By Dr. Rita Khanna
Body, mind and spirit are interconnected, interrelated and interpenetrating. Therefore, a person is a combination of three things: firstly; the gross body, secondly; the subtle or astral body and thirdly; the causal body or unconscious. These three bodies constitute you, me and everyone, but there are gross divisions, broad classifications. Each body has a dimension and a layer and in Vedanta, they are known as Koshas which means ‘Sheaths’. These Koshas are five in number and they are Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya which surround this body in much the same way as the inner core of an onion is covered by layers of skin. Only, in the case of Koshas, each subsequent Kosha is more subtle and unperceivable to the naked eye than the one preceding it. One can say that these Koshas can only be realized with the opening of the inner eye, in the state of Meditation.
A Brief Description of Koshas
The first is Annamaya Kosha, which is the physical Sheath and is made from food. Anna means food. The grain which you eat is called Anna and the body which is composed of food is one that you can touch, see and feel. It is the substratum for the subtler Koshas, which also assume the shape and size of the body. Therefore, Annamaya Kosha, which is the container of the other Koshas, is tackled through the practices of the Hatha Yoga Shatkriyas.
The second Kosha is Pranamaya, the Kosha composed of Prana, or life force. Prana is a Sanskrit word meaning movement, motion or vibration. Prana is the force or energy for all kinds of motion. This Prana is a part of cosmic life. Each and every creature, each and every thing in this world is a part of cosmic life. You all know that your body is enveloped by this field of Prana and when you leave this room, you will carry it out along with your body. Although you can’t see it, the Pranamaya Kosha follows you wherever you go. However, if you raise your awareness by the practices of Yoga, then you will see the Pranamaya Kosha in the form of an Aura which surrounds the body. This Aura keeps changing all the time according to the state of health you are in at that time. Even your moods influence the Pranic Aura. Pranamaya Kosha is the energy in Annamaya Kosha. Pranamaya Kosha is purified through the practice of Pranayama, because Pranayama makes the Pranic energy penetrate into each and every cell and fibre of the body.
Beyond the Pranamaya Kosha, this physical body is surrounded by a more subtle energy which is purely mental in nature, known as the Manomaya Kosha. It is at the level of Manomaya that the Chatushtaya Antahkarana, comprising Manas or mind, Buddhi or intellect, Ahamkara or ego, Chitta or memory spring up and begin to perceive, cognize, record, understand, rationalize, discriminate, accept, reject, compare, to name only a few of the myriad functions that it performs effortlessly in our lives.
This Kosha is the seat of Para or empirical knowledge. It beholds the world around and although an instrument of inner consciousness, it has the capacity to externalize the awareness as well as withdraw it inwards. When it is under the sway of the senses, it is fully occupied with the external impulses that it receives from the world of smells, sounds, lights, colours, touch and taste. But there are times when, dissatisfied with the finite nature of these experiences, the mind propels inwards and at that time it receives the impulses of the self which recharge and rejuvenate the Manomaya Kosha. This happens in the state of Meditation too, and that is why Meditation broadens the horizons of the mind, sharpens the intellect, brings the ego in tune with nature and strengthens the Chitta. We can put this mind in touch with the cosmic mind through Raja Yoga practices.
The fourth Kosha is Vijnanamaya. Vijnana means psyche. Vijnana is a Sanskrit word from the prefix vi and jnana meaning knowledge or awareness, inner perception or experience. Vijnana has two meanings: external science and also inner experience. Therefore, whenever you have any experience which is subjective in nature, it is a consequence of Vijnanamaya Kosha. Whatever you are dreaming is a projection of Vijnanamaya Kosha, and in your Meditation, concentration or Mantra Yoga, when you see lights and flowers, figures, angels or saints, smell perfumes or hear sounds, it is the consequence or result of Vijnanamaya Kosha.
Vijnanamaya Kosha is related to a very unknown part of the universe and it is a link or Sutra between the conscious mind, the individual mind and the universal mind. Universal knowledge comes to the conscious mind through Vijnanamaya Kosha or the psychic mind. Vijnanamaya Kosha does not depend on time, space and causation factors because it is not limited by time past, present or future. The mind has its eyes on the object, but Vijnanamaya Kosha has its eye on the universe. This means it can see anywhere and think anything.
The fifth organism is Anandamaya Kosha. It is not possible to translate the word Ananda. Some translate it as bliss or happiness, but Ananda is when there is no happiness and no unhappiness. In happiness you are jumping, in unhappiness you are dull – sometimes low, sometimes high. So your mind is swinging. In Ananda there is no swinging. There is unified experience and that experience does not change. Death cannot change that experience; birth cannot change it; love and hatred cannot make your experiences swing. When your mind has become steady in experience and does not fluctuate under any condition that is Ananda. So we call it homogenous experience. So, Anandamaya Kosha means the Kosha which comprises homogenous experience.
Who Controls These Five Koshas
You are composed of these five Sheaths or Koshas, but you are not that. They are controlled by the three Gunas: Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. Guna means quality, faculty or attribute. The three Gunas belong to nature. In this context nature does not mean beautiful places, mountains and hills. In philosophy nature means Prakriti, the universal law. There is a universal law which controls all, from biggest to tiniest, and it is inherent in the thing itself. Take a tree, for example. It is controlled by the laws inherent in the tree. In the same way every human being and every animal is controlled by a law which is inherent in it. My controller is inherent in me and that is the law. That is Prakriti, and it controls, maintains or manages each and every law by the three Gunas.
How do These Gunas Work
The three Gunas work in unison. Nothing is controlled by one Guna. The body is controlled by Tamoguna, but there is also a little bit of Rajas and Sattwa. In the same way, Anandamaya Kosha is controlled by Sattwa Guna, but there is a trace of the other two Gunas. The mind is controlled by Rajoguna, but there is a trace of the other two Gunas. The three Gunas control the five Koshas in cooperation with each other. They all have a share. In one Kosha, one Guna may have a major share and in the others a very minor share, but the proportion changes from time to time.
The Role of Yoga
First of all, the various practices of Yoga purify the mechanism of these Koshas. Thereby they can change the quantum of the Gunas in each Kosha. For example, the body is predominantly Tamasic, but by the practices of Hatha Yoga, Sattwic food and a good daily program, you can increase Sattwa Guna in the body. In the same way you can change the quantum of the Gunas in each Kosha. When you change the quantum of the Gunas in these five Koshas through the Yoga practices, a balance is created and when that happens, then greater awareness takes place. These five Koshas are separate classifications. You can experience them during your Yoga practice. When you Meditate, you pierce through or penetrate each and every Kosha.
In the journey to awaken Koshas, first of all, you have to find out exactly where you are standing at this present moment. What exactly is your temperament? Are you Tamasic, Rajasic or Sattwic? While it is true that each individual is a combination of these three Gunas or qualities that belong to the realm of Prakriti or nature, still one or the other is predominant in us. Are you by nature a procrastinator, lazy, dull and negligent in your duties and responsibilities; if you are, then you are Tamasic by nature. Of course, we are all lazy at some time of the day, but Tamasic indivi