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The Mirror Of The Self: [14] Perception Of Deep Breathing

Published: 09.02.2009

Perception Of Deep Breathing

In today's vocal science two words are in great vogue - "being and 'doing' - to be and to do. The Western people in the field of spirituality say: "We have to move from the sphere of doing into the sphere of being, we have to realize our own being. We have to enter a state where there is no doing and where there is only being." 'Doing' and 'being' - a good many things are said about these. As a matter of fact, there is nothing new about it; this talk Ls very old. The fact is that we axe not well-acquainted with the words. To be well-acquainted with them Ls also very necessary Otherwise we land ourselves in a situation where we force the words to mean what they do not mean. That is what is happening more or less these days.

Two Kinds Of Activities

Two terms much used in the Jain Agamas are - prayogiki kriya (voluntary action) and vaisrasiki kriya (involuntary action). According to physiology, we have two kinds of activities - autonomic and voluntary. In Sutrakritanga are also mentioned two kinds of activities - voluntary and involuntary. An activity that goes on without reference to our will is involuntary, such as the beating of the heart, the functioning of the digestive system, the winking of the eye. An activity of which there is no doer, on which we have no conscious control, which goes on by itself, is involuntary, i.e. vaisrasiki kriya. On the other hand, an activity which is controlled by our consciousness, and which we perform with our will, is voluntary (i.e., prayogiki kriya).

In The Language Of Physiology

That also is the language of physiology. An activity, which we accomplish through our own effort, is voluntary, while an activity, which goes on by itself, is autonomic. Both kinds of activity are found in our body. Respiration, a third kind of activity, is a combination of these two.

In the Agamas occur three terms:

    1. vaisrasiki - an activity which goes on of itself.
    2. prayogiki - an activity which is consciously performed and involves an exercise of will.
    3. Mixed activity - which is autonomic but can also be consciously performed.

Respiration: Autonomic As Well As Volitional

Breathing is an activity, which is both involuntary and voluntary. We can exercise conscious control over breathing, but it also goes on by itself without any conscious effort on our part. Breathing goes on even when we are asleep; it goes on when we are awake. As long as a man lives, respiration goes on. We may of course take a breath when we like, or stop breathing if we so desire. We can prolong or shorten our breath at will. We can also hold our breath and thus perform a kumbhak. Three kinds of activities go on within us - autonomic, voluntary, autonomic-cum-voluntary. Respiration belongs to the third category; it is both autonomic and voluntary.

The Internal Trip: The Vehicle

The question arises: How do we undertake the inner voyage? From extroversion to introversion is a long voyage. How is a man to accomplish it? One requires a vehicle. Without a vehicle, one-would be soon exhausted. The outward journey is not so long.   But the functioning of only one system inside viz., blood-circulatory system involves an unimaginably protracted voyage. For the inner voyage, you need a vehicle and that vehicle is the breath.

This vehicle can take a man anywhere. If the breath cannot reach a particular place, it can send there its messenger, which is intimately linked with it. That messenger is the vital energy or vital spirit. The vital spirit can accomplish a big journey in a moment. That is why it has been said that wherever there is the mind, there is the vital spirit, and wherever there is the vital spirit, the mind is there. But this journey is possible only, when some load is taken off.

The Inner Voyage: Space Travel

The inner voyage or the internal trip is like space travel. We cannot undertake space travel carrying a heavy load; it is just not possible. Whether it is travelling in inner or outer space, we must shed our weight, of the body and of the senses. Our senses are subjected to a heavy burden. They are made to carry heavy cables so that our consciousness is quite weighed down by the load. How shall we accomplish an inner voyage with that heavy load upon us? First we must shed our weight. We must abandon the load with which our body and the senses are afflicted. The way to be free from this burden is the isolation of the senses, i.e., the cessation of all contact of the senses with the outer world. The greater the withdrawal of the senses, the lesser the load. Ultimately we reach the stage of utter weightlessness. It is only when we grow light that the inner voyage begins. For the inner voyage, one has to ride the vehicle of breath, but before that one must put off all one’s burdens. Only after shedding off one's load, is it possible for one to ride that vehicle. If we travel light and ride the vehicle of breath, the inner voyage will be accomplished of itself.

