Prasna Upanishad (Part-4)-Who In Man Sleeps, Dreams, And Keeps Awake

Mantra 3

praanaagraya evaitasmin.h pure jaagrati | gaarhapatyo ha vaa eshho.apaano vyaano.anvaahaaryapachano yadgaarhapatyaat.h praniiyate pranayanaadaahavaniiyah praanah || 3||

The flames of Prana alone  remain awake (bright) in this city (of the body) at the time of sleep. The  Apana is the Garhapatya Fire. The Vyana is the Anvaharyapachana Fire. The Prana  is the Ahavaniya Fire because it is taken out of the Garhapatya Fire.

The man’s body is compared to a city. As a city has gates the body likewise has gates or apertures which are eleven in number viz., two each of eyes, nostrils, and ears as also the mouth, the navel, the top of the head, the organs of excretion and generation. Bhagavad Gita refers to the body as navadvarapuri or a city with nine gates. The person who lives in this city or puri is called Purusha or the Self. The teacher says that Prana lives in this city keeping itself awake at the time of sleep. How? This is explained by giving the example of fires lit during Yajna or sacrifices.

At the time of the Vedic period of civilization, the social life and culture were revolving round the performance of various sacrifices or Yajna during which oblations were offered in the  various fire wells (Yajna Kund) for invoking the deities. As a daily ritual lifelong performance of the Agnihotra sacrifice was enjoined upon the householders. Three fires were necessary for this sacrifice. They are-

1. The Garhapatya fire – This fire is never allowed to be put out. It had to be kept alive through out the year. At the time of Agnihotra sacrifice the other two fires mentioned below were lit from this fire.

2. The Ahavaniya fire – This is used for offering oblations to the gods and

3. The Anvaharyapachana fire, also known as Dakshina or Southern fire – This is used for offering oblations to the departed ancestors. As this is placed on the southern side of the altar it is called Dakshinagni.

These fires were considered to be the means of communion with the gods and the ancestors in the olden times by the Hindus.

These external fires have their counterparts in the bodies of man. These sacrifices can also be made mentally.  In this Mantra various Pranas are identified with various fires as shown below because similar to Yajna fires, the pranas also remain active in our bodies as long as we are living.

Vyana – with the Southern fire because it issues from the right side of the heart.

Apana – with Garhapatya fire because it ever remains active.

Prana – with the Ahvaniya fire.

Even when all the other senses remain inactive in sleep, the different pranas keep watch over the body. Therefore they are compared to the sacrificial fires.

Mantra 4

yaduchchhvaasanihshvaasaavetaavaahutii samam nayatiiti sa  samaanah | mano ha vaava yajamaanah | ishhtaphalamevodaanah | sa enam yajamaanamaharaharbrahma gamayati || 4||

Samana is so called because it  distributes equally the two oblations, namely, the out - breathing and the in -  breathing; it is the priest. The mind, verily, is the sacrificer. Udana is the  fruit of the sacrifice, because it leads the sacrificer every day, in deep  sleep, to Brahman.

The example of Yajna is continued. During the performance of a sacrifice the priest distributes the oblations equally to the fire. So also, the Samana distributes equally the two breaths – inhalation and exhalation – for the protection of the body. The number of oblations and breaths are the same i.e., two.  Hence the one who has this knowledge about the prana is deemed to perform an Agnihotra sacrifice even in sleep.

In a sacrifice, the sacrificer (yajaman) is an important person. He performs the sacrifice with an end in view, say heaven or a son. Similarly the mind is also an important organ in this virtual Yajna, for it offers the senses and objects as oblations in to the ever wakeful fire of prana and yearns for experiencing the bliss of Brahman in a dreamless sleep. [Note: Compare this statement to the different types of yajnas described in the 4th Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita.]

At the time of death, the yajaman leaves the body through Udana and reaps the fruit of the sacrifice in heaven. Similarly, the same udana leads the mind (the yajaman) away from the dream state to the dreamless sleep state and enables it to attain everlasting bliss as it were the Bliss of imperishable Brahman. Therefore udana is called the fruit of the sacrifice. 

Here we should not jump to the conclusion that once we get the peace of mind and happiness out of a dreamless sleep we are deemed to have attained the Bliss of realizing Brahman or attained the Self. In that case taking a sleeping pill will be the easiest route to achieve Brahman. It is not as simple as that.

Vedanta describes three states of consciousness. They are:

The waking state during which one is conscious of the physical world outside.

The dream state, when one is conscious of the inner world and of objects created from the impressions of the waking state.

The state of dreamless sleep, when consciousness is free from the duality of subject and object and one experiences the feeling of undifferentiated awareness.

There is the fourth state called Turiya or Pure consciousness which permeates the three states and is immortal which is called Brahman. The three states of waking, dream and deep sleep are common to both the ignorant person and the illumined where the sense organs do not function and the prana fires keep a watch over the body and where the mind, free from waking and dreaming, remains inactive.

Vedanta often compares the Consciousness of Brahman to the consciousness experienced during deep sleep. Both are characterized by absence of pain and of the subject-object relationship. However, the differences between the ordinary bliss i.e. happiness we get out of dreamless sleep (considered as a state of ignorance) and the Bliss we will get on realizing Brahman (considered as a state of illumination) are  fundamental as explained in the following table.

The question ‘which deity is that which witnesses dreams’ is answered.  The answer is the mind with the senses gathered into it that experiences the dreams and not the Atman. Dreaming is the feature of the mind and not of the Self. Thus the purpose of this Mantra is to praise the Knowledge of Brahman.

Mantra 5

atraishha devah svapne mahimaanamanubhavati | yaddrishhtam drishhtamanupashyati shrutam shrutamevaarthamanushrinoti deshadigantaraishcha pratyanubhuutam punah punah pratyanubhavati drishhtam chaadrishhtam cha shrutam chaashrutam chaanubhuutam chaananubhuutam cha schchaasachcha sarvam pashyati sarvah pasyati || 5||

There, in dreams, that god, the  mind, experiences glory. Whatever has been seen he sees again; whatever has  been heard he hears again; whatever has been experienced in different countries  and quarters, he experiences again. Whatever has been seen or not seen, heard  or not heard and whatever is real or not real - he sees it all. He sees all,  himself being all.

After answering the question about the deep sleep state, Pippalda now takes the next enquiry as to ‘what is the Deva who sees the dream?’ The answer is an exposition about the dream state.

In the waking state we get the experiences of the outer world through our consciousness of our body which is called the waker in us. Similarly, the dream can be defined as the experience of the mind when it is completely unconscious of the body but is able to recognize the impressions it had gathered when it was in the waking consciousness state. Hence the Mantra says “The mind sees again what has already been seen; the mind hears again what has been heatd; it enjoys what has been enjoyed in differenrt climes and places”. The mind is referred to here as the ‘Deva’, the deity. The Mantra goes one step further and says “It sees what has not been seen, never heard, never experienced, whether it is real or unreal.

We must note that the mind of a dreamer and dreamt are one and the same because while dreaming we believe everything dreamt as true and at the same time when we get up we realize that everything was a mere dream and there was nothing real. Thus the waker realizes that there was nothing but his mind in both the situations. Thus it is concluded that mind only sees the dreams.