A deeper look at Koshas

There were a few concepts in yoga philosophy that I overlooked when we first discussed them.  Now that I look back, I realized that the five sheaths, or koshas, of the three bodies (physical, astral and causal) are worth some further review.  It took me some time to look up these koshas and digest the information.  Here it goes:

The annamaya kosha is known as the food sheath and is the cause, producer and consumer of the physical body.  This sheath is composed of elements of the physical world and is experienced as birth, growth, change, decay and death.  However, when the physical body dies, the annamaya kosha leaves the body along with the other koshas.  Our physical traits can be determined by this kosha, so our appearance in his life has been fashioned by the annamaya kosha in prior lives.

The pranayama kosha is known as the vital sheath and coexists with the physical body as its source of life and connection to the astral body.  It interconnects the annamaya kosha to the other subtler koshas.  The pranayama kosha consist of the organs of action, which are the mouth, hands, feet, anus and genitals.  “Prana” means vital energy and its physical manifestation is in the breath.  This kosha experiences hunger, thirst, heat and cold.  When the physical body dies, this kosha disintegrates.

The manoyama kosha is known as the mental sheath and is composed of “manas” or the mind.  This sheath can be further described by manas (thoughts and doubts), chittra (storehouse) and jnana indriyas (organs of knowledge, i.e., eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin).  This mental sheath produces doubt, anger, confidence, lust, depression, exhilaration and is where personality and diversity begin.  Manayama kosha has been compared to the wind that brings in the clouds and sends them away.  Similarly, bondage and liberation can be controlled by the mind.

The vijnanamaya kosha is known as the intellectual sheath and is associated with the astral body. It is a combination of intellect and the organs of knowledge.  This sheath is the vehicle higher thought, understanding, wisdom, intuition and creativity.  The vijnanamaya kosha is specialized knowledge that allows us to progress in the material world, but does not contribute to our spiritual progression.

The fifth kosha is anandamaya, which is of the causal body and known as the blissful sheath. This innermost sheath manifests itself in deep, dreamless sleep when the mind and senses cease functioning.  In sleep the anadamaya kosha stands between the finite world and the self.   This kosha understands all previous koshas and realizes that they are incomplete.

A way to understand the progression of koshas is to think about how we understand ourselves.  When we are in the state of annamaya kosha, we describe ourselves based on sex, age and other physical traits. When we reach pranamaya kosha the description is based on qualities like, “I am a musician, banker, fool, smart, wealthy, poor, etc.”  When we are in manomaya kosha the criteria shift to aspects of our nature like “I am generous, greedy, arrogant, humble, etc.”

The fourth kosha is where I begin to get a little confused.  When we reach the vijnanamaya kosha, we realize that we are different from the physical body.  The whole being is greater than the sum of its individual parts.  Vijnanamaya kosha is atma, or the True Self.  Atma is beyond identification with the phenomenal reality of worldly existence.

After vijnanamaya, is the anandamaya kosha.  Here, we understand how transitory the world is. By understanding this difference, we give importance to philosophy, reality and subtleness. At anadamaya one realizes the insignificance of worldly problems and can finally attain a state of peace and contentment, also known as bliss.