Meditation on the Vital Force, Prana - Allegory of the Warfare between the Celestials and the Demons. The Prana: Its Glories and Redeeming Power – Superiority of breath among bodily functions – Glorification of the breath as Chant (SAMAN) – Prayers to accompany an intelligent performance of the Chant.


Before man possessed the philosophical capacity to comprehend the concept of atman in its purity as the principle underlying the things of the cosmos, he still had an unripe thought at the empirical and metaphysical planes to visualize the hypothesis behind the phenomenal world which was distinctly evident before his eyes. One such thought of the ancient man was the form of prana, the ‘vital breath’ which assumes an important place not only in the history of the development of the doctrine of atman but also remains in the Upanishads as one of the customary symbols, pratikam, of atman. The Brihadaranyala Upanishad expounds the subject of prana in various ways one of which is the theme of this section.

This section starts with a description of the eternal struggle between the good and the evil represented by the Devas and Asuras or gods and demons respectively. Devas wanted to surpass and excel over the Asuras in a sacrifice. To achieve this end, they used Udgitha, a sacred song beginning with OM, The gods asked the sense organs – speech, smell, eye, ear and mind – to sing Udgitha. They all did so one by one. However, no sooner the sense organs sang, every time the demons struck them with sin, resulting in the co-existence of the evil with the good. Vexed with this problem, finally the gods asked Prana, the life force, to sing the Udgitha. The demons again tried to inflict the life force with evil. But this time they could not succeed in their efforts and they were destroyed as if they were a clod of earth hitting against a solid rock.

Thus the life-force, the power behind the senses, remained untainted by any evil. Life-force or prana alone can keep the sense organs active taking them to a higher cosmic level. The life-source secured nourishment to itself and to the sense organs by singing Udgitha. This section concludes with an assertion that prana itself is the Udgitha and narrates the famous hymn called pavamana mantra - “asato ma sad gamaya; tamaso ma jyotir gamaya; mrutyor ma amrutam gamaya” (Lead me from unreal to the real; from darkness to light; from death to immortality).

MANTRA 1 - 2

1) The offsprings of Prajapati were twofold: the gods (devas) and the demons (asuras). Naturally, the gods were few and the demons many. They struggled with one another for mastery of these worlds. Being overwhelmed by the demons, the gods said: "Well, let us overcome the demons at the sacrifice by means of the Udgitha."

In this mantra the philosophy of good and evil is explained allegorically. The descendants of prajapati were of two classes viz. gods and demons. The gods were virtuous, fewer in number and younger. The demons were completely the opposite of these qualities and they were older and numerous. The rivalry between them over the ownership of these worlds continued for a long time till the gods decided to defeat the demons through the aid of Udgitha in the sacrifice. The Udgitha is a song (called as saman also) in the samaveda. The hymn begins with mystic syllable OM. The priest who chants this is called Udgata.

The point to keep in mind is that gods and demons are not different from man. These twin forces exist in man and are expressed through his senses, by speech, by sight, and other organs of action. When these external expressions are immaculate, man becomes god and he becomes demon if they are vicious. In this mantra, the terms ‘god’ and ‘demon’ stand for the sum-total of sense organs which by virtue of noble acts is named god and by the form of evil actions is known as demon. A regular warfare is going on in the world between these two forces, gods and demons, good and evil, since the dawn of creation. In the course of this rivalry the gods decided to perform a sacrifice and sing the Udgitha and thereby defeat the demons. Sacrifice (meaning destruction of one’s lower nature) and chanting (meaning meditation) represent righteous actions performed through senses for warding off evil.

According to the mantra, the gods thought to purify themselves in entirety and become holy so that the evil forces would become extinct. They took up the organ of speech first for this purpose.

2) They said to the organ of speech: "Chant the Udgitha for us." "So be it," said speech and chanted it for them. Whatever pleasures are there in speech, it secured them for the gods by chanting, and whatever good speech is there, it utilized for itself. Now, the demons knew that through this singing of udgitha the gods would overcome them. Hence they rushed at it (the speech) and pierced it with evil. That evil is what is found today when one speaks improperly; that is that evil.

The gods asked the organ of speech to sing Udgitha so that it can become the medium for warding off the evil by becoming holy. Obeying these instructions, the organ of speech made itself pleasant to the gods and spoke what was good.  So it became ‘good speech’. As the evil forces would not tolerate spreading of goodness, they charged the organ of speech with evil. This injection of evil has resulted in what we witness and hear today as bad speech or bad tongue. Thus the organ of speech has become the producer of both pleasant and unpleasant expressions. It is to be noted that when the organ of speech is identified with gods, it utters words of divine nature and when identified with demons the same organ utters filthy words. This is the allegory behind this mantra.

MANTRA 3 – 6

In a similar way, the gods asked the organs of nose, eye, ear, and mind to sing Udgitha and every time each of these organs was singing, the demons pierced evil in each of them. This is the reason why today these very same organs smell, see, hear and think respectively both what is good and what is evil.

Likewise the deities of the remaining sense-organs and the motor-organs were tried one by one. But they too got evil. None of them could do the task of sanctification well and transcend evil.


Then they said to the vital breath, prana, which resides in the mouth to sing the Udgitha. The prana chanted it. When the demons tried to contaminate it with the evil, they could not as the prana by itself is taintless. Speech, mind and the other organs have got their two-fold functions viz., good speech, bad speech, noble thoughts and ignoble thoughts and son. But the vital breath, life force, is unattached and unconcerned with sense experiences and hence beyond evil and good tendencies. So the evil or demons got perished when it tried to penetrate the prana. The mantra says that the demons were blown out in all directions and destroyed as a clod of earth striking a rock gets itself shattered to small pieces all over.

After the defeat of the demons, gods were restored to their respective places, good tendency again prevailed and all the organs started functioning properly. He who knows this becomes his true self and his envious kinsmen perish.

MANTRA 8 - 16

When the divinity was restored to sense organs and illusion destroyed, they wondered as to what has happened to them. They discovered that the prana, vital force, which was the cause for their revival, resides in the mouth itself without any particular form. Hence the vital breath (prana) is called ayasya and also, because it is the essence (rasa) of the limbs (anga) of the body, angirasa. That deity, prana, is called "dur," because death remains far (dur) away from it.

Prana then took away the sins of the gods and deposited them at the ends of the quarters. People should not go to these quarters i.e., they should throw away the sins and keep themselves away from the negative tendencies. The implication is that the evil cannot go anywhere. The mind which has been rendered pure is free from this evil but not completely immune. Therefore, after subjugating the sense-impulses, one must transcend them. For transcending evil, one must dis-identify oneself from the sense-organs and identify with the prana. All the senses were restored to their original nature by the prana.

When the speech was freed from death it became the fire (agni); similarly nose becomes the air (vayu), the eye became the sun (surya), the ears became the quarters (disha), and the mind became the moon (chandra). They were all freed from individuality and became universal.

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