Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Atman or the soul is Pure Existence, Knowledge and Bliss absolute. The soul is also self-luminous, eternal and all-pervasive. It is the Divine Spark of life that gives power to the body’s organs of action to work, sense organs to perceive, the mind to feel and the intellect to think. However, the Atman is covered with five layers of matter. These layers of matter enveloping the Self are called Koshas or sheathsThe term ‘sheath’ signifies that just as a sword is covered by its sheath, similarly it is a mere covering for something precious and vital, viz. the soul. These sheaths are born out of the Divine Power of the Atman calledMaya. By its own power of projection the self has created them., and when it identifies with them, it seems to be covered by them and assumes their sorrows and suffering.

The five sheaths or panch koshas are described below:

  1. Annamaya Kosha or the Food sheath.
  2. Pranamaya Kosha or the Vital Air sheath.
  3. Manomaya Kosha or the Mental sheath.
  4. Vijnanamaya Kosha or the Intellectual sheath.
  5. Anandamaya Kosha or the Bliss sheath. 

These five sheaths, though, have no independent existence as such, yet we have to know and analyse their nature and characteristics so that w may disassociate from and discard them and arrive at the knowledge of our true self.

The five Koshas can also be classified under three different categories as the Gross, Subtle and Causal bodies. The Food and Vital Air sheaths together are called ‘the Gross Body’ or sthoola shareera. The Mental and Intellectual sheaths together are called ‘the Subtle Body’ orsukshma shareera. The Bliss sheath is called ‘the Causal Body’ orkarana shareera. It is through these bodies that the Self functions.

Now let us take up the five sheaths one by one.

1. Annamaya Kosha or the Food Sheath
The Food sheath is the outer most layer of our personality. It is so called because this body is the product of food. It exists because of food and it perishes in absence of food. On careful analysis we find that it was born out of the seed formed by the food assimilated by the father. In the mother’s womb also it was being nurtured by the food taken by the mother. After birth this body survives by food being taken by us.

Some texts say that the Food Sheath consists of five organs of perception or Gyan Indriya and five organs of action or Karmendriyas.Shankaracharya does not include either of the two under Annamaya Kosha. According to him, the former comes under Manomaya Kosha,while the latter are included under Pranamaya Kosha.
This physical body is constituted of skin, flesh, blood, bones and marrow. It is also filled with faecal matter. Therefore, this filthy and impure body cannot be the ever pure and divine Atman .Further the body comes into being with the birth of an individual and perishes with his death, so this short-lived body cannot be the eternal and everlasting Atman. Again the different organs of this physical body perform definite and specific functions. One limb cannot perform the function of another limb. But the Self is omnipotent, so we can safely conclude that the Atman is something other than the body. Therefore, the sages advise us that there cannot be peace and true happiness as long as we identify with the body. However, it should be remembered that what is to be given up is the ‘identification with the body’ and not the body itself. The body should rather be well looked after and it should be used as instrument for taking as much work as possible, so that the vasanas may be got exhausted in this life itself. If the body dies without exhausting the vasanas, it becomes cause for another birth.   

2. Pranamaya Kosha or the Vital Air Sheath
 This sheath consists of five Pranas or vital air and, according to Shankaracharya, of five organs of action as well. The five organs of action are  - hands, feet, the organ of speech, the organ of reproduction and the organ of evacuation. The food sheath is completely pervaded by this vital-air sheath. Due to the presence of this Prana in every organ of the body, all the activities of the physical body take place. Therefore, the Pranamaya Kosha is regarded as the ‘soul’ of the Annamaya Kosha. If from any portion of the body the Pranais gone, then that portion becomes paralysed. The five Pranas in this sheath are:
(i)                 Prana: It controls the activities of the five sense organs.
(ii)               Apana: It controls the activity of evacuation and exacretion.
(iii)             Samana: It is responsible for digestion of food. 
(iv)              Vyana: It controls the circulation of blood.
(v)                Udana: It controls the faculty of thinking.

Prana, being inert by itself, does not know anything. It is modification of air; it keeps coming in and going out of the body. So this Pranamaya Kosha cannot be the Atman, which is all-pervasive and omniscient. TheAtman or Self is knower of all and has no modification.

3. Manomaya Kosha or the Mental Sheath
The minds along with the five sense organs constitute the Manomaya Kosha. It pervades the Vital-air sheath. The sense organs perceive things with the help of mind only. If the mind is engaged somewhere else, the sense organs cannot perceive the objects, even though the objects are within the field of perception. Another feature of Manomaya Kosha is that it is the cause for all the plurality in the world – of names, forms, qualities etc.

