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Prana (devanāgarī: प्राण prāṇa) is the Sanskrit word for "vital life" (from the root prā). In Vedantic philosophy, prana is the notion of a vital, life-sustaining force of living beings and vital energy, comparable to the Chinese notion of Qi. In human beings, it flows through a network of fine subtle channels called nāḍis.

In the Theosophical literature prāṇa is the third (sometimes second) principle of human beings, usually referred as "life principle" or "vital principle."

General theosophical concept

Mme. Blavatsky postulates "the existence in every organism of a distinct “VITAL FORCE” independent of any physical or chemical process".[1] She identified this force with prāṇa, the "Life Principle, the breath of life".[2]

Although it is normally considered as the second principle in human beings, strictly speaking it is not a human, but a universal, principle:

"Prana," or "Life," is, strictly speaking, the radiating force or Energy of Atma -- as the Universal Life and the ONE SELF, -- ITS lower or rather (in its effects) more physical, because manifesting, aspect. Prana or Life permeates the whole being of the objective Universe; and is called a "principle" only because it is an indispensable factor and the deus ex machina of the living man.[3]

Although the student can no longer look on Prâna as one of the Seven Principles, since it is the Universal Life, he must not forget that it vivifies all, as Prânic energy. Every Principle is a differentiation of Jîva, and the life-motion in each is Prâna, “the Breath of Life.” It is Nephesh: and Jîva becomes Prâna only when the child is born. . . . As an example, a sponge may be immersed in an ocean; the water in the sponge’s interior may be compared to Prâna; the water outside is Jîva. Prâna is the motor-principle in life. The Body leaves Prâna, Prâna does not leave it. Take out the sponge from the water, and it becomes dry––thus symbolizing death.[4]

The activity of prana in human beings is said to be septenary, as anything else in the universe:

For Prâna (or life) has, strictly speaking, two vehicles . . . Linga-Śarîra, or astral body, is the vehicle of the life principle, or spirit life; while Kâma-rûpa is the vehicle of the physical or material essence. In other words, the three higher principles of the septenary of Prâna reside in the astral body, while the four lower principles have their seat in Kâma-rûpa. . . . Therefore, as Kâma-rûpa is the vehicle of the grossest of that form, that Prâna the astral body has got, is a vehicle of the spirit of the life principle, because it is connected with the higher principles of the triad and not with the quaternary.[5]

Leadbeater's view

C. W. Leadbeater talked about a "vitality globule" composed of seven atoms charged with prāna, which are seen by the clairvoyant as having different colors (violet, blue, yellow, green, rose, orange, and red). When the globule is absorbed by the body, it is decomposed in the spleen in its original seven atoms, and five different streams or rays are produced (violet-blue, yellow, green, rose, and orange-red). These streams flow through the different chakras and circulate around the body, giving energy to the various organs.[6] Leadbeater associates the five streams with the five prānas in Hinduism as follows: Prāna (yellow), Apāna (orange-red), Udāna (violet-blue), Samāna (green), and Vyāna (rose).[7]

Fiery Lives

Prana has also been identified with the "Fiery Lives". Mme. Blavatsky wrote in The Secret Doctrine:

Fire alone is ONE, on the plane of the One Reality: on that of manifested, hence illusive, being, its particles are fiery lives which live and have their being at the expense of every other life that they consume. Therefore they are named the “DEVOURERS.”. . . “Every visible thing in this Universe was built by such LIVES, from conscious and divine primordial man down to the unconscious agents that construct matter.”[8]

It might be supposed that these “fiery lives” and the microbes of science are identical. This is not true. The “fiery lives” are the seventh and highest subdivision of the plane of matter, and correspond in the individual with the One Life of the Universe, though only on that plane. The microbes of science are the first and lowest sub-division on the second plane — that of material prana (or life). The physical body of man undergoes a complete change of structure every seven years, and its destruction and preservation are due to the alternate function of the fiery lives as “destroyers” and “builders.” They are “builders” by sacrificing themselves in the form of vitality to restrain the destructive influence of the microbes, and, by supplying the microbes with what is necessary, they compel them under that restraint to build up the material body and its cells. They are “destroyers” also when that restraint is removed and the microbes, unsupplied with vital constructive energy, are left to run riot as destructive agents. Thus, during the first half of a man’s life (the first five periods of seven years each) the “fiery lives” are indirectly engaged in the process of building up man’s material body; life is on the ascending scale, and the force is used in construction and increase. After this period is passed the age of retrogression commences, and, the work of the “fiery lives” exhausting their strength, the work of destruction and decrease also commences.[9]

