The following article by David Frawley (aka Pandit Vamadeva Shastry) was first published by Tattvaloka.
The magazine of Sringeri Shankaracharya Math, the oldest and most respected of the Shankara monastic centers in India, representing the great tradition of Advaita Vedanta. Frawley has written many articles for the magazine over the years and been closely connected to the Math.
Vayu, the Cosmic Power
Vayu is one of the key concepts of Vedic thought that has great importance in Yoga, Ayurveda and Vedanta. It has many profound implications both at a cosmic level and relative to our own individual lives. Indeed if one understands Vayu, one understands everything, including time, space and karma, life and death and one’s own deeper Self.
Vayu is usually regarded as the element of air at a material level. This is a good place to begin a study of Vayu, but only the beginning of many correspondences. In Vedic thought, Vayu includes the concept of space or Akasha. Space in motion is air, while air at rest is ether. These are the two sides of Vayu, which is the unity of air and ether. Ether is the field in which Vayu as a force operates.
Modern science recognizes that the universe consists of a fabric of space filled with various types of channels, currents or wormholes that are filled with dynamic interchanges. This is a picture of the cosmic Vayu, which is not only space but the energy within it both potential and actual. One could say that potential energy is space while activated space is air. The universe itself is Vayu in its ethereal vibration.
However, Vayu is much more than the material or even subtle elements. Vayu is the power through which everything comes into manifestation and into which everything eventually returns. Vayu is not just the material element of air and space but the cosmic principle of energy and space that pervades body, life, mind and consciousness. The entire manifest universe arises from space and energy which is Vayu at an outer level. At an inner level, Vayu stands for the formless principle of air and space, the invisible Spirit or Brahman behind the visible world of the earth, water and fire elements, the realm of name and form. The famous Shantipath of the Taittiriya Upanishad declares this:
Namaste Vayo, tvam eva pratyaksham Brahmasi.
‘O, Vayu, you are the directly perceivable Brahman.’
Vayu often symbolizes the supreme deity, the spirit that is formless in nature yet full of power like the wind or air. Vayu as the creative or causal power is the power of Ishvara or the Cosmic Lord. Yet Vayu as the receptacle of all power and the ground of all existence can symbolize the Supreme Brahman as well. Vayu can indicate both Saguna and Nirguna Brahman. Vayu thus often means Spirit, not just the air as an element but the presence of being and consciousness that exists everywhere but cannot be seen anywhere. We find this idea of Spirit or air in many spiritual traditions throughout the world, and in the very term ‘spiritual’.
Vayu is the Kriya Shakti or universal power of action, from which all other powers emerge. It is the causal power that guides and directs things. The entire universe is a manifestation of Vayu, which is the hand of God that shapes all things. Yet the very nature of Brahman is like Vayu, which is beyond all limitations, appearances and divisions. So Vayu is more than action and ultimately connects to the formless, changeless reality that creates the entire universe without undergoing any modification itself.
Vayu sets everything in motion at a cosmic level, which is his play or dance. Vayu governs all cosmic forces, movements and actions, including the movement of the stars and galaxies, the gravitational network underlying the universe, electro-magnetic forces, and the forces that govern subatomic particles. Everything exists in Vayu, which is the field of space as energized by air. Vayu is the very field of our existence as well as the basis of our expression. Air, water and earth are but different densifications of the energy of Vayu, different degrees of its many currents.
Vayu is also the connecting principle that links everything together in the universe. From it mind, speech and intelligence arise and allow communication and interchange on all levels. Vayu creates various channels, currents, worm holes, nadis or orifices in its movement. These pervade all of space on many levels and dimensions. They can be found in every object in nature and in the bodies of all creatures that consists of various channel systems. Indeed all the channels within us, the nervous, respiratory and circulatory systems, including the Sushumna nadi are aspects of Vayu.
Deities that Connect to Vayu
In the Rig Veda and the Vedas in general, it is the deities of the sphere of Vayu that predominate like Indra, the foremost of the Vedic Gods, Rudra, Brihaspati, and the Maruts. Indra is often called Vayu and Vata. Indra is behind all the other Vedic deities including Agni, Surya and Soma, the principles of Fire, Sun and Moon that can only operate under the guiding power of Vayu.
