Pancha Kosha

Pancha Kosha means five sheaths. In yoga and spirituality, the human body is viewed from two angles: three-fold bodies and five-fold sheaths. In Sanskrit, it is Sharira Traya and Pancha Kosha.

To comprehend the yoga philosophy, particularly Pranayama, the information on Prana, Nadis, three bodies principle, five-fold sheaths of the body, Chakras, and Kundalini is an unquestionable requirement.

This article describes Pancha Kosha and Sharira Traya in detail.

Let us take Sharira Traya or the doctrine of three bodies first for our discussion.

Sharira Traya or Doctrine of Three Bodies

शरीरत्रयम् (Sharira Thirayam) in Sanskrit means ‘three bodies’. It is an important doctrine in Indian Philosophy and Spirituality that includes Vedanta, Yoga, Tantra, and Meditation.

A human entity constitutes three bodies. They are,

  1. Sthula Sharira (Gross Body)
  2. Sukhsma Sharira (Subtle Body)
  3. Karana Sharira (Causal Body)

Sthula Sharira or Gross Body

What is Sthula Sharira or Gross Body?

Tattva Bodha, a text on Advaita Vedanta, defines Gross Body as a body

  • that is made up of five great elements that have undergone the process of Panchikarana (grossification),
  • born as a result of good deeds of the past,
  • that being a house to experience joy and sorrow,
  • that undergoes the six modifications namely existence, birth, growth, maturity, decay, and death.

It is gross and visible to sense organs. It is perceptible to one and all. Likewise, it is made up of five elements namely earth, air, water, fire, and space. But how? The tangible of part earth is food and vegetation. Hence earth is a constituent of the body. Similarly, the air is another constituent because the body is filled with air. Most part of the body is water. Likewise, the maintains a temperature and occupies space. This is the general cause of creation.

The special cause of creation is the good Karma. The result of good Karma or deeds in the past is the special cause of creation.

The body is the house that experiences joy and sorrow. Also, it undergoes six modifications. It exists before birth. Similarly, it experiences six major modifications until death.

These are the four aspects of Sthula Sharira.

Sukhsma Sharira or Subtle Body

What is Sukhsma Sharira or Subtle Body?

According to Tattva Bodha, Subtle body is the body

  • that is made up of five great elements that have not undergone Panchikarana or grossification,
  • born as a result of good deeds,
  • instrumental to experience joy and sorrow,
  • that is made up of seventeen elements namely five sense organs, five organs of action, five Pranas, mind, and intellect.

The subtle body is that which is other than the Gross body. However, the Subtle body controls the gross body. Moreover, the Subtle body has no modifications like birth and death. After the death of the gross body, the subtle body travels in search of a new body.

Constituents of Subtle Body

It is made up of five subtle elements.

Also, five sense organs (Pancha Jnanendriya) are its components. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin are the five sense organs. When we refer to sense organs, we mean the subtle perception and not the physical part of it. For example, the physical eyes belong to the gross body; whereas the power of seeing belongs to the subtle body.

Likewise, five organs of action (Pancha Karmendriya) are also part of the subtle body. The five organs of actions are organs of

  • Speech
  • Hands
  • Legs
  • Evacuation
  • Procreation

Again, the organs don’t refer to physical parts like mouth, hands, and the like. It refers to the actions like verbal response, locomotion, and so on.

Next, Pancha Prana or five Pranas. The organs of actions require energy to function. Prana gives energy for their functions. The five-fold Prana are

  • Prana (gives energy to the respiratory system)
  • Apana (gives energy to the evacuating system)
  • Vyana (gives energy to the circulatory system)
  • Samana (gives energy to the digestive system)
  • Udana (active at the time of death and also at the time of emergency)

The mind and intellect are two components of the subtle body. Some texts add four-fold internal organs (mind, intellect, consciousness, and ego) to the list that gives a total of nineteen parts.

The subtle body is known to one’s own-self and not others; whereas the gross body is visible to others.

Karana Sharira or Causal Body

Karana Sharira or Causal body is the cause or seed of the Gross Body and Subtle Body.

Tattva Bodha defines Causal Body as the body

  • that is incomprehensible, beginningless, and in the form of ignorance
  • which is the only cause of Gross and Subtle bodies
  • that is ignorant of one’s own nature
  • that is free from thoughts

One peculiar thing about the above definition is that the Causal body is indefinable.

It is the cause of Gross and Subtle bodies, yet it has no cause for its own existence meaning it is beginningless.

This is the subtlest of all the bodies. The seed is the cause of the tree. If a tree exists, there is no existence for the seed that causes the tree. Similarly, the causal body only exists before creation and after dissolution. At the time of dissolution, everything gets destroyed and becomes the causal body. In the next creation, it will become gross and subtle bodies.

In sleep, we get the nearest appearance of the causal body, yet not the complete appearance. Its complete appearance is only after dissolution and before creation.

Pancha Kosha or Five Sheaths

What is Pancha Kosha or Five Sheaths?

पञ्च (Pancha) in Sanskrit means five. Likewise, कोश (Kosha) means a cover or sheath. Therefore Pacha Kosha means five sheaths. These five sheaths refer to the layers that cover the Atman. There are five sheaths that cover the Atman. What are these five sheaths?

