Pancha Kosha is a Sanskrit term made up of two words Pancha and Kosha. Pancha means ‘’five’’, and Kosha means ‘’sheath’’or ‘’layer’’.The concept of Pancha Kosha or five cardinal layers or sheaths was elucidated in many sacred Ancient Hindu texts like Taittiriya Upanishad, Vivekacudamani and Panchadasi. According to the Yoga Philosophy there are are five cardinal layers or sheaths that surround the human soul named Pancha Kosha. Pancha kosha or the five cardinal sheaths are five different layers of our human growth and evolution. The Yogic Philosophy of the five cardinal sheaths believes that that every human being is endowed with certain physical and psychological features that work together in a holistic manner. The five cardinal sheath system considers these different facets as various layers of subjective experience. These sheaths have a wide spectrum starting from the closely packed physical body and evolving gradually to more subtle and sublime levels of emotions, mind and finally the spirit is the last stage of evolution. The Upanishads state that our very essence or prakriti comprises of five different extensions .our perishable body (the abode of our imperishable and immortal soul) unfolds into more ethereal layers of energy surrounding our spiritual core. All living beings contain five distinct energy layers or sheaths called pancha kosha that encompass our soul. Every kosha resonates at different speed and they communicate and go beyond each other spanning from earthly to metaphysical planes of existence.
The human soul is encompassed by five cardinal layers or sheaths of arishadvarga(the six cardinal internal foes within us) namely, annamaya kosha(food sheath), pranamaya kosha(vital air sheath),manomaya kosha(mind sheath), vigyanmaya kosha(intellect sheath) and anandmaya kosha(bliss sheath). Besides these five layers there are two more layers of human existence named chitta kosha(spiritual wisdom) and sat kosha(the ultimate state of commingling with GOD).
The arishadvarga(ari means enemy, shad means six and varga means classes)are the six enemies of the mind namely kama(lust or desire), krodha(anger or hatred), lobha(greed), moh(illusionary emotional bondage), mada(ego or pride) and matsarya(envy or jealousy). They act as a covering or veil between the human soul and the cosmic soul. The human soul has to overcome these to become one with the universal consciousness. The complete development of all the seven sheaths is indispensable for the complete evolution of the human soul.
Annamaya kosha is the outermost cardinal layer or sheath. It is also known as the food sheath because it is nurtured by the food.it is the unrefined physical body preserved and aided by the intake of food.it incorporates all the five organs of perception(sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) and the five organs of action(prehension, locomotion, articulation, excretion, procreation). This kosha has the most compact and slow rotational frequency.it cannot survive without the other koshas.it is the most susceptible of all the koshas and reveal any deficiencies on the other koshas. Our overall personality (physique and traits) in past, present and future births are all dependent on annamaya kosha.it is the bodily understanding of the divinity. It is regarded an enclosure of flesh and blood in terms of spirituality. Complete cleansing, perfection and expansion of annamaya kosha is done by the techniques like upavas(fasting), yogasanas(physical postures of yoga), tatvasuddhi(inner purification)and tapascharya(practice of austerity).Western or Allopathic medicines affect and make an impact on this kosha. It acts only at the physical level.
Pranamaya kosha(vital air sheath) or the energy sheath is the vital life strength that permeates our body. It is the subtle sheath of cosmic energy that penetrates and surround our physical body. It comprises of the breath and the five pranas, namely prana, apana, udana, samana and vyana. All these five pranas are responsible for various functions of the physical body and they are indispensable for our life.all our body movements and mental thoughts are dependent on it. The prana flows in the circulatory, lymphatic and nervous systems. The pranic current flows between the physical body and the various sheaths through the nadis(astral tubes). Prana is in the form of mental, vital, psychic and spiritual energy. Even though this sheath is subtle, it is quite similar to the physical body. Acupunture, reiki and magneto-therapy have a profound impact on this kosha. Homeopathic pattern of medicine in moderate potency also affects this kosha.
