What is Prāṇa Pratiṣṭhā?

By editor - 15.5 2024

Table of Contents 

1 Prāṇa Pratiṣṭhā and the Tortoise
2 Attitudes of the Iconoclasts
3 The Scientific Process of Perception
4 The Sāñkhya Process of Perception
5 The Vision of the Sun and the Moon
6 Can We Convince the Scientists?
7 The Creation of the Material World
8 The Quantum Measurement Problem
9 The Person and the Worshipped Deity
10 The Spreading of Consciousness

Prāṇa Pratiṣṭhā and the Tortoise

In Bhagavad Gita 2.58, Lord Kṛṣṇa compares the senses of a person to the limbs of a tortoise: One who is able to withdraw his senses from sense objects, as the tortoise draws its limbs within the shell, is firmly fixed in perfect consciousness. The inward and outward movement of the senses is based on Prāṇa, which operates under the control of our will. When we wish, the Prāṇa moves outward, attaches itself to something in the world, extracts the properties of that thing, and then moves inward. That outward extension and inward retraction of the Prāṇa is called Pratyakṣa or direct perception. This process is just like a tortoise moving its limbs inward and outward (except that limb movement is Prāṇa movement). The senses go outward to know the world and then go inward to extract the world’s properties.

The same principle of the inward and outward movement of the Prāṇa is involved in the establishment of a deity, which is called Prāṇa Pratiṣṭhā, or situating the Prāṇa in the deity, after which the deity can be worshipped pretty much as the person whose Prāṇa has been established. The deity of a person is like the extended limbs of a tortoise. The extension pertains to the Prāṇa rather than the person. Basically, the person extends their Prāṇa to the deity to interact with the persons worshipping the deity quite like a person moves their Prāṇa outward and inward to interact with something in the external world.

Prāṇa Pratiṣṭhā is the process by which a powerful personality spreads their presence throughout the universe via deities, without leaving their place of residence, quite like a tortoise spreads its limbs. The Supreme Lord is not the only person who can spread His Prāṇa. This is also possible for other powerful personalities like demigods, who are present in the world through concepts. For example, the demigod Chandra (the lunar deity) is the personification of sweetness, which can be present in smells, tastes, colors, words, and thoughts. Chandra expands his Prāṇa through his sense of smell, taste, and sight, the sense of speech, and the mind to become various kinds of sweetness. He is the creator, controller, and enjoyer of sweetness. Therefore, when sweetness abounds, we say that Chandra is present in it.

When a great saintly person dies, his body is buried, and that samadhi is treated as a deity. Even as the soul has left the body, the Prāṇa of the saintly person is extended. Of course, one must know the science of extending the Prāṇa and having the power to do that before his samadhi should be made. Through that samadhi, the saintly person can interact with people still in the world as if he were near them.

Attitudes of the Iconoclasts

The deity is not identical to the person being worshipped through the deity. For example, if the deity is broken, then the person is not killed. Rather, the Prāṇa that had previously been extended to the deity is withdrawn, and the deity ceases to interact with the worshippers. The same deity can be repaired and the Prāṇa can be reestablished to worship the person through that deity again. Alternatively, Prāṇa can be established through another deity and the same person would be worshipped through that deity.

During colonial times in India, invaders frequently invaded temples and broke the deities. Such people are called iconoclasts. They equate the person to the deity and think that if they broke the deity then they would have killed the god being worshipped. It was their way of asserting power over the deity worshippers. They would claim that by the power of their religion, they had killed false gods.

But in numerous cases, after a temple was destroyed and a deity was broken, the devotees of that deity would remake the temple, carve another deity, and do the Prāṇa Pratiṣṭhā again. In their understanding, the deity was an extension of a person, quite like the extended limbs of a tortoise. In most such cases, the invaders would invade the temple again, break the deity again, and again claim to have killed the false god. The devotees would then proceed to reconstruct the temple and reestablish the deity.

The Scientific Process of Perception

There is a science of how the Prāṇa is extended from the person to other places, which requires us to understand the process of perception in Sāñkhya philosophy. But before that, we must understand the process of perception (or measurement) in modern science. The scientific process of perception has some serious problems that don’t exist in the Sāñkhya process of perception. If we understand the scientific process of perception, then we can understand why the Sāñkhya process is better.

