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Part – 1


Pranayama is not, as many think, something about
breath; breath indeed has very little to do with it, if
anything. Breathing is only one of the many exercises
through which we get to the real Pranayama. Pranayama
means the control of Prana. According to the philosophers
of India, the whole universe is composed of two materials,
one of which they call Akasha. It is the omnipresent, all-
penetrating existence. Everything that has form,
everything that is the result of combination, is evolved out
of this Akasha. It is the Akasha that becomes the air, that
becomes the liquids, that becomes the solids; it is the
Akasha that becomes the sun, the earth, the moon, the
stars, the comets; it is the Akasha that becomes the human
body, the animal body, the plants, every form that we see,
everything that can be sensed, everything that exists. It
cannot be perceived; it is so subtle that it is beyond all
ordinary perception; it can only be seen when it has
become gross, has taken form. At the beginning of creation
there is only this Akasha. At the end of the cycle the solids,
the liquids, and the gases all melt into the Akasha again,
and the next creation similarly proceeds out of this Akasha.
By what power is this Akasha manufactured into this
universe? By the power of Prana. Just as Akasha is the
infinite, omnipresent material of this universe, so is this
Prana the infinite, omnipresent manifesting power of this
universe. At the beginning and at the end of a cycle
everything becomes Akasha, and all the forces that are in
the universe resolve back into the Prana; in the next cycle,
out of this Prana is evolved everything that we call energy,
everything that we call force. It is the Prana that is
manifesting as motion; it is the Prana that is manifesting as
gravitation, as magnetism. It is the Prana that is
manifesting as the actions of the body, as the nerve
currents, as though force. From thought down to the
lowest force, everything is but the manifestation of Prana.
The sum total of all forces in the universe, mental or
physical, when resolved back to their original state, is
called Prana. “When there was neither aught nor naught,
when darkness was covering darkness, what existed then?
That Akasha existed without motion.” The physical motion
of the Prana was stopped, but it existed all the same.

At the end of a cycle the energies now displayed in

the universe quiet down and become potential. At the
beginning of the next cycle they start up, strike upon the
Akasha, and out of the Akasha evolve these various forms,
and as the Akasha changes, this Prana changes also into all
these manifestations of energy. The knowledge and
control of this Prana is really what is meant by Pranayama.

This opens to us the door to almost unlimited power.

Suppose, for instance, a man understood the Prana
perfectly, and could control it, what power on earth would
not be his? He would be able to move the sun and stars
out of their places, to control everything in the universe,
from the atoms to the biggest suns, because he would
control the Prana. This is the end and aim of Pranayama.
When the Yogi becomes perfect, there will be nothing in
nature not under his control. If he orders the gods or the
souls of the departed to come, they will come at his
bidding. All the forces of nature will obey him as slaves.
When the ignorant see these powers of the Yogi, they call
them the miracles. One peculiarity of the Hindu mind is
that it always inquires for the last possible generalization,
leaving the details to be worked out afterwards. The
question is raised in the Vedas, “What is that, knowing
which, we shall know everything?” Thus, all books, and all
philosophies that have been written, have been only to
prove that by knowing which everything is known. If a man
wants to know this universe bit by bit he must know every
individual grain of sand, which means infinite time; he
cannot know all of them. Then how can knowledge be?
How is it possible for a man to be all-knowing through
particulars? The Yogis say that behind this particular
manifestation there is a generalization. Behind all
particular ideas stands a generalized, an abstract principle;
grasp it, and you have grasped everything. Just as this
whole universe has been generalized in the Vedas into that
One Absolute Existence, and he who has grasped that
Existence has grasped the whole universe, so all forces
have been generalized into this Prana, and he who has
grasped the Prana has grasped all the forces of the
universe, has been generalized in the Vedas into that One
Absolute Existence, and he who has grasped that Existence
has grasped the whole universe, so all forces have been
generalized into this Prana, and he who has grasped the
Prana has grasped all the forces of the universe, mental or
physical. He who has controlled the Prana has controlled
the Prana has controlled his body, and all the bodies that
exist, because the Prana is the generalized manifestation
of force.

How to control the Prana is the one idea of
Pranayama. All the trainings and exercises in this regard
are for that one end. Each man must begin where he
stands, must learn how to control the things that are
nearest to him. This body is very near to us, nearer than
anything in the external universe, and this mind is the
nearest of all. The Prana which is working this mind and
body is the nearest to us of all the Prana in this universe.
This little wave of the Prana which represents our own
energies, mental and physical, is the nearest to us of all the
waves of the infinite ocean of Prana. If we can succeed in
controlling that little wave, then alone we can hope to
control the whole of Prana. The Yogi who has done this
gains perfection; no longer is he under any power. He
becomes almost almighty; almost all-knowing. We are
sects in every country who have attempted this control of
Prana. In this country (America) there are Mind-healers,
Faith-healers, Spiritualists, Christian Scientists, Hypnotists,
etc., and if we examine these different bodies, we shall
find at the back of each this control of the Prana, whether
they know it or not. If you boil all their theories down, the
residuum will be that. It is the one and the same force they
are manipulating, only unknowingly. They have stumbled
on the discovery of a force and are using it unconsciously
without knowing its nature, but it is the same as the Yogi
uses, and which comes from Prana.

The Prana is the vital force in every being. Thought is

the finest and highest action of Prana. Thought, again as
we see, is not all. There is also what we call instinct or
unconscious thought, the lowest plane of action. If a
mosquito stings us, our hand will strike it automatically
instinctively. This is one expression of thought. All reflex
actions of the body belong to this plane of thought. There
is again the other plane of thought, the conscious. I
reason, I judge, I think, I see the pros and cons of certain
things, yet that is not all. We know that reason is limited.
Reason can go only to a certain extent, beyond that it
cannot reach. The circle within which it runs is very very
limited indeed. Yet at the same time, we find facts rush
into this circle. Like the coming of comets certain things
come into this circle; it is certain they come from outside
the limit, although our reason cannot go beyond. The
causes of the phenomena intruding themselves in this
small limit are outside of this limit. The mind can exist on a
still higher plane, the super conscious. When the mind has
attained to that state, which is called Samadhi-perfect
concentration, super consciousness-it goes beyond the
limits of reason, and comes face to face with facts which
no instinct or reason can ever know. All manipulations of
the subtle forces of the body, the different manifestations
of Prana, if trained, give a push to the mind, help it to go
up higher, and become super conscious, from where it

In this universe there is one continuous substance on

every plane of existence. Physically this universe is one:
there is no difference between the sun and you. The
scientist will tell you it is only a fiction to say the contrary.
There is no real difference between the table and me; the
table is one point in the mass of matter, and I another
point. Each form represents, as it were, one whirlpool in
the infinite ocean of matter, of which not one is constant.
Just as in a rushing stream there may be millions of
whirlpools, the water in each of which is different every
moment, turning round and round for a few seconds, and
then passing out, replaced by a fresh quantity, so the
whole universe is one constantly changing mass of matter,
in which all forms of existence are so many whirlpools. A
mass of matter enters into one whirlpool, say a human
body, stays there for a period, becomes changed, and goes
out into another, say an animal body this time, from which
again after a few years, it enters into another whirlpool,
called a lump of mineral. It is a constant change. Not one
body is constant. There is no such thing as my body, or
your body, except in words. Of the one huge mass of
matter, one point is called a moon, another a sum, another
a man, another the earth, another a plant, another a
mineral. Not one is constant, but everything is changing,
matter eternally concreting and disintegrating. So it is with
the mind. Matter is represented by the ether; when the
action of Prana is most subtle, this very ether, in the finer
state of vibration, will represent the mind, and there it will
be still one unbroken mass. If you can simply get to that
subtle vibration, you will see and feel that the whole
universe is composed of subtle vibrations. Sometimes
certain drugs have the power to take us, while as yet in the
senses, to that condition. Many of you may remember the
celebrated experiment of Sir Humphrey Davy, when the
laughing gas overpowered him-how, during the lecture, he
remained motionless, stupefied and, after that, he said
that the whole universe was made up of ideas. For the
time being, as it were, the gross vibrations had creased,
and only the subtle vibrations which he called ideas, were
present to him. He could only see the subtle vibrations
round him; everything had become thought; the whole
universe was an ocean of thought, he and everyone else
had become little thought whirlpools.

