PRAANA AND PUNARJANMA—LIFFE’S VITAL FORCES AND REINCARNATION
(DISCOURSE BY N.R.SRINIVASAN--2009)
Mere physical body will not move, grow or act unless the Life Principle presides over it. The life centre in each one of us is the sacred spot from which all activities emanate. The outermost shell, called Annamaya Kosha, the grossest, is the body. This is the food sheath. The vital-air sheath, Praanamaya Kosha, called Life’s Vitality, lining it internally, is the Pancha Praanas. The mental sheath, called Manomaya Kosha, within is the third sheath. Still interior is the Intellectual sheath called Vignanamaya Kosha. Lastly, the subtlest of all, the Bliss sheath is called Aandamaya Kosha. The Bliss sheath is the deep-sleep state where man is experiencing joyous condition wherein none of the known experience is repeated. Aatman which is subtler than all the above envelopes all and none envelopes it say the Srutis—it is all pervading. The subtlety is measured by its pervasiveness. The mental sheath indicates the existence of mind in us. Intellect is mind when it comes to a determined decision or willed judgment. The Intellect is considered as subtler than mind because it adventures forth into realms farther than what it had heard or seen. Mind is doubting element, while intellect is the determining factor in each of us.
Life’s Vitality or Praana is given a very important place in the Vedic view of things. It is often identified with Aatman and Brahman coming into existence from Aatman directly without the intervention of any other stage and is regarded as having the same relation to aatman as the shadow has to the body.
The Vital Air sheath controls all organs of action and according to the different functions it performs, the science of Vedanta have classified it under five different names, the Pancha Praanas (the five Vital Airs). The air we breathe in, we all know gets mixed up with the blood and reaches every cell of the physical body. Even without much imagination, we can easily see how the oxygen of the air that we breathe in constantly forms an inner silk lining as it were, for the outer physical gross sheath.
Life’s Vitality functioning in the organs of perception is also called ‘Praana’. Expression of life as the vitality that presides over the actions that throw out or reject the by-products from the physical body is called ‘Apaana’. The strength in administering the department of digestion is called ‘Vyaana’. The energy behind the distribution of assimilated food to the various corners of the body politic is called ‘Samaana’. The energy which helps the ego-centre to leave one physical structure at the time of its death—to pursue its trans-migratory pilgrimage seeking new pastures, where it fulfils all its matured desires is called ‘Udaana’. These five praanas together constitute the life’s vitality as exhibited in living creature. They are often referred as ‘Pancha Praanas’.
Praana is described as the head with its seven holes compared to seven flames coming out—2 eye holes, 2 nostril holes, 2 ear holes and 1 mouth hole. Aakaasa (space) is the trunk. Vyaana and apaana are the right and left sides. Earth constitutes the lower limbs. The gravitational force is that which keeps us on the surface of the earth.
Vitality is referred to as Praana or the Ego-centre in the Upanishads (Prasna, Taittireya etc.).This is what differentiates, in experience the living from the non-living. This we may simply refer as ‘Life’ for convenience. The Life in Upanishads’ view has a five-fold function; Praana—Appropriation; Apaana—Rejection or elimination; Samaana—Assimilation; Vyaana—Distribution; and Udaana—Regeneration. During Naivedya offering in temples five-fold functions of Life are invoked along with Brahman and then the food is offered to the Deity during the sixteen steps of Pooja ritual. This companion of Aatman, Praana is known by five different names as above.
“The Praana is born of Aatman. As shadow is born of the man, so is the Praana of the Aatman. By the action of mind (manas) it enters into the body”—Prasnopanishad(3-3).
The Praana, Ego-centre concept in us, is but the reflection of Pure Consciousness or Life in our mind and intellect. The Pure Life in us—Consciousness or Awareness—when it works through this ‘flow of thoughts’ expresses itself in a ‘reflection’(shadow) which is the ego-centric personality that we come to recognize almost as ourselves. When joyous thoughts are flowing, the ego ‘I’ is happy and joyous. If the thoughts are sad, the ‘I’ becomes sad. If the thoughts are criminal the ‘I’ becomes the criminal. If the thoughts are godly the ‘I’ becomes godly. Ego-centre has been created certainly out of the Aatman but at the same time it has not got any independent existence apart from the divine spark, our own Self. This, the Upanishads’ Rishis simply referred as ‘Praana is the shadow of Aatman —Prasnopanishad ‘.
