Pancha Koshas (पञ्चकोशाः)

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Pancha Koshas (also Kosa Samskrit कोशाः) usually rendered "sheath", is a covering of the Atman, or Self according to Vedanta tattvas. There are five Koshas, and they are often visualized as the layers of an onion.[1]

As the scabbard hides the sword, the outer shell covers the tamarind fruit, the coat covers the body, so also these five sheaths hide the Atman. The Yoga path of Self-realization is one of progressively moving inward, through each of these sheaths, so as to experience the eternal center of consciousness[2]


The five sheaths (pancha-koshas) from gross to fine are[3] [2]

  • Annamaya kosha – food – physical – the five elements
  • Pranamaya kosha – breath – vital – The five Karma Indriyas are contained in the Pranamaya Kosha.
  • Manomaya kosha – impressions – outer mind – The five Jnana Indriyas are contained in the Manomaya Kosha.
  • Vijnanmaya kosha – ideas – intelligence – directed mental activity
  • Anandamaya kosha – experiences – deeper mind – memory, subliminal and superconscious mind

The Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya Koshas go to constitute the subtle or astral body or Linga Sarira. The Anandamaya Kosha forms the causal body or Karana Sarira.

It is the innate tendency of the human mind to identify the Self with the five Koshas. The ignorant man identifies the Self with the physical body. Others identify the Self or Atman with Prana, mind, intellect, or the Karana Sarira according to their various grades of intelligence. The Atman transcends the five sheaths. It is entirely distinct from the five sheaths.[2]

The Five Sheaths

Annamaya kosha

Anna means food. The outermost of the koshas is called the sheath of food, or Annamaya kosha.[3]

Annamaya Kosha is this gross body. This is the densest sheath. The body is nourished by food. It dies without food. It is subject to six changes (Shad-bhava-vikara, viz., birth, existence, growth, change, decay and death).[2]

Atman is entirely distinct from the Annamaya sheath or physical body. It does not exist prior to birth or posterior to death. It is the combination of five elements.

Swami Sivananda says: The mutual illusory relationship that exists between Atman and Annamaya Kosha can be clearly understood from the daily talks of men. People say: I am a man. I am a male. I live. I grow. I shall die. I am a boy. I am a grown up man. I am an old man. I am a Brahmin. I am a Kshatriya. I am a Vaishya. I am a Sudra. I am a Brahmachari. I am a householder. I am a Sannyasi. I am an Indian. I am an Englishman. I am a Pundit. I am an illiterate man. I am sick. I am poor. I am fat. I am lean. I am sickly. I am healthy. Here all the properties of Annamaya sheath are ascribed by delusion to Atman. The characteristics of Satchidananda are attributed falsely to the Annamaya Kosha as you see from such illustration: My body is. My body shines. My body is dear. You can clearly understand now that there exists a mutual illusory relationship between Atman and the Annamaya Kosha. Therefore the Atman is not Annamaya Kosha. This food-sheath is not yours. This is gross body. You are the Self. The Self is distinct from the food-sheath, because it is the Knower of the sheath.[2]

During meditation, we become aware of Annamaya kosha, explore it, and then go inward, to and through the other koshas.[3]

Pranamaya kosha

The next of the koshas is Pranamaya kosha. Prana means energy. It is the vital force that produces the subtle vibrations related to breath, and which are the driving force behind the physical aspect of the senses and the operation of the physical body. As long as this vital principle exists in the organisms, life continues. The Pranamaya kosha consists of the five vital airs (Prana Vayus) with the five organs of action (Karma Indriyas).

Swami Sivananda says: The attributes of the vital sheath such as hunger and thirst are superimposed on the Self. Man generally says: I am hungry. I am thirsty. I am strong. I am brave. I walk, I talk, I give. I do actions. I am dumb. I am a lame man. I am impotent. I am weak. Here the functions of the Pranamaya Kosha are falsely attributed to Atman (the 'I').[2]

Prana is Jada or inert. It has no knowledge of itself. It has a beginning and an end. The Atman is pure consciousness and is eternally distinct from the Pranamaya Kosha.

