पंचकोश Panchkosha – Five sheaths of existence

Kosh means layers of existence. The existence of human beings have been described having five layers in Brahmananda and Anand Valli of Tattiriyopanishad.  This is the primary Upanishad for Krishna Yajurveda. I learnt how to recite it, and have found it an excellent way of understand and classify existence and behavior of human beings. I am learning the meanings, so thought would share with you. It is dificult to get an exact English translation, these are closest to the meaning that I have learnt so far.

The five koshas are –

अन्नमय कोश  Annamaya Kosh (Physical Layer)

प्राणमय कोश Pranamaya Kosh (Vitality Layer)

मनोमय कोश Manomaya Kosh (Consciousness Layer)

विज्ञानमय कोश Vigyanamaya Kosh (Intellect Layer)

आनंदमय कोश Anandmaya Kosh (Blissful Layer)

अन्नमय कोश Annamaya Kosh ( Physical Layer)

Literal meaning of Anna is food. However, as the lowest level of existence, Annamaya Kosh refers to the world of physical existence. Everything that we experience through our Indriyas are part of physical layer.

आनंद वल्ली  ( Anand Valli )

अन्नाद्वै प्रजाः प्रजायन्ते । From Anna, creatures are born.

All creatures on earth are born out of Anna. Anna here can be translated as food, but food is not sufficient to describe this.

This means that all creatures have a material existence.

याः काश्च पृथिवीँ श्रिताः । Whatsoever are dependent on earth.

अथो अन्नेनैव जीवन्ति । then, they live for the Anna.

अथैनदपि यन्त्यन्ततः ।  and lastly, they dissolve into the Anna.

All things which are dependent on earth, they live in the physical world. They live by devouring food, and ultimately dissolve. From dust unto the dust, that is the rule of physical layer.

अन्नँ हि भूतानां ज्येष्ठम् । Anna is the oldest among the beings.

तस्मात् सर्वौषधमुच्यते ।  All the medicines comes out of Anna.

Matter form the Aushadhi meaning materials with medicinal properties.

सर्वं वै तेऽन्नमाप्नुवन्ति ।  All of them get Anna,

येऽन्नं ब्रह्मोपासते ।  who worship Anna.

Material benefits can be obtained by concentrating on the materials.

अन्नँ हि भूतानां ज्येष्ठम् ।  Anna is the best among the bhutas.

तस्मात् सर्वौषधमुच्यते । All the Aushadhi comes out of it.

अन्नाद् भूतानि जायन्ते । Bhutas are born out of anna.

जातान्यन्नेन वर्धन्ते । They grow out of anna.

अद्यतेऽत्ति च भूतानि । And it (anna) eats the bhutas as well.

तस्मादन्नं तदुच्यत इति ।  That is how Anna is described.

Physical layer is complete in itself. Beings in their physical world, devour food. Ultimately, the physical existence of beings get devoured by the matter itself.

This is the base layer of existence.

तस्माद्वा एतस्मादन्नरसमयात् ।

प्राणमय कोश Pranamaya Kosh (Vitality Layer)

The next layer of existence is Prana. Prana provides life to the Annamaya Kosh. If wire was the body, the the electricity running in it Prana. Just like when electricity stops, the light bulb goes away, body is also left lifeless when Prana leaves the body.

In Brahmanand Valli the following is said –

प्राणं देवा अनु प्राणन्ति ।  gods (devas)live by Prana.

मनुष्याः पशवश्च ये । So do humans and animals.

प्राणो हि भूतानामायुः । Prana is the age of beings.

तस्मात् सर्वायुषमुच्यते । Therefore, it (prana) is known as everyone’s lifespan.

सर्वमेव त आयुर्यन्ति । ये प्राणं ब्रह्मोपासते । They all get long lives, who worship prana as Brahman.

It is further said –

अन्योऽन्तर आत्मा प्राणमयः । Inside that (Annamaya Kosh), lies the Pranamaya Kosh.

तेनैष पूर्णः । He (annamaya kosh) is filled with this (pranamaya kosh).

स वा एष पुरुषविध एव । He (Prana) is surely of the type of the Purusha.

तस्य पुरुषविधताम् । Know that (prana) as Purusha.

अन्वयं पुरुषविधः । He is also known as Purusha.

तस्य प्राण एव शिरः । His head is Prana.

व्यानो दक्षिणः पक्षः । His left wing is vyana.

अपान उत्तरः पक्षः । His right wing is apana.

