The Five Sheaths of Our Self-I-M.S.Srinivasan

One of the most important and enduring contribution of Upanishads to the Yogic  psychology  is its five-fold classification  of  psychological  or psycho-spiritual  constitution of the human being.  This series of articles examines this original Upanishadic insight in some detail, getting behind the symbolic terminology and imagery of the ancient sages.  Our aim there is two fold: first  to  make the idea psychologically precise  and  clear  to  the intelligence and examine its implications for yoga.

Man, the Microcosm

Indian psychology is not merely “empirical” but based on a deep metaphysical and spiritual enquiry into the ultimate truth of man’s being.  So to understand the Indian psychological classification of  the five sheaths we should have some idea of the spiritual intuition behind it.

According to Vedic cosmology, Man  and  Cosmos are equal powers of the one transcendent  and  universal Being.  Man  is  a  microcosm  of  the  Macrocosm.   The principles which constitute  the individual Man is the same as that constitute  cosmic  Nature.  Whatever  that  is  in  Man  derive their energy  and  substance  and  law  of functioning  from  the corresponding planes of cosmic Nature.  The  cosmos  of which we are a part is made of seven principles organised in the form of seven planes or worlds, lokas of the creative cosmic Energy of the divine Being, each level  with its own system of laws, beings, worlds and forces.   Matter, Life and  Mind  is the lower trinity which constitute the phenomenal  world.   Sat-Chit-Anand,  pure,  infinite  and  eternal  Being  –  Consciousness  –   Bliss constitute  the  higher  trinity  of  principles  which  is  the  transcendent spiritual  source  and foundation of the cosmos; linking the upper  and  lower trinity  is  the principle of Vignana or the supermind which is  the  creative Self-awareness of Satchitananda.  This Vignana or supermind is the principle which  brings  forth  the  cosmic  truths which  are  to  be  manifested  from Satchitananda  and  organises  them  in the form  of  a  harmony  of  creative supramental  ideas, Vignana, from which evolves the phenomenal worlds  of  Mind, Life and Matter.

As we have mentioned earlier, individual Man is a microcosm of the Macrocosm.  Each of these cosmic principles  are  present  in man, potential or manifest,  and  form  different levels  or layers or sheaths or koshas of his personality.  The lower  trinity of  cosmic  principles of Matter, Life and Mind form the physical,  vital  and mental  being of the individual.  They are the Annamaya,  Pranamaya,  Manomaya Kosha  of the Upanishad.  The upper trinity of Satchitananda form the  deepest and the inmost spiritual self which is the Anandamaya Kosha of the  Upanishad.

The link principle of Vignana forms the Vignanamaya Kosha.  These are the five koshas of  the Taithria Upanishad: Annamaya kosha, Pranamaya kosha, Manomaya  kosha, Vignanamaya  kosha and Ananadamaya kosha; the physical, vital, metal,  gnostic and the bliss sheaths.

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