The first four named functions Praana, Apaana, Samaana and Vyaana are obvious. As long as there is life in the body these are continually going on. To begin with, Life is a selective process. Life appropriates, takes into system, a certain quantity of material which it needs for building up and maintaining organism in which it operates (Praana). The Praanas function mainly in the eyes, ears, and nose and are mainly responsible for the instrument of knowledge functioning with efficiency and effectiveness. Life also rejects from the system what is not useful. Apaana resides in the organs of action for rejecting things from the body and naturally it works in the pelvic region. Its main fields are the anus and the reproduction channels, acted upon by gravitational force and downward flow. What is selected is further assimilated to that form (as for instance, blood) in which it can be built into the system. This activity is compared to that of fire, namely combustion, so that the result is said to rise up like seven-fold flame.
“The Sun is verily the cosmic Praana in the eye. The Goddess of Earth attracts or controls the Apaana towards her. The space between the Earth and the Sun is Samaana. The wind is Vyaana”—Prasnopanishad (3-8).
The Apaana functions in the pelvic region of the body have necessarily an activity tending downwards, pushing downwards things and ejecting them from the body; it is the power that functions behind excretion and insemination. Thus the direction of its flow is certainly downwards. This “apaana vritti” in the cosmic form cannot be better represented than in the gravitational pull by which everything on the globe is attracted towards its own centre. In the language of the rishi Pippalada, it is not said that the earth attracts, but “the Goddess of Earth attracts”. This and a host of other similar scientific statements are hinted at, all over Upanishads.
‘The Apaana dwells in the organs of excretion and production; and the Praana abides in the eye, mouth and the nose. In the middle this Samaana functions, distributing the food equally, and the same flames are fed from it”—Prasnopanishad(3-5).
The seven flames are the seven main holes in man’s head; two ears, two eyes, two nostrils and one mouth. From each one of them, as it were, a peculiar kind of light shoots out which can illuminate only one type of objects in the world. To consider the power of perception as seven flames emerging through the seven holes in the cranium is so poetic an expression and so scientific, a statement that needs no extra commentary.
The fourth function is also apparent, that the assimilated material such as blood is distributed all over the body by means of channels radiating from the heart to every part of the body:
“This aatman is in the heart (hridi). There are hundred and one nerves (nadis). Each of them has a hundred branches. Again every one of these has seventy-two thousand sub-branches. In these the Vyaana moves”—Prasnopanishad (3-6).
Here the word aatman is used to denote the ego-centre. The Supreme Consciousness conditioned by the mind, intellect and body is called the ego-centre. Here the heart (hridi) denotes only the mind and not the physical organ on the left side of the chest. Pure consciousness reflected in the mind is the ego-centre. Nerves here (nadis) are subtler than the finest capillaries in the physical circulatory system in the body and therefore they can be called as ‘astral tubes’. Thus from the mind hundred and one different astral tubes emerge out and each one of the primary nerves (mukhya naadis) divides into one hundred sub-divisions (saakha naadis) forming among themselves ten thousand one hundred secondary naadis. Now, each one of these secondary naadis again multiplies into seventy-two thousand branches thus together forming a system of seventy two crores, seventy two lakhs, ten thousand two hundred and one in all(72,72,10,201). In this net –work of astral tubes, we are told, that the vyaana sakti moves like a permanent cycle round the structure of man. Among the many other functions of the the Vyaana, is to keep the circulation of blood always going even in the minutest capillary where the red and the white blood corpuscles will have to be on the move all the time.
The fifth type of function Udaana, which needs more explanation, is what serves as a link between the Life in the individual and the Life Universal which is Brahman. It is said metaphorically that in a dreamless sleep, produced by the operation of the self-negating Maaya, we are taken up daily to Brahman:
“He leads the sacrificer everyday (in deep sleep) to Brahman—ahar ahar Brahmaa gamayati—Prasnopanishad(4.4).
We thereby have our tired vitality refreshed or as one might say, regenerated. This is done by replenishing, as it were, our individual tanks of Life from Brahman, the Universal Ocean of Life, as in dreamless sleep, all diversified objectivity vanishes from our Consciousness and thus outlets of Life in us are for the time-being largely shut off. That function of Life which thus as it were, goes up-to Brahman and enables us to have our stores of Life daily regenerated is the fifth function called Udaana, the up-going.
Life also appears in another form, in the process of what is known as reincarnation of the soul. Lord Krishna says to Arjuna in Geeta; “At the time of death, the body only dies but the soul never dies. The soul passes from one body to another after death like a body changing clothes. The soul goes on taking an endless number of bodies, until the soul exhausts all karmas attached to the soul. This process is known as reincarnation”. Our lives are neither an accident nor chance; God is not responsible for the inequality amongst us. Life is a stream which flows ceaselessly, without beginning or end. All things are part and parcel of this existence. Everything prevails life after life, until it has achieved true knowledge of itself or the unity of the individual soul with Brahman.