आकाश आत्मा । Sky (akasha) is soul (atma).

पृथिवी पुच्छं प्रतिष्ठा । The earth is rooted as the tail.

It means that the bird of Prana consisting of Prana, vyana and apana flies within the soul, just like a bird flies in the sky.

The existence of all of this is derived from earth or annamaya kosh.

Else where in Shikshavalli, it is said –

अथाध्यात्मम । प्राणो व्यानोअपान उदान: समान: ।

Let us elaborate on adhyatma | (These are) prana, vyana, apana, udaana & samaana |

We can see that this upanishad is dividing the Pranic existence into a five-fold structure-  prana , vyana, apana, udaana and samaan.

Each of these prana are active in different parts of body. Prana is active around heart, apaana near lower stomach, udaana near and around vocal chords, samaana near middle and upper stomach and vyaana in most of body. These are life-energy flows in the body.

One must purify and control Prana to really feel life. In Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali, Asana is there to purify Annamaya Kosh, while Pranayama is there to purify Pranamaya kosh. These practices just make a person more aware of life forces around themselves.

प्राणो हि भूतानामायुः । Prana is the age of beings.

तस्मात् सर्वायुषमुच्यत इति । Prana is the age of beings.

तस्यैष एव शारीर आत्मा । Prana’s body is soul.

मनोमय कोश Manomaya Kosh (Consciousness Layer)

Manomaya Kosha talks about mind. Mind brings in the different behavior of people. For each experience, mind reflects the action for each person.  This action is heavily dependent on the Sanskaras, latent impressions in the mind. These created disturbances (Vrittis) that causes one to cloud the vision. These disturbances are like clouds which are covering Sun, the true nature of human beings. The existence of mind is dualistic – one creating negative distrubance and one creating positive disturbance. One consciously creates positive vibes, which purifies mind.

Taittiriya says –

अन्योऽन्तर आत्मा मनोमयः । Inside that (Pranamaya Kosh), lies the Manomaya Kosh.

तेनैष पूर्णः । It (Pranamaya Kosh) is filled with this (Manomaya Kosh)

स वा एष पुरुषविध एव । He (Manomaya) is surely of the type of the Purusha.

तस्य पुरुषविधताम् । Know that (Manomaya) as Purusha.

अन्वयं पुरुषविधः । He is also known as Purusha.

तस्य यजुरेव शिरः । His head is Yajur.

ऋग्दक्षिणः पक्षः । His left wing is Rik.

सामोत्तरः पक्षः । His right wing is Sama.

आदेश आत्मा । Aadesh is his soul.

अथर्वाङ्गिरसः पुच्छं प्रतिष्ठा । Atharvangiras is his tail.

The bird of Manomaya Kosh consists of – Yajur as its head, Rig as its left wing, Sama as its right wing and Atharva and Angiras as its tail. The soul of Manomaya Kosh is Aadesh (Divine Directions). By showing, its different Angas as the different Vedas, Taittiriya tells us to follow the divine directions of all the Vedas.

विज्ञानमय कोश Vigyanamaya Kosh (Intellect Layer)

Vigyanamaya Kosh has the capability to discern truth and rightful behavior. In spiritual progress, this layer provides the tools necessary to overcome the habits of mind, and not get caught up in the endless cycle of action and reaction to the external events of the world (Sansara)

अन्योऽन्तर आत्मा विज्ञानमयः । Inside that (Manomaya Kosh), lies the Vigyanamaya Kosh.

तेनैष पूर्णः । It (Manomaya Kosh) is filled with this (Vigyanamaya Kosh)

स वा एष पुरुषविध एव । He (Vigyanamaya) is surely of the type of the Purusha.

तस्य पुरुषविधताम् । Know that (Vigyanamaya) as Purusha.

अन्वयं पुरुषविधः । He is also known as Purusha.

तस्य श्रद्धैव शिरः । His head is Shraddha (Devotion).

ऋतं दक्षिणः पक्षः । His left wing is Ritam (Rightful behavior).

सत्यमुत्तरः पक्षः । His right wing is Satya (Truth).

योग आत्मा । Yoga is his soul.

महः पुच्छं प्रतिष्ठा । His tail and base is MahaH.