Quantum theory states that quantum particles (such as electrons) exist in discrete elevated energy states from which they can fall to a lower energy state by emitting energy. The emitted energy is packetized and called a photon. The emitted photon travels to the observer’s eyes (or a measuring instrument) and is absorbed there. Due to the absorption, some quantum particles (such as electrons) go from a lower to a higher energy state. The process of perception thus involves the following steps: (a) a quantum particle falls from a high-energy to a low-energy state, (b) the difference of energy is emitted as a photon, (c) the photon travels to the observer’s eyes, (d) a quantum particle in the eyes rises from a low-energy to a high-energy state, and (e) the state change in the observer’s eyes is called their perception.

There are several problems in this scientific picture of perception. First, since a quantum particle changes its state in the process of perception, therefore, reality is changed in the process of perceiving it. What we see is not what the reality is. We have changed the reality in the process of knowing it. Second, we cannot know the complete state of the source of the photon by this process because only one quantum particle underwent a state transition when there are likely trillions upon trillions of such particles that did not undergo a state transition and their state cannot be known by a single state transition. Three, the observer has no choice in whether he or she wants to know the state of reality. If the photon is emitted and hits the eyes, the observer is compelled to know the reality. He or she cannot, like a tortoise, choose to withdraw from the sense perception and become unaware of the world. He or she also cannot choose to focus on different aspects of the object and disregard other aspects. To summarize:

The object is changed in the process of knowing it
The whole of that object cannot be known at once
The observer has no choice in knowing the object

The Sāñkhya Process of Perception

Now we can discuss the Sāñkhya process of perception, and we will see how it solves the above three problems. To begin with, matter is structured like an inverted tree. The root of the tree is the Supreme Lord. The trunks of the tree are individual souls. The soul emanates three branches called Mahattattva, Ahaṃkāra, and Buddhi. The Ahaṃkāra emanates three twigs called Manas, Prāṇa, and Vāk. The Manas is the Sattvic twig of Ahaṃkāra that emanates the five senses, their properties (called Tanmātra), and their subdivisions. The Prāṇa is the Rajasic twig of Ahaṃkāra that emanates five kinds of powers (called the five Prāṇa). The Vāk is the Tamasic twig of Ahaṃkāra that emanates the five Mahābhūta of Sāñkhya. Similar emanations of Manas, Prāṇa, and Vāk occur from the Buddhi and the Mahattattva as well.

The Buddhi is the thinking branch of the soul, the Ahaṃkāra is the feeling branch of the soul, and the Mahattattva is the willing branch of the soul. I also call them emotion, cognition, and relation. The words require much explanation, which I will not try to do. I will limit myself to Manas, Prāṇa, and Vāk. We can call them the senses, the power of the senses, and the objects perceived by the senses. An even simpler terminology is seer (senses), seeing (power of the senses), and seen (objects of the senses). In the tortoise analogy, the shell of the tortoise is the seer, the limbs of the tortoise are the seeing, and the external things the limbs touch are the seen. The uniqueness of the tortoise analogy is that the seeing can be visualized like arms moving inward and outward which isn’t the case for other species.

The basic process of seeing is that Prāṇa connects the senses to their objects. The Prāṇa moves outward from the senses, attaches to the objects, extracts their properties, and brings them back to the senses. We can think of Prāṇa as a messenger of information between the world and the senses. The difference is that the sender of the message doesn’t lose the message after sending it. Therefore, in knowing the reality, the reality is not changed. The message can be long or short, summarized or expanded. Hence, it is possible to know the entire state of the object at once. The persons involved in this process can choose to not use the messenger and hence they have a choice in knowing. To summarize:

The object is intact in the process of knowing it
The whole of that object can be known at once
The observer has a choice in knowing the object

The Vision of the Sun and the Moon

In Bhagavad Gita 11.19, Arjuna compares the sun and the moon to Kṛṣṇa’s eyes: You are without origin, middle or end. Your glory is unlimited. You have numberless arms, and the sun and moon are Your eyes. I see You with blazing fire coming forth from Your mouth, burning this entire universe by Your own radiance. The sun and the moon are emanating light. By that emanation, they see the world. That is because light emanation is Prāṇa coming out of the sun and the moon. The eyes illuminate the world.

We have either heard or seen people trying to scare others through their stares. We all suppose that while staring at people, something goes out of our eyes, enters the person whom we are staring at, and makes them feel scared. Similarly, we have either heard or seen people feel uncomfortable being stared at. Sometimes we can make out someone staring at us even when we were not looking at them.

