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What are Pancha Koshas? How to purify them?

Pancha Kosha meaning

In Sanskrit, the word 'Pancha' means five and the word 'Kosha' means sheath or cover. Pancha Koshas translate into five layers or five sheaths.

This whole concept of Pancha Koshas was introduced in Taittiriya Upanishad by Hindu sage Taittiri in Taittiriya Upanishad which is also a part of the Taittiri Samhita.

According to the great Yogis, "Yoga is the process of search and union with your Atman (true self)."

Sage Taittiri says that we don't have to strive in search of Atman. Atman is a part of ourselves, and it is undestroyable. It is just hidden so deep inside us that we cannot feel it or realise it.

The things that hide Atman are nothing but these five sheaths. Impurities of these sheaths hold us from realising the nature of Atman. The goal of yoga is to remove impurities so you can see the Atman within yourself. And that is the key to the eternal liberation from worldly sorrows and weaknesses.

These Pancha Koshas are-

  1. Annamaya Kosha- is the sheath made of food (Anna).
  2. Pranamaya Kosha- is the sheath made of the breath or vital energy of air.
  3. Manomaya Kosha- is the sheath made of mind and the five senses.
  4. Vijnanamaya Kosha- is the sheath of knowledge and intelligence.
  5. Anandamaya kosha- is the layer made of reflection or an image of Atman.

These Koshas make our whole conscience. Our body, mind, feelings and intelligence all are elements of these sheaths. There are two parts of our existence- Spiritual (Atman) and Physical.

Our physical existence or the body divides into three categories.

  1. Gross body (Sthula Sharira)- is the part of the body made of physical matter. It contains Annamaya Kosha and Pranamaya Kosha.
  2. Subtle body (Sukshma Sharira)- is the part of the body that cannot be seen but felt. It consists of Manomaya and Vijnanamaya Koshas.
  3. Causal body (Karana Sharira)- is the innermost body that veils Atman or the Soul. It consists of Anandamaya Kosha.

What do the Koshas do?

Annamaya Kosha-

Anna means food. So, all that body made of food is called Anna Maya Kosha. It is not a part of Atman because of its destructible nature.

This Kosha is visible, but it does not know itself, so it is Anatman (everything that is not Atman is called Anatman). This body made of five elements soil, water, fire, air and space is Annamaya Kosha.

Having impurity in this Kosha causes physical pain and discomfort. The mind both influences and gets influenced by this sheath.

Pranamaya Kosha-

Prana means life energy. This Kosha keeps Anna Kosha running forever. You can think of it as the bioelectricity that runs in the body. It includes the air present inside your body, the vital energy that runs through your veins. 

It supports both your body and mind. It is unaware of its existence, and hence this is also Anatman.

Having impurity in this Kosha results in lower firmness of body, shivering, and low stamina.

Manomaya Kosha- 

Manomaya Kosha is a part of Subtle body or Sukshma Sarira. the word Sukshma means, "something hard to see with the eyes."

It supports Pranamaya Kosha. You can think of it as your subconscious mind or the part of you that governs your body without your conscience.

It is the Kosha that makes bondages with the world and resists the liberation from those bondages. It works more like a sacrificial fire, where sense organs pour oblations of sense-objects into it.

This Kosha is very hard to control, and hence it gets easily corrupted.

Vijnanamaya Kosha-

Inside the Sukshma Sarira (subtle body), Vijnana kosha is where your knowledge and intellect resides. All the information that you gathered in your lifetime is stored here.

You can think of it as your awareness that you have throughout the time when you are awake. Vijnanakosha and Manokosha define our nature of thoughts, behaviour and perception to all the things.

A human makes a perception of things by analysing his surroundings slowly over time. If this perception is made wrong, it creates impurity in Vijnana Kosha. This impurity is called ego and pride.

These impurities like ego, pride, jealousy, greed and attachment make it impossible to realise Atman. So, it becomes of utmost importance to purify this Kosha.

Anandamaya Kosha-

It is the innermost sheath and the nearest to the Atman. Ananda means 'bliss.' This Kosha is an image of the Atman. It is a form of happiness that comes from within. No external causes are needed to be in Ananda. 

One feels this internal happiness due to Ananda Kosha. But this happiness is not eternal, so it is not Atman. All other Koshas must be purified to realise Ananda Kosha.

You can think of it as "the sheath of ignorance." This sheath doesn't know about the outer world and your body, mind or intellect.

The feeling you get in a dreamless good night's sleep is the reflection of your true self (Atman), which doesn't know good or bad, light or dark, family or friends. It is the same feeling which you get when you inhale or exhale the air slowly.

What is Atman?

The Sanskrit word 'Atman' means inner self, spirit or soul. For attaining Moksha or spiritual liberation, one needs to have self-knowledge (Atma Gyan).

According to the theist Hindu philosophies, Atman resides in every living being, including trees. Atman or soul is free from happiness and sorrows.

It is impenetrable, invisible, incombustible, immortal, indestructible and eternal (Bhagavad Gita 2.23).

Just like a fire, when it enters the world, takes the form of whatever it burns, Atman of every being takes the form of what he enters. (Katha Upanishad 2.2.9)

Benefits of purifying these Koshas-

All five Koshas should be purified to see the Atman. When one realises our soul (Atman), he no longer remains separate from Brahman (The Supreme God). He attains oneness with Brahman.

All worldly matters seem very small to him. He gets total control on his mind, body and thoughts. But only if all the Koshas are purified, the above qualities are achieved.

