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Kosas - Sheaths (Pancha-kosas)
From 'Vedanta Treatise'
By Sri A. Parthasarthy
Vedanta Life Institute, Mumbai.

The structure of man can be divided into five material layers enveloping Atman (indwelling soul). Atman is the core of your personality. It is represented by the mystic symbol of AUM (pronounced OM). The five layers of matter are like five

concentric circles around the . They are called sheaths or KOSAS in Sanskrit. The five sheaths (pancha-kosas) are:
  • Food sheath (Anna-maya kosa)

  • Vital-Air sheath (Prana-maya kosa)

  • Mental sheath (Mana-maya kosa)

  • Intellectual sheath (Vignana-maya kosa)

  • Bliss sheath (Ananda-maya kosa)
Food sheath
Food sheath is the physical body. The five organs of perception and the five organs of action are a part of it. It is called food sheath because it is caused by food, maintained by food; and finally ends up as food.

Vital-Air sheath
There are five faculties functioning within you. They correspond to the five physiological functions. They are called the five Pranas. Together they constitute the vital-air sheath. They have been given that name because they are related directly to air you breathe.
  • Faculty of perception (prana): is the functioning of the five senses as seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching.

  • Faculty of excretion (apana): throws out, evacuates excreta of the body such as faeces, urine, sperms, sputum, perspiration etc.

  • Faculty of digestion (samana): digests food received by the stomach.

  • Faculty of circulation (vyana); distributes digested food to different parts of the body through blood stream.

  • Faculty of thought-absorption (udana): takes in fresh knowledge.
These five faculties (pranas) are sharp and clear when you are young. As you get older the pranas lose their strength and vitality. That explains why a ripe old man can hardly see, hear etc. His faculties of excretion, digestion and circulation become very weak. His capacity to absorb and accept new thoughts and ideas is reduced to the bare minimum.

Vital-Air sheath is subtler than food sheath. It controls the food sheath. When your pranas function properly your physical body remains healthy and strong. And when they slacken and work inefficiently the body is adversely affected.

Mental sheath
The mental sheath is the mind. Mind consists of passions and emotions, feelings and impulses. It is full of likes and dislikes. Mental-sheath controls vital-air and food sheaths. For instance, when the mind is disturbed, the physiological functions (pranas) and the physical body are affected.

Intellectual sheath
Intellectual sheath is the intellect. It functions as thinking,
reflecting, reasoning, discriminating, judging, etc. It analyses
and distinguishes between pairs of opposites. It controls the
above three sheaths.

Bliss sheath
Bliss sheath consists of Vasanas alone. When you are in deep sleep i.e. dreamless sleep you are in bliss sheath. When you cross the bliss sheath and move to other sheaths you experience the dream and waking states of consciousness. Vasanas are therefore unnoticeable in deep sleep while they are manifest in the form of thought in the dream and actions in the waking state. Consequently you experience mental agitations, great or small, as long as you remain in dream and waking states. When however you enter the state of deep sleep all your mental agitations cease and you experience undisturbed peace and bliss. Hence it is that this sheath is called bliss sheath. But the bliss experienced in deep sleep is relative. It is not to be confused with the absolute bliss of Self-realisation.

The five sheaths enumerated above may also be classified under three different headings viz. gross body, subtle body and causal body. Food sheath and the gross portion of vital-air sheath together constitute the gross body. The subtle portion of vital-air sheath combined with mental and intellectual sheaths form the subtle body. While the gross body is made up of gross matter, the subtle body is constituted of passions, desires, emotions, feelings and thoughts. Bliss sheath is the causal body consisting of Vasanas alone.

Your causal body is the storehouse of all your impressions and latent energies in you, all your Vasanas. When this hidden material in the causal body expresses itself as feelings and thoughts it takes the form of your subtle body. The same material works out as perceptions and actions in the gross body. Let the causal body be instilled with the suggestion of health, the subtle body will entertain thoughts of health and the gross body is bound to be healthy. Let the causal body be saturated with the suggestion of godhead, the subtle body will revel in the thought of godhead, the man is bound to be godly. A man is the architect of his own personality inasmuch as it is his own causal body that is responsible for his behaviour, movements and environments.

The substratum of your causal, subtle and gross bodies is your real Self.


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