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.