Archive for February, 2010

Body in Hinduism XII

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Sharir – Tattvas Part III (contd.):

Prans – in General V

To understand the pran, let’s first understand the body. What is body? How does it function? According to Hinduism, body is the God given vehicle to attain salvation for the soul. The soul is firmly attached to the three kinds of body, just as the germ of the seed is attached to the three kinds of layers of the fruit. As long as it has this attachment, soul cannot go to the abode of God, because body cannot go there and so the soul firmly attached to it.

The purpose of the life, according to Hinduism, is not to be born, live for hundred years, and die, again and again, during which we gain something and lose something, we enjoy little and suffer more, and at the end we leave everything here on this earth and cannot take anything with us. This is not we were meant for. God gave us this life to help others, to enjoy the bliss of God and to let others enjoy the same, to attain freedom and liberation from the cycle of births and deaths by offering devotion to God and by serving to His devotees. So, let’s try to understand the body first to understand the pran.

Body can be compared with the factory producing energy in the form of carrier molecules. It has three major divisions. First, the resources division or “In” division: The raw materials are air and food. Air has oxygen in it and food has necessary nutrients and water in it. They are the key elements for survival of body factory. They are gathered and concentrated or breakdown in tiny pieces by two main systems: the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, governed by Pran and Udan, respectively. Second, the transportation and distribution division or the central transverse division: After gathering resources are then transported and distributed for processing by circulatory system governed by Saman. Third, the waste management division or “Out” section: After processing the resources, waste management is done by excretory system and the expansion or growth is done, if needed, by reproductive system both of which are governed by Apan. Finally, the end products are produced and utilized for specific purposes, such as, growth, movements, mobility, routine maintenance, repair, pleasure, cognition, etc. Since body cannot store the energy, the production and utilization of the end products are done instantaneously and side-by-side. The excess or surplus of raw material gathered or created are stored in different parts of the body for emergency uses. The whole production and utilization process is governed by Vyan. This summarizes, in short, the functions of prans in the body.

The most important vital elements, oxygen and nutrients, gathered and processed by the respiratory system and by the gastrointestinal system are governed by Pran and Udan, respectively, on one side. Pran controls respiration and Udan controls digestion grossly. Both together ultimately produce the most important energy in the form of chemical energy (ATPs) necessary for the growth and maintenance and in the form of chemical free energy (heat). The processes are known as cellular respiration and catabolism. The energy released is utilized instantaneously for growth and differentiation of cells and synthesis of complex molecules by anabolic pathways and the most toxic elements, carbon dioxide and waste products, such as lactic acid, acetic acid, ammonia, and urea, are removed from the body by the excretory system. Both are governed by Vyan and Apan, respectively, on the other side. Vyan controls overall metabolism and Apan controls overall excretion. Pran (also known as inward process) and Apan (outward process) functions oppositely from each other. Pran means inhaled breathing and Apan means exhaled breathing. Similarly, Udan (in Hinduism, known as upward process) and Vyan (in Hinduism, known as transverse process, in Greek catabolism means downward process – kata means downward and ballein means to throw and anabolism means upward process – ana means upward and ballein means to throw, both combined becomes the transverse process) also function oppositely from each other.

In the middle (known in Hinduism as Navel or central region) is Saman. Both sets of opposite processes or functions, for example, “in” and “out” of the resources and waste products, energy production and energy utilization, catabolism and anabolism, and growth and destruction of cells are balanced by Saman.

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Prāns provide all the energy or vitality to our body. Prans control all the functions of our body. “All that exists here is under the control of pran.” “Pranasyedam vashe sarvam trideve yatpratishitam |” (Prashna Upanishad Prashna-II.13) Therefore, it is said in the Upanishads that, pran moves our hands and feet. Pran moves our eyes and tongue. Pran moves our lungs and the heart. Pran is responsible for all the actions in our body. Without pran the body cannot function.

Body in Hinduism XI

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Sharir – Tattvas Part III (contd.):

Prans – in General IV

Also, in Hinduism, it is believed that, “Pindeshu Brahmānde,” meaning, “whatever is found in the universe is found in the body.” The physical processes of the universe are paralleled by the biological process in the human body. Just as there are molecular physiological processes or forces called bodily prans vital for the life of the body, there are also paralleled universal forces called universal prans vital for the sustenance of universe. These universal prans are also needed to be satisfied, meaning, balanced or conserved, for avoiding the problems of environmental imbalance and for maintaining universal peace and harmony. For that, Hinduism has also prescribed oblations or “āhutis” in the scriptures to satisfy universal prans.

