Archive for the ‘In General I’ Category

Body in Hinduism VIII

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Sharir – Tattvas Part III (contd.):

Prans – in General I

According to Hinduism, the structural body (sthul sharir) of the jiv consists of five gross (sthul) elements called Panch-bhuts, namely, Pruthvi, Jal, Tej, Vāyu, and Ākāsh.

The functional body (sukshma sharir) of the jiv consists of nineteen elements: Five motor organ systems called Panch-karmendriyas, namely, speech organs – Vāk, upper extremities – Pāni, lower extremities – Pād, excretory organs – Pāyu, and reproductory organs – Upastha.; Five sensory organs systems called Panch-gnanendriyas, namely, ear – Karna, skin – Tvak, Eyes – Chakshu, Tongue – Jihvā, and Nose – Ghran; Four psyches called Antahkarans, namely, Man, Buddhi, Ahamkar, and Chitt; and five vital functions or processes called Panch-Prans, namely, Prān, Apān, Vyān, Samān, and Udān. Five prans are part of the five subtle elements called Panch-vishays or five tanmatras, namely, sound – Shabda, touch – Sparsh, light – Rup (Roop), taste – Ras (Rasa), and smell – Gandh.

Panch-prans are grouped under a common heading or common noun “pran.” Prans are important subtle elements of the body. They are important for sustaining the life. Just as Panch-vishays and Panch-tanmatras, Panch-prans are also considered as five subtle elements. As such, Panch-Vishays are not elements but they are processes of perceiving sensory stimuli by five types of sensory organ systems. They are neurological processes by which the recognition and interpretation of sensory stimuli are effected or resulted. Panch-vishays are also considered as the objects of enjoyments for the jiv via body. Similarly, Panch-prans are also physiological, but vital, processes for sustaining the life. Because of their subtleness, in Hinduism, both the panch-vishays and panch-prans are categorized under the heading of Tanmatras.

Hindu scriptures describe that, five prans are like five flames of one single fire collectively called as “pran”. Of all the 24 elements, pran is the main vital force of the body that is necessary for the life, through which all the functions of the functional body and its organs are carried out. From the Upanishadic story of pran one can easily conclude that pran is life of the body. So, could it be the soul (jiv)? From the ancient time Hinduism knows and explains that the pran, the vital force of the body, is different than jiv (soul), the life force of the body. Jiv is ontologically different entity than the pran. Both prān and jiv (soul) are quite distinct and different entities. So, prān as an element is prān and cannot be translated as “soul” or “jiv”. Pran (the proper noun) is also the name of one of the five prans. It represents the group of five prans. So, just like other proper names, Pran should not be translated. Sometimes pran, as an element, is translated as “vāyu,” “breath,” “energy,” etc. These kind of explanatory translations misrepresent the pran. So, it should also be avoided. Similarly, Apan, Vyan, Udan, Saman are also proper nouns or proper names and should not be translated also,


Prān and jiv (soul) are two ontologically distinct entities. Prān is decayable, destructible, able to cease, or able to stop functioning, whereas, jiv is eternal and sustain forever, not destructible, and not decayable. Jiv is called the knower of the pran. Prān is the vital force of the body that regulates other body processes. Without pran, jiv would leave the body instantaneously. Without pran life cannot sustain. Therefore, prān has become almost synonymous with the jiv. Hinduism describes 10 Prāns – five Prans and five Upa-prāns. Five Prans are: Prān (prāna), Apān (apāna), Vyān (vyāna), Samān (samāna) and Udān (udāna). Five Upa-prans are: Nāg (Naga), Kurm (Koorma), Krikar (Krikara), Devdatt (Devadatta) and Dhananjay (Dhananjaya). Prāns are superior to the Antahkarans (or mind in general) and to all the other elements derived from Mahattattva. When the new body is created around the soul or jiv, among the other non-divine things, prans are the first to enter or appear in the body and last to go. Dhananjay pran remain for a while even after death and is the last one to leave the body.

Chhandogya Upanishad describes Pran as the oldest and the greatest of all the functional elements of the body. “yo ha vai jyeṣṭha ca śreṣṭha cha veda jyeṣṭhaś cha ha vai śreṣṭhaś cha bhavati | prāo vāva jyeṣṭhaś cha śreṣṭhaś cha ||” Meaning, “He who knows what is the oldest and greatest becomes himself the oldest and greatest. The pran, indeed, is the oldest and greatest.” (Chhandogya Upanishad: 5.1.1.)

Prāns appear in the body first then the Antahkaran develops. After chitt (the site of basal instincts), ahamkar (self or ego) is evolved. Then, man and buddhi are evolved. During the deep sleep, antahkarans (mind) becomes inactive but prāns still remain active and functional. Prans play major vital role in the body compared to antahkarans (mind). Without cognitive functions (functions of antahkaran) a person can still survive or remain alive but without vital functions (functions of prans) the person surely dies.