We have seen in the previous chapter that every object in this world, including human body too, is made up of 5 elements, namely Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. These five elements are all essentially the modifications of matter and as such they are inert and insentient. We can observe that all objects of the world, whether minerals, plants, animals or human, have varying degrees of intelligent self-organisation in its formation. Minerals, though they are insentient, stay as minerals for a very long time without disintegrating and disappearing. They display chemical reactivity. They exhibit gradual growth and eventual decay. Some of the minerals are extremely hard and most beautiful; for example, diamond is extremely beautiful and shiny when it is polished. Plants, animals, and humans have life throbbing in them and they are sentient beings. These phenomena are not possible unless there is an intelligent and efficient sixth non-material cause enabling the inert matter to be so. This non-material cause should be more subtle than all the 5 elements and should be all-pervading in the universe, for doing this. We called this as X-factor in the previous chapter. We have also learnt that the only feasible location for us to trace this X-factor is within ourselves, as it is non-material in nature and is also present within us. We can know it only by subjective in-searching.
Prana & Consciousness – The “X” Factor
Ancient sages through their intuitive and meditative explorations discovered that the “X” factor present in us is the “life force” energy or the “vital force” and they called it “Prana”. They found out that the entire creation, at all levels of its existence in the cosmos, is floating in a vast, all-encompassing sea of prana. All the five elements and all of its combinations and modifications exist in Prana and exist due to Prana. All movements of any sort in the universe is due to the vibratory activity of Prana. Paramahansa Yogananda called it ‘lifetrons’. He described lifetrons as “intelligent life energy in the body” of every object whether it is a planet, asteroid, a blade of grass, a cat, an ant or you or me . If Prana is withdrawn from the cosmos, there will be total disintegration of everything.
Although essentially the same, at cosmic level Prana is called “Maha Prana” (Great Prana) on account of its Cosmic role and scope and at the individual level it is called individual Prana. You can think of the similarity or difference between the individual Prana and Maha Prana as the similarity or difference between a clay pot filled with ocean water floating in the ocean waves. Another example to help visualise this similarity or difference is to think of the power of high voltage of electricity used in an aluminium smelter and that of the low voltage of electricity used in a hair dryer.
Prana and Breath are associated. But Prana is not oxygen or air that we breath. Advanced Yogis have demonstrated that one can stop breathing for a long period of time due to their mastery of Prana and yet they can continue to live comfortably without oxygen.
Everyone is born with a certain quantum of prana. But the quantity and quality of Prana in us change continuously, during the course of our life. Positive thoughts, higher feelings and yogic practices generate higher levels of Prana in an individual. The type of food we eat and the quality of air we breath all contribute to the increase or decrease of Prana in us. Fresh food and less cooked food generally carry higher levels of Prana. Pure air helps to increase our Prana. We can work with our Prana through Pranayama and Pranavidya leading to the increase of our vitality, will power , strength, self healing capacity, general capability and efficiency.
One important aspect of Prana is that Prana is never separate from “consciousness”. When you hear the word Prana, it should be understood as a universally pervading force field of life energy comprised of Consciousness and Prana. Understand that Consciousness and Prana as the two sides of the same coin. It is this unique and inseparable co-existence that makes Prana “intelligent”. Prana is movement or vibration. Consciousness is awareness and knowledge. Think of this unique association like this: Consciousness can see but cannot move. Prana cannot see but can move. Ancient sages beautifully described this association using the simile of a man without feet to walk’ (Consciousness) sitting on the shoulders of a blind man (Prana) and both merrily going around. Together Consciousness and Prana form the life force that is both intelligent and move. As an analogy, Consciousness is like an intelligent all-knowing architect. Prana is like a skillful contractor with men and material to build whatever the Consciousness envisages. Together they are the “life force energy” or the X-factor we discussed in the last chapter. All five elements and its combinations spring out of the Pranic field, exist in Pranic field and return to the Pranic field eventually.
Note that the Architect-Builder (Prana) produces own building blocks (Five elements) and builds the building (material world) on its own field; the Architect-Builder (Prana) permeates throughout the creation. It is this ‘permeation’ that keeps the building (the entire creation) active and alive, whether or not it is sentient or insentient. If this permeation is withdrawn at any time by the Architect-Builder (Prana), the building (the creation) disintegrates and disappears back into its field.
