There is a unique human body-mind constitutional model in the Vedas. The Hindu sages imparted spiritual wisdom to their students using the model as a methodology to guide them through a process of self-enquiry and meditation. It is called the Panchakosha.
What is strikingly evident is the completeness of the model in representing all functional aspects of the human constitution based on a trail of cause and effect. It is holistic and more comprehensive than the commonly known body-mind-spirit concept. Upon further reflection, I have also discovered that although this model appears in a spiritual-philosophical discussion, the knowledge is equally applicable to almost every other aspect of human life.
The Sanskrit word Panchakosha literally means five sheaths (Pancha = five, kosha = sheath), as the model is constituted of five composite layers.
1. Annamayakosha (anna-maya-kosha) – The biological layer
The first layer refers to the physical body. However the Sanskrit designation Annamayakosha actually means the ‘food sheath’ (anna = food) simply because the physical body is made of nutrients such as protein, fat, minerals and other substances primarily derived from the food we consume. The science of Ayurveda describes this layer as having seven tissues, namely plasma (rasa), blood (rakta), muscle (mamsa), fat (meda), bone (asthi), bone marrow and nerve (majja) and reproductive fluid (shukra).
*The word maya appended to each term here means ‘saturated’ and implies the preponderance of 'anna', 'prana' etc in that layer.
2. Pranamayakosha (prana-maya-kosha) – The vital layer
The second layer is the energy field that permeates our body and mind. The prana or vital force fuels all our physiological and psychological processes. The prana body also facilitates the exchange of information between the body and mind and controls the movement of the body. Prana is classified into vayus based on its functions and movements. There are many vayus but the common ones are of five kinds:
• Prana – relates to the respiratory and circulatory systems. It is the basic prana from which other pranas arise and thus gives its name to the group as a whole. It has a forward movement.
• Apana – relates to the elimination of waste through the lungs and excretory systems. It has a downward and outward movement.
• Udana – relates to vocal apparatus and facial expressions (speaking, singing, laughing and crying). It has an upward movement. It also plays a role in thought activity and the shifting of the mind between waking state, dream state and deep sleep state.
• Samana – relates to the digestive and metabolic system. It is characterised by inward movement.
• Vyana – relates to muscular movement and the coordination and circulation of energy to the entire body (blood stream).
3. Manomayakosha (mano-maya-kosha) – The mental layer
The third layer is the mental body. This is the seat of thoughts and feelings. Perceiving and thinking are the key functional aspects. The perceptive aspect of the mental body constitutes cognitive senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch) that receive external stimuli.
The thinking aspect is the mind which is characterised mainly by thoughts and feelings related to the objects of perception. Those include desires, imaginations, notions, sentiments and expectations and also their contrary thoughts which tend to create a state of doubt and indecision. Memory (past thoughts) is also part of the mental faculty. The mental body is metaphorically likened to a relentless flowing river of thoughts and emotions.
4. Vijnanamayakosha (vijnana-maya-kosha) – The intellectual layer
The fourth layer is the intellectual body. This is the seat of reasoning and identity. The intellect and ego are faculties of the intellectual sheath. The intellect performs the function of judging, analysing and discerning and guides the mind with decision and direction. The ego is the sense of individuality that is represented by the ‘I’ notion. The ego gives rise to the idea of ownership and doership in relation to the thoughts and feelings we have. The ego is really a composite of self-images.
5. Anandamayakosha (ananda-maya-kosha) – The causative layer
The fifth layer is the causal body. This is the most subtle of all five layers of the human complex. It is primarily made of mental impressions of all thoughts and feelings. These impressions are not visible to the conscious mind.
However in deep sleep we are aware of the fifth layer as a state of peace and devoid of thought experience. There our mind (thoughts) is withdrawn into the causal body and remains dormant in its unmanifested state and so we do not have awareness of the remaining four layers. Since we experience a blissful rest in deep sleep, the Sanskrit term ‘anandamayakosha’ literally means the ‘bliss sheath’.
These impressions are the blueprint for the rising of future thoughts and emotions. The anandamayakosha is also called the causal body because it is the cause of all the other four layers.
Rakesh Nair (Yogi Rakesh) is a Vedic life mentor and teacher. A lifelong practitioner of Vedic philosophy and yoga, he trained for many years in the authentic Vedic tradition, following the lineage of Advaita teachers. He holds a Masters in Sanskrit studies, apart from a degree in Computer Science majoring in Software Engineering. He is the founder of yogirakesh.com. He specialises in connecting ancient Vedic knowledge to the needs of modern life. He currently teaches and mentors people through online classes.