IV. Prana (I)
The Centers of Prana; The Nadis; The Tatwic Centers of Life; The Ordinary Change of Breath
Prana, as already expressed, is that state of Tatwic matter which surrounds the sun, and in which moves the earth and other planets. It is the state next higher than matter in the terrestrial state. The terrestrial sphere is separated from the solar Prana by an akasa. This akasa is the immediate mother of the terrestrial vayu whose native color is blue. It is on this account that the sky looks blue.
Although at this point in the heavens, the Prana changes into akasa, which gives birth to the terrestrial Vayu, the rays of the sun that fall on the sphere from without are not stopped in their inward journey. They are refracted, but move onwards into the terrestrial sphere all the same. Through these rays the ocean of Prana, which surrounds our sphere, exerts upon it an organizing influence.
The terrestrial Prana – the earth-life that appears in the shape of all the living organisms of our planet – is, as a whole, nothing more than a modification of the solar Prana.
As the earth moves round her own axis and round the sun, twofold centers are developed in the terrestrial Prana. During the diurnal rotation every place, as it is subjected to the direct influence of the sun, sends forth the positive life-current from the East to the West. During the night the same place sends forth the negative current.
In the annual course the positive current travels from the North to the South during the six months of summer – the day of the devas – and the negative during the remaining six months – the night of the devas.
The North and East are thus sacred to the positive current; the opposite quarters to the negative current. The sun is the lord of the positive current, the moon of the negative, because the negative solar prana comes during the night to the earth from the moon.
The terrestrial prana is thus an ethereal being with double centers of work. The first is the northern, the second the southern. The two halves of these centers are the eastern and western centers. During the six months of summer the current of life runs from the North to the South, and during the months of winter the negative current goes the other way.
With every month, with every day, with every nimesha this current completes a minor course, and while this current continues in this course the diurnal rotation gives it an eastern or western direction. The northern current runs during the day of man from East to West, and during the night from West to East. The directions of the other current are respectively opposite to the above. So practically there are only two directions – the eastern and western. The difference of the northern and southern currents is not practically felt in terrestrial life. These two currents produce in the terrestrial prana two distinguishable modifications of the composing ethers. The rays of either of these ethereal modifications proceeding from their different centers run into each other – the one giving life, strength, form and other qualities to the other. Along the rays emerging from the northern center, run the currents of positive prana; along those emerging from the southern, the currents of negative prana. The eastern and western channels of these currents are respectively called Pingala and Ida, two of the celebrated nadis of the Tantrists. It will be better to discuss the other bearings of Prana, when we have localized it in the human body.
The influence of this terrestrial Prana develops two centers of work in the gross matter that is to form a human body. Part of the matter gathers round the northern, and part round the southern center. The northern center develops into the brain; the southern into the heart. The general shape of the terrestrial Prana is something like an ellipse. In this the northern focus is in the brain; the southern in the heart. The column along which the positive matter gathers runs between these foci.
The line in the middle is the place where the eastern and western – right and left – divisions of the column join. The column is the medulla oblongata the central line is also susumna, the right and left divisions the Pingala and Ida. The rays of Prana that diverge either way from these nadis are only their ramifications, and constitute together with them the nervous system.
The negative Prana gathers round the southern center. This, too, takes a form similar to the former. The right and left divisions of this column are the right and left divisions of the heart.
Each division has two principal ramifications, and each ramification again ramifies into others. The two openings either way are one a vein, and one an artery, the four opening into four chambers – the four petals of the lotus of the heart. The right part of the heart again, with all its ramifications, is called Pingala, the left Ida, and the middle part susumna.
There is reason to think, however, that the heart only is spoken of as the lotus, while the three foregoing names are set apart for the nervous system. The current of Prana works forward and backward, in and out. The cause of this lies in the momentary of the being of Prana. As the year advances, every moment a change of state takes place in the terrestrial prana, on account of the varying strengths of the solar and lunar currents. Thus, every moment is, strictly speaking, a new being of Prana. As Buddha says, all life is momentary. The Moment that is the first to throw into matter the germ that will develop the two centers is the first cause of organized life. If the succeeding Moments are friendly in their tatwic effect to the first cause, the organism gains strength and develops; if not, the impulse is rendered fruitless. The general effect of these succeeding moments keeps up general life; but the impulse of any one moment tends to pass off as the others come in. A system of forward and backward motion is thus established. One Moment of Prana proceeding from the center of work goes to the farthest ends of the gross vessels – nerves and blood vessels – of the organism. The succeeding moment gives it, however, the backwards impulse. A few moments are taken in the completion of the forward impulse, and the determination of the backward one. This period differs in different organisms. As the Prana runs forward, the lungs inspire; as it recedes, the process of expiration sets in.