Thus, even in the universe of thought we find unity,

and at last, when we get to the Self, we know that that Self
can only be One. Beyond the vibrations of matter in its
gross and subtle aspects, beyond motion there is but One.
Even in manifested motion there is only unity. These facts
can no more be denied. Modern physics also has
demonstrated that the sum total of the energies in the
universe in the same throughout. It has also been proved
that this sum total of energy exists in two forms. It
becomes potential, toned down, and calmed, and next it
comes out manifested as all these various forces; again it
goes back to the quiet state, and again it manifests. Thus it
goes on evolving and involving through eternity. The
control of this Prana, as before stated, is what is called

The most obvious manifestation of this Prana in the

human body is the motion of the lungs. If that stops, as a
rule all the other manifestations of force in the body will

immediately stop. But there are persons who can train
themselves in such a manner that the body will live on,
even when this motion has stopped. There are some
persons who can bury themselves for days, and yet live
without breathing. To reach the subtle we must take the
help of the grosser, and so, slowly travel towards the most
subtle until we gain our point. Pranayama really means
controlling this motion of the lungs, and this motion is
associated with the breath. Not that breath is producing it;
on the contrary it is producing breath. This motion draws
in the air by pump action. The Prana is moving the lungs,
the movement of the lungs draws in the air. So Pranayama
is not breathing, but controlling that muscular power
which goes out through the nerves to the muscles and
from them to the lungs, making them move in a certain
manner, is the Prana, which we have to control in the
practice of Pranayama. When the Prana has become
controlled, then we shall immediately find that all the
other actions of the Prana in the body will slowly come
under control. I myself have seen men who have
controlled almost every muscle of the body; and why not?
If I have control over certain muscles, why not over every
muscle and nerve of the body? What impossibility is there?
At present the control is lost, and the motion has becomes
automatic. We cannot move our ears at will, but we know
that animals can. We have not that power because we do
not exercise it. This is what is called atavism.

Again, we know that motion which has become

latent can be brought back to manifestation. By hard work
and practice certain motions of the body which are most
dormant can be brought back under perfect control.
Reasoning thus we find there is no impossibility, but, on
the other hand, every probability that each part of the
body can be brought under perfect control. This the Yogi
does through Pranayama. Perhaps some of you have read
that is Pranayama, when drawing in the breath, you must
fill your whole body with Prana. In the English translations
Prana is given as breath, and you are inclined to ask how
that is to be done. The fault is with the translator. Every
part of the body can be filled with Prana, this vital force,
and when you are able to do that, you can control the
whole body. All the sickness and misery felt in the body
will be perfectly controlled; not only so, you will be able to
control another’s body. Everything is infectious in this
world, good or bad. If your body be in a certain state of
tension, it will have a tendency to produce the same
tension in others. If you are strong and healthy, those that
live near you will also have the tendency to become strong
and healthy, but if you are sick and weak, those around
you will have the tendency to become the same. In the
case of one man trying to heal another, the first idea is
simply transferring his own health to the other. This is the
primitive sort of healing. Consciously or unconsciously,
health can be transmitted. A very strong man, living with a
weak man, will make him a little stronger, whether he
knows it or not. When consciously done, it becomes
quicker and better in its action. Next come those cases in
which a man may not be very healthy himself, yet we know
that he can bring health to another. The first man, in such
a case, has a little more control over the Prana, and can
rouse, for the time being, his Prana, as it were, to a certain
state of vibration, and transmit it to another person.

There have been cases where this process has been

carried on at a distance, but in reality there is no distance
in the sense of a break. Where is the distance that has a
break? Is there any break between you and the sun? It is a
continuous mass of matter, the sun being one part, and
you another. Is there a break between one part of a river
and another? Then why cannot any force travel? There is
no reason against it. Cases of healing from a distance are
perfectly true. The Prana can be transmitted to a very
great distance; but to one genuine case, there are
hundreds of frauds. This process of healing is not so easy
as it is thought to be. In the most ordinary cases of such
healing you will find that the healers simply take
advantage of the naturally healthy state of the human
body. An allopath comes and treats cholera patients, and
gives them his medicines. The homoeopath comes and
gives his medicines, and cures perhaps more than the
allopath does, because the homoeopath does not disturb
his patients, but allows nature to deal with them. The
Faith-healer cures more still, because he brings the
strength of his mind to bear, and rouses, through faith, the
dormant Prana of the patient.

There is a mistake constantly made by Faith-healers:

they think that faith directly heals a man. But faith alone
does not cover all the ground. There are diseases where
the worst symptoms are that the patient never thinks that
he has that disease. That tremendous faith of the patient is
itself one symptom of the disease, and usually indicates
that he will die quickly. In such cases the principle that
faith cures does not apply. If it were faith alone that cured,
these patients also would be cured. It is by the Prana that
real curing comes. The pure man, who has controlled the
Prana, has the power of bringing it into a certain state of
vibration, which can be conveyed to others, arousing in
them a similar vibration. You see that in everyday actions. I
am talking to you. What am I trying to do? I am, so to say,
bringing my mind to a certain state of vibration, and the
more I succeed in bringing it to that state, the more you
will be affected by what I say. All of you know that the day
I am more enthusiastic, the more you enjoy the lecture;
and when I am less enthusiastic, you feel lack of interest.

The gigantic will-powers of the world, the world-

movers, can bring their Prana into a high state of vibration,
and it is so great and powerful that it catches others in a
moment, and thousands are drawn towards them, and half
the world think as they do. Great prophets of the world
had the most wonderful control of the Prana, which gave
them tremendous will-power; they had brought their
Prana to the highest state of motion, and this is what gave
them power to sway the world. All manifestations of
power arise from this control. Men may not know the
secret, but this is the one explanation. Sometimes in your
own body the supply of Prana gravitates more or less to
one part; the balance is disturbed, and when the balance
of Prana is disturbed, what we call disease is produced. To
take away the superfluous Prana, or to supply the Prana
that is wanting, will be curing the disease. That again in
Pranayama-to learn when there is more or less Prana in
one part of the body than there should be. The feelings will
become so subtle that the mind will feel that there is less
Prana in the toe or the finger than there should be, and
will possess the power to supply it. These are among the
various functions of Pranayama. They have to be learned
slowly and gradually, and as you see, the whole scope of
Raja-Yoga is really to teach the control and direction in
different planes of the Prana. When a man has
concentrated his energies, he masters the Prana that is in
his body. When a man is meditating, he is also
concentrating the Prana.

In an ocean there are huge waves, like mountains,

then smaller waves, and still smaller, down to little
bubbles, but back of all these is the infinite ocean. The
bubble is connected with the infinite ocean at one end,
and the huge wave at the other end. So, one may be a
gigantic man, and another a little bubble, but each is
connected with that infinite ocean of energy, which is the
common birthright of every animal that exists. Wherever
there is life, the storehouse of infinite energy is behind it.
Starting as some fungus, some very minute, microscopic
bubble, and all the time drawing from that infinite
storehouse of energy, a form is changed slowly and
steadily until in course of time it becomes a plant, then an
animal, then man, ultimately God. This is attained through
millions of aeons, but what is time? An increase of speed,
an increase of struggle, is able to bridge the gulf of time.
That which naturally takes a long time to accomplish can
be shortened by the intensity of the action, says the Yogi.
A man may go on slowly drawing in this energy from the
infinite mass that exists in the universe, and perhaps, he
will require a hundred thousand years to become a Deva,
and then, perhaps, five hundred thousand years to
become still higher, and, perhaps, five millions of years to
become perfect. Given rapid growth, the time will be
lessened. Why is it not possible, with sufficient effort, to
reach this very perfection in six months or six years? There
is no limit. Reason shows that. If an engine, with a certain
amount of coal, runs two miles an hour, it will run the
distance in less time with a greater supply of coal.
Similarly, why shall not the soul, by intensifying its action,
attain perfection in this very life? All beings will at last
attain to that goal, we know. But who cares to wait all
these millions of aeons? Why not reach it immediately, in
this body even, in this human form? Why shall I not get
that infinite knowledge infinite power, now?

