The Self of Prana, the Life-Force

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, Chapter Two (part 2): “Now there is a second and inner Self which is other than this that is of the substance of food; and it is made of the vital stuff called Prana.  And the Self of Prana filleth the Self of food.  Now the Self of Prana is made in the image of a man; according as is the human image of the other, so is it in the image of the man.  The main Breath is the head of him, the breath pervasor is his right side and the lower breath is his left side; ether is his spirit which is the self of him, earth is his lower member whereon he resteth abidingly.  Whereof this is the Scripture.”

The Taittiriya Upanishad enunciates the complexity of the universal creation by describing successively more subtle levels of consciousness which together make up the human being.  Western psychology has struggled to resolve issues because it has, to a great degree, tried to treat the individual as a complete being without recognizing that there are entirely different orders of activity that have different needs, different modes of action and different energetic principles, all interacting with one another and to some extent limiting and modifying the action of each other.   Of course, certain branches of Western psychology have begun to explore this area, such as in the work done by C.G. Jung.  The Taittiriya Upanishad makes it clear that each of these different energetic principles constitutes a “Self” or being that operates under its own methods, and that each one, in the human being, is limited and affected in its native action by the foundation of the other principles.  Thus, there is a vital being which fills and acts upon the material frame, and which at the same time is limited by the density and exigencies of the material form in its own native action.  Gaining an understanding of these different beings that constitute the human individuality helps the seeker to focus on specific issues and the energetic approach needed to resolve them and thus leads to a more fruitful outcome.

Sri M. P. Pandit observes:  “Even as on the physical plane man has a physical nature governed by the physical purusa, soul, so also on this life level, there is a life-soul governing his life-nature.  Brahman or Atman stations himself as the pranamaya purusa supporting and filling from within the outer annamaya purusa.

He goes on to cite Sri Aurobindo’s comments from On Yoga:  “the spirit can be poised in the principle of Life, not in Matter.  The Spirit so founded becomes the vital self of a vital world, the Life-soul of a Life-energy in the reign of a dynamic Nature.   … In the individual this spirit becomes a vital soul, … in whose nature the life-energies tyrannise over the mental and physical principle.   … This vital soul lives in a vital body composed of a substance much subtler than physical matter, it is a substance surcharged with conscious energy, capable of much more powerful perceptions, capacities, sense-activities than any that the gross atomic elements of earth-matter can offer.  Man, too, has in himself behind his physical being, subliminal to it, unseen and unknown but very close to it and forming with it the most naturally active part of his existence, this vital soul, this vital nature and this vital body; a whole vital plane connected with the life-world or desire-world is hidden in us, a secret consciousness in which life and desire find their untrammelled play and their easy self-expression and from there throw their influences and formations on our outer life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, pp.265-274, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182