The Prana moves in the Pingala when it moves from the northern center towards the east, and from the southern towards the west; it moves in Ida when it moves from the northern center towards the west, and from the southern center towards the east. This means that in the former case the Prana moves from the brain, towards the right, through the heart, to the left and back to the brain; and from the heart to the left through the brain to the right back to the heart. In the latter the case is the reverse. To use other terms, in the former case the Prana moves from the nervous system to the right through the system of blood vessels to the left, and back again to the nervous system; or, from the system of blood vessels to the left through the nervous system to the right, and back again to the system of blood vessels. These two currents coincide. In the latter the case is the reverse. The left part of the body containing the nerves and the blood vessels may be called Ida, the right the Pingala. The right and left bronchi form as well the part respectively of Pingala and Ida, as any other parts of the right and left divisions of the body. But what is susumna? One of the names of susumna is sandhi, the place where the two – Ida and Pingala – join. It is really that place from which the Prana may move either way – right or left – or, under certain circumstances, both ways. It is that place which the Prana must pass when it changes from the right to the left, and from the left to the right. It is therefore booth the spinal canal and the cardiac canal. The spinal canal extends from the Brahmarandhra, the northern center of Prana through the whole vertebral column (Brahmadanda). The cardiac canal extends from the southern center midway between the two lobes of the heart. As the Prana moves from the spinal canal towards the right hand to the heart, the right lung works; the breath comes in and out of the right nostril. When it reaches the southern canal, you cannot feel the breath out of either nostril. As, however, it goes out of the cardiac canal to the left, the breath begins to come out of the left nostril, and flows through that until the Prana again reaches the spinal canal. There, again, you cease to feel the breath out of either nostril. The effect of these two positions of Prana is identical upon the flow of breath, and, therefore, I think that both the northern and southern canals are designated by susumna. If we may speak in this way, let us imagine that a plane passes midway between the spinal and cardiac canals. This plane will pass through the hollow of the susumna. But let it be understood that there is no such plane in reality. It will perhaps be more correct to say that as the rays of the positive Ida and Pingala spread either way as nerves, and those of the negative as blood-vessels, the rays of susumna spread all over the body midway between the nerves and blood vessels, the positive and negative nadis. The following is the description of susumna in the Science of Breath:
“When the breath goes in and out, one moment by the left and the other by the right nostril, that too is susumna. When Prana is in that nadi the fires of death burn; this is called vishuva. When it moves one moment in the right, and the other in the left, let it be called the Unequal State (vishamabhava); when it moves thorough both at once, the wise have called it vishuva“
“[It is susumna] at the time of the passing of the Prana from the Ida into the Pingala, or vice versa; and also of the change of one tatwa into another.”
Then the susumna has two other functions. It is called vedo-veda in one of its manifestations, and sandhyasandhi in the other. As, however, the right and left directions of the cardiac Prana coincide with the left and right of the spinal current, there are some writers who dispense with the double susumna. According to them, the spinal canal alone is the susumna. The Uttaragita and Latachakra nirupana are works in this class. This method of explanation takes away a good deal of difficulty. The highest recommendation of this view is its comparative simplicity. The right side current from the heart, and the left side current from the spine may both be reckoned without difficulty as the left side spinal currents, and so may the remaining two currents be reckoned as the right side spinal currents.
One more consideration is in favor of this view. The nervous system represents the sun, the system of blood vessels the moon. Hence the real force of life dwells in the nerves. The positive and negative – the solar and lunar – phases of life matter are only different phases of Prana, the solar matter. The more distant and therefore the cooler matter is negative to the nearer, and therefore, the hotter. It is solar life that manifests itself in the various phases of the moon. To pass out of technicalities, it is nervous force that manifests itself in various forms, in the system of blood vessels. The blood vessels are only the receptacles of nervous force. Hence, in the nervous system, the real life of the gross body is the true Ida, Pingala and susumna. These are, in such a case, the spinal column, and the right and left sympathetics, with all their ramifications throughout the body.