We are born with certain quantity of Prana. We can receive Prana from our food if our food is carefully selected. We can also generate Prana by working with the power of Prana (Prana Sakti) through Pranayama. Pranayama is a science developed by highly evolved ancient yogis . They had the intuitive and experimental understanding of Prana and its influence on the various levels of human mechanism. Our breath is the external aspect of Prana. Since Prana and breath are linked, ancient sages used breathing to access the Pranic field to optimise the Pranic quality, quantity and activity to maintain a healthy body and a balanced mind and to reach higher levels of human awareness. For perfecting and fulfilling our life experiences, we need to generate more Prana and consciously direct the Prana to the brain. Pranayama is the science of Prana and Prana Vidya is the technology of applying the science of Prana.
Think of prana as an intelligent force “field” which is invisible but producing and holding all creations within its field of influence, which is the entire cosmos. Its field is all pervading and universal. Everything takes shape in it and everything collapses and returns to it.
The existence of the Pranic field is proven by modern science using the highly sensitive system of Kirlian photography. In Kirlian photography a halo can be seen around people and objects. It is also noticed in Kirlian photography that the shape and colour of the halo changed according to the state of health or the state of mind of the being. Sometimes Pranic field is described as “psi plasma” in scientific circles due to its likeness to the charged gases in plasma physics.
Menninger Foundation in the USA has once conducted an experiment on Swami Nadabrahmananda saraswati . He was placed in an air-tight chamber. Electrodes were connected to his heart, brain and to different parts of his body. His nose and ears were plugged. His body was smeared with wax. He was asked to play tabla (a percussion instrument) while his vital performances were monitored. A lighted candle and a monkey were placed in the same chamber. After 3 minutes, the candle went extinguished, and after 15 minutes the monkey fell unconscious. But Swami played tabla for more than 40 minutes demonstrating that he could live without oxygen. A coin placed on his shaven head bobbed due to the effect of the Prana he manipulated within his body. A microphone kept near his body picked the sounds that resembled that of a waterfall. You can read more on similar experiments on Menninger Foundation’s website.
Scientific research describe prana as “a complex multidimensional energy: a combination of electrical, magnetic, electromagnetic, photonic, ocular, thermal and mental energies”.
The food we eat also has Prana. Certain food has higher Prana and certain other food has very little of it. A French Researcher by name Andre Simoneton has found a way to know the Pranic Value of the food we eat. He measured it based on its vibration-value. He found out that our vibration must be around 6500 angstrom to remain in perfect health. On the basis of his findings, Simoneton divided foods into four general classes. On a scale of zero to 10,000 angstroms, he found the basic human wavelength to be about 6.5 thousand. Foods that have vibrational wavelengths between this and 10,000 angstroms, he regarded as those of the highest quality. In this first class are mature fruits and fruit juices obtained from squeezing (made and consumed immediately). Raw fresh vegetables and fruit or those cooked at temperatures below 70° have higher pranic content. You can read more about this here.
Visible (Manifested) and Invisible (Unmanifested) components of life
We have seen that every object that exists is produced by Prana and exists in Pranic field. Prana has a “moving” energy aspect called “Prana” and an intelligent “conscious” aspect called “consciousness”. The moving energy aspect manifests the visible material side of the creation (body). In other words, Prana brings forth the material part of our life making it visible to an observer.
Since humans are also created objects, we too have Consciousness and Prana aspects, where our body is created by the Prana aspect and our self-awareness is the intelligent and conscious aspect of Prana. Our body is visible and our self-awareness is invisible. In other words, we can say that our physical body-mind object is the container where our self-awareness is housed. Our mind is an invisible instrument created by Prana for our self-awareness to use as an able assistant, just as it uses our body to house itself.
Ancient Indian sages have categorically said that we are this invisible self-awareness and not the body or the mind. Our mind and body are just two instruments made out of matter for consciousness to experience the created world. More on this will follow later. To understand this concept, consider how you would bring a ‘fire’, if you are asked to bring some ‘fire’. You will either bring a lit candle or bring a burning charcoal placed on a plate. You cannot bring fire by bare hand. Know that Consciousness is like the fire, which would present itself in the created world only in a material instrument. Human body and mind are just such two instruments similar to the candle or the plate that the fire in the above example use to make itself available in the material world. Body is visible, while the mind and the observing consciousness invisible. The visible world is world our science is dealing with; the invisible world is the quantum world that our science is now beginning to come to terms with.
Is Prana Real? If not, what is Real?
No. Prana is not real according to the definition of ‘reality’, which should be absolute/non-dual, changeless, and all-pervading. Prana is the sixth non-material agency to keep the matter active and sentient. Prana is all-pervading in the created world but it is not absolute or changeless. Infact, the ancient sages called Prana as ‘maya’ – the false projection of a shadow play on a shadow stage. Who is projecting it? Consciousness is projecting it. So Consciousness is the absolute/non-dual, changeless and all pervading Reality. Pure undifferentiated Consciousness is the absolute, non-changing and all-pervading reality.