Breath Is The Witness

Our knowledge of breathing is limited; so is our understanding of the inner voyage. For accomplishing the inner voyage, it is necessary to keep pace with the breath. Perhaps we have not properly understood the nature of breath. Our breath is the greatest witness of inner activity. For the right understanding of any action, we must come to know the movement of breath at the moment. If we seek any witness other than the breath, not only shall we not succeed in our aim, but also we shall be inviting trouble.

A hunter went hunting in a forest. As he got down from his jeep, a leopard confronted him. The hunter, in his flurry, had left his gun in the jeep. Now he was in trouble. He said to himself, "I have no gun, but I have with me the licence." So he took out his licence from his pocket and flaunting it before the leopard said, "See! Here's the licence for the gun. You better stay where you are!" How could this deter the beast? It leapt at the hunter and killed him at one swoop.

The Breath Is The Controller

Let us get hold of the gun, the substantial weapon, instead of the licence. The talk of the licence is tantamount to dependence upon another's witnessing. Our breath is our exclusive proof. The trouble with us is that we perceive an action, but not the doer of that action. The conductor of our external and internal activity is our breath. Without the intake of oxygen, nothing gets done. Every cell in our body requires oxygen for its functioning. What provides this essential resource? It is the breath. For our inner happiness, for the purity of our mind and for our psychic well-being, it is necessary that the filth accumulated within us should be cleansed. Our body is activated by vital power, whether of the body or of the mind or of speech. It is our breath, which provides the fuel for this vital power and controls it.

The Art Of Breathing

The art of breathing lies in taking fine breaths. On the one hand, the Jain masters forbade pranayama, but on the other hand, they encouraged the practice of taking slow and subtle breaths. They laid stress on lengthening the breath. Some people say, "Let the breath come and go naturally." But that signifies little. In fact, the so-called 'natural' breath cannot be said to be natural at all. A man breathes wrongly, but says to himself, "I am fixing my attention on the natural breath." A man generally lakes 15 breaths per minute one breathe in four seconds. Many people take 20-30 breaths per minute. How can such breathing be called natural'.' We must lengthen the duration of the breath.

Fifteen breaths per minute - this is what we have got from nature. Our spiritual practice is effort-oriented. We believe, not merely in the natural, but in what can be acquired through practice. Through regular practice we must reach a stage where we take only 8-10 breaths per minute. If we can reach that stage, we shall be moving in the direction of undertaking the inner voyage. Let us proceed gradually. One day we might reach a stage when we take only one or two breaths per minute. To get into that state marks a special event.

Results Of Deep Breathing

The first consequence of deep breathing would be to ensure adequate catering of the needs of the body. The second result would be an increase of morale. The mind would become more vigorous and stable, the nervous system and the endocrine system would function in a balanced way. The cause of many physical and mental diseases today is the imbalance of the nervous and endocrine systems. The principle of slow respiration was advanced by the Jain masters after a great deal of deliberation. Breathe in slowly, breathe out slowly! The balance would be restored of itself. One would come to have control over passions and strong emotions. Our breath forms the first principle of control. We may experience it for ourselves - the more is one consumed by anger, the higher is the rate of breathing. The more we decrease the number of breaths per minute, the greater control shall we come to acquire over anger. It is our breath, which regulates our emotions.

The Secret Of Success

Our breath is intimately connected with our life. It is deeply associated, not only with mere existence, but with our emotions. A great deal of scientific research has been conducted on breathing. Modern scientists have discovered the fact of intimate relationship between our breath and emotions. Before them, the ancient masters of Yoga had already manifested this fact. Their findings have now been confirmed by science.

The breath constitutes in itself a very great secret of our success. A man flares up easily. He gets angry all too frequently. Will this improve or impair his family life? He gets angry with his son, his daughter-in-law, his wife and his servants. All the day long, the man is painfully agitated, his brows knit hard. Many a man comes to us and says, "I am very unhappy on account of my anger; the whole of my family is unhappy." This inveterate habit needs to be controlled. How is one going to do it? No physician can cure it. A psychiatrist might suggest some exercises. A homoeopath, too, might prescribe a medicine. But rarely has anger been controlled by a drug. It is an established fact that breath-perception leads to control over anger. Hundreds of such cases have been observed. The man, who has regulated his breath, is less tormented by passions.

