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The five vayus or pranas of Hatha Yoga

First described in the eighth chapter of the Shivagama, the theory of the five vayus or pranas is clearly a system based on direct yogic experience.  It is here that the tattwas are first described in terms of specific shapes.  The idea seems to be that from these five basic shapes every possible form in the universe can be derived.  In addition to this, a whole system of correspondences was worked out, some derived from classical Samkhya, and others unique and original.

Tattwa Element Shape Colour
1. Akasha Space spotted, dot, ear-shaped, oval clear; or every colour
2. Vayu  Air circular, spherical blue
3. Tejas Fire triangular, pyramidal red
4. Apas Water semi-lunar, semi-circular white
5. Prithivi   Earth quadrangular, cube yellow

The whole system was presented in English by Rama Prasad in his book The Science of Breath and the Philosophy of the Tattwas.  From Rama Prasad the tattwa doctrine was adopted by Theosophy, where it was given further cosmological attributions (thus being the fifth in the order of tattwa systems), and thence to the Hermetic system of the Golden Dawn order, where it was used for practical magickal (theurgic) purposes, such as "scrying" (travelling in the spirit vision).
[David Allen Hulse The Key of it All, pp. 278, 287, 309, 319].

Here are some more corresponednces: from the Hatha Yoga system of tattwic correspondences:
Tattwa element quality vayu 
(vital breath)
movement direction cardinal point planet state of conscious- ness
Akasha space space prana (inhalation) upward outward in all directions centre Mercury chit
Vayu wind, air motion vyana 
(circulation, movement)
downwards (8 finger-widths) outwards in six directions north Saturn beyond waking
Tejas fire expansion samana 
downwards (4 finger-widths) upward south Mars & Sun dreamless sleep
Apas water contraction udana (inhalation inward, upward movement) downward (16 finger-widths) downward east Venus & Moon dream
Prithivi  earth cohesion, resistence apana (exhalation, downward or outward movement) downward (12 finger-widths) Movement along a line or wave west Jupiter waking

Inconsistencies can easily be seen within this system: apana vayu, associated with downward movement, is attributed to prithivi, whilst downward movement in general is associated with Apas.  Such self-contradictions are extremely common in tables of correspondences such as this, and indicate that they have probably been compiled from a number of different sources, with little attempt to ensure the self-consistency of the overall system.

Some of the associations are intuitively obvious; we expect the earth-element to be square, representing the solid foundation of a building, or fire to be represented by a red triangle; red being the colour of fire (although one would think yellow or orange would also serve), and the pointed and jagged triangle a good symbol with the destructive effect of flame.  In contrast, water is naturally represented by the wave-like semi-lunar or semi-circular shape.  Curiously, blue is here associated with air; perhaps because of the blue colour of the sky.

There is also an interesting correlation with Chinese system of correspondences in the association of the element Earth (prithivi) with the colour yellow.  Possibly this indicates some cross-cultural influence.

On the other hand, the psychological correspondences, based on the Mandukya upanishad, are quite useless.  Why should fire be associated with dreamless sleep, for example.  The only relevance between the two systems is that both the elemental order and the Mandukya psychological order represent a progressive sequence, with one pole as the most subtle, and one as the most concrete.

 In addition to the above there are also the various classical Samkhyan correspondences, and some rather arbitrary seeming divination outcomes.  The whole list of correspondences (twenty-seven columns in all) is given by David Allen Hulse The Key of it All, pp. 291-6].

The greatest value the Hatha Yoga table of tattwas has is in defining the nature of the etheric plane; the intermediate plane or sphere of existence between the lower mind or psyche and the purely physical reality.  This is represented as the "self made of prana" in the Taittiriya Upanishad, the pranic kosha of Advaita Vedanta, the ch'i or ch'i energy of traditional Chinese science, and the pneuma or "spirit" of Hellenistic Hermeticism and Neoplatonism.

It could be suggested that there are two distinct etheric/pranic planes or modalities of existence; the higher one containing the dynamic patterns or archetypes, and lines of force; and the lower the energy processes of the life-force (prana), which transmit the morphogenetic (form-creating) blueprint of the higher etheric plane to the gross physical forms.

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 30 June 1999, last modified 15 February 2005