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Volume XIII - The Gathas

Part IV
Pasi Anfas: Breath


1.   The Power of Breath

It is difficult to define breath in a few words. Breath is the very life in beings, and what holds all the particles of the body together is the power of the breath, and when this power becomes less then the will loses its control over the body. As the power of the sun holds all the planets so the power of the breath holds every organ. Besides this the breath purifies the body by taking in new and fresh life and by giving out all gases that should be put out. It nourishes the body by absorbing from the space the spirit and substance that are necessary, and more necessary than all that man eats and drinks. The whole mechanism of the body works by the power of the breath, and every disorder in the working of the mechanism is caused by some irregularity in the breath. Therefore physicians feel disorder in the health of a patient by feeling his pulse or the beats of his heart. The physician will say that it is the physical illness of the body, which has caused the change in the pulsation and in the beats of the heart, but the mystic knows that it is caused by the breath.

The breath in its different aspects acts differently; in every direction the breath does a special work. The breath has a special work with every organ of the body, and it has its particular influence upon every element of which the physical body consists. Every movement that one makes is directed by the power of breath at the same time the breath alone has the power to stop any motion. For instance, walking, running, sitting, and standing are actions done by the power of breath, and trembling, shivering, or waving the hands or feet without control show lack of power in the breath. Diseases, especially such diseases as nervousness, palpitation of the heart, and paralysis come from lack of power of the breath. All lung diseases are caused by unclearness of the breath. Troubles in the brain and troubles in the intestines are also caused by lack of regularity of the breath. This shows that breath is the key to health, which is all happiness in life.

2.   The Culture of the Breath

Breath has various works to do in the mechanism of the body. Hunger and thirst, the power of eating and drinking, is given by the breath; the closing and opening of the eyes, and the activity of all the organs is directed by the power of the breath; the expelling of all gases and excrements also is directed by the breath. Therefore every activity of the body, outward and inward, is directed by the breath. Therefore it is disorder of the breath, which causes illness, and its order regulates the health. Many physicians now point out reasons for diseases, where mystics think of the breath and point out reasons in breathing. According to the point of view of the mystic a natural full breath gives perfect health, and to a mystic's view in a hundred people not one breathes rightly. Every Brahmin teaches his child a way of breathing when he is nine years old. As it is a common thing that everybody breathes incorrectly it rarely occurs to the mind that one's breath is incorrect.

The air taken in and sent out that one feels through the nostrils or lungs is what we ordinarily call breath. In reality, however, that is as the stem of a tree whose branches are many. According to the physician the lungs are the channel of the breath, but to the mystic the lungs are the branches of the tree, and other branches reach all parts of the body. This tree has a root in the body, and has centers where the branches meet the stem. There are five such centers in the body of man. The breath has its particular work in every center. By the study of mysticism one finds that man's life depends upon the working of the centers. Generally the centers are blocked up on the inner side of the body. Therefore they give but a dim light, if the breath be pictured as a gas and centers as lanterns. When the centers are not in a fit condition they are wasted; not only this, but man is deprived of the full experience of life.

Powers that are considered supernatural become natural when man leads a natural life. The first lesson of a natural life is right breathing. Many people breathe a half breath, many a quarter and many still less. Many diseases such as lung diseases, and nervous diseases, can be avoided by right breathing. It is a certain direction that the breath takes that brings about sleep, and it is the direction of the breath that brings vigor or fatigue. A man may, by the help of the breath, become stronger by doing physical exercises, and another by physical labor may become exhausted and worn out. The laborers in India who have to lift heavy weights have a certain way of breathing, and by understanding this they can lift a great deal and work a great deal and yet feel little fatigue. There are many reasons why people in general do not breathe rightly, but one among them is a lack of education in this. As health is more important than anything else on earth, and as health depends entirely upon the breath, which is the very life, it is necessary that the culture of the breath should be considered as of the highest importance.

3.   Prana

Breath in the Sufic term is called Nafas. The breath spreads through the whole body like a tree, and its stem is felt by man, and it is this stem which man in his everyday language calls breath. All the branches of this tree the mystic calls by different names. A mystic sees the whole body as a plant of the breath. Therefore in the Sanskrit language breath is called Prana, which means the very life. It spreads life and magnetism in all parts of the body, for breath in itself is life, and is magnetism. Deformity of form and feature is often caused by disorder of the breath. Lack of proportion of the body, in form and strength, is also caused by lack of order in the breath. By exercises for physical culture and exercises of voice production, breath can be developed in different parts of the body. It can especially be noticed in the fingers of the violinist that by constant practice on the violin he puts a sort of magnetism, of life, into the strings his fingers touch. This example is a plain proof that it is not the fingers that play nor the violin that sounds, but that they are instruments of life.