Vayu though by nature invisible is not devoid of light but is in fact the matrix of all forms of light. Vayu holds the power of lightning or vidyut that sets all other forms of light in motion, just as the atmospheric lightning starts fire on Earth. As the power of lightning, Vayu is called Indra, the supreme Vedic deity who governs the power of perception and the higher prana.
In yogic thought like the Brihat Yoga Yajnavalykya Smriti (IIX.6) it is said that Ishvara is Vayu and the soul or Jiva is Agni. Yoga consists of expanding our individual fire to merge into the cosmic air. Vayu everywhere is the Ishvara or ruling principle, causing everything to move.
Other Upanishadic vidyas (ways of knowledge) like the samvarga vidya of the Chandogya Upanishad identify Vayu as Brahman and the supreme resort of all. Such teachings are not identifying Brahman with the air element but using the air element as a symbol for Brahman as the supreme formless energy, power and presence.
Vayu is also said to be the Sutra, the thread that links everything together in the Upanishads. It is the subtle or energy body that links all physical forms in a network of forces through the chakras that it creates in its movement. The cosmic Vayu in turn takes us eventually back to the Self that is the ultimate presence that ties all things together.
Vayu is the Shakti or cosmic power that electrifies everything and without which everything is inert. Vayu manifests from the power of the Purusha as the energy inherent in consciousness, which is the power of prana or life itself. The lightning force of Vayu creates life in creatures but also sustains all processes in the universe. As such all the Devis or forms of Shakti are connected to Vayu, particularly Kali who represents the Vidyut Shakti and the Yoga Shakti that takes us back to Brahman.
This primal lightning of Vayu is the source of sound, which is the energy vibrating in space, the thunder that arises from it. This primal sound is Pranava, the Divine Word or OM, which also sets in motion the underlying cosmic intelligence that structures the worlds. As the principle of sound or vibration, Vayu is called Rudra (Shiva), through which speech and language arises. Vayu as primal sound is Pranava or OM, which is the sound of Shiva’s drum.
Vayu at rest serves to create the ground of space. Vayu in motion creates the movement of time, which is the vibration of cosmic sound. The movement of time is the movement of cosmic prana. This power of time or Kala is the main force of Vayu through which everything moves and changes. Time like Vayu is responsible for the birth, growth, decay and death of all creatures and for the beginning, middle and end of all processes.
Kala or time in turn is connected with karma or action, which is the effect of Vayu. Vayu carries and distributes all the karmas of living beings and the worlds or lokas in which they reside. Vayu holds the cosmic prana or life-force from which our individualized prana and our Vata, the biological air humor comes into manifestation. Vayu is the cosmic breath, which enters into the individual as the individual power of breath.
In yogic thought, Vata is also prana or the cosmic life energy that manifests from Akasha or cosmic space. Prana is Vayu as the guiding force of life and intelligence in the universe. All the deities of prana like Indra, Shiva and Kali relate to Vayu as well. Vayu holds the pranas of all living beings in its energy network that links them all together in the web of life. The soul is a portion of Vayu that has entered into the body with the help of fire or Agni.
We connect to Vayu and prana through the breathing process. Pranayama allows us to work with and develop our connection with the cosmic prana. The purpose of pranayama is not just to bring in more air or give us power over the breathing process but to link us up to the unlimited energy of the cosmic Vayu. This occurs when we unite the dualistic energies of prana and mind so that our awareness can enter into the unitary force of Vayu.
The great prana mantras of Hamsa and So’ham are the vibrations of prana, the nature sound of the breath that is the presence of Vayu resonating within us. Yet at a higher level prana mirrors Sat or pure existence at a deeper level. Hamsa and So’ham are the sounds of Aham or the Divine Self. When the prana enters into the Sushumna, the individual prana connects to the cosmic Vayu, which allows our awareness to ascend and expand into Brahman.
Vayu and Vata Dosha
Vayu becomes Vata or the biological air humor in the embodied creature, which is the basis of both health and disease. Vata when calm gives health, while when agitated causes disease. Vata is the biological principle of movement, energy, change in location, velocity and creation of equilibrium, which sustains the organic network of forces within us down to an autonomic level. Vata moves Pitta and Kapha, the biological fire and water humors, just as air moves fire and water, creating the vibrations that sustain them, allowing digestion to occur and our tissues to be built up and energized.
Vata dosha is the main life-energy (pranic force) behind health and disease in body and mind. It is air or Vayu as a psycho-physical principle. The body as a material entity adds a factor of doshas, meaning entropy or decay, to Vayu as a cosmic force. Vayu must eventually seek to leave the body and return back to its formless nature, which means that everything that is born must die by the same power of breath.
