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Part 1: Pancha Kosha

Pancha Kosha – The Five Treasures / Cells

The translation of Pancha Kosha; -
Pancha simply means five.
Kosha’ can be translated as ‘sheath’ ‘shell’, ‘cell’, envelope’ ‘screen’, ‘case’ and even ‘treasure’[1]; Sanskrit is a very subtle language. While this can be said of English, Sanskrit words can have profoundly more shades of meaning, even hidden esoteric values, depending on how they are used and placed within a text. It is usual to see kosha translated simply as ‘sheath’, however as this has unfortunate associations in English slang with condoms, it ceases to be a useful word in an educational context. In this text it is not used.
Introduction; -
The concepts that underpin modern Yoga were thought out in ancient times by Rishis (teachers) of an unknown culture and have been handed down to the present day in various forms both verbal and written. Taittiriya Upanishad is third amongst the very oldest texts[2] that elucidate the concept of five. All models of the mind have their limitations, as does this one, yet still it can help to separate out the strands that comprise the human personality, to facilitate the development of discriminatory wisdom and detachment. These cells are affected in varying ways by all life-style habits and, of course, by each of the Eight Limbs of Yoga[3] and the various many other forms of practice such as Mantra Yoga (repetition), Bhakti Yoga (devotion) and Gyana Yoga (reflection on wisdom) and any other form of thought and action. Everything contains within it its own seeds of consequences.
Through this model, the human personality is seen as comprising discrete yet interdependent and interactive shells that belong to the lower space (Dharakasha) made up of the first three human vortex of energy (chakra), namely Mooladhara, Swadhisthana and Manipura.[4]
Pancha Kosha
Anna-maya Kosha
Gross Physical Body
Prana-maya Kosha
Subtle Body
Mana-maya Kosha
Perceptual Body
Vigyana-maya Kosha
Consciousness Body
Ananda-maya Kosha
Transcendental Body
 (The Sanskrit word ‘maya’ here translates as ‘full’; let there be no confusion with the Skt. ‘mayá’ correctly written with an accent over the second a; this is a different word entirely which translates as ‘illusion’. With 26 letters and 5 vowels, English is quite limited at transliterating Sanskrit, which has over 50 letters and over 10 vowels depending on how you define them)
Annamaya Kosha - The food-full cell; - (Taittiriya Up. II. 2. i; also Paingala Up II.7.v)
‘Food’ can be understood in two ways in this context; simply that as mammals we are food, we need food to survive, and on death we become food for other sentient beings and plants; or it can be taken further to include all material existence animate and inanimate, including things that do not have prana (life-force) such as stones and buildings[5]. This makes it a vast concept, with two forms of matter:
Ø      Independent Forms of Matter e.g. stone which is inert annamaya kosha, energy (maha prana) isunmanifested
Ø      Dependant Forms of Matter that require interaction with other forms of matter (food, air etc.); here maha prana is active in different ways that are not always easy for us to perceive; e.g. a plant expresses annamaya kosha; pranamaya kosha - in the form of flowing fluids such as sap / pranic flow; and maybe some aspects of manomaya kosha - such as stimulation /impulse to respond to environmental factors outside its own genome structure
It can be seen immediately, that the expression of maha prana, this ‘fundamental energy’, is different between Independent and Dependant Forms of Matter, creating a primary distinguishing feature within the Universe. “The finding of matter as the ultimate reality is not satisfactory… from materialism we pass to vitalism. But the principal of life can not account for conscious objects”[6] A questioning mind quickly distinguishes the first three shells.
The individual is a body with needs and attributes, yet there is more – yoga can help us understand how to care for and maintain the gross physical aspect of being human while leading us out of the dreary monotony of unfolding events, into awareness and reflection.
Pranamaya kosha - The energy-full cell; -
Living within the Annamaya kosha, interactive and dependant on it exists the vital body, the life-full treasure. Pranic flows can be observed in blood, lymphatic and nervous circulations etc.; there also are flows between the pranamaya kosha and the physical body.