The importance of breath is only now becoming known to the scientific world, and there is much of this mystical subject which is unexplored. But mysticism has been founded on the science of breath. There is no mystic, whether Buddhist, Vedantist, or Sufi, who makes use of another process than that of the breath. Breath is the first lesson and it is also the last.

A mystic becomes capable of sending breath to any part of his body; thus he is able to send life, radiance and magnetism to any particle of his body. The question, 'Does he send the breath by his power of will?' can be simply answered by 'Yes,' and yet that is not enough. If there are no strings on the violin, you cannot play on it by will power. So long as the adept has not balanced his breath, and controlled it, and purified it, and mastered it, it cannot bring about the proper result. Therefore it is of no use to try to make use of breath for physical or occult attainments until one has caused the breath to be in such a condition that it can work properly in the body. Many therefore, are not successful in spiritual attainments because before making use of the breath in the body, they want to produce psychical phenomena. You cannot play Beethoven perfectly on a piano, which is out of tune. The body is the instrument for every experience, worldly or spiritual, and it is not right to say that the body does not matter, only the spirit counts. It is just like saying that it does not matter whether the instrument is tuned, it is the music that counts. The mechanism of the body is so made that in each direction breath accomplishes a certain work, even to such an extent that the degree of its strength differs on the right and left. By a deep study of breath a seeker after truth will find that, as every particle of his body is formed and nourished by breath, so from that and according to that his character is formed.

4.   Five Aspects of Breath

The mechanism of the body is dependent in its work upon five different aspects of breath, and these aspects are the five different directions of breath. In the Quran, and also in the Hebrew scriptures, these five breaths are known as the five angels. These aspects are thus pictured in their finer work in human life. Often their direction is spoken of by the prophets in symbolical terms, as it is said: One stands on the left side of man, one on the right, one before, one behind, one within him. When one aspect of these five is not working properly it brings disorder in the whole mechanism of the body. In eating and drinking, yawning and stretching and in all actions of everyday life these five aspects of breath have to take the lead.

Among these five aspects the first is the breath which is like the stem on the tree, and which one feels through the nostrils. By the purification, development and control of this breath, all five aspects are developed. There are atoms in man's body which form a certain organ, which are more or less active in different rhythms according as the breath reaches them. The atoms, which do not receive the proper breath, remain undeveloped, and therefore are inactive. As the centers of the body are situated in the center of the whole mechanism, it is natural that in the average person the breath does not reach their innermost part, as it ought to. The question, 'If it is natural that it should reach them, why does it not?' may be answered by saying that it is because man leads an artificial life. If man led a natural life it would not be necessary for him to develop by certain meditation processes the qualities that are latent in him. A horse, a dog, or a cat knows intuitively of death, disease or distress in the house in which it lives. The animals are considered by modern psychology to be without mind, and man, who is far superior to the lower creation and is the ideal of all beings, has not that intuitive power. The reason is that the animals lead a more natural life than man does, although even that is spoiled by contact with man. The cobra can attract its food from a mile's distance, but man must toil with his hands for his daily bread. In short, there are faculties in man which, by the artificiality of his life, are closed, and man lives an incomplete life. To live a fuller life the wise in all religions have taken the breath in hand and awakened atoms and centers, which are instruments for those faculties. As soon as breath touches those centers it makes them vibrate and then they do their work. Therefore breathing exercises given to a mureed are like the winding of a clock. Once in twenty-four hours the clock is wound and after that it goes on without effort.

5.   The Channel of the Breath

Breath is a channel through which all the expression of the innermost life can be given. Breath is an electric current that runs between the everlasting life and the mortal frame.

Those who have attained any intuition or miraculous power or any power have achieved it by the help of the breath. But the first essential thing is a pure channel for the breath, and that channel is the human body. If the channel is blocked, there is no possibility for the breath to flow freely. Air in itself is not bad, but when it touches the earth, it partakes the influence of the earth, and therefore can become polluted. So it is with the breath; breath in itself is pure, but if the channel through which it works is not right, it becomes impure.