Reference: Chhandogya Upanishad describes the above described oblations “āhutis” as follows:

Chhandogya Upanishad: Part V – Panchāgni Vidyā: Chapter (Khand) XIX – XXIII — Performance of the Agnihotra in Oneself – Shloks 1 and 2 in each Khand:

Chapter XIX — the Pran

 “tad yad bhaktaṃ prathamam āgacchet tad dhomīyam |

sa yāṃ prathamām āhutiṃ juhuyāt tāṃ juhuyāt prāṇāya svāheti |

prāṇas tṛpyati || ChUp_5,19.1 ||”

Therefore, the devotee of God (bhakta), should offer the food that comes first as an oblation. The first oblation (prathamām āhuti) that he (i.e. the eater) offers, should offered by saying: “Swaha to the Pran!” (Prāāya svāheti) Then the pran is satisfied (tpyati). (Ch. Up: 5.19.1)

 “prāṇe tṛpyati cakṣus tṛpyati |

cakṣuṣi tṛpyaty ādityas tṛpyati |

āditye tṛpyati dyaus tṛpyati |

divi tṛpyantyāṃ yat kiṃca dyauś cādityaś cādhitiṣṭhatas tat tṛpyati |

tasyānu tṛptiṃ tṛpyati prajayā paśubhir annādyena tejasā brahmavarcaseneti || ChUp_5,19.2 ||”

The pran being satisfied, eye – the sense of vision (cakus) is satisfied. The eye being satisfied, Āditya (the Sun deity) is satisfied. The Sun being satisfied, heaven – the abode of deities (dyaus) is satisfied. When both are being satisfied, whatever is under heaven the sun is satisfied. After they are being satisfied, the eater or sacrificer is satisfied with his offspring, cattle, food, etc. luminescence (tejas) of the body, and ultimately of Brahm is satisfied. (Ch. Up: 5.19.2)

Chapter XX — the Vyan

“atha yāṃ dvitīyāṃ juhuyāt tāṃ juhuyād vyānāya svāheti |

vyānas tṛpyati || ChUp_5,20.1 ||”

The second oblation that he offers should be offered saying: “Swaha to the Vyan!” (Vyānāya svāheti) Then the Vyan is satisfied. (Ch. Up: 5.20.1)

“vyāne tṛpyati śrotraṃ tṛpyati |

śrotre tṛpyati candramās tṛpyati |

candramasi tṛpyati diśas tṛpyanti |

dikṣu tṛpyantīṣu yat kiṃca diśaś candramāś cādhitiṣṭhanti tat tṛpyati |

tasyānu tṛptiṃ tṛpyati prajayā paśubhir annādyena tejasā brahmavarcaseneti || ChUp_5,20.2 ||”

The Vyan being satisfied, ear – the sense of hearing (śrotra) is satisfied. The ear being satisfied, the Chandramā (the Moon deity) is satisfied. The moon being satisfied, the astronomical or terrestrial regions or or geographical orientation on earth (diśas – cardinal directions) are satisfied. The directions being satisfied, whatever is in that directions and under the moon is satisfied. They being satisfied, the eater or sacrificer is satisfied with his offspring, cattle, food, etc. luminescence (tejas) of the body, and ultimately of Brahm is satisfied. (Ch. Up: 5.20.2)

Chapter XX — the Apan

“atha yāṃ tṛtīyāṃ juhuyāt tāṃ juhuyād apānāya svāheti |

apānas tṛpyati || ChUp_5,21.1 ||”

The third oblation that he offers should be offered saying: “Swaha to the Apan!” (Apānāya svāheti) Then the Apan is satisfied. (Ch. Up: 5.21.1)

“apāne tṛpyati vāk tṛpyati |

vāci tṛpyantyām agnis tṛpyati |

agnau tṛpyati pṛthivī tṛpyati |

pṛthivyāṃ tṛpyantyāṃ yat kiṃ ca pṛthivī cāgniś cādhitiṣṭhatas tat tṛpyati |

tasyānutṛptiṃ tṛpyati prajayā paśubhir annādyena tejasā brahmavarcaseneti || ChUp_5,21.2 ||”

The Apan being satisfied, tongue – the sense of speech (vāk) is satisfied. Speech being satisfied, Agni (the fire deity) is satisfied. Fire being satisfied, the earth (Pthivī – Pruthwi tattva) is satisfied. The earth being satisfied, what is under the earth and under fire is satisfied. They being satisfied, the eater or sacrificer is satisfied with his offspring, cattle, food, etc. luminescence (tejas) of the body, and ultimately of Brahm is satisfied. (Ch. Up: 5.21.2)

