Translation By Dr.Radhakrishnan

Presented by Veeraswamy Krishnaraj


PRAŚNA UPANIṢAD  from Page 649 to 668. Part of The Principal Upaniad


1. Aum May we, O gods, hear what is auspicious with our ears. Oh ye, who are worthy of worship, may we see with our eyes what is auspicious. May we enjoy the life allotted to us by the gods, offering praise, with our bodies strong of limb.  

2. svasi: na indro vṛddha-śravaḥ, svasti naḥ pūṣā viśva-vedāḥ, svasti nas tārkṣyo ariṣṭa-nemiḥ, svasti no bṛhaspatir, dadhātu, Auṁ sāntiḥ, sāntiḥ, sāntiḥ. 

2. May Indra, of increasing glory, bestow prosperity on us, may Pūṣan, the knower of all, bestow prosperity on us, may Tārkṣya, of unobstructed path, bestow prosperity on us. May Bṛhaspati bestow prosperity on us. Aum, peace, peace, peace.

Praśna Upaniṣad    Page 650

The Praśna Upaniṣad belongs to the Atharva Veda and has six sections dealing with six questions put to a sage by his disciples who were intent on knowing the nature of the ultimate cause, the power of aum, the relation of the Supreme to the constituents of the world. The Upaniṣad is so called as it deals with Praśna or question

I.4   Praśna Upaniṣad     651

Question 1


1. Sukeśa son of Bhāradvāja, Satyakāma son of Śibi, Gārgya grandson of Sūrya, Kausalya son of Aśvala, Bhargava of the Vidarbha country, Kabandhī son of Kātya, these, indeed, devoted to Brahman, intent on Brahman, seeking the highest Brahman, approached the revered Pippalāda with sacrificial fuel in their hands, thinking that he would explain all to them.

2. To them that seer said, live with me another year with austerity, chastity and faith. Then ask us questions according to your desire and if we know, we shall, indeed, tell you all that.

tapasā: with austerity sense restraint indriya-samyamena. S.

brahmacaryeṇa: with chastity. yoṣitsmaraṇa-kīrtana-keḷiprekṣaṇa guhyabhāṣaṇa-saṁkalpādhyavasāyakriyā-nirvṛtti-lakṣanāṣṭavidhamaithuna-varyanarūpa-brahmacaryeṇa. R


3. Then Kabandhī, son of Kātya, approached him and asked, Venerable Sir, whence, verily, are all these creatures born?

atha: then, i.e. after a year.


652     The Principal Upaniṣads    I.7.


4. To him he said, Prajā-pati (the lord of creation), verily, was desirous of offspring. He performed austerity, Having performed austerity, he produced the pair, matter and life, thinking that they would produce creatures for bun variously.

rayi: matter, feminine.

prāṇa: life, masculine. These two are interpreted also as food and its eater. Here we have a duality of primary existences answering to matter and form of Aristotle. The application of this duality in the following verses is somewhat strange.


5. The sun, indeed, is life. Matter itself is the moon. Matter is, verily, all this, whatever is formed and formless Therefore, whatever is formed is itself matter.

Matter and life interact and produce the whole creation. Everything, gross and subtle, is matter. In the cosmic process or becoming, there is always the element of matter rayi is the maternal medium in which all forms are expressed.

rayir evānnam S. sarvam api būtajātaṁ rayiḥ. R.

6. Now the sun, after rising, enters the eastern side. By that, he bathes in his rays all life that is in the east. When he illumines all the other sides of the south, the west, the north, below, above and in between, by that he bathes in his rays all living beings.

7. This is he the Vaiśvānara fire, assuming every form, life and fire who uses (every day). This very doctrine is declared in a verse of the Ṛg Veda.

The sun which is life in its infinite variety rises as fire.

Vaiśvānara is said to be the essence of all living beings, while Viśvarūpa is said to be the essence of the whole cosmos, according to Ᾱnandagiri.

I.10   Praśna Upaniṣad     653

8. Who has all forms, the golden one, the all-knowing, the goal (of all), the sole light, the giver of heat, possessing a thousand rays, existing m a hundred formsthus rises the sun, the life of all creation.

See Maitrī VI.8.

The Sun, in many systems of ancient times, is regarded as the infinite life of all beings.



9. The year, verily, is the lord of creation; of it (there are) two paths, the southern and the northern. Now those, verily, who worship, thinking 'sacrifice and pious acts are our work,' they win only the human world. They certainly return again. Therefore, the sages, desirous of offspring, take the southern route. This, which is called the path of ancestors, is verily matter (rayi).

