Five Koshas (पञ्चकोशाः)

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Pancha Koshas (Samskrit: पञ्चकोशाः) literally mean the "five koshas". The term kosha (कोशः) is used in the meaning of sheath, container, layer or vesture. Yet another pivotal concept of Sanatana Dharma, this topic is about the five individual sheaths or layers that cover the Jiva, Atman or Self and the three shariras or bodies which constitute a human being. They are an integral part of the human existence unlike many other non-bharatiya views proclaiming that humans are mere physical bodies. According to these views the mental faculties or the mind are also directly controlled by the physical brain. Bharatiya traditions are all rooted in the fact that the human body and mind are bound as one entity until a certain stage when the being is able to overcome the karmas that make the Jiva travel in a loop of births and deaths. This concept is also a fundamental principle on which the explanation of Punarjanma or Reincarnation rests on; as the Jiva travels from one body to another with a Sukshma Sharira or subtle form in the cycle of births and deaths. Knowledge of these five koshas helps Purusha to uncouple from Prkrti and recognize the highest good.

Spiritual traditions originated in India have linked vitality to mental, physical, and spiritual health and viewed it as something that can be actively nourished or depleted. The sheath of emotions and rationality or intellect corresponds to our root inclination–partly innate, partly acquired through socialization, creates a distinction between self and the social and natural environment, and engender dualities and distinctions[1].

परिचयः॥ Introduction

In the Taittriya Upanishad and Panchadashi by Vidyaranya Svami, we find extensive details about the five sheaths that encapsulate the Inner Consciousness or the Pure Consciousness of a being. In the Taittriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, the discussion about Annamaya kosha starts towards the end of Prathama Anuvaka and the concluding Anandamaya kosha is presented in the Panchama Anuvaka. While a few sheaths are gross or visible to the eye, the others are subtle and invisible to the eye. At the worldly interactive level, a human being is active at the physical, vital and mental bodies and any disturbance in these bodies leads to visible altered mental and physical health of the being as per the Ayurvedic texts.

In all the Yoga traditions, human existence is accepted to be in the form of sheaths infolded in her which gets enfolded with his increasing levels of awareness[1]. The five sheaths are[2][3]

  1. अन्नमयकोशः॥ Annamaya kosha (physical)
  2. प्राणमयकोशः ॥ Pranamaya kosha (vital air or energy)
  3. मनोमयकोशः ॥ Manomaya kosha (mental)
  4. विज्ञानमयकोशः ॥ Vijnanamaya kosha (intellectual)
  5. आनन्दमयकोशः ॥ Anandamaya kosha (bliss)

Vedanta Darsana sees the five sheaths as distinctly different than Atman and therefore what is real (the Atman) is obfuscated by the reality that we construct for ourselves through the experiences of the five sheaths[4]. Shankaracharya describes the purpose of the sheaths as “I know the different conditions of my bodies and sheaths and therefore I am different from them”[5].

पञ्चकोशविवेक-प्रयोजनम् ॥ Use of Knowledge of Panchakoshas

Vidyaranya's Panchadashi spells out the prayojana or use of the knowledge of Panchakoshas summarily extending it from the Taittriya Upanishad.

यो वेद निहितं गुहायां परमे व्योमन् । सोऽश्नुते सर्वान् कामान् सह ब्रह्मणा विपश्चितेति ॥ (Tait. Upan. 2.1.1)[6]

The knowledge which aids to explore that which is "hidden" and helps a seeker to recognize Brahman - is the chief purpose of Panchakosha-viveka. Symbolically Brahmatattva which is well "hidden" is revealed by the knowledge of Panchakoshas.

गुहाहितं ब्रह्म यत्तत्पञ्चकोशविवेकतः । बोद्धुं शक्यं ततः कोशपञ्चकं प्रविविच्यते ॥ १॥ (Panchdashi. 3.1)[7]

It is said that by removing each layer of the Panchakoshas, the hidden Brahmatattva is revealed; thus pointing to the fact that Panchakoshas are separate (caused by Avidya or Ignorance) from what they encase, namely the seed of Brahman.[8] Further Vidyaranya elaborates on the location of each of these Koshas thus,

देहादभ्यन्तरः प्राणः प्राणादभ्यन्तरं मनः । ततः कर्ता ततो भोक्ता गुहा सेयं परम्परा ॥ २॥ (Panchadashi. 3.2)[7]

Encased within the Deha (body) is the Prana (Vital Energy), Prana encircles the Manas (Mind) and internal to the Manas is the Buddhi (intellect), and internal to Buddhi is Ananda (Bliss) and this is called as Guha.[8] In this hidden cave is the Brahman who is understood by removing each of the layers of Panchakoshas.

शरीरत्रयम् ॥ The Three Shariras

The Pancha koshas are instrumental in designating what are called the Shariras, which have distinct roles in this grand system of Sristi. They are

  1. स्थूलशरीरम् ॥ sthūla-śarīra (gross body)
  2. सूक्ष्मशरीरम् ॥ sūkṣma-śarīra (subtle body)
  3. कारणशरीरम् ॥ kārana śarīra (causal body)

The outermost layer, sheath, or Kośa is called the annamayakośa, the sheath of material existence. It is his primitive identification with an ego encapsulated in his physical body (sthūla-śarīra, the gross body). Food refers to the five sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin) and organs of action (speech, hands, feet, genitals, and evacuation)[9].

