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The Pancha Koshas

by Swami Sivananda

BOW to that Supreme Brahman from whom these five Koshas have sprung, by whom they are sustained and in whom they are dissolved, who is Existence, Consciousness and Infinity.

Man in essence is the all-pervading immortal soul. He identifies himself, on account of delusion and ignorance, with the five illusory Koshas or sheaths, the Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya, Anandamaya and thinks that he himself is subject to the various changes. He identifies himself with the Annamaya Kosha or the physical body and when the physical body is burnt, he thinks himself burnt. He regards himself black. He become attached to son, wife, cattle, wealth, house, etc., on account of ignorance (Avidya) and thinks himself to be the owner of them. He thinks that he is a student, a householder, an ascetic and so on. The body is a product of five elements. It is entirely distinct from the real Self. The ignorance man is bound to Samsara by mere delusion, by the false ideas of 'I' and 'mine'.

He identifies himself with the Pranamaya Kosha and thinks 'I am hungry, I am thirsty, I did this action.' The Pranamaya Kosha is quite foreign to the real Self. He identifies himself with the Manomaya Kosha and regards himself as the thinker and thinks 'I am angry, I am lustful, I am greedy.' The Manomaya Kosha is entirely distinct from the real Self of man. He identifies himself with the Vijnanamaya Kosha and regards himself as the cogniser and thinks 'I am intelligent, I know everything, I am the enjoyer.' He identifies himself with the Anandamaya Kosha and feels 'I am happy.' Both the Vijnanamaya and the Anandamaya Koshas are quite foreign to the real Self of man.

Just as there is a set of five vessels, one within the other, just as there are the layers of an onion, so also are these Koshas lying one within the other. 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 over-coat. Even so the Atman is enveloped by these five sheaths.

The teacher first gives an exposition of the five Koshas to his disciple, gives him an insight into the nature of the Koshas and then points out that Brahman which is beyond the Koshas is identical with the man's innermost Atman within, just as one points out the star by pointing out first the end of the tree's branch. In Arundhati Nyaya one big star is shown first to the man, then a small, then a smaller star and finally the smallest star. Even so, the instructions given takes the mind from the gross to the subtle, from the subtle to the subtler and eventually from the subtler to the subtlest of although e Atman or the Self which is encased within the five sheaths.

The human mind which is tainted by various kinds of Vasanas and impurities that have accumulated in this beginningless Samsara can realise the subtle Atman within, only by some appropriate process or method, and it is this appropriate process which the teacher describes in his masterly discourses. The illumined teacher enables his disciples to rise above the level of effects by explaining the grand truth that the Self and Brahman are identical.

Man naturally identifies himself with the Koshas. His intellect becomes pure through meditation. He develops the faculty of true discrimination between the real and the unreal, between the permanent and the impermanent. When he acquires this faculty of discrimination, he abandons the first Kosha and recedes to the one next behind. He resolves by meditation each Kosha into what is behind it, till he reaches the innermost Atman behind the Koshas and then holds on to that Atman alone. Step by step he abandons one Kosha after another and dissolves all of them and eventually attains knowledge of unity with Brahman and becomes liberated from the round of births and deaths. The main object of the Srutis also is to impart a knowledge of Brahman as the means of attaining the highest goal or the final emancipation (Moksha).

In order to transport man by the ship of Brahma-Vidya to the farthest shore of the great ocean (Koshas), the Sruti says, This Atman is Brahman; Thou art That.'

Just as a rope becomes a serpent, only on account of ignorance, so by Avidya or ignorance alone Atman becomes the man of five Koshas and appears to suffer along with the Koshas.
The Annamaya Kosha constitutes the gross physical body. The Pranamaya, the Manomaya and the Vijnanamaya Koshas constitute the Linga Sarira or subtle body (astral body). The Anandamaya Kosha constitutes the causal body (Karana Sarira).

The physical body is formed of the essence of food. The subtle body is formed of unquintuplicated, Apanchikrita or uncompounded elements. The casual body is formed of Samskaras or Moola Ajnana (primitive ignorance). The Anandamaya Kosha is the cause for the subtle and gross bodies or the remaining four sheaths.

Birth and death are the Dharmas (attributes) of the Annamaya Kosha. Hunger and thirst are the Dharmas of the Pranamaya Kosha. Moha (delusion) and Soka (grief) are the attributes of the Manomaya Kosha. The Atman is ever pure and unattached. He is absolutely free from the Shad Urmis or six waves of the ocean of Samsara, viz., birth, death, hunger, thirst, delusion and grief.

The physical body operates during the waking state. The subtle body functions during the dreaming state; and the causal body operates during deep-sleep state. During deep-sleep it is the thin veil of Anandamaya Kosha that separates the individual soul from the supreme Soul or Brahman.

