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Brahma Sutras
by Swami Sivananda


Section 1: Pratardanadhikaranam: Topic 11 (Sutras 28-31)

Prana is Brahman.

Pranastathanugamat I.1.28 (28)

Prana is Brahman, that being so understood from a connected consideration (of the passage referring to Prana).

Pranah: the breath or life-energy; Tatha: thus, so, likewise like that stated before; like that stated in the Sruti quoted before in connection therewith; Anugamat: because of being understood (from the texts).

The expression 'Prana' is again taken up for discussion.

In the Kaushitaki Upanishad there occurs the conversation between Indra and Pratardana. Pratardana, the son of Divodasa, came by means of fighting and strength to the abode of Indra. Pratardana said to Indra, "You yourself choose for me that boon which you think is most beneficial to man". Indra replied, "Know me only. This is what I think most beneficial to man. I am Prana, the intelligent Self (Prajnatman). Meditate on me as life, as immortality" III-2. "That Prana is indeed the intelligent Self, bliss, undecaying, immortal" III-8.

Here the doubt arises whether the word Prana denotes merely breath, the modification of air or the God Indra, or the individual soul, or the highest Brahman.

The word 'Prana' in the passage refers to Brahman, because it is described as the most conducive to human welfare. Nothing is more conducive to human welfare than the knowledge of Brahman. Moreover Prana is described as Prajnatma. The air which is non-intelligent can clearly not be the intelligent Self.

Those characteristic marks which are mentioned in the concluding passage, viz., 'bliss' (Ananda), undecaying (Ajara), immortal (Amrita) can be true only of Brahman. Further knowledge of Prana absolves one from all sins. "He who knows me thus by no deed of his is his life harmed, neither by matricide nor by patricide" Kau. Up. III-1.

All this can be properly understood only if the Supreme Self or the highest Brahman is acknowledged to be the subject matter of the passages, and not if the vital air is substituted in its place. Hence the word 'Prana' denotes Brahman only.

Na vakturatmopadesaditi chet adhyatmasambandhabhuma hyasmin I.1.29 (29)

If it be said that (Brahman is) not (denoted or referred in these passages on account of) the speaker's instruction about himself, we reply not so, because there is abundance of reference to the Inner Self in this (chapter or Upanishad).

Na: not; Vaktuh: of the speaker (Indra); Atma: of the Self; Upadesat: on account of instruction; Iti: thus; Chet: if; Adhyatma sambandha bhuma: abundance of reference to the Inner Self; Hi: because; Asmin: in this (chapter or Upanishad).

An objection to Sutra 28 is refuted.

An objection is raised against the assertion that Prana denotes Brahman. The opponent or Purvapakshin says, "The word Prana does not denote the Supreme Brahman, because the speaker Indra designates himself." Indra speaks to Pratardana, "Know me only. I am Prana, the intelligent Self." How can the Prana which refers to a personality be Brahman to which the attribute of being a speaker cannot be ascribed. The Sruti declares, "Brahman is without speech, without mind" Bri. Up. III-8-8.

Further on, also Indra, the speaker glorifies himself, "I slew the three-headed son of Tvashtri. I delivered the Arunmukhas, the devotees to the wolves (Salavrika). I killed the people of Prahlada" and so on. Indra may be called Prana owing to his strength. Hence Prana does not denote Brahman.

This objection is not valid because there are found abundant references to Brahman or the Inner Self in that chapter. They are "Prana, the intelligent Self, alone having laid hold of this body makes it rise up". For as in a car the circumference of the wheel is set on the spokes and the spokes on the nave; thus are these objects set on the subjects (the senses) and the subjects on the Prana. And that Prana indeed is the Self of Prajna, blessed (Ananda), undecaying (Ajara) and immortal (Amrita). "He is my Self, thus let it be known". "This Self is Brahman, Omniscient" Bri. Up. II-5-19.

Indra said to Pratardana, "Worship me as Prana". This can only refer to Brahman. For the worship of Brahman alone can give Mukti or the final emancipation which is most beneficial to man (Hitatma). It is said of this Prana, "For he (Prana) makes him, whom he wishes to lead out from these worlds, do a good deed." This shows that the Prana is the great cause that makes every activity possible. This also is consistent with Brahman and not with breath or Indra. Hence 'Prana' here denotes Brahman only.

The chapter contains information regarding Brahman only owing to plenty of references to the Inner Self, not regarding the self of some deity.

But if Indra really meant to teach the worship of Brahman, why does he say "worship me"? It is really misleading. To this the following Sutra gives the proper answer.

Sastradrishtya tupadeso vamadevavat I.1.30 (30)

The declaration (made by Indra about himself, viz., that he is and with Brahman) is possible through intuition as attested by Sruti, as in the case of Vamadeva.