The ideal of the Yogi, the whole science of Yoga, is

directed to the end of teaching men how, by intensifying
the power of assimilation, to shorten the time for reaching
perfection, instead of slowly advancing from point to point
and waiting until the whole human race has become
perfect. All the great prophets, saints, and seers of the
world-what did they do? In one span of life they lived the
whole life of humanity, traversed the whole length of time
that it takes ordinary humanity to come to perfection. In
one life they perfect themselves; they have no thought for
anything else, never live a moment for any other idea, and
thus the way is shortened for them. This is what is meant
by concentration, intensifying the power of assimilation,
thus shortening the time. Raja-Yoga is the science which
teaches us how to gain the power of concentration.

What has Pranayama to do with spiritualism?

Spiritualism is also a manifestation of Pranayama. If it be

true that the departed spirits exist, only we cannot see
them, it is quite probable that there may be hundreds and
millions of them about us we can neither see, feel, nor
touch. We may be continually passing and repassing
through their bodies, and they do not see or feel us. It is a
circle within a circle, universe within universe. We have
five senses, and we represent Prana in a certain state of
vibration. All beings in the same state of vibration will see
one another, but if there are beings who represent Prana
in a higher state of vibration, they will not be seen. We
may increase the intensity of a light until we cannot see it
at all, but there may be beings with eyes so powerful that
they can see such light. Again, if its vibrations are very low,
we do not see a light, but there are animals that may see
it, as cats and owls. Our range of vision is only one plane of
the vibrations of this Prana. Take this atmosphere, for
instance; it is piled up layer on layer, but the layers nearer
to the earth are denser than those above, and as you go
higher the atmosphere becomes finer and finer. Or take
the case of the ocean; as you go deeper and deeper the
pressure of the water increases, and animals which live at
the bottom of the sea can never come up, or they will be
broken into pieces.
Think of the universe as an ocean of ether, consisting
of layer after layer of varying degrees of vibration under
the action of Prana; away from the centre the vibrations
are less, nearer to it they become quicker and quicker; one
order of vibration makes one plane. Then suppose these
ranges of vibrations are cut into planes, so many millions
of miles one set of vibration, and then so many millions of
miles another still higher set of vibration, and so on. It is,
therefore, probable, that those who live on the plane of a
certain state of vibration will have the power of
recognizing one another, but will not recognize those
above them. Yet, just as by the telescope and the
microscope we can increase the scope of our vision,
similarly we can by Yoga bring ourselves to the state of
vibration of another plane, and thus enable ourselves to
see what is going on there. Suppose this room is full of
beings whom we do not see. They represent Prana in a
certain state of vibration while we represent another.
Suppose they represent a quick one, and we the opposite.
Prana is the material of which they are composed, as well
as we. All are parts of the same ocean of Prana, they differ
only in their rate of vibration. If I can bring myself to the
quick vibration, this plane will immediately change for me;
I shall not see you any more; you vanish and they appear.
Some of you, perhaps, know this to be true. All this
bringing of the mind into a higher state of vibration is
included in one word in Yoga-Samadhi. All these states of
higher vibration, super conscious vibrations of the mind,
are grouped in that one word, Samadhi, and the lower
states of Samadhi give us visions of these beings. The
highest grade of Samadhi is when we see the real thing,
when we see the material out of which the whole of these
grades of beings are composed, and that one lump of clay
being known, we know all the clay in the universe.

Thus we see that Pranayama includes all that is true

of spiritualism even. Similarly, you will find that wherever
any sect or body of people is trying to search out anything
occult and mystical, or hidden, what they are doing is
really this Yoga, this attempt to control the Prana. You will
find that wherever there is any extraordinary display of
power, it is the manifestation of this Prana. Even the
physical sciences can be included in Pranayama. What
moves the steam engine? Prana, acting through the steam.
What are all these phenomena of electricity and so forth
but Prana? What is physical science? The science of
Pranayama, by external means. Prana, manifesting itself as
mental power, can only be controlled by mental means.
That part of Pranayama which attempts to control the
physical manifestations of the Prana by physical means is
called physical science, and that part which tries to control
the manifestations of the Prana as mental force by mental
means is called Raja-Yoga.

(The Complete works of Swami Vivekananda – Vol. 1)

Part – 2
This self as pure consciousness is absolutely
impersonal, unlimited and infinite. In order to make it
possible that this one self should appear as many
individuals and as God, it is supposed that it manifests
itself differently through the veil of maya. Thus, according
to the Siddhanta-lesa, it is said in the Prakatartha-vivarana
that, when this pure consciousness is reflected through the
beginningless, indescribable maya, it is called Isvara or
God. But, when it is reflected through the limited parts of
maya containing powers of veiling and of diverse creation
(called avidya), there are the manifestations of individual
souls or jivas. It is again said in the Tattva-viveka of
Nrsimhasrama that, when this pure consciousness is
reflected through the pure sattva qualities, as dominating
over other impure parts of prakrti, there is the
manifestation of God. Whereas, when the pure
consciousness is reflected through the impure parts of
rajas and tamas, as dominating over the sattva part of
prakrti (called also avidya), there are the manifestations of
the individual selves or jivas. The same prakrti in its two
aspects, as predominating in sattva and as predominating
in rajas and tamas, goes by the name of maya and avidya
and forms the conditioning factors (upadhi) of the pure
consciousness, which on account of the different
characters of the conditioning factors of maya and avidya
appear as the omniscient God and the ignorant individual
souls. Sarvajnatma Muni thinks that, when the pure
consciousness is reflected through avidya, it is called
Isvara, and, when it is reflected through mind
(antahkarana), it is called jiva.
These various methods of accounting for the origin of
individual selves and God have but little philosophical
significance. But they go to show that the principal interest
of the Vedanta lies in establishing the supreme reality of a
transcendental principle of pure consciousness, which,
though always untouched and unattached in its own
nature, is yet the underlying principle which can explain all
the facts of the enlivening and enlightening of all our
conscious experiences. All that is limited, be it an
individual self or an individual object of awareness, is in
some sense or other an illusory imposition of the
modification of a non-conscious principle on the principle
of consciousness. The Vedanta is both unwilling and
incapable of explaining the nature of the world-process in
all its details, in which philosophy and science are equally
interested. Its only interest is to prove that the world-
process presupposes the existence of a principle of pure
consciousness which is absolutely and ultimately real, as it
is immediate and intuitive. Reality means what is not
determined by anything else; and in this sense pure
consciousness is the only reality-and all else is
indescribable-neither real nor unreal; and the Vedanta is
not interested to discover what may be its nature.