The Rate Of Breathing

A man, on the average, inhales for two seconds and then exhales for two seconds. That comes to four seconds per breath - 15 breaths per minute. That is considered to be the natural rate of breathing. When a man is inflamed by anger, the number of breaths increases to 20-25-30. The more intense the anger, the greater is the increase in the rate of breathing; at times it rises to 35-40 breaths per minute. It reaches a stage where the heart is affected. All our blood is turned into poison. The chemistry of the body is altogether disturbed. Anger causes an instantaneous increase in the rate of breathing - the two are intimately connected. In order to control anger, one must control one's breathing.

What Does Control Over Breathing Amount To?

Controlling one's breath means acquiring control over one's emotions and passions. If we learn how to breathe properly, if we can lengthen the duration of our breath, if our practice is matured so that we take only two breaths per minute, we shall find ourselves freed from all emotional problems. Just imagine one taking only two breaths per minute instead of fifteen! It may take time for one to reach that stage. Let us decrease the rate of breathing very gradually. At first we may practise taking 12 breaths per minute. Then gradually, we come down to ten, eight, six, four and two breaths per minute. Then we shall be afflicted by anger no more. Either anger will be completely ended, or if it comes, we shall instantly become aware of it. The moment we start practising deep breathing, anger flees away in fear. Anger too is afraid of deep breathing; so are all other passions. When the breath gets deeper and longer, the passions disappear.

An Astounding Fact

The psychologists have done a lot of research on "breath and emotions". It is surprising that in a country like India, where a tremendous amount of literature exists on 'asana-pranayama' and on 'breath and emotions' and where a great many practices pertaining to these are in vogue among the Jain, the Buddhist, the Nath and the Hatha-Yoga devotees, there should not be a single centre for undertaking research on breath. There has been established in Canada an exclusive centre of research on breath. Hundreds of scientists are doing research on this subject, on how breath influences our life. According to these scientists - "Take to deep breathing and preserve your life!" The deeper our breath, the more shall we conserve our life, the longer shall we live. The shorter the breath, the feebler will grow our life-force. We all have to live our life-span. How long we live it depends upon us also. If we properly consume our accumulation of life-atoms, we might prolong our living up to 200-300 years. A Russian scientist has declared that a man has enough energy to last for 300 years. The only difficulty is that we gather around ourselves so many guests that our provision for a life of 300 years gets exhausted within 50-60 years.

Let Us Stop Being Indifferent

The breath is the regulator; it forestalls all the causes of premature death. Let us appraise our breath from the points of view of mental and emotional health; also from the viewpoint of exercising control. In no case should we be indifferent to breath. If small children are taught to practise deep breathing daily for 20 minutes from the very beginning, their life will be filled with a new energy, new vigour and new light. I believe that the perception of inbreathing and outbreathing which is a trait of nama karma (body-making karma) is most probably the biggest cause of neutralizing the effects of antaraya (obstructing) karma; also in neutralizing the karmas covering knowledge and covering intuition. It can even be a great help in dissolving the mohaniya (deluding) karma. Deep breathing constitutes a very important exercise of preksha meditation. Let us derive the maximum benefit there from. Let us start moving in that direction and we are bound to reach our goal sooner or later.


3rd Edition 1995

Jain Vishva Bharati Institute
Ladnun -341 306 (Rajasthan)

Muni Dhananjay Kumar (Hindi)
Muni Mahendra Kumar (English)

Translated by:
Late Prof. R.K. Seth

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Agamas
  2. Anger
  3. Antaraya
  4. Body
  5. Consciousness
  6. Endocrine System
  7. Fear
  8. Gun
  9. Hatha-Yoga
  10. Internal Trip
  11. Karma
  12. Karmas
  13. Kriya
  14. Meditation
  15. Mohaniya
  16. Nama
  17. Nama Karma
  18. Nath
  19. Pranayama
  20. Preksha
  21. Preksha Meditation
  22. Science
  23. Space
  24. Yoga
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