Chapter 24 — Bhushunda Describes Vital Air as the Living Principle

Bhushunda continued:—

All things in the view of the wise being unstable, unprofitable and unpleasant to man, there is only one reality which is beyond all error and imperishable, which though present in all things and all places transcends the knowledge of all. This essence is the Soul or Self and meditation on it removes all sorrow and affliction. It is also the destroyer of the false vision of the world which has affected every man and biased his understanding by long habit of thinking this phantom of his dream to be a sober reality.

Spiritual contemplation dawns in the clear atmosphere of an unpolluted mind and traverses the entire mind like sunlight destroying the darkness of all sorrows and false thoughts. Divine meditation, unaccompanied by any desire or selfish view, penetrates like moonbeams through the darkness of the night of ignorance. 5 This spiritual light is easily obtainable by sages like you, and too difficult to be retained by brutes like ourselves. Because it is beyond all imaginable resemblance, it is known by the spiritual sages as the transcendent light.

How can a man of common understanding come to know the clear understanding of the meditative sage? There is a little resemblance between this spiritual light and the intellectual light of philosophers, whose minds are enlightened by the cooling moonbeams of philosophy, just as the minds of inspired saints are illuminated with spiritual light. Among the associates of spiritual knowledge, there is one particularly friendly to me which alleviates all my sorrows and advances my prosperity, and thus relates to the investigation of the vital breath which is the cause of life.

Vasishta said:—

After speaking in this manner the sagely bird Bhushunda held his silence. I calmly spoke and asked my question by way of amusement, though I was full well acquainted with the subject. 10 I addressed him saying, “O you long living bird and remover of all my doubts, tell me truly, my good friend, what you mean by meditation of the vital breath?”

11 Bhushunda replied:—

Sage, you are learned in the knowledge of Vedanta with sure answers for all questions about spiritual science. You are now joking with me, asking this question of me who is only a brute bird and an ignorant crow. 12 Or perhaps you may be testing my shallow knowledge of the subject with an idea to instruct me where my knowledge is imperfect. Either way, I have no objection.

13 Listen as I tell you something related to meditation on vital breath, which is the cause of my longevity and the giver of my spiritual knowledge. 14 Sage, this beautiful fabric of the body, supported upon the three strong pillars of the three humors and having nine doorways about it, 15 is the home of its owner, the haughty householder (egoism) who always dwells in it with his favorite consort, the subtle body (puryashtaka) and his dependants, the five subtle forms of matter (tanmatras). 16 You well know the inside of this house, so I need not describe it.

Its two ears are like its two upper story rooms. The two eyes are as its two windows, and the hairs on the head are like its thatched covering on the top of the house. 17 The opening of the mouth is the great doorway to the house. The two arms are like its two wings. The two sets of teeth are like strings of flowers hung on the gateway for decoration. 18 The organs of sense are the porters to this house, conveying sights, sounds, flavors and feelings to it. These are enclosed by the great wall of the body, and the two eyes keep watch on the tower of this edifice. 19 The blood, fat and flesh form the plaster of this wall, and the veins and arteries are the strings that bind the bamboo bones together. The thick bones are the big posts that uphold this fabric.

20 There are two tender nerves, the energy channels (nadis) called ida and pingala, which lie and stretch along the two sides of this building. 21 There are three pairs of lotus-like organs formed of soft flesh and bones, and these stretch up and down vertically in the body, attached to one stalk-like artery connecting them with one another.

22 The ethereal air inhaled through the nostrils supplies these lotus-form organs with moisture, like water poured on their roots, making them shoot out in soft leaflets that shake gently with the breath of air passing constantly through the lungs and nostrils. 23 The shaking leaves agitate the vital energy like moving leaves of the trees in a forest increase the force of air currents in the sky. 24 The inflated vital energy then passes in many ways through holes in the entrails inside the body, and extends and fills all the pores and canals of the frame from top to bottom. 25 Those who are skilled in pranayama, the science of vital energy, give them different names according to their course, such as the fivefold vital energies of prana, apana, samana, udana, and vyana.

26 All the vital powers reside in the triple lotus-form organ of the heart, and from there extend up and down and on all sides like beams from the moon. 27 These vital powers are employed passing in and out, taking in and letting out, rising and falling, and moving throughout the body. 28 The learned say that prana, the energy or air of life, is situated in the lotus-form organ of the heart and also has the power of moving the eyelids when they twinkle. 29 This power sometimes assumes the form of touch or the feeling of perception, and at others it takes the shape of breath by blowing through the nostrils. Sometimes it is seated in the stomach for digestive action, and often it gives utterance to speech.

30 What more shall I say, other than that it is our lord the air that moves the whole machine of the body, just as a mechanic models everything by means of his machinery. 31 Among these there are two principal airs, by name of prana and apana, which take their two different courses upward and downward. One is the breath of life and the other is the weakened that is let out. 32 It is by watching the course of these airs that I remain quietly at this place and undergo the changing fortunes of heat and cold, as is destined for the feathered tribe.

33 The body is a great machine and the two subtle energies are its indefatigable mover. It has the sun and moon, fire and moonlight, shining in the midst of its heart. 34 The body is a city and the mind is its ruler. The two airs are like the chariot and wheels of the body. Egoism is the monarch of this city, and the eight members are like so many horses attached to the car of the body. 35 Thus by watching the motion of those airs, I find the course of my life to be as interminable as the continuity of my breaths.

36 The vital airs serve the body in all its states of waking, dreaming and sound sleep. His days glide on imperceptibly who remains in his state of profound sleep. 37 These breaths of subtle energy divide into a thousand threads as they pass through the many canals of the body. They are as imperceptible as the white fibers inside the stalks of lotus plants. 38 By watching the constant course of vital airs, by attending to the continued course of time, by thinking of the interminable course of his breaths and the moments of time and the parade of his thoughts, and by attempting to restrain their course by the habit and practice of pranayama, one is sure to lengthen the duration of his life in this world and attain eternal life in the next.