Sacred Books of the East/Volume 15/Prasña-upanishad



Adoration to the Highest Self! Harih, Om!

1. Sukesas[1] Bhâradvâga[2], and Saivya Satyakâma, and Sauryâyanin[3] Gârgya, and Kausalya[4] Âsvalâyana, and Bhârgava Vaidarbhi[5], and Kabandhin Kâtyâyana, these were devoted to Brahman, firm in Brahman, seeking for the Highest Brahman. They thought that the venerable Pippalâda could tell them all that, and they therefore took fuel in their hands (like pupils), and approached him.

2. That Rishi said to them: "Stay here a year longer, with penance, abstinence, and faith; then you may ask questions according to your pleasure, and if we know them, we shall tell you all."

3. Then[6] Kabandhin Kâtyâyana approached him and asked: "Sir, from whence may these creatures be born?"

4. He replied: "Pragâpati (the lord of creatures) was desirous of creatures (pragâh). He performed penance[7], and having performed penance, he produces a pair, matter (rayi) and spirit (prâna), thinking that they together should produce creatures for him in many ways.

5[8]. The sun is spirit, matter is the moon. All this, what has body and what has no body, is matter, and therefore body indeed is matter.

6. Now Âditya, the sun, when he rises, goes toward the East, and thus receives the Eastern spirits into his rays. And when he illuminates the South, the West, the North, the Zenith, the Nadir, the intermediate quarters, and everything, he thus receives all spirits into his rays.

7. Thus he rises, as Vaisvânara, (belonging to all men,) assuming all forms, as spirit, as fire. This has been said in the following verse:

8[9]. (They knew) him who assumes all forms, the golden[10], who knows all things, who ascends highest, alone in his splendour, and warms us; the thousand-rayed, who abides in a hundred places, the spirit of all creatures, the Sun, rises.

9. The year indeed is Pragâpati, and there are two paths thereof, the Southern and the Northern. Now those who here believe in sacrifices and pious gifts as work done, gain the moon only as their (future) world, and return again. Therefore the Rishis who desire offspring, go to the South, and that path of the Fathers is matter (rayi).

10. But those who have sought the Self by penance, abstinence, faith, and knowledge, gain by the Northern path Âditya, the sun. This is the home of the spirits, the immortal, free from danger, the highest. From thence they do not return, for it is the end. Thus says the Sloka[11]:

11. Some call him the father with five feet (the five seasons), and with twelve shapes (the twelve months), the giver of rain in the highest half of heaven; others again say that the sage is placed in the lower half, in the chariot[12] with seven wheels and six spokes.

12. The month is Pragâpati; its dark half is matter, its bright half spirit. Therefore some Rishis perform sacrifice in the bright half, others in the other half.

13. Day and Night[13] are Pragâpati; its day is spirit, its night matter. Those who unite in love by day waste their spirit, but to unite in love by night is right.

14. Food is Pragâpati. Hence proceeds seed, and from it these creatures are born.

15. Those therefore who observe this rule of Pragâpati (as laid down in §13), produce a pair, and to them belongs this Brahma-world here[14]. But those in whom dwell penance, abstinence, and truth,

16. To them belongs that pure Brahma-world, to them, namely, in whom there is nothing crooked, nothing false, and no guile."


1. Then Bhârgava Vaidarbhi asked him: "Sir, How many gods[15] keep what has thus been created, how many manifest this[16], and who is the best of them?"

2. He replied: "The ether is that god, the wind, fire, water, earth, speech, mind, eye, and ear. These, when they have manifested (their power), contend and say: We (each of us) support this body and keep it[17].

3[18]. Then Prâna (breath, spirit, life), as the best, said to them: Be not deceived, I alone, dividing myself fivefold, support this body and keep it.

4. They were incredulous; so he, from pride, did as if he were going out from above. Thereupon, as he went out, all the others went out, and as he returned, all the others returned. As bees go out when their queen[19] goes out, and return when she returns, thus (did) speech, mind, eye, and ear; and, being satisfied, they praise Prâna, saying:

5. He is Agni (fire), he shines as Sûrya (sun), he is Parganya (rain), the powerful (Indra), he is Vâyu (wind), he is the earth, he is matter, he is God — he is what is and what is not, and what is immortal.

