Okay, so today I wish to write about something which may not be common knowledge. (Long article warning.) 🙂
In Hindu mythology, or spirituality perhaps, it is said that our ‘Atma’ – Soul – is encased by 5 sheaths, which are like coverings each of which have to be removed/ purified by penance (‘Thapas’, or the likes) in order for one’s Atma to shine in all its splendor. Before I dive into the details on what the sheaths are and what needs to be done in order to purify the sheaths, let me accept humbly that I am not very learned in this subject, it is way out of my league –of physics. So my knowledge here is limited to a book that I read recently and picked up some ideas which I wished to share on my blog. This is not to ‘guide’ anyone in any way, this is just for knowledge, anyone who wishes to pursue the subject deeper should consult someone with the expertise and knowledge that this requires.
Okay, so some background about the ‘Atma’. It is said that all humans and all living things for that matter have a small part of ‘Godliness’ within them, namely the Atma or the Soul. This is something which is from God themselves; and we are a part of that very god. Now in our birth as humans (or any other living thing, I would use the term human/ man henceforth to mean all living creatures for ease of use and understanding), that Atma is not available for us to use/ understand. It is also said that once a man realizes/ gains knowledge of his Atma, he becomes one with God and is said to be ‘Realized’. Now this is a difficult process and it is also said that this ‘Realization’ is the final goal of human life. Once this is achieved, man is made free from the cycle of life and death and his soul merges back with the universal soul of the ‘Paramatma’. Till then, man keeps on traversing through this cycle of life and death by getting birth and living and finally dying and so on, until we achieve that final realization.
Now to gain that realization, there are a lot of ways or methods, lots of things which can be done to work our way to that knowledge of ‘Self’; viz. Good actions in the theory of ‘Karma’, hard physical penance to overcome the physical senses and lose the importance of our ‘Body’, Meditation on the name and form of the Lord, etc. Now I say theory in order to maintain my neutrality on such subjects, I do not write under the influence of my personal beliefs, but share what I read and what I think about the same; you are free to judge and interpret the same as you feel correct.
So one of the ways which is ‘prescribed’ is of cleansing your mind and ‘looking’ inward to realize the Atma and gain the knowledge of the ‘Supreme’. So this is what I shall be elaborating on.
As I mentioned before, there are five ‘Koshas’ or sheaths which encase the Atma, each of which have to be purified and controlled by the man for him to reach/ realize the Atma and allow the Atma to come forth in all its Splendor and Effulgence. The five ‘Koshas’ are:
- ‘Annamaya Kosha’
- ‘Pranamaya Kosha’
- ‘Manomaya Kosha’
- ‘Vigyanmaya Kosha’
- ‘Anandmaya Kosha’
Now I shall put forth some of my understanding (based on what I have read) of the same:
- Annamaya Kosha – Is the sheath which relates to the food and drink we partake. It is believed that when food is cooked or made, the maker’s thoughts and feelings impact the food in a subtle by impressionable way. For example, if the cook harbors negative thoughts during the cooking, the thoughts would travel with the food as vibrations to the person who eats the food and affect his thoughts after digestion. There are many tales or fables for the interested mind about how this has been observed in the past (Hindu Mythology). I shall not go into the details as one can find extensive work on each of the Koshas I write about in this small piece.
Now this Kosha or sheath can be purified by eating simple and pure food. It is believed that the food one consumes can also be divided into the ‘Three categories’, the ‘Rajasic’, the ‘Thamsic’ and the ‘Satwic’. So consumption of Satwic food throughout helps in controlling and purifying this sheath of man. How do we know Satwic food from other types of food, you may ask. Simple, when food is eaten to satiate hunger and not to please the tongue, that food is Satwic in nature, i.e. plain and simple food. We may think, that if one is starving, a pizza may be consumed to satiate hunger, but that does not fall in the Satwic food category. Satwic food would be plain, simple and fulfilling rather than exotic or tantalizing for the tongue.