The ancient sages discovered in their intuitive and experimental explorations that in the beginning there was only the absolute oneness of the nondual, pure, undifferentiated Consciousness (hereafter written as “Pure Consciousness” with capital bold “C”). This nondual, undifferentiated Pure Consciousness is ever existing – the one without a beginning or end; ever knowing – the one with absolute will-power, absolute knowledge, and absolute creativity; and with ever renewed joy as its state of being. When this Pure Consciousness wanted to create, it used its absolute will-power and modified a portion of itself by separating that portion into (1) Consciousness (hereafter written as “Consciousness” with a capital regular “C”) and (2) Maha Prana. Thus a portion of the ONE has become two. Both of these two are immensely potential vibratory force fields, extremely subtle and invisible. They are the unmanifested components of life. Note that both of these exist within the whole ONENESS of the ever existing, ever knowing, ever joyful Pure Consciousness itself. From Maha Prana the cosmic Prana was projected. It is from this comic Prana that the individual Prana and 5 elements produced the visible cosmos, galaxies, planets and various life forms. They are the manifested components of life. The Consciousness is inhabited and permeated in the created cosmic objects as individual consciousness as a witnessing presence (hereafter written as witnessing Individual “consciousness” with a small letter ‘c’). Ancient sages discovered that, with in the human body, the concept of “I” is this witnessing Individual “consciousness”. This witnessing Individual “consciousness” “I” is the
only reality in the body. The body and the mind are material tools supplied to the “I” for its use during the period the “I” occupies the body. Now, let us examine how the human body-mind-complex is structured.
Dr Bruce Lipton was an American cellular scientist who taught at a medical school in the USA for twenty years. He resigned his teaching job when he realized through his research works that he has been teaching the wrong information all those years. He discovered that the gene expression is in line with the signals the cells receive from the environment or ‘fields’. According to his research findings, genes are merely the depository of blueprints. It is based on the information that the cells receive from the environment, that the Protein sleeves of DNA exposes only the requested genes. These instructions are received from the “field” (environment). His reputed book on epigenetics, “The Biology of Belief” is triggering a paradigm shift in the scientific circles.
Dr Rupert Sheldrake is another British Scientist and author who strongly supports the hypothesis of morphic fields and morphic resonance. He believes that morphic fields are responsible for supplying the information for the formation of cells and tissues in line with its intended role and function within the organism.
The hypothesis of morphic resonance leads to a radically new interpretation of memory storage in the brain and of biological inheritance. Memory need not be stored in material traces inside brains, which are more like TV receivers than video recorders, tuning into influences from the past.
Both these are some of the important new scientific evidence for the existence of an intelligent field (Prana) responsible for the functioning of the manifested world.
Constitution of body-mind-complex of a Human Being
We have seen that our physical existence has a manifested component as well as an unmanifested component to it. Our body is the manifested component, which is all too familiar to us. Likewise, the physical bodies of all visible objects and entities are the manifested component. The manifested component is made up of matter. As we have seen earlier, matter is composed of 5 elements, Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. However, underneath the matter, there is this unmanifested component of life force energy called Prana, which has intelligently and purposefully organized itself in various manner, giving rise to multiple layers. The entire cosmos is the manifested material projection of an underlying cosmos-wide life force energy, Prana. If matter is likened to fish, Prana is water!
Let us now study how our body-mind-complex is organized by the life force energy, Prana.
Ancient Yogis discovered using their intuitive mind and practical experiments that a human being is a composite being, capable of experiencing 5 dimensions of existence. These 5 dimensions are explained as five sheaths or covers made out of Prana. They range from the most grossest to the most subtlest densities. They are:
- Annamaya Kosha (Food Sheath)
- Pranamaya Kosha (Pranic Sheath)
- Manonmaya Kosha (Mind Sheath)
- Vigyanamaya Kosha (Psychic Seath)
- Anandamaya Kosha (Blissful Sheath)
Annamaya Kosha is the most grossest sheath, from which originated the manifested component of our physical body. Annamaya Kosha is sustained by food, water and air (Anna, means food in Sanskrit) and returns to earth as food at death. This sheath also depends on Prana. While it is possible to live without food upto 6 weeks, without water for upto six days and without air for six minutes, it is not possible to live without Prana even for a second.
