Sourced from www.tattvaloka.org, first published September 2009.
Vayu is one of the key concepts of Vedic thought that has great importance in Yoga, Ayurveda and Vedanta. It has many profound implications both at a cosmic level and relative to our own individual lives. Indeed if one understands Vayu, one understands everything, including time, space and karma, life and death and one’s own deeper Self.
Vayu is usually regarded as the element of air at a material level. This is a good place to begin a study of Vayu, but only the beginning of many correspondences. In Vedic thought, Vayu includes the concept of space or Akasha. Space in motion is air, while air at rest is ether. These are the two sides of Vayu, which is the unity of air and ether. Ether is the field in which Vayu as a force operates.
Modern science recognizes that the universe consists of a fabric of space filled with various types of channels, currents or wormholes that are filled with dynamic interchanges. This is a picture of the cosmic Vayu, which is not only space but the energy within it both potential and actual. One could say that potential energy is space while activated space is air. The universe itself is Vayu in its ethereal vibration.
However, Vayu is much more than the material or even subtle elements. Vayu is the power through which everything comes into manifestation and into which everything eventually returns. Vayu is not just the material element of air and space but the cosmic principle of energy and space that pervades body, life, mind and consciousness. The entire manifest universe arises from space and energy which is Vayu at an outer level. At an inner level, Vayu stands for the formless principle of air and space, the invisible Spirit or Brahman behind the visible world of the earth, water and fire elements, the realm of name and form. The famous Shantipath of the Taittiriya Upanishad declares this:
Namaste Vayo, tvam eva pratyaksham Brahmasi.
‘O, Vayu, you are the directly perceivable Brahman.’
Vayu often symbolizes the supreme deity, the spirit that is formless in nature yet full of power like the wind or air. Vayu as the creative or causal power is the power of Ishvara or the Cosmic Lord. Yet Vayu as the receptacle of all power and the ground of all existence can symbolize the Supreme Brahman as well. Vayu can indicate both Saguna and Nirguna Brahman. Vayu thus often means Spirit, not just the air as an element but the presence of being and consciousness that exists everywhere but cannot be seen anywhere. We find this idea of Spirit or air in many spiritual traditions throughout the world, and in the very term ‘spiritual’.
Vayu is the Kriya Shakti or universal power of action, from which all other powers emerge. It is the causal power that guides and directs things. The entire universe is a manifestation of Vayu, which is the hand of God that shapes all things. Yet the very nature of Brahman is like Vayu, which is beyond all limitations, appearances and divisions. So Vayu is more than action and ultimately connects to the formless, changeless reality that creates the entire universe without undergoing any modification itself.
Vayu sets everything in motion at a cosmic level, which is his play or dance. Vayu governs all cosmic forces, movements and actions, including the movement of the stars and galaxies, the gravitational network underlying the universe, electro-magnetic forces, and the forces that govern subatomic particles. Everything exists in Vayu, which is the field of space as energized by air. Vayu is the very field of our existence as well as the basis of our expression. Air, water and earth are but different densifications of the energy of Vayu, different degrees of its many currents.
Vayu is also the connecting principle that links everything together in the universe. From it mind, speech and intelligence arise and allow communication and interchange on all levels. Vayu creates various channels, currents, worm holes, nadis or orifices in its movement. These pervade all of space on many levels and dimensions. They can be found in every object in nature and in the bodies of all creatures that consists of various channel systems. Indeed all the channels within us, the nervous, respiratory and circulatory systems, including the Sushumna nadi are aspects of Vayu.