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Essence of the Prasnopanishad

by Swami Sivananda
Om. O gods! may we, with our ears, hear, what is auspicious; O ye, fit to be worshipped! may we, with our eyes, see what is auspicious. May we enjoy the life allotted to us by the gods, offering our praise with our bodies strong of limb. May Indra, the powerful, the ancient of fame, vouchsafe us prosperity. May He, the nourisher and the possessor of all wealth, give us what is well for us. May the Lord of swift motion be propitious to us, and may the protector of the great ones protect us, too.

Om Peace! Peace!! Peace!!!


1. Six seekers of Brahman go to a sage called Pippalada and put him six questions. These questions and answers form the substance of this Upanishad.

2. Prana or the life principle, and Rayi or matter, were first created by the Lord.

3. Prana acts on Rayi. Various forms are manifested.

4. It is the intermingling of these two that gives rise to the world of diverse forms.

5. The one is active, positive and is the male principle; the other is passive, negative and is the female principle.

6. Prana belongs to the conscious side of creation, while Rayi or matter belongs to the form side of creation.

7. Matter is the universal form. Prana is life or consumer.

8. The body is upheld by the Prana or life principle.

9. Prajapati was desirous of offspring. From this desire a pair sprang forth, viz., matter or the universal form and Prana, life, or consumer.

10. As life and matter, Prajapati is, gradually, the sun and the moon, the year in its two halves, day and night.

11. Prana, Aditya (sun), day, Amurta (formless), life, spirit, northern path, invisibility, belong to the life side.

12. Rayi, the moon, the night, Murta (with form), matter, southern path, visibility, belong to the matter side.

13. The second question refers to the Devas who support man and enlighten the senses and the constituents of the body.

14. The third question refers to the nature and origin the Prana.

15. The fourth question refers to sleep and dream.

16. The fifth question refers to Prana and OM.

17. The sixth question refers to the Purusha of sixteen Kalas or parts.

18. Sukesa, Satyakama, Gargya, Kausalya, Bhargava, Kabandhi, all these devoted to Brahman and centered in Brahman, seeking the highest Brahman, approached the revered Pippalada with offering (Samit) in their hands, thinking that he would explain all to them.

19. Knowledge of Brahman can be acquired by men who have observed celibacy, performed Tapas and lived with the preceptor.

20. Then Pippalada said to the aspirant: Stay here for one year with austerity, celibacy and faith. Then you may ask questions as you please, and if I know them I will surely explain all to you.

Preparation of The Vessel

21. The subtle truths of Vedanta cannot be grasped by the gross and impure mind. The mind should be rendered pure, subtle and sharp. Then alone will it be fit to practise concentration and meditation and comprehend the subtle truths of the Upanishads.

22. Service to the Guru or preceptor with faith and devotion purifies the mind quickly. This is the most powerful purifying agent.

23. The spiritual teacher knows through his inner vision the mental state of the aspirants, the degree of their evolution, their defects and weaknesses, etc.

24. Tapas and celibacy contribute to the purification of the mind.

25. The teacher actually sees their astral and causal bodies through the inner eye of wisdom.

26. The seer Pippalada found out through his inner vision that there were still impurities in their minds and so he asked them to stay with him for one year practising Tapas, celibacy and faith.

Life and Matter

27. Life has no beginning. The world is not created. It is simply projected by God.

28. Then Katyayana Kabandi approached Pippalada and asked; Venerable master, whence are these creatures born?

29. He replied: Prajapati (the Lord of creatures) was desirous of offspring. He performed penance (thought) and having performed he created a pair-matter (Rayi) and life (Prana), food and eater, thinking that these together would produce creatures for him in many ways.

30. Tapas is penance. Here it means reflection as to how and what are to be created.

31. Prana is energy. Rayi is matter. Prana and Rayi are male and female. Prana and matter are the couple.

32. Prajapati created a couple necessary for creation: the moon that is food and Prana (fire, sun) i.e., the eater.

33. He thought that Agni (sun) and the moon (i.e., the eater and the food) would create various creatures, and so he created the sun and the moon.

