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Bases of Vedanta

by Swami Sivananda

Introduction

The purpose of life is the realisation of one’s own essential nature. It is to know that you are the pure ever-free Atman. The Vedanta expounds the great truth that Atman alone is real, the phenomenal world is unreal. You are Atman, but you forget your real Svarupa due to identification with the body. This is called Deha-Adhyasa. This is the greatest obstacle to Self-Knowledge or Atma-Jnana. To get over this delusion of identification with body the Vedantic Seers have made a detailed analysis of the different bodies, gross and subtle, and systematically proved that the Jiva is not the body but is identical with the Paramatman. The study of the three bodies, the five sheaths and the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep, helps man to understand that he is different from all these diverse modifications and that he is the unchanging, constant, witness of all these. This helps him to feel that he transcends the three states, the three bodies and the Panchakoshas.

Constant remembrance of this and meditation on this knowledge will lead him to the realisation of his Atma-svarupa. Therefore, the study of the Panchakoshas is a valuable aid in the process of disassociating yourself from the bodies and the sheaths. It enables you to rise above body-consciousness, to feel that you are the Atman and thus remain quite unaffected and unattached amidst all distractions and tribulations of life.

I. The Three Bodies & their Enumeratioon

(The individual experiencer is a consciousness-centre enveloped by several layers of matter existing as the factors causing objective awareness in it. The analysis of these layers or bodies is necessary to ascertain the nature of the true Self.)

Hari Om. Om Sat-Guru-Paramatmane Namah.

Disciple: How many bodies are there in an individual (Jiva)?

Guru: There are three bodies in every individual (Jiva).

Disciple: Please name them.

Guru: The physical body or the gross body (Sthula Sarira), the astral body or the subtle body (Sukshma Sarira or Lingadeha) and the causal body or the seed body (Karanasarira) are the three bodies.

Disciple: Please illustrate them.

Guru: The shell of a tamarind corresponds to the physical body. The pulp represents the subtle body. The seed corresponds to the causal body. Ice represents the physical body. H2O represents the subtle body. The Tanmatras or root-elements correspond to the causal body.

The Gross Body

Disciple: What are the components of the physical body?

Guru: The physical body is composed of five elements, viz., earth (Prithivi), water (Apah), fire (Tejas), air (Vayu) and space (Akasa).

Disciple: What are the seven primary essences (Sapta-Dhatus) of the physical body?

Guru: Chyle (Rasa), blood (Asra), flesh (Mamsa), fat (Medas), bone (Asthi), marrow (Majja) and semen (Sukla), are the seven primary essences of the physical body.

Disciple: What are the Shad-bhava-vikaras (six modifications of the body) ?

Guru: Asti (existence), Jayate (birth), Vardhate (growth), Viparinamate (change), Apaksheeyate (decay), Vinashyate (death), are the six modifications or changes of the body.

Disciple: What are the links with which the body is connected?

Guru: The body (Deha), action (Karma), love and hate (Raga-dvesha), egoism (Ahamkara), non-discrimination (Aviveka) and ignorance (Ajnana) are the seven links of the chain of Samsara (world-experience). From Ajnana (ignorance), Aviveka is born. Aviveka is non-discrimination between the real and the unreal. From Aviveka is born Ahamkara or egoism; from egoism is born Raga-dvesha (like and dislike); from Raga-dvesha Karma (action) arises; from Karma the body or the Deha is produced. If you want to free yourself from the pain of birth and death, destroy ignorance (Ajnana), the root cause of this Samsara (world-experience), through the attainment of the Knowledge of Brahman or the Absolute. When ignorance is removed, all the other links will be broken by themselves. This physical body of yours is the result of your past actions and is the seat of your enjoyment of pleasure and pain.

Disciple: Why is the body called Sarira or Deha?

Guru: Because the body decays (Sheeryate) on account of old age, it is called Sarira. Because it is cremated or burnt (Dahyate) it is called Deha.

The Subtle Body

Disciple: What is the composition of the subtle body?

Guru: The subtle body is composed of nineteen principles (Tattvas), viz., five Jnana Indriyas or organs of knowledge, five Karma Indriyas or organs of action, five Pranas or vital airs, Manas or mind, Buddhi or intellect, Chitta or the subconscious and Ahamkara or the ego. It is a means of enjoying pleasure and pain.