Of course, in modern science, light is supposed to enter the eyes rather than exit from them. As we have seen above, this model of light entering our eyes creates three problems in knowing the world. But if Prāṇa is emitted through the eyes, and then enters again, then these three problems are resolved.

The question is: What is light? Most people will say that it is the experience of color. Science will also say that light is some energy that causes things to move or change. We can accept all of these to be true. But to reconcile them with the ideas that (a) we can scare people with our stare, (b) we feel that our privacy has been invaded when someone stares at us, and (c) we feel stares even while not looking at the person staring at us, we have to use the concept of Prāṇa. It goes out and it comes in. It is an energy. But it is not color itself. However, it can carry the property of color if such a property exists in something.

The sun deity stares at the earth. Prāṇa comes out of his eyes and enters the earth. That stare displaces quantum particles from their current state which Einstein called the photoelectric effect (i.e., electrons are emitted from a material when light shines on it). This displacement of quantum particles becomes material things staring at us, and displacing quantum particles in our body, producing perception.

Can We Convince the Scientists?

The whole process is described in science as the sun emitting light, the light being scattered by material things, and being absorbed by our eyes to make us see those things. The emission of light from the sun is then explained as nuclear reactions occurring in the sun. Due to such reactions, the sun is supposed to run out of nuclear fuel in 5 billion years. The solar system will then (supposedly) become dark. But there is no way to confirm this idea right now. We have to wait for 5 billion years for confirmation.

This is the problem of underdetermination in science. The same effect can be explained in more than one way, unless we have all the data. We don’t have all the data. Therefore, we can explain the sun illuminating the earth either based on nuclear reactions or the sun deity staring at the earth. If we had all the data, then we could show that the sun will not die in 5 billion years, and there is a sun deity who is staring at the earth to illuminate it. But we are missing both the falsifying (that the sun will not die in 5 billion years) and the verifying (that there is a sun deity who is staring at the earth) information.

Without verifying and falsifying evidence, the Vedic and modern science explanations are equally viable alternatives. Scientists will stick to their explanation and the followers of the Vedic tradition will stick to theirs (provided they know and understand what it is). They will just live in different worldviews.

All hope is not lost, however. We can cite the three problems with the scientific model of observation and how they eliminate (a) the possibility of knowing the unchanged nature of reality, (b) the possibility of knowing the nature of reality fully, and (c) the possibility of knowing reality based on our will. But science is so accustomed to repeated instrument and observer errors, and so removed from the philosophical problems of knowledge at present, that these problems will not be taken seriously.

We can then cite how people are scared by stares and feel those stares even when they are not looking at the person staring. But those are experiments done by psychologists. The physicist who studies quantum phenomena in massive particle colliders is likely to ask: What does physics have to do with psychological experiments? Psychology is a land too far for the physicist to even try to bridge. This is when all hope is lost because the available falsifying and verifying evidence is disregarded.

The Creation of the Material World

Returning to the explanation based on Prāṇa, the process is not unique to our vision or the sun’s stare. The process is applied to the creation of the material world, when Kāraṇodakaśāyī Visnu glances at the material energy, and impregnates Her with the soul. Under the current scientific process of glancing, photons must be emitted by the material energy, enter the eyes of Kāraṇodakaśāyī Visnu, and enable His vision of the material energy. The process of glancing can never impregnate the material energy because nothing is going out of the eyes of Kāraṇodakaśāyī Visnu. Light is only coming into His eyes.

Then, for light to enter the eyes of Kāraṇodakaśāyī Visnu, the material energy must already be emitting light, which means that some equivalent of sun must already exist without a soul being injected into the material energy. When the material energy can work without the soul—e.g., create sun-like bodies emitting light—then we don’t need the soul. The soul will be shredded to pieces by Occam’s Razor. When there is no need for the soul, then there is no need for God. Materialism would then reign supreme.

We may not realize this, but atheism is built into the scientific idea of perception. Matter just emits and absorbs light; therefore, it is working on its own. An observer is not required to make matter work. Consciousness has no role to play in the emission and absorption of light. Therefore, consciousness is not required for anything else. You just have to allow one magic trick—namely, that light is emitted and absorbed without conscious involvement—and the rest of the proposition is pure materialism.