Chapter XXII — the Saman

“atha yāṃ caturthīṃ juhuyāt tāṃ juhuyāt samānāya svāheti |

samānas tṛpyati || ChUp_5,22.1 ||”

The fourth oblation that he offers should be offered saying: “Swaha to the Saman!” (Samānāya svāheti) Then the Saman is satisfied. (Ch. Up: 5.22.1)

“samāne tṛpyati manas tṛpyati |

manasi tṛpyati parjanyas tṛpyati |

parjanye tṛpyati vidyut tṛpyati |

vidyuti tṛpyantyāṃ yat kiṃ ca vidyuc ca parjanyaś cādhitiṣṭhatas tat tṛpyati |

tasyānu tṛptiṃ tṛpyati prajayā paśubhir annādyena tejasā brahmavarcaseneti || ChUp_5,22.2 ||”

The Saman being satisfied, mind – the psyche (manas, that is, antahkarans) is satisfied. The mind being satisfied, Parjanya (the rain deity) is satisfied. The rain deity being satisfied, the lightning (vidyut – Tej tattva) is satisfied. The lightning being satisfied, what is under the lightning and under the rain deity is satisfied. They being satisfied, the eater or sacrificer is satisfied with his offspring, cattle, food, etc. luminescence (tejas) of the body, and ultimately of Brahm is satisfied. (Ch. Up: 5.22.2)

Chapter XXIII — the Udan

“atha yām pañcamīṃ juhuyāt tāṃ juhuyāt udānāya svāheti |

udānas tṛpyati || ChUp_5,23.1 ||”

The fifth oblation that he offers should be offered saying: “Swaha to the Udan!” (Udānāya svāheti) Then the Udan is satisfied. (Ch. Up: 5.23.1)

“udāne tṛpyati tvak tṛpyati tvaci tṛpyantyāṃ vāyus tṛpyati |

vāyau tṛpyaty ākāśas tṛpyati |

ākāśe tṛpyati yat kiṃca vāyuś cākāśaś cādhitiṣṭhatas tat tṛpyati |

tasyānu tṛptiṃ tṛpyati prajayā paśubhir annādyena tejasā brahmavarcaseneti || ChUp_5,23.2 ||”

The Udan being satisfied, skin – the sense of touch (tvak) is satisfied. The skin being satisfied, Vayu (the wind deity) is satisfied. The wind being satisfied, the space or void (Akash tattva) is satisfied. Akash being satisfied, what is under the wind and under the Akash is satisfied. They being satisfied, the eater or sacrificer is satisfied with his offspring, cattle, food, etc. luminescence (tejas) of the body, and ultimately of Brahm is satisfied. (Ch. Up: 5.23.2)

Body in Hinduism X

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Sharir – Tattvas Part III (contd.):

Prans – in General III

In the scriptures five major types of prans are described. In the Upanishads five prans are compared with five flames of a single fire.                                                                                                        In the Prashna (Prasna) Upanishad: Question II, Shlok 3 – “Tānvarishthaha prana uvācha, mā mohamāpdhyathāhamevaitatpanchadhātmānam pravibhajyaitadbānamavashtabhya vidharayāmiti teashraddhānā babhuvuhu ||” (Pr. Up: Q 2, Shlok: 3) Meaning, Pran, the chief among indriya-antahkarans, says that: “Do not fall into delusion. I alone, dividing myself into five parts, support this body and uphold it.”

In the Chhandogya Upanishad:  Chapter One: Vaishvānar-vidyā it is described that, the five prans are like the five tongues of a flaming fire. It is one single force that is working as five different vital energies. So, each tongue or each flame of the cosmic or universal fire is satisfied by the offering of a particular oblation, as it is done in the external sacrifice. Similarly, in the internal sacrifice (for example, eating), with each morsel of food five internal prans are satisfied.

