. The space (i.e. air), that is within, is Samana. The (common) air is Vyana.

III-9: That which if well known as luminosity, is Udana. Therefore, one who gets his light extinguished, attains rebirth together with the organs that enter into (his) mind.

III-10: Together with whatever thought he had (at the time of death), he enters into Prana. Prana, in combination with Udana and in association with the soul, leads him to the world desired by him.

III-11: The line of progeny of any man of knowledge who knows Prana thus sustains no break. He becomes immortal. Pertaining to this there occurs this mantra.

III-12: Having known the origin, coming, lodgement and fivefold overlordship and the physical existence of Prana, one achieves immortality. Having known, one achieves immortality.

Chapter 4

IV-1: Then the grandson of Surya, born of the family of Garga, asked him, "O adorable sir, which are the organs that go to sleep in this person ? Which keep awake in him ? Which is the deity who experiences dream ? To whom occurs this happiness ? In whom do all get merged?

IV-2: To him he said, O Gargya, just as all the rays of the setting sun become unified in this orb of light, and they disperse from the sun as it rises up again, similarly all that becomes unified in the high deity, the mind. Hence this person does not then hear, does not see, does not smell, does not taste, does not touch, does not speak, does not grasp, does not enjoy, does not eject, does not move. People say, "He is sleeping."

IV-3: It is the fires (i.e. the functions resembling fire) of Prana that really keep awake in this city of the body. That which is this Apana really resembles the Garhapatya fire, Vyana resembles the fire, Anvaharyapacana. Since the Ahavaniya fire is obtained from Garhapatya, which is the former's source of extraction, therefore Prana conforms to Ahavaniya (because of its issuing out of Apana).

IV-4: Samana is the priest called Hota, because it strikes a balance between exhalation and inhalation which are but (comparable to) two oblations. The mind is verily the sacrificer. The desired fruit Udana, which leads this sacrificer every day to Brahman.

IV-5: In this dream state this deity (i.e. the mind) experiences greatness. Whatever was seen, it sees again; whatever was heard, it hears again; whatever was perceived in the different places and directions, it experiences again and again; it perceives all by becoming all that was seen or not seen, heard or not heard, perceived or not perceived, and whatever is real or unreal.

IV-6: When that deity, (the mind), becomes overwhelmed by (solar) rays (called bile), then in this state the deity does not see dreams. Then, all that time, there occurs this kind of happiness in this body.

IV-7: To illustrate the point: As the birds, O good looking one, proceed towards the tree that provides lodging, just so all these proceed to the supreme Self. 

IV-8: Earth and the rudiment of earth, water and the rudiment of water, fire and the rudiment of fire, space and the rudiment of space, the organ and object of vision, the organ and object of hearing, the organ and object of smell, the organ and object of taste, the organ and object of touch, the organ and content of speech, the hands and the object grasped, sex and enjoyment, the organ of excretion and the excreta, the feet and the space trodden, the mind and the content of thought, understanding and the content of understanding, egoism and the content of egoism, awareness and the content of awareness, the shining skin and the object revealed by that, Prana and all that has to be held by Prana.

IV-9: And this one is the seer, feeler, hearer, smeller, taster, thinker, ascertainer, doer - the Purusha (pervading the body and senses), that is a knower by nature. This becomes wholly established in the supreme, immutable Self.

IV-10: He who realises that shadowless, bodiless, colourless, pure, Immutable attains the supreme Immutable Itself. O amiable one, he, again, who realises, becomes omniscient and all. Illustrative of this there occurs this verse:

IV-11: O amiable one, he becomes all-knowing and enters into all, who knows that Immutable wherein merges the cognising Self - (the Purusha who is naturally a knower) - as also do the organs and the elements together with all the deities.

Chapter 5

V-1: Next, Satyakama, son of Sibi, asked him, "O venerable sir, which world does he really win thereby, who among men, intently meditates on Om in that wonderful way till death ?" To him he said:

V-2: O Satyakama, this very Brahman, that is (known as) the inferior and superior, is but this Om. Therefore the illumined soul attains either of the two through this one means alone.

