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.”