It carries in that what is really the individual in us (apart from our physical bodies), as our soul is, from one sphere of existence to another, from one death to a new birth. In the Vedic view, the individual in oneself, i.e., the individual soul, is, to repeat, only the group of ever changing factors, from ego downward to Life, held together as a unit against the back ground of one Universal Being, the one ultimate Self in all. But though ever-changing, this group still maintains a certain self identity and continuity, so that it can be felt and spoken of the same entity in spite of the change, in much the same way as the physical body, although constantly changing, can be still be spoken of as one and the same body from birth to death. The only difference is that while the body is produced at birth (or conception) and perishes at death, the soul associated with a particular body comes into existence long before the body—the soul having been created by the process of manifestation in the way described—and continues to exist even after the death of the body, as one and the same entity in the sense defined above.
This type of self-identity and continuity is maintained by the soul even when not connected with physical body. It is, as it were, floating in space between death and new birth, in much the same way as a piece of music broadcast into space, maintains its self identity and individuality even when rushing through the electro-magnetic field, so that it can be reproduced as the same music by means of a suitable receiver. The soul in this sense and thus maintaining its self-identity reaches a stage, in which the aspect of Brahman, the ultimate Being, standing behind the soul as its ground and, as it were, involved in it--having forgotten himself in the way described above—remembers his true identity and ceases any longer to identify in feeling with the soul. When this state is reached the soul perishes, just as a particular body does at death. This is the state of experience when the self-forgetful being, recollecting itself in a positive experience realizes and proclaims the truth “That am I”, “I am the Divine”. Until this experience called Release or Freedom (Moksha) is gained the ‘soul’ is born again and again, and as it takes place, it is carried from one state of existence to another by means of Life functioning in the fifth way as Udaana.
When a subtle body finds it has no more experiences to gather, in a given physical form, the subtle form throws away its physical structure and departs. With reference to body, this condition after the divorce from the subtle body is called the death. But the ego-centre, though not manifest and functioning through the body, exists in a subtle form. The subtle ego-centre set in the subtle body is conveyed to its next field of activity (loka) by the up-going energy called Udaana.
‘The external fire is Udaana. Therefore, he in whom the flames are gone out enters another body with the senses absorbed in the mind—Prasnopanishad, 3-9”
At the time of death, it is universally observed that the dying man slowly and steadily loses all his sense activities and capacities; he no more sees, hears, smells, tastes or feels. This is not because these instruments of cognition have become defective but the power or strength of perception, meaning the praanic vitality in the sense organs, has been withdrawn from the sense organ centers. It has been said that Life—chief Praana, the shadow of the aatman, the ego-centre—has himself appointed different upa-praanas to execute their respective duties in the different centers of the body.
Here it is said that the Udaana takes the ego-centre wrapped up in the subtle body to the higher worlds of greater happiness or to the lower worlds of graver sorrow, according to the balance sheet declared by the mind and intellect at the time of its quitting the physical body. When the tendencies are almost equal and opposite and the balance gain is almost nil, the individual is given another lease of life in the very world as human being to make or unmake himself. Lord Krishna says in Geeta: “when a man dies his soul takes with it the sum total of good and bad Karma. If the sum total of his action is bad, he will go for a worse life form. So it is the sum total of Karma that decides the travel route of the soul. One or two actions do not determine the soul’s new destination (6-40 to 43)”; “I make the cruel and vicious take birth again and again as ferocious animals (16-19)”—This principle of reincarnation is given earlier in the mantra of Prasnopanishad:
“Again through one special ascending nerve Udaana, it leads us upward to virtuous world by good deed and carries us to the lower world by sinful act, and takes us to the world of men when sin and virtue are mixed—3.7”
Death and rebirth of the soul are regarded as only different form of the same phenomenon of dreamless sleep and waking up which occur in every day life of the individual; and the to and fro movement in connection with both groups of phenomena is accomplished by means of Life functioning in its Regenerative Mode, Udaana. This Life is therefore given a very important place in the upanishadic view of things.
The Vedas mention about 8.5 million species of life, right from amoebas to human beings and semi-gods (devatas). Sometimes the soul will remain at a standstill state for long periods of time without taking any body at all. The soul can get rid of its Karma only if it takes a body. For attaining salvation, the soul must necessarily reincarnate. As per our scriptures action such as suicide will condemn the soul for thousands of years, and it will be forced to start life all over again from the lowest level of the evolutionary ladder. The soul will have to wait countless years to finally take a human body again. Sometimes the soul remains in a standstill condition, becoming a ghost without taking a body, as per Mahaabhaagavatam.