The southern route is the material path where we perform acts with selfish desires. These acts are of two lands iṣṭa and pūrta. The former relates to acts of ceremonial piety, observances of Vedic ritual, the latter to acts of social service and public good.

654   The Principal Upaniṣads    I.12

10. But those who seek for the Self by austerity, chastity, faith and knowledge, they, by the northern route, gain the sun. That, verily, is the support of life breaths. That is eternal, the fearless. That is the final goal. From that they do not return. That is the stopping (of rebirth). About that, there is this verse.

Conventional piety and altruism are distinguished from ethical and spiritual development. The former do not save us from subjection to time, the latter do.

tapas is bodily control, bordering on mortification. Brahmacharya is sexual continence. Sraddha is faith in the Divine. Ᾱtma-vidyā is self-knowledge.

Through the Sun they attain to Brahman.

11. They speak of him as the father, having five feet, and twelve forms, seated m the higher half of the heavens, full of water. And others, again, speak of him as the omniscient set on (a chariot of) seven wheels and six spokes.

pańca-pādam· having five feet, i.e. five seasons. Cp. R.V. I. 164.I2.

S says that hemanta and śiśira seasons are combined into one.

Pitaram: father. Time is the father of all things.

dvādaśākṛtim: twelve forms, twelve months. Timee is ever on the move in the form of seven horses and six seasons.

12. The month, verily, is the lord of creation. Of this the dark half is matter, the bright half is life. Therefore, the seers perform sacrifices in the bright half, others in the other half.

The distinction between matter and form is stressed.

II.1     Praśna Upaniṣad      655

13. Day and night are, verily, the lords of creation. Of this, day indeed is life and the night verily is matter. They who join in sexual intercourse by day spill their life, that they join in sexual intercourse by night is chastity indeed.

It is clear from this verse that Brahmacharya or chastity is not sexual abstinence but sex control. With all their exaltation of celibacy the Upaniṣads recognize the value of married life.

I4. Food, indeed, is the lord of creation; from this, verily, is semen. From this creatures here are born.

15. Thus, those who practice this rule of the lord of creation, produce couples. To them alone is this brahma world, in whom austerity, chastity and truth are established.

The seers of the Upaniṣads were not blind to the natural innocence and beauty of sex life and parental love.

16. To them is that stainless brahmā world, in whom there is no crookedness, falsehood or trickery.

Māyā: trickery, the art of saying one thing and doing another.

This use of the word māyā has led to the view that the world is deceptive in character.

Question 2


656 The Principal Upaniṣads II.5

I. Then Bhārgava of the Vidarbha country asked him (Pippalāda): Venerable sir, how many powers support the created world? How many illumine this? And who again among them is the greatest?

2 To him, he said 'ether verily is such a power-wind, fire, water, earth, speech, mind, eye and ear too. They, having illumined it, declare, ''we sustain and support this body."

bāṇa: body.


3. Life, the greatest of them, said to them· 'Do not cherish this delusion, I, alone, dividing myself fivefold, sustain and support this body.'

Pańcadhā: fivefold, the five forms of breath.

4. They believed him not. Through pride, he seemed to go upward (from the body). When he went up, all the others also went up. When he settled down, all others too settled down. This, as all the bees go up when the king bee goes up and as they settle down when the king bee settles down, even so, speech, mind, sight and hearing. They, being satisfied, praise life.  King bee = Queen Bee. Krishnaraj.

5. As fire, he burns, he is the sun. He is the bountiful rain-god; He is the wind. He is the earth, matter, god. He is being and non-being and what is immortal.

sad-asat: the formed and the unformed. sat mūrtam, asat amūrtam. Śaṁkara.

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6. As spokes in the center of a wheel, everything is established m life; the Ṛg (verses), the Yajus (formulas) and the sāmans (chants) as also sacrifice, velour and wisdom.

7. As the lord of creatures, thou movest in the womb, it is then thyself that art born again. O life, creatures'here bring offering to thee who dwellest with the vital breaths.

Prajā-pati moves in the form of the seed in the father and the son in the mother. This verse reveals the state of scientific knowledge in those days.

8. Thou art the chief bearer (of offerings} to the gods; thou art the first offering to the fathers, thou art the true practice of the seers, descendants of Atharvan and Aṅgiras.

9. Indra art thou, O Life, by thy velour; Rudra art thou as a protector. Thou movest in the atmosphere as the sun, the lord of the lights.

10. When thou pourest down rain, then these creatures breathe (and) live in a state of bliss (thinking} that there will be food according to their desire.

