Chapter 3: Pancha Kosha Viveka – Discrimination of the Five Sheaths
Guhāhitaṁ brahma yat tat pañcakośa vivekataḥ, boddhuṁ śakyaṁ tataḥ kośa pañcakaṁ pravi vicyate (1). In the Second Chapter we had conducted an objective analysis of the Universal Consciousness as being different from the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether. In a similar manner, here in this Third Chapter an analysis is being conducted to distinguish between the Pure Consciousness in the individual and the body of the individual which is constituted of five sheaths, known as annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya and anandamaya—the physical, vital, mental, intellectual and causal sheaths. The investigation into the real nature of these five sheaths will enable one to know that Pure Consciousness, which is the essential nature of all things, is independent of the five sheaths, and the human individual actually is not a bundle of these sheaths.
Inasmuch as it is possible to know the deepest Atman hidden in the cave of the heart by distinguishing it from the five sheaths, we now undertake the task of knowing what these five sheaths are. Dehād abhyan taraḥ prāṇaḥ prāṇād abhyan taraṁ manaḥ, tataḥ kartā tato bhoktā guhā seyaṁ paramparā (2). We have heard the phrase ‘cave of the heart’. The cave is nothing but a five-corridored holy of holies, the names of these corridors being the names of the five sheaths. The outermost sheath is the physical body that is visible to the eyes. Internal to the physical body is the vital body, which is made up of prana—the breath, the vital energy. Internal to the vital sheath is the mental sheath, which contains the mind and the senses of knowledge.
Internal to the mind is the intellect, which has the consciousness of the doership in actions. We begin to feel that we are doing something—we are going, we are sitting, we are such and such. This appropriation of individuality and doership in actions is the function of the intellect, which is inseparable from the ego.
Internal to the intellect is the causal body. It is also known as the anandamaya kosha. Karta and bhokta are the words used here to designate the intellectual sheath and the causal sheath. It is on account of the operation of the causal sheath that we feel happy. We had occasion to know something about the working of these internal sheaths when we studied the First Chapter.
In the causal sheath, there is a balancing of the properties of prakriti—sattva, rajas and tamas—whereas in the other sheaths there is a disbalance of the properties. Some one or the other of the properties of prakriti gets accentuated or emphasised in the outer sheaths, whereas in the innermost level, the causal sheath, they are in an almost equilibrated condition. That is why we feel happy when the causal sheath works, especially as in deep sleep. The doer is the intellect with the ego; the enjoyer is the causal sheath. That is why the two sheaths are called karta and bhokta, the doer and the enjoyer.
Pitṛ bhuktā nnajād vīryā jjāto’nnenaiva vardhate, dehaḥ so’nnamayo nātmā prāk cordhvaṁ tada bhāvataḥ (3). The physical body is the product of the essence of the food consumed by our parents, and it is also sustained by the intake of food every day. It is purely material in its nature. It is constituted of a material force, and it is also subsequently sustained by a material force. The physical body is pure matter; it has no consciousness.
Inasmuch as it is material, it cannot be identified with the Atman, which is Consciousness. This physical sheath is called the annamaya kosha—that is, the physical encasement. Dehaḥ so’nnamayo nātmā: This is not the Atman, because the body was not there before it was born, and it will not be there when it is cast away. It has a beginning and it has an end. Therefore, it cannot be the Atman, which is infinite, which is eternal. The body is perishable. It was caused by certain circumstances, and it will be destroyed by certain other circumstances. Hence, none of the qualities which we perceive in a physical body can be considered as qualities of the Atman. It is perishable, and it is inert. Therefore, this body is not the Atman. Our essential nature is not the physical body and, therefore, a description of a person in terms of physical relation is not a correct way of evaluating a person.
Pūrva janma nyasann etaj janma saṁpādayet katham, bhāvi janman yasan karma na bhuñjī teha sañcitam (4). There must have been some cause for the production of this body. How did it suddenly rise up, and why does it perish? What is the reason? Some forces are at the back of this event. We cannot say that the physical body has suddenly risen into action without any kind of cause whatsoever. The joys and sorrows of life, which are also experienced through this body, cannot be regarded as effects of nothing. Nothing produces nothing. Do we sometimes experience happiness and grief through this body? How is it that we sometimes feel very comfortable physically and at other times feel irked and very grief-stricken? The body has not brought anything when it came, yet it feels the pinch of the troubles of life; and sometimes it also feels comfortable. So how could there be this effect of feeling through the body unless there is a cause behind it? That is one aspect of the matter.