34. Through the influence of the moon only the delicious Soma or the Rasa of the earth which nourishes plants and herbs is produced. The Sun is the fire that consumes the Rasa.

35. This life is sustained by food (Annam) and air (Prana).

36. The sun is verily life and the moon the matter; all this having form and without form is found. Therefore form is indeed food.

37. Murtam means with form; gross (solid, liquid and fiery objects).

38. Amurta means without form; subtle, (air, ether).

39. The sun is energy. The moon is matter.

40. All this that has body (form) and that has no body (formless, subtle) is matter. Therefore body (form) indeed is matter.

41. The sun is Prana, the eater, the fire; the moon is the food. The eater and the food are really one. They are aspects of the Lord of creatures.

The Glorious Sun

42. The sun is the centre of energy. It is therefore identical with the Prana.

43. Now, the sun rising goes towards the east. By that he bathes in his rays all Pranas in the east. When he lights up the southern, the western, the northern quarters, the nadir, the zenith, the intermediate quarters, and all, by that takes up into his rays all creatures.

44. The sun bathes all living beings with his light, makes them one with his own self.

45. Wherever there is life, wherever there is energy, it is due to the influence of the sun.

46. The sun is the greatest inexhaustible powerhouse on earth. He supports by his rays all life in all directions.

47. This is the (Vaisvanara) the sum-total of all living beings, assuming all forms, life and fire, who rises every day.

48. The sun illumines the whole world. He is the centre of force and energy. He is the source of life and activity. Therefore he is the Lord of creatures. He is connected with the activities of all men. He is indeed the life of the world.

49. Assuming all forms, resplendent, omniscient, the highest goal, the one light, the heat-giver, with thousand rays, existing in hundred forms, life of all creatures, this sun rises.

50. The year is indeed Prajapati, the Lord of the creation. There are two paths, southern and northern. Those who follow the path of Karma alone, by the performance of sacrificial and pious acts, obtain only the world of the moon and certainly return again.

51. Ishta is the daily performance of Agnihotra, penance, feeding of the guests.

52. Purta is digging of wells, tanks etc. for the Public, building temples, hospitals, chaultries, giving food to the poor and the hungry, laying out public gardens, etc.

53. But those who have sought the Atman by penance, faith, and knowledge, gain by the northern route the sun (Brahma-loka). This is the home of all lives, the immortal, fearless, the highest goal.

54. They go along the path of Devayana, the path of the gods, to the world of the sun and from there go to Brahma-loka. They merge in Brahman at the end of the cycle. This is Krama-Mukti or gradual liberation.

55. Those who have attained Brahmaloka do not return to this world. They do not take rebirth as followers of mere Karma do.

56. Having five feet (the five seasons), the father, having twelve forms (twelve months), the giver of rain, they (sages) say, he is seated in a plane higher than heaven. Others call him all-wise, upon whom, like a chariot (drawn by seven horses), with seven wheels and seven spokes, the whole world is founded.

57. The sun is nothing but the year or time. The sun is the maker or measurer of time.

58. The sun by pervading all beings with his light, makes them one with his own self.

59. The sun is called father, because he is the creator of all, he sustains all life, and all life proceed from him only.

60. The seven rays or colours of the sun are the seven horses of the sun. Half years, seasons, months, half-months, days, nights and Muhurtas are also the seven horses of the sun.

61. The six spokes are the seasons.

62. The month is Prajapati (the Lord of creation), its dark half is indeed the food, its bright half the Prana. Therefore these Rishis perform sacrifices in the bright half, the others in the dark half.

63. The month also is in nature of a pair. One portion, that is the dark half is food, i.e., matter or moon. The other half, i.e., the bright fortnight, is the sun, the earth, the fire or Prana.

64. Night is daily Pralaya.

65. Day and night are Prajapati. The day is the Prana and the night indeed is food. Those who unite in love by day waste their Prana, those who unite in love by night are considered verily as Brahmacharins.