Sanskrit scholars believe that prana originally meant breath and since life depends on breath it can to be used also to indicate the life-principle[7], the word is now used to indicate the vitality of life, wherever it appears. However beyond what can be perceived, Yoga discerns a still more subtle ‘great life force’ (maha prana) that is present in all aspects of the unlimited Universe(s) that pulsates in every tiny particle; science is finally beginning to catch up with the Rishis of ancient times: Sanskrit has a word for particles that are smaller than those that we have yet discovered param-anu. This maha prana manifests differently in the different koshas. For example animate beings have 10 types of Prana flowing within them[8].
Basically prana can be understood as, that underlying principle, that distinguishes a living and Dependant Form of Matter, from what is a dead Dependant Form of Matter. It is a numinous force that is hard to define, but it is clearly absent when it has gone, because ‘death’ occurs.
Tantra Yoga texts speak of 72,000 nadi flows of energy (700 charted meridians in Acupuncture; prana = Qi or chi).
A disease pattern can be detected in the vital body before it manifests in the gross body.
“It is in Pranamaya that energy blocks arise in the nadi, chakra and kundalini (major nadi) which create innumerable problems within the personality.”[9]
The individual is a vital collection of powerful energies that impart and maintain the health / vitality of the whole being; Yoga can assist us in learning how to detoxify our prana – leading to a fuller quality of life, yet there is still more.
Manomaya kosha – Instinctive-mind-full cell
Manas the inner organ is different from, and yet interactive with and dependent on the previous two treasures. It is confined to the gross body governing the faculties of perception and instinctual consciousness.
“As life outreaches matter so does mind outreach life. There are forms of life without consciousness but there can be no consciousness without life”[10]. Here the mind is seen as a rudimentary gathering together of perceptions. These are translated by the brain into responses that are instinctive, conditioned, emotional, rationalised and capable of creating lifelong habitual states within which the human / sentient-being can pass from birth to death without seeking any further understanding, nor experience any sense of missing out. “According to Yoga, thought takes place through subtle thought-energy channels,”[11] thought flows in the mental space chittakasha.
By developing awareness, Yoga can assist greatly in releasing unconscious responses, which increase our suffering, governing our lives through desire and fear –there is more to being human than meeting daily needs.
Vigyanamaya[12] Kosha – Understanding-full cell
Looking more deeply into what the mind is, it is possible to discern a level that is different from the previous, though interactive with and dependent on the other treasures. This aspect of the self understands - and is capable of inner growth, of ethics - it seeks to reach beyond mundane existence into wisdom and subtle knowledge.
Each shell simultaneously relies on the one below and looks to the treasure above, especially Vigyanamaya kosha. It actively seeks to move from the exoteric – the world in front of the eyes - to the esoteric - the world within chittakasha, the mental space behind the eyes – where the “truths are not inferred, they are self-evident and can not be invalidated by reason”[13].
The mind begins to find that it is possible to go beyond the personality, to reach into a massive, morphogenic field[14] of intuition that is transcendent of the limitations of the gross and subtle bodies. Within this sheath of intellection, logic is bypassed by morphogenic resonance whereby all fields of understanding feed into and off each other within a ‘cosmic’ mind. As a result logic is often applied subsequent to the development of new understanding. Such mentation often occurs beyond language, when the subtle faculties of mind[15] have to interact with the external world they use the agency of Manas and articulation can often be difficult.
Yoga can gradually develop the ability to separate the observer from the observed, and perhaps finally, duality and separation begin to diminish as the Self approaches transcendental awareness, beyond words.
It has been said that this kosha is composed of Buddhi[16]. The Sanskrit word Buddhi describes not only the capability of understanding of the exoteric world - that can be experienced - but also an esoteric aspect of mind that ‘understands’ unmanifest experiences that are carried though ancestral agencies - similar to genetic code being carried in DNA – this is where the complex concepts of karma and samskara interact with being human. Practices that develop awareness of Vigyanamaya kosha can begin to burn through the chains of action and reaction, allowing the Self to break free from the constraints of its personality and move closer to realisation of universality.