Secondly, through this body we do so many actions. Some are good actions, some are bad actions. Do we mean to say that these actions will not produce any result? Good actions are rewarded, bad actions are punished. Now, where is the field for the reward of the good actions done through this body, or the field for the suffering of the consequences of the bad actions, if the body is to cease immediately after death?
There is, therefore, something which is the true individuality of a person, the operation of which alone can explain how it is that we have various kinds of experiences in this world, and also why we do good actions, etc. Why do we do good actions if the end of the body is also our own end? The end of the body may occur even tomorrow or the day after. But people do large philanthropic deeds; they contemplate large projects for the welfare of humanity, and do various other things. After all, what is the purpose of these welfare projects if the reward for these actions is not to be experienced because of the possible death of the body the next day itself?
If the body is to be considered as the true identity of the human individual, we cannot explain how the joys and sorrows of life have come up on a particular individual in a particular way, or account for the results of their good and bad deeds. There is some continuity of personality from before the coming of the body and after the going of it. Because of the continuity of the person prior to the manufacture of this body, we can explain how we can have experiences of various types, differing one from the other.
One person’s experience is different from the experience of another person. Though physically all the bodies are made of the same stuff, the experiences are different. The experiences, therefore, should not be identified with the physical body. The experiencer is not the body. Also, the nature of the experience has to be accounted for. There must be a cause for an effect. The effect is the experience, and the cause is not visible.
So by the argument of inference, we conclude that there is something prior to the coming of the body; and because of the necessity to reward actions, we have also to conclude that there is something that persists even after the death of the body. All this shows that the body is not the Atman.
Akritabhyagama and kritanasa are the two terms used to describe the incongruity that may follow if the body is to be identified with the Atman. Because the body has a beginning and an end, the experiences of the body are identical with the time of the rise of the body.
How does it follow that a person should suddenly have undeserved sufferings and joys, as we may say, in this life, if there is no cause prior to it? That is called akritabhyagama, the coming of that which is not deserved, and the going of that which is actually deserved. So, if there is no prior cause and posterior existence for a person, then the result of good actions will go unrewarded, and the results of actions which he has not done will come upon his head. The person is, therefore, different from the body.
Pūrṅo dehe balaṁ yacchan akṣaṇāṁ yaḥ pravartakaḥ, vāyuḥ prāṅamayo nāsou ātmā caitanya varjanāt (5). Internal to the physical body is the vital sheath, known as the pranamaya sarira. This vitality it is that gives strength to the system. The energy that we feel in ourselves is due to the prana moving through the body. The strength of the prana is also the strength of the body. If the prana is weak, the body will also be weak. The prana energises the sense organs as well. Clarity of vision, clarity of audition, and clarity and ability of the other sense organs are also caused by the energy quantum of the prana, the vitality in us.
The extent of vitality that we have in our system will determine the extent of health that we enjoy, the ability that we have, the strength that we have, and so on. This vital sheath is the subtle aspect of the air principle. But this vital sheath—the prana, which is inside the physical body—also cannot be identified with the Atman, because prana has no consciousness. It is like electric energy; it works, but it does not know that it is working.
Even in the state of dream and sleep, the prana is working, but we are not conscious that the prana is working. As we are not conscious of the physical body, so also we are not conscious of the breathing process. Therefore, neither the physical body nor the vital sheath can be regarded as identical with the Atman.
What is our essential nature, then? It is not this body, not even the breath. There is something else in us. What is inside the vital sheath?
Ahantām mamatām dehe gehādau ca karoti yaḥ, kāmādya vasthayā bhrānto nāsā vātmā manomayaḥ (6). The mind is internal to the vital sheath. What does the mind do? Full of desires is the mind; fickle is the mind. It is never stable at any time. The mind will not rest in a single condition continuously even for a moment. It is deluded, mostly. The mind of a person does not perceive things correctly. It requires a lot of deliberation to understand whether our perceptions are valid or not.