66. Food indeed is Prajapati; from that indeed proceeds semen, from these all creatures are born.

67. Thus therefore those who observed this rule of Prajapati produce a pair. To them alone is this Brahmaloka in whom penance, celibacy and truth abide.

68. That pure Brahmaloka belongs to them only in whom there is no deceit, falsehood or dissimulation.

69. Fraud, crookedness, falsehood and dissimulation taint the heart. They are obstacles in the spiritual path. They should be eradicated by cultivating the opposite, positive virtues, such as honesty, straightforwardness and truth.

Prana: Greater than Senses

70. Then Bhargava, son of Vidarbha questioned Pippalada.: O Bhagavan, how many Devas support the creation? Which of them enlighten that? Who, again, is, amongst them, the greatest?

71. The second question deals with the powers, glory and splendour of Prana. It is the Prana that supports the microcosm and is, thus, the best of all.

72. He replied: Those Devas verily are the ether, wind, fire, water, speech, mind, eye and the ear. They, manifesting their glory, disputed among each other and said, we hold together and support this body.

73. Prana, the greatest, said to them: Be not lost in delusion. Do not entertain this foolish pride. I alone, dividing myself fivefold, support this body and keep it.

74. Breathing and thought are expressions of Prana only. Prana is the most important fundamental principle in the body and Nature. Therefore Prana is called Brahma. The individual Prana is a part of the universal Prana or cosmic energy.

75. They did not believe. The principle Prana, from indignation, seemed to go out of the body, as it were, from above. When the Prana ascended, all the others (senses) immediately ascended, too; and when it remained all others remained, too; just as the bees go out when their queen goes out and return when she returns; so mind, speech, eye, ear, and the rest, being pleased, praised Prana.

Prana: The Prime Mover

76. Thus life, as fire, burns; as the sun it shines; as Parjanya it rains; as Maghavan (Indra) it rules; it is the wind; it is the earth, moon, Deva, what has form, what is formless and what is immortal.

77. Prana is the Amrita which is the basis or stay of all Devas.

78. Like spokes in the nave of a wheel, so all is centred in Prana, the verses of the Rigveda, Samaveda, sacrifices, Kshatriyas and the Brahmins.

Prayer to Prana

79. As Prajapati, Lord of creatures, thou (Prana) movest about in the womb; Thou indeed art born afterwards. To thee, O Prana, who dwelleth together with the other Pranas (senses), these creatures offer oblation.

80. Prana moves in the womb. In the womb it causes the quickening of the foetus. It expels the child from the womb, when grown.

81. Prana is born as a child. Prana is both father and mother. It is Prajapati, universal life.

82. The senses carry the impressions of their respective objects for nourishing and sustaining the life in the body. These are the offerings to Prana, the Lord of the senses.

83. Prana is the eater. All is food for Prana.

84. O, Prana, thou art the best carrier to the gods, the first oblation to the forefathers. Thou are the active principle of the senses which are the essence of the body.

85. This life, as fire, burns. Prana burns as fire.

86. Prana is the active principle that supports the senses and the body. The limbs and organs will be emaciated and dried up if there is no Prana. So Prana is the essence or sap of all the senses and the body.

87. O, Prana, thou art Indra, thou art Rudra by prowess, thou art the protector, thou movest in the sky, thou art the sun, the Lord of all lights.

88. When thou showerest down rain, then, O Prana, these creatures of thine sit delighted, hoping there will be food as they desire.

89. O, Prana, thou art a Vratya (eternally pure); thou art the fire Ekarshi, the consumer of everything, the good Lord of the world. We are the givers of oblations, O, Matarisvan, thou art our father.

90. Make propitious that body of thine which abides in speech, in the ear, in the eye and also which pervades the mind; do not go out.

91. All this is within the control of Prana, as also all that is in the third heaven. Protect us like a mother. Give us prosperity and wisdom.

The Mystery of Life

92. Then Kausalya, son of Asvala, questioned Pippalada: O, Bhagavan, where is this Prana born? How does it come into the body? How does it abide after it has divided itself? How does it go out? How does it support what is without, and all within the body?