11. Thou art ever pure, O Life, the one seer, the eater, the real lord of all. We are the givers of what is to be eaten O, all-pervading Air, thou art our father.

Vrātya: ever pure 'Being the first born and so having no one else to initiate you, you are uninitiated. The meaning is that you are by nature, pure.' Later vrātya came came to mean one who lost caste by non-observance of Prescribed ceremonies or otherwise samskāra-hīnaḥ. See A and R.

ekarṣi: the one seer, the name given to Agni by the followers of the Atharva Veda. See Īśa 16.

658   The Principal Upaniṣads   III.2

12. That form of thine which is well-established in the speech or in the ear and in the eye, which exists continuously in the mind, make that auspicious, do not get away.

Śivām: auspicious or restful. Sāntam. S.  śobhanam. R.

13. All this is under the control of life, which is well established in the three worlds. Protect us as a mother her sons. Grant to us prosperity and wisdom.

For a controversy between prāṇa or life principle and the organs of sense.,see CU VI 6-15.

as a mother to her sons: In the Devī Bhāgavata, the devotee prays 'O noble Goddess, may this relationship of mother and son prevail unbroken between thee and me, now and for ever more.'

Question 3


1. Then Kausalya, the son of Aśvala, asked him (Pippalāda): Venerable Sir, whence is this life born? How does it come into this body? And how does it distribute itself and establish itself? In what way does it depart? How does it support what is external? How (does it support) what relates to the self?

2. To him, he then said You are asking questions which are (highly) transcendental Because (I think) you are most devoted to Brahman, I will tell you.

Atipraśnān: questions of a transcendental character such as the origin of the world.

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3. This life is born of the self. As in the case of a person there is this shadow, so is this (life) connected (with the self). It comes into this body by the activity of the mind.

A person's life in this body is the appropriate result of his activities in the previous existence. As the shadow of former lives a new life arises.

4. As a sovereign commands his officers, saying, 'you superintend such and such villages,' even so does this life allot the other vital breaths to their respective places.

5. The out-breath is in the organs of excretion and generation; the life breath as such is in the eye and ear as also in the mouth and nose. In the middle is the equalizing breath. It is this that equalizes whatever is offered as food. From this arise the seven flames.

6. In the heart is this self. Here are these hundred and one arteries. To each one of these belong a hundred smaller arteries. To each of these belong seventy-two thousand branching arteries. Within them moves the diffused breath.

See CU VIII 6-6, BU II 1-19.

The self which is in the heart is the Jīvātman or the liṅgātman. S and A.

7. Now, rising upward through one of these the up-breath leads, in consequence of good (work) to the good world, in consequence of evil to the evil world, in consequence of both to the world of men.

660   The Principal Upaniṣads

8. The sun, verily, rises as the external life for it is that which helps the life breath in the eye. The divinity which is in the earth supports a person's outbreath. What is between (the sun and the earth) is the equalizing breath. Air is the diffused breath.

9. Fire, verily, is the upbreath. Therefore, he whose fire (of life) has ceased, goes to rebirth, with his senses sunk in mind.

10. Whatever is one's thinking, therewith one enters into life, His life combined with fire along with the self leads to whatever world has been fashioned (in thought).

11. The wise one who knows life thus, to him there shall be no lack of offspring. He becomes immortal. As to this, there is this verse.

12. The birth, the entrance, the abode, the fivefold overlordship and the relation to self of the life, knowing these one obtains immortality, knowing these one obtains immortality.

Anyone who knows the birth of life, its entrance into the body, how it abides there in its fivefold division and knows its relation to the inner spirit enjoys eternal life.

Question 4


IV 4.  Praśna Upaniṣad    661

I. Then Gārgya, the grandson of Sūrya, asked him (Pippalāda): Venerable Sir, what are they that sleep in this person? What are they that keep awake in him? What is the god that sees the dreams? Whose is this happiness? In whom, pray, are all these established?

2. To him, then, he said· O Gārgya, as all the rays of the setting sun become one in this circle of light and as they spread forth when he rises again and again, even so does all this become one in the supreme god, the mind. Therefore, in that state, the person hears not, sees not, smells not, tastes not, touches not, speaks not, takes not, rejoices not, emits not, moves not. (Then) they say, he sleeps.

3. The fires of life alone remain awake in this city. The householder's fire is the out-breath The (southern) sacrificial fire is the diffused breath. The in-breath is the oblation fire, from being taken, since it is taken from the householder's fire.

Life is conceived as a sacrifice and these three life breaths are symbolically identified with the fires used m the Vedic sacrifice. Gārhapatya, householder's fire. It is the sacred home fire kept burning at home.