Attachment is the nature of the mind. It clings to properties, such as house, wealth, family, etc. I-ness and my-ness are the essential features of the mental body. It always feels: “I am. I am coming, I am doing, I am this, and I am that.” It also feels: “This is mine. This is not mine.” The sense of ‘I’, which is egoism, and the sense of ‘mine’ in respect of things which it considers as its property, are the features of the mental body. But the mind is unconscious in the state of deep sleep; therefore, it cannot be identified with Consciousness.
There are conditions when the mind is not working at all. In utter delusion, in coma, in swoon, in sleep, even in death itself, the mind does not function—but the person continues. Therefore, even as the physical body and the vital sheath are not to be identified with Pure Consciousness, the mind also has to be distinguished from our essential nature, which is Pure Consciousness. Consciousness is not the body, not the vital breath, and also not the mind.
Līnā suptau vapurbodhe vyāpnuyād ānakhā gragā, cicchāyo peta dhīr-nātmā vijñāna maya śabda bhāk (7). There is a sheath internal to the mind, which is called the intellectual sheath. While the mind just thinks, the intellect can understand, decide and judge. It is the ratiocinating faculty in us. This also is not the Atman, because it has a beginning and an end. It is not perpetually operating in us.
In deep sleep, the intellect also is dissolved, as is the case with the mind. Only in the waking condition do the mind and the intellect pervade the whole body. We seem to be feeling that this body is ourselves; right from head to foot, we identify ourselves with this visible sheath on account of the continuous pervasion of the mind and the intellect in the waking condition. But in the deep sleep condition, the intellect also does not work. It ceases, but we do not cease. If in the deep sleep state we cease, we will not wake up the next morning. So even when the body ceases, the vital sheath ceases, the mind ceases, and the intellect ceases to operate and ceases to be a content of our consciousness, we exist nevertheless in the state of deep sleep. Therefore, the intellectual sheath also is not the Atman; it is not Consciousness.
So we have eliminated four sheaths—the physical, the vital, the mental, and the intellectual. All these sheaths, these enclosures of the body which we hug as very dear and consider as identical with our own true nature, are not identical with us, really speaking. They are external coverings like a shirt or a coat that we put on, which cannot be identified with our own selves.
Kartṛtva-karaṇatvā-ghyāṁ vikriye-tāntarin driyam, vijñāna- manasī antar-bahiś-caite parasparam (8). The mind and the intellect have the similar characteristic of fickleness. We do not always go on thinking anything definitely; nor are we always judging things rationally. There is torpidity of thought. There is mostly absence of the function of the mind and the intellect when we are wool-gathering and thinking of nothing in particular. That is to show that we are existing even without the active operation of these mental and intellectual sheaths. Instrumental is the mind, and the agent of action is the intellect. The mind is external to the intellect; the intellect is internal to the mind. They act as the internal operator and the external instrument. That is the only difference between the intellect and the mind. But actually, as far as their non-conscious nature is concerned, they are identical. They are fine products of matter only.
Kāci-dantar-mukhā vṛttir-ānanda-prati-bimba-bhāk, puṇya- bhoge bhoga-śantau nidrā-rūpeṇa līyate (9). Now comes the last sheath, the causal. In this condition, where the causal sheath predominantly operates, as in the case of deep sleep, the vrittis or the psychosis—that is, the operations of the psyche—get internalised completely, and externalisation of these mental operations ceases. In the waking and the dreaming conditions, the mind operates in an external fashion through the sense organs. But in the state of deep sleep, there is an inwardising activity of the mind and the intellect taking place. That is, these activities of the mind and the intellect cease completely. They get dissolved, as it were, into their cause, and the rajas and the sattva aspects also are buried in a complete oblivion of everything. This is tamas, a darkness and an absence of any kind of awareness, which is what we experience in the state of deep sleep. We feel very happy.
The reason why we are so happy in the state of deep sleep has been a very intriguing question in psychology because any amount of empirical explanation will not suffice in accounting for the reason why we feel so energised, fresh and relieved when we wake up in the morning. Even a sick person feels a little better early in the morning. A tired person wakes up with energy which was not there earlier. We would like to sleep, and would not like to wake up so easily.
The reason for the happiness is the internalisation of the psyche—the inwardness of our activity in the direction of the Atman that is our real nature. Our faculties are nearer to our true nature than they are in the waking and the dreaming states. In the waking state we are mostly pulled out of our own Self, as it were, in a wrong direction of externality; and when we are object-conscious in the waking condition, we lose our Self-identity. The more are we object-conscious, the less are we Self-conscious. Therefore, we are very much distracted in the waking condition. We run about here and there in search of a little relief and peace, which we cannot find on account of it being not possible to see happiness outside, as happiness is a condition of the Self.
