The Father and Mother of All
“After a year Kabandhi approached the teacher and asked: ‘Sir, how did the creatures come into being?’” (Prashna Upanishad 1:3).
This is the question of any reflective person. There are many answers to it, but this upanishad goes to the root of relative existence as Pippalada replies: “‘The Lord of beings,’ replied the sage, ‘meditated and produced Prana, the primal energy, and Rayi, the giver of form, desiring that they, male and female, should in manifold ways produce creatures for him.’” (Prashna Upanishad 1:4).
Prajapati (Brahma, “The Lord of Creation”) did not create the world in the manner understood in the West, rather, he manifested it from the primal energy known as Prakriti by the power of his meditation. This was no new occurrence, for the projection and withdrawal of the cosmos in precise cycles has been going on from eternity. Just as wind moving over water causes it to take on a multitude of wave-forms, so does the creative thought of Brahma. In Genesis we are told: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And…darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1, 2). The Breath (Ruach) of God, the creative thought of God, moved on the causal “waters” and the cosmos began to manifest.
Creation begins and moves on in an exact order, so the first thing that occurred was the manifestation of Prana and Rayi–internal Life and the outer Energy that manifests as form. There are many levels of manifestation, and Pippalada is only speaking of the lower worlds which are manifested by Brahma. The lower worlds mirror the higher ones, and in Christian terminology this coming forth of Prana and Rayi are equivalent to the coming forth of the Son and the Holy Spirit from the Transcendent Absolute–the Father–at the very highest level of manifestation.
Prana and Rayi are the two poles of manifesting energy–positive and negative, male and female. This duality is at the heart of all that presently exists, and without it everything dissolves. Prana and Rayi are the “parents” of all things. Creation is their perpetual interaction. As Yogananda wrote in one of his chants: “Spirit and Nature dancing together!” All “creatures”–all that exist in relativity–have sprung from Prana and Rayi. This is why all religions have intuited the existence of a primeval Father and Mother of All.
Sun and Moon
Even more, nearly all religions have had some idea about the original Father and Mother being the sun and moon respectively.
“Prana, the primal energy, is the sun; and Rayi, the form-giving substance, is the moon. Be it known that all this universe, that which is gross and that which is subtle, is one with Rayi. Therefore is Rayi omnipresent. In like manner is the universe one with Prana” (Prashna Upanishad 1:5). Nothing can exist without duality–Prana and Rayi–at the root of their manifestation, and they are still being maintained by them.
In India they knew from the beginning that the sun and moon were essential even for plant life. In the West, also, people have known for hundreds, if not thousands, of years that although the light and heat of the sun causes the germination of seeds, it is the moon that guides their growth, and wise gardeners plant according to the lunar cycles. We even have the term “planting moon.” Even more, all things are the embodiment of Prana and Rayi. The universe is Prana and Rayi. Spirit–Paramatman and Atman–alone is independent of these two, and untouched by them.
“The rising sun pervades the east, and fills with energy all beings that there inhabit; and likewise when his rays fall on the south, the west, the north, the zenith, the nadir, and the intermediate regions, to all beings that there inhabit he gives life” (Prashna Upanishad 1:6). Just as the one sun can be reflected in numberless ways, so Prana enlivens all things and moves within them. The life in even an atom is Cosmic Life.
“Prana is the soul of the universe, assuming all forms; he is the light that animates and illumines all: even as it is written: ‘The wise know him who assumes all forms, who is radiant, who is all-knowing, who is the one light that gives light to all. He rises as the sun of a thousand rays, and abides in infinite places.’” (Prashna Upanishad 1:7, 8). Prana is Parabrahman Itself! Not only is Brahman/Prana “the soul of the universe,” Brahman is also the forms assumed, “He shining, everything shines” (Katha Upanishad 2:2:15; Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.10). Every single sentient being is a ray of that divine Sun who abides in all their inmost essence.
The two paths
“Prana and Rayi, uniting, divide the year. Two are the paths of the sun–two are the paths that men travel after death. These are the southern and the northern. Those who desire offspring and are devoted to almsgiving and rituals, considering these the highest accomplishment, attain the world of the moon and are born again on earth. They travel by the southern path, which is the path of the fathers, and is indeed Rayi, the maker of forms” (Prashna Upanishad 1:9).
There are two paths that can be taken after death: the path that leads to expanding life in higher realms of existence and the path that leads back to the world of material embodiment–the paths of Prana and Rayi.
The year spoken of here is not the earthly measure of time based on the movement of the earth around the sun, although it is believed to be so in the degeneracy of contemporary Hinduism. Rather, it is the cyclic manifestation of prana within the subtle, mental bodies of each one of us. The southern path is the part of the cycle in which the prana becomes more embedded or grounded in the consciousness of form–the body. On the other hand, the northern path is the part of the cycle in which the prana becomes increasingly active in the spiritual levels of our being, causing the consciousness to rise to higher degrees. The supposed south and north movement of the sun has nothing whatsoever to do with this, even though it is commonly thought so at this time.
The moon is a symbol of the material creation which is but a reflection of higher regions of consciousness, just as the moon has no light of its own, but only reflects the light of the sun.
The path of rebirth
“Those who desire offspring and are devoted to almsgiving and rituals, considering these the highest accomplishment, attain the world of the moon and are born again on earth. They travel by the southern path, which is the path of the fathers, and is indeed Rayi, the maker of forms.”
This is quite clear: those who are addicted to family life and external religion are impelled by their own earthly desires to be reborn on earth. For such desires are rooted in earthly experience and perpetuate it.
