The Praśnopaniṣat – Part 1
The Praśnopaniṣad is a part of the brāhmaṇa portion of the Atharvaveda. At the beginning of the bhāṣya, commentary, to the Praśnopaniṣad Śrī Śaṅkarācārya says ‘This detailed exposition of what has been stated in the mantra portion is commenced herewith.’ The Upaniṣad contains six separate dialogues between a set of six different aspirants and the Teacher, Sage Pippalāda.
The story comprising of questions posed by the Ṛṣis and the replies given by Sage Pippalāda is a eulogy to the vidyā, esoteric knowledge, that comes out of the dialogue. In the same way, the injunction to stay in brahmacaryā, etc. and penance that are needed to gain this knowledge and that the knowledge is to be given out by no less an Ācārya than the omniscient Pippalāda and not any ordinary person, too, go to eulogize the vidyā. As the means such as brahmacaryā is indicated, it shows that they have to be necessarily adhered to.
The First Praśna
(‘Praśna’ is a question)
सुकेशा च भारद्वाजः शैब्यश्च सत्यकामः सौर्यायणी च गार्ग्यः कौसल्यश्चाश्वलायनो भार्गवो वैदर्भिः कबन्धी कात्यायनस्ते हैते ब्रह्मपरा ब्रह्मनिष्ठाः परं ब्रह्मान्वेषमाणा एष ह वै तत्सर्वं वक्ष्यतीति ते ह समित्पाणयो भगवन्तं पिप्पलादमुपसन्नाः ॥ १ ॥
सुकेशा Sukeśā च भारद्वाजः Son of Bharadvāja शैब्यः च son of Śibi सत्यकामः Satyakāma सौर्यायणी Sauryāyaṇī च गार्ग्यः family of Garga कौसल्यः Kausalya च आश्वलायनः son of Āśvala भार्गवः family of Bhṛgu वैदर्भिः Vaidarbhi कबन्धी Kabandhī कात्यायनः Kātyāyana ते ह एते all these ब्रह्मपराः devoted to Brahman ब्रह्मनिष्ठाः firm in Brahman परं ब्रह्म अन्वेषमाणाः seekers the Supreme Brahman एष ह वै ‘He indeed तत्सर्वं all that (about Brahman) वक्ष्यति will teach’ इति thus ते ह they समित्पाणयः with samit in hand भगवन्तं venerable पिप्पलादम् Pippalāda उपसन्नाः approached.
Om. Sukeśā, the Son of Bharadvāja and Satyakāma, the son of Śibi and Sauryāyaṇī, belonging to the family of Garga and Kausalya, the son of Aśvala and Vaidarbhi, belonging to the family of Bhṛgu and Kabandhī, the Son of Kātyāyana — all these, devoted to Brahman and firm in Brahman and seeking the Supreme Brahman, approached, fuel in hand, the venerable Pippalāda with the conviction that he would tell them everything about Brahman.
These are the aspirants who want to become disciples of Sage Pippalāda:
- Sukeśāḥ, son of Bharadvāja.
- Satyakāma, the son of Śibi
- Sauryāyaṇī. He is the son of Saurya who in turn is the son of Sūrya. He belongs to the Garga gotra (family).
- Kausalya, the son of Aśvala.
- Bhārgava, belonging to the family of Bhṛgu, of the country of Vidarbha.
- Kabandhī, son of Katya, the young one whose great grandfather is alive.
These six, who had taken the inferior (attributed) Brahman to be the Supreme Brahman and were seriously engaged in practices leading to the attainment of the Supreme. They were charged with the quest of the Supreme: ‘What is That which is Eternal and worthy of realizing?’ ‘To attain It we shall strive to our hearts’ content’. In order to know It they had come to Sage Pippalāda with the determination ‘He will teach us That in all Its completeness’. They approached him ceremonially, carrying the samit, the sacrificial fuel, in their hands. One can recall the Muṇḍakopaniṣat injunction that the seeker of Truth has to certainly approach only a Knower-Teacher reverentially carrying the samit in hand.
तान्ह स ऋषिरुवाच भूय एव तपसा ब्रह्मचर्येण श्रद्धया संवत्सरं संवत्स्यथ यथाकामं प्रश्नान्पृच्छत यदि विज्ञास्यामः सर्वं ह वो वक्ष्याम इति ॥ २ ॥
तान् ह to them स ऋषिः the Sage उवाच said भूय ‘one more एव alone तपसा austerities ब्रह्मचर्येण brahmacaryā श्रद्धया intense faith संवत्सरं year संवत्स्यथ stay on यथाकामं to your heart’s content प्रश्नान् questions पृच्छत pose यदि in case विज्ञास्यामः we know सर्वं all ह वः to you वक्ष्याम shall tell‘ इति thus
The Ṛṣi said to them: Stay with me a year more, practicing austerities, chastity and faith. Then you may ask questions according to your desire. If we know we shall tell you all.
