The Vedanta defines our body as having five Kosha; layers or sheaths, each one contained within the other.
I, the Self, am the Kosha-Adhyaksh, the in-charge.
We can compare it with a treasure vault built in a room within several other rooms. Each room is behind another room and the treasure is protected in the innermost deepest place.
To reach to the innermost place, the room with hidden treasure, we have to go thru all outer rooms by unlocking each door.
Similarly, according to the Vedic philosophy, the body consists of five Kosha. Each Kosha is behind the other one, deeper and more subtle than the previous one.
Though there are many different scientific or psychological explanations available on this subject, my purpose here is to see how we can go deeper and reach the fifth or the innermost sheath.
First, here is a brief introduction of the five Kosha or sheaths:
1. Anna-Maya Kosha:
Though the literal meaning would be ‘Food layer’, it is the sheath of Matter. It is the outer most or gross body sheath. Since the maintenance, strength and survival of this sheath depends on food, it is called Anna-Maya Kosha. Most people are only concerned about this outer sheath and hardly pay any attention to the inner and more subtle sheaths.
2. Praana-Maya Kosha. The sheath of vital air or energy.
Along with food and water, Praana or energy comes into the body via breath. This is essential and most vital for the survival. This is inner and subtle than the Anna-Maya Kosha or sheath of matter.
3. Mano-Maya Kosha. The sheath of mind.
This is deeper and more subtle Kosha which cannot be found by any scientific instrument. (Mind and brain are not the same. Brain is a tool thru which the mind works). This is the Kosha where all the thoughts and desires are generated but no one knows where exactly it is seated in the body. Anxiety, ambitions, concerns and worries about past and future, happiness and sadness all belong to this Kosha.
4. Vigyaana-Maya Kosha. The sheath of knowledge.
It’s a combination of intellect and ego. The thoughts and desires are managed and justified in this Kosha by reasoning.
5. Aanand-Maya Kosha. The sheath of pure Bliss.
This is the innermost and most subtle of all, also known as Chitta; which cannot be explained thru words.
Our deepest and foremost desire is to achieve this Kosha of ‘Pure Bliss’ and peace. As you can see, this Kosha is buried under or hidden behind the other sheaths. To be able to reach to this Kosha, we have to go thru the first four layers and unlock all the doors. These sheaths function naturally; controlled or uncontrolled; they are part of everyone’s life, but very few people pay attention to these.
Gurubani tells us that we need a guide or teacher or Guru to help us unlock these first four Kosha or sheaths. The enlightened Guru holds the key.
“Guru Kunji Paahu Nival, Man Kothaa Tan Chhat
Nanak Guru binu Man ka taak na ugharai, Avar na Kunji Hatth”
(Shlok Mehla 2 page 1237)
“Mind is like a room and body is its roof. Guru is the key, to achieve the goal (the desired state of bliss)
O’ Nanak, without the Guru, the door of the mind cannot be opened. No one else holds the key.”
First of all, one needs to find an enlightened Guru, to obtain the key, which is the Gyaana.
Then we need to go beyond the first four layers to achieve the final goal.
‘Going beyond’ does not mean neglecting or destroying. Coming back to the example of that treasure vault; we do not destroy the previous rooms to reach to the hidden treasure. We simply find the key to unlock the doors and go thru each room.
Similarly, we need to control and manage the four Kosha to achieve the Bliss, not destroy them.
We should try to understand the functioning of each layer and then try to manage them thru Gyaana and practice.
1. Anna-Maya Kosha. We cannot neglect the outer body sheath. We have to take care of it. A hungry or starving person can hardly think of something other than the food. But even the healthy people also pay most attention to their outer appearance. Though life is to be - and should be enjoyed but over-indulgence; constant thinking of physical needs and pleasures cannot provide everlasting happiness. Not getting what we want makes us sad. Losing something brings grief. No physical pleasure or worldly happiness lasts forever. Those who believe in “Eat, drink and be merry” are stuck to this first sheath of body. We must manage and think beyond this sheath if we want Bliss.
2. Praan-Maya Kosha. We all know the importance of this sheath of energy thru breathing. This is not only important but vital to sustain life. Managing this sheath of vital air can be helpful in managing the next Kosha; the mental sheath. Breath-control (Praanayaam) and meditation is not just some pagan rituals as many people think. Have you ever noticed that during any kind of excitement or anxiety, breathing becomes faster? We start breathing faster when we are angry. Learning to control the process of breathing can calm the nerves and relieve the anxiety and tension. Deep and slow breathing helps the mind to slow down. Controlling the breathing or Praana can make it easier to manage the next Kosha; the sheath of mind. By controlling the Praana, one can try to control the mind.
3. Mano-Maya Kosha is the third inner and more subtle layer where thoughts and desires are born. Thoughts and desires are the cause of all actions; good or bad. Uncontrolled thoughts are like eight strong horses tied around a chariot facing eight different directions. Each one is pulling it to a different direction, which causes imbalance. To drive the chariot to the desired destination, all the horses have to be tied in the front, facing one direction. Similarly, if the mind is being pulled towards many different directions, one cannot find stability and balance in one’s life. Attachment, desires and expectations are the major traits of mind. Without controlling these, we cannot go to the next step. To reach to the final Kosha of Aanand or bliss, we must control the mental sheath and go beyond it.
4. Vigyaan-Maya Kosha.
This is the sheath of knowledge, intellect, wisdom or Gyaana. Everyone has a different level of intellect and wisdom which is gained by learning and experience. Everyone uses their Gyaana or wisdom for different purposes. Some use it to regulate their desires and others use it to justify their uncontrolled desires. In some people the knowledge or Gyaana brings humility and makes them humble. Yet in others, it boosts up their ego. Thru Gyaana, if used correctly, one can manage or control the desires, expectations and attachments and enter into the final, most subtle and innermost sheath of Bliss.
Though Praana or slow breathing can help slow down the mind, it is the Gyaana or wisdom that controls it.
5. Aanand-Maya Kosha. The sheath of pure Bliss.
The controlled or still mind achieves the state of Pure Bliss. As Lord Krishna says:
Yathaa deepo nivaatastho nengatay Sopamaa smrita
Yogino Yatt Chittasya Yunjato Yogmaatmnah || (Bhagavad Gita 6:19)
“As the flame of a lamp in a sheltered spot does not flicker, similarly the controlled mind of a Yogi or Gyani rests in the ‘Aatman’ or the ‘Self without wandering around.” (Bhagavad Gita 6:19)
By controlling, managing and going beyond the first four sheaths, one can reach the Aanand Maya Kosha, the wonderful state of ‘Pure Bliss’.