The development of the two centers is thus the first stage in the development of the fetus. The matter that gathers up under the influence of the northern center is the spinal column; the matter that gathers up round the southern center is the heart. The diurnal rotation divides these columns or canals into the right and left divisions. Then the correlative influence of these two centers upon each other develops an upper and lower division in each of these centers. This happens somewhat in the same way, and on the same principle, as a Leyden jar is charged with positive electricity by a negative rod. Each of these centers is thus divided into four parts:
- The right side positive,
- the left side positive,
- the right side negative, and
- the left side negative.
In the heart these four divisions are called the right and left auricles and ventricles. The Tantras style these four divisions the four petals of the cardiac lotus, and indicate them by various letters. The positive petals of the heart form the center from which proceed the positive blood vessels, the arteries; the negative petals are the starting points of the negative blood vessels, the veins. This negative prana is pregnant with ten forces:
These ten forces are called vayu. The word vayu is derived from the root va, to move, and means nothing more than a motive power. The Tantrists do not mean to give it the idea of a gas. Henceforth I shall speak of the vayu as the forces or motive powers of prana. These ten manifestations of Prana are reduced by some writers to the first five alone, holding that the remaining ones are only modifications of the former, which are the all-important of the functions of prana. This, however, is only a question of division. From the left side positive petal the prana gathers up into a nadi that ramifies within the chest into the lungs, and again gathers up into a nadi that opens into the right side negative petal. This entire course forms something like a circle (chakra). This nadi is called in modern science the pulmonary artery and vein. Two lungs come into existence by the alternate workings of the positive and negative prana of the eastern and western powers.
Similarly, from the right side positive petal branch several nadi that go both upwards and downwards in two directions, the former under the influence of the northern, the latter under the influence of the southern powers. Both these nadi open after a circular march throughout the upper and lower portions of the body into the left side negative petal.
Between the left side positive and the right side negative petal is one chakra (disk). This chakra comprises the pulmonary artery, the lungs, and the pulmonary vein. The chest gives room to this chakra, which is positive with respect to the lower portions of the body, in which run the ramifications of the lower chakra, which latter joins the right side positive and the left side negative petals.
In the above chakra (in the cavity of the chest) is the seat of prana, the first and most important of the ten manifestations. Inspiration and expiration being a true index of the changes of prana, the pulmonary manifestations thereof have the same name. With the changes of prana we have a corresponding change in the other functions of life. The lower negative chakra contains the principal seats of some of the other manifestations of life. This apana is located in the long intestine, samana in the navel, and so on.
Also, udana is located in the throat; vyana all over the body. Udana causes belching; kurma in the eyes causes them to shut and open; krikilain the stomach causes hunger. In short, proceeding from the four petals of the heart we have an entire network of these blood vessels. There are two sets of these blood vessels side by side in every part of the body, connected by innumerable little channels, the capillaries.
We read in the Prasnopnisat:
“From the heart [ramify the] nadi. Of these there are 101 principal ones (Pradhana nadi). Each of these branches into 100. Each of these again into 72,000.”
Thus, there are 10,100 branch nadi, and 727,200,000 still smaller ones, or what are called twig-nadi. The terminology is imitated from a tree. There is the root in the heart. From these proceed various stems. These ramify into branches, and these again into twig vessels; all these nadi put together are 727,210,201.
Now, of these the one is the susumna; the rest are divided half and half over the two halves of the body. So we read in the Kathopnishat, 6th valli, 16th mantra:
“A hundred and one nadi are connected with the heart. Of these one passes out into the head. Going out by that one becomes immortal. The others become the cause in sending the life principle out of various other states.”
This one that goes to the head, remarks the commentator, is the susumna. The susumna then is that nadi whose nervous substratum or reservoir of force is the spine. Of the remaining principal nadis, the Ida is the reservoir of the life force that works in the left part of the body, having 50 principal nadi. So also has the right part of the body 50 principal nadi. These go on dividing as above. The nadi of the third degree become so minute as to be visible only by a microscope. The ramifications of the susumna all over the body serve during life to carry the prana from the positive to the negative portions of the body, and vice versa. In case of blood these are the modern capillaries.