The breath makes a circuit through the body, and the channel through which it makes the circuit is the spine. The mystics give this channel great importance; they call it the serpent. They picture it as a serpent holding its tail in its mouth. In almost all symbols the serpent represents the channel of the breath. In the terms of the Yogis it is called Kundalini. When this channel is made clear by the method of breathing then this is not only a help to the physical health but it also opens up the faculties of intuition and the doors that are within, where lies the real happiness of man. In order to clear this channel of all that blocks the way one must follow the rules of mystical ablutions and of rhythmic breathing. People who cannot understand the subject and who hear and read things by halves say that some chakras, centers, are opened by breathing exercises and that many kinds of distress may be the consequence. But looking at it from another point of view, one might as well say that the eyes of a child should never be opened, because he will thereby be exposed to temptations of all sorts. All virtue is in self-control; there is no virtue in being dead. Life is worthwhile only when a person leads it fully. People look for phenomena, but there is no better phenomena than breath itself, because breath is life and light, and in the breath is the source of life and light. In the mastery of breath the secret of both worlds is hidden.

6.   The Rhythm of Breath

Rhythm is the principal thing to be considered in breath, as it is on the rhythm of the breath that the working of the whole mechanism depends, and the chief reason of irregularity of the beats of the heart or head is lack of rhythm in the breath. As man generally neglects to think of his breath he overlooks the fact that his health entirely depends on rhythmic breath. Rhythm is the central theme of the whole creation. Therefore the infant moves his hands and legs by turns, forming a rhythm. This shows that nobody teaches anyone rhythm, it is natural to all beings. It is the rhythmic movement, which enables the fish to swim, and the serpent to climb trees. If rhythm were not an instinct the animal would never have known how to walk nor the bird how to fly. The life of man is so pulled from all sides, so divided, that he often forgets things that are most essential to his life, which the lower creatures seem to keep more correctly in their lives. Neatness in man's work and balance in man's actions show rhythm in him. When man shows lack of balance in his life and when his life is disturbed and all things seem to go wrong, it is most often that the rhythm of his breath has become wrong. Irregularity of activity and repose in the habits of life causes disorder of rhythm in the breath.

Very often the eastern mystical exercises are wrongly understood by many. When a teacher gives a breathing exercise to his pupil often he does not mean the breathing itself but rhythm. Thought given to the breath becomes a weight upon it and naturally holds it longer in its movement, altering it from what it would otherwise naturally be. It is the following of the rhythm of breath, and the keeping of the rhythm regular, which brings about the best results.

7.   Kasif and Latif

Breath is termed by Sufis Kasif and Latif ; Kasif means dense and Latif means fine. Dense breath is that which is noisy and labored, which strains the nerves and the lungs. The exercises of dense breath are useful for developing the muscles and for gaining control over the nerves; they are helpful also to the lungs and useful to the physical health. But in spiritual development unless the breath be made fine it cannot penetrate through the important centers in the body and it cannot reach far enough into the innermost parts of one's life.

Breath, to a Sufi, is a bridge between himself and God; it is a rope for him, hanging down to earth, attached to the heavens. The Sufi climbs up by the help of this rope. In the Quranic language it is called Buraq, a steed which was sent to the Prophet for his journey to the heavens. Hindus call it Prana, which means life, but they picture it symbolically as a bird which is named in Sanskrit, Garuda, on which rode Narayana, the godhead.

There is no mystical cult in which the breath is not given the greatest importance in spiritual progress. Once man has touched the depths of his own being by the help of the breath then it becomes easy for him to become at one with all that exists on earth and in heaven.

8.   Breath – The Vehicle of the Self

Breath is the mystery; in it is hidden the secret of life. Breath proves the existence of the life unseen. Breath is audible, at the same time inaudible. Breath is visible and at the same time invisible. It is a certain degree of the activity of the breath and the capacity through which it is acting which makes the breath audible. This shows that there exists something of which we are conscious, the source of which no one knows, which is active every moment of the day, on the model of which the mechanism of nature and art is made.

