Prashnopanishad is a set of six questions posed by six students to their Guru Pippalaada, beginning with the concept of the macrocosm and proceeding towards the microcosm.
WORDS: MADHURI. Y
Prashna Upanishad is considered the fourth among the principal Upanishads. Also called Prashnopanishad or Shat Prashna Upanishad, it is part of the Atharva Veda along with the Mundaka Upanishad and the Mandukya Upanishad.
The oldest Upanishad is said to be composed in 800 BC and the principal Upanishads are believed to have been composed by the start of the common era.
In the Prashnopanishad, six questions are asked by six students; Kabandhi, son of Katya; Bhargava, of the gotra of Bhrigu of Vidarbha; Kausalya, son of Asvala; Sauryayani, of the gotra of Garga and grandson of Surya; Satyakama, son of Sibi; and Sukesa, son of Bharadvaja. Starting with the macrocosm, the questions proceed towards the microcosm and Guru Pippalaada gives the answers. The first three are metaphysical questions, the fourth question deals with philosophy, the fifth deals with Om and the sixth with Moksha.
When the six students approach him, Guru Pippalaada tells them to remain with him for a year with austerity, celibacy and faith. At the end of the year, he says, they can ask him the questions they wish to ask and that if he knows the answer, he will explain things to them.
After the year is over, Kabandhi, son of Katya, asks the first question, “From where are all these creatures born?”
Pippalaada replies, “Prajapati, the lord of all beings, decided to perform penance. After performing the penance, he brought about the union of matter and spirit so that many creatures could be produced from the union.”
According to Tattwa Bodha, at the top of the hierarchy is Brahman, or the Supreme Self, the non-dual reality. Maya, or illusion arises below that, leading to Ishwara, the Creator, or consciousness of the causal body. Below that is Hiranyagarbha, the cosmic womb or consciousness with the subtle body. It is that which is manifested, and is also known as Prajapati. This represents consciousness with the mind and it is at this level that austerity is performed.
Prajapati views rayi (matter) and prana (energy or life force) as equal although differences exist between the two.
Matter is gross and visible, it is the object, and it is inert and inanimate. Energy is subtle and invisible, it is the subject, that is, the performer of action, and it is dynamic and can perceive things. To Prajapati, these differences do not matter and both rayi and prana enjoy equal status.
Guru Pippalaada continues, “Sun is the energy or life, and Moon is the matter. Matter is that which has form and the formless. Hence, form is matter.”
Prajapati views both matter and energy, the form and formless, as equal and arising from the subtle elements. The Sun and Moon are not the celestial objects in the sky, but symbolic of energy and matter respectively. From this point of view, everything is matter and there is no difference between the two, although one cannot exist without the other. At the unmanifest level, they are prana, at the manifest level, they are rayi. The idea is that the Supreme Being pervades the Universe whether manifest or not.
(Continued in the next issue…)