Pranamaya Kosha is the second subtler sheath, which is an energy sheath. This has almost the same shape and size of the physical body. Pranamaya Kosha and Annamaya Kosha together form the basic physical body of a man. The Pranamaya Kosha pervades the Annamaya Kosha and supports it. It is this Pranamaya Kosha that form the basis for Pranayama and Pranavidya. Pranamaya Kosha has the capacity to expand and contract. High voltage Kirlian Photography has photographed the Pranamaya Kosha and is widely used in diagnosing diseases in Russia today.
The third sheath is Manonmaya Kosha or the mental sheath. It is the seat of our Conscious mind and holds the grosser two bodies to form as an integrated whole. Manonmaya Kosha is the bridge between the outer and inner worlds.
The fourth sheath is the Vigyanamaya Kosha, which is the seat of the Psychic mind. It is also called the seat of subconscious / unconscious mind or the intuitive mind. It pervades the Manmonya Kosha. It is subtler than Manonmaya Kosha. We have seen in the previous chapter that as a material increases in its subtlety, its pervasiveness and power increases. The inner knowledge comes to the conscious mind from this sheath. With an activated Vigyanamaya Kosha one becomes intuitive and wise.
The fifth sheath is the Anandamaya Kosha. It is the level of blissfulness and beauty. Here the Prana is most subtle and transcendental. It is also called the Spiritual realm.
All these five sheaths are penetrated by Prana and nourished by Prana. It is Prana that maintains the appropriate relationship between all these 5 components. Consciousness gain access to these Koshas using the Pranamaya Kosha. It is Prana that takes our awareness to any of these Koshas. With the activation of Prana, we get access to Annamaya Kosha, Manonmaya Kosha, Vigyanamaya Kosha or Anandamaya Kosha in that order of sequence.
The purpose of Pranayama and Prana Vidya is to activate the Pranamaya Kosha, which is linked to all other 4 Koshas. When Prana is activated and all the blockages on its path is cleared through meticulous practice, the flow of Prana becomes smooth and powerful, which will slowly activate the four sheaths on after the other. The purpose of all spiritual practices are to do this cleansing of the pranic pathways and for enabling the prana to flow smoothly and powerfully through its pathways. All diseases are the result of blockage of Prana. If these blockages are cleared, health and vitality returns to the affected body parts. Physical exercises and asanas are also intended to make the body flexible and relieve the body from tension so that Prana blockages do not happen in the underlying Pranamaya Kosha.
Ancient sages through their highly developed intuitiveness discovered that there are some 72,000 Pranic pathways, called Nadis, spread along the entire length and breadth of the Pranamya Kosha. All these Nadis should be without blockages and Prana must be free flowing for the body (Annamaya Kosha) to be healthy . Such a condition is also necessary for all other 4 Koshas to remain supplied with free flowing and unblocked Prana.
In every human, his or her consciousness will be mostly located on any of these 5 sheaths at any given time. Looking at the life experiences of a person, one can understand where his or her consciousness is resting on, at a given time. When the consciousness is predominantly in the Annamaya Kosha, a person would be mostly body oriented giving importance of the bodily needs of life. Those who are indulged in pleasure seeking activities mostly belong to this category. When a person’s consciousness is mostly resting on Pranamaya Kosha, he or she will be mostly engaged in activities of power and vitality. (Example, bodybuilding and athletes). Those with their consciousness resting on Manonmaya Kosha will be mostly analytical in nature. Those with their consciousness resting on Vigyanamaya Kosha will be mostly with psychic abilities and intuition. Those with their consciousness active on Anandamaya Kosha are usually yogis with spiritual nature.
If someone’s Kosha is active in one particular sheath, it does not necessarily mean that his or her other Koshas have free flowing Prana. It is therefore important to have an integrated approach to practices to ensure that the body is flexible and tension free and Prana is running smoothly and powerfully without any blockages on all the 5 sheaths.
Recommended Further Reading:
Tirtha, Swami Bhoomananda. (2007). Brahmavidya Abhyasa, Sure Way to the Inner Self. (Narayanashrama Tapovanam, Venginassery, PO, Paralam, Thrissur, Pin 680575, Kerala.). India. ISBN 978-81-89588-01-4 . http://www.brahmavidya.org
Saraswati, Swami Niranjanananda. (2009) Prana and Pranayama. (Yoga Publications Trust, P.O.Ganga Darshan, Fort, Munger, Bihar 811201). India. ISBN 978-81-86336-79-3. http://www.biharyoga.net
Lipton, Bruce Dr. (2012). The Biology of Belief. (Hay House Books, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100.) USA. ISBN: 978-1-4019-2312-9. https://www.brucelipton.com/