our subtle bodies


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The Annamaya Kosha constitutes the gross physical body. The Pranamaya, the Manomaya and the Vijnanamaya Koshas constitute the Linga Sarira or subtle body (astral body). The Anandamaya Kosha constitutes the causal body (Karana Sarira).

The physical body is formed of the essence of food. The subtle body is formed of unquintuplicated, Apanchikrita or uncompounded elements. The casual body is formed of Samskaras or Moola Ajnana (primitive ignorance). The Anandamaya Kosha is the cause for the subtle and gross bodies or the remaining four sheaths.

Birth and death are the Dharmas (attributes) of the Annamaya Kosha. Hunger and thirst are the Dharmas of the Pranamaya Kosha. Moha (delusion) and Soka (grief) are the attributes of the Manomaya Kosha. The Atman is ever pure and unattached. He is absolutely free from the Shad Urmis or six waves of the ocean of Samsara, viz., birth, death, hunger, thirst, delusion and grief.

The physical body operates during the waking state. The subtle body functions during the dreaming state; and the causal body operates during deep-sleep state. During deep-sleep it is the thin veil of Anandamaya Kosha that separates the individual soul from the supreme Soul or Brahman.

The Sruti shows with the help of knowledge that the individual soul is identical with the Brahman who is within and beyond the five sheaths from the Annamaya (food sheath) down to the Anandamaya (the blissful sheath) and goes on to extract the kernel within, by divesting it of the five sheaths formed of ignorance, just as by threshing the many chaff-coverings of Kodrava one brings to view the grain within.

The Sruti represents, for the sake of contemplation, the five parts of the Annamaya Kosha in the form of a bird in the case of sacrificial fire. The sacrificial fire, arranged in the form of a hawk, a heron, or some other bird, has a head, two wings, a trunk and a tail. So also here, every Kosha is represented to be made up of five parts. (Sureshvaracharya).

The Pranamaya Kosha or the vital sheath made of Prana, etc., ought to be figuratively understood as the molten copper poured into a crucible. The Pranamaya and the other three Koshas are not made up of a head, etc. It is better to imagine that these Koshas also are fashioned after the mould of the physical body, just as the molten metal poured into a mould takes the form of that mould. This will help the meditation and discrimination of the four Koshas.

The Annamaya Kosha is permeated by four Koshas, the Pranamaya and the rest. The Pranamaya Kosha is permeated by three Koshas, the Manomaya by two Koshas and the Vijnanamaya by one Kosha.

In order to lead the mind which has lost its longing and attraction for sensual objects to the inner being, which is behind the Annamaya Kosha or food-sheath, the Sruti explains the nature of Prana and the Pranamaya Kosha or the vital sheath. Distinct from the food-sheath or the gross physical body which has been described above, there is the inner Self made of Prana, falsely imagined to be the Atman like the gross body. The Pranamaya Kosha is also falsely identified with the real Self or Atman. This self formed of Prana fills the self which is formed of food-essence, just as the air fills the bellows.

The Pranamaya Kosha is more subtle than the gross physical sheath. The vital forces of the Pranamaya Kosha perform the different functions of the body, viz., digestion, circulation of blood, deglutition, excretion, etc., and manipulate the physical body from within. The whole physical body is pervaded by the Pranamaya sheath. The Pranamaya sheath contains the five Karma Indriyas or organs of action, viz., organ of speech, hands, feet, organ of generation and anus. The different limbs of the physical body have their corresponding parts in the Pranamaya Kosha. Pranamaya Kosha, along with the mental and intellectual sheaths, forms the subtle body of Linga Sarira (astral body).

The Pranamaya Kosha is the self that abides in the Annamaya Kosha. This physical body is mistaken for the pure Atman by false identification on account of ignorance. The Sruti wants you now to give up the idea that the body is the Self and take up the idea that the Pranamaya Kosha is the Self. The mind is taken from the gross body to the subtle Pranamaya sheath. When the idea that the Pranamaya is the self is deeply ingrained, the illusion that the Annamaya (the food body) is one’s own self vanishes. Then you begin to feel that the Annamaya is the body and the Pranamaya is one’s own self that abides in the physical body.

