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The Psychic Prana
by Swami Vivekananda



Editor’s Note from Christina Seluzicki: Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) is considered to be a major figure in Vedanta and Yoga, and is particularly known for his role in introducing these philosophies to Europe and America. These notes on a lecture given by Vivekananda in 1896 as part of a "Beginners' Classes" series, provide a fascinating journey through the spine and the mysterious energy known as Kundalini. 

In 1895-96 Swami Vivekananda gave Raja Yoga classes in New York (228 W. 39th St.). The "Beginners' Classes" form the first part of Swamiji's book Raja Yoga. The second part of the book is a combination of Swamiji's dictation to Ms. Waldo and J. J. Goodwin's transcripts of Swamiji's "Advanced Classes"--all much edited by Ms. Waldo, Swamiji himself and, later on, by E. T. Sturdy. His talk on "The Psychic Prana" is one of the Beginners' Classes and was given on January 4, 1896. It is included in the book Raja Yoga as also in the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda.

Ida and Pingala

According to the Yogis, there are two nerve currents in the spinal column, called Pingala and Ida, and a hollow canal called Sushumna running through the spinal cord. At the lower end of the hollow canal is what the Yogis call the "Lotus of the Kundalini". They describe it as triangular in form in which, in the symbolical language of the Yogis, there is a power called the Kundalini, coiled up. When that Kundalini awakes, it tries to force a passage through this hollow canal, and as it rises step by step, as it were, layer after layer of the mind becomes open and all the different visions and wonderful powers come to the Yogi. When it reaches the brain, the Yogi is perfectly detached from the body and mind; the soul finds itself free.

We know that the spinal cord is composed in a peculiar manner. If we take the figure eight horizontally, there are two parts that are connected in the middle. Suppose you add eight after eight, piled one on top of the other, then that will represent the spinal cord. The left is the Ida, the right is the Pingala, and the hollow canal that runs through the center of the spinal cord is the Sushumna. Where the spinal cord ends in some of the lumbar vertebrae, a fine fiber issues downward, and the canal runs up within that fiber, and is even finer than the fiber. The canal is closed at the lower end, which is situated near what is called the sacral plexus, which, according to modern physiology, is triangular in form. The different plexuses that have their centers in the spinal canal can very well stand for the different "lotuses" of the Yogi.

Psychic Centers or "Lotuses"

The Yogi conceives of several centers, beginning with the Muladhara, the basic, and ending with the Sahasrara the thousand-petalled lotus in the brain. So, if we take the different plexuses as representing these lotuses, the idea of the Yogi can be understood very easily in the language of modern physiology. We know there are two sorts of actions in these nerve currents, one afferent [bearing impulses towards a nerve center], the other efferent [conveying impulses to an external organ]; one sensory and the other motor; one centripetal and the other centrifugal. One carries the sensations to the brain, and the other, from the brain to the outer body. These vibrations are all connected with the brain in the long run.

Several other facts we have to remember in order to clear the way for the explanation which is to come. This spinal cord, at the brain, ends in a sort of bulb, in the medulla, which is not attached to the brain but floats in a fluid in the brain, so that if there be a blow on the head, the force of that blow will be dissipated in the fluid and will not hurt the bulb. This is an important fact to remember. Secondly, we have also to know that, of all the centers, we have particularly to remember three: the Muladhara (the basic), the Sahasrara (the thousand-petalled lotus of the brain) and the Manipura (the lotus of the navel).

The Aim of Pranayama

Next we shall take one fact from physics. We all hear of electricity and various other forces connected with it. What electricity is no one knows, but so far as it is known, it is a sort of motion. There are various other motions in the universe; what is the difference between them and electricity? Suppose this table moves--that the molecules that compose this table are moving in different directions; if they are all made to move in the same direction, it will be through electricity. Electric motion makes the molecules of a body move in the same direction. If all the air molecules in a room are made to move in the same direction, it will make a gigantic battery of electricity of the room. Another point from physiology we must remember: the center which regulates the respiratory system, the breathing system, has a sort of controlling action over the system of nerve currents.

Now we shall see why breathing is practiced. In the first place, from rhythmical breathing comes a tendency of all the molecules in the body to move in the same direction. When mind changes into will, the nerve currents change into a motion similar to electricity, because the nerves have been proved to show polarity under the action of electric currents. This shows that when the will is transformed into the nerve currents, it is changed into something like electricity. When all the motions of the body have become perfectly rhythmical, the body has, as it were, become a gigantic battery of will. This tremendous will is exactly what the Yogi wants. This is, therefore, a physiological explanation of the breathing exercise. It tends to bring a rhythmic action in the body, and helps us, through the respiratory center, to control the other centers. The aim of Pranayama here is to rouse the coiled-up power in the Muladhara, called the Kundalini.


Everything that we see, or imagine, or dream, we have to perceive in space. This is the ordinary space, called the Mahakasha, or elemental space. When a Yogi reads the thoughts of others, or perceives supersensuous objects, he or she sees them in another sort of space called the Chittakasha, the mental space. When perception has become objectless and the soul shines in its own nature, it is called the Chidakasha, or knowledge space.

When the Kundalini is aroused, and enters the canal of the Sushumna, all the perceptions are in the mental space. When it has reached the end of the canal that opens out into the brain, the objectless perception is in the knowledge space. Taking the analogy of electricity, we find that we can send a current only along a wire,(1) but nature requires no wires to send her tremendous currents. This proves that the wire is not really necessary, but that only our inability to dispense with it compels us to use it.

The Rousing of the Kundalini

Thus the rousing of the Kundalini is the one and only way to attain divine wisdom, superconscious perception or realization of the spirit. The rousing may come in various ways, through love for God, through the mercy of perfected sages, or through the power of the analytic will of the philosopher. Wherever there was any manifestation of what is ordinarily called supernatural power or wisdom, there a little current of Kundalini must have found its way into the Sushumna. Only, in the vast majority of such cases, people had ignorantly stumbled on some practice that set free a small portion of the coiled-up Kundalini. All worship, consciously or unconsciously, leads to this end.

Those who think that they are receiving response to their prayers do not know that the fulfillment comes from their own nature, that they have succeeded by the mental attitude of prayer in waking up a bit of the infinite power that is coiled up within them. What people ignorantly worship under various names, through fear and tribulation, the Yogi declares to the world to be the real power coiled up in every being, the mother of eternal happiness, if we but know how to approach her. And Raja-Yoga is the science of religion, the rationale of all worship, all prayers, forms, ceremonies, and miracles.



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About the Author

A spiritual genius of commanding intellect and power, Vivekananda crammed immense labor and achievement into his short life, 1863-1902. Born in the Datta family of Calcutta, the youthful Vivekananda embraced the agnostic philosophies of the Western mind along with the worship of science.

At the same time, vehement in his desire to know the truth about God, he questioned people of holy reputation, asking them if they had seen God. He found such a person in Sri Ramakrishna, who became his master, allayed his doubts, gave him God vision, and transformed him into sage and prophet with authority to teach.

After Sri Ramakrishna's death, Vivekananda renounced the world and criss-crossed India as a wandering monk. His mounting compassion for India's people drove him to seek their material help from the West. Accepting an opportunity to represent Hinduism at Chicago's Parliament of Religions in 1893, Vivekananda won instant celebrity in America and a ready forum for his spiritual teaching.

For three years he spread the Vedanta philosophy and religion in America and England and then returned to India to found the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Exhorting his nation to spiritual greatness, he wakened India to a new national consciousness. He died July 4, 1902, after a second, much shorter sojourn in the West. His lectures and writings have been gathered into nine volumes.

For more information visit www.Vivekananda.org.




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