“We know we have a body; we can see and experience the body. We know we have a mind; we can experience it but we cannot see it. We know we have a soul, but we can neither experience it nor see it. So, there is a decreasing state of awareness. But when we go into Vigyanamaya kosha though the process of sadhana (spiritual practice), the awareness of the body and mind is lost, and the awareness of the subtle mind takes place along with the awareness of the soul.”[17]
Anandamaya kosha; -
More subtle still, without which existence can not be possible, the bliss-full sheath interacts with the others like the sun affecting our planet, we may not even have any awareness of it but all depends on its presence. “Each sheath contains the next and ‘needs’ to move into it, so even intelligence does not exhaust the possibilities of consciousness and can not be its highest expression. Man’s awarenss is to be enlarged into a super-consciousness with illuminating joy and power…. The higher includes the lower and goes beyond it”[18]
This bliss-full Self, beyond reason, logic - even beyond words is glimpsed in flashes that happen and therefore are still within experience even if indescribable. The wise Seeker gathers harmony throughout the koshas, earnestly endeavouring to live from a place beyond duality, beyond separation, expressing the unity of ‘I am’
“Knowledge that makes us recognise and understand this unfolding of consciousness opens our awareness for the mechanisms that make our hidden abilities become real.
“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. We first experience something new and then only begin to search – more or less intuitively and often subconsciously – for concepts that may explain our new experiences and connect them to our current understanding. This process is especially true for all expansion of consciousness that make us perceive areas beyond our familiar sphere of life.
“Contrary to common belief most experiences of expansion of consciousness are hardly ever clear and vivid enough to make us recognise them the very moment they happen. Most insights into different (new) levels of consciousness are so brief that they appear like highly fleeting, almost unreal apparitions. Since we mostly cannot explain what we experienced, we usually store these events in the same place as all the other unresolved experiences that accompany our life and which we choose to ignore or forget as well.
“Hidden deep inside our memory we therefore carry a number of experiences we are barely aware of, but which nevertheless contain vital information how higher, more advanced states of existence feel like.”[19]
Simultaneously with every insight into the higher functions of our consciousness, we also receive the ability to fully comprehend our experience. This happens automatically, no matter if we are aware of it at the moment of insight or not. Experience and understanding are just two different aspects of the same event.
“Misinterpretation, prejudice, ignorance, doubt and social consensus usually prevent us from understanding and utilising these expansive experiences. Yet when we allow our intuitive orientation towards growth to guide this process, these obstructive factors are automatically filtered out. This kind of flawless intuitive insight makes us intuitively sense how every information we receive will influence our progress. It gives us the choice to accept and amplify only those impulses that positively lead us to more advanced stages of development.”[20]
Viewing the koshas from the reverse; -[21]
The first veil Anandamaya Kosha, shields us from the Divine Monad Atman that which inhabits the Galactic Universe(s). This kosha hides the atman within the Sheath of the Sun or Spiritual Soul; in this form the atman can range over the whole solar system.
The second veil is Vigyanamaya kosha, where atman condenses into the Higher Mind or Manasaputric Soul [Manasputrik = ‘mentally I have adopted’ / son of the mind (?)], which may pass anywhere in the planetary chain to which Earth belongs. These two are not bound by time and space.
The third veil, Manomaya kosha, is the Lower Mind, the desire-principle or the Human Soul; this is the human psychological aspect that interacts with this planet in real time and space. All three can interact with the morphogenic field, whereby when one learns, all can learn, depending on where they place their thought-channels.
The fourth veil condensing the Atman is Pranamaya kosha, the Vital-astral Soul or the Animal Monad.
In Annamaya kosha the Atman appears as anna the fundamental principle of matter anu from which all that ‘is’, is made and from which the gross body that houses the other koshas is built.