The Manomaya Kosha is made up of Vrittis (Sankalpas or thoughts). It is subtler than the Pranamaya Kosha. It controls the Pranamaya Kosha. So it is the inner self of the Pranamaya Kosha.

Mind or Manas is that inner sense or internal organ or instrument consisting of Sankalpa and Vikalpa. It is the seat of volition. Just as the Annamaya Kosha is made of food-stuff, so also the Manomaya Kosha is formed of mind-stuff.

Manomaya self is the inner self of the Pranamaya. It permeates the Pranamaya Kosha. The Pranamaya Kosha is filled by the Manomaya Kosha. The Manomaya Kosha contains the organs of knowledge (Jnana Indriyas), viz., ear, skin, eye, tongue and nose. The real senses are within. What you see outside the physical eyes, etc., are mere instruments. The Manomaya Kosha is more subtle and expansive than the Pranamaya Kosha. The Pranamaya Kosha is more subtle and expansive than the Annamaya Kosha.

The Manomaya Kosha or the mental sheath abides within the Pranamaya Kosha like the bladder of a football. Through the functioning of the Manomaya Kosha only you say, I think, I imagine. For the sake of contemplation, it is said to be of human form made up of five members, viz., head, right wing, left wing, trunk and tail. Just as the water assumes the shape of the vessel in which it is kept, just as the melted metal puts on the form of the mould into which it is poured, so also the human form of the Manomaya sheath follows that of the Pranamaya.

The Sruti leads the aspirant, who has withdrawn himself from the Pranayama and the Manomaya, still farther within, beyond even the Manomaya Kosha.

Vijnanamaya is the determinative knowledge (Nishchaya). This determinative knowledge (Adhyavasaya) is an attribute (Dharma) of the intellect (Buddhi). It is the determinative faculty which guides the mind and comes to right conclusion or determination. When the mind is in a doubting condition whether to do an action or not, Vijnanamaya renders help by coming to a determination ‘I must do this.’ The sacrificial rites are performed by one, only after ascertaining their nature from right sources of knowledge. Vijnana is the source of all sacrificial rites.

Vijnana or knowledge performs sacrifices, because a man who has knowledge performs sacrifices with faith, etc. Therefore, knowledge is said to be the doer. The Buddhi which determines gives sanction and the mind and the senses work through the gross body. Therefore Vijnana is the real agent.

The Sruti says that the Anandamaya self is also an effect. The Sruti teaches of the Self in his aspect as the enjoyer by Avidya or ignorance as he identifies himself with the Upadhi or Antahkarana or inner sense which is of four-fold nature (mind, intellect, memory and egoism). The Anandamaya is made up of the latent impressions of love and other forms of happiness. The Anandamaya is the seed-body or causal body (Karana Sarira). This body functions during deep-sleep. The sum total of all causal bodies of all individual souls constitutes the Upadhi or Maya of Ishvara.

Love (Priya) which springs up at the sight of a beloved son and the like is the head, as if it were Anandamaya self, because of its pre-eminence or prominence. It is the Anandamaya self who feels ‘I am happy’, ‘I am the enjoyer’.

Moda is the joy of exultation produced by the acquisition and possession of a beloved object. Pramoda is the same joy intensified or raised to a high pitch. Love (Priya), joy (Moda) and delight (Pramoda) are reflections of bliss manifested in the Sattvic states of mind.

All living creatures are endowed with Manomaya, Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya selves, one abiding within another. The internal permeates the external self which lies outside. All of them are formed of Akasa and other elements of matter. All of them exist only by ignorance. They are set up by Avidya or nescience. They are all possessed of supreme Soul or Brahman who is everywhere, who is All, who is the cause of Akasa and all the rest, who is eternal, changeless, self-existent, who is existence, knowledge and infinity and who is beyond the five sheaths. He is indeed the Self of all. He alone is verily the Atman.

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