I find that understanding yogic philosophies helps me plan a yoga class and also helps me field questions from students when I teach a yoga class. Continuing along my path of discovering and internalizing yogic concepts, I came across the term Pancha Kosha or PanchKosh. The panch (five) kosh refers to certain yogic concepts:
- Annamay Kosh
- Pranamay Kosh
- Manomay Kosh
- Vigyanamay Kosh
- Anandmay Kosh
The ‘kosh’ or ‘kosha’ refers to five coverings or sheaths to the inner soul. Let me try and explain what I understand by this beautiful concept of the Pancha Kosha, or the five layers that sheath the soul.
The Taittiriya Upanishad speaks of the human existence as being akin to the layers of an onion, which range from the large, rough layers to the fine, tender layers. As understood by Vedanta philosophy, our ‘atma’ or soul is covered by these koshas or sheaths; the Annamay Kosh (Food Sheath), Pranamay Kosh (Vital Air Sheath), Manomay Kosh (Mind Sheath), Vigyanamay Kosh (Intellect Sheath) and Anandmay Kosh (Bliss Sheath).
‘Anna’ literally means food and the ‘Annamaya’ kosh refers to the physical being or the body; everything that is nourished by the food that we eat. Everything that we experience and feel physically – on our skin, in our flesh, bones as well as body impurities refer to this sheath. This is the outer most layer envisioned by the panchkosh concept.
‘Pranamay’ kosh refers to the body’s vital ‘praan’ or the life force that holds an organism together. The praan is akin to the breath that we inhale to keep ourselves alive. In a sense it is this inhalation and exhalation, which permeates and spreads through the entire physical being, that becomes the second sheath or covering to the soul.
‘Man’ of course refers to the mind. However, this sheath refers to the instinctive mind; the part of our mind that is enmeshed in desire, want and similar preoccupations. This sheath concerns itself with the feelings engendered by our five senses: sight, taste, hearing, smell and the sense of touch. This mind of ours sets each of us apart from others. It is also this mind that can be responsible for our bondage and our liberation from that bondage.
‘Vigyan’ refers to science in everyday parlance. When used in reference to the pancha kosha, it refers to the intellect or ‘buddhi’ or the sum of our learning. Our sense of discrimination and ability to judge, the human will power and our perception are all included within this sense.
This is the innermost layer and closest to the soul. Ananda refers to happiness or bliss. The Upanishads speak of this layer as the ‘causal body’ which is the seed of the physical body. This sheath of bliss or happiness is a reflection of the soul; a reflection of our own inner bliss, beauty and truth. This layer is accessed by the body in deepest sleep. During waking hours or in dream sleep, one may only partly be able to access Anandamaya kosha. This is the innermost, most subtle sheath that is the foundation of understanding. The ability to access this innermost sheath brings about clarity and a sort of purified or distilled intellect.