The Vedantins, of course, take the heart to be the starting point of this ramification. The Yogis, however, proceed from the navel. Thus in The Science of Breath we read:
“From the root in the navel proceed 72,000 nadi spreading all over the body. There sleeps the goddess Kundalini like a serpent. From this center (the navel) ten nadi go upwards, ten downwards, and two and two crookedly.”
The number 72,000 is the result of their own peculiar reckoning. It matters little which division we adopt if we understand the truth of the case.
Along these nadi run the various forces that form and keep up the physiological man. These channels gather up into various parts of the body as centers of the various manifestations of prana. It is like water falling from a hill, gathering into various lakes, each lake letting out several streams. These centers are:
- Hand power centers,
- Foot power centers,
- Speech power centers,
- Excretive power centers,
- Generative power centers,
- Digestive and absorbing power centers,
- Breathing power centers, and (8) the five sense power centers.
Those nadi that proceed to the outlets of the body perform the most important functions of the body, and they are hence said to be the ten principal ones in the whole system. These are:
- Ghandari goes to the left eye,
- Hastijihiva goes to the right eye,
- Pasta goes to the right ear,
- Yashawani goes to the left ear,
- Alamhusha, or alammukha (as it is variously spelled in one ms.) goes to the mouth. This evidently is the alimentary canal,
- Kuhu goes to the generative organs,
- Shankini goes to the excretive organs,
- Ida is the nadi that leads to the left nostril,
- Pingala is the one that leads to the right nostril. It appears that these names are given to these local nadi for the same reason that the pulmonary manifestation of prana is known by the same name,
- Susumna has already been explained in its various phases and manifestations.
There are two more outlets of the body that receive their natural development in the female: the breasts. It is quite possible that the nadi Danini, of which no specific mention has been made, might go to one of these. Whatever it may be, the principle of the division and classification is clear, and this is something actually gained.
Centers of moral and intellectual powers also exist in the system. Thus we read in the Vishramopnishat (The following figure will serve to illustrate the translation):
“(1) While the mind rests in the eastern portion (or petal), which is white in color, then it is inclined towards patience, generosity, and reverence.
“(2) While the mind rests in the southeastern portion, which is red in color, then it is inclined towards sleep, torpor and evil inclination.
“(3) While the mind rests in the southern portion, which is black in color, then it is inclined towards anger, melancholy, and bad tendencies.
“(4) While the mind rests in the southwestern portion, which is blue in color, then it is inclined towards jealousy and cunning.
“(5) While the mind rests in the western portion, which is brown in color, then it is inclined towards smiles, amorousness, and jocoseness.
“(6) While the mind rests in the northwestern portion, which is indigo in color, then it is inclined towards anxiety, restless dissatisfaction, and apathy.
“(7) While the mind rests in the northern portion, which is yellow in color, then it is inclined towards love and enjoyment and adornment.
“(8) While the mind rests in the northeastern portion, which is white in color, then it is inclined towards pity, forgiveness, reflection, and religion.
“(9) While the mind rests in the sandhi (conjunctions) of these portions, then disease and confusion in body and home, and the mind inclines towards the three humors.
“(10) While the mind rests in the middle portion, which is violet in color, then Consciousness goes beyond the qualities [three qualities of Maya] and it inclines toward Intelligence.”
When any of these centers is in action the mind is conscious of the same sort of feelings, and inclines towards them. Mesmeric passes serve only to excite these centers.
These centers are located in the head as well as in the chest, and also in the abdominal region and the loins, etc.
It is these centers, together with the heart itself, that bear the name of padma or kamala (lotus). Some of these are large, some small, some very small. A tantric lotus is the type of a vegetable organism, a root with various branches. These centers are the reservoirs of various powers, and hence the roots of the padma; the nadi ramifying these centers are their various branches.