6. As spokes in the nave of a wheel, everything is fixed in Prâna, the verses of the Rig-veda, Yagur-veda, Sâma-veda, the sacrifice, the Kshatriyas, and the Brâhmans.

7. As Pragâpati (lord of creatures) thou movest about in the womb, thou indeed art born again. To thee, the Prâna, these creatures bring offerings, to thee who dwellest with the other prânas (the organs of sense).

8. Thou art the best carrier for the Gods, thou art the first offering[20] to the Fathers. Thou art the true work of the Rishis[21], of the Atharvângiras.

9. O Prâna, thou art Indra by thy light, thou art Rudra, as a protector; thou movest in the sky, thou art the sun, the lord of lights.

10. When thou showerest down rain, then, O Prâna, these creatures of thine are delighted[22], hoping that there will be food, as much as they desire.

11. Thou art a Vrâtya[23], O Prâna, the only Rishi[24], the consumer of everything, the good lord. We are the givers of what thou hast to consume, thou, O Mâtarisva[25], art our father.

12. Make propitious that body of thine which dwells in speech, in the ear, in the eye, and which pervades the mind; do not go away!

13. All this is in the power of Prâna, whatever exists in the three heavens. Protect us like a mother her sons, and give us happiness and wisdom."


1. Then Kausalya Âsvalâyana asked: "Sir, whence is that Prâna (spirit) born? How does it come into this body? And how does it abide, after it has divided itself? How does it go out? How does it support what is without[26], and how what is within?"

2. He replied: "You ask questions more difficult, but you are very fond of Brahman, therefore I shall tell it you.

3. This Prâna (spirit) is born of the Self. Like the shadow thrown on a man, this (the prâna) is spread out over it (the Brahman)[27]. By the work of the mind[28] does it come into this body.

4. As a king commands officials, saying to them: Rule these villages or those, so does that Prâna (spirit) dispose the other prânas, each for their separate work.

5. The Apâna (the down-breathing) in the organs of excretion and generation; the Prâna himself dwells in eye and ear, passing through mouth and nose. In the middle is the Samâna[29] (the on-breathing); it carries what has been sacrificed as food equally (over the body), and the seven lights proceed from it.

6. The Self[30] is in the heart. There are the 101 arteries, and in each of them there are a hundred (smaller veins), and for each of these branches there are 72,000[31]. In these the Vyâna (the back-breathing) moves.

7. Through one of them, the Udâna (the out-breathing) leads (us) upwards to the good world by good work, to the bad world by bad work, to the world of men by both.

8. The sun rises as the external Prâna, for it assists the Prâna in the eye[32]. The deity that exists in the earth, is there in support of man's Apâna (down-breathing). The ether between (sun and earth) is the Samâna (on-breathing), the air is Vyâna (back-breathing).

9. Light is the Udâna (out-breathing), and therefore he whose light has gone out comes to a new birth with his senses absorbed in the mind.

10. Whatever his thought (at the time of death) with that he goes back to Prâna, and the Prâna, united with light[33], together with the self (the gîvâtmâ) leads on to the world, as deserved.

11. He who, thus knowing, knows Prâna, his offspring does not perish, and he becomes immortal. Thus says the Sloka:

12. He who has known the origin[34], the entry, the place, the fivefold distribution, and the internal state[35] of the Prâna, obtains immortality, yes, obtains immortality."


1. Then Sauryâyanin Gârgya asked: "Sir, What are they that sleep in this man, and what are they that are awake in him? What power (deva) is it that sees dreams? Whose is the happiness? On what do all these depend?"

2. He replied: "O Gârgya, As all the rays of the sun, when it sets, are gathered up in that disc of light, and as they, when the sun rises again and again, come forth, so is all this (all the senses) gathered up in the highest faculty (deva)[36] the mind. Therefore at that time that man does not hear, see, smell, taste, touch, he does not speak, he does not take, does not enjoy, does not evacuate, does not move about. He sleeps, that is what people say.

3. The fires of the prânas are, as it were[37], awake in that town (the body). The Apâna is the Gârhapatya fire, the Vyâna the Anvâhâryapakana fire; and because it is taken out of the Gârhapatya fire, which is fire for taking out[38], therefore the Prâna is the Âhavanlya fire[39].

4. Because it carries equally these two oblations, the out-breathing and the in-breathing, the Samâna is he (the Hotri priest)[40]. The mind is the sacrificer, the Udâna is the reward of the sacrifice, and it leads the sacrificer every day (in deep sleep) to Brahman.

