Prasna Upanishad (Part-4)-Who in man sleeps, dreams, and keeps awake

Mantra 6

sa yadaa tejasaa.abhibhuuto bhavati | atraishha devah svapnaanna pashyatyatha yadaitasmijnshariira etatsukham bhavati || 6||

When the mind is overpowered by  light that mind sees no dreams; at that time, bliss arises in this body.

When the mind is withdrawn from the worldly objects, it enters into the  dream state wherein again it gets preoccupied with the world of plurality  though such projection of plurality is by itself. When the mind itself is  dropped we experience blissful state in which the ‘sleeper’ alone is the Lord.  When the outside world and dream world are taken away from the mind what  remains is only the consciousness and the man is said to have reached the  dreamless deep sleep state. At this state the man is nearest to the Self and  hence he is said to have been overpowered by light.

This leads us to the question “Who that ‘sleeper’ is? He is the  jivatman as we shall be coming to that point a bit later in this section.

At this state of deep sleep the sleeper experiences bliss which,  however, is of a negative kind. Negative because it is merely constituted of  absence of agitations and as soon as he awakes from sleep he goes back to the  previous state of worldliness. This is called ignorance in Vedanta.

Thus what the teacher says here is that when we are neither seeing the  dream nor awake and consequently do not experience any agitations or  disturbances of the mind either due to external world or due to internal  projections, we experience negative bliss which is called the state of deep  sleep.

Mantra 7

sa yathaa sobhya vayaa.nsi vasovriksham sampratishhthante | evam ha vai tat.h sarvam para aatmani sampratishhthate || 7||

As a bird goes to a tree to  roost, even so, O friend, all this rests in the Supreme Atman.

Now the state of deep sleep, susupti, is described by way of a simile. The birds go back to their nests  after daylong flying for taking rest and get back fully refreshed thereafter  for the next day’s activities. Similarly in the deep sleep state we go back to  our resting place and feel very happy and wake up quite refreshed.

Sankara says that in our waking  state we are bound by our ignorance, desires and actions (avidya, kama, and karma). First, there is ignorance, avidya,  and because of our ignorance, we have desires, kama,  Then our desires create our actions, karma, some may be good and some  may be bad. All these actions produce results that we have to experience. Thus  we get trapped in this cycle of cause and effect, karya and karana,  while we are awake.

But during deep sleep, all these  drop off for the time being and both the body and the mind are at rest. All our upadhis, our ego and other limiting adjuncts, which make us feel that we  are different from others, like I am intelligent and the other is dull, I am  beautiful and the other is ugly and so on, are at rest. Our condition then, as  Sankara puts it, is advayam, ekam, sivam, santam. There is no duality, advayam;  there is only one i.e. consciousness alone is, ekam; that consciousness  is peace, santam and auspicious, sivam.  The whole universe which is an offshoot of  our ignorance disappears during that short interval of deep sleep.

Mantra 8

prithivii cha prithiviimaatraa chaapashchaapomaatraa cha tejashcha tejomaatraa cha vaayushcha vaayumaatraa chaakaashashchaakaashamaatraa cha chakshushcha drashhtavyam cha shrotram cha shrotavyam cha graanam cha ghraatavyam cha rasashcha rasayitavyam cha tvakcha sparshayitavyam cha vaakcha vaktavyam cha hastau chaadaatavyam chopasthashchaanandayitavyam cha paayushcha visarjayitavyam cha yaadau cha gantavyam cha manashcha mantavyam cha buddhishcha boddhivyam chaahankaarashchaahankartavyam cha chittam cha chetayitavyam cha tejashcha vidyotayitavyam cha praanashcha vidyaarayitavyam cha || 8||

Earth and its subtle  counterpart, water and its subtle counterpart, fire and its subtle counterpart,  air and its subtle counterpart, akasa and its subtle counterpart, the eye and  what can be seen, the ear and what can be heard, the nose and what can be  smelt, the taste and what can be tasted, the skin and what can be touched, the  organ of speech and what can be spoken, the hands and what can be grasped, the  organ of generation and what can be enjoyed, the organ of excretion and what  can be excreted, the feet and what is their destination, the mind (manas) and  what can be thought, the intellect (buddhi) and what can be comprehended, the  ego (ahamkara) and the object of egoism, the memory (chitta) and its object, knowledge  (tejah) and its object, Prana and what is to be supported (all these merge into  the Self, Atman).

All the factors that retire in sleep are enumerated in this Mantra which gives us a complete picture in totality of what happens to our physical, mental and intellectual personalities in deep sleep. The universe consists of five basic elements and these elements are in two forms – gross and subtle. They combine with one another in different proportions as per a specified formula called panchikaranam to form this phenomenal world. When subtle, each element is called tanmatra and in that state the element is known only by its qualities. The phenomenal world is a permutation and combination of these elements. These elements have matching points in our body in the form of sense organs as also their corresponding objects we perceive with such organs. These together constitute the macrocosmic and microcosmic sense organs of knowledge.  They are illustrated in the following table. This Mantra says that all these indriyas with their objects completely retire in sleep.


Not only the sense organs of knowledge but even the organs of action are  put out in sleep. The organs of action are five in number each having an  independent function of its own as given in the following table. This Mantra  tells us that all these instruments of action with their activities retire in  deep sleep.


Apart from the organs of action  and knowledge even the inner instruments of perception, feeling and  comprehension also retire in sleep. The inner organ mind (manas) receives  the stimuli through organs of perception from external sources and passes them  on to another inner organ called intellect (buddhi) which analyses such  stimuli received and determines. This is the cognition faculty of the intellect  which decides what to do. Another inner organ is called ego or antahkarana or I-ness which feels it is the subject of action. The last inner organ is chitta or the storehouse of memories which stockpiles the feelings, emotions and  impressions we have gathered from our experiences. These are given in detail in  the following table. These inner instruments with their independent and  individual functions as thinking, determining, illuminating and self-asserting  retire in sleep.

Lastly, the Mantra says that the prana and what is supported by it or  enlightened by it also retire. Here prana refers to its activity by which the  organs were functioning in the waking state.

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