Personality and the Koshas; -[22]
Original Nature
Physical personality
Life-force   ”
Mental personality
Intellectual    ”
Bliss personality
Avidya can be translated as stress, although it is more usually understood as ignorance. Indian philosophy describes an underlying stress anadi avidya or moola avidya that contribute to a basic restlessness and boredom that stirs us to become interactive with our surroundings. However when this restless energy is misunderstood, mishandled or misdirected it can lead to inner disharmony, hyperactivity or even violence. External factors also feed into the basic stress, but it is considered that the underlying moola avidya comprises the greater part of total stress. The various paths of Yoga can calm the distress, address the whole person, and draw out the divine potential that the Rishi’s firmly believe all humans posses. The subjective well-being of the individual personality depends of which aspect of the koshas are being ‘fed’
Emotions and the Koshas; -[25]
Ananda maya
Shanti peace
Vigyana maya
Ananda bliss
Mana maya and Prana maya
Harsha excitement associated with some events
Santosha being pleased by some interpersonal interaction
Ullasa  feeling of pleasantness associated with the experience of natural beauty, a good breeze etc.
Anna maya
Tripti satisfaction of sensual pleasures
While the first three koshas have the potential of both positive and negative emotions (duality), as the continuum of awareness moves, these extremes gradually come into balance, even into calm, unperturbed harmony; with the deepening of awareness of Vigyanamaya; as the realisation of Ananda maya dawns, the individual experiences only the positive state and is at peace with all, in harmony with all that is and does not experience separateness.
Swasthyam describes being in a grounded state of self. Using the paradigm of thought-channels, it becomes possible to direct the location of placement of the sense of swasthyam, rather like the idea of the placing of ‘intention’ or ‘attention’, or even, “As the heart seeks, so it shall find”.
Awareness is the key.
References; -
Title / Author
The Principal Upanishads S. Radhakrishnan
ISBN 81 7223 124 5
Dharana Darshan Paramahamsa Niranjanananda
Bihar School of Yoga
Pancha Kosha Swami Nishalananda Saraswati
Mandala Yoga Ashram
The Yoga Tradition Georg Feuerstein
ISBN 0 934252 83 1
The Key to the Centre of the Universe Herman Kuhn
ISBN 398062118 9
Papers taken from the Internet
Theosophical Glossary Blavatsky
Stress Causes Sickness, Yoga – A Solution Sri N.V. Raghuram
Indian Conception of Well Being Dr. S. K. Kirin Kumar
Brief Introduction to Vangamaya Vol 13 Pandit Shri Ram Sharma Acharya
[File: Pancha Kosha Yogic Psychology v 2_0.doc; Save Date: 22/02/03 12:20 PM]

[1] V
[2] Y.T. p. 177
[3] Ethics yamas, discipline niyamas, exercise asana, breathing pranayama, sense withdrawal pratyahara, concentration dharana, meditation dhyana
[4] D.D. p. 291
[5] ibid.
[6] P.U. p. 555
[7] ibid p.543
[8] D.D. p.293
[9] D.D. p. 297
[10] R. p. 555
[11] P.K. p.8
[12] D.D. p.295 Vi + gyana; gyana means knowledge, vi in front of it means subtle knowledge
[13] P.U. p.545
[14] Rupert Sheldrake Morphogenic Field Theory
[15] Buddhi discerning, discriminating aspect of mind, chitta process of observation, individual memory, concentration, enquiry subconscious, unconscious, ahamkara sense of ‘I’ attached to the gross body and external circumstances, dominated by fear and desire; manas rational mind
[16] TG Pancha Kosha
[17] D.D. p. 296
[18] P.U. p. 556
[19] K.C.U. p. 21ff
[20] ibid p. 23
[21] Glossary of The Secret Doctrine. Blavatsky
[23] Mind Sound Resonance Technique
[24] Mastering Emotional Mind Tech

[25] KK

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