Manomaya kosha or the mental energy sheath is more extensive and powerful than the pranamaya kosha. It comprises of all our thoughts, feelings, mind and passions.’manas’ means mind. The mind and all the five sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin) comprise of the manomaya kosha. It is also known as monkey mind which jumps on from one thought to another. It is through this glass lens that we feel the outer world and all our likes and dislikes are felt by the five senses. We experience all kinds of pleasures and pains in our life by our mind which affects us in both positive and negative manner accordingly. It is the root cause of all diversity. Our bondage and liberation is all related to the mind. The manomaya kosha is the instinct that accepts all the sensory instructions, interprets them as good or bad and yearns always for the good. It is key to human subsistence. Many modes of therapies like aroma therapy, music therapy, colour therapy, placebo therapy and shamanism acts on this kosha. Homeopathic medicines in higher potencies also influence this kosha.
Vijnanamaya kosha or the intellect sheath consists of vijnana or intellect the special ability to discriminate, determine and reason.it is associated with the organs of perception. It is changeable, insentient, limited and evanescent. ’Vijnana’ means subtle knowledge or wisdom. We attain intuitive knowledge and higher stages of deep consciousness in this kosha. Accordingly the higher mind orients itself towards the soul, trying to find the truth, and search for the eternal core of consciousness. In this sheath the basic awareness of the body and mind is lost, and realisation of higher mind is established. We are able to know, decide, judge and discriminate everything rationally due to our higher consciousness a part of this vijnanamaya kosha. A large part of this kosha lies in the domain of unconscious and it is a storehouse of all the information. Vijnanamaya kosha connects the conscious mind, higher mind and the universal mind by the network of nadis or nerve currents. Psychotherapy and practices like dharana(mental focus on an object), and dhyana(meditation on the divine) are inner disciplines that affect and make a deep impact on vijnanamaya kosha.
Anandamaya kosha or the bliss sheath is the innermost kosha that lies closest to the soul.it is the innermost sheath that veil the supreme soul from the individual soul. It is connected with unconscious or superconscious mind. It is associated with the state of dreamless state or Samadhi. The anandamaya kosha is the most subtle and sublime sheath of human existence amongst all the five sheaths. It is the highest level of vibration in this life. It means a sheath of eternal joy. It consists of ananda or bliss. Bliss or eternal joy is not connected with body or mind. This sheath is a combination of all the three divine attributes of the soul, namely sat (truthfulness and eternalness) chit (alive and conscious nature which differentiates the living with the non-living) and anand(ceaseless joy). This sheath unfolds fully during deep sleep, whereas in the dreaming and wakeful states it acts partially only. The anandamaya sheath is a mirror image of the atma or the soul which is bliss absolute.it is a state of mukti or liberation. Very few people have been able to reach this kosha, like some saints and realised souls. This is when we reach Samadhi. Complete development of all the seven sheaths is indispensable for our absolute spiritual evolution.
Pancha Kosha is not confined to humans only rather it is present in all the higher forms of animals but not so much refined and advanced as in humans. The five cardinal sheaths act as a manual and a guide to understand our psychological and spiritual evolution in a better manner. The five cardinal sheaths are vital for our existence on the earthly plane. We cannot survive without them. In order to prevail over and dissociate ourselves from these five cardinal sheaths we need to attain a very higher level of mental purification and sublimity. When all the impurities and darkness covering our soul are dispelled away and we finally reach the end of our life, the celestial body also vanishes and our soul’s flash of light merges with the cosmic radiance.
All our actions, memories and feelings are accumulated in the five cardinal sheaths. They act as a barrier between the independent soul and all-embracing divinity. Moksha or salvation from all earthly bondages is the final destination of the soul. It is a means to liberate the human soul from the limitations of the five cardinal sheaths. The complete denial of our personal ego and giving up our desires sets the soul free from all the attachments of the five cardinal sheaths leads to the final emancipation of the spirit.