93. Pippalada replied: You ask questions about transcendental matters. I will explain to thee, because you are a great enquirer of Brahman.

94. This Prana is born of the Atman. As is this shadow in the man, so is this Prana in the Atman. By the action of the mind this enters into the body.

95. The act of the mind is the thought-power willing or wishing. By the act of the mind means, by the good or evil deeds, which are the work of the mind.

Functions of Prana

96. As a king commands his officers, saying to them, Reside in and govern these or those villages, so does this Prana dispose the other Pranas each for their separate work.

97. The Apana dwells in the organs of excretion and generation; the Prana itself abides in the eye, ear, mouth, and nose. In the middle is Samana. It. distributes the food supplied equally and the seven flames proceed from it.

98. Apana dwells in the anus and the generative organs. It does excretion. Prana does the sensory life function. It dwells in the eye, the ears, etc. Samana dwells in the navel. It does the digestive function. Vyana does the circulation of blood. It is all-pervading. Udana helps swallowing of food and drink. It takes the Jiva to Brahman during deep sleep. It takes the Jiva out of the body during death and conducts him to the other world. It abides in the throat.

99. This Atman is in the heart. There are a hundred and one nerve-currents (Nadis). Each of these has a hundred branches; again each of these has seventy-two thousand sub-branches. In these the Vyana moves.

100. Again, through one nerve, the Udana, ascending, leads us upwards to the virtuous worlds by good work, to the sinful world by sin and to the world of men by virtue and sin combined.

101. The sun verily is the external Prana. He rises favouring the Prana in the eyes. The goddess of the earth attracts (controls) the Apana downwards. The Akasa (ether) between the sun and the earth is Samana. The wind is Vyana.

102. The external fire indeed is Udana. Therefore, he whose fire has gone out enters another body with his senses absorbed in the mind.

103. Whatever his thought at the time of death, with that he attains Prana and the Prana, united with Udana, together with the Jivatma, leads on to the world thought of.

104. The learned man who knows thus his offspring does not perish, and he becomes immortal.

105. He who knows the origin, the entry, the seat, the fivefold distribution of Prana and its internal state in the body, obtains immortality, yes, attains immortality.

Dream and Deep Sleep

106. Then Gargya, the grandson of Surya, questioned Pippalada: O Bhagavan, what are they that sleep in man; what again are they that awake in him. Which is the Deva who sees dreams? Whose is this happiness? On what do all these depend?

107. What organs sleep in the body or cease functioning when man is sleeping? What are awake therein, i.e., perform their functions?

108. Pippalada replied: O Gargya, just as the rays of the sun, when setting, become one in that disc of light and come forth again when the sun rises again, so also all these become one in the highest Deva, the mind. Therefore, at that time, one does not hear, see, smell, taste or feel; does not speak, or take, or enjoy, or evacuate, or move. They say, He sleeps.

109. All the organs (or senses) are dormant in the mind during deep sleep. They become one with the mind.

110. The fire of Prana alone is awake in the city (body). The Apana is the Garhapatya fire. The Vyana is the Ahavaniya fire, because it is taken out of the Garhapatya fire.

111. Because the Samana distributes equally the oblations (the respiration), he is the priest (Hotri). The mind is the sacrifice, the Udana is the reward of the sacrifices; he leads the sacrificer everyday, in deep sleep, to Brahman.

112. In this state, this Deva (mind) enjoys in dream his greatness. Whatever has been seen, he sees again; what has been heard, he hears again; what has been enjoyed in different countries and quarters, he enjoys again; what has been seen and not seen, heard and not heard, experienced and not experienced, real and unreal, he sees; he being all, he sees all.

113. In dream the mind creates a world of its own out of the impressions received in the waking state and enjoys the vision. The mind itself is the perceiver (subject) and the perceived (object). The mind itself assumes the forms of mountains, rivers, trees, flowers etc. then.

114. In dream the mind dives deep sometimes into the impressions of past lives also and revives them.

115. When he is overpowered by light, then that god (mind) sees no dreams, and at that time bliss arises in this body.

116. The causal body is active in deep sleep. The causal body is the organ through which the happiness of deep sleep is enjoyed.

