The Library

Koshas - body sheaths



In the west we have been traditionally concerned only with our physical body and the conscious thinking mind of the intellect.  Thus we tend to see answers for our health problems in the form of drugs and treatments which treat the symptoms but do not necessarily address the causes.  Mental illness is also often seen as the outcome of external or self reactive stresses to the demands of our daily lives.  Indian traditions of ayuvedic and spiritual healing methods see the individuall in a much more subtle and multi-dimensional way.


The Koshas are sometimes described as `sheaths` surrounding the body.  This concept may lead our tidy minds to think of them rather as separate skins surrounding our centre.  Instead we should perhaps view the koshas rather like the flame of a candle which displays the wick, the hottest part of the flame and the aura of light surrounding.  All of the light comes ultimately from the centre of the candle and radiates in an ever increasing halo of light.  So when we speak of the various koshas we should try to think of them in the same way – radiating energy coming from our very centre.  In typical fashion different teaching ascribe different names and values to each kosha.  The following description is one such approach.


Accepting the concept of our inner Self – the spark of the Divine, the first sheath is that of the physical body called the `annamaya kosha`.  This annamaya kosha includes all our physical organs from the skeleton to the finest nerve endings and all physical tissues.  It also includes the first subtle aspect of the etheric or ghost body.  This the first layer of the aura which radiates from the physical body and is said to extend for about 3 to 12cms from the surface of he skin.  It is this aura which most people with some training can be taught to see.  Looking at a candle flame it is seen as the first aura of light surrounding the physical flame.  Personal awareness of this kosha can help to give us a feeling of lightness in our activities, as opposed to the leaden feeling so often experienced by those who are tired or physically exhausted.  


The second layer of aura is known as the `pranamaya kosha` or vital sheath extending up to 20cms from the skin  .  We are  aware in yoga, as in acupuncture, shiatsu etc, of the  concept of energy – prana – flowing throughout the body.  The pranamaya kosha is the radiation of this pranic energy beyond the physical body.  This level of the aura is responsible for radiating energy from our self, and also of drawing energy in to the chakras. When this kosha is healthy and well balanced we might have feelings of being larger than the physical body; almost of operating in an energy ball.


The third layer is the `manamaya kosha`or astral body.  This level of our existence is related to our emotional state.  Weakness at this level may lead to us feeling exposed, raw in our responses to emotional challenges or depressed.  Strength at this level allows us to cope with challenges that come to us through relationships and in dealings with the world.


The forth layer, the `vijnanamaya kosha` is also known as the intuitive body, the lower mental body or the sheath of wisdom.  We here speak not of knowledge but of applied knowledge going beyond factual learning.  At this level we are becoming much more aware of the world around us rather than being preoccupied with ourself.  As we develop this level of our being we become sensitive to energies which are much more subtle than mere physical sensual responses.  We can sense when something is `right`, and pick up on atmospheres` in our environment and among the people we are in contact with.  We increasingly find it comfortable to live within the rules of `dharma` - the essential truths of life.


All the sheaths so far are described as surrounding the body like layers of an onion.  The final kosha - `anandamaya kosha`, known as the higher mental or spiritual sheath is described as hovering above the head, sometimes described as being attached to the body by a silver thread which is only broken at the death of the physical body.  Realisation of this kosha occurs when we achieve the final stage of spiritual enlightenment, bliss, nirvana, heaven or Samadhi – union with God.


The koshas are each affected by those above and below with the higher kosha being more relevant to our well being.    As we lose our spiritual awareness and sense of belonging in a greater scheme of things, we become isolated and weakened, prey to psychological and mental problems.  Swami Sivananda said that `all disease begins in the mind`.  Loss of emotional strength leads to loss of vitality and depression, in turn leading to dis-ease and degenerative conditions.  Conversely just as all buildings need to rest on strong foundations, so we must ensure physical and pranic vitality to sustain our outer journey to the ultimate experience of the Divine.


Derek Osborn                                  200601