V-3: Should he meditate on Om as consisting of one letter he becomes enlightened even by that and attains a human birth on the earth. The Rik mantras lead him to the human birth. Being endued there with self-control, continence, and faith he experiences greatness. 

V-4: Now gain, if he meditates on Om with the help of the second letter, he becomes identified with the mind. By the Yajur mantras he is lifted to the intermediate space, the world of the Moon. Having experienced greatness in the lunar world, he turns round again.

V-5: Again, any one who meditates on the supreme Purusha with the help of this very syllable Om, as possessed of three letters, becomes unified in the Sun, consisting of light. As a snake becomes freed from its Slough, exactly in a similar way, he becomes freed from sin, and he is lifted up to the world of Brahma (Hiranyagarbha) by the Sama mantras. From this total mass of creatures (that Hiranyagarbha is) he sees the supreme Purusha that penetrates every being and is higher than the higher One (viz. Hiranyagarbha). Bearing on this, there occur two verses:

V-6: The three letters (by themselves) are within the range of death. But if they are closely joined, one to another, are not divergently applied to different objects, and are applied to the three courses of action - external, internal and intermediate - that are properly resorted to, then the man of enlightenment does not shake (i.e. remains undisturbed).

V-7: The intelligent know this world that is attainable by the Rik mantras, the intermediate space achievable by the Yajur mantras, and that which is reached by the Sama mantras. The enlightened man attains that (threefold) world through Om alone; and through Om as an aid, he reaches that also which is the supreme Reality that is quiet and beyond old age, death and fear.

Chapter 6

VI-1: Then Sukesa, son of Bharadvaja, asked him, "Venerable sir, Hiranyanabha, a prince of Kosala, approached me and put this question, 'Bharadvaja, do you know the Purusha possessed of sixteen limbs ?' To that prince I said, 'I do not know him. Had I known him why should I not have told you ? Anyone who utters a falsehood dries up root and all. Therefore I cannot afford to utter a falsehood. Silently he went away riding on the chariot. Of that Purusha I ask you, 'Where does He exist ?'"

VI-2: To him he (Pippalada) said: O amiable one, here itself inside the body is that Purusha in whom originate these sixteen digits (or limbs).

VI-3: He deliberated: "As a result of whose departure shall I rise up ? And as a result of whose continuance shall I remain established ?" 

VI-4: He created Prana; from Prana (He created) faith, space, air, fire, water, earth, organs, mind, food; from food (He created) vigour, self-control, mantras, rites, worlds and name in the worlds.

VI-5: The illustration is this: Just as these flowing rivers that have the sea as their goal, get absorbed after reaching the sea, and their names and forms are destroyed, and they are called merely the sea, so also these sixteen parts (i.e. constituents) of the all-seeing Purusha, that have Purusha as their goal, disappear on reaching Purusha, when their names and forms are destroyed and they are simply called Purusha. Such a man of realisation becomes free from the parts and is immortal. On this point there occurs this verse:

VI-6: You should know that Purusha who is worthy to be known and in whom are transfixed the parts like spokes in the nave of a chariot wheel, so that death may not afflict you anywhere.

VI-7: To them he said, "I know this supreme Brahman thus far only. Beyond this there is nothing."

VI-8: While worshipping him they said, "You indeed are our father who have ferried us across nescience to the other shore. Salutation to the great seers. Salutation to the great seers."

Om! O gods, may we hear auspicious words with the ears;
While engaged in sacrifices,
May we see auspicious things with the eyes;
While praising the gods with steady limbs,
May we enjoy a life that is beneficial to the gods.
May Indra of ancient fame be auspicious to us;
May the supremely rich (or all-knowing) Pusa (god of the earth)
Be propitious to us;
May Garuda, the destroyer of evil,
Be well disposed towards us;
May Brihaspati ensure our welfare.
Om! Peace! Peace! Peace!

Here ends the Prasnopanishad, included in the Atharva-Veda.


Swami Gambhirananda. Advaita Ashram, Kolkatta. "Prasna Upanishad."

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