There is a temporary cessation of externalised activity of the senses, the mind and the intellect in the state of deep sleep. The psychosis, or the mental vrittis, seem to be licking the taste of the bliss of the Atman in the state of deep sleep—though unconsciously, as it were. They are dumbfounded. It is as if somebody has given them a blow on the head and they have lost their consciousness. Nevertheless, they have fallen on the lap of that Pure Existence, which is the Selfhood of all persons.
This is the reason why we feel happy when we are in the state of sleep. Happiness is the nature of the Self. It cannot be found in anything that is not the Self. All joy is in us; it is not in anything else. Thus, all the activity of the world, externally projected, is to be considered as futile, finally, in the acquisition of happiness in this world. It is just a pursuing of the will-o’-the-wisp, as it is called, water in a mirage. The more we run after the world, the more will we be disappointed. We will get nothing, not even a husk, finally.
The internal settlement of the mind and the intellect in the state of deep sleep identifies our personality, for the time being, with the true Self of ours. We enjoy a bliss that we cannot expect in anything else in this world. This happiness is to be attributed partly to the good deeds that we performed in the previous birth. If we had been a completely bad person, we would not have even one minute’s happiness in this world. We would be tearing out our hair, but getting nothing. But if we feel convinced that there is some happiness in this world—sometimes we feel relieved, and there is some internal joy caused by certain things in the world—we should conclude that we have done some good deeds in the previous birth. That is why we come to the Himalayas, to the Ganga, and to ashrams to listen to glorious thoughts instead of going to distracting places where we become worse and worse in our psychic functions.
When there is satiety or surfeit of experience—when we have had enough of things, the senses are exhausted and we collapse, as it were, mentally—in that condition also, negatively, we go into our own Self. We want nothing at that time; the mind is collapsing due to the fatigue of the activity of the sense organs. That is another aspect of the reason why we feel a little relieved when we go nearer to our own Self, either by force or by some deliberate effect taking place.
Kādācit-katvato na-ātmā syād ānanda mayo’pyayam, bimba-bhūto ya ānanda ātmā’sau sarvadā sthiteḥ (10). But unfortunately, even this causal sheath that we experience in the state of deep sleep is not the true Self, because the true Self is directly conscious. It is not merely indirectly happy, as we have it in the state of deep sleep. This happiness of sleep is negative. We are not conscious of it positively, and also, we are not always in that condition. The causal sheath does not operate always. It operates only for a fraction of the day when we seem to be falling into that particular state of causality; and it has a beginning and an end. There is a beginning for the event of our entering into the causal body, and also there is an end of it when we wake up in the morning. As it has a beginning and an end, it cannot be regarded as eternal; therefore, it is not the Atman. It is non-eternal in its nature.
So, what remains afterwards? If not the physical body, not the vital body, not the mental body, not the intellectual body, not the causal body—what remains? Is there anything in us other than these? Practically, we will find that nothing remains. We will feel that when we go on peeling an onion, layers after layers will come off, and inside there is nothing—no pith. It will look as if we have no pith at all; only sheaths are being removed by the analysis of their non-identity of Consciousness, and their externality. If we peel off the causal sheath and the other sheaths, we will find that we do not know what is happening to us. We will be in utter darkness.
“All things have gone. I have found nothing.” This kind of feeling may sometimes temporarily arise in our mind when everything has gone: the body has gone, property has gone, money has gone, house has gone, relatives have died, and nobody wants to look at us. People sometimes make the statement, “All things have gone. I am nothing. Only the breath is remaining, and that also is about to go.”
Sometimes we begin to wrongly feel that when our possessions are taken away, we become a zero—as if we are the possessions. But we are the possessor; we are not the possessions. So why do we say that we are nothing when the possessions are taken away? It is because of the intense attachment to the possessions that we begin to wrongly feel that we are ourselves the possessions; and when they are taken away, we wrongly feel that we are not there at all, that all things have gone. “All things have gone. I have gone. I am no more.”
But it is not so. We will still remain if everything in the world goes. Even if the entire solar system goes and all the worlds vanish, we will still be there. Let us see what remains.