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Five Sheaths or Koshas in Yoga

by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati

We humans are like a lamp that has five lampshades over our light. Each of the lampshades is a different color and density. As the light shines through the lampshades, it is progressively changed in color and nature. It is a bitter-sweet coloring. On the one hand, the shades provide the individualized beauty of each lamp. Yet, the la mpshades also obscure the pure light.

The Yoga path of Self-realization is one of progressively moving inward, through each of those lampshades, so as to experience the purity at the eternal center of consciousness, while at the same time allow ing that purity to animate through our individuality. These five levels are called koshas, which literally means sheaths.

Kosha means sheath, like the lampshades covering the light, or like the series of wooden dolls pictured below. Maya means appearance , as if something appears to be one way, but is really another. Advaita Vedanta suggests that you imagine a dark night in which you think you see a man, only to find that it was an old fence post that was hard to see at first; that is maya.

Here, it means that each of the sheaths or koshas is only an appearance . In truth, all of the levels, layers, koshas, or sheaths of our reality is only appearance , or maya (while also very real in the sense of dealing with the external world), and that underneath all of those appearances, we are pure, divine, eternal consciousness, or whatever name you prefer to call it. This is one of the fundamental principles of Advaita Vedanta meditation.

to and through the other koshas. In meditation. It is like a supervisor in a factory. and then go inward. regulated. When it receives clear instructions from the deeper level. through the prana. so that we can both enjoy our external lives and go inward w ithout it being an obstacle during meditation time. In meditation. it naturally has doubts. or essential that this level of our being be trained. For both a healthy life and the practice of meditation. and created illusions. In this way. or Annamaya kosha. visible physical body. and then go inward. we become aware of Annamaya kosha. we become aware of Manamaya kosha. Mental . and turn this into a cold-hearted intellectual practice. nurture it. others view the illusion of maya as being shakti. the outermost of the koshas is called the sheath of food. Because of this. explore it. the maya of the koshas is experienced both as unreal and.Pranamaya kosha The next of the koshas is Pranamaya kosha. as the beautiful manifestations of t he universal oneness. however. and then go inward.Annamaya kosha Anna means food.While some view maya as meaning that nothing is real. it functions quite well. Mana means mind. Energy . In Vedanta practice. It allows the invisible indweller. Vedanta says that it is very useful. the creative force of the universe. Physical . when it is clouded over by its illusions. silent center of consciousness to be mistakenly identif ied as the moving. so that it flows smoothly. Thus. and are consumed by another aspect of external reality. It is the level of processing thoughts and emotions. explore it. the most important part to be trained in positive ways is this level of mind. it allows the eternally still. It is the vital force that produces the subtle vibrations related to breath. in that it gives instructions. to and through the remaining koshas. After taking care of the physical body and training the energy flow of prana. Prana means energy . However. our True Self to be able to animate in the external world. It is in direct control of the operation. In meditation. the deeper wisdom is clouded over. take care of it. of the physical body and senses. All of the physical aspects of life come and go. explore it. and directed. we train this aspect of ourselves. and which are the driving force behind the physical aspect of the senses and the operation of the physical body.Manamaya kosha The next of the koshas is Manamaya kosha. we become aware of Pranamaya kosha. to and through the other koshas. At the same time. . at the same time. but is not supposed to be the manager of the factory of life.

