The Five Koshas

This article guides you through the Five Sheaths that cover our Atman and explains their attributes and insights on how to work with them.

The Five Koshas

Human beings, in their deepest essence, are considered the immortal soul or Atman, which is all-pervading and eternal. However, due to a combination of ignorance (Avidya) and delusion (Maya), a person often mistakenly identifies with the five Koshas or sheaths, believing these to be their true self. These Koshas are layers that veil the true Self, each corresponding to different aspects of our existence.

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Annamaya Kosha — Physical Sheath
This is the most tangible layer, formed from the food we consume. It's often mistaken as the entirety of our being, but it's merely the outermost layer.
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Pranamaya Kosha — Energy Sheath
This sheath is composed of vital energy, often perceived through feelings of hunger, thirst, and physical actions.
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Manomaya Kosha — Mental Sheath
This layer represents the mental processes, including emotions and thoughts like anger, desire, and intellect.
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Vijnanamaya Kosha — Wisdom Sheath
This sheath encompasses our wisdom and cognitive abilities, often identified with knowledge and ego.
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Anandamaya Kosha — Bliss Sheath
The innermost sheath, representing a state of bliss and joy, often mistaken for ultimate happiness.

This concept of the Koshas is taught through the Vedanta; & the Upanishads discuss these layers in the context of understanding the self and the universe.

The Koshas are classified into three bodies

  1. Sthula Sarira (Gross Body): Consists of the Annamaya Kosha.
  2. Suksma Sarira (Subtle Body): Made up of the Pranamaya, Manomaya, and Vijnanamaya Koshas.
  3. Karana Sarira (Casual Body): Comprises the Anandamaya Kosha.

The Atman lies beyond these three bodies and five Koshas. It has been said, that through transcending these sheaths one may realise one's true nature and attain liberation.

The identification with these Koshas is considered a form of ignorance, a barrier to realizing the true Self, which is Brahman, the universal consciousness.

Maya

You might have noticed that each of the Koshas contain the word Maya.
Maya is a Sanskrit term that can be translated as illusion. It refers to the powerful force that creates the phenomenal world, leading to the perception of duality and separation from the true Self. The Koshas, each being a layer of Maya, create the illusion of separation from the Atman and Brahman. They are considered veils that obscure the true nature of the Self, which is beyond physicality, energy, emotion, intellect, and even bliss.