Invoking Hanuman: The Relationship of Rasa and Prana in the Science of Pranayama

Today, while searching through my library of Sanskrit e-texts, I discovered an awesome Gayatri practice. Every month I offer a new guided Gayatri practice to my Patreon community drawn from this library (all are previously unpublished and probably unknown to modern practitioners). 

This one really caught my eye, partly because I am currently teaching a Webinar series on the ‘Tantrik Science of Prānāyāma’. It invokes Hanuman as the personification of our life force when empowered through three part Tantrik pranayama practice.

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~ Tantric Hanumān Gāyatrī ~

OṂ śabda-rāśāya vidmahe |

OṂ vāyu-putrāya dhīmahi |

OṂ tan no hanumat pracodayāt || 3x ||

“May we draw our awareness (vidmahe) to the Rasa evoked from that [sacred] sound [of oṃ rising]; [in so doing,] May we meditate on the son of the Wind God. May Hanumān Guide our lives!”

Click here to access the guided practice in my Patreon community; it is included in the $5.00 tier.

In this rare and unique Gayatri practice, the monkey hero of the epic Raṃayaṇa, Hanuman, son of Vayu (the wind god), personifies the power of praṇayama in Tantrik Yoga practice. This power allows yogins to tap into a reservoir of subtle ‘nutrient fluid’ (rasa), said to have powered our very first breath. Located at a point measuring ’12 fingers’ above the skull door, this reservoir of immortalizing Rasa became the central target of Tantrik Yoga practice.

(For more on this subject, join me in my current webinar series, ‘The Science of Tantrik Pranayāma: Earliest Roots’. This Sunday we will immerse in the earliest Tantrik teaching revealed to the West on this incredible praṇyama-based science (Kalottara Tantra). For more info, click here.)

Back to our Hanuman Gayatri. This is made clear in the first line (sabda-rasaya vidmahe). Here, the term rasa is paired with ‘sound’ (sabda). The term rasa can mean several things: taste (as in something that great tasting), water, etc. But the Tantras give another, more technical rendering, one derived from ancient Ayurveda texts such as the Caraka Saṃhita. This is rasa as ‘nutrient fluid,’ specifically fluid of the womb that nourishes the embryo. Of course, at this stage of development, the embryo is not yet sustained by the act of breathing, but by this ‘nutrient fluid,’ generated by the Mother’s body. In fact, the Tantriks recognized an interesting and ultimately vital difference between rasa and vayu. For while in the womb, rasa does more than just sustain the embryo. It is invested with a potency which also grows the child. In contrast, once born, our life force becomes dependent on respiration. The Tantriks understood that the act of ordinary breathing—calculated at 21,600 rounds a day—has a finite capacity to sustain life. In other words, unconscious, simple respiration does not provide a way to invigorate a the body with a potent supply of vital energy (jivanam).

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Definition of Prana

Praṇa is defined in the formative Kalottara Tantra as ‘that which effects the continuation of life force.’ It does not mean ‘breath’ per se; the term used for breath is typically vayu (lit. ‘wind’). Rather, praṇa is vital force (sakti) imbued with primal intelligence, which directs rasa (nutrient fluid) in the womb, and the ‘wind’ of breath in and out of the body after birth. In the Kalottara (and all other Tantras), after we are born, praṇa splits first into five, and then ten major subtle currents which take care of primal functions of the body (digestion, circulation of blood, etc.). Diversified into these activities, the supply of praṇa (unless invigorated somehow) eventually wanes in the body, which results in aging, disease, and finally death. Fortunately, the Tantriks found a solution to this problem. The result became core to the daily pan-tantrik yoga practice, called the Yogavidhi (lit. ‘Ritual Practice Sequence of Yoga’), the practices of which are sometimes referred to as ‘haṭhayoga.’