in search of the eternal center of consciousness. so as to experience the center. a lampshade covering the pure light of consciousness. even this bliss. is still a covering. The realization of that. the first of the koshas surrounding the Atman. the Self . beyond the mind.Vijnanamaya kosha The next of the koshas is Vijnanamaya kosha. It is also the level of ego consciousness. A major part of sadhana (spiritual practice) is gaining ever increasing access to this level of our being. At man is the light itself. and Tantra practices taught in the Tibet. . It is the subtle most of the five koshas. the eternal center of consciousness. It knows. decides.Wisdom . Advaita Vedanta. Bliss . it loses its positive strength. independent of any reason or stimulus to cause a happy mental reaction. between useful and not useful. In the silence of deep meditation. It is peace. has been best desc ribed as indescribable. but when it gets co-mingled w ith the memories. Atman. a sheath. though to even describe it as that is incomplete and incorrect. this too is let go of. The deepest light shines through the koshas. It is simply being. the eternal center of consciousness. Ananda means bliss. and love that is underneath. and is clouded over by the manas. and takes on their colorings. JAPA AND AJAPA MANTRA …. is the goal of Yoga meditation. Ananda is a whole different order of reality from that of the mind. In the metaphor of the lamp and the lampshades. thinking aspect of mind. however wonderful it is. in direct experience.Self Atman is the Self . joy. This I-am-ness itself is a positive inf luence. and discriminates between this and that. Yet.Anandamaya kosha Anandamaya kosha is the most interior of the koshas. Atman . it is not bliss as a mere emotion experienced at the level of the sheath of mind. It is the sheath of wisdom that is underneath the processing. to go within. Vijnana means knowing. judges. resting in bliss called ananda. It is the level that has the higher wisdom to seek Truth. meaning the powerful wave of I-am-ness. which was never born and never dies. However.

Constant remembrance of mantra Regardless of what mantra you use. emotions. It is somewhat like the attention stance of listening rather than speaking. It is not escape. Sometimes it is very slow. though you might not literally hear the sound. sometimes people will say. and desires from the unconscious mind attenuate. The objects of the senses begin to lose their control over actions. though there is a subtler meaning. the mantra japa is repeated automatically. or sacred word to focus the mind. One of the most signif icant. The practice of constant remembrance evolves in stages: At first. single suggestions of the ancient sages is the use of mantra japa. Shanti. You allow the inner sound to come at whatever speed feels comfortable to the mind.A key to stabilizing the mind Many students of meditation and spiritual life complain of a noisy mind. Ajapa-Japa is the practice of Japa without the mental effort normally needed to repeat the mantra. one of the most important principles is the practice of constant remembrance . or become weaker. as if the mind were wading through a vat of honey. It is more like noticing what is already happening. (Some pract itioners consider this automatic repeating to be the meaning of Ajapa-Japa. like a song that you have heard many times. It must be practiced for the benefits to be experienced. it has begun to come naturally. For example. or repression. which just comes on its own. denial. With practice. turning into a constant awareness. you merely remember the mantra w ith attention drawn to it. No amount of intellectualizing will convince you of this. and Ajapa-Japa means constant awareness. as described below. The incoming streams of negative thoughts. Mantra japa leads one in the direction of deeper meditations. By cultivating such a steady awareness many benefits come: One who practices mantra japa in this way will find that the challenges and stressors of daily life are not nearly as disturbing. and subtle r spiritual experiences. In time. but a tranquil companion. an oasis in which the mind can rest. and emotional challenges. rather than causing it to happen. you intentionally repeat the syllables of the mantra internally. "OM. the feeling of the mantra is there.) Gradually. out of control senses. The mantra gives a place of refuge. The mantra japa gradually becomes a best friend of the mind. as if you are talking to yourself in your mind. as if flying through the sky without restraint. even when the sound or remembering of the syllables is not there. The letter A in front of the word Japa means without . At other times it is very fast. Thus. Japa and Ajapa-Japa Japa means repeating or remembering the mantra. In other words. .

word-for-word definitions.Shanti. useful benefits will co me from the practice of Japa and Ajapa-Japa. Choice of mantras There are many mantras. Some words have specific meaning. while others are completely non-sectarian. there comes a pervasive awareness of the mantra. word. the feeling may still be there. When the sylla bles fade away. subtler than both the syllables and any surface level meaning or definition. During the remembering of the word there may be two things--the word and the feeling of peace or tranquility. Virtually all of the meditation traditions. Whatever mantra. spiritual lineages. this is remembrance of the feeling of the mantra. not literal. Some have religious significance. As the practice evolves. words. or compact prayers that can be used for Japa and Ajapa Japa. and religions have mantra in one form or another. while others are seed syllables having only feeling." where the word Shanti means peace or tranquility . or syllables are used. while others are more like positive affirmations given to train the conscious mind. This c onstant awareness is the meaning of Ajapa-Japa of the mantra. Some have very subtle effects on energy. Here are three mantras described elsewhere in this website . Shanti.