From what has been said above it is evident that

maya (also called avidya or ajnana) is in itself an

indefinable mysterious stuff, which has not merely a
psychological existence, but also an ontological existence
as well. It is this ajnana which on the one hand forms on
the subjective plane the mind and the senses (the self
alone being Brahman and ultimately real), and on the
other hand, on the objective plane, the whole of the
objective universe. This ajnana has two powers, the power
of veiling or covering (avarana) and the power of creation
(viksepa). The power of veiling, though small, like a little
cloud veiling the sun with a diameter of millions of miles,
may, in spite of its limited nature, cover up the infinite,
unchangeable self by veiling its self-luminosity as cognizer.
The veiling of the self means veiling the shining
unchangeable self-perception of the self, as infinite,
eternal and limitless, pure consciousness, which as an
effect of such veiling appears as limited, bound to sense-
cognitions and sense-enjoyments and functioning as
individual selves. It is through this covering power of
ajnana that the self appears as an agent and an enjoyer of
pleasures and pains and subject to ignorant fears of
rebirth, like the illusory perception of a piece of rope in
darkness as a snake. Just as through the creative power of
ignorance a piece of rope, the real nature of which is
hidden from view, appears as a snake, so does ignorance
by its creative power create on the hidden self the
manifold world-appearance. As the ajnana is supposed to
veil by its veiling power (avarana-sakti) only the self-
cognizing and self-revealing aspect of the self, the other
aspect of the self as pure being is left open as the basis on
which the entire world-appearance is created by the
creative power thereof. The pure consciousness, veiled as
it is by ajnana with its two powers, can be regarded as an
important causal agent (nimitta), when its nature as pure
consciousness forming the basis of the creation of the
world-appearance is emphasized; it can be regarded as the
material cause, when the emphasis is put on its covering
part, the ajnana. It is like a spider, which, so far as it
weaves its web, can be regarded as a causal agent, and, so
far as it supplies from its own body the materials of the
web, can be regarded as the material cause of the web,
when its body aspect is emphasized. The creative powers
(viksepa-sakti) of ajnana are characterized as being
threefold, after the manner of Samkhya prakrti, as sattva,
rajas and tamas. With the pure consciousness as the basis
and with the associated creative power of ajnana
predominating in tamas, space (akasa) is first produced;
from akasa comes air, from air fire, from fire water, from
water earth. It is these elements in their fine and
uncompounded state that in the Samkhya and the Puranas
are called tan-matras. It is out of these that the
grosser materials are evolved as also the subtle bodies.
(Foot Note – 1) The subtle bodies are made up of
seventeen parts, excluding the subtle elements, and are
called suksma-sarira or linga-sarira. This subtle body is
composed of the five cognitive senses, the five conative
senses, the five vayus or biomotor activities, buddhi
(intellect) and manas, together with the five subtle
elements in tanmatric forms. The five cognitive senses, the
auditory, tactile, visual, gustatory and olfactory senses, are
derived from the sattva parts of the five elements, akasa,
vayu, agni, ap and prthivi respectively. Buddhi, or intellect,
means the mental state of determination or affirmation
(niscayatmika antahkarana-vrtti). Manas means the two
mental functions of vikalpa and sankalpa or of sankalpa
alone resulting in doubt. (Foot Note – 2) The function of
mind (citta) and the function of egoism (ahamkara) are
included in buddhi and manas. (Foot Note – 3) They are all
produced from sattva parts of the five elements and are
therefore elemental. Though they are elemental, yet, since
they are produced from the compounded sattva parts of
the five elements and are therefore elemental. Though
they are elemental, yet, since they are produced from the
compounded sattva parts of all the elements, they have
the revealing function displayed in their cognitive
operations. Buddhi with the cognitive senses is called the
sheath of knowledge (vijnanamaya-kosa). Manas with the
cognitive senses is called the sheath of manas (manomaya-
kosa). It is the self as associated with the vijnanamaya-kosa
that feels itself as the agent, enjoyer, happy or unhappy,
the individual self (jiva) that passes through worldly
experience and rebirth.

The conative senses desirous of performing actions

are produced from the rajas parts of the five elements. The
five vayus or biomotor activities are called Prana or the
breathing activity, Udana or the upward activity and
Samana or the digestive activity. There are some who add
another five vayus such as the Naga, the vomiting Apana
troyanes activity, Kurma, the reflex activity of opening the
eyelids, Krkala, the activity of coughing, Devadatta, the
activity of yawning, and Dhananjay a, the nourishing
activity. These pranas together with the cognitive senses

form the active sheath of prana (pranamaya-kosa). Of
these three sheaths, the vijnanamaya, manomaya and
pranamaya, the vijnanamaya sheath plays the part of the
active agent (kartr-rupah); the manomaya is the source of
all desires and volition, and is therefore regarded as having
an instrumental function; the pranamaya sheath
represents the motor function. These three sheaths make
up together the subtle body or the suksma-sarira.
Hiranyagarbha (also called Sutratma or prana) is the god
who presides over the combined subtle bodies of all living
beings. Individually each subtle body is supposed to belong
to every being. These three sheaths, involving as they do
all the sub-conscious impressions from which our
conscious experience is derived, are therefore called a
dream (jagrad-vasanamayatvat svapna). The process of the
formation of the gross elements from the subtle parts of
the elements is technically called pancikarana. It consists in
a compounding of the elements in which one half of each
rudimentary element is mixed with the eighth part of each
other rudimentary element. It is through such a process of
compounding that each element possesses some of the
properties of the other elements. The entire universe
consists of seven upper worlds (Bhuh, Bhuvah, Svar,
Mahar, Janah, Tapah and Satyam), seven lower worlds
(Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Rasatala, Talatala, Mahatala and
Patala) and all the gross bodies of all living beings. There is
a cosmic deity who presides over the combined physical
bodies of all beings, and this deity is called Virat. There is
also the person, the individual who presides over each one
of the bodies, and, in this aspect, the individual is called

The ajnana as constituting antahkarana or mind, involving

the operative functions of buddhi and manas, is always
associated with the self; it is by the difference of these
antahkaranas that one self appears as many individual
selves, and it is through the states of these antahkaranas
that the veil over the self and the objects are removed,
and as a result of this there is the cognition of objects. The
antahkarana is situated with in the body, which it
thoroughly pervades. It is made up of the sattva parts of
the five rudimentary elements, and, being extremely
transparent, comes into touch with the sense objects
through the specific senses and assumes their forms. It
being a material stuff, there is one part inside the body,
another part in touch with the sense-objects, and a third

part between the two and connected with them both as
one whole.

The interior part of the antahkarana is the ego or the

agent. The intervening part has the action of knowledge,
called also vrtti-jnana. The third part, which at the time of
cognition is transformed into the form of the sense-
objects, has the function of making them manifested in
knowledge as its objects. The antahkarana of three parts
being transparent, pure consciousness can well be
manifested in it. Though pure consciousness is one, yet it
manifests the three different parts of the antahkarana in
three different ways, as the cognizer (pramatr), cognitive
operation (pramana) and the cognition, or the percept
(pramiti). In each of the three cases the reality is the part
of the pure consciousness, as it expresses itself through
the three different modifications of the antahkarana. The
sense-objects in themselves are but the veiled pure
consciousness, Brahman, as forming their substance. The
difference between the individual consciousness (jive-
caitanya) and the Brahman-consciousness (brahma-
caitanya) is that the former represents pure consciousness,
as conditioned by or as reflected through the antahkarma,

while the latter is the unentangled infinite consciousness,
on the basis of which all the cosmic creations of maya are
made. The covering of avidya, for the breaking of which
the operation of the antahkarana is deemed necessary is
of two kinds, viz. subjective ignorance and objective
ignorance. When I say that I do not know a book, that
implies subjective ignorance as signified by “I do not
know”, and objective ignorance as referring to the book.
The removal of the first is a precondition of all kinds of
knowledge, perceptual or inferential, while the second is
removed only in perceptual knowledge. It is diverse in kind
according to the form and content of the sense-objects;
and each perceptual cognition removes only one specific
ignorance, through which the particular cognition arises.


Padmapada says that maya, avyakrta, prakrti,

agrahana, avyakta, tamayh, karana, laya, sakti, mahasupti,
nidra, ksara and akasa are the terms which are used in
older literature as synonymous with avidya. It is this entity
that obstructs the pure and independently self-revealing
nature of Brahman, and thus, standing as the painted
canvas (citra-bhitti) of ignorance (avidya), deeds (karma)

and past impressions of knowledge (purva-prajna-
samskara) produce the individual persons (jivatvapadika).
Undergoing its peculiar transformations with God as its
support, it manifests itself as the two powers of knowledge
and activity (vijnana-kriya-sakti-dvayasraya) and functions
as the doer of all actions and the enjoyer of all experiences
(kartrtva-bhoktrtvaikadharah). In association with the pure
unchangeable light of Brahman it is the complex of these
transformations which appears as the immediate ego
(ahamkara). It is through the association with this ego that
the pure self is falsely regarded as the enjoyer of
experiences. This transformation is called antahkarana,
manas, buddhi and the ego or the ego-feeler (aham-
pratyayin) on the side of its cognitive activity, while on the
vibratory side of its activity (spanda-saktya), it is called
prana or biomotor functions. The association of the ego
with the pure atman, like the association of the redness of
a japa flower with a crystal, is a complex (granthi) which
manifests the dual characteristics of activity of the avidya
stuff and the consciousness of the pure self

On the question as to whether avidya has for both

support (asraya) and object (visaya) Brahman
Padmapada’s own attitude does not seem to be very clear.
He only says that avidya manifests itself in the individual
person (jiva) by obstructing the real nature of the Brahman
as pure self-luminosity.