The first pre-requisite for Vigyanamaaya Kosh to experience is to have Shraddha that is devotion. Without devotion and belief that there is God, and related truthful and rightful decisions made by Viveka, it is not possible to progress. That is why with the devotional mind, one must use Ritam and Satyam to break the bondages of mind. This Kosha exists in MahaH space. MahaH is a sphere of existence that was first discovered by Mahachamasya, a Vedic Rishi. This is beyond the three creational existences – Bhu (this earth), BhuvaH ( space between earth and heavens) and SuvaH (heavens). The point being that this sheath of layer is beyond the physical world’s existence. Because this Kosha provides with the intelligence, it also brings in a sense of false owner ship (Karta), this leads to ego.

Further it says –

विज्ञानं यज्ञं तनुते । Vigyana performs the Yagna.

कर्माणि तनुतेऽपि च । And, it also performs the Karma.

विज्ञानं देवाः सर्वे । ब्रह्म ज्येष्ठमुपासते । Vigyana is worshipped as best in the form of Brahma by all Gods.

विज्ञानं ब्रह्म चेद्वेद । Treat Vigyana as the Brahma and the Veda.

तस्माच्चेन्न प्रमाद्यति । This, one must not treat lightly.

शरीरे पाप्मनो हित्वा । सर्वान्कामान्समश्नुत इति । Leaving sins (Paap) in the body itself, he experience all the Kama.

So in this Kosha, Vedas instruct us not to be affected by the experiences of body. These experiences are limited to the lower Koshas, and in this kosha, by not getting the egoistic sense of ownership, the hurtful experiences are limited to body only.

आनंदमय कोश Anandmaya Kosh (Blissful Layer)

Anandaamaya Kosh is Blissful layer. By acquiring, the capability to discern from Vigyanamaya Kosh, one slowly is able to reduce the effects of disturbing thoughts (KlishTa Vrittis). As the reflection of outwardly world inside the body becomes like that of a reflection onto a calm pond, true bliss start setting in. Vigyanamaya Kosh has a sense of agency, an egoistic sense of a doer. Self-control and proper discrimination by this agency reduces the rippling effects of Vrittis in Chitta. In Vigyanamaya Kosh, this sense of agency is gone. One’s experience sits in pure stillness full of bliss.

Taittiriya says –

अन्योऽन्तर आत्माऽऽनन्दमयः । Inside that (Vigyanamaya Kosh), lies the Anandaamaya Kosh.

तेनैष पूर्णः । It (Vigyanamaya Kosh) is filled with this (Anandamaya Kosh)

स वा एष पुरुषविध एव । He (Anandamaya) is surely of the type of the Purusha.

तस्य पुरुषविधताम् । Know that (Anandamaya) as Purusha.

अन्वयं पुरुषविधः । He is also known as Purusha.

तस्य प्रियमेव शिरः । His head is Priyam (Love).

मोदो दक्षिणः पक्षः ।  His left wing is Moda (Happiness).

प्रमोद उत्तरः पक्षः ।  His right wing is Pramod (Intense happiness)

आनन्द आत्मा । Anand (Bliss) is his soul.

ब्रह्म पुच्छं प्रतिष्ठा । His tail and base is Brahma.

The foundation of this layer is Brahman, who is full of bliss. Pleasure and bliss fill this layer.

There are two major (and various minor) divergent opinions of this layer’s existence to Brahmana –

(1) Advaita of Shankara teaches that all the layers of existence including Anandmaya Kosha is Mithya (ie unreal). Once one go beyond even these experiences, the real nature of creation can be experienced.

(2) Dvaita (of Ramanujacharya) takes this layer and this individual souls to be distinct and blissfully located in Anandamaya Kosha.

Either way, Anandamaya Kosh is a blissful existence (beyond the dualities of pain and pleasure).

During various states of Samadhi one can start experiencing the Vigyanamaya and Anandamay layers. It has been explained in Patanjali Yoga Sutras.

In Savitarka samadhi one has the idea of I-ness, while in Nirvitarka samadhi this I-ness is dissolved into pure bliss. In Savitarka samadhi one is experiencing Vigyanamaya, while in Nirvitarka samadhi the Anandmaya layer is being experienced. Even in Nirvitarka samadhi, there is Sabija (meaning with seed). In this sabeej samadhi, the individual souls is still there, and while it is there, there is birth and rebirth. Beyond this there is Nirbija samadhi, where even this individuality washes away revealing the true nature of Brahmana, and one is now beyond rebirth.

Sampragyata Samadhi is still in Vigyanamaya Kosha, while Asmpragyata samadhi is in existence in Anandamay Kosh.

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