So how can praṇa be invigorated? Our first breath outside the womb is of course an inhalation; no longer are we dependent on the rasa (nutrient fluid) entering the body through the umbilical chord. Now the life force which animates this body (praṇa) is drawn down through the susumna naḍi (central channel) through the crown of the head; this action triggers the inhalation of air (oxygen) through the nose; once the descending vital current meets this air at the nasal bridge, just below the third eye, our life force thereafter  becomes dependent on respiration. As this happens, a subtle but formidable ‘knot’ (granthi) develops at the palate level in the subtle body. This cuts off the access of praṇa from its source – meaning from the point from where our life force first descends through the crown of the head. This point, the Tantras unanimously report, is located 12 fingers above the crown of the head.

What if we could somehow gather and utilize the power of praṇa which remains available to us (as breathing beings) to break through this palate ‘knot’? What happens if this subtle force, riding the power of controlled breath retentions,  could somehow be launched upwards to this point above the crown of the head? What will be found there?

To answer this, we must remember that the claim to fame of the Tantriks is the realization that the single, omnipotent, omnipresent force sustaining the universe is sound. All Tantrikas credit the Kalottara (‘Beyond Time’) Tantra for this revelation:

“God (or ‘divinity’) exists everywhere.  That which is universally present on the physical, subtle, and transcendent planes of existence has a name:

RESONANCE (nadakhyam).”

-Kalottara Tantra in 350 Verses; excerpted from Chapter I, verses 5-8

The Tantriks discovered that the primal syllable (pranava), a mono-syllabic tone comprised wholly of vowels which both emerges from, and coalesces into a pentrating seed vibration. As the Tantrik enhancement (or correction) of the Vedic praṇava OṂ, the final ‘letter’ of this syllable is the seed point (pronounced like the sound of an infinite bee buzz ‘nnnnggg…’). It is not the consonant ‘MA’ as suggested by the early Vedics. Krishna, in the 8th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, became the first authority (as the personification of brahman, the absolute) to make this point.  

Thus the heart of the Tantrik Yogavidhi became the ‘OM RISING’ practice, or UCCHARA, which utilized a three-part praṇayama technique which draws the collective praṇic currents into the navel, the power of which is used to drive the renovated ‘OṂ’ sound through the palate knot through an ensuing outbreath.

What happens then? The palate represents the entrance to the ‘womb’ of breath. Remember how the subtle praṇa was first ‘born’ into the body just after the baby exists her mother’s womb? The ‘womb’ of the ajna cakra, the ‘center of empowerment’ or ‘self-sovereignty,’ receives the ‘seed’ of the final tone in the OṂ syllable, the ‘nnnggg’ sound, which penetrates upward through the crown of the skull. Sound, therefore, is used to ride the current of subtle prana to that mysterious point located ‘12 fingers’ above the skull door.  

There, RASA awaits. This rasa is reminiscent of the Rasa found in embryonic fluid. Here we have a more subtle variation, namely the ‘nutrient fluid’ which first dispatches the life force of the ‘living soul’ (jiva) down into the body at birth, through the skull door. This reservoir of Rasa is now ‘drunk’ by the experienced yogin, via the distinct sequence of practices comprising the aforementioned Yogavidhi, prescribed in all Tantras. Sound is used to access this Rasa, referred to as ‘immortal nectar’ due to its effects. For this Rasa power is to invigorate the body, to reverse aging, to destroy disease, so says 1600+ years worth of (mostly unpublished) teachings which detail this yoga science, and 1600+ years of testimonies from men and women who claim to have tasted this Rasa, the reward of successful practice. 

Don’t take my word for it. The science is clearly given in our sources. Even the calculations of how much vital strength is drawn down into the body each time we connect the ‘OM RISING’ sound to the reservoir of this ‘nutrient fluid.’ This is where the power (sakti) that births the breath, as the living breathing animating principle of awareness in to the body, exists.

In part II of my current Webinar Series, ‘The Science of Tantrik Pranayama: Earliest Roots’, we will read the earliest Tantrik passage revealed to the West on this praṇyama-based science (from the Kalottara Tantra). For more information on this webinar, please click here.

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