According to the Taittiriya Upanishad, our being is made up of not just our physical bodies which we can see and touch but actually of five layers of being , which get progressively subtler. They are called the Panch Maya Kosh (sheaths). These interactive levels can be understood as russian dolls each embedded within the other. What are these levels? Let us look at them one by one.
1. Annamaya Kosh (The physical body)
“Human beings consist of a material body built from the food they eat. Those who care for this body are nourished by the universe itself.”
The outermost layer of our being is called the Annamaya Kosha or the gross Physical Body. It is made up of the food that we intake and is the starting point of experience with Yoga. It is the most familiar aspect of our being.
2. Pranamaya Kosh (The energy body)
“Inside this is another body made of life energy. It fills the physical body and takes its shape. Those who treat this vital force as divine experience excellent health and longevity because this energy is the source of physical life.”
This layer is the life energy that governs the physical body, also known as Prana (in Yoga) and Chi (in Chinese Philosophy). It is closely related to our breath and it governs our biological processes from breathing to digestion. The Yogic practice of Pranayam specifically focuses on vitalising this Pranamaya Kosha. The sun is considered the ultimate source of Prana and many Yogis can go without eating for months depending on the energy of the sun. It further consists of five pranas (airs) – prana, apana, udana, samana and vyana.
3. Manamaya Kosh (The energy body)
“Within the vital force is yet another body, this one made of thought energy. It fills the two denser bodies and has the same shape. Those who understand and control the mental body are no longer afflicted by fear.”
The third layer is the mental body which governs all our activities which we perform. It is expressed through our mind, emotions and feelings. It can be understood as the prism of our perception of the world via our senses and has our likes and dislikes (ragas and dveshas). Pranayam and mantra meditation combined with Pratyahara (Mental withdrawing of the senses) enhances the health of this kosha. By being aware, the knots of obsessive thoughts, mental complexes and compulsive actions are dissolved. This body feeds on the sensory impressions and so we must be careful what we ‘Feed our mind’ inorder to avoid ‘indigestion’.
4. Vijnanamaya Kosh (The Wisdom body)
“Deeper still lies another body comprised of intellect. It permeates the three denser bodies and assumes the same form. Those who establish their awareness here free themselves from unhealthy thoughts and actions, and develop the self-control necessary to achieve their goals.”
This layer means the Higher Mind or Wisdom. This layer is what distinguishes a human being from an animal when we are living consciously and proactively instead of reacting from the mind. The spiritual understanding of life is the “food” that feeds this layer. Meditation practices help in keeping this layer healthy giving rise to an intuitive understanding and will power.
5. Anandamaya Kosh (The Bliss body)
“Hidden inside it is yet a subtler body, composed of pure joy. It pervades the other bodies and shares the same shape. It is experienced as happiness, delight, and bliss.”
The subtlest body is called Anandamaya Kosh. Anand means bliss and only the self-realised sages have realised this level of their being by purifying their consciousness by doing the necessary “inner work”.
The physical and energy levels are called the Sthula Sharira (Gross Body) and the Mental and Intellectual levels are called Sukhma Sharira (Subtle Body). The bliss sheath is known as the Karana sharira (causal body).
Isn’t it fascinating?