The word kosha means ‘sheath’ or ‘body’ and pancha means ‘five’. According to yogic tradition, our human personality is comprised of five bodies or koshas. These five koshas range from gross dimensions to transcendental dimensions.
The 5 Koshas
The first kosha described in yoga is annamaya kosha or body of matter, which can be animated or inanimated. A building, a tree and a physical body are all considered to be annamaya kosha. The only difference is that a building is inanimated while our body is animated. So, this annamaya kosha or material body is a vast concept.
There are many kinds of matter. Some forms of matter are totally independent and some are dependent on other types of matter for their existence. For example, the food that we eat is matter and the body which consumes the food is also composed of matter. We can observe an interaction of matter. One form of matter is consumed to sustain and support the other form. This is known as the dependency of matter on matter. An independent form of matter is stone. You cannot eat stone and there is no substance received from this form of matter.
Yoga views the whole of creation as the manifestation of matter, which can be compared to our external body, used for the manifestation of creative consciousness and energy. Different objects, whether a stone or a body, have a different composition, but they are all impregnated by energy and consciousness. A stone contains consciousness and energy, but because of its composition the energy is not manifested. Plant life contains consciousness and energy, but it is not expressed by them in a form that we can perceive.
Consciousness and energy requires different agencies in order to manifest creatively. A stone is inert matter, annamaya kosha. In plant life we see a combination of annamaya, pranayama and slight manomaya kosha. In human life we see the combination of all five koshas. So the consciousness inherent in a stone or in plant life utilizes different means of expression.
Unless the koshas are integrated in a unit it is not possible for them to manifest. Annamaya kosha is simply the manifestation of matter regardless of what type of consciousness and energy is contained within it. It is simply a tool, an expression of consciousness and energy in the material or gross world which provides the experience of the dimension being dealt with, in a particular kosha.
After annamaya kosha comes pranamaya kosha. This is the body of energy or prana. What makes your body move? It is the force of energy. If you remove this energy from your body, how will your body move? If you pick a blade of green grass, after some time it will turn brown and die. The force that kept it alive and green was prana.
Yogis has realized that everything in this universe contains energy, and that energy is generally termed as prana. The prana which pervades and controls the entire universe is known as mahaprana. The prana which governs the individual units such as that of a body is subdivided into five categories. According to the various activities of the individual unit, that prana is again divided into five minor categories. So, animate beings have ten different types of prana within them. Inanimate beings have just one type of prana. It is the pranic force which maintains and supports their physical body.
Let us look at prana from the macro cosmic viewpoint. In macro cosmos, the prana which pervades the entire universe is known as mahaprana. This is the first impulse of life or consciousness. For example, when you sleep at night there is no concept of time and space. There is total unconsciousness. When the alarm goes off there is a slight stirring in the fields of consciousness, which then intensifies as awareness. Then you become aware of your body, the environment, what time it is and so on.
Many times, when we go into deep states of concentration or introversion where we become unconscious of the external world, we find that our mind is alert but it has no control over our body. That pranic link which coordinates the mental and physical activities is temporarily disengaged from our body.
Mahaprana is the pulsation or life force of every atom and planetary body which exists in the universe. Stars and pulsars which emit different kinds of radio waves or gamma rays are also forms of mahaprana. If you started eliminating each wave in the cosmos one by one, eventually there would be just one kind of wave, which could be considered as the originating point of all the others. That point is known as mahaprana.
Mahaprana also manifests differently in the different koshas. In the psychic body prana manifests at a vibratory level. In the physical and mental bodies it manifests in the form of stimulation and impulse. When we get the idea to raise our arm, the impulses which travel from the body to the brain and from the brain to the body are of physical prana.
In pranamaya kosha, prana manifests in the form of currents or energy flows. The current of prana which flows from pranamaya kosha to annamaya kosha, always travels through the energy channels or nadis in the form of currents. These currents can be experienced in our physical body in the form of light, tiny electrical currents, prickly or itchy sensations within the physical framework.
There are many kinds of energy flows in the physical body. The first is the blood vessels which carry blood from one part to another. The second is the nerves which carry sensations from the body to the brain. The third is the nadi or pranic flow which connects the prana from pranamaya kosha, with the physical body.
Five thousand years ago there was a rishi in India named Kannada. He was the first person to describe atomic theory. He described how prana interacts within a pranic structure. He said that the nucleus of an atom which is pulsating with energy is prana in its pure form. That prana is the source of movement, the source of life, and that life is visible in our external physical structure.
Third comes manomaya kosha, which comprises of the rational mind as well as the emotions. Manomaya kosha also incorporates various other aspects of our mind. The conscious, subconscious and unconscious expressions, behavior and relationships are all aspects of manomaya kosha. States of mind such as euphoria, happiness, joy, frustration, depression and anxiety are also aspects of manomaya kosha. These various expressions of mind are also related with the samskaras and karmas of vijnanamaya kosha.
Vijnanamaya kosha is considered to be the storehouse of sanskara and karma. It is the area where buddhi, chitta and ahamkara manifest in their raw form. When these faculties or impressions have to interact with the external world, they use the agency of mind (manas).
Our interactions with positive and negative things are the problems of dealing with our own mind nature, desire, strengths and weaknesses. Ambitions and need are the different aspects of manomaya kosha. It is not just the rational mind which is known as manomaya kosha, but the totality of mind. Manomaya kosha is a very broad term used to define the various expressions of mind and human nature.
Fourth is vijnanamaya kosha, the sheath of wisdom, understanding and realization. There are two aspects or levels of vijnanamaya kosha.
- The first or lower aspect is that of internal and external knowledge.
- The second aspect is the understanding of samskara and karma.
After one has gone through these two states, a third state or dimension is reached, which is the experience, understanding and realization of ego.
Over the past centuries, when spirit was evolving into matter, the first manifestation was of mahat or supreme intelligence. From this aspect of mahat there emerged four sub-aspects. These are recognized as:
(i) ahamkara, the ego principle,
(ii) chitta, process of observation.
(iii) buddhi, process of discrimination and understanding, and
(iv) manas, mind.
These sub-aspects make up the body of vijnanamaya kosha.
Vijnanamaya kosha is generally translated as a body of intellect, but this is not correct. Vijnana is a combination of two words: vi plus jnana. Jnana means knowledge and when you add vi to it, it becomes subtle knowledge. The body where subtle knowledge is experienced is vijnanamaya kosha.
In manomaya kosha, we mentioned buddhi, chitta and ahamkara. But now we will deal with them as parts of vijnanamaya kosha. Buddhi means ‘intellect‘, which is also subdivided into two groups. One form of intellect is related to the external world of objects and the other is an internal understanding of the principles which shape our personality.
The Anandamaya kosha or “sheath made of happiness” (ananda) is in Vedantic logic the most unobtrusive or otherworldly of the five levels of typified self. It has been deciphered concentrically by particular schools of Hinduism only.
In Advaita Vedanta Anandamaya kosha is the deepest of the five koshas or “sheaths” that shroud the Atman or Supreme Self.It constitutes the karana sarira or causal body. It is connected with the condition of dreamless rest and samadhi.
In lessons of Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, Anandamaya kosha is not the same sheath used to refer the other four external koshas, but instead it constitutes the spirit itself, a group of light. And being the Causal body and the storehouse of karma, it is additionally the Karana chitta, the “causal personality” or super-conscious brain, of which Parashakti (or Satchidananda) is the substratum. This Anandamaya kosha advances through all incarnations until at long last converging in the Primal Soul, Parameshvara. It then gets to be Sivamayakosha, the group of Shiva.