The intimate relation between the heart and the

brain seems to have been dimly apprehended. Thus it is
said, “together with his needle hath Atharvan sewn his
head and heart.” The theory of the vayus, which we find in
all later literature, is alluded to, and the prana, apana,
vyana and samana are mentioned. It is however difficult to
guess what these prana, apana, etc. exactly meant. In
another passage of the Atharva Veda we hear of nine
pranas (nava pranan navabhih sammimite), and in another
seven pranas are mentioned. In another passage we hear
of a lotus with nine gates (nava-dvaram) and covered with
the three gunas. This is a very familiar word in later
Sanskrit literature, as referring to the nine doors of the
senses, and the comparison of the heart with a lotus is also
very common. But one of the most interesting points
about the passage is that it seems to be a direct reference
to the guna theory, which received its elaborate exposition

at the hands of the later Samkhyha writers: it is probably
the earliest reference to that theory. As we have stated
above, the real functions of the prana, etc. were not
properly understood; prana was considered as vital power
or life and it was believed to be beyond injury and fear. It
was as immortal as the earth and the sky, the day and the
night, the sun and the moon, the Brahmanas and the
Ksattriyas, truth and false-hood, the past and the future. A
prayer is made to prana and apana for protection from
death (pranapanau mrtyor ma patam svaha).


It is said that the materials of the developing foetus

are agni, soma, sattva, rajas, tamas, the five senses, and
the bhutatma-all these contribute to the life of the foetus
and are also called the pranas (life).


According to the Vedanta, as interpreted by Sankara,

the subtle body is constituted of five particles of the
elements of matter (bhuta-suksmaih), with which are also
associated the five vayus, prana, apana, etc.


Caraka says about Vayu

It sustains the machinery of the body (tantra-yantra-

dharah), it manifests itself as prana, udana, samana and
apana and is the generator of diverse kinds of efforts; it is
the force which controls (niyanta) the mind from all
undesirables and directs (praneta) it to all that is desirable,
is the cause of the employment of the sense-organs, is the
carrier of the stimulation of sense-objects, collects
together the dhatus of the body, harmonizes the functions
of the body as one whole, is the mover of speech, is the
cause of touch and sounds, as also of the corresponding
sense-organs, the root of joy and mental energy, the air for
the digestive fire, the healer of morbidities, the ejector of
extraneous dirts, the operating agent for all kinds of
circulation, the framer of the shape of the foetus, and is, in
short, identical with the continuity of life (ayuso nuvrtti-
pratyaya-bguta). When it is in undue proportions, it brings
about all sorts of troubles, weakens the strength, colour,
happiness and life, makes the mind sad, weakens the
functions of the sense-organs, causes malformations of the

foetus, produces diseases and all emotions of fear, grief,
delirium, etc., and arrests the functions of the pranas.


The most vital centres of the body are the head, the
heart and the pelvis (vasti). The pranas, i.e. the vital
currents, and all the senses are said to depend (sritah) on
the head.


Caraka considers the heart (hrdaya) to be the only

seat of consciousness. The seats of prana are said to be the
head, throat, heart, navel, rectum, bladder, the vital fluid
ojas, semen, blood and flesh. In 19.3 Caraka, however,
excludes navel and flesh and includes the temples (sankha)
in their place. It is difficult to determine what is exactly
meant by prana here. But in all probability the word is
used here in a general way to denote the vital parts.


The Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad describes the hita

nadis of the heart as being as fine as a thousandth part of a
hair, and they are said to carry white, blue, yellow and
green liquids; Sankara, commenting on this, says that
these various colours are due to the various combinations
of vata, pitta and slesman which the nadis carry. He states
that the seventeen elements (five bhutas, ten senses,
prana and antahkarana) of the subtle body, which is the
support of all instinctive desires, abide in these nadis. In
Brhad-aranyaka, IV.2. 3 it is said that there is the finest
essence of food-juice inside the cavity of the heart; it is
this essence which, by penetrating into the finest nadis,
serves to support the body. It is surrounded by a network
of nadis. From the heart it rushes upwards through the
extremely fine hita nadis, which are rooted in the heart.
Chandogya, VIII 6.6 speaks of one hundred and one nadis
proceeding from the heart, of which one goes towards the
head. In Mund. II 2.6, it is said that, like spokes in a wheel,
the nadis are connected with the heart. Prasna, III. 6 and 7,
however, says that in the heart there are one hundred
nadis and in each of these are twenty-two hundred
branches and the vyana vayu moves through these. The
Maitri Upanisad mentions the susumna nadi proceeding
upwards to the head, through which there is a flow of
prana. None of these passages tell us anything definite
about the nadis. All that can be understood from these
passages is that they are some kind of ducts, through
which blood and other secretions flow, and many of these
are extremely fine, being about the thousandth part of a
hair in breadth. The nada, or hollow reed, is described in
the Rg-Veda (VIII.I. 33) as growing in ponds and in the
Atharva-Veda (IV. 19.1) as being varsika, or “produced in
the rains.” This word may have some etymological relation
with nadi. In another place it is said that women break
nada with stones and make mats out of them. The word
nadi is also used in the Atharva-Veda in the sense of
“ducts.” In Atharva-Veda, V.I. 8.8 the word nadika is used
to denote the speech organ (vak). The word dhamani is
used in Rg-Veda. II. II. 8 and is paraphrased by Sayana as
sound (sabda) and by Macdonell as “reed” or “pipe.” If
Sayana’s explanations are to be accepted, then in A.V. II.
33. 6 the word snava means fine siras (suksmah-sirah) and
dhamani the larger ducts (dhamani-sabdena sthulah). In
VI. 90.5 one hundred dhamanis are said to surround the
body of a persons suffering from colic or gout (sula), and
Sayana paraphrases dhamani here as nadi. In Chandogya,
II.I. 9.2. the rivers are said to be dhamanis (ya dhamanayas
to nadyah), and Sankara paraphrases dhamani as sira. I
have already referred to the use of the word hira in the
Atharva-Veda; the word is also used in the Rg-Veda.
The above references show that nadis, siras (or hiras)
and dhamanis were all ducts in the body, but sometimes
the nadis or siras had also the special sense of finer
channels, whereas the dhamanis were the larger ducts. I
shall now come to Caraka: it will be found that there was
not much advance towards a proper understanding of the
significance of their distinction and functions.


Sankara Misra argues in his commentary on the

Vaisesika-sutras. V.2 1 4 and 5, that the nadis are
themselves capable of producing tactile impressions; for,
had it not been so, then eating and drinking, as associated
with their corresponding feelings, would not have been
possible, as these are effected by the automatic functions
of prana.


When the self is in association with manas, it has the

following qualities pleasure, pain, desire, hatred, effort,
prana and apana (the upward current of breath and the
downward force acting in the direction of the rectum), the
opening and closing of the eyelids, the action of the

intellect as decision or buddhi (niscaya), imagination
(sankalpa), thought (vicarana), memory (smrti), scientific
knowledge (vijnana), energy (adhyavasaya) and sense-
cognitions (visayopalabbdhi).


