The final question

Lastly, Sukesa asked the sage: ” Where is the Self?”

The sage replied: “My child, within this body dwells the Self, from whom sprang the sixteen parts of the universe; and in this manner they came into being:’If, creating, I enter my creation,’the Self reflected, ‘what is there to bind me to it; what is there to go out, to stay within it when I stay?’ Pondering thus, and in answer to his thought, he made Prana; and from Prana he made desire; and from desire he made ether, air, fire, water, earth, the senses, the mind, and food; and from food he made vigour, penance, the Vedas, the sacrificial rites, and all the worlds. Thereafter, in the worlds, he created names. And the number of the elements he thus created was sixteen. As the flowing rivers, whose destination is the sea, having reached it disappear in it, losing their names and forms, and men speak only of the sea; so these sixteen parts created from his own being by the Self, the Eternal Seer, having returned to him from whom they came, disappear in him, their destination, losing their names and forms, and people speak only of the Self. Then for man the sixteen parts are no more, and he attains immortality.

Thus it was said of old: ‘The sixteen parts are spokes projecting from the Self, who is the hub of the wheel. The Self is the goal of knowledge. Know him and go beyond death.’ ” The disciples in Prasna upanishad understood, and the story concludes with ‘OM…peace – peace – peace.’

Gargya’s question

Gargya then asked: “Master, when a man’s body sleeps, who is it within that sleeps, and who is awake, and who is dreaming? Who then experiences happiness, and with whom are all the sense organs united?”

“As the rays of the sun, O Gargya, when he sets,” replied the sage, “gather themselves up in his disk of light, to come out again when he rises, so the senses gather themselves up in the mind, the highest of them all. Therefore, when a man does not hear, see, smell, taste, touch, speak, grasp, enjoy, we say that he sleeps. Only the Pranas are then awake in the body, and the mind is led nearer to the Self. While in dream, the mind revives its past impressions. Whatever it has seen, it sees again; whatever it has heard, it hears again; whatever it has enjoyed in various countries and in various quarters of the earth, it enjoys again. What has been seen and not seen, heard and not heard, enjoyed and not enjoyed, both the real and the unreal, it sees; yea it sees all. When the mind is overcome by deep slumber, it dreams no more. It rests happily in the body.

As birds, my friend, fly to a tree for a rest, even so do all these things fly to the Self: earth and its peculiar essence, water and its peculiar essence, fire and its peculiar essence, air and its peculiar essence, ether and its peculiar essence, the eye and what it sees, the ear and what it hears, the nose and what it smells, the tongue and what it tastes, the skin and what it touches, the voice and what it speaks, the hands and what they grasp, the feet and what they walk on, the mind and what it perceives, the intellect and what it understands, the ego and what it appropriates, the heart and what it loves, light and what it illuminates, energy and what it binds together. For verily it is the Self that sees, hears, smells, tastes, thinks, knows, acts. He is Brahman, whose essence is knowledge. He is the immutable Self, the Supreme.”

Kousalya’s question

And when it was the turn of Kousalya, he put this question: “Master, of what is Prana born; how does he enter the body; how does he live there after dividing himself; how does he go out; how does he experience what is outside; and how does he hold together the body, the senses and the mind?”

To which the sage replied: “Kousalya, you ask very difficult questions; but since you are a sincere seeker after the truth of Brahman, I must answer. Prana is born of the Self. Like a man and his shadow, the Self and Prana are inseparable. Prana enters the body at birth, that the desires of the mind, continuing from past lives, may be fulfilled. As a king employs officials to rule over different portions of his kingdom, so Prana associates with himself four other Pranas, each a portion of himself and each assigned a separate function. The PRANA himself dwells in eye, ear, mouth, and nose; the APANA, which is the second Prana, rules the organs of excretion and generation; the SAMANA, which is the third Prana, inhabits the navel and governs digestion and assimilation. The Self dwells in the lotus of the heart, whence radiate a hundred and one nerves. From each of these proceed one hundred others, which are smaller, and from each of these, again, seventy-two thousand others, which are smaller still. In all these moves the VYANA, which is the fourth Prana. And then at the moment of death, through the nerve in the centre of the spine, the UDANA, which is the fifth Prana, leads the virtuous man upward to higher birth, the sinful man downward to lower birth, and the man who is both virtuous and sinful to rebirth in the world of men.

The sun is the Prana of the universe. It rises to help the Prana in the eye of man to see. The power of earth maintains the Apana in man. The ether between the sun and the earth is the Samana, and the all-pervading air is the Viyana. The Udana is fire, and therefore he whose bodily heat has gone out dies, after which his senses are absorbed in the mind, and he is born again. Whatever his thought at the moment of death, this it is that unites a man with Prana, who in turn, uniting himself with Udana and with the Self, leads the man to be reborn in the world he merits.”

More questions…

More questions in Prasna upanishad:

Then Bhargava approached the teacher and asked: “Holy sir, how many several powers hold together this body? Which of them are most manifest in it? And which is the greatest?”

“The powers”, replied the sage, “are ether, air, fire, water, earth – these being the five elements which compose the body; and besides these, speech, mind, eye, ear, and the rest of the sense organs. Once these powers made the boastful assertion: ‘we hold the body together and support it,’ whereupon Prana, the primal energy, supreme over them all, said to them: ‘Do not deceive yourselves. It is I alone, dividing myself fivefold, who hold together this body and support it. ‘ But they would not believe him. “Prana, to justify himself, made as if he intended to leave the body. But as he rose and appeared to be going, all the rest realised that if he went they also would have to depart with him; and as Prana again seated himself, the rest found their respective places. As bees go out when their queen goes out, and return when she returns, so was it with speech, mind, vision, hearing and the rest. Convinced of their error, the powers now praised Prana, saying,’As fire, Prana burns; as the sun, he shines; as cloud, he rains; as Indra, he rules the gods; as wind, he blows; as the moon, he nourishes all. He is that which is visible and also that which is invisible. he is immortal life.’

The fourth upanishad

Lets see what we learn from the fourth upanishad.

“Man is composed of such elements as vital breath, deeds, thought, and the senses – all of them deriving their being from the Self. They have come out of the Self, and in the Self they ultimately disappear – even as the waters of a river disappear in the sea.”

At the beginning of Prasna, the fourth upanishad that we are studying, we are introduced to some seekers of truth: “Sukesha, Satyakama, Gargya, Kousalya, Bhargava, and Kabandi, devotees and seekers after the truth of the supreme Brahman, with faith and humility approached the sage Pippalada. Said the sage: Practice austerity, continence, faith for a year; then ask what questions you wish. If can, I will answer.

After a year Kabandi approached the teacher and asked: ‘Sir, how did the creatures come into being?’ ‘The Lord of beings,’ replied the sage, ‘meditated and produced Prana, the primal energy, and Rayi, the giver of form, desiring that they, male and female, should in manifold ways produce creatures for him. Prana, the primal energy, is the sun; and Rayi, the form-giving substance is the moon…The rising sun pervades the east, and fills with energy all beings that there inhabit; and likewise when his rays fall on the south, the west, the north, the zenith, the nadir, and the intermediate regions, to all beings that there inhabit he gives life. Prana is the soul of the universe…'”