5. There that god[41] (the mind) enjoys in sleep greatness. What has been seen, he[41] 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, enjoyed and not enjoyed, he sees it all; he, being all, sees.

6. And when he is overpowered by light[42], then that god sees no dreams, and at that time that happiness arises in his body.

7. And, O friend, as birds go to a tree to roost, thus all this rests in the Highest Âtman,—

8. The earth and its subtile elements, the water and its subtile elements, the light and its subtile elements, the air and its subtile elements, the ether and its subtile elements; the eye and what can be seen, the ear and what can be heard, the nose and what can be smelled, the taste and what can be tasted, the skin and what can be touched, the voice and what can be spoken, the hands and what can be grasped, the feet and what can be walked, the mind and what can be perceived, intellect (buddhi) and what can be conceived, personality and what can be personified, thought and what can be thought, light and what can be lighted up, the Prâna and what is to be supported by it.

9. For he it is who sees, hears, smells, tastes, perceives, conceives, acts, he whose essence is knowledge[43], the person, and he dwells in the highest, indestructible Self,—

10. He who knows that indestructible being, obtains (what is) the highest and indestructible, he without a shadow, without a body, without colour, bright,— yes, O friend, he who knows it, becomes all-knowing, becomes all. On this there is this Sloka:

11. He, O friend, who knows that indestructible being wherein the true knower, the vital spirits (prânas), together with all the powers (deva), and the elements rest, he, being all-knowing, has penetrated all."


1. Then Saivya Satyakâma asked him: "Sir, if some one among men should meditate here until death on the syllable Om, what would he obtain by it?"

2. He replied: "O Satyakâma, the syllable Om (AUM) is the highest and also the other Brahman; therefore he who knows it arrives by the same means[44] at one of the two.

3. If he meditate on one Mâtrâ (the A)[45], then, being enlightened by that only, he arrives quickly at the earth[46]. The Rik-verses lead him to the world of men, and being endowed there with penance, abstinence, and faith, he enjoys greatness.

4. If he meditate with[47] two Mâtrâs (A+U) he arrives at the Manas[48], and is led up by the Yagus-verses to the sky, to the Soma-world. Having enjoyed greatness in the Soma-world, he returns again.

5. Again, he who meditates with this syllable AUM of three Mâtrâs, on the Highest Person, he comes to light and to the sun. And as a snake is freed from its skin, so is he freed from evil. He is led up by the Sâman-verses to the Brahma-world[49]; and from him, full of life (Hiranyagarbha, the lord of the Satya-loka[50]), he learns[51] to see the all-pervading, the Highest Person. And there are these two Slokas:

6. The three Mâtrâs (A+U+M), if employed separate, and only joined one to another, are mortal[52]; but in acts, external, internal, or intermediate, if well performed, the sage trembles not[53].

7. Through the Rik-verses he arrives at this world, through the Yagus-verses at the sky, through the Sâman-verses at that which the poets teach,— he arrives at this by means of the Onkâra; the wise arrives at that which is at rest, free from decay, from death, from fear,— the Highest."


1. Then Sukesas Bhâradvâga asked him, saying: "Sir, Hiranyanâbha, the prince of Kosalâ[54], came to me and asked this question: Do you know the person of sixteen parts, O Bhâradvâga? I said to the prince: I do not know him; if I knew him, how should I not tell you? Surely, he who speaks what is untrue withers away to the very root; therefore I will not say what is untrue. Then he mounted his chariot and went away silently. Now I ask you, where is that person?"

2. He replied: "Friend, that person is here within the body, he in whom these sixteen parts arise.

3. He reflected: What is it by whose departure I shall depart, and by whose staying I shall stay?

4. He sent forth (created) Prâna (spirit)[55]; from Prâna Sraddhâ (faith)[56], ether, air, light, water, earth, sense, mind, food; from food came vigour, penance, hymns, sacrifice, the worlds, and in the worlds the name[57] also.

5. As these flowing rivers[58] that go towards the ocean, when they have reached the ocean, sink into it, their name and form are broken, and people speak of the ocean only, exactly thus these sixteen parts of the spectator that go towards the person (purusha), when they have reached the person, sink into him, their name and form are broken, and people speak of the person only, and he becomes without parts and immortal. On this there is this verse:

6. That person who is to be known, he in whom these parts rest, like spokes in the nave of a wheel, you know him, lest death should hurt you."

