An aphorism says, “As is the universe, so is the human body,” that is, whatever there is in the universe, is also there in the body, The body is the exact copy of the universe. If we know the principles regulating the body accordingly, we will automatically understand several facts about the universe. Mind, intellect and ego are linked with the body. A formula that explains this constituation of the body is known as the principle of panchkosha. According to it, the body is divided into five cells. In them lies everthing ranging from jiva to brahm. The outer cover is the gross body which is known as annamaya kosha where, it is said, jiva and God reside. Between these two are the other koshas: pranamaya, manomaya and vigyanmaya.
The prime kosha is the anandamaya kosha, which though remains in an abstract form, yet sustains all the other koshas. It is called the sustainer of all others because if it is disrupted at any stage, other koshas will not be able to function. Therefore, it is at the base of other koshas. Vedas have also declared, “anandadevsarvametadbhavata.” Ananda is the source of the origin of the world and the entire creation. If the element of ananda is missing, everything will be in a state of lifelessness.
Then comes the vigyanmaya kosha, which combines with trigunas and manifests itself in the form of intellect. All the worship, the practice of yoga, all the karma yoga, gyan yoga, bhakti yoga, budhi yoga in this world, in nut-shell, all the shastras are structured towards the attainment of the essence of ananda. Even then true bliss is attained by one in a million. Otherwise people get only happiness blended with sorrow. Ananda, which consists of this kind of combination of happiness and sorrow is a common experience while the highest objective of life is considered to be the pure form of ananda without any tinge of sorrow. As it is, with the joining of the three gunas – satvaguna, rajoguna and tamoguna with vigyanmaya kosha the intellect comes to the fore. If by regular practice, rajoguna and tamoguna are suppressed to such an extent that their presence does not agitate the mind, it will lead to a state of complete satvik purity. Only in that state one can strike a relationship with vigyan-atma. In this way in its intense form, vigyan also reaches the state of kosha.
History bears a witness to the fact that it is this vigyan kosha, which is directly, or indirectly the origin of all and is responsible for new creations. A man who could master the vigyanmaya kosha had complete control over mantra-tantra, was knowledgeable about the use of arms and was capable of creating a benign world. Vishwamitra is a well-known example of this kind of siddha-purusha. The entire philosophy of intellect was based on this vigyanmaya kosha. The philosophers of this school of thought followed this very course, but they mistook intellect for vigyan and were thus deprived of the true ananda because vigyanmaya kosha is only a means, the end is ananda.
The third is the manomaya kosha. It has two distinctions – the first is the practical mind which includes the three virtues of satvik, rajas and tamas with which we are not familiar but we think we know them. The second is the deeper mind which is connected with ananda vigyan. It is very deep and intense, that is why it is termed as manomaya kosha.
This deeper mind is known as avyaya purush among three purushas. It has been described in the Gita in these words: ‘ishwar sarvabhutanam hriddeshe.’ Whereas the mind linked with the three virtues is at times unhappy and at other times happy, the deeper mind is always in a state of ananda in pure vigyan bhava. If this mental state can be somehow achieved through practice, it leads to the attainment of the highest state of completeness in life because this oneness with this blissful deeper mind imparts so much of power that the prana, taking inspiration from it, is able to perform all worldly functions efficiently and with determination. With its eye on the vigyanmaya mana it remains free from the bondage caused by the process of actions. Being a middle element, this manomaya kosha is quite intense and serious in nature.
Vigyanmaya kosha exists inside this manomaya kosha. This is the place where intellect resides. Our five senses – eyes, nose, ears, mind and skin are all connected to koshabuddhi. This is the sphere of knowledge. It is knowledge that enables us to comprehend our subtle, gross and causative or casual body. It is knowledge that leads us to the soul. When one crosses the stages of annamaya, pranamaya and manomaya kosha, he gains authentic knowledge. This knowledge acquaints him with anandamaya kosha that is available in vigyanmaya kosha. This is the abode of the soul, jiva and God. This is where the ‘I’ originates from. The concept ‘aham brahmasmi’, that is, ‘I am the Brahm’ comes from here. Here lies the origin of the entire creation and its manifestation. Ananda is the main motive behind the whole expanse of the creation. The universe and the rhythm of creation have their source in ananda.
