Prana: The Life-Force – II – M.S. Srinivasan

praTransformation of Prana

Indian Yogic tradition has evolved many disciplines for the purification, liberation and transformation of Prana ranging from the physico-vital methods of pranayama to the spiritual methods of karma yoga. The way of approach also differs widely in various systems from drastic ascetic suppression in some to gradual sublimation in others. But contrary to popular conceptions, the general trends of thought and practice of Indian culture in dealing with the vital force in man is towards a gradual sublimation of its motives and not a drastic suppression or killing of its energies.

Taming the Inner Horse

The dominant motives of the vital-force in man are power, enjoyment, conquest, mastery, achievement and the need for creative self-expression. All these are legitimate needs of the vital being in man. Any attempt towards excessive ascetic suppression of these motives may lead to an impoverishment of the vital force and as a result an uncreative and sterile spirituality or mysticism lacking in creative dynamism and force to act puissantly on the environment and the world around.

From the spiritual or yogic point of view there cannot be any compromise with the principle of elimination of desire from the vital force. But the extreme ascetic method tends to throw the baby along with the bath-water. The problem here is how to eliminate the disturbance caused by desire in the vital force and resolve it into its original spiritual source.

The Indian yoga approaches the problem from different levels. First at the physicovital level, a preliminary purification and tranquilsation of physical prana through a system of asanas and pranayama; next at the level of chitta-manas, a system of ethical discipline for subduing rajasic desire in the psychic prana. But the ultimate resolution of the problem can be achieved only by working at the spiritual level. And the most comprehensive and infallible spiritual solution to the problem is presented in the karma-yoga of the Githa. Here we will briefly touch upon the essential insights of the Gita’s approach in dealing with the problem of desire in the vital force in man.

The Way of Gita

The Divine incarnate in Githa says “I am Desire not opposed to Dharma”. This means that Desire which is in harmony with Dharma is not undivine. Dharma is all that is in harmony with the Laws of human and universal nature and therefore helps in the evolutionary growth of individuals and the community. But the laws of individual human nature are infinitely complex and variable, differing widely in natural temperament, capacity and evolutionary condition. For the individual, dharma is all that is in harmony with his natural psychological temperament swadharma and the evolutionary condition of his being. This means what is Dharma for a particular individual cannot be the same for others who are differently constituted and in a different stage of evolution.

So natural propensities and desires of individuals which raise spontaneously from the Dharma of his nature is not unspiritual; they should not be suppressed or killed or rejected in an ascetic spirit but have to be harnessed in creative and socially constructive occupation which are in harmony with their swadharma and under the uplifting control and guidance of some higher values and ideals which are in harmony with the dharma of the higher nature of their typal personality. For example there is a type of personality which corresponds to the faculty of will-power in man called as kshathria in the Indian psychology. The natural temperament of the kshathria is that of the warrior and the leader with the urge for power, conquest, adventure and mastery. The desire for power is a natural urge of the kshathria and this urge should be channelised in political, administrative and military occupations which gives him the opportunity to exercise power. 8ut at the same time this natural urge for power of the kshathria has to be kept under check and elevated to higher level by imposing on him some higher ideals and values which correspond to the higher nature of his swadharma.  For the kshathria like  justice, benevolence, protection of the weak, patriotism, chivalry, readiness to self-sacrifice etc., These are some of the psychological principles behind the ancient Indian social order.

Sublimation of Desire

We must remember here that desire, as we have said already, is a helper in the evolutionary progress of the individual upto a certain stage. It is desire which awakens the individual from the state of tamasic indolence to the dynamic and creative throb of life. We must also keep in mind that total renunciation of desire is a very advanced stage in the path. And until the individual is psychologically and spiritually ready for this highest renunciation, motivational potentialities of Desire has to be wisely utilised for the evolutionary progress of the individual.

So even after the individual is awakened to the higher spiritual life and entered the yogic path, the natural propensities and desires raising spontaneously from the inborn nature of the seeker need not be rejected entirely; they have to be allowed and sublimated through creative self-expression in activities like art, music, poetry, or other literary activities or in organisational, administrative and service activities according to the natural inclination of the seeker. But in the yogic life all these activities have to be done in the spirit of yoga, that is, without ego, self-will and self- seeking and in a spirit of service to the spiritual ideal. This is the ideal and path of karma yoga of the Githa.

Selfless Action

The central “strategy” of the karma yoga of the Githa is to loosen the knot of desire in the vital-force and will in man through selfless or disinterested and god-centred action. But the “disinterestedness” expected from the karma yogin is not the altruistic and secular ideal of “duty for duty’s sake”, What Githa demands from the karma yogi is a spiritual disinterestedness which consists of two inner attitudes to action: first, renunciation of the fruits of action, thyaga and doing all action, both inner and outer,, as sacrifice to the divine power Yajna. This is the ultimate spiritual solution which Indian yoga offers in dealing with the problem of desire and the transformation of the vital force in man.

So the Githa’s way of dealing with the vital force and its central problem of desire is to sublimate, refine, subtlisise and depersonalise its motives until it reaches the highest level of disinterestedness it is capable of and consents to become an obedient instrument of the spirit. In this last stage of transformation the desire-motive is resolved back into its parent source and disappears into the pure will of the spirit.

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