7. Then he (Pippalâda) said to them: "So far do I know this Highest Brahman, there is nothing higher than it."

8. And they praising him, said: "You, indeed, are our father, you who carry us from our ignorance to the other shore."
Adoration to the highest Rishis!
Adoration to the highest Rishis!
Tat sat. Harih, Om!

  1. Sukeras seems better than Sukesan, and he is so called in the sixth Praa, in MS. Mill 74.
  2. Bhâradvâga, Saivya, Gârgya, Âsvalâyana, Bhârgava, and Kâtyâyana are, according to Sankara, names of gotras or families.
  3. Sûryasyâpatyam Sauryah, tadapatyam Sauryâyanih. Dîrghah sulopas ka khândasa iti sa eva Sauryâyanî.
  4. Kausalyo nâmatah, kosalâyâm bhavo vâ.
  5. Vaidarbhi is explained as vidarbheh prabhavah, or Vidarbheshu prabhavah. Vidarbha, a country, south of the Vindhya mountains, with Kundina as its capital. Vaidarbha, a king of the Vidarbhas, is mentioned in the Ait. Brâhm. VII, 34. Vaidarbhi is a patronymic of Vidarbha. See B.R. s.v.
  6. After the year was over.
  7. Or he meditated; see Upanishads, vol. i, p. 238, n. 3.
  8. Sankara explains, or rather obscures, this by saying that the sun is breath, or the eater, or Agni, while matter is the food, namely, Soma.
  9. Cf. Maitr. Up.VI, 8.
  10. Harinam is explained as rasmimantam, or as harati sarveshâm prâninâm âyûmshi bhaumân vâ rasân iti harinah. I prefer to take it in the sense of yellow, or golden.
  11. Rig-veda I, 164, 12. We ought to read upare vikakshanam.
  12. Saptakakre, i.e. rathe. The seven wheels are explained as the rays or horses of the sun; or as half-years, seasons, months, half-months, days, nights, and muhûrtas.
  13. Taken as one, as a Nychthemeron.
  14. In the moon, reached by the path of the Fathers.
  15. Devâh, powers, organs, senses.
  16. Their respective power.
  17. This is Sankara's explanation, in which bâna is taken to mean the same as sarîra, body. But there seems to be no authority for such a meaning, and Ânandagiri tries in vain to find an etymological excuse for it. Bâna or Vâna generally means an arrow, or, particularly in Brâhmana writings, a harp with many strings. I do not see how an arrow could be used as an appropriate simile here, but a harp might, if we take avashtabhya in the sense of holding the frame of the instrument, and vidhârayâmah in the sense of stretching and thereby modulating it.
  18. On this dispute of the organs of sense, see Brih. Up. VI, 1, p. 201; Khând. Up. V, 1 (S.B.E., vol. i, p. 72).
  19. In Sanskrit it is madhukararâga, king of the bees.
  20. When a srâddha is offered to the Pitris.
  21. Explained as the eye and the other organs of sense which the chief Prâna supports; but it is probably an old verse, here applied to a special purpose.
  22. Another reading is prânate, they breathe.
  23. A person for whom the samskâras, the sacramental and initiatory rites, have not been performed. Sankara says that, as he was the first born, there was no one to perform them for him, and that he is called Vrâtya, because he was pure by nature. This is all very doubtful.
  24. Agni is said to be the Rishi of the Âtharvanas.
  25. Instead of the irregular vocative Mâtarisva, there is another reading, Mâtarisvanah, i.e. thou art the father of Mâtarisvan, the wind, and therefore of the whole world.
  26. All creatures and the gods.
  27. Over Brahman, i. e. the Self, the parama purusha, the akshara, the satya. The prâna being called a shadow, is thereby implied to be unreal (anrita). Sahkara.
  28. Manokrita is explained as an ârsha sandhi. It means the good or evil deeds, which are the work of the mind.
  29. I keep to the usual translation of Samâna by on-breathing, though it is here explained in a different sense. Samâna is here supposed to be between prâna and apâna, and to distribute the food equally, samam, over the body. The seven lights are explained as the two eyes, the two ears, the two nostrils, and the mouth.
  30. Here the Lingâtmâ or Givâtmâ.
  31. A hundred times 101 would give us 10,100, and each multiplied by 72,000 would give us a sum total of 727,200,000 veins, or, if we add the principal veins, 727,210,201. Ânandagiri makes the sum total, 72 kotis f 72 lakshas, six thousands, two hundred and one, where the six of the thousands seems to be a mistake for dasasahasram. In the Brihadâr. Upanishad II, 1, 19, we read of 72,000 arteries, likewise in Yâgñavalkya III, 108. See also Brih. Up. IV, 3, 20; Khând. Up. VI, 5, 3, comm.; Kaush. Up. IV, 20; Katha Up. VI, 16.
  32. Without the sun the eye could not see.
  33. With Udâna, the out-breathing.
  34. This refers to the questions asked in verse 1, and answered in the verses which follow.
  35. The adhyâtma, as opposed to the vahya, mentioned in verse 1. Ayati instead of âyâti is explained by khândasam hrasvatvam.
  36. See note to verse 5.
  37. We ought to read agnaya iva.
  38. Pranayana, pranîyate 'smâd iti pranayano gârhapatyo 'gnih.
  39. The comparison between the pranas and the fires or altars is not very clear. As to the fires or altars, there is the Gârhapatya, placed in the South-west, the household fire, which is always kept burning, from which the fire is taken to the other altars. The Anvâhâryapakana, commonly called the Dakshina fire, placed in the South, used chiefly for oblations to the forefathers. The Âhavanîya fire, placed in the East, and used for sacrifices to the gods.

