Panch means five & kosha means sheaths. It is an ancient theory found in taittiriya upanishad. In this theory the human personality have five sheaths/layers. This five sheaths is a cover of Ātman/soul/real self . So let’s understand what are the pancha Koshas ?
1. Annamayya kosha
‘Anna’ means food. This is the outer layer. Also called as The food body or food sheath or physical body. This layer is all made up of what we eat and eventually after death we become food for other creature. This body is a combination of five elements earth, water, fire, air & space of all these the earth alimentary is dominant the most. Every cell of our body has memory and knows exactly what to do with the food that goes into the stomach and mind.
The friends we keep and food we est is important for the health of this sheath. If you are with the spiritual people and follow healthy Satvik diet which is utmost important. Eating non vegetarian food, consumption of alcohol, drugs and any Tamasic food fill us with negative vibrations. All the pleasure we experience at this level like eating, sleeping, sex, listening to music etc affect this layer.
If you want to take care of this sheath keep yourself clean, eat Satvik food, have good company of friends, exercise and ‘Treat your body like a temple’.
2. Pranamaya kosha
‘Prana’ means energy . It is a vital force which runs though out the body. This is the second layer. This kosha forms our “aura”. Prana separates the life from the death. There are five vital energies known as pancha prana – Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udana & samana. These 5 energies have different functions within the body like blood flow, carrying impulse, exchange of gases. Prana is a form of vital, mental, psychic and spiritual energy as they circulate between physical body and different sheaths through the Nadis.
The way to control and cleanse this sheath is through practising pranayama in fresh air. The pranamaya kosha is connecting link between Annamayya kosha (physical body) and manomaya kosha (mind).
3. Manomaya kosha
Manas means “mind”. Third sheath is manomaa kosha. Also known as mental sheath/astral body. This kosha is powerful than pranamaya kosha. This kosha is not limited by time & space. Our thought can reach anywhere with no time. Therefore this kosh is really difficult to control.
In vedas it is said that –“Mano maatra Jagat”
It means the whole world exists in the mind of each individual. Each of us have separate worlds.
This kosha includes all thoughts, emotions, feelings, imagination and memories. All information and all experiences derived through jnanendriyas which are eyes, nose, ears, tongue and skin. These senses not only gives us information but they also source of all our desires, experience of duality( good/bad, positive/negative, happy/sad etc) .
The mind functions on two levels – The conscious mind connects with the external world through five senses and pass the information to the brain. The sub-conscious mind stores experiences. Many people are stuck in this kosha since they are always at the mercy of their thoughts.
The way to control and strengthen this kosha is the practice of ashtanga yoga by Maharshi Patanjali . It can also be done through varies types of yoga like Bhakti yoga, karma yoga, chantings, selfless services etc. the only thing we can do to attain this is to attain our highest self to still the monkey mind.
4. Vijnanamaya kosha
Vijnana means knowledge/wisdom. This is the intellectual sheath/layer of wisdom. It is a part of astral body. This sheath includes all the experience, upbringing, eduction in this life. This is the sheath which houses the ego. Becauseof this sheath we have sense of identity. It consist of buddhi (intellect) – which analyses the information, and then we receive through Manas (mind). It works along with five sense organs of knowledge. Discrimination and decision making are the part of this kosha.
This sheath is unique which separates us from the animals. Animals have memory, feelings and emotions but human being is able to discriminate between right and wrong, real and unreal.
This kosha can be controlled only through the knowledge of Vedanta, Jnāna yoga or the yoga of knowledge. This involves spiritual practices like dharna and dhyana etc. Ramana Maharishi told us about self enquiry by asking questions like “who am i ?” Which leads to a proper understanding of our true self.
Pranamaya, manomaya and vijnanamaya kosha these three are combine and form astral body and has 19 elements- five jnanendriyas, five karmendriyas, five pranas and the antahkarna ( Manas, buddhi, ahamkara & chitta). At the time of our Annamayya kosha/physical body drops off. Our astral body is irked with our physical body by the astral cord. Astral cord is a silver cord approximately 1 inch in diameter and has a sparkle to it. It is extremely strong and can be stretched so you are not limited by distance in your astral travel. In simple words it is a spiritual umbilical cord which keeps astral body and physical body together. When the connection between astral body and physical body broke, a normal person dies.
5. Anandamaya kosha.
Ananda means “bliss”. This is a body of bliss. This kosha is a spiritual body. This sheath is most difficult to cross. It is highest vibrational of our body. This sheath is a feeling of supreme joy . It can only be experienced by Jnāna/wisdom which we can free ourselves from this kosha and attain highest. Jnana is the knowledge of who you are . This sheath constrains all our past experiences, memories, birth, habits and information of all the lives we have already lived. To fully experience this body of bliss you have to be in a state of deep meditation/ samadhi.
How can we experience?
Yogic practices like chanting mantras, prayers, meditation etc teaches mind to let of negativity that covers the kosha when you are in contact with this body you will realise that your true nature is to be joyful, free and capable of every type of happiness. Knowledges of the pancha koshas will helps us to understand ourselves. All the time most of us have easy access to one or two koshas. We describe ourselves largely in physical body that we are thin, fat, ugly, beautiful etc yet most of the time we caught up in manomaya kosha/mental state. However if we start to experience the qualities of each sheath we will have more power over our choices and we will be able to stop reacting to our experiences.
Without these five koshas we cannot exist. In order to attain moksha we have to release the atman from the limitations of the koshas . When there are no impurities, no more shadows remaining then at then end of our life the astral body also dissolves and our soul’s spark unites with the infinite, divine light.