The Five Sheaths
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.
On the other hand, however, all five Koshas are indispensable for our existence on the earthly plane. Without them we cannot exist here. To surmount and detach from the Koshas is primarily an extensive process of mental purification and development. When there are no more impurities, no more “shadows” remaining, then at the end of our life the astral body also dissolves and our soul’s spark unites with the infinite, divine light.
ANNAMAYA KOSHA is the physical body. It is influenced by the food we eat as well as by our environment and society. Therefore the Yoga teachings emphasise how important positive and beneficial human interactions, as well as a healthy, sattvic diet, are for our physical and mental development. The consumption of meat, alcohol and drugs weakens our vitality and fills us with negative vibrations. A wholesome, lacto-vegetarian diet, however, provides nourishment for the body in an optimal way.
PRĀNAMAYA KOSHA is the subtle sheath of cosmic energy that penetrates and surrounds the physical body. It 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.
MANOMAYA KOSHA, the mental energy sheath, is even more extensive and powerful than the Prānamaya Kosha. Its scope is infinite. 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.
VIGYĀNAMAYA KOSHA is the intellectual body. It can also be positively or negatively orientated. This depends on the society we keep, together with the sensory impressions that we absorb from our environment. It is formed by the experiences, upbringing and education in this lifetime, and represents the sum total of all of these. The intellect, though, is not always our best adviser. All too often it is deaf to the truth and judges egoistically in line with our desires.
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).
ĀNANDAMAYA KOSHA is the “body of bliss”. It is the subtlest of the five sheaths and the most difficult to overcome. This is because the aspiration for the fulfilment of our desires and for comfort and pleasure is a powerful motivator and a decisive power within us.
There are two types of joy:
- the transitory, limited elation, and
- the eternal, unlimited feeling of supreme joy.
The first depends on certain conditions, the fulfilment of our desires and other favourable circumstances, whereas the latter is unconditional, and is totally independent of external conditions. Lasting contentment and MAHĀ ĀNANDA (infinite bliss) are bestowed upon us only in union with the Self; all other joys are limited and transitory.
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.