The Quantum Measurement Problem

Thus, we come to a fundamental problem in physics about how light is emitted, called the Quantum Collapse. Some people have postulated some role of consciousness. It is not consciousness. It is Prāṇa. It can work under the control of our will, but most of the time, it works under the control of guna, karma, and time. Thus, sometimes we see something because it is our karma. Sometimes we see something because it has become a habit to see. Sometimes we see something because the time to see it has arrived. In rare situations, we see because we want to see. The process of seeing, under Prāṇa, can be divided into two—(a) either we are looking at a light source, or (b) or the light source is staring at us. In the former case, the situation is like a tortoise putting its limbs outward and inward. In the latter case, the situation is like a tortoise putting its limbs outward, touching something, and causing a change.

Even when the tortoise puts its limbs outward, there is some conscious involvement. It is not always a will. It can just be a habit, karma forcing the tortoise to move away from an adverse situation, or time creating an impulse in the mind which then causes the tortoise to move. But in all these cases, matter has to be studied as habits, consequences of the previous actions, or time causing a mental trigger. The situation gets more and more complicated as we try to understand more and more situations.

The Person and the Worshipped Deity

Returning to the question of Prāṇa Pratiṣṭhā, a deity is just like the extended arm of the tortoise. A powerful personality has the ability to spread their Prāṇa to many places in the world. The Supreme Lord can spread His Prāṇa everywhere. Through such spreading, the distinction between action-at-a-distance and action-due-to-contact almost completely dissolves, because through Prāṇa spreading the person can perceive anything and do anything. Prāṇa extends the consciousness of a person beyond His body. Prāṇa Pratiṣṭhā is the process of giving the Prāṇa a resting place in the deity. When such a resting place is created, then the Prāṇa remains situated in that place. Without that, the Prāṇa moves away.

Without the Prāṇa Pratiṣṭhā, the deity is a stone, wood, or metal, which have extremely dimmed powers of perception and action. With the Prāṇa Pratiṣṭhā, the same stone, wood, or metal have all the powers of the person (whose Prāṇa has been established within the deity) to know and act. A stone, wood, or metal is not devoid of Prāṇa. They are not totally dead things. But the Prāṇa doesn’t move so actively. However, when Prāṇa Pratiṣṭhā is done, then the Prāṇa of the stone, wood, or metal is irrelevant because the Prāṇa of the person who has been established in the deity is extremely active.

When a deity is offered food, for instance, the deity stares at the food. Through that stare, the deity transforms the food by giving it its nature. The food offered to the deity is hence not the same as the food as it was before offering to the deity. The food is transformed by the deity staring at the food.

The Spreading of Consciousness

The science in this description is that consciousness is not necessarily confined to a body even as there is a body. Through Prāṇa, the consciousness can spread to the entire creation. If we stare at others our Prāṇa enters their body and they feel discomfort because our Prāṇa is invading their privacy. They feel as if someone else has entered their body and they are not in full control of their body even though the person is staring from far away. That is because Prāṇa is imperceivable by the senses. The yogis try to gain mastery over Prāṇa and extend their reach to go to other planets in a moment. The body of the yogi can be situated in one place but his Prāṇa can extend the reach of his senses and mind anywhere.

Modern science calls spreading consciousness a force field operating per a mathematical law. In Vedic texts, spreading consciousness is Prāṇa, under the control of will, karma, guna, and time. Prāṇa is the force field around a person. That force field can be willingly expanded and contracted, which is not possible if that field is controlled by a mathematical law. According to mathematical laws, a tortoise must only put its limbs out and never pull them back in. But Prāṇa can be expanded and contracted.

The Supreme Lord is the supreme mystic yogi. He can go anywhere He wants without leaving His place of residence. He stretches His Prāṇa like a tortoise stretches its limbs, and comes to receive the service of a devotee. This is His kindness. He doesn’t need the food we offer Him. But if we want to offer Him food with devotion, then He stretches Himself to accept that service. He doesn’t need the clothes we give Him. But if we want to give Him clothes with devotion, then He stretches Himself to accept that service. In this way, the reach of the Supreme Lord is not limited to the place He appears to be situated at.

Many impersonalists love to talk about all-pervading consciousness. But if they don’t know about Prāṇa, they think that the all-pervading cannot be localized. Similarly, many personalists love to talk about a localized form. But if they don’t know about Prāṇa, then they think that the localized cannot be all-pervading. Both ideas are false. The localized is also all-pervading through His Prāṇa. However, the Prāṇa is considered the energy of the person. Therefore, it is also said that the person is localized and the energy is all-pervading. The energy and the person are not separate. Hence, both are true at once. The Paramātma is just like that. He resides in the Śveta-Dvīpa and by His Prāṇa He is all-pervading.