Disciple: When will this subtle body get dissolved?

Guru: It gets dissolved in Videha Mukti or disembodied Liberation.

The Causal Body

Disciple: What is the causal body (Karana Sarira) ?

Guru: The beginningless ignorance that is indescribable is called the causal body. It is the cause of the gross and the subtle bodies.

Disciple: How can I transcend the three bodies?

Guru: Identify yourself with the All-pervading, Eternal Atman. Stand as a witness (Sakshi) of all experiences. Know that the Atman is always like a king - distinct from the body, organs, vital breaths, mind, intellect, ego and Prakriti - the Witness of their attributes.

II. The Five Sheaths

Disciple: What is meant by a Kosha?

Guru: Kosha means a sheath.

Disciple: Kindly illustrate these sheaths.

Guru: Just as a pillow-cover is a covering or a sheath for the pillow, just as a scabbard is a sheath for the sword or the dagger, so also this body, Pranas, mind, intellect and the causal body are sheaths that cover the Atman or the Soul.

There is the singlet close to the body; over this there is the shirt; over the shirt there is the waist-coat; over the waist-coat there is the coat; over the coat there is the overcoat. Even so, the Atman is enveloped by these five sheaths.

Disciple: How many sheaths are there in the body?

Guru: There are five sheaths.

Disciple: Please name them.

Guru: Annamaya Kosha, Pranamaya Kosha, Manomaya Kosha, Vijnanamaya Kosha and Anandamaya Kosha are the five Koshas or sheaths.

Disciple: What is Annamaya Kosha?

Guru: Annamaya Kosha is food-sheath. It is the gross body made up of the five gross elements.

Disciple: Why is it called Annamaya Kosha?

Guru: It is called Annamaya Kosha, because it lives on account of food, it is made up of the essence of food, and, finally, it returns to food (earth or matter).

Disciple: What is Pranamaya Kosha?

Guru: Pranamaya Kosha is the vital sheath.

Disciple: What is the Pranamaya Kosha made of?

Guru: It is made up of the Pranas or the vital airs and the five Karmendriyas or organs of action.

Disciple: How many Pranas are there?

Guru: There are ten Pranas five Mukhya or chief Pranas, viz., Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udana and Samana, and five Upapranas or sub-Pranas viz., Naga, Kurma, Krikara, Devadatta and Dhananjaya.

Disciple: What is the function of Prana?

Guru: Ucchvasa and Nihshvasa (inhalation and exhalation) are the functions of the Prana.
Disciple: What is the function of Apana?
Guru: Excretion of faeces and urine is the function of the Apana.
Disciple: What is the function of Vyana?

Guru: Circulation of blood is the function of Vyana.

Disciple: What is the function of Udana?

Guru: Udana helps deglutition or swallowing of food. It takes the Jiva to rest in Brahman during deep sleep. It separates the astral body from the physical body at the time of death.
Disciple: What is the function of Samana?

Guru: Digestion of food is the function of Samana.

Disciple: What is the function of Naga?

Disciple: What is the function of Kurma?

Guru: Closing and opening of eyelids are the functions of Kurma.

Disciple: What is the function of Krikara?

Guru: Causing of hunger is the function of Krikara.

Disciple: What is the function of Devadatta?

Guru: Nourishing the body, decomposition of the body after death and ejection of the child out of the womb in women are the functions of Dhananjaya.

Disciple: What are the two divisions in Prana?

Guru: Gross Prana and subtle Prana are the two divisions in Prana.

Disciple: What are the functions of these Pranas?

Guru: The gross Prana does the functions of breathing, digestion, excretion, circulation, etc. The subtle Prana generates thought.

Disciple: What is Manomaya Kosha?

Guru: Manomaya Kosha is the mind-sheath.

Disciple: What does the mind-sheath consist of?

Guru: The mind-sheath consists of the mind (Manas), the subconscious (Chitta) and the five Jnanendriyas or the sense-organs of knowledge.

Disciple: What is Vijnanamaya Kosha?

Guru: It is the intellectual sheath.

Disciple: What does the intellectual sheath consist of?

Guru: It consists of the intellectual and the ego working with the help of the five Jnanendriyas or the sense-organs of knowledge.