- Pranamaya Kosha – Is the sheath which relates to one’s breathing. Now the thing which comes first to mind concerning breathing is, Yoga and meditation. Both of these arts require extensive control and manipulation of the breathing patterns. Now what we mean by control here is simple, one’s breathing should be calm and steady. This is also directly related to an equanimous temper. One should not get affected easily by the actions or situations around him whose effects are very easy to see in one’s breathing pattern. If one’s breathing is always calm and steady, it can thus be expected that the man is always calm and composed. For purifying this sheath, it is essential that one’s breathing is always calm, this can be related to the idea, of ‘Detachment’ from the worldly matters, as when one is detached sufficiently, he is not effected by pain or pleasure, by joy or sorrow, by problems and rewards; one is the same throughout. When this stage it achieved, one’s mind is free from the bondage of the physical world and the emotions pertaining to it; and this is when his breathing would ever be steady and unchanged.
- Manomaya Kosha – Is the sheath which relates to one’s mind. Control of thoughts being the base idea. Entertaining Holy thoughts, thoughts of the Lord, simple and holy emotions, untouched by the attachment to the world or the senses is the way to purify this Kosha. This is also something which I made part of the previous sheath a little. Detachment to the world is essential for this to happen. This detachment can be achieved only once we realize that this world is not our permanent place or where we live or where we are headed. Our goals, plans, the purpose of life does not end or exist in this world. Once man comes to this realization, only then can he be ‘detached’ to this world. Only then would he be in a state where emotions and worldly matters would not influence him in any way as he would see that this is not the goal, the goal is to reach the Lord who is beyond this world and this body that he possesses.
- Vigyanmaya Kosha – Is the sheath which relates to the Knowledge of the ‘Real’ and ‘Unreal’. As I mentioned in the previous point, when one realizes that our life here on this planet, in this world and in this body is temporary and not the ‘Absolute Reality’. As per Hindu mythology, the absolute reality is that our life here is just like the training ground, or perhaps the testing ground in order to evaluate whether we are fit to be ‘Redeemed’. Once we come to the realization that this life is just but a temporary phase like a flu which immobilizes us and hurts us, makes us suffer for a week or two, but we know that it would end, and we would be normal again after the stipulated time. We suffer and accept the frustrations of lying on the bed the whole day with reduced appetite and tastelessness for the duration with the consolation that once it is gone, we would be normal again and would enjoy our life as we used to before the flu struck us. Once we realize that this human birth is but a temporary phase, our original form being one with the divine, are we said to be ‘Enlightened’. So this Kosha can be cleansed by understanding the ‘Absolute Reality’ and pondering on achieving our final goal or ‘Moksha’.
- Anandmaya Kosha – Is the sheath which relates to the experience of bliss and ecstasy of God Realization. Once we have passed all the previously mentioned layers, would we be able to live our days in the bliss of Godly realization and in the fact that we are to be one with God, also the fact that we are indeed God. This knowledge with the knowledge and control of the worldly and humane desires leads to a feeling of Euphoria throughout the day, dwelling on God (so I presume, haven’t been there, don’t know what It feels like).
Now I have used quite heavy ideas which may even push a reader to the thinking that all this is too difficult to implement in our lives. We cannot just forget our lives as who we are, I mean I cannot just forget my duties and responsibilities in the world, forgoing and forgetting the fact that I am Raman, I have parents to look after and a job, and other such responsibilities. But the reason, I wrote this article is two-fold, one, I read it and liked it, so wanted to share; two, we may not be able to implement all these ideas in our lives, but we know what the ideas are and should be able to take some initial steps in accordance of these. I mean, we cannot completely forgo our lives, but we can realize that these lives are not permanent and as important as we take them to be. We may not be able to control our breath and be steady in joy and anger alike, but we may be able to tone down our emotions in such contrasting scenarios.
Remember, ‘One small step is also a step.’
Hope you would be able to benefit from this long read in some way.