Shankaracharya gives the metaphor of the Vedic ritual of Yajna andYajna Kunda to describe the play of sense-stimuli and Vasanas in the mind. The five sense organs, acting as priests, pour the offering (aajyaor ghee) of sense objects into the fire-alter of the mind. The Manomaya Kosha is kept blazing because of the fuel of the Vasanas.Because of the constant pouring of ghee (sense-stimuli) the mind is set a blaze with more and more agitations. Therefore, in order to transcend this world of names and forms, and bring peace and happiness, the mind has to be controlled. And the mind cannot be controlled unless the sense organs are controlled. The mind alone causes bondage and it is mind again that liberates. When the mind is made pure, it turns towards liberation. In order to make mind pure, one has to develop the two qualities of Viveka (discrimination) and Vairagya (dispassion).Viveka is he power to discriminate between the Real and the Unreal, between the Self and non-Self. Vairagya is the capacity to deny and reject the world of sense-objects.

This Manomaya Kosha also cannot be the Atman or the Self because it has a beginning and an end; it is subject to modification and is ever-changing; and it is full of pain and sorrow. But the Self is Eternal and Infinite, changeless and its eternal nature is Bliss.

4. Vijnanamaya Kosha or the Intellectual Sheath
The Intellectual sheath consists of the intellect (Buddhi) and all the different modifications of intellect. The modifications of the intellect are the awareness of doing and the concept of ‘I am the doer’. The intellect gets the light of consciousness and develops the capacity to illumine things projected by the mind. This process results in its identification with the body and sense-organs etc. It becomes the restless ego, the ‘I-ness’, and identifying with the objects perceived by the sense-organs, it develops ‘my-ness’. So it becomes the cause for ‘I’ and ‘my’ play which we call Samsara. The intellectual sheath in man veils the Infinite Reality. The Atman conditioned in the intellect is the ego (jeeva bhava), which undergoes the phenomenon of transmigration – of birth and rebirth. Transmigration is caused by delusion of considering the non-Self as the Self.

Further examining the relationship of the intellect with the mind, we find that the intellect is the judging and discriminating faculty, which in the light of its experiences and knowledge gained in the past, communicated to the mind the type of action that has to be taken in response to the external stimuli. The intellect is the store-house of all the memories and knowledge, which become the guiding factor in our actions.

The Intellectual Sheath cannot be the Supreme Self because of the following reasons:
(i)                 It is subject to change; our ideas and thoughts are always changing.
(ii)               It is inert and insentient. When the light of Consciousness touches it, then alone it shines forth and becomes sentient.
(iii)             It is limited; every intellect has its limitations.
(iv)             It is not constantly present; in deep sleep or in the state of swooning, it is not available.
(v)               It is not eternal.

So the intellect cannot be the immortal, eternal, changeless, unlimited, self-luminous and all-pervasive Atman.

5. Anandamaya Kosha or the Bliss Sheath
This is the innermost of the five sheaths. The Bliss-sheath is also known as Vasanas, avidya, ignorance (of the Self), non-apprehension (of Reality), Causal body, and the state of deep-sleep. In deep sleep, the Anandamaya Kosha is fully manifest. In waking and dream states also, it is partially manifest, whenever one finds things that are pleasant and agreeable. Shankaracharya says, The ripples of thought-waves (vritties) arising out of Tamas in our mind, kiss the reflection of the bliss of the Atman, which is the Bliss-Absolute.This is the characteristic of the Anandamaya Kosha.”

When the light of the divine Bliss illumines the thought waves, we experience the bliss-sheath.

The Bliss-sheath controls the Intellectual-sheath, since the intellect functions under the control of one’s Vasanas The Bliss-sheath is the subtlest of the five layers, since it pervades all the four layers and also the state of deep sleep where none of the other four layers can reach. But the subtlest of all is Atman, which is the core of the five-sheathed framework. As the weaver of clothes is different from the clothes he weaves, so also the Atman is distinct and separate from from the matter layers.

The Anandamaya Kosha also cannot be the Atman because (i) it is limited and conditioned, and is not constant; (ii) it consists of causal body made up of Vasanas whichare modifications of matter; (iii) it manifests as a result of good and meritorious actions of the past, hence it is of the nature of effect, not of the cause.

Hence the Anandamaya Kosha cannot be the Atman, which is eternal, ever-present, modification-less, immutable and the cause of all.

So far we have enquired into the nature and functions of the fiveKoshas. Having done so, we have found that none of them could be the Reality, one’s own pure Self. This discrimination is called Panch-Kosha-Vivek . After negating and finding the five sheaths as hollow and unreal, what remains is our own Self, which is the Witness of this negation and which is of the nature of Pure Consciousness. This Atmanis self-effulgent and distinct from the five Koshas. It is the illuminating factor, the Witness of the three states of consciousness – the waking, the dream and the deep sleep. It is pure and untainted by the qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and is Bliss Absolute.
(The author is a retired Addl. Transport Commissioner of the State of Uttar Pradesh. He is an avid reader of the classical texts of Indian philosophy and religion)

No comments:

Post a Comment