  1. Annamaya Kosha (Sheath of Matter or Food)
  2. Pranamaya Kosha (Sheath of Prana)
  3. Manomaya Kosha (Sheath of Mind)
  4. Vijnanamaya Kosha (Sheath of Intellect)
  5. Anandamaya Kosha (Sheath of Bliss)

It is often befuddled that they are one inside another and the Atman lives in the middle. In reality, it isn’t so. The subtler sheaths pervade the grosser. As the grosser sheaths are dependent on subtler, the latter controls the former. Atman pervades all.

The concept of five sheaths is older than the doctrine of three bodies. The earliest reference to Pancha Kosha is found in Taittiriya Upanishad of the first millennium BC.

Pancha Kosha Vs Sharira Traya

The three bodies that we have discussed in Sharira Traya is now divided into five layers. Yes. Sharira Trayam is one angle and Pancha Kosha or Kosha Panchakam is the other angle. The only difference is the basis of division. In the doctrine of three bodies, we divide them on the basis of the texture of matter; whereas, in the doctrine of five sheaths, we divide them on the basis of the functions.

However, the same set of three bodies are now divided into five bodies. The Gross Body of Sharira Traya becomes Annamaya Kosha and the Causal Body becomes Anandamaya Kosha. Obviously, the Subtle Body becomes three sheaths. The following table demonstrates the basis of division.

Three BodiesFive Sheaths
Gross BodyAnnamaya Kosha
Subtle BodyPranamaya Kosha
Manomaya Kosha
Vijnanamaya Kosha
Causal BodyAnandamaya Kosha

Annamaya Kosha

Annamaya Kosha is the sheath of food. The structure, limbs, organs, and other physical parts of the body constitute the sheath of food. Only the essence of food creates and nourishes this body. Therefore it gets this name.

To put it simply, this sheath pertains to the system of anatomy.

Pranamaya Kosha

This sheath pertains to the functions of anatomy. Prana gives the vital energy for these functions.

As we have already discussed, a subtle body leaves the physical body at the time of death. Hence, the sheath of Prana along with the sheaths of mind and intellect leaves the body after death.

We already know that the seventeen parts (five Prana, five organs of sense, five organs of actions, mind, and intellect) constitute a subtle body. Among these seventeen parts, ten parts (Pancha Prana and Pancha Karmendriya) constitute Pranamaya Kosha.

Manomaya Kosha

Manomaya Kosha is the sheath behind the functions of Pranic Sheath. In simple words, the mind controls the functions or actions of the body. Of the seventeen organs of the Subtle body, this sheath consists of only six parts namely Pancha Jnanendriya and mind. The mind includes Chitta and Ahamkara.

Moreover, it is subtler than the sheaths of Food and Prana.

The Sheath of Mind is the psychological Personality.

Vijnanamaya Kosha

Vijnanamaya Kosha is the sheath of intellect or rational existence. It pertains to the Judging portion of the mind. Pancha Jnanendriya and Buddhi (Intellect) constitute the sheath of intellect. Also, the intellect includes Chitta and Ahamkara.

The Sheath of Intellect is the cognitive personality.

Anandamaya Kosha

Anandamaya Kosha is the sheath of bliss. We experience bliss in deep sleep. In Sleep we are ignorant. Let us recall the fact that the form of Causal body is ignorance. The sheath of bliss is the unconscious personality.

When we could not undergo tremendous pain or psychological pressure or shock, we go unconscious. This temporary fusion may either be physiological or psychological.

When you could not express emotions freely, they are stored in the unconscious. These stored emotions in the unconscious come out as anger, hatred, and the like.

Sometimes, for a little mix-up, an individual flares. Little stimulants trigger the inner personality to manifest. This inner personality is Anandamaya Kosha. It is blissful because it is unconscious. Alternatively, you are blissfully ignorant of its existence.

In Causal body or in the Sheath of bliss, you don’t feel the pain, misery, sorrow, and the like. Blissfulness is the absence of these feelings. That is why you could not feel any pain or sorrow in deep sleep.

Pancha Kosha and Shakti Trayam

The Sanskrit Name Shakti means energy or power in English. The forms of energy are three-fold. They are Iccha Shakti, Kriya Shakti, and Jnana Shakti.

Iccha Shakti means the energy that pertains to desire. Kriya Shakti means the energy that pertains to action. Similarly, Jnana Shakti is the energy of intellect. This understanding may be applied to both microcosmic and macrocosmic levels. In our context of five sheaths, let us take the microcosmic level of three energy forms.

Consider an example. You want to play a computer war game. Then you access to an online war game and play it. In this example, a desire to play a computer game arises in your mind. Then you fulfill that desire. The energy that involves in the desire is Iccha Shakti. Likewise, the energy that pertains to your playing is Kriya Shakti.

Does a person who lived 200 years ago have this desire?

No. Because there was nothing like a computer in those times. The desire was not there because he has no knowledge of it. Hence, the knowledge gives you desire. The energy form that pertains to this knowledge is Jnana Shakti.

Jana Shakti not only prompts Iccha Shakti. Also, it is behind the Kriya Shakti. But Iccha Shakti always prompts the Kriya Shakti into action. Kriya Shakti is always preceded by both energy forms of knowledge and desire.

Also, Kriya Shakti includes the energy and tools required for action or creation. Now, you can relate the energy forms to five sheaths.

Annamaya Kosha is the tool and Pranamaya Kosha the energy. Hence the energy form that relates to these two sheaths is Kriya Shakti.

Likewise, Jnana Shakti pertains to Vijnanamaya Kosha. With the help of the Sheath of intellect and mind, the Annamaya Kosha and Pranamaya Kosha function.

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