For both a healthy life and the practice of meditation, Vedanta says that it is very useful, or essential that this level of our being be trained, regulated, and directed, so that it flows smoothly. In meditation, we become aware of Pranamaya kosha, explore it, and then go inward, to and through the other koshas.[3]

Detailed discussion of the five Pranas and Five Up-Pranas may be seen in a separate Dharma Wiki Article

Manomaya kosha

The next of the koshas is Manomaya kosha. Mana means mind. The mind (manas) along with the five sensory organs is said to constitute the manomaya kosa. It is the level of processing thoughts and emotions. It is in direct control of the operation, through the prana, of the physical body and senses. The manomaya kosa, or mind-sheath” is said more truly to approximate to personhood than annamaya kosa and pranamaya kosha.[2]

This Kosa is the cause of I and mine. Man generally says: I think. I fancy. I am in grief. I am deluded. I am hot-tempered. I am the enjoyer, I am a sickly person. I am the desirer. I am the seer, the taster, the smeller, toucher. I am a deaf person. I am a blind man, and so on. Here the functions of the Manomaya Kosha are falsely attributed to the Atman. Mind is associated with the Vrittis, viz., lust, anger, greed, etc. It has no steadiness. So it is a Vikari. Atman is changeless (Nirvikara) and silent witness. In reality you are the Atman. Therefore, you are not the Manomaya Kosha.[2]

In meditation, we become aware of Manamaya kosha, explore it, and then go inward, to and through the remaining koshas.[3]

Vijnanamaya kosha

The next of the koshas is Vijnanamaya kosha. Vijnana means knowing. Buddhi or intellect with its modifications and the five organs of knowledge, having the characteristics of the agent constitutes the Vijnanamaya Kosha or the knowledge-sheath. It knows, decides, judges, and discriminates between this and that, between useful and not useful.[2]

Man generally says: I am the agent. I am a man of firm determination. I am a man of intelligence. I am a learned man. I can understand everything beautifully. I can remove the doubts of others. I know the Vedas. I am a wise man. This knowledge-sheath cannot be the self-effulgent pure Atman, because it is subject to change, it has a beginning and an end; it is an effect of Sattva-Guna; it is Jada or insentient; it is not self-luminous; it is a limited thing; it is an object; it is not constantly present; it gets involved during deep sleep. An unreal thing cannot therefore be taken for the eternal, real Atman. You are not the Vijnanamaya Kosha. You are the Knower of this sheath and as such are entirely distinct from it.[2]

Anandamaya kosha

The fifth sheath is the Anandamaya Kosha. This is the most interior of the koshas, and is the first of the koshas surrounding the Atman. This blissful sheath is a reflection of the Atman which is truth, beauty, bliss absolute. In deep sleep, when the mind and senses cease functioning, it still stands between the finite world and the self.[3]

It is endowed with the three Vrittis, viz., Priya, Moda and Pramoda. Priya is the happiness that arises in one from the mere sight of a desired object. Moda is the happiness which one enjoys when he is in possession of a desired object. Pramoda is the happiness which one gets from the actual enjoyment of the desired object. This sheath makes itself spontaneously felt to the fortunate during the fruition of their virtuous deeds.[2]

Man generally says: I am the enjoyer. I am happy. I am peaceful. I am contented. I am Sattvic. I am Rajasic. I am Tamasic. I am a dull man. I am an ignorant man. I am a miserable man. I am a discontented person. I am a man of discrimination. I am a vicious person. I am a deluded person. Here the attributes of the Anandamaya Kosha are falsely ascribed to the Atman.[2]

The Anandamaya Kosha cannot be the Atman, because it is endowed with changeful attributes. It is a modification of Prakriti. It is the effect of past good deeds. It has an end. You are not the Anandamaya Kosha. You are entirely distinct from this sheath. You are always the knower of this sheath.[2]

It is the subtle most of the five koshas. In the silence of deep meditation, this too is let go of, so as to experience the center.[3]

See also