The Gita is, of course, aware of the process of breath-

control and pranayama; but, curiously enough, it does not
speak of it in its sixth chapter on dhyana-yoga, where
almost the whole chapter is devoted to yoga practice and
the conduct of yogins. In the fifth chapter, v. 27, it is said
that all sense-movements and control of life-movements
(prana-karmani) are like oblations to the fire of self-
control. In the two obscure verses of the same chapter,
v.29 and 30, it is said that there are some who offer an
oblation of prana to apana and of apana to prana and thus,
stopping the movement of inhalation and exhalation
(pranapana-gati ruddhva), perform the pranayama, while
there are others who, taking a low diet, offer an oblation
of prana to prana. Such actions on the part of these people
are described as being different kinds of sacrifices, of
yajna, and the people who perform them are called yajna-
vidah (those who know the science of sacrifice), and not

yogin. It is difficult to understand the exact meaning of
offering an oblation of prana to prana or of prana to apana
and of calling this sacrifice. The interpretations of Sankara,
Sridhara and others give us but little help in this matter.
They do not tell us why it should be called a yajna or how
an oblation of prana to prana can be made, and they do
not even try to give a synonym for juhvati (offer oblation)
used in this connection. It seems to me, however, that
there is probably a reference to the mystical substitution-
meditations (pratikopasana) which were used as
substitutes for sacrifices and are referred to in the
Upanisads. Thus in the Maitri Upanisad, vi. 9, we find that
Brahman is to be meditated upon as the ego, and in this
connection, oblations of the five vayus to fire with such
mantras as pranaya svaha, apanaya svaha, etc. are
recommended. It is easy to imagine that, in a later process
of development, for the actual offering of oblations to fire
was substituted a certain process of breath-control, which
still retained the old phraseology of the offering of
oblations in a sacrifice. If this interpretation is accepted, it
will indicate how processes of breath-control became in
many cases associated with substitution-meditations of
the Vedic type. The development of processes of breath-
control in connection with substitution-meditations does
not seem to be unnatural at all, and, as a matter of fact,
the practice of pranayama in connection with such
substitution-meditations is definitely indicated in the
Maitri Upanisad, vi.; 18. The movement of inhalation and
exhalation was known to be the cause of all body-heat,
including the heat of digestive processes, and Krsna is
supposed to say in the Gita, xv. 14, “As fire I remain in the
body of living beings and in association with prana and
apana I digest four kinds of food and drink.” The author of
the Gita, however, seems to have been well aware that the
prana and apana breaths passing through the nose could
be properly balanced (samau), or that the prana vayu
could be concentrated between the two eye-brows or in
the head (murdhni). (Foot Note – 4) It is difficult to say
what is exactly meant by taking the prana in the head or
between the eyebrows. There seems to have been a belief
in the Atharva-siras Upanisad and also in the Atharva-sikha
Upanisad that the prana could be driven upwards, or that
such prana, being in the head, could protect it. Manu also
speaks of the pranas of young men rushing upwards when
old men approached them. But, whatever may be meant,
it is certain that neither the balancing of prana and apana
nor the concentrating of prana in the head or between the
eyebrows is a phrase of Patanjali, the Yoga writer.


The mind (citta), which naturally transforms itself

into its states (vrtti), does so for two reasons, which are
said to be like its two seeds. One of these is the vibration
(parispanda) of prana, and the other, strong and deep-
rooted desires and inclinations which construct (drdha-
bhavana). When the prana vibrates and is on the point of
passing through the nerves (nadi-samsparsanodyata), then
there appears the mind full of its thought processes
(samveda-namaya). But when the prana lies dormant in
the hollow of the veins (sira-sarani-kotare), then there is
no manifestation of mind, and its processes and the
cognitive functions do not operate. (Foot Note – 5) It is the
vibration of the prana (prana-spanda) that manifests itself
through the citta and causes the world-appearance out of
nothing. The cessation of the vibration of prana means
cessation of all cognitive functions. As a result of the
vibration of prana, the cognitive function is set in motion
like a top (vita). As a top spins round in the yard when
struck, so, roused by the vibration of prana, knowledge is

manifested; and in order to stop the course of knowledge,
it is necessary that the cause of knowledge should be first
attacked. When the citta remains awake to the innersense,
while shut to all extraneous cognitive activities, we have
the highest state. For the cessation of citta the yogins
control prana through pranayanma (breath-regulation)
and meditation (dhyana), in accordance with proper

Again, there is a very intimate relation between

vasana and prana-spanda, such that vasana is created and
stimulated into activity, prana-spanda, and prana-spanda
is set in motion through vasana. When by strong ideation
and without any proper deliberation of the past and the
present, things are conceived to be one’s own-the body,
the senses, the ego and the like-we have what is called
vasana. Those who have not the proper wisdom always
believe in the representations of the ideations of vasana
without any hesitation and consider them to be true; and,
since both the vasana and the prana-spanda are the
ground and cause of the manifestations of citta, the
cessation of one promptly leads to the cessation of the
other. The two are connected with each other in the

relation of seed and shoot (bijankuravat); from
prana-spanda there is vasana, and from vasana there is
prana-spanda. The object of knowledge is inherent in the
knowledge itself, and so with the cessation of
knowledge the object of knowledge itself, and so with the
cessation of knowledge the object of knowledge also
ceases. (Foot Note – 6)

As a description of prana we find in the Yoga-vasistha

that it is said to be vibratory activity (spanda-sakti)
situated in the upper part of the body, while apana is the
vibratory activity in the lower part of the body. There is a
natural pranayama going on in the body in waking states
as well as in sleep. The mental outgoing tendency of the
pranas from the cavity of the heart is called recaka, and
the drawing in of the pranas (dvadasanguli) by the apana
activity is called puraka. The interval between the
cessation of one effort of apana and the rise of the effort
of prana is the stage of kumbhaka. Bhusunda, the
venerable old crow who was enjoying an exceptionally
long life, is supposed to instruct Vasistha in VI. 24 on the
subject of prana. He compares the body to a house with
the ego (ahamkara) as the householder. It is supposed to

be supported by pillars of three kinds, (Foot Note – 7)
provided with nine doors (seven apertures in the head and
two below), tightly fitted with the tendons (snayu) as
fastening materials and cemented with blood, flesh and
fat. On the two sides of it there are the two nadis, ida and
pingala, lying passive and unmanifested (nimilite). There is
also a machine (yantra) of bone and flesh (asthi-mamsa-
maya) in the shape of three double lotuses (padma-yugma-
traya) having pipes attached to them running both
upwards and downwards and with their petals closing
upon one another (anyanya-milat-komala-saddala). When
it is slowly filled with air, the petals move, and by the
movement of the petals the air increases. Thus increased,
the air, passing upwards and downwards through different
places, is differently named as prana, apana, samana, etc.
It is in the threefold machinery of the lotus of the heart
(hrt-padma-yantra-tritaye) that all the prana forces
operate and spread forth upwards and downwards like the
rays from the moon’s disc. They go out, return, repulse
and draw and circulate. Located in the heart, the air is
called prana: it is through its power that there is the
movement of the eyes, the operation of the tactual sense,
breathing through the nose, digesting of food and the
power of speech. (Foot Note – 8) The prana current of air
stands for exhalation (recaka) and the apana for inhalation
(puraka), and the moment of respite between the two
operations is called kumbhaka; consequently, if the prana
and apana can be made to cease there is an unbroken
continuity of kumbhaka. But all the functions of the prana,
as well as the upholding of the body, are ultimately due to
the movement of citta. Though in its movement in the
body the prana is associated with air currents, still it is in
reality nothing but the vibratory activity proceeding out of
the thought-activity, and these two act and react upon
each other, so that, if the vibratory activity of the body be
made to cease, the thought-activity will automatically
cease, and vice-versa. Thus through spanda-nirodha we
have prana-nirodha and through prana-nirodha we have
spanda-nirodha. In the Yoga-vasistha, III. I3.31, vayu is said
to be nothing but a vibratory entity (spandate yat sa tad

In v. 78 it is said that citta and movement are in

reality one and the same, and are therefore altogether
inseparable, like the snow and its whiteness, and
consequently with the destruction of one the other is also

destroyed. There are two ways of destroying the citta, one
by Yoga, consisting of the cessation of mental states, and
the other by right knowledge. As water enters through the
crevices of the earth, so air (vata) moves in the body
through the nadis and is called prana. It is this prana air
which, on account of its diverse functions and words, is
differently named as apana, etc.

