Every human being is made of five sheaths or layers of energy known as the Panch-Koshas that veil the light of the Self.
These five layers are contained one inside the other like the segments of a collapsible telescope. You may also visualize them as the layers of an onion. The gross physical body that you can see with your physical eyes is the outermost layer/ sheath.
In the modern world, the modern medicine takes only the physical body (the outermost energy layer) into account while dealing with our health or treating our illnesses. No wonder the healing remains only on the ‘surface’, without going deeper into the ‘root cause’. The holistic health systems or alternative healing systems are more equipped for a deep healing as they take all the sheaths into account.
Let us try to understand this concept by acquainting ourselves (first intellectually and then experientially in meditation) with these panch-koshas.
First layer – AnnamayaKosha or the Physical Body
This layer is called Annamayakosh as it is dependent upon ‘Anna’ or food for its sustenance. This body lasts only as long as it can absorb nourishment. It is the body that we identify most with for it is gross, material and physical. It occupies time and space.
Practices of Hatha Yoga,KarmaYoga, and five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and spacekeep it healthy.
In meditation, when we close our eyes, we become aware of how this body feels from inside and become acquainted with its inner life.
Second Layer- PranamayaKosha or the Energy Body
The second layer is called the Pranmayakosh as it is nourished by Prana, the universal vital energy. This layer animates the physical body and helps it carry out the processes of inhalation, exhalation, ambulation, assimilation, excretion and reproduction. Depression is a sign that this body is totally depleted, and the energy levels are dangerously low.
This body too is shaped like the physical body but looks like condensed smoke for it is much subtler than the physical. It can travel outside the physical body – through time and space – as the gravitational force of the earth does not affect it.
In meditation, we become aware of this body when it makes us feel as though we are levitating and the gravitation has no pull over us. Becoming aware of the etheric body, gives us a certain freedom that is unknown to the physical body.
Practices of theosophy, Kriya Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Pranayama, Reiki, Pranic healing, Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Acupressure, Ayurvedic Massage and many other energy-healing modalities heal up to this layer.
Third Layer- ManomayaKosha or the Astral Body
The third layer is called the ManamayaKosh or the mental sheath, in which all thoughts, emotions and sensory inputs are processed. This layer instructs and controls the operation of the physical body, through Prana.
This body is the seedbed of all desires, which are forever changing. It experiences emotional pain and pleasure, and creates doubts, diversity and illusions. If it is in direct contact with the deeper Self and receives clear instructions, it keeps us healthy in body, mind and soul; but if it functions through its illusions/ subjective stories, the deeper wisdom remains behind the veil. A human being’s bondage or liberation (overall illness or wellness), both are caused by this layer.
This body too has the same size as the first two bodies, but it is vapour- like and transparent. It can travel through space and time of an individual’s past. In mediation, we become aware of this layer through thoughts and emotions that come up.
Bhakti Yoga, EFT (emotional freedom technique), and psychotherapy heal up to this layer.
Fourth Layer – VijnanamayaKosha or the Causal Body
The fourth layer is called the Vigyanmayakosh, because it is the layer of wisdom, knowledge and intellect –which lies underneath the processing and thinking aspect of the mind. Its function is to know, decide, judge, will, and discriminate between this and that. It is also the seat of ego consciousness and ‘I’ awareness.
This sheath is the cause of physical embodiment. Meditators sublimate their ego and access higher wisdom through this layer.
This body is absolutely wall-less and can travel through space and time of an individual’s past and future.
Practices of Raja Yoga,Gyan Yoga, and Past life regression heal up to this body.
Fifth Layer- AnandamayaKosha or the Spiritual/Bliss Body
‘Ananda’ means bliss. The bliss sheath is the finest of all sheaths; it is the first layer that surrounds the Atman, the eternal center of consciousness. However, this bliss is not an emotion. It is a different level of reality, whose main characteristics are peace, joy, love and rest. It is beyond the mind and independent of any stimulus or reason. It is the level of simply ‘being’.
The bliss body is the culmination of all that is possible for a human being. It is the peak of individuality, love, compassion and everything worthwhile. When a person reaches this stage, he flowers. The Master awakens and takes charge from here.
This is the layer of Self-realization, when we get the answer to the question, ‘who am I’. The claim to be someone special vanishes at this point. Now there is no longer any need to prove oneself. But even though ego is intrinsically dead on this plane, I-am-ness still persists. From this layer one can explore the past and future of everyone on earth.
Until this stage everything can be explained in scientific terms but after this state the realm of mystery begins. Until this stage labour and effort are useful but after this only awareness works. This level is a level of new beginning.
No disease or illness can affect this body.