One must master Vayu in order to master any of the forces in the universe, in the body or in the mind. All healing occurs through the power of Vayu and its Pranic manifestation. By connecting to the cosmic Vayu we can bring in the cosmic prana. That is the key to all higher healing. In Yoga, the higher prana or cosmic Vayu takes us into the realm of immortality by removing our attachment to the body and giving us back our freedom as formless awareness.
Vayu relates not only to prana but also to the mind, which is often described as difficult to control like the wind. Prana reflects more the air aspect of Vayu, while the mind reflects the ether aspect of Vayu. Vayu creates all the wonderful synapses in the brain through which our human intelligence can function. Vayu is the key to the mind and how it works. Our emotional psychology is the atmosphere created by the Vayu within us and its storms. Through Vayu all psychological problems can be resolved.
Cosmic Forms of Vayu
In the Earth or at a mineral level, Vayu is responsible for plate tectonics, for earthquakes, for Earth currents and the gases held beneath the ground. When this Vayu beneath the ground moves, all living beings quiver in fear, even human beings.
In the biosphere, Vayu is the life-wind which carries pollen, dust, prana and is the home of airy creatures like birds. This benefic Vayu keeps our bodies and mind clean and energized by its purifying flow.
In the atmosphere, Vayu is the force behind the weather, the clouds, the rains and the seasons. Vayu is the dominant force of the Atmosphere, just as Agni is on Earth. The Atmosphere is dominated by Vayu as air, clouds or gases in motion. Everything we see in the Atmosphere is a form of Vayu, even the wind that has no form. The weather is mainly a force of Vayu. That is why exposure to the elements and changes of seasons mainly serves to increase Vata dosha. Meteorology is a study of Vayu. The main atmospheric forms of Vayu include rainstorms, hurricanes, typhoons and tornadoes, that dominate our weather patterns.
Vayu is responsible for directional influences, such as are described in Vastu Shastra, which is an important consideration for clinics, hospitals and treatment rooms. The different directional influences are special types of Vayus, the winds from different directions.
Vayu at the level of the solar system is responsible for the movement and revolution of the planets. The Sun itself has its solar wind or solar Vayu, its electromagnetic forces that hold the solar system together. The stars are gaseous forms of fire, sustained and generated by the powerful cosmic Vayu. At the level of the galaxy, Vayu is responsible for the movement and revolution of the stars. The galaxies themselves are smoke clouds created by the Cosmic Vayu. Vayu governs the creation and equilibrium of the universe as a whole, yet stands beyond the universe as well.
Control of Vayu
Even our modern technology rests upon certain outer powers of Vayu like electricity, combustion engines and jet propulsion. This power over Vayu allows us to run various equipment and to accomplish actions with speed, power and efficiency. The mass media itself is another power of Vayu with its currents of communication through the atmosphere driven by radio waves. Yet though modern man has more control over the outer Vayu through technology, he has even less control over his inner Vayu or mind and prana. This is because he is disturbed by the outer Vayu, which is often connected to inorganic energies that can derange or short circuit the human nervous system. The modern person through computers and the media is addicted to an outer form of Vayu that distracts us from connecting to the higher Vayu within.
Controlling Vayu is one of the most difficult of all things but it is the basis of Yoga Sadhana. It proceeds through purifying and calming body, speech, senses mind and prana. However there is a trick. Only Vayu can control Vayu. The human ego cannot control Vayu but in fact is under the rule of many different forms of Vayu. Only the cosmic Vayu can control our individual Vayu and the prana and mind that are ruled by it. This cosmic Vayu is rooted in the Atman, the inner Self. By rooting our awareness in the Atman we connect to the cosmic Vayu and have the power to master all things.
The Atman stands at the center of all the currents and forces of Vayu, which are but its outer expressions. If we hold to that center than all the powers of the universe must revolve around us. Nothing in the world will be able to disturb us, just as the axis of a wheel cannot be disturbed by the movement of its periphery. The Self is the Vayu behind Vayu, the source of all energy, power and prana, hidden in the cavern of the heart. From the Self in heart radiate all energies and powers. The Self is the link between all beings and all worlds. Resting in our own being we can hold all power without trying to do anything at all. These are but a few secrets of Vayu Rahasya, the Secret of Vayu.