But it is identical with citta. From the movement of

prana there is the movement of citta, and from that there
is knowledge (samvid). As regards the control of the
movement of prana, the Yoga-vasistha advises several
alternatives. Thus it holds that through concentrating
one’s mind on one subject or through fixed habits of long
inhalation associated with meditation, or through
exhaustive exhalation, or the practice of not taking breath
and maintaining kumbhaka, or through stopping the inner
respiratory passage by attaching the tip of the tongue to
the uvula, (Foot Note – 9) or again, through concentration
of the mind or thoughts on the point between the two
brows, there dawns all of a sudden the right
knowledge and the consequent cessation of prana
activities. (Foot Note – 10)

Professor Macdonell, writing on prana in the Vedic
index, vol. II, says, “Prana, properly denoting ‘breath,’ is a
term of wide and vague significance in Vedic literature.” In
the narrow sense prana denotes one of the vital airs, of
which five are usually enumerated, viz. prana, apana,
vyana, udana and samana. The exact sense of each of
these breaths, when all are mentioned, cannot be
determined. The word prana has sometimes merely the
general sense of breath, even when opposed to apana. But
its proper sense is beyond question “breathing forth,”
“expiration.” But, though in a few cases the word may
have been used for “breath” in its remote sense, the
general meaning of the word in the Upanisads is not air
current, but some sort of biomotor force, energy or vitality
often causing these air currents. (Foot Note – 11) It would
be tedious to refer to the large number of relevant
Upanisad texts and to try to ascertain after suitable
discussion their exact significance in each case. The best
way to proceed therefore is to refer to the earliest
traditional meaning of the word, as accepted by the
highest Hindu authorities. I refer to the Vedanta-sutra of
Badarayana, which may be supposed to be the earliest
research into the doctrines discussed in the Upanisads.
Thus the Vedanta-sutra, II. 4.9 (na vayu-kriye prthag
upadesat), speaking of what may be the nature of prana,
says that it is neither air current (vayu) nor action (kriya),
since prana has been considered as different from air and
action (in the Upanisads). Sankara, commenting on this,
says that from such passages as yah pranah sa esa vayuh
panda ‘vidhah prano pano vyana udanah samanah (what is
prana is vayu and it is fivefold, prana, apana, vyana, udana,
samana), it may be supposed that vayu (air) is prana, but it
is not so, since in Chandogya, III. 1 8. 4, it is stated that
they are different. Again, it is not the action of the senses,
as the Samkhya supposes; for it is regarded as different
from the senses in Mundaka, II. I.; 3. The passage which
identifies vayu with prana is intended to prove that it is the
nature of vayu that has transformed itself into the entity
known as prana (just as the human body itself may be
regarded as a modification or transformation of ksiti,
earth). It is not vayu, but, as Vacaspati says, “vayu-bheda,”
which Amalananda explains in his Vedanta-kalpa-taru as
vayoh parinama – rupa – karya-visesah, i.e. it is a particular
evolutionary product of the category of vayu. Sankara’s
own statement is equally explicit on the point. He says,
“vayur evayam udhayatmam apannah panca-vyuho
visesatmanavatisthamanaha prano nama bhanyate na
tattvantaram napi vayu-mantram,” i.e. it is vayu which,
having transformed itself into the body, differentiates
itself into a group of five that is called vayu; prana is not
altogether a different category, nor simply air. In
explaining the nature of prana in II.4. 10-12, Sankara says
that prana is not as independent as jiva (soul), but
performs everything on its behalf, like a prime minister
(raja-mantrivaj jivasya sarudrtha-karanatvena upakarana-
bhitto na svatantrah). Prana is not an instrument like the
senses, which operate only in relation to particular objects;
for, as is said in Chandogya, V.I. 6,7, Brhad-aranyaka, IV. 3.
12 and Brhad-aranyaka, I. 3. 19, when all the senses leave
the body the prana continues to operate. It is that by the
functioning of which the existence of the soul in the body,
or life (jiva-sthiti), and the passage of the jiva out of the
body, or death (jivotkranti), are possible. The five vayus
are the five functionings of this vital principle, just as the
fivefold mental states of right knowledge, illusion,
imagination (vikalpa), sleep and memory are the different
states of the mind. Vacaspati, in commenting on Vedanta-
sutra, II. 4. II, says that it is the cause which upholds the
body and the senses (dehendriya-vidharana-karanam
pranah), though it must be remembered that it has still
other functions over and above the upholding of the body
and the senses (na kevalam sarirendriya-dharanam asya
karyam, Vacaspati, ibid). In Vedanta-sutra, II. 4. 13, it is
described as being atomic (any), which is explained by
Sankara as “subtle” (suksma), on account of its pervading
the whole body by its fivefold functionings. Vacaspati in
explaining it says that it is called “atomic” only in a
derivative figurative sense (upacaryate) and only on
account of its inaccessible or indefinable character
(duradhigamata), though pervading the whole body.
Govindananda, in commenting upon Vedanta-sutra, II. 4.5,
says that prana is a vibratory activity which upholds the
process of life and it has no other direct operation than
that (parispanda-rupa-pranananukulatvad avantara-
vyaparabhavat). This seems to be something like biomotor
or life force. With reference to the relation of prana to the
motor organs or faculties of speech, etc., Sankara says that
their vibratory activity is derived from prana (vag-adisu
parispanda-labhasya pranayattatvam, II. 4.19). There are
some passages in the Vedanta-sutra which may lead us to
think that the five vayus may mean air currents, but that it
is not so is evident from the fact that the substance of the
prana is not air (etat pranadi-pancakam akasadi-gata-rajo-
msebhyomilitebhyautpadyate) and the pranas are called
kriyatmaka, or consisting of activity. Rama Tirtha,
commenting on the above passage of the Vedantasara,
says that it is an evolutionary product of the essence of
vayu and the other bhutas, but it is not in any sense the
external air which performs certain physiological functions
in the body (tatha mukhya-prano ‘pi vayur bahyasya
sutratmakasya vikaro na sarira-madhye nabhovad vrtti-
labha-matrena avasthito bahya-vayur eva). Having proved
that in Vedanta prana or any of the five vayus means
biomotor force and not air current, I propose now to turn
to the Samkhya-Yoga.


The Samkhya-Yoga differs from the Vedanta in

rejecting the view that the prana is in any sense an
evolutionary product of the nature of Vayu. Thus
Vijnanabhiksu in his Vijnanamrta-bhasya on Vedanta-sutra,
II. 4. 10, says that prana is called vayu because it is self-
active like the latter (svatah kriyavattvena ubhayoh prana-
vayvoh sajatyat). Again, in II. 4.9, he says that prana is
neither air nor the upward or downward air current

(mukhya-prana na vayuh napi sarirasya urdho-adho-
vgamana-laksana vayu-kriya).

What is prana, then, according to Samkhya-Yoga? It is

mahat-tattva, which is evolved from prakrti, which is called
buddhi with reference to its intellective power and prana
with reference to its power as acitivity. The so-called five
vayus are the different functionings of the mahat-tattva
(samanya-karya-sadharanam yat karanam mahat-tattvam
tasyaiva vrtti-bhedah pranapanadayah; see Vijnanamrta-
bhasya, II. 4. II). Again, referring to Samkhya-karika, 29, we
find that the five vayus are spoken of as the common
functioning of buddhi, ahamkara and manas, and
Vacaspati says that the five vayus are their life. This means
that the three, buddhi, ahamkara and manas, are each
energizing, in their own way, and it is the joint operation of
these energies that is called the fivefold prana which
upholds the body. Thus in this view also prana is biomotor
force and no air current. The special feature of this view is
that this biomotor force is in essence a mental energy
consisting of the specific functionings of buddhi, ahamkara
and manas. (Foot Note – 12) It is due to the evolutionary
activity of antahkarana. In support of this view the

Samkhya-pravacana-bhasya, II. 3 I, Vyasa-bhasya, III. 39,
Vacaspati’s Tattva – vaisaradi, Bhiksu’s Yogavarttika, and
Nagesa’s Chaya-vyakhya thereon may be referred to. It is
true, no doubt, that sometimes inspiration and expiration
of external air are also called prana; but that is because in
inspiration and expiration the function of prana is active or
it vibrates. It is thus the entity which moves and not mere
motion that is called prana. Ramanuja agrees with Sankara
in holding that prana is not air (vayu), but a transformation
of the nature of air. But it should be noted that this
modification of air is such a modification as can only be
known by Yoga methods.