To them who had come to him with due protocol, the Sage said: ‘Even though you are already tapasvin-s, engaged in severe austerities, yet stay here for a year performing austerities characterized by sense control, in particular, brahmacaryā, and śraddhā (intense faith). Be filled with ardor serving the Ācārya. Thereafter, whatever questions come to you regarding what is to be known, pose them freely. In case we know the answers we shall reply them completely.’ The ‘in case’ is indicative of humility and not ignorance or doubt on the part of the Ācārya. This is evident from the replies he gives to the questions posed.
अथ कबन्धी कात्यायन उपेत्य पप्रच्छ भगवन्कुतो ह वा इमाः प्रजाः प्रजायन्त इति ॥ ३ ॥
अथ then कबन्धी Kabandhī कात्यायनः the son of Katya उपेत्य came up पप्रच्छ and asked भगवन् ‘O Lord कुतो ह वा whence indeed इमाः these प्रजाः beings प्रजायन्त are born इति thus.
Then Kabandhī, the son of Katya, came to him and asked: Sir, whence are these creatures born?
The question of Kabandhī is to know what is the source of the entire lot of beings characterized by brāhmaṇa, etc. The idea is to find out what is the fruit achieved by the combination of the lower, aparā, vidyā and action, karma. It is well known that such a combination results in the person who so combines being born in a body that is dependent on the knowledge and action involved in the combination.
To him replied the venerable Ācārya:
तस्मै स होवाच प्रजाकामो वै प्रजापतिः स तपोऽतप्यत स तपस्तप्त्वा स मिथुनमुत्पादयते रयिं च प्राणं चेत्येतौ मे बहुधा प्रजाः करिष्यत इति ॥ ४॥
तस्मै to him स ह the teacher उवाच said प्रजाकामः desirous of progeny वै was indeed प्रजापतिः Prajāpati स he तपः austerity अतप्यत performed स he तपः तप्त्वा having performed austerity (thinking) स he मिथुनम् pair उत्पादयते created रयिं moon च and प्राणं prāṇa च and इति thus एतौ this pair मे to me बहुधा many प्रजाः progeny करिष्यत will produce इति thus he thought.
To him the teacher said: Prajāpati, the Creator, was desirous of progeny. He performed austerities and having performed austerities, created the pair, the moon (rayi) and the sun (prāṇa). He said to Himself: “These two should produce creatures for Me in manifold ways.”
In order to quell the questioner’s desire for an answer, the Teacher replied: Prajāpati, the first progenitor, being the self-of-all, the creator, also called Hiraṇyagarbha, at the beginning of the kalpa, thought to himself, with a view to produce the world, creatures, that are moving and unmoving, from himself. He is well prepared for the act, having performed the necessary combination of work and knowledge in the previous birth/s and full of that thought. The word ‘tapaḥ’ is the knowledge obtained by adhering to and illumined by the Veda. Having contemplated upon the Veda-illumined knowledge, he created the pair required to bring about the creation. The couple consists of moon, the food, and prāṇa, fire, the eater (the sun). The food (moon) and the eater of the food (sun) constitute the pair. Prajāpati thought ‘This pair will produce for me several types of progeny’. He created the Sun-Moon pair in the series of creating the Cosmic Egg. In effect, the pair is symbolic of energy and matter that is required for creation.
आदित्यो ह वै प्राणो रयिरेव चन्द्रमा रयिर्वा एतत्सर्वं यन्मूर्तं चामूर्तं च तस्मान्मूर्तिरेव रयिः ॥ ५ ॥
आदित्यः sun ह वै indeed प्राणः is prāṇa रयिः food एव alone चन्द्रमाः moon रयिः food वा indeed एतत् सर्वं all this यत् that which is मूर्तं formed च and अमूर्तं without form च and तस्मात् therefore मूर्तिः form एव alone रयिः food
The sun is, indeed, prāṇa, life; the moon is rayi, food. Food is, indeed, all this — what has form and what is formless. Therefore everything having form is, indeed, food.
Of that pair, Āditya, sun, is the consumer, agni, fire. The consumed, food, alone is the Candramāḥ, moon. Surely, the food is soma, the moon. The consumer and the consumed are but one, the pair, which is none other than Prajāpati, who has identified himself with that pair. The distinction, however, between the members of the pair is only on the basis of one being the main and the other being the subordinate. How is this two-level classification done here? Rayiḥ, food, indeed is all this. It is characterized by being formed and therefore gross and un-formed and therefore subtle. The formed and unformed, the eaten and the eater, are food alone. That mūrtiḥ, gross, which is distinct from the subtle, unformed, is indeed rayiḥ, since it is eaten by the subtle eater. The idea is that Prajāpati, who identifies himself with the pair, is seen as the eater and the eaten at the level of the rayiḥ, moon and as eater and eaten in the mode of prāṇa, the sun.