    Now the Âpana is identified with the Gârhapatya fire, no reason being given except afterwards, when it is said that the Prâna is the Âhavanîya fire, being taken out of the Gârhapatya, here called pranayana, in the same manner as the prâna proceeds in sleep from the apâna. The Vyâna is identified with the Dakshinâgni, the Southern fire, because it issues from the heart through an aperture on the right. pranyana, in the same manner as the prâna proceeds in sleep from the apina. The Vyâna is identified with the Dakshinâgni, the Southern fire, because it issues from the heart through an aperture on the right.

  40. The name of the Hotri priest must be supplied. He is supposed to carry two oblations equally to the Âhavanîya, and in the same way the Vyâna combines the two breathings, the in and out breathings.
  41. 41.0 41.1 The givâtman under the guise of manas. The Sanskrit word is deva, god, used in the sense of an invisible power, but as a masculine. The commentator uses manodevah, p. 212, 1. 5. I generally translate deva, if used in this sense, by faculty, but the context required a masculine. See verse 2.
  42. In the state of profound sleep or sushupti.
  43. Buddhi and the rest are the instruments of knowledge, but there is the knower, the person, in the Highest Self.
  44. Âyatanena, âlambanena.
  45. Dîpikâyâmkaspatinaivâkâramâtram ityeva vyâkhyâtam.
  46. Sampadyate prâpnoti ganmeti seshah.
  47. Srutau tritîyâ dvitîyârthe.
  48. Literally the mind, but here meant for the moon, as before. It is clear that manasi belongs to sampadyate, not, as the Dîpikâ and Roer think, to dhyâyîta. Some take it for svapnâbhimânî Hiranyagarbhah.
  49. The world of Hiranyagarbhah, called the Satyaloka.
  50. On a later addition, bringing in the Om as consisting of three Mâtrâs and a half, see Weber, Ind. Stud. I, p. 453; Roer, p. 138.
  51. Tadupadeseneti yâvat.
  52. Because in their separate form, A, U, M, they do not mean the Highest Brahman.
  53. The three acts are explained as waking, slumbering, and deep sleep; or as three kinds of pronunciation, târa-mandra-madhyama. They are probably meant for Yoga exercises in which the three Mâtrâs of Om are used as one word, and as an emblem of the Highest Brahman.
  54. Sankara explains Kausalya by Kosalâyâm bhavah. Ânandatîrtha gives the same explanation. Kosalâ is the capital, generally called Ayodhyâ. There is no authority for the palatal s.
  55. Sahkara explains prâna by sarvaprâno Hiranyagarbha (sarvaprânikaranâdhâram antarâtmânam).
  56. Faith is supposed to make all beings act rightly.
  57. Nâma stands here for nâmarûpe, name (concept) and form. See before, p. 259.
  58. Cf. Mund. Up. IV, 2, 8; Khând. Up. VIII, 10.