Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (6)- Madhu-Kanda- Chapter Ii

Meditation on Prana - Vital force embodied in a person- Analogy of the New-born Calf


In the previous section we saw how Ajatasatru taught Gargya Brahman by taking him to a sleeping person and by investigating the deep sleep and the dream states. It was concluded there that Brahman is satyasya satyam. What is satyam? This prana, this energy is satyam. This whole universe is a play of energy. Brahman is the satyam of that satyam which is prana. This and the following sections of the Upanishad deal with satyam, the relative universe made of prana, and the five elements which form our body and organs. The world of relativity is called satyam and it is nothing but the expanse of energy. It is has two aspects, with form and without form, gross and subtle. By studying this world of relativity, we slowly rise upto the Truth behind it. That is the purpose in view of these Mantras. These ideas are expressed in a highly symbolic and mystical language here which is very difficult to unravel.

The Universal Being manifests itself in various ways and one of the forms in which it is manifest is the Cosmic Prana, the universal energy which functions not only in organic beings, but also in inorganic objects. The tendency to life, the urge for self-perpetuation, is an indication of the operation of the Prana in everything. There is an effort exerted by everyone and everything in this world to exist. There is an incessant struggle for existence. This attempt to exist somehow, to live and to perpetuate oneself, is the action of the Prana in all created entities.

This Prana is universal; it is everywhere. What we call cosmic energy is ultimately identifiable with the creative principle, Hiranyagarbha. It is universally present, and is equally spread out in everything. It should be noted that life and non-life are only the manifestation or non-manifestation of it (prana), or the higher degree or the lower degree of manifestation of it, but not the absence of it.

Prana is not absent even in so-called inorganic things. The vibratory activity that we discover even in lifeless matter is the action of Prana. The gravitational pull exerted by objects, though they are inanimate, is the work of Prana. The cohesive force that we discover in chemical elements, or physical objects, any kind of attraction, pull, whether it is organic, inorganic or even psychological, all this is the work of the universal Prana. It exists in everyone. In the human individual, particularly, it is markedly manifest. The subject of this section is the nature of this Prana as manifest in the human individual.


1. The Upanishad here is purely mystical in its approach to the subject. Its importance is more occult and practical rather than philosophical, or metaphysical. It is, principally, a method of meditation.

The Prana in the individual is said to be something like a baby calf, a new-born child, which has been tied to this body as a calf is tied to a peg, with a rope. The Upanishad says that one should know what this calf (i.e.prana) is, what its support is, what its ultimate anchor is, what is the peg to which it is tied, and what is the rope with which it is tethered. One who knows this secret destroys all opposition in the world, and particularly the seven opponents of man. This is the actual intent of this passage whose meaning, however, is unclear according to many scholars; one cannot make out what the Upanishad is saying. Hence only a gist of these mantras is given in this essay.

The Upanishad compares the Prana to the calf, and the subtle body in which it is lodged, which it pervades, and of which it is the life, as its abode. The physical body which it permeates by means of the subtle body is its support. The energy of the whole system which maintains it is the peg to which it is tied by means of attachment to the body. The food that one consumes, by which energy is generated, is the rope by which it is tied to the peg. If this is known, the connection of the Prana with the various parts of the body also is known.

What the Upanishad intends to tell us is that the entire structure of the body and the personality, whether subtle or physical, is a manifestation of the Prana only. What is worthwhile in us is the Prana working. If this secret is known, we would be able to realize the integrated nature of our personalities, rather than their complex nature, as if they are made of bits of reality. Even the different sense-organs function only due to the operation of this Prana.

The seven inimical brethren mentioned in this passage are the urges of the personality manifested through the two eyes, the two nostrils, the two ears and the mouth. There is an impulse to see through the two eyes, to hear through the two ears, to smell through the two nostrils, and to speak and to taste through the tongue in the mouth. These instincts tie us down to this world. Our desires are grossly manifest through the senses. The desire to see, the desire to hear, the desire to smell and the desire to speak and the desire to taste - these are our enemies. They are called the inimical brethren. They exist as your own friends, apparently related to us, as inseparable from us, but they work against us. These are the forces mentioned, the urges, the desires, the longings, or the appetites of the individual expressed through the senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and speaking.

If the secret of the integration of the Prana by means of its pervasive character through the entire body is realized, one would also know the reason behind these urges. It is the Prana seeking expression, so that it may become one with the cosmic source from where it has come. If the reason behind this expression is known, the urges are automatically subdued. If the reason is not known, the urges gain an upper hand. Many of the desires in the individual are uncontrollable on account of the absence of the knowledge of the cause of their manifestation - why they arise at all in the first instance. If the reason is known, knowledge of their expression is gained, they get controlled. So, the Upanishad says that one who knows this secret of the Prana which is lodged in the subtle body and the gross body, as a single force pervading the entire personality, overcomes these inimical urges.