The nervous plexus of the modern anatomists coincide with these centers. From what has been said above it will appear that the centers are constituted by blood vessels. But the only difference between the nerves and the blood vessels is the difference between the vehicles of the positive and negative prana. The nerves are the positive, and the blood vessels are the negative system of the body. Wherever there are nerves there are corresponding blood vessels. Both of them are indiscriminately called nadi. One set has for its center the lotus of the heart, the other the thousand-petalled lotus of the brain. The system of blood vessels is an exact picture of the nervous system; it is, in fact, only its shadow. Like the heart, the brain has its upper and lower divisions – the cerebrum and the cerebellum – and its right and left divisions as well. The nerves going to very part of the body and coming back from thence together with those going to the upper and lower portions correspond to the four petals of the heart. This system, too, has as many centers of energy as the former. Both these centers coincide in position. They are, in fact, the same: the nervous plexuses and ganglia of modern anatomy. Thus, in my opinion, the tantric padma are not only the centers of nervous power – the positive northern prana – but necessarily of the negative prana as well.
The translation of the Science of Breath that is now presented to the reader has two sections enumerating the various actions that are to be done during the flow of the positive and negative breath. They show nothing more than what can in some cases be very easily verified, that certain actions are better done by positive energy, and others by negative energy. The taking in of chemicals and their changes are actions, as well as any others. Some of the chemicals are better assimilated by the negative for example, milk and other fatty substances), others by the positive Prana (other food, that which is digested in the stomach). Some of our sensations produce more lasting effects upon the negative, others upon the positive prana.
Prana has now arranged the gross matter in the womb into the nervous and blood vessel systems. The Prana, as has been seen, is made of the five tatwa, and the nadi serve only as lines for tatwic currents to run on. The centers of power noticed above are centers of tatwic power. The tatwic centers in the right part of the body are solar, and those in the left are lunar. Both these solar and lunar centers are of five descriptions. Their kind is determined by what are called the nervous ganglia. The semi-lunar ganglia are the reservoirs of the apas tatwa. Similarly, we have the reservoirs of the other forces. From these central reservoirs the tatwic currents run over the same lines, and do the various actions allotted to them in physiological anatomy.
Everything in the human body that has more less of the cohesive resistance is made up of the prithivi tatwa. But in this the various tatwas work imprinting differing qualities upon the various parts of the body.
The vayu tatwa, among others, performs the functions of giving birth to, and nourishing the skin; the positive gives us the positive, and the negative the negative skin. Each of these has five layers:
- Pure vayu,
These five classes of cells have the following figures:
- Pure Vayu This is the complete sphere of the Vayu:
2. Vayu-Agni The triangle is superposed over the sphere, and the cells have something like the following shape:
3. Vayu-Prithivi This is the result of the superposition of the quadrangular Prithivi over the spherical Vayu:
4. Vayu-Apas Something like an ellipse, the semi-moon superposed over the sphere:
5. Vayu-Akasa The sphere flattened by the superposition of the circle and dotted:
A microscopic examination of the skin will show that the cells of the skin have this appearance.
Similarly, bone, muscle and fat are given birth to by the prithivi, the agni, and the apas. Akasa appears in various positions. Wherever there is any room for any substance, there is akasa. The blood is a mixture of nutritive substances kept in the fluidic state by the apas tatwa of Prana.
It is thus seen that while Terrestrial Prana is an exact manifestation of the Solar Prana, the human manifestation is an exact manifestation of either. The microcosm is an exact picture of the macrocosm. The four petals of the lotus of the heart branch really into twelve nadi (K, Kh, g, gn, n, K’, Kh’, j, jh, n, t, the). Similarly the brain has twelve pairs of nerves. These are the twelve signs of the Zodiac, both in their positive and negative phases. In every sign the sun rises 31 times. Therefore we have 31 pairs of nerves. Instead of pairs, we speak in the language of the Tantras of a chakra (disk or circle). Wherever these 31 chakra connect with the 12 pairs (chakras) of nerves in the brain, pass throughout the body, we have running side by side the blood vessels proceeding from the 12 nadis of the heart. The only difference between the spinal and cardiac chakras is that the former lie crosswise, while the latter lie lengthwise in the body. The sympathetic chords consist of lines of tatwic centers: the padma or kamal. These centers lie on all the 31 chakra noticed above. Thus from the two centers of work, the brain and the heart, the signs of the Zodiac in their positive and negative aspects – a system of nadi branch off. The nadi from either center run into one another so much that one set is found always side by side with the other. The 31 chakra are various tatwic centers; one set is positive, and the other is negative. The former owe allegiance to the brain, with which they are connected by the sympathetic chords; the latter owe allegiance to the heart, with which they have various connections. This double system is called Pingala on the right side, and Ida on the left. The ganglia of the apas centers are semi-lunar, those of the taijas, the vayu, the prithivi, and the akasa respectively triangular, spherical, quadrangular, and circular. Those of the composite tatwa have composite figures. Each tatwic center has ganglia of all the tatwa surrounding it.
