This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Five koshas or ‘envelopes’ of the Self

The living soul, considered as a manifestation of Purusha, is described as clothing itself in a series of koshas or ‘envelopes’ which represent its phases of manifestation. While the last of the phases is corporeal, one should guard against the tendency to conceive of these envelopes as so many ‘bodies,’ since they are not, aside from last which we have just mentioned, conditioned by space. Moreover, since these envelopes really convey the relationship of Atma with this or that state of manifestation, and it should be remembered that Atma cannot itself be contained within them in any way.

The first envelope is anandamaya-kosha. The suffix maya means ‘made of,’ and the term to which it is joined, Ananda, signifying ‘beatitude.’ Thus, the first envelope is called ‘made of Beatitude,’ which is appropriate because it refers to Atma in its plenitude. Here we are speaking of the Self as superior to conditioned existence, undifferentiated and situated at the level of pure Being, and this is why it is regarded as characteristic of Ishvara, whereas the remaining four envelopes are characteristic of jivatma. In other words, with anandamaya we are in the formless order and which, in relation to formal manifestation, represents the ‘causal form’ behind that which will be manifested in the following stages.

The second envelope is vijnanamaya-kosha. It is composed of the five elementary essences or ‘subtle elements’ (tanmatras) and is formed by the directly reflected Light of universal Knowledge, hence the name Jnana (Knowledge) with the participle vi which specifies the distinctive mode. This reflected arises from the intersection of Buddhi and the principal faculties of perception, which again correspond to the elements just mentioned in the subtle state.

Next comes manomaya-kosha, which is where the subtle constituents of the previous envelope are joined to maya, the inward sense. To situate it more precisely in terms of what we have already outlined above, we might say that this envelope is the result of union between ahankara and manas. In this way, manomaya brings into play the mental consciousness or thinking faculty of the individual being, which is to say we are now in situated firmly in the formal order, although not yet in the bodily order.

The fourth envelope is named pranamaya-kosha, so called because it comprises the faculties proceeding from prana (the vital breath). These faculties include those of sensation and action, which existed in principle in the two preceding stages where the tanmatras had already been brought into play; but more importantly these include five vayus, which are called ‘vital functions’ and are in fact the modalities of prana. Having already enumerated the faculties of sensation and action, we will now comment separately on the vayus.

The general meaning of the word vayu is air or wind, and this is appropriate since they are modalities of the vital breath (prana), while we should also insist that since we are still in the subtle order these descriptions should not be taken literally. They can be enumerated as follows: 1) aspiration (prana in the strict sense), which is to say respiration as ascending in its initial phase, attracting the still unindividualized elements of the cosmic environment, causing them to participate, by assimilation, in the individual consciousness; 2) inspiration (apana), considered as descending in a succeeding phase, whereby the elements just attracted penetrate the individuality; 3) third, we come to a phase intermediate between the two preceeding, called vyana, which consists in all the resultant reactions of the intermingling between the elements and the individuality, which can be likened to the circulation of the blood as it relates to corporeal respiration; 4) expiration (udana), the projection of the breath, transformed, beyond the limits of the individuality and into the sphere of possibilities of the extended individuality; 5) digestion or substantial assimilation (samana), by which the elements previously absorbed become an integral part of the individuality.[1] Having outlined these functions, we should remind the reader that while these all correspond to physiological functions, these last are simply their most external aspect and one should not in any way consider the vayus as belonging exclusively, or, for that matter, even predominantly, to the physiological order.

The first envelope pertained to the unconditioned Self, beyond manifestation, whether formal or formless. The next three envelopes combine to form the subtle form (called sukshma-sharira or linga-sharira). The last alone can be referred to gross manifestation. It is called annamaya-kosha, referring to the alimentary envelope. It makes up the gross form (sthula-kosha) and corresponds to the most external mode of manifestation. It is the only envelope that is ‘bodily’ and which is therefore composed by the bhutas or sensible elements. Within this envelope the gross elements received in nutriment are combined, the finer parts secreted into the circulation, the coarser parts excreted or rejected, apart of course from those deposited in the bones. Earthy substances become the flesh, watery substances, the blood, and igneous substances, the fact, the marrow, and the nervous system (phosphoric matter).[2]

[1] Brahma-Sutras II.4.8-13. See also: Chhandogya Upanishad, V.19-23 and Maitri Upanishad, II.6.

[2] Brahma-Sutras, II.4.21. Also, Chhandogya Upanishad, VI.5.1-3.

Share This