What is PRANA

The word ‘prana’ is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word ‘prana’ is vital energy, but it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this word. This is a Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root.  


The word ‘prana’ is derived from the root word pra, which means filling, fulfilling, like, and resembling. When the suffixes an and ach are added to pra, the word ‘prana’ is derived.


‘Prana’ means filled, full, the breath of life, breath, respiration, spirit, vitality, vital organ, vital air, air inhaled, wind, breath as a sign of strength, vigour, energy, power, breath as a measure of time, time necessary for the pronunciation of ten long syllables, the sixth day in the light half of Brahma’s month, Purusha in Sankhya philosophy, the spirit identified with the totality of dreaming spirits in Vedanta, poetical inspiration, myrrh, Brahma, the last part of something containing three parts, vital air of heart, consciousness differentiated by the subtle body, exhaling, liquid, ability, valour, bravery, boldness, quality, characteristic, state of mind, taste, fragrance, incense, rooted in, root, substance, earth, inanimate immovable object, Brahman, sound, voice, place of the sense organs, and smell.  


Prana is divided into two major categories of maha, great and alpa, small. The number of prana is variously said to be, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, and thirteen. Life remains as long as there is prana in the body. When prana leaves the body, death occurs. Prana is the dynamic force present in everything. The quantity and quality of prana within a living being changes continuously. Good thoughts, elevated emotions, and spiritual practices increase the levels of prana. When energy is taken away from the senses and channelised into positive endeavours, prana is conserved. Every thought and food has a different quality and quantity of prana. Even the air that we breathe, has different levels of prana, depending on the quality of air. However, prana is not just generated from external sources like air, food, and water, but can also be generated and refined by oneself. Prana can also generate more prana by itself.


The control of prana is called pranayama. By controlling prana, one can not only conserve it, but can reduce one’s dependence on it. Controlling prana makes the mind still and calm and still, and can lead to a steadiness of mind, where there are no thoughts.


Prana functions at two levels, the individual and the cosmic. When a person has completely controlled one’s individual prana and has attained a thoughtless state of mind, where effectively the mind ceases to exist, one can experience the cosmic prana. Then one becomes one with the cosmos and also realises one’s true nature, Brahman. This state is when the kundalini is awakened as kundalini is the same as cosmic prana. Such a state leads to one’s liberation from the transmigratory cycle of existence.


Author is Editor, Prabuddha Bharata


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This article was first published in the October 2017 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe http://advaitaashrama.org/pbSubscription

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