Session 16 shows a visual model of 5 sheaths (pañca-kośa) that make up a person (Jīva) – as revealed in Taittirīya Upaniṣad. And how to practically use this knowledge to dis-identify with “who I am NOT” (anātman). We also delve into common states of Dream and Deep Sleep. Also what is death.
- What are the 5 sheaths (pañca-kośa as taught in Taittirīya Upaniṣad)?
(1) Food Sheath (annamaya-kośa)
The physical body, the outermost layer of our personality beyond which we do not physically exist, is called the food sheath.
It derives the name ‘food sheath’ from the fact that it has arisen from the essence of food assimilated by the father and is nourished in the womb by the food taken by the mother.
It continues to exist because of food eaten by the individual and, ultimately, after death it goes back to fertilize the earth and becomes food for other creatures like worms and plants.
This physical structure, arising out of food existing in food, and going back to be food, is thus termed ‘food sheath’.
(2) Vital-air Sheath (prāṇamaya-kośa)
The fivefold faculties (pañca-prāṇa), which correspond to the five physiological systems detailed by the biologists, represent the vital-air sheath. The five faculties (prāṇas) comprising this sheath are:
(1) Faculty of respiration (prāṇa): controls the inhalation and exhalation of breath.
(2) Faculty of excretion (apāna): controls the evacuation and rejection of wastes from the body.
(3) Faculty of circulation (vyāna): this controls the circulation of blood and thereby the nourishment of body cells and organs.
(4) Faculty governing reverse processes (udāna): this prāṇa controls reverse actions like vomiting, burping and such others. It also facilitates the movement of the subtle body out of the gross body at the time of death.
(5) Faculty of digestion (samāna): this prāṇa is in charge of digestion and the assimilation of food and liquids that we take in.
These functions (prāṇas) manifest as long as the person is breathing hence together they are called as the prāṇamaya-kośa (vital-air sheath).
The vital-air sheath controls and regulates the food sheath, and it can be assumed that the physical body becomes adversely affected when the prāṇas (faculties) do not function properly.
Physiological activities determine the health and beauty of the anatomical structure.
All the five physiological functions gradually weaken as one advances in age. This explains why an old person has to rely on medicines so as to help these faculties function normally.
(3) Mental Sheath (manomaya-kośa)
Controls anything related to emotions, memories. Anything that is already KNOWN in your sphere of awareness is the Mind.
The intellectual sheath controls the mental sheath, which in turn regulates and orders the vital-air sheath and the food sheath.
This is evident because when the mind is upset due to some shocking news, the physiological functions (prāṇas) and the physical body are affected.
(4) Intellectual Sheath (vijñānamaya-kośa)
Thoughts. Which include function of discrimination, inquiry, discernment, analysis, thinking about anything, judgement.
See #5 below for detailed comparison between Mind (manomaya-kośa) and Intellect (vijñānamaya-kośa).
(5) Bliss Sheath (ānandamaya-kośa)
The bliss sheath is the innermost of the five sheaths. It consists exclusively of vāsanās (inherent tendencies; also called saṃskāra) before they grossify into thoughts or actions.
The intellect functions under the control and guidance of the väsanäs.
The deep sleep state of consciousness, which is the state of one’s ignorance of everything, is the condition in which only vāsanās (tendencies) exist but without manifestation.
The term bliss sheath is derived from the fact that an individual experiences relative bliss when associated with it.
In the waking state and dream state, one experiences incessant agitation in the mind, whether great or small, but on reaching the chamber of sleep (bliss sheath)—whether rich or poor, healthy or sick, young or old—one experiences undisturbed peace and bliss.
This phenomenon occurs because of the total cessation of agitations experienced in the waking and dream states.
Hence, the bliss referred to here is a relative experience and it is not be misunderstood as the infinite Bliss of God- Realization.
- How to use pañcakośa in daily self-inquiry to gradually negate who you are NOT. Revealing who you are (ātman).
Having now learned about the 5 sheaths and functions each perform… how do we put this teaching into pragmatic real-life use… amidst work, studies, self-inquiry, family and leisure?
Answer is to first accept that 5 sheaths is not a made up superstitious phenomena. It’s based on common experience no human being can deny.
For example, you can’t deny you have a physical body, energy (prāṇa) operating throughout it, feelings, thoughts, and unconscious tendencies to act in certain ways. Even basic psychology will acknowledge these functions, and assign different names to them.
In our case of pañca-kośa teaching, we’re not saying to deny or unintelligently ignore the function of each kośa (sheath).
But rather to:
STEP 1: Notice the experience taking place in each kośa.
For example: pain in the left shoulder.
Pain belongs to the food-sheath (annamaya-kośa).
STEP 2: Negate it’s experience as “not I”.
Or acknowledge that the experience taking place in the annamaya-kośa is “not I”.
The word “negate” can be misinterpreted as “ignoring or denying existence of“. Which is NOT what we’re saying.
In Vedānta, we don’t deny anything. We accept whatever shows up AS IT IS. While also recognizing the noticed in the 5 kośas, as “anātman” (not Self).
In other words, we recognize any experience as Mithyā (apparently real or changing).
- Why do we experience “bliss” in Deep Sleep? What happens during Deep Sleep?
Deep Sleep is active when ātman (you) is experiencing the ānandamaya-kośa (Bliss Sheath).
The synonyms for bliss sheath are, (1) tendencies (vāsanās), (2) ignorance of the Self (avidyā), (3) non-apprehension of Reality, (4) causal body and (5) the state of deep sleep. In the Vedānta texts these terms are frequently used and so it is essential to know them all.
In deep sleep there is cessation of experience of (1) Physical Body, and (2) Subtle Body.