Sastradrishtya: through insight based on scripture or as attested by Sruti; Tu: but; Upadesah: instruction; Vamadevavat: like that of Vamadeva.

The objection raised in Sutra 29 is further refuted.

The word 'tu' (but) removes the doubt. Indra's describing himself as Prana is quite suitable as he identifies himself with Brahman in that instruction to Pratardana like the sage Vamadeva.

Sage Vamadeva realised Brahman and said "I was Manu and Surya" which is in accordance with the passage "Whatever Deva knew Brahman became That" (Bri. Up. I-4-10). Indra's instruction also is like that. Having realised Brahman by means of Rishi-like intuition, Indra identifies himself in the instruction with the Supreme Brahman and instructs Pratardana about the Highest Brahman by means of the words 'Know me only'.

Indra praises the knowledge of Brahman. Therefore it is not his own glorification when he says 'I killed Tvashtri's son' etc. The meaning of the passage is 'Although I do such cruel actions, yet not even a hair of mine is harmed because I am one with Brahman. Therefore the life of any other person also who knows me thus is not harmed by any deed of his. Indra says in a subsequent passage 'I am Prana, the intelligent Self.' Therefore the whole chapter refers to Brahman only.

Jivamukhyapranalinganneti chet na upasatraividhyat asritatvadiha tadyogat I.1.31 (31)

If it be said that (Brahman is) not (meant) on account of characteristic marks of the individual soul and the chief vital air (being mentioned); we say no, because (such an interpretation) would enjoin threefold meditation (Upasana), because Prana has been accepted (elsewhere in the Sruti in the sense of Brahman) and because here also (words denoting Brahman) are mentioned with reference to Prana.

Jivamukhyapranalingat: on account of the characteristic marks of the individual soul and the chief vital air; Na: not; Iti: thus; Chet: if; Na: not; Upasana: worship, meditation; Traividhyat: because of the three ways; Asritatvat: on account of Prana being accepted (elsewhere in Sruti in the sense of Brahman); Iha: in the Kaushitaki passage; Tadyogat: because of its appropriateness; as they have been applied; because words denoting Brahman are mentioned with reference to Prana.

But another objection is raised. What is the necessity of this Adhikarana again, "meditation of Prana" and identifying Prana with Brahman, when in the preceding Sutra, I-1-23 it has been shown that Prana means Brahman?

To this we answer: this Adhikarana is not a redundancy. In the Sutra I-1-23, the doubt was only with regard to the meaning of the single word Prana. In this Adhikarana the doubt was not about the meaning of the word Prana, but about the whole passage, in which there are words, and marks or indications that would have led a person meditating, to think that there also Jiva and breath meant to be meditated upon. To remove this doubt, it is declared that Brahman alone is the topic of discussion in this Kaushitaki Upanishad and not Jiva or vital breath.

Therefore this Adhikarana has been separately stated by the author.

The Purvapakshin or the opponent holds that Prana does not denote Brahman, but either the individual soul or the chief vital air or both. He says that the chapter mentions the characteristic marks of the individual soul on the one hand, and of the chief vital air on the other hand.

The passage 'One should know the speaker and not enquire into speech' (Kau. Up. III-4) mentions a characteristic mark of the individual soul. The passage "Prana, laying hold of his body, makes it rise up" Kau. Up. III. 3 points to the chief vital air because the chief attribute of the vital air is that it sustains the body. Then there is another passage, 'Then Prana said to the organs: be not deceived. I alone dividing myself fivefold support this body and keep it' Prasna Up. II-3. Then again you will find 'What is Prana, that is Prajna; what is Prajna, that is Prana.'

This Sutra refutes such a view and says, that Brahman alone is referred to by 'Prana', because the above interpretation would involve a threefold Upasana, viz., of the individual soul, of the chief vital air, and of Brahman. Which is certainly against the accepted rules of interpretation of the scriptures. It is inappropriate to assume that a single sentence enjoins three kinds of worship or meditation.

Further in the beginning we have "know me only" followed by "I am Prana, intelligent Self, meditate on me as life, as immortality"; and in the end again we read "And that Prana indeed is the intelligent Self, blessed (Ananda), undecaying (Ajara) and immortal (Amrita)." The beginning and the concluding part are thus seen to be similar. Therefore we must conclude that they refer to one and the same subject and that the same subject-matter is kept up throughout.

Therefore 'Prana' must denote Brahman only. In the case of other passages where characteristic marks of Brahman are mentioned the word 'Prana' is taken in the sense of Brahman. It is a settled conclusion that Brahman is the topic or subject matter of the whole chapter.

Thus ends the first Pada (Section 1) of the first Adhyaya (Chapter I) of the Brahma Sutras; or the Vedanta Philosophy.