In his book Septenary Man Jerome A. Anderson wrote:

The human body, then, is built up of countless hosts of molecules synthesized into cells by units of consciousness having their normal existence upon the molecular plane. These latter derive their energy and vitality from those which the "Secret Doctrine" terms "fiery lives"—that is to say, from the almost homogeneous, electrical "world stuff" which represents the dawn of cosmic differentiation, and whose center of energy is the sun. The infinitely active energies of these fiery lives, radiating as that which we recognize as light, heat, electricity, vital force, etc., are intercepted and directed or synthesized in order to construct molecular bodies by units of consciousness descending to the molecular plane. The action is similar to that of the millwright who takes advantage of the flowing stream of water to direct it through his turbine wheels to move his machinery.[10]

While the force of the downward cycle of a reembodying entity is sufficient to control into an orderly sequence the action of the fiery lives, yet, when that cycle begins to wane, the force relaxes, and, from being "builders," these now become "destroyers"; and their energies, no longer controlled by the "elemental" which synthesizes the human body, are seized upon by the numberless parasites, or "microbes," which infest it, and utilized to finally break up the form which the same energies originally constructed.[11]

Annie Besant's view

Annie Besant talked about two kinds of vitality that she called "Automatic Vitality" and "Energising Vitality". The former is mediated by lower "infinitesimal invisible lives [that] compose the atoms of the bodies",[12] while the latter is regulated by the higher "Fiery Lives". In her own words:

These [infinitesimal invisible] “lives” which, separate and independent, are the minute vehicles of Automatic Vitality, aggregated together form the molecules and cells of the physical body, and they stream in and stream out, during all the years of bodily life, thus forming a continual bridge between man and his environment. Controlling these are the “Fiery Lives”, Energising Vitality, which constrain these to their work of building up the cells of the body, so that they work harmoniously and in order, subordinated to the higher manifestation of life in the complex organism called Man. These Fiery Lives on our plane correspond, in this controlling and organising function, with the One Life of the Universe, and when they no longer exercise this function in the human body, the lower lives run rampant, and begin to break down the hitherto definitely organised body.[13]

The Energising Vitality exercises its controlling and co-ordinating force through the Liṅga-śarīra until at Death the latter breaks its connection to the physical body and is withdrawn from it.

In Hinduism

According to Hindu philosophy there are five pranas or vital currents that sustain physiological processes.[14] They are:

Name Function
Prāṇa Beating of the heart and breathing. Prana enters the body through the breath and is sent to every cell through the circulatory system.
Apāna Elimination of waste products from the body through the lungs and excretory systems.
Uḍāna Sound production through the vocal apparatus, as in speaking, singing, laughing, and crying.
Samāna All metabolic processes from digestion of food to cell metabolism. Samana also includes the heat regulating processes of the body.
Vyāna Expansion and contraction of cardio-vascular system and muscles in general.

Online resources



  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 136.
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 260.
  3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), 176.
  4. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 707.
  5. Michael Gomes (transcriber), The Secret Doctrine Commentaries (The Hague: I.S.I.S. foundation, 2010), 493-494.
  6. Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Chakras (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), 53-54.
  7. Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Chakras (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), 61.
  8. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 249-250.
  9. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 262-263.
  10. Jerome A. Anderson, Septenary Man: Or The Microcosm Of The Macrocosm, (San Francisco, CA: The Lotus Publishing Company, 1895), 29.
  11. Jerome A. Anderson, Septenary Man: Or The Microcosm Of The Macrocosm, (San Francisco, CA: The Lotus Publishing Company, 1895), 29-30.
  12. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 261.
  13. Annie Besant, Death--And After?, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), 15.
  14. Rammurti S. Mishra, Yoga Sutras: The Textbook of Yoga Psychology (New York: The Julian Press Inc., 1987), 272-273