The Sruti shows with the help of knowledge that the individual soul is identical with the Brahman who is within and beyond the five sheaths from the Annamaya (food sheath) down to the Anandamaya (the blissful sheath) and goes on to extract the kernel within, by divesting it of the five sheaths formed of ignorance, just as by threshing the many chaff-coverings of Kodrava one brings to view the grain within.

The Sruti represents, for the sake of contemplation, the five parts of the Annamaya Kosha in the form of a bird in the case of sacrificial fire. The sacrificial fire, arranged in the form of a hawk, a heron, or some other bird, has a head, two wings, a trunk and a tail. So also here, every Kosha is represented to be made up of five parts. (Sureshvaracharya).

The Pranamaya Kosha or the vital sheath made of Prana, etc., ought to be figuratively understood as the molten copper poured into a crucible. The Pranamaya and the other three Koshas are not made up of a head, etc. It is better to imagine that these Koshas also are fashioned after the mould of the physical body, just as the molten metal poured into a mould takes the form of that mould. This will help the meditation and discrimination of the four Koshas.

The Annamaya Kosha is permeated by four Koshas, the Pranamaya and the rest. The Pranamaya Kosha is permeated by three Koshas, the Manomaya by two Koshas and the Vijnanamaya by one Kosha.

In order to lead the mind which has lost its longing and attraction for sensual objects to the inner being, which is behind the Annamaya Kosha or food-sheath, the Sruti explains the nature of Prana and the Pranamaya Kosha or the vital sheath. Distinct from the food-sheath or the gross physical body which has been described above, there is the inner Self made of Prana, falsely imagined to be the Atman like the gross body. The Pranamaya Kosha is also falsely identified with the real Self or Atman. This self formed of Prana fills the self which is formed of food-essence, just as the air fills the bellows.

The Pranamaya Kosha is more subtle than the gross physical sheath. The vital forces of the Pranamaya Kosha perform the different functions of the body, viz., digestion, circulation of blood, deglutition, excretion, etc., and manipulate the physical body from within. The whole physical body is pervaded by the Pranamaya sheath. The Pranamaya sheath contains the five Karma Indriyas or organs of action, viz., organ of speech, hands, feet, organ of generation and anus. The different limbs of the physical body have their corresponding parts in the Pranamaya Kosha. Pranamaya Kosha, along with the mental and intellectual sheaths, forms the subtle body of Linga Sarira (astral body).

The Pranamaya Kosha is the self that abides in the Annamaya Kosha. This physical body is mistaken for the pure Atman by false identification on account of ignorance. The Sruti wants you now to give up the idea that the body is the Self and take up the idea that the Pranamaya Kosha is the Self. The mind is taken from the gross body to the subtle Pranamaya sheath. When the idea that the Pranamaya is the self is deeply ingrained, the illusion that the Annamaya is one's own self vanishes. Then you begin to feel that the Annamaya is the body and the Pranamaya is one's own self that abides in the physical body.

The Manomaya Kosha is made up of Vrittis (Sankalpas or thoughts). It is subtler than the Pranamaya Kosha. It controls the Pranamaya Kosha. So it is the inner self of the Pranamaya Kosha.

Mind or Manas is that inner sense or internal organ or instrument consisting of Sankalpa and Vikalpa. It is the seat of volition. Just as the Annamaya Kosha is made of food-stuff, so also the Manomaya Kosha is formed of mind-stuff.

Manomaya self is the inner self of the Pranamaya. It permeates the Pranamaya Kosha. The Pranamaya Kosha is filled by the Manomaya Kosha. The Manomaya Kosha contains the organs of knowledge (Jnana Indriyas), viz., ear, skin, eye, tongue and nose. The real senses are within. What you see outside the physical eyes, etc., are mere instruments. The Manomaya Kosha is more subtle and expansive than the Pranamaya Kosha. The Pranamaya Kosha is more subtle and expansive than the Annamaya Kosha.

The Manomaya Kosha or the mental sheath abides within the Pranamaya Kosha like the bladder of a football. Through the functioning of the Manomaya Kosha only you say, I think, I imagine. For the sake of contemplation, it is said to be of human form made up of five members, viz., head, right wing, left wing, trunk and tail. Just as the water assumes the shape of the vessel in which it is kept, just as the melted metal puts on the form of the mould into which it is poured, so also the human form of the Manomaya sheath follows that of the Pranamaya.

The Sruti leads the aspirant, who has withdrawn himself from the Pranayama and the Manomaya, still farther within, beyond even the Manomaya Kosha.