Prana moves in this system of nadi. As the sun passes into the sign of Aries in the Macrocosm, the Prana passes into the corresponding nadi(nerves) of the brain. From thence it descends every day towards the spine. With the rise of the sun it descends into the first spinal chakra towards the right. It thus passes into the Pingala. It moves along the nerves of the right side, at the same time passing little by little into the blood vessels. Up to noon of every day the strength of this Prana is greater in the nervous chakra than in the venous. At noon they become of equal strength. In the evening (with sunset), the Prana with its entire strength has passed into the blood vessels. From thence it gathers up into the heart, the negative southern center. Then it spreads into the left side blood vessels, gradually passing into the nerves. At midnight the strength is equalized; in the morning (pratasandhia) the prana is just in the spine; from thence it begins to travel along the second chakra. This is the course of the solar current of prana. The moon gives birth to other minor currents. The moon moves 12 odd times more than the sun. Therefore, while the sun passes over one chakra (i.e., during 60 ghari – day and night), the moon passes over 12 odd chakra. Therefore we have 12 odd changes of prana during 24 hours. Suppose the moon too begins in Aries; she begins like the sun in the first chakra, and takes 58 min. 4 sec. in reaching the spine to the heart, and as many minutes from the heart back to the spine.
Both these prana move in their respective course along the tatwic centers. Either of them is present at any one time all over the same class of tatwic centers, in any one part of the body. It manifests itself first in the vayu centers, then in the taijas, thirdly in the prithivi, and fourthly in the apas centers. Akasa comes after each, and immediately precedes the susumna. As the lunar current passes from the spine towards the right, the breath comes out of the right nostril, and as long as the current of Prana remains in the back part of the body, the tatwa changes from the vayu to the apas. As the current passes into the front part of the right half, the tatwa changes back from the apas to the vayu. As the prana passes into the heart, the breath is not felt at all in the nose. As it proceeds from the heart to the left, the breath begins to flow out of the left nostril, and as long as it is in the front part of the body, the tatwa change from the vayu to the apas. They change back again a before, until the prana reaches the spine, when we have the akasa of susumna. Such is the even change of prana that we have in the state of perfect health. The impulse that has been given to the localized prana by the sun and moon forces that give active power and existence to its prototype Prana, makes it work in the same way forever and ever. The working of the human free will and other forces change the nature of the local prana, and individualize it in such a way as to render it distinguishable from the universal Terrestrial and Ecliptical prana. With the varying nature of prana, the order of the tatwa and the positive and negative currents may be affected in various degrees. Disease is the result of this variation. In fact, the flow of breath is the truest indication of the changes of tatwa in the body. The balance of the positive and negative currents of tatwa results in health, and the disturbance of their harmony in disease. The science of the flow of breath is therefore of the highest importance to every man who values his own health and that of his fellow creatures. At the same time, it is the most important, useful and comprehensive, the easiest and the most interesting branch of Yoga. It teaches us how to guide our will so as to effect desired changes in the order and nature of our positive and negative tatwic currents. This it does in the following way. All physical action is prana in a certain state. Without pranathere is no action, and every action is the result of the differing harmonies of tatwic currents. Thus, motion in any one part of the body is the result of the activity of the vayu centers in that part of the body. In the same way, whenever there is activity in the prithivi centers, we have a feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction. The causes of the other sensations are similar.
We find that while lying down we change sides when the breath passes out of that nostril. Therefore we conclude that if we lie on any side the breath will flow out the opposite nostril. Therefore, whenever we see that it is desirable to change the negative conditions of our body to the positive, we resort to this expedient. An investigation into the physiological effects of prana on the gross coil, and the counter effects of gross action upon prana, will form the subject of the next essay.