Disciple: What is Anandamaya Kosha?

Guru: It is the bliss-sheath.

Disciple: Why is it called Anandamaya Kosha?

Guru: Because through it the Jiva or the individual soul experiences bliss during deep sleep and at the time of experiencing the effect of a Sattvic deed.

Disciple: What does the bliss-sheath consist of?

Guru: It is a modification of Prakriti and consists of the Vrittis called Priya, Moda and Pramoda.

Disciple: How many Koshas are in the physical body?

Guru: One Kosha - Annamaya Kosha..

Disciple: How many Koshas are in the Linga-shareera or subtle body (Astral body)?

Guru: Three sheaths, viz., Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya.

Disciple: How many sheaths are in the causal body or Karana Sarira?

Guru: One sheath, viz., Anandamaya Kosha.

Disciple: How many sheaths operate during the waking state?

Guru: The five sheaths function during the waking state.
Disciple: How many sheaths function during the dream state?

Guru: Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya Kosha function during dreaming state. Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya Kosha function partially.
Disciple: How many sheaths function during deep sleep?
Guru: Only one, viz., Anandamaya Kosha.

III. Gunas

Disciple: What Guna is found in the physical body?

Guru: Tamoguna.

Disciple: What Guna is found in the Pranamaya Kosha?

Guru: Rajoguna.

Disciple: What is the Guna found in the Manomaya Kosha?
Guru: Sattva mixed with Tamas.

Disciple: What is the Guna found in the Vijnanamaya Kosha?
Guru: Sattva mixed with Rajas.

Disciple: What is the Guna found in the Anandamaya Kosha?
Guru: Sattva, technically called the Malina-Sattva (mixed with Rajas and Tamas) in contrast with Suddha-Sattva of which Maya is the embodiment.

Disciple: Where are the Karmendriyas located?

Guru: In the Pranamaya Kosha.

Disciple: Where are the Jnanendriyas located?

Guru: In the Manomaya Kosha.

Disciple: Where does Jnanasakti rest?

Guru: In the Vijnanamaya Kosha.

Disciple: Where does Iccha Sakti rest?

Guru: In the Manomaya Kosha (mind).

Disciple: Where does Kriya Sakti rest?

Guru: In the Pranamaya Kosha.

Disciple: Please illustrate the function of Jnana Sakti, Iccha Sakti and Kriya Sakti.

Guru: You get knowledge of milk through intellect. You come to know that milk nourishes the body. This is the work of the Jnana Sakti of the Vijnanamaya Kosha. Then a desire arises in the mind to possess milk. This is the work of the Iccha Sakti or the Manomaya Kosha. Then you exert to obtain milk. This is the work of the Kriya Sakti of the Pranamaya Kosha.

Disciple: What are the attributes of the Anandamaya Kosha?
Guru: Priya, Moda, Pramoda.

Disciple: What is Priya?

Guru: The joy you experience when you look at an object you like.

Disciple: What is Moda?

Guru: The great joy you feel when you possess the object you like.

Disciple: What is Pramoda?

Guru: The greatest joy you experience after enjoyment of the object you like.

Disciple: What are the Vikaras (modifications) of the Annamaya Kosha?

Guru: Existence, birth, growth, change, decay and death.
Disciple: What are the Dharmas of the Pranamaya Kosha?
Guru: Hunger and thirst, heat and cold.

Disciple: What are the Vikaras of the Manomaya Kosha?

Guru: Sankalpa-Vikalpa (thinking and doubting), anger, lust, Harsha (exhilaration), Soka (depression) and Moha (delusion), etc. There are sixteen modifications of the Manomaya Kosha.

Disciple: What are the functions of the Vijnanamaya Kosha?
Guru: Discrimination and decision or determination (Viveka and Adhyavasaya or Nischaya), Kartritva and Bhoktritva (agency and enjoyership).

Disciple: What is the Dharma of the Anandamaya Kosha?
Guru: Experience of happiness.

Disciple: Please give the order of subtlety of the Koshas.

