Prashna Upanishad

Related to Atharva Veda of Pippalaada Shaka, Prashnopanishad deals with Six Key Questions to Maharshi Pippalaada about Supreme Brahman raised by the Great Seekers like Sukesha the son of Bharadvaaja, Satyakaama the son of Shibi, Kaushalya the son of Ashvala, and Kabandhi the descent of Katya. Indeed these were the illustrious progeny of renowned lineages and experts of Rites and Meditation. Pippadaada asked these Seekers to reside at his place for a year practising Brahmacharya and full control of their physical senses and of mind as per his teachings. Under his training they should observe the regulations and might therafter enquire of him about their doubts and express their views.

The First Question related to the Creation of the Universe and the sustaining power of Existence of the Beings as raised by Kabandhi the progeny of Katya. The reply was that Prajapati was derirous of the Creation of Moving and Non Moving Beings and Hiranyagarbha generated Moon or Food and Agni, Surya and Prana the vital force; the Life Energy was in Murtam and Amurtam Forms or Physical and Subtle Forms. The latter also created ‘kaalamaana’or the Time Cycle from seconds to yuga, kalpas; Dakshina- Uttaraayanas coinciding with Amavasya and Purnimas; Southern and Northern paths of Pitryuyaana- Devayaanas pursuant to deaths.

The Second Question was from Bhargava of Vidarbha about the prime supports of Life and Body with Praana as the binding force. The Maharshi named Akasha, Vaayu, Agni, Aapah, Prithvi or Ether /Sky, Wind, Fire, Water and Earth and the corresponding Vaak or speech, Manas or Mind, Chakshu or Eyes, Shrotram or Ears, and Twak or touch. Praana indeed is the Magnificent Power House of Control and Coordination of body parts and senses. The Pancha Pranas as Praana-Apaana-Vyaana-Udaana- Samaana have been assigned specific duties to ensure that body parts and senses do not get disintegrated. In an adulative stanza, Praana is addressed extolling it as the unique creation of Prajapati the Lord of Creation for facilitating the cycle of births and deaths, carrying the imprint of the parents and providing faculties of breathing, vision, hearing, further generation and so on. Praana is the recepient of food, sustenance and support. It is the ‘swaha’ at yagnas and homakriyas in favour of Deities and ‘swadha’ in pitru karyas and tarpanas. Indeed the essential prerequisite of very existence!

The Third Question by Kausalya the son of Ashvala states: From where and whence Life is born, how would praana enter the body, how does it distribute inself and settle in the body and in what way does it depart; what are its external supports and how would it connect itself with the Individual Self! The replies are that the Inner Consciousness which is a reflection of Prajapati orMaha Purusha generated and affixed ‘prana’ as an effect of body and mind as also the resultant actions. The heart in thesubtle Self is connected to some 101 prime nerves and each one of these is described as with hundred divisions while each of the divisions is stated to be of 72000 sub arteries, among which permeates ‘vyana’ of the Pancha Praanaas activising the various directions of the heart spreading all over the joints, shoulders and vital parts.Surya is the external praana in the eyes, Earth favours ‘apaana’, antariksha or the Sky is signified as Samaana Vayu and Vyaana is Air in common parlance. Udaana is Tejas or Agni the divine entity and the deed requiring force and pressure and of death finally. At the time of final departure, the praana of concerned person of knowledge is sensitized with flashes of its origin, entry, place of residence and an account of the just concluding life with its pluses and minuses!