Vital air refers to the activities that support the body and take place as a result of the air that we take in (physiological functions that result from the food sheath but do not require direct interaction with the world)[4]. Mental refers to the mind, which regulates the vital air sheath, such as the connection between breath and emotions[10]. The intellectual sheath refers to the mind and the intellect. The intellect discerns and makes decisions and the mind communicates these decisions within the body[9]. The three layers together constitute what is called the “subtle body” (sūkṣma-śarīra), and they are the sheath of vitality (prāṇamayakośa), the sheath of emotions (manomayakośa), and the sheath of ratiocination (vijñānamayakośa). The sheath of vitality roughly corresponds to the subjective vitality[1].

The innermost layer, the sheath of bliss (ānandamayakośa), comprises the “causal body” (karana śarīra), and it is experienced by everyone in the state of deep, dreamless sleep (suṣuptī), as well as during certain forms of meditation. Dualities and distinctions are not completely destroyed at this level, but they are harmonized so completely that this state is experienced as the one of profound relaxation and bliss (Ānanda). The bliss sheath is considered to be blissful because it is free of the agitation of the other sheaths. It is experienced only in states of deep sleep and is composed of our innate tendencies before they become thoughts or actions[9][4]. It is also called “causal body” because it is the ground and cause of all the other sheaths. Finally, this also is peeled away, the pure reality of the center alone remains, absolute non-duality, ineffable, indescribable, Brahman-consciousness, underlying the five sheaths and the three bodies[1]. This is what Vedanta suggests as the highest spiritual goal of human life. Variety and distinctions in paths of yoga can be attributed to their emphasis on different Kośas of the self[1].

अन्नमयकोशः॥ Annamaya Kosha

The first sheath is the outermost Jiva-encapsulating gross body which is formed from Anna (pertains to food and not to any particular grain) on which the body subsists. The human being is essentially a modification of the essence of food.

Taittriya Upanishad

अन्नात्पुरुषः । स वा एष पुरुषोऽन्नरसमयः । (Tait. Upan. 2.1.1)[6]

अन्नाद्वै प्रजाः प्रजायन्ते । याः काश्च पृथिवीँ श्रिताः । अथो अन्नेनैव जीवन्ति । अथैनदपि यन्त्यन्ततः ।

अन्नँ हि भूतानां ज्येष्ठम् । तस्मात् सर्वौषधमुच्यते । सर्वं वै तेऽन्नमाप्नुवन्ति । येऽन्नं ब्रह्मोपासते ।

अन्नँ हि भूतानां ज्येष्ठम् । तस्मात् सर्वौषधमुच्यते । अन्नाद् भूतानि जायन्ते । जातान्यन्नेन वर्धन्ते ।

अद्यतेऽत्ति च भूतानि । तस्मादन्नं तदुच्यत इति । (Tait. Upan. 2.1.2)

All beings that rest on the earth are verily formed from food (Anna undergoes various transformations in the human body). They sustain on food till the end when they get merged in food. Thus Anna is the foremost form of creatures and is thus a medicine for all (as it a curative that alleviates the bodily discomfort of all). Those who meditate on food as Brahman acquire it. Creatures are born of (a modification) Anna, they grow (another modification) and sustain on Anna. The Vyutpatti Artha of Anna is also mentioned here. Since Anna is Adyate, eaten by creatures and itself Atti, eats, the creatures, it is called Annam. Annam thus stands for the gross manifestation of matter (which is consumed and which consumes).

अन्योऽन्तर आत्मा प्राणमयः । तेनैष पूर्णः । (Tait. Upan. 2.1.2)

As compared with the body made of the essence of food, described above; there is Anya, a different, Self, which is inside (permeates the Annamaya Kosha) and constituted predominantly of Prana or Vital Air. By this Vital Prana the Self constituted by the essence of food is filled. It should be noted that all the Koshas are referred to (falsely through Avidya) as Self, Ego or I-Factor. Simply put, the Prana fills that shape of Self (constituted by the essence of food) just like an image cast in a crucible or as water takes the shape of the vessel which holds it.[11]


In the Panchadashi Annamayakosha is explained further and is distinguished from Atma for the following two reasons.

पितृभुक्तान्नजाद्वीर्याज्जातोऽन्नेनैव वर्धते । देहः सोऽन्नमयो नात्मा प्राक्चोर्ध्वं तदभावतः ॥ ३॥

पूर्वजन्मन्यसत्त्वे तज्जन्म सम्पादयेत्कथम् । भाविजन्मन्यसत्कर्म न भुञ्जीतेह संचितम् ॥ ४॥ (Panchadashi. 3.3-4)[7]

The food (Anna) consumed by the mother and father is transformed into virya (seed) from which arises the physical body and is also nourished further by Anna. Thus it is evident that the body is a mere transformation of the food that is eaten and for this reason the Annamaya Deha not the Atman. This body is non-existent both prior to birth and after death, similar to a pot which is said to be non-existent before its creation and ceases to exist after its destruction.

प्राणमयकोशः ॥ Pranamaya Kosha


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