For people like you and me, the goal should be to purify some part of the Koshas, just so your mind and body will be able to overcome physical and emotional weaknesses.

  1. When Annakosha is purified, the body gets free form sicknesses that originated from itself (like BP, heart and indigestion). Also, it gets longevity and long-lasting Youth period.
  2. From purification of Pranakosha, one gains power, courage, glow and lustre on his/her body. People around him/her can feel the energy of his Prana.
  3. From the awakening of Manokosha, one's politeness, wisdom increases. He/she easily remains patient in ups and downs of his/her life.
  4. From the awakening of Vijnanakosha, leadership wisdom and generosity increases. Also, he/she becomes far-sighted.
  5. From the purification of Anandakosha, one gets to know the Atman that resides in him/her self. He/she becomes free from all bonds and achieves eternal bliss.

How to purify the Koshas?

Transcending all of the Koshas is extremely difficult. Only the great Yogis can achieve it through severe penance. But, any amount of effort can bring improvement in you.

There is an order in which you should proceed. First, you need to purify Annamaya Kosha and then Pranamaya Kosha and so on. First two Koshas are easy, third and fourth are moderate, and the Fifth Kosha is very hard to awaken.

How to purify Annamaya Kosha?

Annamaya Kosha is nothing but the physical body. To purify the body, we have to do-

Yoga Asana-

  • Removes toxins and blockages from the veins.
  • Keeps organs in tone.
  • Reduces stress on organs.

Healthy and pure diet-

  • Sattvic diet (the food which does not increase laziness, ignorance and criminal tendencies, for example, meat)
  • Avoid food that overstimulates the mind.
  • Avoid alcohol, drugs or spices.
  • Adopt a plant-based diet with dairy.

How to purify Pranamaya Kosha?

Pranamaya Kosha is the Prana (life energy and air) residing in your body. Pranayamas purify the Prana with changing the flow of air flowing in or out.

Some of the popularly known Pranayamas are Kapalbhanti, Anulom-Vilom, Bhraamari.

You might like to have a look at Shambhavi Mahamudra, a process of slowly breathing in and out while focusing on the point between the eyebrows. It is also called yogic breathing by some Yogis.

How to purify Manomaya Kosha?

Manomaya Kosha is your mind which holds your perceptions and emotions. There are times when people take too much stress about little problems. Sometimes they do something evil and feel guilty for long times.

It is due to the weak mind and negative thinking. To counter these impurities of mind-

  1. A person should meditate to calm his mind. It increases concentration and helps to clarify the purpose of life.
  2. Develop positive thinking. You must understand that some things are not in your hands, and it is better not to stress about them but to prepare for them.
  3. Follow Yamas and Niyamas (Yogic Ethics).
  4. Adopt Bhakti Yoga (surrender to God, accept everything you get and make the best out of it)
  5. Adopt Karma Yoga- Accept the concept of Karma. Do your best, surrender the rest. Leave the attachment to the result Karma.

How to purify Vijnanamaya Kosha?

Vijnanamaya Kosha is the intellect and ego with your knowledge. To purify this Kosha, one must let go of his ego and pride. You are a tiny part of this world, and there will be no change whether you exist or not.

Things will go on their own, and you can only affect a tiny part of the world. So, there is no need to have an ego in you. By accepting this, one must leave his selfishness.

Selfless service will only do good to you. Also, you can adopt Jnana Yoga. It means to study the Vedas. Vedas are the source of knowledge passed down by Rishis (Hindu Sages) through thousands of years.

How to purify Anandamaya Kosha?

Tattiriya Upanishad says- There is a subtler Kosha hidden inside Vijnana Kosha, made up of happiness. It is experienced as happiness, delight, bliss and equanimity.

Samadhi helps you awaken Ananda Kosha. Samadhi is the highest state of concentration which any human can have without losing the body. It is self collectedness.

Besides, all other Koshas must be awakened before you try to awaken Anandakosha. And it requires concentration of the highest order to do it.

So, it is better to focus on the first four Kosha. Even with the first four purified, you will be the best version of yourself.

Conclusion-

When you cover a light bulb with many layers of clothes, it's light faints. The human body is just like this dimly lighted object. And when you start to uncover the clothes one by one, the light grows more and more after each layer. 

Just like when you awaken or purify these Koshas one by one, the light of your true self becomes stronger and stronger.

Brahman is the supreme consciousness and Atman is the self-conscience. These five Koshas are to be veiled to see the Atman. When the Atman comes to itself, there is no difference left between Atman and Brahman.

So, to know God is the same as to yourself. The concept of "Tat Tvam Asi" too, is originated from this concept of Koshas.

Tat Tvam Asi means, "You are God." The Supreme God is in you, and you are in the Supreme God.

Writer's words-

I have tried to explain to you the five Kosha according to what I know in my knowledge. There may be many persons who have different viewpoints than me. Please let me know if you any suggestions for me. Thank You. 

If you want to learn more about Yoga and other Hindu Philosophy, click here- 10 Hindu texts everyone should read at least once.

Hinduism allows eating non-veg food being a religion that promotes Non-violence or Ahimsa. Click here to read- Why does Hinduism allow eating meat?

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Comments

  1. Beautiful soul you are..what an amazing way of spreading knowledge and service to humankind you chose is of highest order. My sincere thanks to you for the priceless knowledge that you shared on this wonderful platform in the much needed times of my life. Lots of love and peace to you..Har Har Mahadev.

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