Anvahārya-pacana: southern sacrificial fire. It is the fire of the south used for offerings to the ancestors.

4. The equalizing breath is so called because it equalizes the two oblations, the in-breathing and the out-breathing. The mind, indeed, is the sacrificer. The fruit of sacrifice is the up-breath. It leads the sacrificer every day to Brahman.

See C U. VI. 8. 1. In deep sleep the soul is said to be at one with Brahman, only we do not know it See also CU. VIII. 3.2

662     The Principal Upaniṣads     IV.8 

5. There, in sleep, that god (mind), experiences greatness. He sees again whatever object has been seen, he hears again whatever has been heard, he experiences again and again whatever has been experienced in different places and directions. What has been seen and not been seen, what has been heard and what has not been heard, what has been experienced and what has not been experienced, what is existent and what is non-existent, he sees all, being all he sees (all).

Usually in dreams. we have reproductions of waking experiences but sometimes we have also new constructions. See BU. IV.3 9-18, where the creative side of dream consciousness is mentioned.


6. When he is overcome with light, then in this state, the god (mind) sees no dreams. Then here in this body arises this happiness.

The state of dreamless sleep is described here.

7. Even as birds, O dear, resort to a tree for a resting-place, so does everything here resort to the Supreme Self. They all find their rest in the Supreme Self.

IV.11.   Praśna Upaniṣad     663

8. Earth and the elements of earth, water and the elements of water, fire and the elements of fire, air and the elements of air, ether and the elements of ether, sight and what can be seen, hearing and what can be heard, smell and what can be smelled, taste and what can be tasted, the skin and what can be touched, speech and what can be spoken, hands and what can be handled, the organ of generation and what can be enjoyed, the organ of excretion and what can be excreted, the feet and what can be walked, the mind and what can be perceived, the intellect and what can be conceived, the self-sense and what can be connected with the self, thought and what can be thought, radiance and what can be illumined, life-breath and what can be supported by it.

We have here an enumeration of the Sāṁkhya principles of the five cosmic elements, the ten organs of perception and action, mind, intellect, self-sense (ahaṁkāra) and thought together with light and life.

9. He, verily, is the seer, the toucher, the hearer, the smeller, the taster, the perceiver, the knower, the doer, the thinking self, the person. He becomes established in the Supreme Undecaying Self.

The subject self is established in the Spirit which transcends all duality, even the distinction of subject and object.

10. He who knows the shadowless, bodiless, colourless, pure, undecaying self attains verily, the Supreme, Undecaying (self). He who, O dear, knows thus becomes omniscient, (becomes) all to this, there is this verse.

11. He who knows that Undecaying (self) in which are established the self of the nature of intelligence, the vital breaths and the elements along with all the gods (powers) becomes, O dear, omniscient and enters all.

664   The Principal Upaniṣads    V.4

Question 5

1. Then Satya-kāma, son of Śibi, asked him (Pippalāda) Venerable Sir, what world does he, who among men, meditates on (the syllable) Aum until the end of his life, win by that?

Śaṁkara (S) explains abhidhyāna to be intense contemplative activity free from all distractions.

2. To him, he said· That which is the sound Aum, O Satya-kāma, is verily the higher and the lower Brahman. Therefore, with this support alone does the wise man reach the one or the other.

The verse distinguishes between the Unqualified Absolute Brahman and the qualified Personal Īśvara.

Krishnaraj: Unqualified Absolute Brahman = Brahman with no attributes. Formless, nameless, changeless…

Qualified Personal Īśvara: With form, name and auspicious qualities endowed with the power of Māyā. This entity goes by another name: Śabda or Sound Brahman.

In Srivaishnavism, there is no distinction between two Brahmans. There is only one Brahman, who has auspicious qualities: Sriman Narayana.

3. If he meditates on one element (a), he, enlightened even by that, comes quickly to the earth (after death). The Ṛcas (verses) lead him into the world of men. There, endowed with austerity, chastity and faith, he experiences greatness.

4. Then, (if he meditates on this) as of two elements (au) he attains the mind. He is led by the yajus (formulas) to the intermediate space, the world of the moon, having experienced greatness there, he returns hither again.

V. 6.     Praśna Upaniṣad      665

5. But if he meditates on the highest person with the three elements of the syllable Aum (a, u, m), he becomes one with the light, the sun. Even as a snake is freed from its skin, even so is he freed from sins. He is led by sāma (chants) to the world of Brahma. He sees the person that dwells in the body, who is higher than the highest life. As to this there are these (two verses).

