FIVE LAYERS OF OUR EXISTING BODY (PANCH KOSHA)
Our body does not just consist of the visible physical form; we also possess four other subtle sheaths. Altogether each person consists of five “bodies” or KOSHAS.
These five Koshas are:
ANNAMAYA KOSHA – the Body of Nourishment – Physical Body
PRĀNAMAYA KOSHA – the Energy Body – Astral Body
MANOMAYA KOSHA – the Mental Body – Astral Body
VIGYĀNAMAYA KOSHA – the Intellectual Body – Astral Body
ĀNANDAMAYA KOSHA – the Body of Joy – Causal Body
Our KARMAS (actions) and SAMSKĀRAS (memories and experiences) are stored in the Koshas. They form the partitions between the individual soul and the universal Self. Liberation – MOKSHA – therefore means to release the Ātmā from the limitations of the Koshas. In order to become one with something we must develop the same qualities as that with which we wish to unite. Until we have released ourselves from the Koshas, while we still hang onto our personal ego and continue to identify with the little “i”, we cannot become one with the Infinite.
1. Annamaya Kosha
Annamaya Kosha is the physical body which needs nourishment to survive. The human being is a part of the food chain as any other creature (i.e. the mammals). It is the visible part of our Self and therefore we erroneously identify ourselves with it : Meaning ‘Food Sheath’, is the physical body, with hands, eyes, the body which has a name and dies. This is the gross, physical body. This is the sheath of the physical self, named from the fact that it is nourished by food.
. It is the most vulnerable of the five bodies and it suffers visibly of the deficiencies of the other bodies. An adequate alimentation due to our body type and a physical hygiene supports and strengthens our health. To activate this body it is necessary to do moderate exercises in accordance to age and physical condition. Recommendable are asanas or postures of Hatha Yoga which are practiced with the required concentration and the respiratory rhythm which maintains the body healthy, flexible and strong. Also any kind of sport which is not exaggerated (i.e. walking) activates this outer and transitory shell.
2. Pranamaya Kosha
forms our “aura”, the radiance that emanates from us. PRĀNA is the subtle “nourishment” that is as necessary to life as food and drink. With each breath we not only absorb oxygen, but also Prāna. All foods not only supply us with nutrients, but also with Prāna. The quality of our Prāna is decisively affected by external influences as well as by our own thoughts and emotions, and impacts upon the other Koshas.
Pranamaya Kosha exists in the physical body, interactive and dependant. It is the vital shell that is full of life. The pranic flows are in the blood, lymphatic and nervous circulation Meaning ‘Life Air Sheath’, contains the word Prana, which holds together the mind and body, its one physical manifestation is the breath . Breath is a life-principle and is a controllable expression. Through the regulation of the breath (Pranayama) other bodies can be positively influenced. This body can be made visible in high frequency photography (method by Kirlian). People with a special ability in seeing another persons aura can perceive this body with their naked eye. Basically it is the principle of life that distinguishes between living and dead matter. Maha Prana, the grand vital force is present in all aspects of the universe and pulses with its smallest elements. This shell survives the physical body only momentarily, for it is also transitory.
3. Manomaya Kosha
The mind and thoughts can reach anywhere without any loss of time. Therefore, it is very difficult to control the thoughts.
Vedanta philosophy coined the saying:
MANO MĀTRA JAGAT – “The whole world exists in your mind.”
Innumerable levels and worlds exist in the mind of each individual. Every thought, every idea and every feeling forms a separate world for itself.
Only through controlling the mind can we gain control over our destiny! The best method of mastering the mind is to foster good thoughts and qualities. Following the rules of YAMA and NIYAMA , understanding, giving, praying and practising Mantra purify our karmic phänomen
It is the mind which can construct and destroy. It is our subconciousness that is formed by negative and positive experiences and where our Self has developed with its behaviour. Within this shell actions happen automatically and it dominates the outer shells. “Actions are mighty, thoughts are almighty” (Vivekananda). To activate this body the former two bodies should “freeze” through a deep relaxation (i.e. Yoga Nidra). With this technique deep sheath of our mind can be penetrated and negative programmings can be changed into positive and constructive ones. This process needs perseverance and constancy. This body is also transitory.
4. Vijnanamaya Kosha
Vijnanamaya Kosha, the concious body lies deeper than the previously described ones and is also interactive and dependant. This body is responsible for inner growth, for ethics and for moral. It seeks to reach beyond mundane existence into wisdom and subtle knowledge. It actively seeks to move from the exoteric to the esoteric -from the world in front of the eyes to the mental space behind the eyes. Independent of a specific religion, the studies of holy texts like the Bible, the Tora, the Bagavad Gita and texts of other great teachers, will lead us to the same truth because all religions are based on the same truth and there is only one principle. In this shell we return to life, the knowledge experienced in life is preserved in this body and outlasts.
The intellect can be a very useful tool, but it can also be a great hindrance. That is why we should always employ both BUDDHI (reason) and VIVEKA (correct discrimination).
5. Anandamaya Kosha
Meaning ‘Bliss Sheath’, composed of ananda, or bliss,In deep sleep, when the mind and senses cease functioning, it still stands between the finite world and the self. Anandamaya, or that which is composed of Supreme bliss, is regarded as the innermost of all.
Anandamaya Kosha is the most subtle body and without its existence life is impossible. It interacts with the others like the sun affecting our planet. This blissfull body beyond words is perceived in flashes only in short moments, an undescribable experience where duality ends and I AM expresses the unity. We generally assume that if we want to explore new areas of experience, we first need to acquire knowledge and then to apply it. Yet in reality it works the opposite way. In the beginning we experience something new and then only begin to search for concepts that may explain our new experiences and connect them to our current understanding. The search is mostly intuitively and often subconsciously. This process is specific for all kinds of expansion of conciousness which help us perceive more subtle areas than the material world. Daily meditation (at least for 20 minutes) activate this immortal body.
Only through GYĀNA (wisdom) can we free ourselves from the Ānandamāya Kosha. BHAKTI (devotion to God) takes us close to this goal; but the final step can only be mastered through the knowledge of the truth. Only then can we finally attain MOKSHA (liberation).
The five bodies that encase the Jīvātmā can be compared with the skin of an onion – the “essence” of the onion being neither chemically nor physically derived from its skin.
It is the same with our identity. When we observe our body we say: “This is my body; this is my arm and my leg, my head ……” When we go a little deeper within ourselves, we recognise our thoughts and feelings. And we still say: “These are my thoughts, experiences….”, and so forth. This actually means that everything belongs to us, but is not identical to us. The “Self” is apparently something else. The body, thoughts, emotions and intellectual knowledge are merely skins that cover the nucleus of our existence. We can only experience this when we go deeply within ourselves and penetrate the numerous layers that cover it.