Monday, April 5, 2010
Prana is a Sanskrit word for "life air" or "life force". In China it is known as cchi, in Japan as ki, in Polynesia as mana. It is present all over the universe both in macrocosm (space) and microcosm (bodies of living beings). Its proper flow in our bodies assures their healthy state.
Prana is a subtle material energy arising from rajo guna. It works as an interface between gross and subtle body, enabling all the psychophysical functions (i.e. animation - from Latin "anima"). This sometimes leads to confusion of prana with jiva. Although they are very closely connected, prana is witnessed by the jiva which is floating in prana in the heart cavity. Katha Upanisad 1.3.1 says:
rtam pibantau sukrtasya loke
guham pravistau parame parardhe
chayatapau brahmavido vadanti
pancagnayo ye ca tri-naciketah
"O Naciketa, the expansions of Lord Visnu as the tiny living being (jiva) and the Supersoul both stay within the cave of the heart of this body. In that cavity the living being, resting on the main prana, enjoys the results of activities, and the Supersoul, acting as witness enables him to enjoy them. Those who are well-versed in knowledge of Brahman and those householders who carefully follow the Vedic regulations say that the difference between the two is like the difference between a shadow and the sun."
Prana's movement leads to jiva's identification with the gross body (SB 4.29.71). Mundaka Upanishad (3.1.9):
esho anur atma cetasa veditavya yasmin pranah pancadha samvivesha
pranais cittamsattvam otam prajanam yasmin vishuddhe vibhavatyesha atma
""The atomic soul can be perceived by perfect intelligence as floating in the five kinds of life airs (prana, apana, vyana, samana and udana). When the consciousness (that pervades from the soul through the entire body) is purified from the contamination of the five kinds of material airs, its spiritual influence is exhibited.""
Prana is one but acts in different ways. Lower pranas control the senses and are under the control of main prana controlled by the Paramatma according to desire and karma of the jiva. Vedanta-sutra, Bhagavata Purana 4.25-28 (serpent analogy), Prasna Upanisad and other scriptures contain elaborate descriptions of prana. Various Eastern healing methods and martial arts work with prana.
Prana is mentioned in many Upanisads as well as Vedanta-sutra. A story in the Chandogya Upanisad describes how the senses had a dispute who among them is the most essential. The ear left for one year, returns and asks the others how they were doing without him. In a similar way the other senses also quit for a while. When the breath (prana = life) gets ready to leave, the other senses all understand that he is most essential. Without breath the body can't live.
Ten pranas ("life airs") - Prana, Apana, Samana, Udana, Vyana, Naga, Krkara, Kurma, Devadatta, Dhananjaya (for definitions see below the commentary to SB 3.6.9) and their actions are mentioned by spiritual masters (acaryas) in their commentaries to Bhagavad-gita 4.27. The life airs circulate in the 72.000 nadis and meridians of the human body.