Understanding Prana

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Manas and buddhi are the dimensions of logic. When you come to the dimension of feeling, bhava, you are dealing with chitta and ahamkara. The expressions of chitta are recognized as the six conditions or swabhavas of mind, which have a distinct identity, guna or attribute associated with it. The six are: kama, passion; krodha, anger; lobha, greed; moha, infatuation; mada, arrogance; and matsarya, envy. These are the expressions of chitta beyond vrittis and samskaras.

Infusing positive prana

Many times in meditation, when the vritti of arrogance, passion or greed comes up, it becomes very intense and powerful. You might have heard stories of meditators who lost control and were unable to handle their own behaviour and actions, becoming like a mad person. The intensity is so strong that it colours the manas and buddhi. It does not remain separate from manas and buddhi.

Even the samskaras or impressions are coloured by one of the six conditions. The basic foundation of chitta are the six conditions, and the impressions and memories represent the extension of these six conditions. For instance, if you have a memory of some anger in your life, which you have not released, it is coming from krodha, an underlying foundation of chitta. You can forget a person, but you cannot forget krodha. That shakti, that power, remains within you. You can clear the memory of the person or the incident from the mind, but that is only one instance of the experience of krodha. Krodha exists as part of the nature of chitta.

For pacification of this nature of chitta, you have to withdraw the prana from krodha. You can then be angry at one person and smiling at the next person, both at the same time. It is possible when you are not holding on to something, rather you are making a factual statement. This is a method to deal with the experiences of chitta.

When you have a passion and zeal to do something, to achieve something, first analyse it. If you are doing it in the right manner the outcome will be appropriate and correct, and then you follow the progress. If not, simply remove the prana from that idea and it will die a natural death. You don’t have to feel, ‘Oh because of this I can’t do it now.’ You don’t have to go into the state of self-pity. If you do so, you are not removing the negative inside, instead you are giving food to the negative feelings more and more. By feeling sad or bad, you are giving more vitamins and blood to something that needs to die. You are keeping it alive by moving into a state where the absence of something is making you sad.

From this perspective, the six conditions are expressions of chitta, and prana has to be taken from them for the mind to attain harmony. You then move into the realm of aham, where you simply experience your being at present, ‘I know I am because I exist.’ You experience this, which is the self- awareness, self-identity.

Working with prana

Pranas are many in number. Usually only ten are spoken about, the five major ones: prana, apana, udana, samana and vyana; and the five minor ones: devadatta, kurma, naga, krikara and dhananjaya. There are also other forms of prana: manas prana, buddhi prana, chitta prana, aham prana. Beyond these also there are other pranas which direct this dimension of experience and connection.

Prana is an important aspect of the raja yoga tradition. The chakras and kundalini also represent prana. The Samkhya system does not speak of chakras or kundalini. It speaks of the turiya state. This is one reason why people have not understood prana in the right context, and why their advancement in meditation is hampered.

You think of meditation as dealing with either the senses: inputs that you are receiving from outside, or dealing with the mind: what you are generating inside. You try to sort and solve these two areas, yet the connecting agent between the senses and the mind, which is prana, the cause of discontentment, continues to remain. You only avoid the symptoms, but the cause is strengthened by giving prana to it, by thinking about it. Just as soil is given nourishment by adding compost, any experience is given nourishment by thinking about it. This kind of thinking becomes brooding, brooding becomes worry, worry takes you into depression, and then a solution is hard to find. The idea of prana pratyahara is to first awaken the pranas and then pacify them. In Sri Swamiji’s satsangs and lectures, he speaks of a system called nyasa, which is found in the tantras. In this system, different types of mantras are placed on different parts of the body, each intended to evoke a different pranic response. There are mantras for shuddhikaran, purification. When these are placed on specific regions of the body through touch, cleansing of the pranic centres and channels takes place.

It is a process where mantras are chanted and simultaneously different parts of the body are touched to activate the prana shakti in those parts. There are practices of nyasa where only the mental process is used: different mantras are placed in different parts of the body by visualizing the part in your mind. Sri Swamiji derived the practice of yoga nidra from the nyasa system. Placement of a mantra creates a response in the prana located in the region, and this idea was used in the past for spiritual realization. While most people know of the relaxation aspect of yoga nidra, Sri Swamiji in his original teachings used it for spiritual purposes. He gave two systems of yoga nidra: one, the short, forty-minute one for relaxation, which everyone practises; the other, the long, three-four hour one for spiritual awakening, which he taught to only a few people.

The glue

Prana shakti is not just prana, apana, samana, udana, vyana, or devadatta, kurma, naga, krikara, dhananjaya, or even manas, buddhi, chitta and ahamkara pranas. It is a homogeneous experience of everything put together. Everything that is fragmented is put together and you see that as a form or experience. The agent that puts everything together is prana shakti, the active element. An example: you have a jigsaw puzzle and you are putting one piece at a time in its place. Who is doing it? The jigsaw puzzle is not doing it by itself. Somebody is putting it together and that is you. You are not the jigsaw puzzle; you are the maker of the picture of the puzzle. Prana shakti operates in the same manner, according to vedantic thought.

The universe and the cosmic self are seen as pulsations of prana. From the vedantic perspective, everything is pulsation of prana. In the absence of prana, destruction takes place. As long as the pranas are in the body, there is no decay. The body begins to decay the moment it dies. Why is it not decaying now while you are alive? Why does it wait for the prana to leave the body before it begins its decay? It is because prana is the glue, the agent that holds everything together.

Reaching the luminous chitta

The practice of prana pratyahara belongs to the original raja yoga tradition. You progress to it only after you have worked with the senses, manas and buddhi. When you work with the senses, you learn to detach them from their associations. When you work with your manas, you know how to direct your senses and mind to do the right thing. When you work with buddhi, you are able to bring luminosity to the dark areas of your own intelligence and cultivate special traits of discrimination, to know the difference between right and wrong, appropriateness and inappropriateness, correctness and wrongness of a situation, an event, an act or a thought. Buddhi allows the understanding of dharma to take place. Therefore, buddhi is an important component.

Chitta allows clearing of the six conditions. When chitta becomes luminous, you can say that it is the experience of self-realization, the absence of everything that was detrimental. There is luminosity of everything that is uplifting, positive and enriching. This is illumination of chitta. Even Patanjali has used this idea, by stating that when you work through the vrittis of chitta, you can experience samadhi, which is illumination.

22 September 2018, Raja Yoga Yatra 3, Ganga Darshan, Munger