When we breathe air it carries oxygen to the body and sustains life. When we eat food, it is ultimately digested and converted or metabolized into essential nutrients that provide energy to our body and its vital functions. Thus breathing, eating, drinking, etc. are important or vital for sustaining of our lives. And that is why, in Hinduism, these important activities such as offering of the food to the mouth (that is eating) or offering of air or oxygen to the lungs (that is breathing) are considered as sacred or vital acts and not just mechanical acts and are compared with performing a kind of Yagna. Just as Ghee (clarified butter), Jav or Aja (barley, oat, and rice kind of food grains), or Til (sesame seeds containing oil or fat) when offered to the holy external fire (also known as Vaishvānar Agni) are converted into external universal energy, food, when offered to the body or internal fire (also known as Jatharāgni), is also converted into the internal bodily energy. Similarly, just as the eating process is made sacred and is related with the offering or oblation called Prān-agnihotra, in the scriptures, the breathing process is also considered sacred and is considered as a part of the Ashtāng Yoga. Agnihotra means the sacrificial offering to the universal fire. So, when taking food mantras are also chanted as in agnihotra or yagna (also called yagya), for example, “Om, prānāy swāhā” (meaning, may the prān be satisfied or this morsel of food is for prān), “Om, apānāy swāhā” (meaning, may the apān be satisfied or this morsel of food is for apān), “Om, vyānāy swāhā” (meaning, may the vyān be satisfied or this morsel of food is for vyān), “Om, udānāy swāhā” (meaning, may the udān be satisfied or this morsel of food is for udān), “Om, samānāy swāhā” (meaning, may the samān be satisfied or this morsel of food is for samān), “Om, Brāhmane swāhā,” “Om, Brāhmane swāhā,” – repeated twice (meaning, may Brāhmana be satisfied or these morsels of food are for Brāhmana), “Neivedyamadhyepaniyam Samarpayāmi,” (meaning, “I offer this food at Your feet”.

Body in Hinduism IX

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Sharir – Tattvas Part III (contd.):

Prans – in General II

It would be surprising to know that Hinduism describes pran merely on detailed observations and not on any pathophysiological or biochemical laboratory analyses. Not only that, Hinduism describes 10 prans, five major prans and five minor prans (upa-prans). Currently, the modern medical sciences also describe altogether about 10 to 14 major and minor important physiological systems of the body, namely, Circulatory or Cardiovascular System, Dermal or Integumentary System, Digestive or Gastrointestinal System, Endocrine (Glandular or Hormonal) System, Excretory System, Muscular System, Nervous System, Reproductive System, Respiratory or Pulmonary System, and Skeletal System. Immune System, Lymphatic System, Urinary System, and Sensory System are considered sub-system. Out of them five are major vital systems. Five main prans correspond to the body’s five most important vital functions or life-sustaining processes, especially at the cellular level, without which life cannot sustain for longer. Because of their life sustaining importance they are collectively called “prān”, meaning, “life”. Five prāns are namely, Prān (also spelled as prāna), Apān (also spelled as apāna), Vyān (also spelled as vyāna), Samān (also spelled as samāna) and Udān (also spelled as udāna). Five upa-prans are: Nāg (Naga), Kurm (Koorma), Krikar (Krikara) or Kukal, Devdatt (Devadatta) and Dhananjay (Dhananjaya).

Now, let us try to look at prans in little more detail. As we have seen the importance of prans in the old Vedic story, body still can function or sustain for much longer without any of the sensory organs (indriyas) and mental functions (antahkarans) but without prans it cannot sustain much longer, death is imminent.

From the modern understanding of science we can see that, the five main prans correspond mainly to five main vital functions at the cellular level. Moreover, they may also be found interconnected to more than one of the five main vital systems of the body, because they are all interrelated or interdependent to each other for their proper functioning. The five main vital functions of the body are respiratory function, circulatory function, digestive function, nervous or neuromuscular function, and excretory or urogenital function. The five very important vital systems of the body for the above functions are respiratory system, circulatory or cardio-vascular system, digestive or gastrointestinal system, neuromuscular system, and genitourinary system.

Among the prans or main vital functions, if genital or reproductive function is compromised life can sustain for years and if excretory function is compromised life can sustain for a few years with assistance; if the sensory functions, autonomic nervous functions (work at an involuntary or subconscious level and include sympathetic, parasympathetic, and enteric nervous functions that responds, respectively, to stress; maintain homeostasis by sending biofeedback on the condition of internal organs to the brain; and controls digestive movements and secretions), motor or musculoskeletal functions (work at conscious or voluntary level and include movements, balance, and coordination), and mental or cognitive functions, that is, functions of the psyche or antahkaran are compromised life can still sustain for much longer; if gastrointestinal system is compromised life can sustain only for a few months without food or only for a few weeks without water; but if respiratory function is compromised life can only sustain for a few hours or for a few days with assistance; and if circulatory or cardiac function is compromised life can sustain only for a few minutes. Cessation of brain functions means death.

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.