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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Prana

A highly specialized form of energy, the cosmic life-force which pervades our universe. As stated in Encyclopedic Dictionary of Yoga (G. Feuerstin), “Prāna almost invariably signifies the universal life force, which is a vibrant psychophysical energy similar to the pneuma of the ancient Greeks. The Yoga-Vasi˜ha (III.13.31) defines prāna as the ‘vibratory power’ that underlies all manifestation” (p. 265).

All phenomenal life is imbued with prāna which, according as it is absorbed and transmitted through various material agencies, becomes differentiated and specialized. There is thus solar prāna, planetary prāna, animal prāna, pine tree prāna, etc. That magnetic prāna which radiates from the sun and is called solar prāna is transmitted through the agency of an order of powerful golden devas whose task it is to step down the energy through their own selves and pass it unto earth and into our higher chakras. Our planet similarly has its own specialized prāna which comes from the sun, is circulated on earth and radiated off, the unused surplus being planetary radiation. The same process occurs in every living creature. Planetary emanations are caught up and concentrated on all forms of life by specific groups of devas closely connected with the etheric level, hence with the human etheric vehicle or body prāna. These transmit to us planetary prāna and magnetism which we absorb through our breathing and the spleen chakra whence it is distributed throughout the body.

Although prāna is not the “breath” (though we translate the word by “life-breath”) but that which lies behind or underlies the breath — the fiery energy behind it — the word itself shows its derivation from pra (forth, before, in front) and an (to breathe), hence that which is breathed forth. In some languages, (e.g., Greek, Latin) the word for breath or wind also denotes the spirit or psyche, thereby hinting at the forgotten truth concerning the link between consciousness and breath — states of consciousness can be altered through altered breathing. But this is also responsible for the confusion that exists in the notions of breath and spirit. Though “Life” and “Spirit” are esoterically equivalent, the “life-breath” is not the “spirit” (see SD I:225).

Helena P. Blavatsky. defines prāna as the “motor-principle in life” (CW XII:707). “Every principle is a differentiation of J…va and the life motion in each is prāna” (ibid.).

The focus for the distribution of prāna in the body is the spleen chakra which acts as the link between the subtle and the physical body and circulates the prāna throughout the body. But prāna has various functions for which reason it was analyzed and given specific names. Thus: (1) prāna-vāyu or “appropriation,” the prāna we absorb from the surrounding atmosphere; it governs the respiratory system and also absorption of food and liquid. (2) samāna-vāyu or “assimilation,” governs the assimilation functions of the body; (3) apāna-vāyu or “rejection,” directs all elimination functions, including excess water as perspiration, the release of carbon dioxide from the lungs, the kidneys etc. (4) udāna-vāyu or “utterance” enables thought to express itself in word-sounds, regulates the vocal chords and the throat area; (5) vyāna-vāyu or “distribution” ensures the circulation of the blood and lymph system as well as that of the energy along the nādis or subtle channels of prāna which underlie the nervous system and form the web of the subtle body. This fivefold differentiation of prāna in its manifestation in the human body is in correspondence with the Vedāntic fivefold classification of the human constitution.

This takes us a step closer to the esoteric truth that all is energy taking form as fire, fire by friction (material fire), solar fire (deva fire) and electrical fire (spiritual fire) summed up in the Rg Veda as Agni’s. “I am the threefold ray, measurer of the region” (Rg V. III 26.7.) corresponding to T. Subba Row’s definition of KUNDALINI Śhakti.

“It is the Universal life-Principle manifesting everywhere in nature. This force includes the two great forces of attraction and repulsion. Electricity and magnetism are but manifestations of it” (quoted in SD I:293).

Whatever prāna may be, it is definitely a fiery or solar energy that keeps all our vehicles alive, as well as the planet and the whole solar system, perhaps indeed a differentiated aspect of kundalini, itself the supreme energy of matter.

J.Mr.

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