This central creative energy in us is called Madhyama Prana, by the Upanishad. This is the Sisu, the child. It is compared to the calf or the child because it cannot go out as it likes, just as a calf that is tied with a rope to a peg cannot go out as it likes. It can move within a certain ambit, to the extent of the length of the rope but beyond it, it cannot go. The senses can move towards the objects outside; the Prana cannot go, though it impels them to act. So, it is something that is struggling inside the body itself.

On account this tendency of the Prana to work within, as if it is a child tied to this body, the comparison is made of it with a calf, or a little baby. The subtle body and the physical body are the support and the abode of this Prana. It moves within these circles. It is bound with the rope of food. The food that we eat is not necessarily the physical food that is consumed through the mouth, but any kind of intake of the personality through any of the sense-organs by which one is maintained. The support and the maintenance of the whole individual through the activity of the senses is the food by which the individual is tied to this world, and that is therefore the rope which binds the individual to earthly existence.

2. This Prana is manifest through the sense-organs. It is actively manifest through the senses particularly because of their desire for objects. One of the senses through which it is predominantly active is the organ of sight. The eyes are supposed to be indicative, to some extent, of the entire personality of the individual. The eye is the index of the soul. “The face is the mirror of the mind and the eyes confess the secrets of the heart without speaking”. Hence here it is mentioned that the eye is the abode of the gods such as Rudra, Parjanya, Sun, Fire, Indra, Earth, and Heaven.

It is on account of the action of these divinities that this body is existing at all. The cementing force which keeps the various parts of the bodily personality intact is the divinity that is presiding over us. It is God that is working through us, finally. One who knows this in deep meditation, one who realizes this secret in one's life, does not lack anything. Everything comes to that person automatically, as a food and support.

3. The Upanishad makes a mystical comparison of the head of the individual to the abode of divinities, for the purpose of meditation. This Mantra describes a bowl whose mouth is below and with its bulge at the top. The rotundity of this bowl is on the top; its opening is at the bottom.

According to the Upanishad, this head of ours, in this body, is the bowl, the cup. Its round part is on the top; its mouth is at the bottom. The entire magnificence of creation, in a sense, is present within the head of man. It is said that the seven sages of yore, also, have their abode in the head. The sages were masters who realized the cosmic reality, and were acclaimed as the seven great adepts in all creation. The different sense functions themselves are the working of these sages. And the speech in us is capable of manifesting the Vedas as knowledge. This is connected with the highest wisdom because the energy of the Prana that is manifest through speech is capable of the highest expression for which it is competent, and the loftiest expression of speech is the recitation of the Vedas. Every other chant, any other speech, is just secondary to it.

4. This Mantra narrates the names of the seven sages and describes their locus in the head of the physical body. The idea is that these sages can be meditated upon by invoking them in the concerned part of the body.

One who knows this secret of the presence of cosmic energies, such as the sages and the wisdom of all the Vedas as present in one's own being, becomes an embodiment of all the powers of the sages, and of the wisdom of the Vedas.

“The strength that the ancient masters had through practice of penance can be invoked in our own self by similar meditations, because all the secrets of the cosmos are hidden, as it were, in our own internal personality. They do not manifest themselves ordinarily because our individuality has taken possession of us. We have not yet become catholic enough to embrace, within our personality, the different forces which work outside the body, though it is true that even the existence and the functioning of this body is due to the operation of these forces.

Even the physical body cannot exist if the five elements do not cooperate. Little portions of the five elements - earth, water, fire, air and ether - have been put together into the formation of this body, and they are held together in union by a force that is inside. If this cementing element in it is withdrawn, the components of the body go back to their sources. But this is not the whole story.

Everything in us, inside the physical body, the subtle body, and what is in the mind, what is in the intellect and everything inside us is finally controlled by higher forces. The various realms of being, the different planes, the various degrees of manifestation of reality, are all located, in one way or other, in our own body.

So, it is rightly said that this body of ours is the Pindanda, and the whole universe is Brahmanda. It is called Pindanda, because it is a small universe, while the outer one is the larger universe in comparison with it. Whatever is outside in the larger universe is also within the small universe. It is a universe by itself.

The sun and the moon and the thunder and the clouds and the rain and the wind that blows, and everything that we see outside in space is also in the inside space, says the Chhandogya Upanishad. Thus, here is a meditation to blend the inward personality with the outer cosmos, so that the powers of the universe get realized in one's own being in meditation”. – Swami Krishnananda.