Kosas Sheaths





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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======

Composition of Man
Personality Layers

Kosas – Sheaths (Pancha-kosas)
From ‘Vedanta Treatise’
By Sri A. Parthasarthy
Vedanta Life Institute, Mumbai.

The structure of man can be divided into five material layers enveloping Atman (indwelling soul). Atman is the core of your personality. It is represented by the mystic symbol of AUM (pronounced OM). The five layers of matter are like five concentric circles around the symbol. They are called sheaths or KOSAS in Sanskrit. The five sheaths (pancha-kosas) are:

  1. Food sheath (Anna-maya kosa)
  2. Vital-Air sheath (Prana-maya kosa)
  3. Mental sheath (Mana-maya kosa)/li>
  4. Intellectual sheath (Vignana-maya kosa)
  5. Bliss sheath (Ananda-maya kosa)

Food sheath

Food sheath is the physical body. The five organs of perception and the five organs of action are a part of it. It is called food sheath because it is caused by food, maintained by food; and finally ends up as food.

Vital-Air sheath

There are five faculties functioning within you. They correspond to the five physiological functions. They are called the five Pranas. Together they constitute the vital-air sheath. They have been given that name because they are related directly to air you breathe.

  1. Faculty of perception (prana): is the functioning of the five senses as seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching.
  2. Faculty of excretion (apana): throws out, evacuates
    excreta of the body such as faeces, urine, sperms, sputum, perspiration etc.
  3. Faculty of digestion (samana): digests food received by the stomach.
  4. Faculty of circulation (vyana); distributes digested food to different parts of the body through blood stream.
  5. Faculty of thought-absorption (udana): takes in fresh knowledge.

These five faculties (pranas) are sharp and clear when you are young. As you get older the pranas lose their strength and vitality. That explains why a ripe old man can hardly see, hear etc. His faculties of excretion, digestion and circulation become very weak. His capacity to absorb and accept new thoughts and ideas is reduced to the bare minimum.

Vital-Air sheath is subtler than food sheath. It controls the food sheath. When your pranas function properly your physical body remains healthy and strong. And when they slacken and work inefficiently the body is adversely affected.

Mental sheath

The mental sheath is the mind. Mind consists of passions and emotions, feelings and impulses. It is full of likes and dislikes. Mental-sheath controls vital-air and food sheaths. For instance, when the mind is disturbed, the physiological functions (pranas) and the physical body are affected.

Intellectual sheath

Intellectual sheath is the intellect. It functions as thinking, reflecting, reasoning, discriminating, judging, etc. It analyses and distinguishes between pairs of opposites. It controls the above three sheaths.

Bliss sheath

Bliss sheath consists of Vasanas alone. When you are in deep sleep i.e. dreamless sleep you are in bliss sheath. When you cross the bliss sheath and move to other sheaths you experience the dream and waking states of consciousness. Vasanas are therefore unmanifest in deep sleep while they are manifest in the form of thought in the dream and actions in the waking state. Consequently you experience mental agitations, be they great or small, as long as you remain in dream and waking states. When however you enter the state of deep sleep all your mental agitations cease and you experience undisturbed peace and bliss. Hence it is that this sheath is called bliss sheath. But the bliss experienced in deep sleep is relative. It is not to be confused with the absolute bliss of Self-realisation.

The five sheaths enumerated above may also be classified under three different headings viz. gross body, subtle body and causal body. Food sheath and the gross portion of vital-air sheath together constitute the gross body. The subtle portion of vital-air sheath combined with mental and intellectual sheaths form the subtle body. While the gross body is made up of gross matter, the subtle body is constituted of passions, desires, emotions, feelings and thoughts. Bliss sheath is the causal body consisting of Vasanas alone.

Your causal body is the storehouse of all your impressions and latent energies in you, all your Vasanas. When this hidden material in the causal body expresses itself as feelings and thoughts it takes the form of your subtle body. The same material works out as perceptions and actions in the gross body. Let the causal body be instilled with the suggestion of health, the subtle body will entertain thoughts of health and the gross body is bound to be healthy. Let the causal body be saturated with the suggestion of godhead, the subtle body will revel in the thought of godhead, the man is bound to be godly. A man is the architect of his own personality inasmuch as it is his own causal body that is responsible for his behaviour, movements and environments.

The substratum of your causal, subtle and gross bodies is your real Self.


Upanishads in Story and Dialogue

Reproduced from Page
Stories and Episodes (33)

The Five Sheaths
Taittiriya Upanishad
Paraphrased- simplified- abridged
By R.R.Diwakar

[The spirit is, as it were, encased in five sheaths (koshas), one within the other. We first come across the gross material sheath, and then go deeper to more subtle sheaths, the last being the sheath of joy or bliss. This teaching occurs in the Taittiriya Upanishad and forms the subject of a conversation between Varuna and his son.]

Bhrgu was the son of Varuna. He once approached his father and said: “Father, impart to me the spiritual knowledge you possess.”

The father said,  "Matter, vital airs, eyes, ears, mind, and speech are the things that you daily come across. You must now know that Reality from which all these things issue and live, towards which all these move and in which they finally merge. That is the Brahman. You can know him by tapas or concentration and meditation.”

The son obeyed the father and after some meditation came to the conclusion that gross matter itself is the Brahman. He went and told his father so. But the father was not at all satisfied with his son’s findings and he exhorted him to go again and perform more tapas. “Meditation alone will give you real insight,” said the father.

Then the son went away and began to meditate further.

Next he realized that Prana or the vital power was Brahman and that it was out of Prana that things took their birth and into Prana they finally merged. Prana indeed is the life giving principle.

But that too was not a satisfactory conclusion. His father asked him to go into meditation again. He then found that the mind or the psychic plane was the thing from which all manifestation emerged and merged again into it at the end. It was subtler than gross matter and prana and could pervade both of them.

He reported this experience to his father. But the father sent him back again with the old advice to perform more tapas.

Bhrgu again meditated and found that the power of understanding (vijnana) was the thing from which all things issued and towards which all things moved. But the father was not satisfied and repeated his advice to his son.

The son again meditated and finally came to the conclusion that bliss or pure joy was Brahman (Supreme Spirit)- the source and the goal of all creation. All the beings are verily born in bliss, they exist by the power of bliss, and they all move towards bliss and into bliss they all merge in the end.

When Bhrgu told his father about this conclusion of his, he was overjoyed and said, “Dear child, this indeed is the highest term of existence. All these five sheaths are there, one more subtle than the other, but the finest and the subtlest is bliss eternal. These are not mutually exclusive. They are inter-penetrating. But the basis of all is bliss, the bliss of Brahman, pure spiritual happiness. He who knows this and realizes it goes beyond all sorrow and death.”

This is known as the Bhargavi Varuni Vidya.


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