The Powers That Support Human Existence

Sri Aurobindo translates Prashna Upanishad, Second Question, Verses 1-2:  “Then the Bhargava, the Vidarbhan, asked him: ‘Lord, how many Gods maintain this creature, and how many illumine it, and which of these again is the mightiest?’  To him answered the Rishi Pippalada:  ‘These are the Gods, even Ether and Wind and Fire and Water and Earth and Speech and Mind and Sight and Hearing.  These nine illumine the creature: therefore they vaunted themselves, ‘We, even we, support this harp of God and we are the preservers.’ ”

The second question shifts the focus to the human being and questions what the powers are that act in and illlumine the human being.  The term “gods” in the Vedic sense represents universal forces active in the creation.  The Rishi thus begins by enumerating earth, water, fire, air and ether, the 5 “elements” that underlie the entire creation.  He then moves to the powers that act specifically within each individual, “speech, mind, sight and hearing” as powers that illumine the being.

The image of the “harp of God” shows that the human being is an instrument of the manifestation, which originates and is controlled by the Divine Spirit in its expression.  The action of fragmentation and individuation that is the key to the multiplicity of the manifestation leads to the sense of the ego, at work even within these powers.  Thus, each of the powers claims precedence in terms of creating and preserving the life of the individual beings in the world.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Prashna Upanishad, pp.297-315