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

Annamaya Kosha – The Physical Sheath

 Let  us  begin with the physical basis of our existence,  our  body,  the Annamaya  Kosha  or the “food Sheath”.  The “food” or Anna in  the  ancient  and symbolic  image  of the ancient Indian seers  represents  physical and biological Matter  and in the human being it is the body sustained by food.   What is the essential nature of our  body?  Is it merely brute matter, bundle of molecular biology  or  is  there something  more  to  it?   To  answer  this  question  we  should  have   some understanding  of  the ancient Indian concept of Matter and  Energy.

In  the ancient  Indian teachings, the source of all physical and vital or life  energy in  man and the universe is Prana.  This Prana, in the macrocosm, is  the great universal Energy of Life that creates and sustains the physical universe; In the microcosm it is the vital energy that drives our physical being and  animates  also his  psychological  being.   The  Taithria  Upanishad,  while  describing   the Pranamaya  Purusha  says,  “Ether is his spirit and Prithvi or the earth  is  his base.”   What is the meaning of this description?  The Matter or  the  physical universe is the result of the vibrations of Prana  or Life-energy  in  the etheric space, Akasha.  The various forms of  Matter  like solid  prithvi,  liquid jala, gaseous Vayu, luminous Tejas are  the  different modes  of  interaction  of the vibration of Prana in  Akasha.   The  solid  matter symbolised  in  the figure of prithvi or earth is the most condensed  form  of etherial space Akasha, vibrating with Prana.

Our physical being or body is also an expression of the essential pranic energy, Ojas, inherent in the etheric space.  And what is Ether or space?  Space in the conception of Indian philosophers is an extension of the  consciousness or  to be more precise conscious substance of the Being, Purusha providing  the field and substance for the deployment of the worlds and forms of his  creative energy, Prakrithi.

So both in the mocrocosm as well as in the macrocosm whatever that exists in whichever level are creative self expression of the eternal  Energy  of  the  eternal conscious  Being.  Each  level of the individual and cosmic  existence  is  the expression of the eternal Being, Purusha.  Our physical body and the physical  universe  are made  of pranic vibrations in etheric space.  And Prana is the  expression  of the  consciousness-force  or  energy  of the Being;  space  is  the  pervasive extension of the conscious substance of the Being.  So nothing is  “inanimate” in Man and the Universe; everything is instinct with and pervaded by the  life and consciousness of the One Being.  Our physical body is the outer expression of  the consciousness and life of the Annamaya Purusha, who is that  poise  of the Being presiding over our physical existence.

So, the  human body is not merely a matter of physics and biology  but  a living  and intelligent entity with a psychology of its own.  This is an area with a tremendous psychological and spiritual potentialities but which is  not yet fully explored.  The ancient spirituality in general tends to despise this Annamaya Kosha as a great obstacle to spiritual development.  We may hopefully expect that a spirituality of the future will take a more positive outlook  on the  body.  This more integral spirituality has to explore the psychological and spiritual potentialities of  the  body and endeavour to make it a perfect and conscious instrument of the Spirit.  We will explore this subject in greater detailing in the other section of this blog on “New Horizons of Yoga.”

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