Hinduism does not regard the devil as the personification of a dangerous being, but only as a negative force standing against spiritual enlistment of man. Meditation is one of the ways to get out of this delusion. Hinduism recognizes satanic force as the effect of Maaya which is caused by ignorance. Hindu mythology however is full of narration of ghosts and demonic beings. These are mainly Pretas and Bhutas which are actually the departed souls. Pretas are souls which left the bodies and by their own fault cannot enter any body. Bhutas are souls that left after an accidental death.
Carnage means “of flesh” and reincarnate means to “reenter the flesh”. Even modern science is discovering reincarnation. There have been many cases of individuals’ remembering the past lives. These have been researched by scientists and parapsychologists during the past decades and documented in books and videos. Young children speak of vivid past-life memories, which fade as they grow older, as the veils of individuality shroud the soul’s intuitive understanding. Great mystics speak of their past as well. So do our ancient scriptures, the Vedas, reveal the reality of reincarnation!
Reincarnation is believed by the Jains and the Sikhs, by the Indians of the Americas (native Indians) and by the Buddhists, certain Jewish sects, the Pagans and many indigenous faiths. Even Christianity originally taught incarnation, but formally renounced it in Twelfth century. It is in fact, one of the widest held articles of faith on planet earth.
Some critics are of the opinion that both reincarnation and resurrection are just theories, since both lack scientific evidence to corroborate their concepts. But science too sometimes bases its postulations on theories! Reincarnation Theory fails to explain the reason or reasons for the “first birth”. Resurrection of Jesus Christ is part and parcel of Christian Faith. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that the New Testament writings are primarily documents of faith written by believers for believers. It is therefore logically concluded that both reincarnation and resurrection are nothing but theories. Reincarnation Theory states: “salvation is for all; only the time factor differs between the best and the worst. The best will achieve salvation with one life, whereas the worst will achieve salvation by many lives. Sanaatana Dharma emphasizes that Time is cyclic, an endless repetition of events. Those that believe in Resurrection Theory view Time as linear, with a definite beginning and definite end. They also believe that ultimate destiny of human beings is either joyful life with God forever in heaven or eternal pain and despair in hell.
In Geeta Lord Krishna says: “If a man gives up all material and religious activities and surrender his will to Me, then I will save him from all karmic debts and so called sins—chapter,18-66 ’’. Man by nature wants to do everything as his ego dictates, and it is very difficult for him to surrender to the divine will. Only a very few like Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhwa, Ramakrishna Parasmahamsa had the capacity to practice this method of God realization.
Our scriptures also prescribe two paths for the dead—Pitruyaana and Devayaana. Those who fall and die bound by the laws of karma come back into the world of Time and Change. They take birth in surroundings suitable to their further progress. In other words their past karma, good or bad determines for them their environment such as country, nation, class, parentage etc. This is called Pitruyaana. Those who fall and die while scaling the second accent as above as hinted by Lord Krishna in Geeta, never come back into the Time process. They never take birth again. Even then, they are not yet qualified for salvation or Moksha. Moksha comes after Samyak Darsana. Their further progress is assured in a World of Spirit which is called Brahmaloka. There they live with more than human faculties in the presence of God whom they worshipped on earth and finally they attain Mukti. This path is called Devayaana. The individual here takes refuge in the object of his worship and totally forgets himself. Therefore his virtues and vices have no hold over him. He is in the hands of God whose grace leads him into a higher world and prepares him for Moksha. Hence his path is different from that of the man who dies bound by karmic laws.
Moksha means the awakening of the soul into divine soul and coming into its own. The state of such a soul is the same as Divine Being. Vedas proclaim, “He who knows Supreme Brahman becomes Brahman”
(This lecture has been prepared from the following literature sources for the Vedanta Class by N.R.Srinivasan)
1. D.S.Sharma, A Primer of Hinduism, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai
2. Ed. Viswanathan, Am I a Hindu? Rupa & Co, New Delhi
3. J.C.Chatterji, Wisdom of The Vedas, Master Mind Books, Theosophical Publishing House, USA.
4. N.S.Ananta Rangacharya, Principal Upanishads, Vol 1 & 2, Bangalore.
5. Swami Chinmayananda, Prasnopanishad, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai.
6. Do Hindus Believe in Incarnation? Himalayan Academy, Hawaii.
7. T. R.Viswanathan, Sanatana Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai.