Brahma Sutras
by Swami Sivananda


Section 4: Vayukriyadhikaranam: Topic 5 (Sutras 9-12)

The chief Prana is different from air and sense functions.

Na vayukriye prithagupadesat II.4.9 (278)

(The chief Prana is) neither air nor function, on account of its being mentioned separately.

Na: not; Vayukriye: air or function; Prithak: separate, separately; Upadesat: because of the teaching, on account of its being mentioned. (Prithagupadesat: because of the separate mention.)

The nature of the chief Prana is discussed in this Sutra.

The Purvapakshin or the opponent maintains that there is no separate principle called Prana, and that the Prana is according to Sruti nothing but air. For Sruti says, "Breath is air"; that air assuming five forms is Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udana, Samana. Or it may be considered as the combined function of all organs. Just as eleven birds shut up in one cage may move the cage by the combination of their efforts, so also the eleven Pranas which abide in one body functioning together produce one common function called Prana. This is the view of the Sankhyas. The Sankhyas teach "The five airs, Pranas, etc., are the common function of the organs (instruments)." Therefore, there is no separate principle called Prana.

This Sutra refutes these views and says that the Prana is neither air nor function of organs, for it is mentioned separately from air and the sense functions. "Breath indeed is the fourth foot of Brahman. That foot shines and warms as the light called air" (Chh. Up. III.18.4). Here it is distinguished from air. Each sense and its function are identical.

Again, other passages also, in which the Prana is mentioned separately from air and the organs are here to be considered, e.g., "From Him is born the Prana, mind and all organs of sense, ether, air, etc." (Mun. Up. II.1.3). This indicates that Prana is not a function of any organ because, in that case, it would not have been separated from the organs.

It is not possible that all the organs together should have one function and that that function should be the Prana, because each organ has its own special function and the aggregate of them has no active power of its own. Prana cannot be said to be the resultant of the joint functioning of the senses, as the functions are diverse.

The passage "Breath (Prana) is air" is also correct, because the effect is only the cause in another form. The Prana is only air that functions within the body. The air passing into the Adhyatma state, dividing itself fivefold and thus abiding in a specialised condition is called Prana.

The analogy of the birds in a cage is not to the point, because they all have the same kind of activity which is favourable to the motion of the cage. But the functioning of the senses are not of one kind but different from one another. They are also of a distinct nature from that of Prana. Prana is quite dissimilar to hearing, etc. Hence, they (the organs) cannot constitute life. Therefore, Prana is a separate entity.

Moreover, if the vital breath were the mere function of organs it could not be glorified as the 'best' and speech, etc., could not be represented as subordinate to Prana. Hence the Prana is different from air and the functions of the organs.

Chakshuradivattu tatsahasishtyadibhyah II.4.10 (278)

But (the Prana is subordinate to the soul), like eyes, etc., on account of (its) being taught with them (the eyes, etc.) and for other reasons.

Chakshuradivat: like the eyes and the rest; Tu: but; Tatsaha: along with them; Sishtyadibhyah: on account of (its) being taught, because of the scriptural instructions and other reasons.

The characteristics of Prana are continued.

The Purvapakshin says: The Prana also must be considered to be independent in this body like the individual soul, as scripture declares it to be the best and the organs such as speech, etc., to be subordinate to it. Various powers are attributed to it in scriptural passages. It is said that when speech and the other organs are asleep the Prana alone is awake; that the Prana alone is not reached by death; that the Prana is the absorber, it absorbs speech, etc., that the Prana guards the other senses (Pranas) as a mother guards her sons. Hence it follows that the Prana is independent like the individual soul.

This Sutra refutes this and says that the Prana is subordinate to the soul.

The words 'tu' (but) sets aside the independence of the Prana. It removes the doubt.

The word 'Adi' etc., indicates that the word 'Prana' is also used in the sense of sense organs. The Prana is enumerated along with the senses in order to indicate that it is not independent.

The Prana subserves the soul like the senses, because it is described with them. The chief Prana is not independent of the Jiva, but is, like the senses, a means of his being Karta (doer) and Bhokta (enjoyer). The soul is the King. Prana is his minister. The senses are his subjects. Prana is described along with the senses. It abides in the body like the senses. Further, it is Achetana (non-sentient) like them. It is composed of parts. These are the other reasons for refuting the independence of Prana. Therefore it depends on the soul and serves the soul like the senses.

Prana is like the eyes, etc., one of the tools or instruments of the individual soul though it stands foremost among them, because it is placed in the same category with the eye and the other senses in a mutual conversation amongst them described in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad VI.1.7-14. Things having similar attributes are always grouped and taught together, e.g., the Brihatsaman and the Rathantarasaman. Hence it is subordinate to the soul.

Akaranatvaccha na doshastatha hi darsayati II.4.11 (280)

And on account of (its) not being an instrument the objection is not (valid); because thus (scripture) declares.

Akaranatvat: on account of (its) not being an instrument; Cha: and, also; Na: not; Doshah: defect, objection, fault; Tatha: thus, so; Hi: as, because; Darsayati: teaches, scripture shows, declares.

An objection against Sutra 10 is refuted.

The Purvapakshin or the opponent says: if the Prana is subordinate to the soul like the organs, then it must stand in the relation of an instrument to the soul like the organs. We must assume another sense-object analogous to colour. But there is no twelfth sense-object. There are only eleven functions and eleven organs. There is no room for a twelfth organ when there is no twelfth sense-object.

The word 'Cha' (and) has the force of 'but' here, and is used to remove the doubt raised above.

This Sutra refutes the above objection. Prana is not an instrument. Scripture declares that the chief Prana has a specific function which cannot belong to the other organs. The body and all the senses subsist by means of the chief Prana. The scriptural passages say: "Then Prana as the best said to the organs: Be not deceived. I alone, dividing myself five-fold, support this body and keep it" (Pras. Up. II.3). Another passage, viz., "With Prana guarding the lower nest" (Bri. Up. IV.3.12), shows that the guarding of the body depends upon the Prana.

Again, two other passages show that the nourishing of the body depends on Prana "From whatever limb Prana goes away that limb withers" (Bri. Up. I.3.19). "What we eat and drink, with it supports the other organs" (Bri. Up. 1.3.18). And another passage declares that the soul's departing and staying depends on Prana. "What is it by whose departure I shall depart, and by whose staying I shall stay? – the created Prana" (Pras. Up. VI.3-4).

All these texts show that the function of the Prana is nourishing and upkeep of the body. Prana protects the body from dissolution. The strength of the body and the senses also depends upon Prana. Prana supports the body and energises it with all the senses. This is its specific function.

Prana is of the greatest help to the soul by being the support of all other senses. Not only does it support the senses but it is the organising life of the body and hence of the greatest importance to the Jiva or the individual soul.

Prana has no function like the ordinary sense. Therefore it cannot be styled as Indriya or organ. Hence it is excluded from the list of eleven senses.

The chief Prana is also an instrument of the soul. The senses like the eye, ear, etc., are as if officials of the Jiva and help him in his enjoyment and activity but the chief Prana is his prime minister. It assists him in his highest functions and in the attainment of all his desires.

This is not the only function of Prana. There are other functions also. The next Sutra describes the other functions.

Panchavrittirmanovat vyapadisyate II.4.12 (281)

It is taught as having a fivefold function like the mind.

Panchavrittih: having fivefold function; Manovat: like the mind; Vyapadisyate: is described, it is taught, it is designated.

The description of the characteristics of the chief Prana is continued.

Prasna Upanishad (II.3) declares "I alone, dividing myself fivefold, support this body and protect it."

Just as the mind in relation to the five senses has five modes, even so Prana has five modes, viz., Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udana and Samana. Prana does the function of respiration; Apana, evacuation; Samana, digestion, assimilation of food; Vyana, circulation of blood (aiding feats of strength); and Udana, deglutition. Udana helps the soul to pass out of the body at the time of death. In this respect Prana resembles the inner organ which though one has a five-fold aspect as mind, intellect, ego, Chitta and memory.

Just as the mind being endowed with several functions such as desire, contemplation, faith, volition, feeling, knowing, etc., serves the individual soul, so also the chief Prana does good to the individual soul being vested with the five functions.

The functions of the mind, according to Raja Yoga of Patanjali Maharshi, are right knowledge, error, imagination, slumber and remembrance. Or the Sutra may quote the means as an analogous instance merely with reference to the plurality and not the five-foldness of its functions.

The Prana's subordinate position with regard to the soul follows from its having five functions like the mind.