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This Upanishad belongs to the Pippalaadashakha of Atharva Veda where six sages ask six questions to Sage Pippalaada. The answers given deal with some aspects of Vedanta which have also been dealt with elsewhere, but clarify and elaborate the points. The questions and answers are given briefly here.
I. Who Creates Living Beings And Nonliving Matter?
Kaatyaayana asks the first question.
Pippalaada elaborates the process of creation as follows:
Prajapati desired to create beings and thought about it. He created at first Rayi and PraaNa (Bharati and Mukhya PraaNa) as the first couple. He then entered into them and created the Sun and Moon. The first couple also entered into the Sun and the Moon, through whom Prajapati created all other things. Tejas (energy), Ap (water) and Anna (food) are mUrta (having a physical body). Prakrti, etc., are a-mUrta. Rayi entered mUrta and PraaNa into amUrta. They activated the utpAdana shakti (ability to cause transformation) and assisted the process of creation. Rayi and PraaNa are also the presiding deities of dakshiNAyana (Southern solstice) and uttarAyaNa (Northern solstice), k.rshhNapaksha (fortnight ending in new moon day) and shukla paksha. (ending in full moon day), etc., and assist the process of creation. Finally Rayi in the wife and PraaNa in the husband also assist procreation.
Prajapati, the Supreme God, is the Creator of all at all stages. Rayi and PraaNa assist Him at all stages for creating deities and other sentient beings, non-living matter or entities, both mUrta and amUrta, the time spans of dakshiNAyana, uttarAyaNa, etc. Prajapati's role of creation extends from the first divine couple of Rayi and PraaNa, to the normal wife and husband, and to all parents. Thus Prajapati, the Supreme God is the Creator of all.
II. Who Is Superior Among The Deities?
Bhargava asks the next question: Which deities take care of the created beings and enable them to understand things? Who is the leader of the deities?
Pippalaada answers that tattvaabhimAni deities of AkAsha, vAyu, etc., take care of the respective things. Mukhya PraaNa is the leader of them all and is superior among them. He quotes an episode to illustrate this. Once, the tatvAbhimAni deities thought that they could manage their respective roles in a living body, without the presence and leadership of Mukhya PraaNa. To show them the error of their thinking, Mukhya PraaNa started moving out of the body. Immediately they were all forced to move out and were no longer able to take care of the respective functions of the body. They realised that Mukhya PraaNa was superior and controlled them also. They also saw that when Mukhya PraaNa returned to the body, they were able to perform their functions as before. The deities then praised Mukhya PraaNa by describing him as one who enables everyone else such as Indra, Surya, Agni, etc., to play their respective roles in controlling the various parts of the body. The senses such as the eye, ear, etc., and their abhimAni deities (controlling deities) function only under the direction of Mukhya PraaNa, who controls life itself. He is the leader of all the other deities and is superior to them. How ever, Mukhya PraaNa also functions under the control of the Supreme Being, Vishnu.
In answer to the first question, Pippalaada had said that Prajapati creates through Rayi and Mukhya PraaNa, and now in answer to the second question, he is explaining that through Mukhya PraaNa and the tatvAbhimAni deities under his control, Prajapati takes care of all created things and gives them understanding. All these are under the absolute control of Prajapati, the Supreme being.
III. Who Created Mukhya PraaNa And How Does Mukhya PraaNa Function?
Ashvalaayana asks the third question: Who created Mukhya PraaNa? How does the latter enter the body and take five forms? How does he come out of the body?
Pippalaada answers that the Supreme God creates Mukhya PraaNa. The latter has five forms -- PraaNa, Apaana, etc. These forms are of two kinds: The first set are the very forms of Mukhya PraaNa himself, and another set of five -- those who have arisen from these forms. These forms are located in different parts of the body and perform their respective functions. There are one hundred and one chief naaDi-s in the body, all of which have further branches and subbranches. The grand total of all these comes to 72,000. Vyaana functions through these naaDi-s. Mukhya PraaNa takes the soul away at the time of death, in his Udaana form. Thus Mukhya PraaNa plays very vital roles in the functioning of the body. However, he does so under the control of Vishnu.
IV. Whow Regulates Dream And Deep Sleep?
Gaargya asks the fourth question: When the soul is asleep, which of the senses and their presiding deities are withdrawn? Who shows dreams to the soul? How does the soul get happiness in deep sleep?
Pippalaada answers that during the dream state, the ten senses such as the eye, ear, etc., are withdrawn and their presiding deities also withdraw to the Taijasa form of the Supreme Being. The faculty of manas (mind) is not withdrawn. However, during deep sleep, this faculty is also withdrawn. The presiding deities of all ten senses and the mind are withdrawn to the Praajna form of the Lord, during deep sleep. Both during dreams and deep sleep, the five PraaNa-s are active and are not withdrawn. Dreams are shown by God. The soul experiences happiness during deep sleep, as he is close to the Supreme Being at that time. The most important point to be noted is that all the senses and their objects, their controlling deities and even Mukhya PraaNa are always under the control of God and function because of Him. The Supreme Being endows them with their respective capacities and all are eternally dependent on Him. He is Akshara. Those who know Him as such reach Him. The texts -- sarvaM pare Atman.h sampratishhTate and sarvameva avisheshha have to be understood in this light.
V. With Which Hymn Should One Meditate Upon God?
Satyakaama asks the fifth question: With which hymn should one meditate upon God and what is its effect?
Pippalaada answers -- One should meditate upon the Supreme Being with Omkaara, which conveys God. He further elaborates as to how the meditation of each syllable of Omkaara leads to special appropriate results.
VI. Who Is ShhoDashhakalA Purushha?
Bharadwaja asks the sixth question: Who is the Purushha (Person) with shhodashhakalA (16 attributes) and what are these?
Pippalada answers that the Supreme God Himself is that Purushha. The abhimAni devata-s such as PraaNa, ShraddhA, etc. (who are the controlling dieities), are the sixteen kalA-s. These are different from the 16 Kalas which constitute the linga shariira of the soul, which are created by God to enable the soul to get God-knowledge. After Liberation, the abhimAni devatA-s of these kalA-s attain God -- God is called shhoDashhakalA Purushha for this reason.
Through the six questions and answers, this Upanishad brings out the importance of Mukhya PraaNa, Omkaara and ShhoDashhakalA Purushha.