Vijnanamaya is the determinative knowledge (Nishchaya). This determinative knowledge (Adhyavasaya) is an attribute (Dharma) of the intellect (Buddhi). It is the determinative faculty which guides the mind and comes to right conclusion or determination. When the mind is in a doubting condition whether to do an action or not, Vijnanamaya renders help by coming to a determination 'I must do this.' The sacrificial rites are performed by one, only after ascertaining their nature from right sources of knowledge. Vijnana is the source of all sacrificial rites.

Vijnana or knowledge performs sacrifices, because a man who has knowledge performs sacrifices with faith, etc. Therefore, knowledge is said to be the doer. The Buddhi which determines gives sanction and the mind and the senses work through the gross body. Therefore Vijnana is the real agent.

The Sruti says that the Anandamaya self is also an effect. The Sruti teaches of the Self in his aspect as the enjoyer by Avidya or ignorance as he identifies himself with the Upadhi or Antahkarana or inner sense which is of four-fold nature (mind, intellect, memory and egoism). The Anandamaya is made up of the latent impressions of love and other forms of happiness. The Anandamaya is the seed-body or causal body (Karana Sarira). This body functions during deep-sleep the sum total of all causal bodies of all individual souls constitutes the Upadhi or Maya of Ishvara.

Love (Priya) which springs up at the sight of a beloved son and the like is the head, as if it were Anandamaya self, because of its pre-eminence or prominence. It is the Anandamaya self who feels 'I am happy', 'I am the enjoyer'.
Moda is the joy of exultation produced by the acquisition and possession of a beloved object. Pramoda is the same joy intensified or raised to a high pitch. Love (Priya), joy (Moda) and delight (Pramoda) are reflections of bliss manifested in the Sattvic states of mind.

All living creatures are endowed with Manomaya, Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya selves, one abiding within another. The internal permeates the external self which lies outside. All of them are formed of Akasa and other elements of matter. All of them exist only by ignorance. They are set up by Avidya or nescience. They are all possessed of supreme Soul or Brahman who is everywhere, who is All, who is the cause of Akasa and all the rest, who is eternal, changeless, self-existent, who is existence, knowledge and infinity and who is beyond the five sheaths. He is indeed the Self of all. He alone is verily the Atman.

The philosophers of the Lokayata or materialistic school and the common people take the physical body as the Atman. They are not aware of the distinction between the body and the Atman. A knowledge of the five Koshas and the study of the Srutis will open the eyes of these ignorant persons. The perceiver is distinct from the thing perceived. The sense of sight is distinct from colour and object of perception. The perceiving consciousness is the Self. The consciousness is distinct from the body which is made up of matter.

The supreme Brahman has been described as Satyam, Jnanam, Anantam. A description of the five sheaths beginning with Annamaya has been given in order to realise the supreme Brahman which is beyond the five sheaths. The supreme Brahman which lies within the five sheaths is also the Self of them all. This non-dual Brahman forms the support or the ultimate basic reality that underlies all duality produced by Avidya or ignorance. As the Anandamaya leads ultimately to unity, there is the supporting Brahman, one without a second, who is the ultimate basis of duality caused by ignorance, who is the tail, the support of the Anandamaya.
The five Koshas of man are described in order to destroy the veil of ignorance. Resolve each Kosha into that which precedes it in evolution, each effect into its immediate cause, till the ultimate cause is reached. Eventually you will be led to the knowledge of Brahman, who is beyond cause and effect, who is neither the cause nor the effect. You will realise the oneness of the individual soul and the supreme Soul.

Maya is the illusory power of Brahman. This is the material cause of the universe. It is made up of the Gunas, viz., Sattva (purity), Rajas (passion) and Tamas (darkness). Tamas is the cause of the Annamaya Kosha. So inertness predominates in this Kosha. It is not endowed with Kriya Shakti (power of action) or Jnana Shakti (power of cognition). Rajas is the cause of the Pranamaya Kosha. It is endowed with Kriya Shakti (power of action). The cause of the Manomaya Kosha is Sattva mixed with Tamas. Therefore the Tamasic qualities, hatred etc., are present in the mind. The cause of the Vijnanamaya is Sattva mixed with Rajas. Therefore we find in it the agency. Man as mind and intellect (Buddhi) is a product of Jnana-Shakti. Through Jnana-Shakti man gets knowledge as how to possess the desired objects. Through Kriya Shakti he exerts and possesses the objects.

May you all abandon the identification with these illusory sheaths which is set up by Avidya or ignorance through discrimination and enquiry! May you all attain the Supreme Brahman by transcending the five sheaths!

May you all be endowed with Brahma Jnana or knowledge of the Self! May you all attain liberation in this very birth!

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