Have you ever pondered about the objective and nature of your existence?
Have you ever tried to think that there might be the existence of something beyond our body?
If not, then you have landed at the right place.
But wait, does it really matter to be aware of these questions? If yes, where do we find the answer?
The answer of these questions can be given by “Upanisats”. As per them to enable us to clearly differentiate “me” from “not me” (ātma-anātma vivēka), Upaniṣats elaborate that which is “not me” in a variety of ways:
pañca kōśa (the five sheaths),
avasthātraya (the three states),
śarīratraya (the three bodies),
pañcatattva (the five elements)
guṇatraya (the three Gunas)
Upanisat suggests focusing on “not me” entities to accomplish “nēti nēti”, i.e. if we keep on concentrating on what we are not that can lead us to the realization of what we truly are.
The concept of pañca kōśa appears twice in “Taittarīya Upaniṣat” — once in the second chapter (Brahmānandavallī) and once in the third chapter (Bhr guvallī).
In Bar guvallī, Bhrgu has cited the five kōśas, with the guidance and grace of his father/Guru Varuṇa, through intense personal reflection on the nature of Reality (Brahman).
Bhr guvallī lists the five kōśas without any elaboration about each. Therefore, for a traditional description of these five kōśas, we will refer to Tattvabōdha, an introductory treatise to Upaniṣats by Ādi Śaṅkarācārya.
Note: The term ‘kōśa’ does not appear in the upaniṣat. It was a term used by later commentators in their treatises.
Let us see in detail about the Five level of our existence – Pancha Koshas
Form: Physical Body
Function: Give Forms to the being
Composition: the five elements: Air, spacer, water, fire, earth
Activities: Asana, Kriya, Diet, Exercise‘Anna’ literally means ‘eaten’ or ‘food’. The implied meaning of this is ‘matter’. Why was ‘matter’ named as ‘food’? Tattvabodha explains it as follows:
“What is the food sheath? That which is born from the essence of food, grows by the essence of food, and merges into the Earth, which is the nature of food, is called the food sheath or the Gross body”
Form: Prana, Breath (vital energy)
Function: Energetic movements in the layers
Composition: The Five Pranas (Apana, Prana, Samana, Udana, Vyana)
Activities: Asana, Pranayama, Mudra‘Prāṇa’ is usually translated as ‘vital air’ or ‘life breath’. Tattvabōdha explains :
“What is the vital air sheath? The five physiological functions like prāṇa etc. and the five organs of action like speech etc. together form the vital air sheath”
Form: Mind (senses)
Function: Gathering senses like thoughts, feeling & emotions
Composition: Impression from senses (Tanmatras)
Activities: Concentration techniques, Pratyahara“Mana” means mind, the layer which consists of mind(senses). This is usually translated as ‘mental sheath’. Tattvabōdha depicts it as follows:
“What is mental sheath? The mind and the five senses of perception together form the mental sheath”
Function: Wisdom, reason & discernment
Composition: Mental Activities (Vrittis)
Activities: Contemplation, analytical breakdown of mind tendencies“Vijna” means Subtle knowledge & wisdom, the layer which consists of Subtle knowledge. The “Intellectual sheath”. According to Tattvabōdha
“The intellect and the five senses of perception together is the intellectual sheath”.
Function: Inner Bliss
Composition: Love, Spiritual aspiration, sanskaras
Activities: MeditationTattvabōdha describes this sheath as follows:
“What is bliss sheath? Established in ignorance, which is of the form of the causal body, of impure nature, united with thoughts like priya etc. is the bliss sheath”