The Vaisesika, however, holds that it is the external

air which according to its place in the body performs
various physiological functions. The medical authorities
also support the view that vayu is a sort of driving and
upholding power. Thus the Bhava-prakasa describes vayu
as follows: It takes quickly the dosas, dhatus and the malas
from one place to another, is subtle, composed of rajo-
guna; is dry, cold, light and moving. By its movement it
produces all energy, regulates inspiration and expiration

and generates all movement and action, and by upholding
the keenness of the senses and the dhatus holds together
the heat, senses and the mind. Vahata in his Astanga-
samgraha also regards vayu as the one cause of all body
movements, and there is nothing to suggest that he meant
air currents. The long description of Caraka (I. 12), as will
be noticed in the next chapter, seems to suggest that he
considered the vayu as the constructive and destructive
force of the universe, and as fulfilling the same kinds of
functions inside the body as well. It is not only a physical
force regulating the physiological functions of the body,
but is also the mover and controller of the mind in all its
operations, as knowing, feeling and willing. Susruta holds
that it is in itself anyakta (unmanifested or unknowlable),
and that only its actions as operating in the body are
manifested (anyakto vyakta-karma ca).

In the Yoga-vasistha, as we have already seen above, prana

or vayu is defined as that entity which vibrates (spandate
yat ta tad vayuh, III. 13) and it has no other reality than
vibration. Pranaitself is, again, nothing bus the movement
of the intellect as ahamkara.

Prana is essentially of the nature of vibration
(spanda), and mind is but a form of prana energy, and so
by the control of the mind the five vayus are controlled.
The Saiva authorites also agree with the view that prana is
identical with cognitive activity, which passes through the
nadis (nerves) and maintains all the body movement and
the movement of the senses. Thus Ksemaraja says that it is
the cognitive force which passes in the form of prana
through the nadis, and he refers to Bhatta Kallata as also
holding the same view, and prana is definitely spoken of by
him as force (kutila-vahin prana-saktih). Sivopadhyaya in
his Vivrti on the Vijnana-bhairava also describes prana as
force (sakti), and the Vijnana-bhairava itself does the
same. Bhatta Ananda in his Vijnana-kaunudi describes
prana as a functioning of the mind (citta-vrtti).


1) As to how the subtle elements are combined for the

production of grosser elements there are two different
theories, viz. the trivti-karana and the panic-karana. The
trivti-karana means that fire, water and earth (as subtle
elements) are each divided into two halves, thus producing
two equal parts of each; then the three half parts of the

three subtle elements are again each divided into two
halves, thus producing two quarter parts of each. Then the
original first half of each element is combined with the two
quarters of other two elements. Thus each element is
combined with the two quarters of other two elements.
Thus each element has half of itself with two quarter parts
of other two elements. Vacaspati and Amalananda prefer
trivti-karana to panic-karana; for they think that there is no
point in admitting that air and akasa have also parts of
other elements integrated in them, and the Vedic texts
speak of trivti-karana and not of panic-karama. The panti-
karana theory holds that the five subtle elements are
divided firstly into two halves, and then one of the two
halves of these five elements is divided again into four
parts, and then the first half of each subtle element is
combined with the one-fourth of each half of all the other
elements excepting the element of which there is the full
half as a constituent. Thus each element is made up of
one-half of itself, and the other half of it is constituted of
the of the one-fourth of each of the other elements (i.e.
one-eighth of each of the other four elements), and thus
each element has at least some part of other elements

integrated into it. This view is supported by the Vedanta-
paribhasa and its Sikhamani commentary, p.363.

2) The Vedanta-tara speaks of sankalpa and vikalpa, and

this is explained by the Subodhira as meaning doubt. See
Vedanta-sara and Subodhini, p.17. The Vedanta-paribhasa
and its commentators speak of sankalpa as being the only
unction of manas, but it means “doubt” See pp. 88-89 and

3) Smaranakara-vrttimad antahkaranam cittam (Vedanta-

paribhasa-Maniprabha, p. 89). Anayor eva cittahamkarayor
antarbhavah (Vedanta-sara, p.17) But the Vedanta-
paribhasa says that manas, buddhi, ahankara and citta, all
four, constitute the inner organ (antahkarana). See
Vedanta-paribhasa, p. 88. The Vedanta-sara however does
not count four functions buddhi, manas, citta, ahamkara;
citta and ahamkara are regarded as the same as buddhi
and manas. Thus according to the Vedanta-sara there are
only two categories. But since the Vedanta paribhosa and
mentions buddhi and manas as constituents of the subtle
body, one need not think that there is ultimately and
difference between it and the Vedanta-sara.

4) Pranapanav samau krtva is left unexplained here by
Sankara. Sridhara explains it as “having suspended the
movement of prana and apana”-pranapanav urddhvadho-
gati-nirodhana samau krtva kumbhakam krtva. It is
difficult, however, to say what is exactly meant by
concentrating the prana vayu between the two eyebrows,
bhruvor Madhye Pranam avesya samyak (viii. 10). Neither
Sankara nor Sridhara gives us and assistance here. In
murdhny adhayatmanah pranam asthito yoga-dharanam
(VIII. 12) murdhni is paraphrased by Sridhara as bhruvor
Madhye, or “between the eyebrows.”

5) I have translated sira as veins, though I am not properly

authorized to do it. For the different between veins and
arteries does not seem to have been known.

6) Samilan naiyatah ksipram mila-cchedad iva drumah

Tamvidom viddhi samvedyam btjam dhtrataya vind

No sambhavati samvedyam taila-htnas tilo yatha

Na bahir kimcit samvedyam vidyate prshak

Yoga-vasistha, v.91.66 and 67.

7) Tri-prakara-maha-sthunam, vi. 24. 14. The commentator

explains the three kinds of pillars as referring to the three
primal entities of Indian medicine-vayu (air), pitta (bile)
and kapha (phlegm)-vato-pitta-kapha-laksana-tri prakara
mahantah sthina vistambho-kasthani yasya. I am myself
inclined to take the three kinds of pillars as referring to the
bony structure of three parts of the body-the skull, the
trunk, and the legs.

8) Yoga-vasistha, VI. 24. It is curious to note in this

connections that in the whole literature of the Ayur-veda
there is probably no passage where there is such clear
description of the respiratory process. Pupphusa, or lungs
are mentioned only by name in Susruta-samhita, but none
of their functions and modes of operation are at all
mentioned. It is probable that the discovery of the
aspiratory functions of the lungs was made by a school of
thought different com that of the medical school.

9) Talu-mula-gatam yatnaj jihvaydkramya ghantikam

urdhva-randhra-gate prana prana-spando nirudhyate

Yoga-Vasistha, v. 78.25.

10) It is important to notice in this connection that most of

the forms of pranayama as herein described, except the
hatha-yoga process of arresting the inner air passage by
the tongue, otherwise known as khecari-mudra, are the
same as described in the sutras of Pat anjali and the
bhasya of Vyasa; and this fact has also been pointed out by
the commentator Anandabodhendra Bhiksu in his
commentary on the above.

11) Difference between prana and vayu, Aitareya, II.4; the

nasikya prana, I.4. Relation of prana to other functions,
Kaustaki, II.5; prana as life, II.8; prana connected with
vayu, II. 12; prana as the most important function of life, II.
14; prana as consciousness, III.2. Distinction of nasikya and
mukhya prana, Chandogya, II. 1-9; the function of the five
vayus, II. 3-5; prana as the result of food, I.8.4; of water VI.
5.2, VI. 6.5. VI. 7.6; prana connected with atman, as
everything else connected with prana, like spokes of a
wheel, Brihad-aranyaka, II. 5.15; prana as strength, ibid. V.
14.4. prana as force running through the susumad nerve,
Maitri, VI. 21; etc.

12) Gaudapada’s bhasya on the Samkhya-karika, 29

compares the action of prana to the movement of birds
enclosed in a cage which moves the cage; compare
Sankara’s reference to Vedanta-Tutra, II. 4. 9.