That’s why we say after waking “there’s nothing in Deep sleep”. Because Subtle Body has receded into the Causal. Hence there’s no Mind (feelings or memory capability), Intellect (analysis, comparison ability), and no Ego (possessor of the Experience gained by Mind/Intellect).
Meaning: there’s no person present in Deep Sleep. Hence we say “nothingness or bliss”.
But why is Deep Sleep blissful?
Because Subtle Body (which is the faculty making it possible to know about your life story and have desires; which COVER ātman) is absent (receded into the Causal). Hence there’s no agitations, desires or pleasures of any kind.
(Note that ānandamaya-kośa bliss has NOTHING to do with Ātman or Self-Realization.)
Purpose of nirvikalpa-samādhi is to “make contact” with the Causal Body (pure Bliss), while Subtle Body being present. Hence the yogī can EXPERIENCE and be AWARE of bliss of ānandamaya-kośa. While a deep sleeper can’t. In Vedānta though, we’re not interested in samādhi because it’s a time-bound experience (changing Mithyā).
- Difference between Dream state and Deep Sleep state.
Dream state: Ātman (you) is identified with the Subtle Body (manomaya and vijñānamaya kośa). And no longer with the Gross Body (annamaya-kośa).
Deep sleep state: Ātman (you) is identified with the Causal Body (ānanadmaya-kośa). And no longer with the Gross Body (annamaya-kośa), nor the Subtle Body (manomaya and vijñānamaya kośa).
Waking state: Ātman (you) is identified with the Gross Body (annamaya-kośa).
Certain psychedelic substances can somewhat suppress or lessen identification with Gross Body in Waking state. Hence identification transfers to Subtle Body.
That’s why person on psychedelics sees a “fluid Dream like world” parallel to this Waking state solid world.
Take away message: Ātman is unaffected, uncontaminated and pervades all 3 states.
- Difference between Mind (manas) and Intellect (buddhi).
In Vedānta, the mind is the equipment which receives the external stimuli through the sense organs and communicates the responses to the organs of action.
Though the stimuli received through the five sense organs are distinct and different from one another, an integrated experience of all of them is brought about by the mind.
The intellect, being the discriminating faculty, examines and judges the stimuli received by the mind and communicates back to the mind its decision on the type of responses to be sent out.
The mind may be compared to a receiving and dispatching clerk of an organization, who mechanically receives and organizes the mail for disposal according to the instructions of the officer-in-charge.
In this comparison, the intellect would be the officer sitting in judgement over the disposal of papers given by the clerk and also directing the clerk as to the type of action to be taken.
The part played by the mind and the intellect in the ‘action-system’ of human beings is further elucidated by the following illustration: Consider what happens when an individual’s finger touches a hot plate.
Upon contact, the hand is quickly taken away, but before this is done a series of reactions take place imperceptibly.
As soon as the finger comes in contact with heat, the skin carries the stimulus of heat to the mind which in turn forwards it to the intellect.
The intellect has as its guiding factor a storehouse of memories of past experience and knowledge. In this case, the intellect concludes on the basis of such knowledge and experience that the object that it contacted was dangerous to one’s welfare.
Hence, it orders the mind accordingly, and the mind communicates the order to the respective muscles of the body to move the hand away.
The mind can also be described as the seat of emotions and feelings like love, kindness, mercy, hatred, jealousy and passion.
And the intellect as the springboard of all ideas and ideologies such as freedom, liberty, nobility, political views, social orders, mathematical formulae and so on.
Another approach to the study of the mind and the intellect is to examine the realms in which they operate.
The mind has the capacity to travel only to the realms known but the intellect, besides functioning within the realms known, can penetrate into realms unknown to investigate, reflect, and acquire new knowledge.
For example, a few decades ago, the mind of an individual could only conceive the thought of an aircraft but not that of a spacecraft.
Today the same mind can think of a spacecraft as well. This is because the intellect with its capacity to penetrate into the unknown realms has gone beyond the scope of the mind and understood what a spacecraft is.
Once the intellect conquers an unknown realm, the mind follows it and consolidates the knowledge gained by the intellect.
In this regard, the intellect and the mind are comparable to the military and the civil sides of a government.
The former conquers new lands whereas the latter occupies and establishes itself by setting up an administration and consolidating the conquests.
The mind and the intellect also differ in their quality and nature. The mind is ever in a state of flux.
It is always the ‘doubting Thomas’ in us. But when the thoughts stabilize themselves so as to form a ‘willed judgment’, it is called the intellect.
For example, when an individual is indecisive as to whether he should eat vegetarian or non-vegetarian food, the thoughts in that condition of doubt and indecision reflect the mind, but when he takes a firm decision, the thoughts then reach the status of the intellect.
Therefore, what the mind is at one moment becomes the intellect at another moment, and, conversely, the intellect can be reduced to the state of mind when its decision is overturned by another powerful doubt.
The above difference between the mind and the intellect is purely functional. It is not to be construed that these two are distinct and separate.
In essence, both of them are formulated by thoughts and in the study of Vedānta they are often interchangeably.
- What is death like?
An organism is said to be dead when it ceases to receive and respond to stimuli — such as colour, form, sound, smell, taste and touch — from the external world.
In other words, death is a state of total cessation of experiences.
Hence in contrast, life (or experience of aliveness) is when all 5 sheaths of an organism are healthy and operational. Meaning, “life” is defined as “continuous series of experiences” (anubhavā-dhāra).
If one of the sheaths is severely damaged, we call that coma.
- How to disassociate from the body (anātman)?
Use exercise in #2.
Download visual mind map of this session.