Saṁkara says: The world of Brahma is the world of Hiraṇya-garbha who is the lord of the satya-loka Hiraṇya-garbha is the self of all the jīvas travelling in saṁsāra, for he is the internal self of all living beings in the subtle form and in him, the subtle self are all the Jīvas strung together.

The knower of the three elements a, u, m, sees the Supreme beyond the Hiraṇya-garbha. He obtains liberation and is not forced to return to mundane life. He sees the Supreme Īśvara who is beyond the world-soul and that vision qualifies him for liberation.  

6. The three elements (each) leading to death (by itself), if they are united to each other without being separated and employed in actions well performed, external, internal or intermediate, the knower does not waver.

If a man meditates on the three elements, separately, it is an emblem of mortality, if he meditates on them as interconnected, he gets beyond mortality.

The interconnection of the three elements, a, u, m, indicates the inter-relatedness of the three worlds of waking, dream and sleep.

He becomes one with the personal Supreme Īśvara, obtains sarvātmatva, becomes one with the whole universe and is not disturbed as there is nothing independent of him, sva-vyatiriktābhāvāt. A

666    The Principal Upaniṣads    VI. 2.

7. With the ṛg (verses) (one attains) this world with the yajus (formulas) (one attains) the interspace and with the sāman (chants) (one attains) to that which the seers recognize. That, the Wise one attains, even by the mere sound. Aum as support, that which is tranquil, unaging, immortal, fearless and supreme.

Kavayah: sūrayaḥ sages.

The Supreme status is beyond the three worlds The turiya state, though it underlies the other three states also transcends them.

Question 6 


7. Then, Sukeṣa, son of Bhāradvāja, asked him: Venerable Sir, Hiraṇya-nābha, a prince of the Kosala kingdom approached me and asked this question, 'Bhāradvāja, do you know the person with sixteen parts?' I replied to that prince, 'I know him not. If I had known him, why should I not tell you about it. Verily, to his roots, he withers, who speaks untruth. Therefore, it is not proper for me to speak untruth.' In silence, he mounted his chariot and departed. I ask you about him, where is that person?

He who speaks an untruth withers to his roots.

VI. 5   Praśna Upaniṣad    667 

2. To him he said. Even here, within the body, O dear, is that person in whom these sixteen parts arise.

The self of the sixteen parts becomes in the Sāṁkhya system the liṅga-śarīra or the subtle body (see below verse 4), with some modifications.

3. He (the person) thought (in himself): In whose departure shall I be departing? And in whose settling down shall I be settling down?

4. He created life; from life, faith, ether, air, light, water, earth, sense organ, mind and food; from food, vital vigour, austerity, hymns, works, worlds and in the worlds name.

S means by Hiraṇya-garbha or the world-soul. Sraddhā or faith comes next and then the material elements.

Nāma suggests individuation. The souls exist in the world-soul in their subtle condition, and then they acquire embodiment or gross condition.

5. As these flowing rivers tending towards the ocean, on reaching the ocean, disappear, their name-shape broken up, and are called simply the ocean, even so of this seer, these sixteen parts tending towards the person, on reaching the person, disappear, their name-shape broken up, and are called simply the person. That one is without parts, immortal. As to that there is this verse:

See M.U. IV.2.8; C.U.VIII.10.te

As the names of the rivers are lost in the sea, so are our names and shapes lost when we reach the Divine, 'To Tao all under heaven will come as streams and torrents now flow into great river or sea.'  Tao Te Ching , XXXII.  CP. Rūmī 'that your drop may become the sea' (ode 12), and 'None has knowledge of each who enters that he is so and so' (Ode I5 Nicholson: Shams-i-Tabriz). Eckhart says 'When I go back into the ground, into the depths, into the well-spring of the Godhead, no one will ask me whence I came or whither I went.'

Cp Christina Rosetti:

'Lord, we are rivers running to Thy sea,

Our waves and ripples all derived from Thee,

A nothing we should have, a nothing be

Except for Thee. '

668    The Principal Upaniṣads    VI 8

6. In whom the parts are well established as spokes in the center of the wheel, know him as the person to be known, so that death may not afflict you.


7. To them, then, he (Pippalāda) said, 'only thus far do I know of that Supreme Brahman. There is naught higher than that.'

8. They praised him (and said). Thou, indeed, art our father who does take us across to the other shore of ignorance.

Salutation to the supreme seers.

Salutation to the supreme seers.

naḥ pitā: our father, The teacher who helps us to know the truth is the spiritual father as distinct from the physical father, śarīra-mātram janayati.  S.