The Five Koshas (Sheaths)

8 February 2013

Kosha a Sanskrit word usually translated as “sheath”, of which there are five, each one representing a covering of the Atman (“Self”, according to Vedantic philosophy). They range from gross to subtle and are often visualized like the layers of an onion. Just as there are layers of an onion or like the series of Russian wooden dolls pictured below, so also these Koshas, lie one within the other as a set of five sheaths.

The five sheaths (aka- Pancha-Koshas) are listed here (each of these individual Koshas will be elaborated upon in future blog articles). From gross to fine they are:

  1. Annamaya Kosha, food (gross body)sheath
  2. Pranamaya Kosha, air (vital energy) sheath
  3. Manomaya Kosha, mind (mind-stuff) sheath
  4. Vijnanamaya Kosha, wisdom (intellect/intuition) sheath
  5. Anandamaya Kosha, bliss (pure joy) sheath

According to Vedanta the wise man should discriminate between the Self and the Koshas, which are non-self.

It is natural for one to identify themselves with the Koshas. But as their intellect becomes pure through meditation they develop the faculty of true discrimination between the real and the unreal, between the permanent and the impermanent. As they acquire this faculty of true discrimination, they abandon the first Kosha and their focus approaches the next level or sheath. By meditation they can resolve each Kosha and go deeper to the one that is behind it, till thay reache the innermost Atman (Self) behind all five Koshas and then they hold on to that Atman alone. Step by step one abandons one Kosha after another dissolving all of them and eventually attaining knowledge of their unity with Brahman and become liberated from karma or the round of births and deaths.

The Koshas (along with the entire world of names and forms) vanishes entirely from the vision of a liberated sage. They are illusions (Maya) that can only be removed by true knowledge. A good analogy is how a rope is mistaken for a serpent, only because of ignorance, so it is only by ignorance (Avidya) alone that the Atman becomes mistaken to be the person of five Koshas, suffering each of them as a result.

When practicing Yoga, some sort of guide is needed, like a map that charts the territory of the self. The five Koshas make up such a map, established by yogic sages over 3,000 years ago. These Koshas are written about in the Upanishads, navigating an inner journey, starting from the outer boundary of the body and moving towards its core (the Self). So the Yogic path of Self-realization is one of progressively moving inward, recognizing and dissolving each of those Koshas, in order to experience the purity and unity of the eternal Divine Consciousness or Self (Atman), while at the same time allowing that Divinity to permeate our individuality. The Koshas have proven to be both a practical and profound contemplative tool that can help you deepen your Yoga practice and improve the quality of your life.

Check back soon for: The Five Koshas (Part 1- Annamaya: food sheath)

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