Vanity thought #1757. VC – prana

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

Yesterday it was established that gravity is only one case of the workings of prāṇa and so to understand gravity we need to know how prāṇa works, first. The book notes several times on this matter that while gravity itself is simple in science (two bodies with mass attract each other), its explanation in Sāṅkhya is rather complicated. The reason for this is that once science builds theories to explain gravity and something else, like speed of light or time, their theories become far more complicated than Sāṅkhya and there’s no resolution in sight. Simplicity in one area covers complexity in other related fields, while Sāṅkhya’s prāṇa is “learn once, apply everywhere”.

Prāṅa is a curious thing because it pops up everywhere in our literature, including the eighth verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka where Kṛṣṇa is addressed by Rādhārāṇī as Prāṇa-nātha, the “Lord of My Life” (CC Antya 20.47), but it is never listed among material elements nor by Kṛṣṇa nor by Lord Kapila, nor by Prabhupāda, nor in any other Sāṅkhya literature, afaik. It looks like one of those “everybody knows” concepts we have not been initiated into. It is central to many descriptions of how the world works in Sāṅkhya but never explained in it. Yoga, Sāṅkhya’s sister disciple, is all about controlling prāṇa, too.

There’s an upaniṣad dedicated to prāṇa but there it’s approached in a different context and replies of the sage talking about it are too cryptic to make sense here. There’s one point, however, that looks straightforward and relevant to us – prāṇa manifests itself through the mind. It’s an intermediary, like the mind itself is, between the subtle and gross body, creating movement of physical reality. I have more questions about it but this will do for now.

The book lists five major “winds” of prāṇa and names them. I see no point in listing them because we’d forget these Sanskrit words immediately. I know I would. The first one is called “prāṇa” and it attracts elements into a system. Another one digests inducted elements. The third one distributes digested information, the fourth one expels the waste, and the fifth one is the “outgoing wind” that moves our senses of action and makes us talk, walk etc.

Perhaps I should back up here and remind us that we are talking about systems with boundaries – selected sets of elements. It could be a body, it could be a country, it could be a planet – any selection of elements and distinction into “this is me and this is not me” will do. It could be an ecosystem, it could be a book club, it could be biological species – prāṇa works everywhere. It’s not clear from the book but, I guess, these needs to be living systems with an observer attached to them. In this sense we can understand how the Earth is a personality in Vedic world and mountains are living beings, too. The planets are governed by their respective demigods – there’s life everywhere. At the level of the universe itself there’s Lord Brahmā and Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu. Contrary to modern science there has never been a time when universe was there but there was no life. It doesn’t mean that chairs and tables have souls, too, but they could be included in our possessions and act as part of our extended self where they’d be governed by our prāṇa. This, perhaps, needs to be investigated further.

Another point is that prāṇa here deals with the movement of information. Information is not a word used in Vedic science but it’s easy to us to understand and it’s used in the book extensively. Information can come in many forms, it can be physical, like food, and it can be subtle, like ideas in a book. If we are talking about prāṇa in relation to the body then information could be air we breath in, too. Information is inducted into the system by the wind called “prāṇa”, as I mentioned earlier, and this new information needs to be analyzed for its composition and functions, or “digested”, so to speak. This process repeats itself over and over again as air passes through lungs and enters the bloodstream and then gets transported through the body to each individual cell requiring it. At every step it needs to be inducted into the next system and “digested” there.

Once new information has been processed it needs to be distributed to relevant parts and there’s a special wind for that, too. Blood could play this role on the scale of the body. Neurons pass information around the brain, media distributes news through the society – you get what I mean. There’s also the need to discard waste – veins collect used, oxygen depleted blood, trash collectors collect trash, toilets connect to sewage and so on.

Another interesting aspect of praṇa is the “outgoing wind” which creates things out of information. It manifests speech out of thoughts, produces articles out of news reports, makes us walk and, generally, fulfills our desires. The previous four winds deal with incoming information but this last one converts this abstract information into contingent form of matter, creates a carrier for it so that other systems can receive it.

We should understand that prāṇa works at every level of detail. If we take our body it works from the top, like putting food into our mouths, and then the same actions are repeated at each subsequent level down to the cell and to the molecules and atoms. Protein gets broken down into amino-acids and reassembled again into more useful forms – it’s prāṇa, too. Converting incoming photons into perceptions of blue or red is also prāṇa. Zooming back out we get passing stool and urine, which is the function of the wind of “waste” but also the “outgoing” wind when it is what we explicitly desire to do. We don’t have to be aware of all these things going on in our bodies, there probably are individual observers for each stage beside us. I suspect demigods controlling our senses here but it’s not stated in the book.

Going back to gravity – the Earth has a use for all the stuff that exists here and expelling this stuff meets with resistance – prāṇa wants it. NASA, in turn, wants to hurl stuff into space, out of Earth’s reach, and that desire is fulfilled by NASA’s outgoing wind. Sending rockets into space, therefore, is seen as a negotiation between two systems with two opposite goals. Sometimes one succeeds, sometimes another. To determine the outcome other parameters need to be brought in, and that’s the subject matter of the next chapter – how time and karma complement prāṇa.

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