The Fourth Question to Maharshi Pippalaada was from Gargya of Surya Vamsha as to the details of physical limbs and faculties resting in the condition of deep sleep and as to who controls the individual perceptions- the praana or the mind! This rather tricky question was very ably and analytically replied by Pippalaada: ‘ Just as the rays of a setting Sun become unified in the Surya Bimba or the Solar Orbit at Sunset and once again scatter away at the Sun Rise, the person in dream stage is not dependent on his mind but praana; this is because that his mind in the dream stage could neither hear, see, smell, taste, touch, speak, understand, enjoy, reject nor move about. Hence, logically, only praana the vital energy is capable of living through the dream state and on returning to awakenness could retain normalcy. Pippalaada explained that of Pancha Praanas, the three most significant ones would be Apaana-Vyaana- Samaana which are essential that a body of Praana could tick with. (Udaana is comparable to death) He explained further that Life is comparable to three kinds of Sacrifices of Agni; Apaana resembles the Garhapatyaagni or the House holder’s domestic Fire in the Vedic pattern since it is kept alive on the Sanaatana homes; Vyana is akin to ‘Anvardhanya Pachana’ as the Southern Agni used for offerings by way of Pitru Karyas; ‘Ahavaniya Agni’ is obtained from both Garhyapatya resembling Apaana or the out breath as also from Praana the in breath that is filled in and released thereafter. Now, ‘Samaana’ the equalising balance between inhalation and exhalation is like the role of a Hota Priest whose role is to coordinate between two oblations. Thus the comparative picture of the Pancha Praanas and Agni Karyas. As a supplemantary to the Fourth Question, one might ask that after all Praana would have no capability of perception in dream state or wakefullness. But the counter argument to that apprehension would be that Self Concsiousness is essentially conditioned my mind, be it in dream state or wakefulness! Thus while summing-up Pippalaadi assured that the existence of a human being during sleep but without dreams is what obtains when mind gets united with Solar Rays as consciousness named Brahman paving the way to Truth and Bliss. It is in this context that theInner Self remains neutral when mind and senses are rested too as senses proceed to the mind as birds proceed to a tree. The Five Basic Elements of Nature as the off shoots of a body and senses as also of the mind is thus capable of realising that Praana is Hiranyagarbha himself!

Now the Fifth Question was asked by Satyakaama the son of Sibi viz. What indeed was the life-long meditation of which one accomplishes the Truth of Brahman with! The ‘abhidhyaana’ or intense contemplation would call for Self Identification like the total absorption of senses into Paramatma imself! Then the Maharshi explained that Pranava Shabda connotes Realisation of the Self or the Supreme. Even if one does not fully comprehend the constitution and basis of the single word OM, by the very pronounciation, thought, and partial meditation of it should enlighten the person concerned ensures human birth next, since Rig Veda mantras signify the possibility of ‘tapasaa brahmacharyena shraddhaa’ or meditation, self control and faith leading to application of mind to the Basic Truth and Reality. More intensive meditation on the OM mantra comprising three letters viz. A-U-M, if coupled with another letter viz. ‘U’ denoting one’s mind as also the relevant Yajur Veda would elevate the person to Soma Loka and return to a far better status of the fresh life. Further meditation by the third syllable ‘ M’ of the word OM would facilitate attaining Surya Loka in the Solar Orbit.Saama Veda chants with AUM seek to purify the person from negative thoughts and deeds.The ‘tisro maatra’ or the meditation accompanied by the three syllables AUM might no doubt be in the range of the inevitable death; yet pathana-manana-tanmayata or study-repetition -absorption along with Rik-Yajur-Saama Veda mantras would achieve far better human birth; birth in Antariksha, or the Truth Beyond respectively! Thus mere Pranava could scale steps of Lofty Heights! The Sixth and Final Question was posed by Sukesha the son of Bharadvaaja to Pippalaadi as to what would be the ‘Shodasha Kalas’ or the Sixteen Attributes of Purusha and the reply was that due to the cover of ignorance the the sixteen body parts were misconstrued as shodasha kalaas, since they were stated to condition the movements of the Self Conciousness. The Purusha the Hirayagarbha created Praana, from it Shraddha or Faith, Kham or Space, ‘Vaayurjyotiraapah’ or Air, Fire, Water, besides Prithveenidriyah Manah’ or Earth, Physical Organs and Mind as also Food, Vigour and Self Control. Also were created Veda Mantras, Rites, Worlds, Names, Nomencltures of Beings and Forms. The Maharshi also explained the ‘Shodasha Kalaas’ of or sixteen constituents of Human Beings counting from Praana would get merged into the Purusha with no trace of the merging traits and features. Death is thus but a gateway to another cycle of births and deaths. In each such existence, Consciousness activates mind but the latter executes actions by the organs and senses, while Antaratma remains as a spectator to the actions of body parts and senses which are all but mortal! This was how the last question was replied by the Maharshi Pippadaadi.

To conclude,the Six questions were about the Creation of the Universe and the methodology of Realisation; the prime supports of Life and Praana; Origin and destination of Mortal Life; Dreams during Life and the pattern of control and significance of towards Self Realisation; ‘Om’ the gate way to better life and beyond and Shodasha Kalas or Sixteen body organs and senses interplaying with the Antaratma!

Sri V.D.N.Rao and Shri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham presents the Essence of Puranas in English, condensed by Sri. V.D.N.Rao, devotee of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. Compiled, Composed and Interpreted by V.D.N.Rao, Former General Manager, India Trade Promotion Organisation, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi Ministry of Commerce, Govt. of India The author can be contacted at