Pancakosa: The Five Spiritual Body Sheaths

FPJ BureauUpdated: Friday, May 31, 2019, 02:56 PM IST
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According to yoga and Ayurveda, the human body is a unique creation of God. The Upanisads and other scriptures on Indian spiritual knowledge very precisely and minutely explain about the human body, its various activities and the complete mystery behind the functioning of this complex body system beyond the realization of existence of atma in the form of pancakosa. Atma is beyond these pancakosa (the five sheaths) and is very subtle and immutable. To be free from the bondages of afflictions, attachment and ignorance, there is a provision of self-realization, enlightenment and eternal self bliss. To reach these stages of self-realization and enlightenment, one has to go beyond these sheaths. Ancient sages firmly believed that one can keep oneself fit and healthy only after attaining an appropriate knowledge of the gross body, its activities, mana, intellect or brain power, self-importance and atma. By acquiring this knowledge, one can keep himself free of diseases so as to carry out all worldly affairs efficiently and perform good deeds, which leads one on the path of eternal bliss and subsequently the way to reach the Supreme soul. For this they have authentically explained the gross body to the soul and Supreme soul and all the subtle mysteries behind it. Various scriptures of yoga and Ayurveda are the best examples. There is no direct relationship between pancakosa and Ayurveda but it holds a very important position in yoga, it is briefly described here because of its relationship with the body science. These pancakosa are of following types:

First – Annamaya kosa (The physical sheath; literally ‘the food sheath’)

Second – Pranamaya kosa (The vital air sheath)

Third – Manomaya kosa (The mind sheath, which is instinctive)

Forth – Vijnanamaya kosa (The intellect sheath)

Fifth – Anandamaya kosa (The bliss or emotion sheath)

These pancakosas have their own importance. By means of spiritual endeavor, meditation, right food and lifestyle habits, yoga and other activities a devotee progresses from the gross form to subtlety.

It is also quoted:

“Dehadabhyantarah pranah pranadabhyantaram manah.

Tatah karta tato bhokta guha seyam parampara.”

(Pancadasi, pancakosa viveka, sloka 2)

‘In the gross body, pranamaya kosa is more subtle than annamaya kosa, manomaya kosa is more subtle than pranamaya kosa, followed by vijnanamaya kosa and mandamaya kosa respectively.’ This group of traditional koms from annamaya to anandamaya located in the body is called ‘Guha.’ It is believed that alma resides in these ‘Guhas’.

When one moves from the gross body in the annamaya kosa to subtlety, by means of yoga, meditation and other spiritual practices, one becomes free from disease, and after passing through each level or kosa, finally one reaches the state of complete bliss and joy which is named anandamaya kosa. To enter this kosa (guha) one should possess the knowledge of the gross body and its deeds (karma), which makes one free from somatic and psychological diseases and helps to attain the goal of life.

According to the Upanisada, the management of this cosmic world/universe is governed by divine power and energy. One who understands and accepts this does not need to know anything more. This is ‘satya’ (the truth) or the reality of life and is infinitesimal (ananta). This divine power of the ultimate truth or creator “Brahma” resulted in evolutionary stages from space (ether) to air, from air to fire, from fire to water, from water to earth, from earth to drugs, from drugs to food, from food to virya (semen) and from virya to purusa, i.e., the body. It means that this gross body itself is known as annamaya kosa (the food sheath). By the knowledge of this gross body in me form of annamaya kosa and keeping it disease-free, we can attain complete happiness and eternal bliss.

  1. Annamaya kosa (The food or physical sheath): The gross body has been formed by ‘anna’ (food), thereby named as ‘annamaya kosa.’ This annamaya kosa is related to earth as ‘anna’ (food) is derived from the earth and subsequently this food builds a gross body. Therefore, health of the body and diseases are mainly related to annamaya kosa. By practicing right food habits and lifestyle, satkanna (six yogic practices involving purification of the body), medicines, asanas (body postures) and mudras (subtle postures), the body can be made strong, elegant, symmetrical and proportionate.
  1. Pranamaya kosa (The vital air sheath): In the gross body, pranamaya kosa is subtle to matter predominated body (annamaya kosa). The flow of ‘prana’ (life-force) is invisible, but life (consciousness) in the gross body depends on this prana. It is also true that physical health depends on the ‘nadi’ based body, where the prana (life-force) (lows. The source of power and vital energy in the body is pranamaya kosa. The vayu element of air) present in the universe enters the body in the form of ‘prdna’ i.e., it is universally present everywhere, but when it enters the body it is known as ‘prana’.

Pranamaya kosa mainly includes prana, apana, samana, udana and vyana vayu and the five upapranas are naga, kurma, devadatta, krkala, dhananjaya. The five types of prana located in a pranamaya kosa are:

(i)   Prana: All the activities related to performing cognitive actions are performed by the pranamaya kosa constituted of prana vayu. It speeds up the inhalation and exhalation process, which further activates the digestive fire.

(ii) Apana: In the form of apana vayu, aids in the elimination of waste products and also works as a spermatostatic.

(iii) Samana: It helps in the transformation and uniform distribution of food in body fluids like water, plasma, blood and other body tissues in the form of samana vayu.

(iv) Udana: In the form of udana vayu, it helps to attain bliss by giving complete rest by means of deep sleep at night. On the basis of overall deeds (good and bad), it becomes a source to achieve joy or sorrow.

(v)   Vyana: In the form of vyana vayu, it helps to consume various enjoyable and non-enjoyable things, which diffuse in the entire body to attain complete consciousness and become a medium for the union of body and mind. Il also helps in the circulation of rasa dhatu in the entire body.

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