No one can explain whence it came into this mortal body, and no one can say whither it goes when it leaves this body of clay. One can only say that something living came and kept this mortal body alive and then left it, proving that the same body, which once was thought to be alive, was not really alive, but itself was the life. This proves to the intellect, even to that which is void of faith, that there is some source whence life comes, and that it returns again to the same source. Man's true self is the part of his being which knows itself to exist, which is conscious of itself. When that self takes breath as its vehicle instead of the body then it soars upward toward the utmost heights, toward that goal which is the source and origin of all beings.

9.   The Mysticism of Breath

Breath is audible and visible, and when a spiritual person, by spiritual exercises, strengthens and purifies the breath, it becomes more intelligible, as a light and a sound. Life and light, in truth, are one; the breath is the life, and it is the same breath which is light. Breath in fact is the light of all senses; the senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch perceive all things by the light of the breath. When the breath is absent from the body, the body with all its perfect mechanism becomes useless. It is natural, therefore, that every sense must become powerful and keen if the breath be developed and purified.

The reason why the ill and weak and people physically delicate generally see visions is that by the lack of flesh, fat and blood the veins and tubes of the body and the organs of all the senses are free and not blocked as they are in a muscular person. Therefore, naturally, the senses become keen and man perceives more than what is within the ordinary range of perception. Also such a person, when asleep, perceives the impressions from the inner world, because during sleep the inner sense, which may be called the root of the senses, turns its back, so to speak, on the external world and so begins to see the world within.

The mystic, by the help of exercises, develops and purifies the breath. Therefore to him, after a certain time, all things become clear in the outer and inner world. There are some who see light before them, there are some who notice colors before their view, also there are some who see forms before their sight. When they talk about it to others, who cannot observe the phenomena, they are considered imaginative; people often laugh at them. The Sufi, therefore, does not speak of any such experience to others; he thinks it is not their world and they will not be able to understand unless they also rise to that sphere. There is no motive for speaking about one's experiences to others except pride, and if someone does this out of vanity his next step will be exaggeration. If something makes anyone feel himself above others it is natural for him to feel inclined to make it still more impressive. Besides, it is in human nature to wish to interest one's friends in one's pleasure, and if someone is pleased with something he sees he will surely try to make it more interesting by a little added exaggeration. Therefore there are these two dangers on the spiritual path, of which the adept must be aware before making the journey. It is for this reason that mysticism has been made a secret cult, that it may not be for everybody to play with.

10.   Color and Sound

Breath in reality is light; but when it shoots forth its rays, according to the direction of the rays and the capacity which takes this light, the colors manifest. Form and color both depend upon the direction the light takes and upon the degree of light. Nothing on earth is meaningless; every occurrence has its meaning and every moment has its purpose. Even the colors that manifest in the light of the breath have their meaning, which coincides with the moment and the conditions then. There are attempts being made of taking photographs of thoughts and feelings, and some have even attempted to photograph the spirits. It is difficult to say how far this attempt can be successful. No doubt it gives a great scope to falsehood. If there is any means of seeing a spirit, a form from the inner world, it is only breath – that in the light of breath a form from the inner world can manifest as a picture from the magic lantern. The picture actually is in the lantern, and it is the reflection of that picture which we see. Those who can see the form of the dead, see the reflection before them manifested in the light of their own breath, the real form being still in the inner world. For it is the breath which connects the inner world with the outer world, just as the light thrown from the magic lantern falls upon the curtain.

There are many who believe that there is a color or a note which belongs to a particular person, and this question gives, no doubt, a great scope for confusion and puzzle. Many people are anxious to know what note really belongs to them or what color is their special color. In point of fact, this question can be looked at from two different points of view, one symbolic and the other metaphysical. From the symbolical point of view, every person is, so to speak, tuned to a certain pitch in his particular evolution, and he stands with another person just as C on the piano may stand with G, or E of the pianoforte with A. This shows the reason why a person can get on with a certain person harmoniously, and with another inharmoniously. It is not the fault of the F or G on the piano that they sound inharmonious together, it is the combination, which causes the inharmony. It is not always the note, which is inharmonious; it is a wrong combination, which makes it so. Spiritual perfection makes man the keynote, which is in harmony with all notes; and even that perfection shown to the world by Christ caused his crucifixion. Metaphysically, this question may be explained that there is a certain degree of life in a person which can be distinguished by his breath, and that degree shows itself to the seer in color and sound. Those who have not reached the degree of that power which perceives the tone and color of breath, can perceive it by the voice and expression of man.



checked 2-nov-2015