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Copyright 2001 Realization.org.



Prasna Upanishad
Translated by F. Max Müller


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Editor's Introduction


THIS UPANISHAD is one of the main classical texts about prana, a key concept in yoga.

Prana is usually translated as "energy" or "force," but these words are misleading because they have scientific connotations for us which were unknown to the ancient world.

Prana is also sometimes translated as "breath" or "vital breath," but these terms are even further from the mark.

The best way to understand what prana meant to the ancient Indians is to regard it as the answer to a very old question: What gives the human body its ability to move?

More specifically, why are people able to breathe? To digest food? To see and shiver and sneeze and do all the other things they do?

In short, what makes a living person live?

The ancient Indians came up with the following answer. There must be some entity, they decided — some god or spirit or element or factor — that enters the bodies of living persons and animates them. When the entity leaves, the person dies.

According to the upanishad you are about to read, this entity is a deva, a god, and the deva's name is Prana.

This is the basic idea of the theory, but it quickly grows more complicated. Prana divides itself into five parts, each of which takes responsibility for a separate category of bodily functions. Things get a bit confusing at this point because the word prana is used both as a generic term for all five types and as a particular term for one of the five types. The five types are:

  • apana, which causes defecation, urination, and processes associated with the genitals;

  • udana, which carries the soul out of the body at death;

  • prana, which makes breathing happen (both inhalation and exhalation), and also animates the eyes and ears;

  • samana, which causes food to be digested; and

  • vyana, which causes most other life functions.

These five kinds of prana are described in part three of the upanishad.

About The Text

The Prasna Upanishad was traditionally regarded as part of the Atharva Veda, but modern scholars suspect that it never really belonged to that larger work.

This upanishad is entitled Prasna, meaning "question," because each of its six parts consists of a question and answers.

This translation was made by F. Max Müller, the famous pioneering Sanskrit scholar, in the nineteenth century. The copyright has expired.

-- Editor, Realization.org
May 30, 2000



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This page was published on Realization.org on May 30, 2000 and last revised on July 11, 2001.

Copyright 2001 Realization.org. All rights reserved.