Guru: The Pranamaya Kosha is subtler than and pervades the Annamaya Kosha. The Manomaya Kosha is subtler than and pervades the Pranamaya and Annamaya Koshas. The Vijnanamaya Kosha is subtler than and pervades the Manomaya, the Pranamaya and the Annamaya Koshas. The Anandamaya Kosha is subtler than all the other four Koshas and pervades all of them.

IV. Adhyaropa Apavada

Disciple: What is the relation between the Kosha and the Atman?

Guru: Anyonya-Adhyasa.

Disciple: What is Anyonya-Adhyasa?

Guru: Anyonya-Adhyasa is mutual superimposition. The attributes of the five sheaths are superimposed on the Atman. The attributes of the sheaths, e.g., change pain, etc., are falsely attributed to the pure soul or the Atman. The attributes of the Pure Atman such as Existence, Knowledge, Bliss, Purity, Consciousness are transferred to the five sheaths.

Disciple: What is Adhyaropa?

Guru: Adhyaropa is superimposition. Just as the snake is superimposed on the rope, the five Koshas are superimposed on the Atman.

Disciple: What is Apavadayukti?

Guru: It is sublation or negation of the five sheaths through neti-neti doctrine.

Disciple: What are the Shad Urmis?

Guru: Birth and death (for the physical body), hunger and thirst (for the Pranamaya Kosha), grief and delusion (Soka and Moha) for the Manomaya Kosha.

Disciple: Why are they called Urmis?

Guru: Just as there are waves in the ocean, these Shad Urmis are the waves in the ocean of this Samsara.

Disciple: How to develop the Vijnanamaya Kosha?

Guru: Through Viveka (discrimination), Vichara (enquiry), meditation on Atman, Japa of Omkara, etc.

Disciple: What will be the use of this purified and developed Vijnanamaya Kosha?

Guru: It will serve as a fortress to prevent coming in of sensual Samskaras from without and prevent the Samskaras of the Anandamaya Kosha or Karana Sarira from coming outside. It will help you to enter into profound meditation and Atma Vichara.

V. Avidya

Disciple: What is the cause of superimposition or Adhyasa?
Guru: Avidya or ignorance.

Disciple: What is the Adhara or Adhishthana for Avidya?
Guru: Brahman.

Disciple: How can Avidya remain in pure Brahman.

Guru: It is Anirvachaneeya. From the viewpoint of the Absolute there is neither Jiva nor Avidya nor the five sheaths. Avidya exists only for the Jiva.

Disciple: What is the other name for Avidya?
Guru: Anandamaya Kosha or Karanasarira of Jiva or individual soul.

Disciple: What does Avidya consist of?

Guru: It consists of Vasanas and Samskaras. The impression of the whole Sanchita Karma of all your past births are lodged there.

VI. Three Avasthas

Disciple: What are the three Avasthas?

Guru: Jagrat Avastha (waking state), Svapna Avastha (dreaming state), Sushupti Avastha (deep sleep state).

Disciple: What is meant by Avastha?

Guru: Avastha means a state.

Disciple: What is Jagrat Avastha?

Guru: It is the state of waking consciousness. That state in which objects are known through the senses is known as Jagrat.

Disciple: What is Svapna Avastha?

Guru: That state in which objects are perceived through the impressions produced during waking state is called Svapna or dreaming state. The consciousness of the subtle, inner, subjective Prapancha or world, which during the quiescence of the sense-organs arises in the form of the percipient and object of perception by virtue of the latent impressions of what is seen and heard in Jagrat is Svapna.

Disciple: What is Sushupti?

Guru: That state in which there is total absence of knowledge of objects is deep sleep state. It is a remembrance in Jagrat state of the kind of experience, I enjoyed sound sleep. I knew nothing.

VII. Moksha

Disciple: What is the nature of Moksha?

Guru: Sarvaduhkhanivritti (removal of all kinds of pain), and Paramanandaprapti (attainment of Supreme, imperishable, eternal Bliss of Brahman).

Disciple: What does Brahmajnana do?

Guru: It destroys Avidya and its effects (Karya), viz., the bodies and the whole Samsara. It frees you from the miseries of birth and death. It makes you absolutely fearless, free and independent. All your doubts like whether I am body or Prana or Buddhi will vanish in toto. You will become Anamaya, free from disease, old age and death. You will have no fear of death or enemies. You will shine as the effulgent, resplendent Purusha Supreme.


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