The sheath-related verses in the Panchadashi occur in Chapter 1:
- The five sheaths of the Self are those of the food, the vital air, the mind, the intellect and bliss. Enveloped in them, it forgets its real nature and becomes subject to transmigration.
- The gross body which is the product of the quintuplicated elements is known as the food sheath. That portion of the subtle body which is composed of the five vital airs and the five organs of action, and which is the effect of the rajas aspect of Prakriti is called the vital sheath.
- The doubting mind and the five sensory organs, which are the effect of Sattva, make up the mind sheath. The determining intellect and the sensory organs make up the intellect sheath.
- The impure Sattva which is in the causal body, along with joy and other Vrittis (mental modifications), is called the bliss sheath. Due to identification with the different sheaths, the Self assumes their respective natures.
- By differentiating the Self from the five sheaths through the method of distinguishing between the variable and the invariable, one can draw out one’s own Self from the five sheaths and attain the supreme Brahman.
(These are from the translation by Swami Swahananda.)
And this text then goes on to explain that the method of anvaya – vyatireka (co-presence and co-absence) shows us the nature of the Self. In the case of the physical body, for example, this is absent in the dream state although ‘I’ am present in both states. Therefore, I am not the body. The subtle body is similarly absent in deep sleep, though ‘I’ remain. Therefore, I cannot be the vital, mental or intellectual sheath either. Finally, ignorance (which equates to the bliss sheath) disappears in samAdhi so that I cannot be this sheath either.
In fact, I am the Atman, present in all three states, witnessing the so-called kosha-s. They are only coverings to the extent that, through ignorance, I take myself to be other than Atman. I say that ‘I am fat’, ‘I am old’ etc because I take myself to be the physical body. Therefore, effectively, the body acts as a ‘covering’ over my true nature. But these are attributes of the body, not my Self. The Atman does not itself have any of these attributes; and likewise for the other kosha-s.
The key thing to realize, warns Swami Dayananda, is that there is not some ‘inner Self’ to be experienced beyond or inside of all these kosha-s. We are that Atman all the time, no matter what mistaken view the mind might be taking. Nothing is ever really ‘hidden’.
Swami Paramarthananda treats the kosha-s as the functional aspect of the sharIra-s, the three ‘bodies’ into which we traditionally divide ourselves.
Thus, the Gross Body, sthUla sharIra, has as its function the taking in of food (anna) and growing. (And of course it is itself food. As I am fond of quoting Raquel Welch: ‘All you see, I owe to spaghetti’.) Hence it equates to annamaya kosha.
The Subtle Body, sUkShma sharIra, is made up of 19 parts, according to the tattva bodha:
1) The 5 organs of action or karmendriya-s: vAk (speech), pANi (hands), pAda (legs), pAyu (excretion), upastha (reproduction).
2) The 5 organs of knowledge or j~nAnendriya-s: chakShu (eye), shrotra (ear), rasanA (tongue), ghrANa (nose), tvacha (skin).
3) The 5 physiological systems or prANa-s: prANa (respiration), apAna (excretion), samAna (digestion), vyAna (circulation), udAna (vomiting, sneezing etc).
4) The 4 elements of mind, antaHkaraNa: manas (emotional mind), buddhi (intellect), chitta (memory), ahaMkAra (ego). These are reduced to 2 in tattva bodha – mind and intellect – so that the text refers to 17 elements making up the subtle body altogether. This is also the number used in the Brahma Sutra bhAShya for example.
The Subtle Body has three faculties:
- A) The power of action – kriyA shakti.
- B) The power of desire – ichChA shakti s.
- C) The power of knowledge – j~nAna shakti.
The relationship between the kosha-s, the faculties and the parts of the subtle body are as follows:
The prANamayakosha is made up of the 5 prANa-s and 5 karmendriya-s. The prANa-s take in food (anna), process it and provide energy to the karmendriya-s for kriyA shakti.
The manomayakosha is made up of the 5 j~nAnendriya-s together with the mind (manas and ahaMkAra) and these manifest the power of desire, ichChA shakti.
The vij~nAnamayakosha is made up of the 5 j~nAnendriya-s together with the intellect (buddhi and chitta) providing the power to gain knowledge from the outside world, j~nAna shakti.
The Causal Body, kAraNa sharIra, equates to Anandamayakosha. It is the sheath relevant to the deep sleep state. In this state, mind and body are resolved; there is no experience of any sort of limitation so that what ‘remains’ is our natural condition of happiness. This causal state can also be regarded as ignorance, avidyA.
Swami Swahananda points out, in his commentary on the Panchadashi (verse 17), that translating sharIra as ‘body’ is a bit confusing, since it does not mean body in the sense of having head, hands and legs etc but in the sense of a perishable ‘outer coating’ (or sheath, in fact!). Ignorance is thus perishable in the sense that it is destroyed by knowledge. And it is ‘causal’ in the sense that it is as a result of ignorance that we come to believe we are the gross or subtle bodies. We ‘forget’ who we really are.
Who-we-really-are, the Atman is not any of these three bodies.
I’d like to conclude by looking at another mistaken, or least misleading, viewpoint. This one is from Swami Vivekananda in his j~nAna yoga lectures. He says:
Therefore there must be someone behind them all, who is the real manifester, the real seer, the real enjoyer and He in Sanskrit is called the Atman, the soul of man, the real self of man. He it is who really sees things. The external instruments and the organs catch the impressions and convey them to the mind, and the mind to the intellect, and intellect reflects them as on a mirror, and back of it is the soul that looks on them and gives His orders and His directions. He is the ruler of all these instruments, the master in the house, the enthroned king in the body.
I have already written about ‘The real I verses the presumed I’, and an earlier blog specifically addressed the question of ‘Who or (what) is it that really acts?’ Although, from the standpoint of vyavahAra, it could be said that the Self ‘acts’, to avoid confusion we should really speak of chidAbhAsa – the reflected Self.
In the Kena Upanishad, the first verse asks:
Willed by whom does the directed mind go towards its objects? Being directed by whom does the vital force that precedes all proceed (towards its duty)? By whom is this speech willed that people utter? Who is the effulgent being who directs the eyes and ears? (Swami Gambhirananda translation)
Swami Dayananda points out that, if we assume that there is someone/something ‘behind’ the mind, which puts thoughts and desires into it, causing it to initiate actions in a particular way, then we have the fallacy of anavastha, infinite regress. Because that which is effectively ‘willing’ the mind, will need another mind in order to have the thoughts about how to influence the first mind. And so on. So the question goes rather to a consideration of whether the very presence of something, without a will of its own, enables the actions to take place. (The metaphor he uses is that of a magnet, whose presence influences the movement of iron filings although the magnet itself does nothing.)