117. The Jiva rests in Brahman, in deep sleep. There is only the thin layer of ignorance between him and the supreme Self. In Samadhi or the superconscious state, this veil of ignorance is rent asunder and the Jiva merges himself in Brahman and attains the highest knowledge. This is the difference between deep sleep and Samadhi.

118. Just as, O beloved one, birds repair to a tree to roost (dwell), so indeed all these rest in the supreme Atman.

119. The earth and the subtle elements, the water and its subtle elements, the fire and its subtle elements, the air and its subtle elements, ether and its subtle elements, the eye and perceivable objects, the ear and what can be heard, the nose and what can be smelt, taste and its objects, the hands and what can be grasped, the feet and what can be walked, the organ of generation and what is to be enjoyed, the organ of excretion and what must be excreted, the mind and what must be thought of, the intellect and what must be determined, egoism and its objects, Chitta and its objects, light and its objects, the Prana and what must be supported by it all rest in the supreme Atman in deep sleep.

The Transcendent Experience

120. Manas or mind is that faculty which cogitates: Should I do this or not. The Buddhi or the intellect is the faculty that determines: I must do this. Egoism or Ahamkara is the self-arrogating principle. It feels: I did this. I enjoyed this. Chitta is the faculty of memory.

121. It is he who sees, feels, heals, smells, tastes, thinks, knows. He is the doer, the intelligent Soul, the Purusha. He dwells in the highest indestructible place.

122. Just as the image of the sun is reflected in water, so the image of Brahman is reflected in the mind. The reflected image is the Jiva. This is only apparent, but not real.

123. The Jivanmukta enters into the supreme, immortal, undecaying Atman, just as the reflected image of the sun in water enters into the sun.

124. The supreme indestructible Being he surely obtains. Whoever, O beloved one, knows this Being, which is without shadow, without body, without colour, which is pure and indestructible, becomes omniscient and becomes all.

125. Brahman is free from the Gunas and so it is ever pure. It is bodyless and so undecaying.

126. The Jiva was enveloped by ignorance and so he was not omniscient before. He becomes all by the destruction of ignorance, by attaining knowledge.

127. Brahman is eternal, incomprehensible, unborn. It is all bliss in nature, free from all miseries and troubles. It exists without and within all.

128. O beloved one, he who knows the imperishable Atman, in whom rise the knowing self with all the Devas, the Prana and five elements, becomes omniscient, and, indeed, enters into all.

129. Enters into all, i.e., realises he is the Self or Atman in beings and feels that he himself exists in all.

Glory of Meditation on Om

130. Then Satyakama, son of Sibi questioned Pippalada; O Bhagavan, what world does he who, among men, meditates on Om until death, attain by that.

131. Om is the Pratika or substitute for Brahman. It is the symbol of Brahman.

132. Meditation on Om with Bhava (feeling) and its meaning is really meditation on Brahman.

133. Meditation on Om is the keeping up of the continuous flow of the one idea of the supreme Self, like the flow of oil from one vessel to another (Tailadharavat) .

134. The mind should be steady like the flame of a lamp in a windless place.

135. Meditation can be practised only by that aspirant whose senses are turned away from external objects, who has a calm mind, who is endowed with discrimination, self-restraint, purity, faith, endurance and a strong yearning for final emancipation.

136. Pippalada replied: O Satyakama, the syllable Om is indeed the higher and the lower Brahman. Therefore, he who knows it by this means, surely attains either of them.

137. Om primarily signifies Para-Brahman and secondarily denotes Hiranyagarbha.

138. If he meditates on one Matra of it-A, then he, being enlightened by that comes quickly to earth. The Rik-verses lead to the world of men, and having been endowed there with austerity, celibacy and faith, attains greatness.

139. But if he meditates on its second Matra-U only, he becomes one with the mind. He is led up by the Yajus-verses to the sky the world of moon. Having enjoyed greatness there, he returns to earth.