The fourth is the manomaya kosha. This kosha is the foundation of the body, but it exists both at the subtle and gross levels and makes the element of prana quite complex. Countless distinctions of prana have been given at different places in our shastras, but according to Ved Vigyan the vital force of prana, that moves the universe lies in rishi, pitar, deva, asura, gandharva and mana (mind).
Out of these, pitar, deva etc. are known as pranas that are attached, they cannot function in isolation, therefore, they always go together. Only the rishi prana, which is the form of gyana, is unattached. The form of knowledge, which we find in expressions like, ‘we have understood’ or we have experession like, ‘we have experienced it’ does not need to be attached to any other form. It is unattached and complete in itself because it is a part of our experience. This is the deepest form of rishi prana.
All pranas can be authenticated by experience. This intense form of prana vigyan is called pranamaya kosha. The very subtle chief prana remains hidden in the depth, which when struck results in immediate loss of life or a state of unconciousness for a long period. But even after such an incident, what still saves life is pranamaya kosha.
Our body is composed of five elements: air, water, earth, fire and space. It is sustained by food, that is why, it is known as annamaya kosha. It is food that produces juice, blood, flesh, the fat, bones, bone marrow and semen. The shape and nature of our body is formed in consonance with the soul. Body is the medium through which the desires of the mind are fulfilled. Hence it is important that the body remains healthy so that no desire remains unfulfilled – the importance of the body is limited to that extent only. On the other hand, it is the main medium both of the extension of the universe and self-introspection. Family, society and the universe are grossly connected to the body. When one vizualizes that one supreme power is pervading all created things and beings, then he becomes introvert.
It is the pranamaya kosha that directs and develops the body and connects it to the mind. There are five prime life forces and five secondary life forces, which perform the gross functions in the body. They are known as prana, apaan, udaan, samaan, vyaan, and naag, koorm, krikal, devdutt and dhananjay. The chief pranas of the universe like rishi, pitra, deva, etc. are the transformed forms of the pranas. An individual is born with a debt to the pranas of rishi, pitra and deva and wants to repay it before death. It is the prana–the life force that sustains the mind.
Pranas give an indication of the subtle body. Our instincts are also directed by pranas. This is symbolic of the war between devas and demon prana draw a person in different directions. The subtle body creates the bondage of samskaras in the inner mind. It is to train this prana-body that ‘pranayam’ is practised. Jagadguru Shankaracharya writes in apeksanubhuti – “Reinforcement of the conviction that God is all - pervading and gaining control over life forces is called pranayam.” “aham brahmasmi”, that is, “I am Brahm”– practising this belief is poorak and that the world is an illusion is rechak. The constant belief that “I am Brahm” is, in fact, kumbhak. In practice, the world is not an illusion. It is just a feeling. Worshipping the world is worshipping the self. The world is also the consecration of truth.
With the help of pranamaya kosha we can unravel the deepest mysteries of life, we can understand our mind, we can see the outer shield and can make plans to remove it. Our manomaya kosha resides in this pranamaya kosha. Our five functional organs – hands, feet, anus, urinary organs and mouth are linked to manomaya kosha. Our mind is the world of desires. Our prarabdh karmas ( karmas ordained by destiny) get accumulated in the mind. They fall off only when we have undergone the suffering meant for the period ordained by them. There is another way also. As Krishna has said in the Gita, “O Arjuna! the fire of knowledge burns all the karmas.” Prarabdh is said to be the last bondage of a human being.
Annamaya kosha is the fifth kosha. It is the main supporting base of life. Indra has termed Vishvarath as his own form of prana and food as the closest friend of prana. Vishvarath became Vishwamitra when he comprehended this spirit of friendship. For this anna (food) in panchdashi it has been said, “annam brahmah”, that is, the word ‘Brahm’ is derived from ‘brahm’ which refers to sustenance implying that food is brahm. The bhavas created by the power of Maya, such as sleep, hunger, craving, endurance, travesty, shame, peace, reverence, splendour, wealth, instinct, memory, compassion, satisfaction, illusion etc. are all forms of atman (soul).
When one gets to know these and the power of God, only then he can say with conviction that jiva is Brahm. He then installs himself in the element of intellect and imbibes the self-lit power of knowledge and experiences the practical power that lies behind all visible things.