Prasna Upanishad (Part-3)- How Does Life-Breath Function


While the first question dealt  with the creation of the gross physical body, the second question concerned  itself with the Prana which vitalizes the body and without which the body would  disintegrate. The discussion between the students and the teacher on the Prana  has reached that stage where a student felt like inquiring as to where does  this Prana reside and from where does it operate?

Thus we enter into the third  question where the student named Kausalya seeks further clarification on Prana – its origin, the entrance,  functioning and departure from the body as also its importance both at  individual and universal levels. In response, Pippalada first compliments  Kausalya for the good question to encourage him. He then replies to each of the  six segments of the question.



Mantra 1

atha hainam kaushalyashhchaashvalaayanah paprachchha | bhagavan.h kuta eshha praano jaayate kathamaayaatyasmijnshariira aatmaanam  vaa pravibhajya katham pratishhthate kenotkramate katham bahyamabhidhate kathamadhyaatmamiti || 1||

Then Kausalya, the son of  Asvala, asked Pippalada: Sir, from where does this Prana born? How does it come  into this body? How does it abide in the body after it has divided itself? How  does it depart? How does it support what is without and what is within the  body?

The enquiry is about where did this Prana come from? Prana here denotes  vital breath which sustains the body. This Prana is the manifestation of the  cosmic Prana or Prajapati. What is its source, the beginning? Who created the  universe? Vedanta says that there is no such thing as creation. Something  cannot be created out of nothing. If something exists, we assume something else  was there before it. Vedanta says that Brahman is the substratum on which this  universe rests. In fact, Brahman alone exists.

Then how does Prana enter the body and how does it leave? Previously  under the Second Question (Mantra 3), Pippalada mentioned that Prana divides  itself into five parts. How does this division take place and what are the  functions of the various parts? How does the Prana make all the created beings  operate? How does it support things pertaining to the body or outside the body?

Mantra 2

tasmai sa houvaachaatiprashhchaan.h prichchhasi brahmishhtho.asiiti tasmaatte.aham braviimi ||2||

To him the teacher replied:  You are asking difficult questions; you must be exceedingly devoted to Brahman.  Therefore I will answer you.

The teacher was convinced that  the student was showing genuine interest and seriousness in learning Brahma  Vidya and that his questions were not out of idle inquisitiveness. In fact the  nature of questions was such that they transcend the comprehension by persons  of normal consciousness. Hence he promises him that he will reply them.

Mantra 3

aatmana eshha praano jaayate | yathaishhaa purushhe chhaayaitasminnetadaatatam manokritenaayaatyasmijnshariire ||3||

This Prana comes from the  Self, Atman. Just as a shadow is cast by the body of a person, so this Prana  is, inherent in the Self, Atman and it enters the body by the activities of the  mind.

We have seen in Mantra 2 under  the previous question that Prana is  continuously existent in the mind. This concept is elaborated under this Mantra  with the help of a simile of the substance and the shadow.

When a physical body of a person  casts its shadow, the shadow does not exist independent of the body as shadow  is inherent in the body. The shadow is projected by the substance, so is the  whole universe is a projection of the Self. The shadow has no intrinsic  existence; it enjoys only a projected existence. A shadow is elusive for it can  never be caught. It escapes the grasp of man for it is intangible indicating  that the Self or spirit is present in the universe only in an intangible  manner.  Intangibility which resides in  all the objects is the shadow cast by the Self and like shadow it remains  beyond the grasp of man. That is the nature of Prana. Prana is projected from  the Self, Atman. Prana is perceived to exist because of Atman which is its  substratum. As there can be no shadow without substance so also is Prana and it  cannot be independent. Prana is entirely dependent on the Self and in that  sense it is unreal. It appears to be real because it rests on the reality, the  Self.

How did Prana enter the body? It  enters the body through the activities of the mind; that is to say through  action arising from volition, desire etc., which constitutes the mind. The very  existence of Prana in the body is dependent upon the movement of the mind. The  senses are vitalized by Prana and in turn, Prana is impelled by the activities  of the mind.

A man’s present life is the  result of his thoughts in a previous existence. This body is fashioned by our  own mind - by our volition, our desires, our decisions and resolutions during our  previous life. According to the Upanishad the mind creates the body, that is to  say that you are the architect of your own future life; as you think so you  become. Our desires bring us back to this world again and again. Thus this text  makes a reference to the doctrine of rebirth which is a very important concept  in Vedanta.

Even under the Yoga system Prana  follows Thought according to which the movement of Prana can be controlled by  thought. It is possible to focus the attention of Prana on any centre of the  body by clearly defined thought process.

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