140. But if, again, he meditates on the highest Purusha with this syllable Om of three Matras, he becomes united with the sun. As a snake is freed from its skin, so is he freed from sin. He is led up by the Sama-hymn to the world of Brahma, and from him, full of life, he beholds the Supreme Purusha residing in the heart.

141. The three Matras, when employed separately, are mortal, but when they are connected with one another, they are not wrongly employed. When they are properly employed in all the internal, external and middle functions the knower trembles not. He is not shaken from his Brahmic consciousness. He is ever fixed in his consciousness: I am Brahman.

142. Through the Rik-verses he arrives at this world, through the Yajus-verses at the sky, through the Saman-verses at that which the seers know (Brahmaloka) by means of the letter Om. The wise one reaches these and also that which is quiet, undecaying, deathless fearless and supreme.

The Indwelling Presence

143. Then Sukesa, son of Bharadvaja questioned Pippalada: O Bhagavan, Hiranyanabha, a prince of Kosa, came once to me and asked this question: 'O Bharadvaja, knowest thou the Purusha of sixteen Kalas (parts)?' I said to the youth: 'I do not know him. If I knew why should I not tell thee. He who tells that is not true is dried up, verily, root and all. Therefore I dare not utter untruth.' Having ascended his car, he went away in silence. That I ask you, what is that Purusha?

144. Pippalada replied: O gentle youth, that Purusha in whom these sixteen Kalas are born is even here within the body.

145. One need not go far to seek Him, He is in the lotus of the heart. He is quite close to you, closer than your breath.

146. The Atman is said to dwell in the heart in order to make the aspirant realise that the Atman is his very own self. This will help him to practise concentration, and the Purusha is realised as if within the body, by the process of thinking, reflection and meditation.

147. The Purusha has really no parts. He is indivisible, homogeneous and partless. On account of ignorance, He is seen as one having parts.

148. The Kalas are conditions which are superimposed on the Purusha on account of ignorance. When one attains knowledge, all the conditions drop away. He beholds the one homogeneous, unconditional supreme Purusha alone.

149. Intelligence is not an attribute of the Atman. The Atman is an embodiment of intelligence (Prajnana-Ghana or Vijnana-Ghana), dense mass of intelligence.

150. You will have to eliminate the sixteen Kalas by the practice of the Neti-Neti (not this, not this) doctrine.

151. He (Purusha) reflected, what is that by whose departure I shall depart, and by whose stay I shall stay?

Fundamentals of Sankhya Philosophy

152. According to the Sankhya philosophy, Prakriti or Pradhana is the creator and Purusha is the enjoyer.

153. Prakriti transforms itself into Mahat (intellect), mind, egoism, Tanmatras, elements, etc., for the benefit or enjoyment of the Purusha.

154. He created Prana, from Prana faith, ether, air, fire, water, earth, senses, mind and food; and from food, strength, penance, Mantras, Karma and the world, and in the world, name (i.e., the individual) .

155. Akasa, ether, has the attribute of sound.

156. Air is born of Akasa. It has two attributes, its own, touch, and that of its cause, sound.

157. Fire is born of air. It has three attributes, its own, form, and the two attributes of previous elements, sound and touch.

158. Water is born of fire. It has four attributes its own, taste, and the three attributes of the elements previously named.

159. Earth is born of water. It has four attributes its own, smell, and the attributes of the four previously named.

160. Just as these rivers flowing towards the sea, when they have reached the sea, disappear, their names and forms perish, and are called sea, so also, these sixteen parts of the witness that go towards the Purusha, disappear, their names and forms are destroyed, and all is called the Purusha alone. He becomes without parts and immortal.

161. Know that Purusha who ought to be known, in whom the Kalas are centred like spokes in the nave of a wheel, in order that death may not harm you.

162. Then Pippalada said to them: This much alone I know of this highest Purusha; there is nothing higher than this.

163. They, worshipping him, said: Thou art our father who helps to cross over the ocean, of ignorance. Salutations to the highest Rishis! Salutations to the highest Rishis!

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