The path of liberation
“But those who are devoted to the worship of the Self, by means of austerity, continence, faith, and knowledge, go by the northern path and attain the world of the sun. The sun, the light, is indeed the source of all energy. It is immortal, beyond fear; it is the supreme goal. For him who goes to the sun there is no more birth nor death. The sun ends birth and death” (Prashna Upanishad 1:10).
Later in the fifth section of this upanishad it will be explained that by meditation a yogi will be united with the solar light and ascend to the realization of Brahman. But right now the necessary adjuncts to such a meditation are enumerated: austerity [tapasya], continence [brahmacharya], faith [shraddha], and knowledge [vidya]. Those who prepare themselves by these practices–in conjunction with meditation–will ascend to the solar world and, freed from the compulsion to rebirth, will pass onward to the transcendental realm of Brahman.
In the mechanism of the universe there are many wheels within wheels as in clockwork. So the upanishad then speaks of the month as a reflection of Prana and Rayi just like the year: “Prana and Rayi, uniting, form the month. Its dark fortnight is Rayi, and its bright fortnight is Prana. Sages perform their devotional rites in the light, with knowledge; fools, in the dark, with ignorance” (Prashna Upanishad 1:12. Prabhavananda omits the eleventh verse because of its obscure language and symbolism).
Here, too, the material lunar phases are not being spoken of, but rather the inner cycles of spiritual awareness and spiritual ignorance. The wise do not act blindly, even in spiritual practice, but with understanding of how and why they should engage in meditation and worship. Because they lack the requisite insight, the ignorant engage in superstition, even if externally they seem to be doing the same as the wise. Without inner awakening all is hopeless, and awakening is a matter of evolution. It cannot come from an external source. This is why ordinary propagandizing religion plunges people deeper into ignorance and folly.
Until the inner consciousness begins to manifest only error can be the fruition of any religion. Until a person ripens spiritually even the words of the upanishads are meaningless and pointless–inevitably confusing and potentially harmful. That this is true is being proven every moment in the West by those who are deforming the dharma of the East into an ego-driven diversion and often a tool for the same negative domination and opportunism that has made Western religion and philosophy into the absurd and destructive force it has been for centuries. And the “advaitins” are the worst.
Now a very interesting symbol is introduced: “Food is Prana and Rayi. From food is produced seed, and from seed, in turn, are born all creatures” (Prashna Upanishad 1:14. Prabhavananda omits the twelfth verse because of its obscure language and symbolism.) Nikhilananda translates this verse: “Food, verily, is Prajapati [the Creator]. From that comes semen [retas]; from semen are all these creatures born.”
The idea here is that Prana and Form, the two aspects of Prajapati, are manifesting as food–not just food that is eaten and digested, but rather all things that enter into the sentient being’s life and mind and shape him. The body is formed of nothing but food, and the same is true of the four subtler bodies as well. The mind and the senses “eat” also. So we can realize that God is not only the source of all, but the manifester, sustainer, and evolver of all. There is nothing around us that is not divine manifestation. This is the vision the yogi strives for. “At the end of his many births the wise man takes refuge in Me. He knows: ‘All is Vasudeva.’ How very rare is that great soul!” (Bhagavad Gita 7:19).
Sri Ramakrishna once said: “The Divine Mother showed me that there are not two, but one existence only. It is Satchidananda alone that has taken many forms. It is He alone who has become the living beings, the universe and everything. It is He who has become food.” What the rishis perceived so many thousands of years ago can be known even today by the fervent yogi.
Now it is time to get down to the solid facts, to the only sensible conclusions that can be drawn if we accept all the upanishad has been saying to us: “Those who worship the world of creation produce children; but those alone attain the world of Brahman who are steadfast in continence, meditation, and truthfulness” (Prashna Upanishad 1:15).
Guilty, insecure people are always demanding assurance and approval from others. They usually get it from those equally guilty and insecure (or equally foolish), and evade facing the truth about themselves. In the long run such avoidance does absolutely no good, but being people who live only in the moment they are satisfied with the deception. This especially manifests in “those who worship the world of creation” and materiality by their insisting on being assured that ascetic life is not necessary or superior to their maya-mired mode of existence. They bullyingly demand this assurance from supposed spiritual teachers (and especially monastics) employing a variety of ways to get what they want. But the upanishadic sages are long departed from this world, and their words have been preserved for thousands of years. What they say can be ignored, but it cannot be denied.
World worshippers become gears in society and immerse themselves in material involvement with the world’s goods, living as they please in egocentric, self-pleasing modes of life. They may not engender actual children now they have learned to frustrate the natural consequences of sex, but the resulting consciousness will be the same. Living as they please they are bound by the false hopes and false joys of earthly life, creating for themselves a guaranteed return to the realm of death that is this world. Sri Ramakrishna used to say: “There is no substance at all in worldly life.” And there is no substance in those that expend themselves in and on the world.
The rare few who have seen through the sham of the world and understood the reality of the Self, live in a very different manner. If their karma is very good, they take up the ascetic life early on, otherwise they wake up somewhere along their path in life, turn from the common folly, and become disciplined and purified in their mode of life. Whichever it may be, the life of all the wise is centered in “continence, meditation, and truthfulness.” There is no need for a comment on that, or on the final statement:
“The pure world of Brahman is attainable by those only who are neither deceitful, nor wicked, nor false” (Prashna Upanishad 1:16).
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: The Powers That Make Us “Be”